Category Archives: Planning

Quick, it’s not too late to plant!


It’s garden season, and I didn’t even get around to posting in April. Sadly, my garden is in about the same shape as the blog. I got so busy with work and life that I literally didn’t notice that the sunshine (and showers), weeds and no-jacket-weather meant I should start planting! Heck, even the local Farmer’s Market started up already this weekend!

So much for my advice about planning ahead, reviewing my past calendars or setting alerts for myself.

I did manage to get some lettuce, kale and potatoes in the ground a month ago, which are now popping up.

Growing Potatoes

Early potatoes..and my old pink gardening crocs…for good luck.

Kale seedlings

I planted spinach too, but it didn’t bother coming up. I think my seeds were old, but I’ve also discovered that spinach is finicky and only likes just the right combo of cool and warm weather. However, I will persevere, as it’s a high yielder when it does flourish, and the first thing I would choose for my daily smoothies.

In the back of my mind, the Victoria Day long weekend (May 16th this year) is always a marker for when almost everything should be in the ground if I want to be eating it by July/August. I just hadn’t been cognisant of how close it was (a week away!)

So finally this week, I rustled up my old notes, where I had noted what I had planted where and when, and made a quick plan on my calendar for what needs to happen next in order to ensure a decent harvest this year.

I usually wait to plant the heat lovers like squash to ensure a harvest when I get home from our time away in mid August, but I decided to experiment and just get to it. We should get to enjoy it before we leave, but if not, the house sitter can have her fill.

So today, I planted tomatoes (from plants as always), basil, yellow beans, purple beans (from seeds I harvested last year), half my cucumber seeds, some yellow (patty pan) squash, carrots and another round of spinach and lettuce (which I hope to plant every few weeks, time and space permitting, to ensure a continuous harvest).

So…the message here?
People are always telling me they don’t have a clue about gardening, what to plant when, and they think they need to be experts before they ever plant anything. But I maintain that it’s ALL experimentation, every year, and I am giddy and consider myself lucky when I get to enjoy anything I’ve grown. So even though I was slow on planning this year, all was not lost, and it’s really a matter of prepping your soil and just getting something in the ground. See where the sun likes to lie, what grows best where, and that knowledge will become part of your plan for next year. No PhD needed.

Are you early or late this year, or if it’s your first time growing, what have you planted so far?

Progress: A Mid Season Photo Gallery


Well! Here we are in July already! I figured now was a good time for a review of all that’s gone on in the garden so far this season – complete with “progress to date” photo gallery.

It seems so early to even be eating from my garden yet, as last year the abundance all happened in late August, but really, that’s only 6 weeks away and there’s lots of growing still to do. And while I’m still experimenting, I did do some more timing-type planning this year to try for a longer “eating” season, and so far, it’s (mostly) working.

I started planting on April 12th to be exact, a bit late really in most peoples’ books, but I like a later harvest in the hot days of late summer. Just spinach and some lettuce to start, peas and potatoes a week later, with kale and more lettuce the week after that. I only know this because, for the first time ever, I scribbled in my calendar with a sharpie whenever I planted this year. Whatever works!

In the gallery below, the “early on” photos were from about mid-May, around my second favourite stage of the season – the seedlings are such an adorable little burst of victory!
And you can likely guess what my favourite stage is, right? Eating!

We got to harvest the spinach first – it came so quickly, but low and behold, it was so hot in May that we only got through 2/3 of it before it bolted! We do get hot spells in May now and again, and then “June-uary” is usually rainy and colder. So next year, I’ll start the spinach earlier, really I will! In fact, I’ll start it again soon, so I can have spinach for my smoothies in fall and winter!

Next came the lettuce, and then the kale. I planted a fair bit, as we eat lettuce and kale almost every day in our salads and smoothies. I thinned a few out, and the rest I’ve just been harvesting the outer leaves, and as promised but always to my surprise, they are growing back!
I got a LITTLE more kale than I could handle, so I just steamed it up, pureed it with the hand blender, froze it in ice cube trays and put in a Ziploc bag in the freezer for later. This time, I actually measured and surprisingly, a whole cup of fresh spinach makes about 1 cube frozen! Just pop one cube in your blender and you’ll have the right amount of greens for your next green smoothie. I have LOTS of great things to say about Simple Green Smoothies, but it’s too much for this post, so I’ll just link to them here and leave it for another day!

