5 Tips for a Successful Backyard Garden

Fresh red and golden beets
Harvesting red and golden beets fresh from the garden.

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?

garden beds prepared for planting
Preparing the beds for next spring’s planting. After weeding (whew!) the beds were broad forked, amended with organic fertilizers and raked to a smooth finish.

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.

 

Polka Dot Hen Produce fresh produce Wiarton Farmers' Market
Tomatoes, peppers and green beans freshly picked

2. Grow what you like to use

Choose plants that get your attention, whether by stimulating your appetite, your nose or your eyes. Continue reading “5 Tips for a Successful Backyard Garden”

Soil & Sustainability

farmer-sitting-six-mule-team
Old Order Mennonite discing a field

By Peter

I was recently asked to speak at a nearby First Nation’s Reserve about Sustainability. “It’s ironic,” I said, “that someone who’s lived in the area less than 20 years is talking about sustainability to people who have lived in the area for 1000’s! However,” I continued, “some of my distant kin—Old Order Mennonites—have lived on the land for almost 500 years.”

I’m not sure how much Wes Jackson would be impressed with my ancestors’ history on the land. Jackson is the visionary force behind the Land Institute, a Kansas collaboration making slow, significant progress towards breeding a miracle. Their holy grail: perennial wheat—a timeless, food crop that would need no soil-disturbing plow and no genetic modification.

Wes Jackson Land Institute perennial wheat
Jackson compares perennial wheat grass roots to annual wheat roots

Jackson feels that any green-leaning farmer grasping at sustainability is vulnerable to the next owner who’s greed or ignorance prioritizes greenbacks over the needs of the soil. The best way to conceptualize conventional agriculture, Jackson has stated, “is that it is a mistake.” Continue reading “Soil & Sustainability”

Preparing the ground

 

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.

 

Chickens eat the weeds in our topsoil delivery mobile coop
These chickens really went to town on the greens that were imported in our topsoil delivery. Within two weeks, the ground was bare and their bellies were full!

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.

 

A partridge chanticleer chicken clears weeds near the hoop house.
This partridge chanticleer and her flock cleared the ground for the future site of the hoop house by the end of June.

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.

Continue reading “Preparing the ground”