How Does My Garden Grow?

Watching growth from seed, problem solving, working in the fresh air, harvesting and eating makes gardening so worthwhile.  It isn’t all romantic, with heat, sweat, wind, mosquitoes, ticks, and repetitive tasks driving me crazy at times.  It’s been  five years since I broke  clay sod to start a vegetable and herb garden:


garden under construction

Each year has been a collection of experiments and learning, keeping me so busy that the stories weren’t recorded.  So let’s catch up a bit. Here are pictures from 2013. The adventure that year was putting up bamboo pole tepees. They worked well for the pole beans (makes sense) but not as amazing for the zucchini (summer squash). I also dressed up a scarecrow which was not terrifying for some birds, who built a nest in the hat.

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In 2014 I started to work the soil in a new section behind the main garden and planted winter squash and sweet pepper transplants (started indoors). The squash were not abundant–one factor may have been the warmth of the soil so I warmed the soil with plastic this year and won’t remove it until the seedlings are well under way. By August the garden was lush and my favourite new crops were the red onions which lasted most of the winter.

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This year we have had a weird spring (or so it seems in my brief farming experience). A sudden overnight frost could have damaged baby pea and onion plants but fortunately I had thrown on frost covers the previous evening.  I have had to delay putting in cherry tomato and pepper transplants due to cold nights and recently, due to thunderstorms and high winds. I can’t wait to get them out into the garden!

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Vegetable Garden Plot under Construction

My  vegetable garden plot is progressing.  I feel a bit behind schedule, but I remind myself that this is  only year one.  Next spring there will be a raised plot in place.

What have  I done so far?

First, as noted in a previous blog, I marked out an area, approximately 12′ X 8′ and placed cardboard over the grass to suppress its growth.

Suppressing the Grass with Cardboard in March (ontheland)

Second, I started the task of turning the sod over.  This was not an easy task as underneath the few inches of soil there is heavy clay and rocks.  Once I got going it seemed  easier–the clay soil came out in slices, reminding me of a thick chocolate fudge cake.

Turning over the sod (ontheland)

Third, I created two walkways in a T formation.  The plan is to garden from the walkways and to never step on the beds.  This will keep the soil loose and aerated.  Two beds will be about 8′ X 3′  and the one at the end near the composter will be about 8′ X 2′.  The walkways will be about 2′ wide.  You’ll note that this will not be a “picture perfect” setup.  I’m using materials on hand–cardboard, rocks, and old boards.

What’s next?  I’ll be adding a layer of garden mix (black earth, compost, and topsoil) on top.  This will be the main growing medium and hopefully longer roots will find their way into the clay below.  Right now, the surface that you see in the pictures is very heavy and hard to move– Over the years I hope to blend some of the garden mix into the clay.  Since I’ll need 2 or 3 cubic yards of soil, I’ll be ordering a delivery from a landscaping supply company.

And as a final note, here is some garden math that I have found useful:  one cubic yard equals 3 x 3 x 3 = 27 cu ft.  The largest bag of garden mix that I’ve seen at box home and garden stores has been 3.8  cu ft.  Given the quantity I need, it would be much more expensive to purchase by the bag rather than from a landscaping place that sells by the cubic yard.  I’ll talk more about my soil purchase and other progress in my next blog.

Starting My Organic Vegetable Garden

This year I am planting my first vegetable garden–it will be organic. Starting a garden plot 

This picture shows my carefully chosen plot of land– it’s near trees but far enough away to not be caught in their shadows.  In the right background, you may be able to see the compost bin, purchased from the municipality.

Because I am creating the garden plot in a grassy area, I have covered an  8′ x 12′  rectangle with cardboard and rocks (to hold the cardboard down).  The “plan” is that the cardboard cover will suppress growth underneath.  I’ll then try to loosen the soil and remove old grass.  As the land is very rocky, I’ll be building containers and adding soil.  Precisely how this will be done is yet to be determined.

My guides are two  books:

Starter Vegetable Gardens, 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens by Barbara Pleasant (2010, Storey Publishing)

Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew–I have the 1981 edition on loan from the public library–there is a more recent edition that has benefits and drawbacks, according to reviews on Amazon.com.

In upcoming posts I’ll describe my planting layout, container construction, soil choices, compost choices, and how I’ll be warding off neighborhood rabbits.