The herbs have started to come, and my favourites are the ones I can put in cocktails, like mint for mojitos!

I don’t usually plant peas, and may not again, but my sister gave me some seeds from last year, so how could I turn her down?! They take up a lot of space for a small harvest, but they are so sweet, and the kids love shelling and eating them straight from the garden, so I sacrificed some space this year for this lovely treat. The peas are almost done now, so I’m hoping to plant something else there in its place in a week or two.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about what HASN’T gone well in the garden so far. Humph.

I tried a bag of mushroom manure in one of the front boxes this year, and guess what mostly grew there? Right……mushrooms. Almost exclusively. Arggghh. So I re-fertilized, threw in some animal manure and replanted chard, spinach and a row of carrots around mid June. It might have been too late, and the soil may have been suspect, but my fingers are crossed. Not all of the seeds have come up, so something is definitely a little off in that box.

My cukes, squash and carrots have been in the ground for 5 weeks already, near each other, and they seem very small to me. Hmmm. I left lots of room for the patty pan squash, but I think I gapped out and planted the cukes and zukes way too close together.
Solution: get out a few pots and transplant them elsewhere so the strong seedlings don’t go to waste!

The beans are doing fine, and are mostly ornamental anyway, as I just grow them in pots or let them climb the fence and don’t allow too much space for them, and I’ve never grown potatoes before, but aside from the odd yellow leaf, I’m still hopeful they will produce!

And lastly, it’s the glorious tomatoes that I’m really holding out for, and like the rest of my garden, I planted them in succession so I could enjoy them longer. One in May, two in June. And to my delight, exactly 60 days since she went in the ground, I glimpsed the first ripe little gem this morning.

Time has gone so fast, I can’t believe it’s 12-1/2 weeks into the season already. I do wish a few things were further along, but I’m trying to let go and just trust they will provide.

What’s happening in your garden today?

What? Math? Painless Garden Planning


In years past, I had miserable garden failures because I didn’t think about it before I planted whatever I wanted, wherever I wanted. Gee, what a surprise. And while I’m all about spontaneity and experimenting, I do try to stick to a loose plan now, growing what I know will work where from experience and then allowing for a few “experiment zones”, so I can learn something new.

But how did I emerge from the overwhelming feeling of “what to do with this empty box of dirt”? Simply with paper and a pencil!

Remember Garden #2 from a previous post? It was great, but there were changes I wanted to make for the following season to maximize its potential. Plus, I was planning to add a new box beside it for this year, so I could grow even more! And that’s the great thing I’ve learned over the years – it’s not all as final as it first seems. You can make changes. You can replant. You can have some control. Garden planning So I drafted a to-scale (One centimetre = one foot) sketch of my space (graph paper borrowed from my kids’ school supplies) and started “planting”.

I knew the patty pan squash and cucumber combo worked great last year, and how much space it took up, so why not duplicate it and add more? I never did grow any zukes last year (the zuke I thought I had turned into a pumpkin and I had to move it!), so here was my chance, especially since I could grow them the same way – up a teepee of bamboo sticks! The outside of each spoke on the “wheels” above represents a seed planted (never one to tempt fate, I always thrown in a few extra and thin them to the strongest plant just in case!).

Then I had some space left over to experiment a little. I’ve never grown bush beans at this house, but I chose them because they are short so they don’t require support, and are apparently great producers if you harvest them often so more can keep coming. I just love a veggie that keeps on giving! Which brings me to the last spot in this bed, reserved for greens (lettuce), as I really could have used a little more salad at regular intervals last year and not all at once!
I actually planted it already, as it likes cooler weather, two weeks after I planted the lettuce in the back garden, and guess what we’re having for dinner tonight? Caesar salad! I may harvest them all and plant something else there later, or just keep cutting them as I go so they will continue to provide.

You’ll notice my little sketch is oriented north, and I’m trying to plant as much as I can east to west for best sun exposure (so the books say). But this space produced well last year when I planted the rows north to south, so I’m not too worried.  In short, I don’t always follow all the rules – and I’ve paid for it in the past – but I also don’t want to stress out about all the little details – or this wouldn’t be easy, fun or cost effective – some of the main reasons I enjoy it! See, that wasn’t so bad, right? I don’t know why I balked at making a quick plan for so many years. Save yourself the seasons of grief and just spend a few minutes drawing! You’ll feel like a kid again…especially when it works.

