Thursday, April 26, 2012


How does your garden grow? I doubt it is as it is for little Mary. 

As my previous neighbours and family-friends can attest, gardening has never been my strong suit. I have bad allergies and 30 minutes of weeding can, in the worst cases, lead to massive hives and an afternoon spent on the couch, snacking on benedryl. Despite growing up with an extremely avid gardener, Momma R, I never really took up the spade but spent my weekends on whatever volunteer commitment or working or doing just about anything else other than the dreaded weeding.

This year, I really wanted to be intentional about gardening and learning and growing whatever I possibly could. My foray into preserving and canning last year led to a 2012 goal of wanting to preserve more and more. And what better item to preserve than one that you grew yourself! The wonderful farmers at the market would still get their support from me, as there are many things that I would not attempt or could not grow here.

So, for starters, I bought a book. Sugar Snaps and Strawberries: Simple Solutions for Creating Your Own Small-Space Edible Garden by Andrea Bellamy. Andrea parlayed her blog, Heavy Petal, into this book... and continues to share her gardening prowess with her readers. Being the rookie that I am, I wanted to learn some good foundational principles so that I could be better set up for success when I ventured into this growing world on my own.

A few of the things that I have learned... According to the Farmer's Almanac, Calgary has a shorter growing season that Edmonton does. I was really surprised to learn that! But I guess I shouldn't be, as there are a great many other differences between these two cities despite being only ~3 hours away from one another. So, while the Almanac predicts an average of 138 growing days for Edmonton, Calgary only has 114 days. The Almanac also provides some great estimates on ideal planting dates for all sorts of edibles, which you can search by city.

Growing season in Calgary – 114 days
Last frost in Spring – May 23rd
First frost in Fall – September 15th

Compared to…
Growing season in Edmonton – 138 days
Last frost in Spring – May 7th
First frost in Fall – September 23rd

Despite some of this, I decided to charge ahead (with the helpful advice of Momma R) and start some seeds indoors. I couldn't do anything to change the chance of frost before May 23rd but I could do some bighouse (versus greenhouse... hahah... I think I'm so funny) growing before then. Besides, what is the worst that could happen, they'll either take or they wouldn't. And, if they didn't, I could always try again or direct sow in a few weeks. Listen to me, trying to sound like a gardener who is rolling with the punches. hah.

March 25th
I started my seedlings in little soil pellets. I hadn't remembered to save my cardboard egg cartons but have made a note to hang on to the next ones that I buy. Some gardeners say that the little pellets are not good... but they were economical and seemed like a reasonable starting point for me. 

So, I rehydrated the pellets, peeled back the fabric webbing, and broke up the surface of the soil using a fork. Following Mom's advice, I planted two to three seeds of the newly purchased seeds and about four+ of the heirloom seeds that I purchased around November of last year (a sale at Williams Sonoma). Since they were a bit older, she said it was a better gamble to ensure that at least one or two germinate. 

I planted two kinds of radishes, two kinds of cucumbers, two kinds of tomatoes, winter squash, sugar baby pumpkin, beans, basil, and bell peppers. Seeds in dirt. Lids on the planters to create little greenhouses of sprouting happiness. Ready.

March 28th
Damn cats! I should have known that they would get into my gardening business at some point. Happy dirt getting more attention than they were. They were going to remind me the order that time and attention should be dispersed.

So, they crushed one side of my larger greenhouse. I managed to fluff the squished soil, hopefully without disturbing the seeds below. I think we'll be okay. I have now created a force field of curtains to deter jumping cats and hopefully protect my seed-babies. Fingers crossed.

April 1st
My radishes are growing like weeds!! These were the first plants to sprout (both the heirloom and regular varieties) and just want to drink up the sun, soil, and moisture around them. Beans, tiny tomatoes, basil, even pumpkin! are all growing.

There was a bit of fuzz on some of the plant bases/stems, which Mom said was "damping off." (Side bar - It didn't seem like the end of the world... now I google it and it is prefaced by "dreaded" in nearly every result. ACK!) Dave's Garden had some good tips for dealing with "damping off." Geez. I was so excited... I'm a week into this escapade and I already have plant-germs. I guess it is time to remind myself that I am trying to be a gardener that rolls with it. If I don't know what it is, how am I going to know how to identify it and prevent (or treat) it?? Camomile tea, here I come... a  bit to calm me, a bit to treat my plants.

This is a good learning experience... I say again, this is a good learning experience.

April 3rd
Whoa beans! They are growing growing growing. Almost time to start thinning these seed-babies. Ugh. I hate Darwinism. I don't want to pull any of the seedlings out, even if it gives the biggest and strongest one the best chance of thriving. I feel like I am giving up on the other guys! Well... technically, I am. I'm deciding that some of these seedlings aren't going to cut it. There's no transplant at this point. There is no second chance. There is a pluck and a goodbye. 

I'm going to have to mentally prepare for this. 

In reading up on thinning, I like the recommendations on Dave's Garden again... don't pluck, he says! You don't want to risk traumatizing the roots of the plants you do want to keep. Instead, you should choose the one or two that you want to keep and clip the rest with scissors right at the soil level. Less trauma = happier plants. Alright. Noted. 

I also have that strongly steeped camomile tea in a spray bottle, at the ready, to fight any further signs of fungus and dampening off. Hopefully it works some magic. 

April 10th
Everything is really coming alive. It is so fascinating to watch. I wake up in the morning and I check on my seed-babies. I come home and I check on my seed-babies. I guess I should probably call them plant-babies now, since there are really no seeds left at this point. Anyway, my plant-babies are flourishing.

There are a few radishes that I don't think have quite come back from their fight with dampening off. I'll keep giving them some TLC and camomile cocktail... and, if not, I sense another lesson. Prevent, rather than treat, dampening off. And prepare to say goodbye to some of these poor little radish-babies. I'll sow a few more in your memory.

April 12th
So, I wake up this morning and start through my morning routine. Once the dog is outside doing his business, I go to check on my plant-babies. 

THE HORROR! Plant-babies were attacked. By the Cat Monsters. 

My once wondrously tall beans were gnawed to stumps. My radishes, already unhappy by their bought with dampening off, had their tasty sweet nurse leaves chomped. My baby basil buds were crushed. And my tomatoes were tasted. 

And then, you know what happened, I cried. Yep, I sat down on the stool next to my plant-babies and lost all perspective and I cried. I was working so hard. Dampening off was one thing. Some bug that finds them later would be another. But I had already thought of this. I created a cocoon for my plants behind the dining room drapes, to deter the cat-monsters, and I failed.

The grey day today is not helping my plant mourning feelings right now. While I know that I have plenty of time, I can reseed those lost and nuture those who survived, I'm still sad. Irrationally, melodramatically, ridiculously... sad.

RIP, little plant babies. Know that your schrapnel will provide nutrients for your brothers and sisters. I will always remember and think of the plants that could have been.

April 26th
Some of my tiny tomato-babies have managed to survive. Peppers have sprouted too! I'm glad that they didn't quite wake-up until after Jack-zilla and Wally the Swamp Monster terrorized the planter. My cucumbers, winter squash, and pumpkin also managed to survive and are now thriving again. 

I am replanting some of the beans and tomatoes (hoping for a bit more luck), filled a pot with basil seeds, and am opting to direct sow the radishes in a few days or so but not going to bother with indoor starts again.

But first... there is a LOT of weeding - the dreaded weeding - to get done outside.

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