Tag Archives: garden

Garden Diary – March 15, 2012


Yeah, so I discovered this morning that I’d left the fan on my plants overnight, which had done a pretty spectacular job of drying them out. Fortunately, after a good watering, they sprang right back. I must be more careful to only leave the fan on for an hour here and there. Perhaps I should invest in another timer.

(Why a fan, you might ask? Plants that grow in unmoving air don’t tend to be nearly as sturdy as ones that have to deal with a little push from the wind every now and again. it also helps circulate the warm air, which pools at the top of my vertical “greenhouse”.)


The bigger task, yesterday, was getting started another batch of seeds in the “grow-op”, including all the following:

March 14, 2012
CabbageSuper Red 80
Eggplant(Unknown variety)*
LeeksMammoth Pot*
PeppersOrange Sun
TomatillosToma Verde
TomatillosAunt Molly’s Ground Cherry
TomatoesJumbo Jim Orange*
TomatoesTN Britches*
ChineseGai Lan*
ChinesePac Choi

All the unmarked items are from West Coast Seeds; the ones marked with stars are seeds that came to me from the fantastic Beth Breisnes in hand-folded seed packets made from newspaper. (Click here to learn how to make them yourself!) She received the seeds at a seed swap but unfortunately lost her photos of the original packets.


Today and tomorrow are busy days, so won’t have time to do anything but tend to the seeds I’ve started in the greenhouse. Hopefully I’ll have time this weekend to finish mixing the sand into my garden beds and then get to planting my peas and a couple other early outdoor crops.

Have you started any part of your garden yet? What are your plans this year?

Should I dig these things up?

What an incredible day to be out in the garden! We started taking up sod today to make room for the raised beds I hope to start building soon. Before we get too far in, though, we need to figure out what a few things are in our existing garden so that we know whether to save them or not.

Can you identify any of these plants?

Suspect one:

Mystery Green Clumps

Suspect two:

Mystery Shaggy Things

Suspect three:

Mystery... Weed?

Suspect four:

Mystery Green Shoots

Suspect five:

Mystery Red Shoots

Suspect six:

Needs to be moved

Suspect seven:


Please comment below if you know what these are; the more info you can give, the better decisions we can make on whether to leave as-is, transplant or remove mercilessly.

It’s Decision Time

Yesterday, we worked our butt off in the backyard, moving giant rocks and plants and otherwise getting one side ready to accept all the sod we’re going to have to move when we put the vegetable beds in. it was hard work and we’re both sore today, but the feeling of seeing progress is amazing!

One of the things I really enjoy about doing this sort of hard, physical work (which I don’t do nearly as often as I should) is that it gives you the chance to daydream, think deeply or just zone out. Yesterday, I used a bunch of that time to make some decisions about our garden. I’m like George W. Bush; I’m the DECIDER.

Here’s what’s what, so far:

  • I’ll be using raised beds. Although more work to set-up, and more expensive to get additional soil to fill, they warm up much sooner in the season, meaning you can plant earlier and reap the benefits much sooner. Since one of our goals with this project is to be completely self-sustaining veggie-wise over the summer, we felt it was important to get an early start. [More info on raised beds]
  • Instead of rows, I’ll do block planting, where different veggies are assigned to specific square foot blocks. Reading up on “square foot gardening” gave me the inspiration to try this. The challenge will be to put the right number of seeds in each block so they don’t crowd each other out.
  • I’ll be filling my raised beds with a mix of my own soil and City of Vancouver compost. We’ve been cleaning up our yard through the fall and packing that “Yard Trimmings” bin the city picks up; I’ll be getting a large delivery of it back as compost. If I waited until May, I could go pick up some free compost but I need almost 6 cubic meters for my beds long before then. Fortunately, it’s only $10/cubic meter if you pick it up yourself. It might not be the perfect compost, but I need a significant amount pretty quickly.

I’ve also made a number of smaller decisions, like how I’m going to handle the aggressive cedar roots and bamboo rhizomes that want to invade my garden from all directions. (The short-term solution is cardboard. I’ll explain later.)

By the way… don’t get me started on my neighbours damned bamboo… it might look nice, but it’ll burrow long distances under the ground and those shoots can get almost two inches wide. I can’t tell you how ticked off it makes me to have to dig out yet another one of those. If you see me failing in the backyard with an axe you’ll know I’ve finally flipped.

Anyway, it feels good to have some decisions made. The next step is to start picking seeds and keeping working on transforming the garden. Wish us luck!

And Where, Exactly, Am I Supposed to Start?

Let’s get started, shall we?

Planning a garden of any size is an intimidating endeavor; even last year when I put together my patio container garden I was so worried about having the wrong soil conditions, picking the wrong seeds, planting them at the wrong time, over- or under-watering, over or under-feeding, losing the battle against weeds and whatever sorts of evil bugs might come and decimate my (tiny) crop. The situation seemed grave: one misstep and my tiny garden empire would come crashing down around me.