More For Your Money, Pumpkin: High Yielders I Love!


Vintage pot
I’m a big believer in yield, or being able to produce as much edible food within as small a space as possible. Some might even call me a “yield hog” because I’ll scoff at the idea of planting some veggies because their yield just isn’t big enough. Ok, I just made that term up, but why not maximize the amount of FOOD you can grow in your space? More on how you don’t even need a garden to grow food here.

I’m not really into flowers. I love my rhododendrons and azaleas because they’re already there, and all I have to do is pick off the dead stuff at the end of the season to ensure beautiful blooms next season. But otherwise, I don’t invest my time and space in pretty. And about 3 blocks away, this cool old flower gardener (who obviously has alot more experience than me) has a sign in his yard saying he’ll GIVE away his flowers if you ask (and don’t steal).

There are several high yielding veggies out there to consider growing. Here is a list of my favourites:

Cucumbers and zucchinis – or as I lovingly refer to them, cukes and zukes. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up with more zucchinis than you know what to do with, but I never worry about overabundance! And I have tricks for keeping these space hogs under control! Planted with purpose, these babies will net you a cuke a day in the late summer, perfect for all sorts of salads and veggie dishes (or even pickling!).

Tomatoes – as I mention on my intro page, eating a tomato off your own vine is just about the best thing going. Especially when the price at the Farmer’s market is $4/lb. They don’t need to be cooked, they go great with above-mentioned cukes (and about every other recipe out there), they are super healthy, and are so much more sweet and juicy (and local!) when you grow them yourself! I’m always excited for the growing season to roll around so I can stop avoiding the tomatoes from Mexico at the grocery store from November to May. No offense Mexico, you’re just a little far away for my “enviro guilt”.
Tomatoes are a bit more finicky than other veggies (or technically fruit, in this case), but with a few simple tricks, you can have enough for salads and recipes every day or so.

Kale and friends – the reason I love kale so much is because it keeps producing all season! As do its other leafy green buddies like lettuce and spinach. You pinch off what you need and a week later, more is growing in that very spot. You may not (think you) like the TASTE of kale (I didn’t used to either), but it’s all about how you use it.

Beets – normally I wouldn’t put beets in my high-yield list because they only produce one “fruit” for every 6 or so square inches of space (hogs!). But they made the list because they are actually TWO foods! You can eat the fruit, as well as the greens, which are delicious steamed or sautéed with a bit of butter and garlic (note, you’ll see the butter and garlic trend a lot in this blog, as part of my M.O. is getting food to hungry grubbins FAST, and there’s no easier way than starting with butter and garlic). 🙂

Squashes – I know I covered zucchinis above (part of the squash family), but I’m adding squash to the list for another reason – the same as beets above – you can eat the fruit, AND believe it or not, the flowers! And won’t you look fancy when you dole out a fresh salad with a squash flower garnish or make tempura squash flowers for your family or guests!
Pumpkins land in this category as well, but they’re even better because they produce a ton of flesh, flowers AND SEEDS – all edible! They don’t get their own bullet point because they require an equal abundance of space to grow in, but you’ll get mega bonus points from your kids when they can brag that they grew their own jack o’lantern for Halloween.
Another high yielding favourite is the lesser known scaloppini or patty pan squash. These little delights produce many bright yellow fruits from a single plant like other squashes, and the bigger they grow, the more food they provide. Similar to cucumbers, you can net a squash per day at harvest time in as little as 2 square feet total! Plus, they’re delicious and adorable.

Scallopini summer squash
Rhubarb
– as mentioned in my post about “free” space, when Rhubarb takes hold, it can take OVER and produce a lot! But it’s at the bottom of my list because it has less recipe options and is a bit of an introvert – it needs a fair bit of its own space to grow and doesn’t much like neighbours. 😉

Herbs – planting perennials like rosemary, chives and mint (on your balcony, close to your kitchen) can yield you fresh herbs to use in recipes for months at a time.

Which of these high yielders would be a hit on your table?

Planning + Magic = Food


If you’ve ever grown anything yourself, you’ll understand the feeling you get when the seedlings poke their heads out of the seemingly barren ground (for a few days, they seriously look like chickens hatching, trying desperately to break through the earth). Year after year, I get the same sense of shock and excitement like, “Wow, it’s working! I might actually be growing some food here!”.

