Friday, February 4, 2011

Mary Mary quiet contrary how does your garden grow.....

If I had a toonie every time someone has said that to me in my life I would be rich....oh wait, I am rich.....or at least I was this past summer, rich in vegetables anyway.
Last fall I was inspired to have a greenhouse built, inspired by a lady in California who blogged about her small raised garden bed in her backyard. I couldn’t believe the amount of vegetables she got out of her tiny space and I started imagining what I could do with my backyard, which is a lot bigger than hers. I knew I could not compete with her long growing season in California unless maybe I had a greenhouse. So I hired a dud to build me a 10x12 greenhouse with 4 12ft x 2ft beds in it. 

I started plants indoors in March and in May I moved them out to the greenhouse; I had to heat it up with a space heater until the weather warmed up in June.  I also built 5 4x8 and 2 2x8 raised beds and had them filled with a ½ and ½ mixture of old cow manure and topsoil. I did not like the topsoil and will not use it again, when it got wet it got very hard and lumpy, from now on I will use compost which I found out later that I can get free at my local landfill. In April I transplanted everything except the tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe and peppers out into my bed and planted the seed vegetables. There was still frost in the mornings at this time so I covered my beds with my leftover plastic from my greenhouse for a few weeks just to be safe. This is so easy to do with raised beds; I found my raised bed so much easier to manage than a large garden plot in the ground. At the top of each raised bed I had built a trellis to train my plants to grow up to save some space and this worked great, I ended up with a green wall across my backyard made up of, beans, peas, sweet peas, pumpkin and squash. 

It looked like the green lush California garden that had inspired me to begin with; it was the look I was looking for. I discovered that I love to grow creeping and climbing plants like cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, beans, peas and my favourite of all...squash. I only had spaghetti squash this year but want to experiment with a few different kids this year, and I also want to try eggplant.....I hear it likes to climb as well. I had a great beet crop and fell in love with beets. Beets had never been my favourite, I would eat them if I were served them somewhere else but have never bought a beet and cooked it myself, I have been missing out, they were so good. I loved them just boiled and then lightly tossed with butter and easy. I peed purple all summer. I have since learned that they are great raw, shredded into salad, and add a nice flavour to vegetable juice. Beets are on the list again for next year. My carrots were great, there just was not enough of them, same with onions, didn’t have enough. I didn’t get a lot of cucumbers, I think that was due to it being too hot in my greenhouse for them, next year I will start them in greenhouse and them transplant them out, the tomatoes however loved it in the greenhouse, they became a huge jungle in there, I had planted them too close together I think, it was a tangled mess but it produced a lot of tomatoes. I ate tomatoes from June until September when I finally just stopped tending to everything.

 I had a little bag of baby tomatoes in my lunch every day. Not sure what happened to my peppers, did not get a lot of green peppers, my chilli peppers however did quite well. I had great corn but again just not enough of it. 
This is a 2x8 bed that is completely overgrown with corn, squash and beans
I had even planted some popcorn which was awesome but...not enough again, it popped up so white, it was beautiful. Another vegetable that I feel in love with again is Rutabaga, I hadn’t had them since I was a kid, it brought back memories of raiding grandma’s garden. I would cube it raw and munched on it at work on my tractor, never cooked it, ate it all raw. It is defiantly on the list for next year.  Of course it wasn’t all a success, my cantaloupe got smothered by heat in the greenhouse, I ended up with 2 cantaloupes the size of a big apple that were good but I had hoped for a bigger crop. The watermelon got smothered by the pumpkin, the pumpkin went crazy, it was the garden bully, and you could almost watch it grow. I ended up harvesting 5 small pumpkins, which was the perfect amount for me. 

