How Does Our Garden Grow?

Image: Gardens and Cabin.

Certainly not with silver bells, and cockle shells, and pretty maids all in a row. But grow it does … at least some of it.

I’ve grown enough gardens over the years to know that the ground breaking year for a garden plot can sometimes be a disappointment. So I started the year prepared for the worst, and planted a wide diversity of seeds. And while we didn’t get the worst, it was a tough summer for the garden, and I am glad to have at least some of the plants grow to harvest.

Many of the problems we had were the result of gardening based on my Prince Rupert experiences. Breaking the ground was tough, slow work, and I didn’t get any seeds in until May and June. In Prince Rupert, this would have been fine. But on our south-facing site in Port Neville, the garden temperature in May was already too warm for plants that like cool starts. Beets, chard, and spinach were total failures. Lettuce struggled, with only a few survivors. It looks like I should have planted in April, or even March. I also tended to hill the rows and plant in the raised areas, a technique that works well to increase drainage. However, in Port Neville, we got very little rain after the beginning of May. Furthermore, when the weather got hot and sunny, the northwesterly winds kicked up and katabatic winds (also called williwaws) come down from the north behind the cabin. These winds further dried the soil and wind stressed the plants. Rather than planting on “hills”, I should have planted in the depressions. This would have protected the soil from the wind and made hand watering more efficient. Next year …

Other problems had to do with the quality of the soil. In some parts of the site, the soil had a good clay content and held moisture relatively well. In others, the soil was very light and sandy. Plant growth was uneven, depending on the soil type. We also had allelopathic inhibition (the chemical inhibition of one plant species by another) from bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), which grows extensively on our site. It looks like I will need to work on building the soil up – good thing our humanure system will be making lots of compost.

And of course, we had predators. The electric fence kept the big ones out – I’m sure there were a few bears and deer deprived of a free meal. But we had lots of little ones. Happily, the birds worked overtime, and many of the predatory insects became a source of food for robins, sparrows, fly catchers, and hummingbirds. On the other hand, the robins and cedar waxwings weren’t too shy about helping themselves to the fruit, so we had to net our strawberries, currants, and Saskatoons. Nothing except the garter snakes would tackle the huge banana slugs. Clearly, there were not enough snakes in the garden, as the slugs consumed a good percentage of the plants that survived drought conditions. Ken started offering the slugs a free flight to an all expenses paid beach vacation. They seemed to like this so well that none of them came back. What a surprise!

So what did grow? Potatoes and tomatoes are doing well, as are most of my beans and peas. Kale is also surviving (hard to kill that stuff), and mustards did much better than lettuce. I thought you couldn’t fail with radishes, but my radishes bolted quickly and hardly formed any root. I figured they were a real write-off until they started producing abundent amounts of large, juicy seed pods – these taste just like the root, but sweeter and tender, and you get lots from each plant. My squash plants look like they might be successful if I can keep the slugs away. Onions and turnips are doing reasonably well, but struggling a bit with the hard, dry soil.

Garden 2016-2

Image: Potatoes, Beans, and Squash.

Garden 2016-3

Image: Lettuce, Kale, and Peas.

Garden 2016-4

Image: Potatoes, Corn, and Runner Beans.

Garden 2016-5

Image: Heritage Pea Flower (Swedish Red).

These photos show another project that we have ben working on. Our cabin is now partially stained, and is the red cedar color that we always dreaming it would be!

On a last note, today is Lughnasadh (also called Lammas), a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of the harvest season, and is the first of the autumn harvest festivals. Seems like an appropriate day to be talking gardens!

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4 thoughts on “How Does Our Garden Grow?”

  1. We’ve had a similar challenge but soil is so scarce, we built garden boxes. To that we heap compost, seaweed (rinsed) and hardscrabble dirt from nooks and crannies. The three 32 sft boxes do a good job keeping the moisture in. Especially since we have a windy site.
    Glad to see your comment section.

    1. I am hoping to dig in a lot of seaweed and alder leaves (for the nitrogen) this fall. Hopefully, this will improve our rather sandy soil. As well, if I dig down deep enough, I can bring up some clay, which will also assist in water retention. We are going to set up the beds to be watered by flood irrigation next year – this will allow us to water everything with a couple of hoses, and get the water to seep deep into the soil. I would like to be able to leave the garden for several days without watering, unlike this year, when I had to water nearly every day during the hot, dry spells.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Hi Barb and Kennard;

    Just found your site and have enjoyed your journey you so kindly share. We live “off grid” in Ontario but our site is rural rather then remote. We are building raised garden beds as the bedrock here is very close to the surface and the top soil is very thin if at all. So far very happy with the results as you can see in our blog.

    Thanks again for sharing your adventures with us. I look forward to reading every post.

  3. Thank you! I’m just off to check out your blog!

    We have had good success with raised beds as well, particularly in Prince Rupert, where we had very little soil and way to much rain, so good drainage was important (see http://www.oceanecology.ca/Flipbook/Creag_Faoiltiarna_Fitheach_Permaculture_Design/index.html and http://www.oceanecology.ca/Plant_obs.htm). Here, we have lots of soil (I haven’t hit bedrock yet), but the soil is quite sandy and low in organics. The real problem is water limitation during July and August. I think with some soil improvements to increase the organic and clay content, and with a deep soaking irrigation method, we will get some pretty decent crops.

    I’m hoping to avoid raised beds at our homestead simply because they are so labour intensive to make. We spent a whole summer building raised beds in Prince Rupert and ended up with about 250 sq. ft. of garden. Here, in Port Neville, a spring of soil breaking, albeit hard work, has yielded 800 sq. ft. of garden space. To be totally sustainable, we will probably need even more garden than this (we still have an orchard and some grain crops in mind).

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