This is my front yard garden (Garden #2) around mid-season last summer, when the seedlings were established but there was no actual food being harvested yet (except for some baby beet tops and kale leaves).

Garden #2 mid season

Everything looks pretty under control, right? Everything neatly labeled in their respective rows?

Well, I can only take partial credit for the outcome, but here was my “yieldy” thinking (and the equally inherent spontaneity) behind what’s happening.

Beets – I planted the beets toward the middle because once they’re grown and pulled from the ground, then you can plant more in that space. I chose more cucumbers for the 2nd planting, because I wanted as much as I could get for salads in August and September! There was a row of carrots in there as well. They hadn’t come up yet, but same concept.

The squashes and friends – I learned from experience that these guys tend to take over and require a lot of space, but they also produce a lot, so I maximize the space by training the cucumbers to grow up instead of along the ground. All they need is some support (I have used everything from bamboo sticks to old rakes or anything tall and skinny I can find), for their little “tentacles” to wrap around and keep growing.

The patty pan (or simply, summer) squashes grow more like a bush than a rising vine. It needs about 2 square feet, but the one plant netted me at least 20 squashes (I lost count when I started giving them away to the neighbours). As I’d never grown this before, it was a complete fluke that I gave it the right amount of space and it didn’t take over my entire garden. But now I know. And now you know. 🙂

I’d never grown pumpkins before either, but I allowed for some “experiment” space on the edge of my garden, and considering the sprawl at our local pumpkins patches, I suspected these guys would need some space. There was nothing but grass beside them, so I just encouraged them to head right….and oh, they did.

Ok, ready? Don’t laugh, but this is what that same garden looked like after I came home from two weeks away in August.

Garden2EndSeason

As you can see, it was so tightly packed, you couldn’t fit another thing in there.
But the kale was still holding its own and not being shaded in the middle. The cucumbers and squash were producing like crazy, and the pumpkins were doing what they were supposed to – heading right…almost into the neighbour’s yard!

But I never worry about overproduction, as I’ve learned I can always do some thinning. But surprisingly I didn’t need to do any thinning. I just started picking. And eating.

And this is when I got seriously excited about the amount of food I could actually grow in a relatively small space. I felt happy and proud, and like I had a superpower that I never knew existed (like I was the one providing the sun and water, haha). That’s when I started documenting my “journey”. And here we are.

Have a gardening success story to share? Do leave a comment.

 

 

Bitten by the Growing Bug – Now What?


Front yard garden
Once I’d had some success with Garden #1  in my back yard, the bug had really bitten, and I was dying to grow more! My walkabouts in the neighbourhood told me that you can grow almost anywhere there’s sun exposure, so I decided to give it a go in the front yard.

Some people are adverse to gardening in their front yards for fear of their yard looking “ugly” or of what their neighbours might think. Well, I’m lucky enough to have a hedge surrounding my front yard so no one can even see it! BUT, where I live, it’s perfectly acceptable to grow whatever you like in your front yard, because we pay ridiculous prices for real estate here in Vancouver, so we are more inclined to make use of every bit of square footage!

Here are some basic steps I took in planning my own new garden, translated into some easy tips to help you get through that overwhelming feeling of “where do I start”!

1. Where: Simplest method: Watch the available spaces you have for a few days in spring and pick the spot or spots that get the most sun during the day.
Slightly more advanced: I’ve learned it’s ideal to get 5 or more continuous hours of sun exposure for growing. For some spots, this may be tricky to assess in Spring when the sun’s position is different than in summer. But most west facing spaces will get enough sun as long as they’re not blocked by anything.

2. How big: I chose a 3′ x 8′ size because typical wood ties come in 8′ lengths, and 3′ is about as wide as I can reach without stepping in the garden. But just use whatever you have, as long as it’s less than 3′ wide or has a space to walk in between.

3. What to plant: I started out planting what I thought would grow most easily, for fear of not getting any actual “food”, but I highly recommend planting what you (and your family) like and will actually eat. I see too many gardens out there going to seed later in the season because no one is harvesting the food from them. This is one of my biggest pet peeves – it’s so counterintuitive to the whole notion of growing your own food!

After choosing what you “like”, I always go for veggies that I know will yield a lot = more food for you!