I’m still nervous about what might go wrong; growing a garden in the ground is very different than growing on a third-floor patio; despite my best efforts, I will see weeds and pests in my garden this year—they’ve still not invented affordable garden force fields. That said, if I get everything off to a good and thoughtful start, I’ll be giving my garden a fighting chance.

Before I select my seeds, I’ve got a few important things to consider:

Location. This was decided in December; one side of our back yard is significantly less shaded than the other and also had fewer well-established shrubs and plants. We’re still going to have to lift up some sod and do a ton of work, but it seems manageable.

Garden style. How are we going to plant everything? There are so many options out there; container gardening, classic in-ground beds, raised beds, hydroponics, growing in rows, in square foot blocks, growing ornamental veggies in regular flower beds.

Soil conditions. How sandy (or loamy, whatever that means…) should my soil be? How much fertilizer should I add? Is the PH in the right range? How’s the drainage of the soil? Are there enough earthworms?

Planting plan. Where am I going to put the tall things, like peas, pole beans and sunflowers, so they don’t shade the other plants? Where should the cucumbers, squash and other ground vines go so they can spread out without suffocating the other plants? What plants should get put together to benefit each other?

Speaking of “companion planting”, the American Indians used to plant corn (maize), squash and beans together because of the many ways they compliment each other.

The maize provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants utilize and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight, which helps prevent weeds. The squash leaves act as a “living mulch“, creating a microclimate to retain moisture in the soil, and the prickly hairs of the vine deter pests. Maize lacks the amino acids lysine and tryptophan, which the body needs to make proteins and niacin, but beans contain both and therefore together they provide a balanced diet.

From Wikipedia

So, time to do a little research and make some decisions; there’s also a time to do undertake some serious work in the back yard to reconfigure things. Both my partner and I have tomorrow off, so perhaps we’ll get to it then.

Got any thoughts on any of the choices mentioned above? Please share!

Why start Cogno’s Garden?

Although I didn’t catch it when it was first published in 2005, I’ve been familiar with the concept of the “100 Mile Diet” for a number of years now; I even had a chance to participate in a 100 Mile Dinner while visiting my parents on Mayne Island a couple years ago. What is the 100 Mile Diet? It’s an attempt to only eat foods with ingredients that come from less than 100 miles away. (Check out this list of reasons why it’s worth trying to “eat local”)

I might never want to give up my bananas and other high food-mile foods, but I do have a particular admiration of those who enthusiastically support local producers and understand, on some level anyway, why it’s so important for people to be physically and emotionally close to their food sources.

It’s not as though I’m a fervent environmentalist, although I recycle most of the things that I’m supposed to. I’m also not a vegetarian, but I understand why eating lower down the food chain is a smart thing to do… it’s just too bad that the top of the food chain is just so damned tasty! Don’t get the mistaken impression that I’m somehow environmentally virtuous, though; I have been known to take showers that get complaint letters from the fish in the local reservoirs.

So if my reasons don’t involve saving the planet, why do this? The real reasons for deciding to grow a large vegetable garden this summer are several:

1) I love trying new things, but that enthusiasm is generally short-lived; I’m in dire need of a hobby that I can’t/won’t flake out on shortly after I start it. There’s something about the idea of putting together and maintaining a vegetable garden that makes me think I can stick with it; possibly because you see the effects of your hard work. Effort is connected directly with reward.

2) I had some success at gardening (on a smaller scale) last year. I put together a small container garden on my apartment patio and it was an unexpected success. (See photos of that garden and it’s bounty here.)

3) I love fresh food and appreciate feeling connected to its source. I didn’t realize how important that was until my friends, Sonia and Shaun Strobel, recently launched a Community Supported Fishery, a novel business model that lets community members pay up-front for a share in the boat’s catch each year.You can’t get much fresher than that unless you catch it yourself;  it tasted infinitely better than store-bought fish, and I was proud to know exactly where it had come from.

4) I’ve seen the power that a well-prepared meal has to bring friends and families closer together. I find it pretty exciting to know that I’ll be contributing many of my own ingredients this summer; I won’t be the only one to benefit from this project… so will my friends and family.

5) Dumb luck has provided me with a real back yard. When we moved in together in October, my partner and I lucked into the most incredible place with a yard just begging for a large garden plot. It’s a rental property, so we don’t want to put a ton of effort in so we figured we’d get more (in a practical sense) out of a veggie garden than maintaining the semi-wild flower beds.

This is an exciting project to undertake, but if you’re reading these posts, I’m going to need your help. As my partner and I go through the process of designing a layout, picking supplies and seeds, tending and harvesting the garden, fighting off pests, diseases and nutrient imbalances, I hope you’ll weigh in with your opinions, suggestions and encouragement. If you do, and you live locally, I promise that you’ll get to enjoy some of the bounty Cogno’s Garden will provide.