I lost my whole cabbage crop to bugs (worms) I battled it for a while and then finally gave up. The bugs also attacked my broccoli and cauliflower, but I did manage to harvest a bit off them before I gave them up as well. Since these are known as the buggy plants, I will grow them in a separate area next year and cover them with row covers as I do not want to use pesticide. I had nice onions and garlic as well but again...not enough. I think I smothered my strawberries last fall, I covered them with grass clippings in the fall I think that was not the answer, I used dried leaves this year, so I hope to have strawberries this year...more than a handful. I also planted some raspberries bushes and they died too....I forgot to water them during the hot time, so I need to replant.
I really really enjoyed by garden, the whole process from seed to tending it, and the harvesting, I loved it all, I couldn’t wait to get home at the end of my work day to check on my garden. It was the first thing I did in the morning....wander around  my garden with my coffee and it was the last thing I did before I went to bed...wander around the garden with my cup of tea. The absolute most thrilling part (yes I said thrilling) was go out with a bowl at supper time and gather my supper and my lunch for the next day. I had either stir fried, steamed or boiled vegetables for favourite is lightly steamed and then tossed with different flavouring, and my favourite is steaming them in my homemade chicken broth. 

I have a new plan for next year, I plan to freeze chicken broth in ice cube trays and then put in bags in the freezer, and then when I want to steam my vegetables I can just put one cube in the pan. I also plan on making my own tomato bouillon as well the same way, in ice cube trays.
I discovered that having a meatless meal was much more satisfying then coming home from work famished and gorging on a meat heavy meal, it always left me feeling so bloated and lazy. I still got my protein from either a boiled egg, or cottage cheese or beans. I did eat meat as well, just not as often and not as much at a time. I found this way I still had energy after supper instead of just wanting to veg out for the rest of the evening. Making lunches for work as also thrilling, it was so much fun to go to work with a Ziploc baggie of tomatoes and a bread bag of cut up vegetables to munch on while on my tractor. This was not my lunch, it was my snack. It was not hard to get my 5-10 servings of fruit and vegetables in a day; this was usually done well before supper...which is why I felt I could treat myself to having a bag of chips and a Pepsi for supper sometimes. Makes sense to me.
Here is a summary of what I learned this summer in my garden

-         A greenhouse needs vents, not just a window (even in the north)
-         You cannot grow buggy plants without row covers (unless you want to poison yourself)
-         Pumpkins are garden bullies, give them space
-         Corn and beans love each other
-         Squash is can build a green wall
-         Popping your own home grown popcorn is very thrilling
-         Starting your garden indoors in March is too early
-         Peas, when growing upward are fun to pick
-         Eating a raw Rutabaga makes you feel like you are 6 again
-         Gathering your own supper makes you feel you won something
-         Squash and pumpkin soup is amazing, and can  be cooked in so many different ways
-         You can freeze spinach
-         Freezing tomatoes is not complicated, wash them, put them in container of your choice, stick your hand in there and smooch them, put a lid on it and stick in freezer....leave 1 inch head room.
-         You can never have too much compost or cow manure on hand
-         You never get tired of eating raw vegetables when on a tractor for 12 hours s day
-         Eating beets makes you pee purple
-         If you want lots of onions you have to plant lots of’s a one for one vegetable.
-         Vegetables are very tasty if you don’t over cook them
-         You can never have enough many things you can do with them
-         Collared greens are goooood
-         Loved eating the peas raw in the pod...never shelled or cooked a single pea

Plans for next year;

-         Already expanded my growing space last fall, built new raised beds
-         Don’t put slow growing plants beside fast growing plans....they get smothered.
-         Plant more stuff that can be stored over winter, beans, cabbage, squash, potatoes, broccoli, onion, garlic, corn, tomatoes, peppers etc...
-         Freeze my spinach instead of letting it bolt if I can’t eat it all
-         Plant my buggy plants at the community garden (with row covers)
-         Not start so early in doors....maybe not start indoors at all, just start heating the greenhouse earlier
-         Plant a variety of squash and eggplant
-         Try planting sweet potatoes
-         Want to grow some fruit, maybe a few apple trees, and replace the raspberries that died
-         Encourage and help someone else start a garden
-         Green is beautiful

The green green grass of second home, the golf course. Sharp crisp cut lines in the grass thrills.
 I planted squash in a raised bed by the 11th tee box at work, can you believe there are only 2 squash plants in here. I am going to use some more empty space at the gold course next year to plant vegetables......eatable landscaping they call it. The dirt in here is 100% old horse manure. 

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