4. When: Some veggies like cool earth and some like warm, and there’s myriad resources out there with this info, depending on your climate and locale. I don’t even try to memorize (or follow) it all, but basically, you just need enough time between the last winter/spring frost (temps that go below zero at night) and the first fall/winter frost in your area. Most veggies take between 60-90 days to grow where I live because it’s a little colder up here. Our last frost is usually in late March and first frost by about late October. That’s more than 6 months in between – plenty of time!

Typically lettuces like to be planted early (by April) and finicky things like basil like to be planted late when it’s hot (I finally learned this after several years of basil failing to grow!). Other veggies prefer the in-between. And if you plant in stages, you can plant more than once a season after the first item is finished. Are you sensing a theme here yet? Yes, more food!

My biggest theme is don’t worry too much! Just by using some basic tips, you’ll at least get started, and then you can replant or revisit as you go. I’m still learning with every new seed.

 

Meet My First Pet – Garden #1


Backyard garden

Garden #1

I had a few cats growing up (whom I loved dearly), but nowadays the objects of my affection are my gardens. I’ll leave it at that so I don’t get a bunch of cat people all over me! Don’t worry, I still like cats, but the give and take is just different, and I’ve got kids and a hubby for companionship.

So, it’s almost spring, and while the soil in my garden looks like nothing will ever grow in it again, I’m encouraged by the little buds popping up everywhere and the idea of starting to plan what my babies will grow this year!
Don’t be turned away now, thinking I have acres of land to work with. Nope. My two gardens (one in the front, and the one tucked up against the side of the garage in the back) make up a grand total of a lousy 44 square feet. I calculated this by taking the width and length dimensions of each and just adding them together. Back Garden #1 is skinny at less than 2′ wide x 11′ long, and front Garden #2 is 3′ x 7.5′.

Backyard garden

Wintery looking back garden #1 – 2′ w x 11′ long

But I experienced a small bounty from these very spaces last year, so I try to be grateful for the space I do have.
When we first viewed the house, it was the beginning of October, and the previous owners had a successful tomato garden growing here (I swear it was half the reason I fell in love with the house). So guess what I planted there that year? Yup, tomatoes! I’ve learned almost everything I know by trial and error or from anyone who’s been willing to impart their knowledge on me, and that space has indeed turned into an amazing tomato garden. I’ve mentioned before, I’m a bit greedy when it comes to yield, so of course I started experimenting with other veggies there as well to see just how much I could get out of this space. Below is the configuration I’ve settled on for this year. Three tomato plants plus a row each of lettuce and spinach, spaced about a foot apart each.

Garden planning

The tomatoes were an obvious choice because I knew they’d been successful here already, but over two years, I learned more about why they do so well (and how you can copy this success without experimenting like I did for years!).
Tomatoes are actually the most finicky thing I grow. They require ALOT of warmth. And they hate getting wet (the leaves that is). So the best place to grow tomatoes is up against a building that gets lots of direct sunlight in a day, and has an overhang so most of the water the tomatoes get is from you watering the soil, not the leaves!

If you have such a space (balconies will work for this too), the next most important thing is giving the tomatoes as much space as you can possibly allow. Open dirt is the best for yield, but failing that, give those babies the biggest planter you can stomach having on your balcony (as long as it can be protected somehow!).

Funny that these principles go against my usual motto of “small space, high yield”, but damn it, fresh tomatoes for your summer salads are just too good to pass up and worth the effort!

As for the lettuce and spinach I’ve added to this garden, I experimented with numbers of rows and different types of veggies in this spot. After determining that 3 tomato plants would actually yield me enough tomatoes every few days for the duration of the harvest, I decided to make use of roughly half the rest of this skinny space by squeezing in two rows of greens because they

a) don’t take up as much space as other veggies (aka they won’t take over) and
b) are short (aka they won’t shade your tomatoes!)

Most seed packets say your rows should be 18″ apart, but I just didn’t have that much space, and because that side of the yard is pelted with plenty of afternoon sun (it faces west and the sun heats up the side of the building the veggies are growing against), the relatively short lettuce and spinach leaves don’t shade each other.
And I’ve got tomatoes and greens beside each other in the garden closest to my kitchen. Which means what? Yes, at least half the fixings for fresh salads! Or if we’re calculating in food terms ….half a regular meal!

So what if you don’t have a pre-made space with obvious choices of what to plant? This was my scenario when I started experimenting with the other half of Garden #1 above and then branched out to build pet, I mean Garden, #2. Stay tuned!