Tag Archives: Organic gardening

Garden Diary – March 13, 2012

20120313-200130.jpgThis year, a new strategy for blogging my garden. I’ll post what I’m doing, when(ish) I’m doing it. The “why” I’ll get to if I’ve got the time and/or if you ask questions of me on Twitter, Facebook or in the comments.

When I started blogging about my garden last spring, my intention was to document my thought process on why I’d made all the little decisions I was making on a regular basis. Additionally, I wanted to add a little bit of explanation, in the hopes others might find it useful. Unfortunately, as the garden project got busier, I spent less and less time writing about it. So, time to turn over a new leaf…


To bring this up to date, so far I’ve:

1) Bought a wire rack from Costco, some fluorescent shop light fixtures (4 feet long), “daylight” fluorescent bulbs, a few feet of small-link chain and a roll of plastic. Used it all to build a little greenhouse in the basement. (Photos of the set-up coming soon! In the meantime, here are some newly germinated cauliflower:)


2) Bought “Jiffy” peat pellets and used them to start a bunch of seeds. All these varieties are from West Coast Seeds, except as noted. I’ve started the following so far:

February 23, 2012
BroccoliHybrid Broccoli Blend
CabbageEarly Jersey Wakefield
CauliflowerWhite Cauliflower Blend
CeleryTall Utah
LettuceSuper Gourmet Blend
LettuceLooseleaf Buttercrunch
OnionWalla Walla
February 28, 2012
PeppersJalapeno M
PeppersPurple Beauty
PeppersRed Habenaro
PeppersRed Cherry Hot
TomatoesGreen Zebra
TomatoesBlack Krim
TomatoesOregon Spring
TomatoesYellow Brandywine


3) Last week, my father came over and we pruned the bottom branches off the giant cedar tree in our backyard. Mostly, it was for safety, as the branches were growing between the power and other utility wires. The added benefit, though, is that it’ll give most of the garden an extra hour or two of daylight each day. We’re just using our Yard Waste bin (and those from the neighbours) to get rid of the cedar branches a bit at a time.

4) Picked up a pickup truck-load of construction sand from Mainland Sand and Gravel in Richmond. Brought it back and combined it with my fresh compost to add to my garden beds. My beds were almost 100% compost last year and were pretty soggy, since the compost sucks up the posture like a sponge. I hope the sand helps improve the drainage somewhat; and I’ll add extra wherever I plant my root veggies (carrots, parsnips, etc.) this year.

I think that pretty much brings us up to today. In the next few days, I’ll finish adding the compost/sand to my beds and lightly tilling it in. I’ve got to do a couple of soil tests to make sure the right nutrients are available. Then, it’ll be time to start planting peas, beans and a bunch of other wonderful things. Also, the grass needs some love; it needs some sand and maybe some lime, as well as reseeding in a few places.

So, that’s my garden; how’s yours coming along so far?

Getting to Know My Dirt

The damned stuff is cheap until you start testing it, amending it, taking it out for meals.

I picked up a soil testing kit at the store a few weeks ago and and started to use it before the weather turned cold. I wanted to get a snapshot for what the existing soil in my yard is like, so that I know how much I have to play around with it make it perfect for my little veggies.  What I wasn’t expecting to discover was just how tedious it is to collect tiny samples of soil and administer a handful of tests to each one. Dirt… water… mystery powder… wait patiently… Eureka!  This soil doesn’t suck, so on to the next sample… lather, rinse, repeat.

What have I learned, apart from the fact that testing soil is incredibly boring? I’ve learned that my back yard is topsy-turvy when it comes to soil acidity, for one. From everything I’ve read, conifers tend to make the soil beneath them acidic so I expected to find that the dirt under our giant cedar tree was so acidic it’d melt my fingertips off. Sadly, it tested out as almost neutral (6.5-7.0) so all my frantic warnings to my partner to stay clear were for naught. Pity, it’s much more romantic to protect your loved ones from pits of hydrochloric acid than tap water…

The testing kit I bought. Apparently all the hydroponic stores <cough cough> sell it.

Meanwhile, the part of the yard where I hope to put the garden is definitely acidic, somewhere around 5.5-6.0. A standard way to bring acidic soil towards neutral is to add lime, so I picked up a couple bags from the store. I then made the mistake of mentioning this purchase to a few friends, who’ve been asking me ever since about who I intend to dispose of. (Just because I work in a building that was once the city morgue… bunch of wiseguys… <sigh>)

The tests for nutrients in the soil are a little more complicated and time-consuming. I have to gather larger samples of soil and mix them with a larger amount of water and let my “dirt soup” sit for a few hours, until settled. It’s the water that then gets tested. I’ve not managed to accomplish that part yet, thanks to that little blast of winter we had over the weekend. Maybe next weekend I can practice a little more backyard chemistry of the non-illicit kind.

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!