Preparing for a local Seedy Saturday today has me thinking about my journey as a gardener. On reflection, I realize that I am entering my 27th year of growing veggies, herbs and flowers. Wow. 27 years!
Growing in downtown Kitchener, then growing in small-town Wiarton paved the way to growing on our rural property and finally growing for market. I guess I might have a little to share with budding enthusiasts, after all.
Want a Successful New Garden?
1. Start Small
It is totally normal to be super enthused to start your new garden. Most garden burn-out occurs in mid-season when the weeds have overtaken the soil and garden work turns into a sweaty, sun burned, horse-fly biting war. Don’t buy the line that there is a “lazy gardening” style of gardening that actually is successful. Growing and tending a garden is WORK. If you don’t have a lot of extra time to throw at your new project, starting with a smaller area is a wise move. You can always expand as you gain skill. You can grow a surprising amount in a small space. I recommend two classics on the subject Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew and How to Grow More Vegetables John Jeavons for more details.
It’s been a wild winter. A mild December lulled us into believing we would get a break this year. Silly, silly us. By the end of February–when we often have a thaw, but not this year–our daughter had missed a record sixteen days of school because of cancelled busses. We even saw the weather website post ‘Blizzard Warning,’ which was a new meteorologic category for many of us. In the midst of this, our physical access to the outside world was throttled.
I’m stealing from Peter’s letter/essay that he shared with several family members in February about the experience.
My Personal Groundhog Day
I sometimes tell students the proverb: “There’s no such thing as bad weather—just poorly prepared people.” That perspective has been intercepted and tasered the past two weeks. Even slightly decent weather has been an exception.
When one lives in a town with modern conveniences: public snow removal, the hydroelectric grid, and functioning fuel and food systems, winter is very manageable. But in a rural area like ours—especially off-grid and far from the road—a stormy fortnight can do more than make you glum. It can make you glum, exhausted, anxious–even desperate.
To be forced to worry about all four needs—heat AND food AND hydro AND road access—would be devastating. Even being faced with two of those four factors moderately at-risk is quite concerning. And if on life-support, only one need to grapple with is worse than two or three of moderate concern.
Along the front line of needs, we thankfully don’t have to worry about heat because our heat “only” depends upon processing firewood before the winter ogre emerges. Also ahead of time, we stash food in the freezer and pantry. Throughout much of the year, power production tends to be good as long as the sun shines, the wind blows, and our generator starts–all of which usually occur. But for years, our bugaboo has been our ability to access the road in winter.
No tractor means no snow-clearing and sometimes no access. No access means gradual desperation. Fear of desperation leads to planning and payments. Living rurally on anything other than an acre requires significant money. Tractors are especially expensive if your livelihood does not pay for them. Years ago, a farming neighbour recommended,”Get something with 60 horsepower and four-wheel drive.” Not being farmers, we ended up with an old 40-something horsepower unit with only two-wheel drive. We hoped and prayed it could handle our Goliath of a driveway. For years, it did.
To wrestle the driveway brute if the Massey got sick, we bought an admittedly expensive walk-behind, two-wheeled tractor–like a rototiller on steroids. We reasoned that it could help with Erin’s market gardening, it could help manage our property, and it could step in as an emergency back-up to our four-wheeled tractor. It has started to pay us back numerous times by fighting back snowdrift monsters.
I just feel like tossing last season in the bin and not looking back.
It was a summer of digging deep. We were met by challenges both planned and unplanned. Some were so hard, it was impossible to write about them–not a great way to meet my goal of blogging twice a week.
The Challenge We Expected
Introducing lambs to our farm ecosystem was in the plan. Peter beat the bushes researching mobile livestock housing, watering and fencing. He bought and built the necessary infrastructure. He read up on lamb husbandry and persistently pestered our friends for their pasture management wisdom.
Finally the day came when seven lambs arrived, and there was no going back.
Even though we knew in our heads that being shepherds would be a steep learning curve, I don’t think we really got it. It’s kind of like realizing that being a new parent will change your life, but you really have no idea until you are in the thick of it. No going back.
Warm weather and sunshine have made everything pop. Believe me, I am not complaining. We are loving the weather here at Bird’s Nest Garden Farm.
It’s hard to believe that less than a month ago things looked like this:
Now we are full steam ahead on ALL of the projects.
The chickens finally left their winter coop, for full-time RV status. Our feathered friends are back to the mobile life, being carted around the field every couple of weeks. Now to figure out why the auto-close door wants to auto-close at the wrong time. And then auto-open once everyone is settled in for bed.
We ordered a load of topsoil for the hoop house in spring. We used part of it right away inside the new structure. The rest of it went to the future site of the hoop house – where we will move the hoop house when the time comes. Don’t ask when that will be. But we will be ready.
Spring was rainy. It didn’t take long for that beautiful top soil to green up with wild mustard, shepherd’s purse and a few other characters I’d rather not have in my prime growing areas. It’s not that I am anti-weeds across the board. The only things I remove immediately are bindweed and ragweed. All plants have their roles to fill in the ecosystem. I’d just rather not be spending time and energy removing their progeny in the years to come.
Enter the chickens.
With their scratching, pecking and dust-bathing the chickens reduced the green forest to bare soil in short order. They really seemed to have fun doing it too. At first it was like a big game of hide and seek as the plants were as tall or taller than the birds. As things thinned out, some plants continued to grow taller but had no lower leaves; almost looking like palm trees. The only plants left at the end of their session were goldenrod and chicory; perennial plants that were there before the topsoil delivery.
Then it was time to move the chickens to new pasture. To keep the bare soil from growing more of what we didn’t want, we laid a tarp over the area. A BIG tarp. That was a family bonding experience that was not so fun. Dusk, everyone tired from a long day, bugs… But we managed.