Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure: Dana considers professional help

June 27, 2008

I‘ve learned a lot so far on my big gardening adventure. For instance, bugs eat leaves and seed tape sucks (look to the left). In fact, I think I’ve learned just enough about food gardening to realize how much I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m pretty thrilled to be learning so much about the complicated process of growing food!

I’ve already got a lot of plans about how to improve my techniques for next year. I’ll write more specifically about what I’ve learned not to do later in the year when I’m sure I know what I know (I hope that sentence made sense to you. It seemed pretty eloquent until I wrote it down!).

In the meantime I’m going to do more research of both the hands on and reading variety. I’d love to seek out professional help but I don’t think my schedule or pocketbook can afford the luxury. However, if you’re in a different situation, you might like to spend part of your summer on Mary Jane’s Farm. Although it sounds like a pot plot, it turns out that Mary Jane teaches people like me who want to garden organically how to get great results. It’s like a summer camp for green thumbs!

If you can’t go in person, check out their forums, magazines and books for armchair inspiration.

Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure continues: plant a pizza garden

June 6, 2008

Photo credit: thepizzafarm.com

If you’re looking for a way to teach kids (or adults) about how food goes from farm to fork, planting a pizza garden may be an ideal summer project.

At it’s most authentic, a pizza garden is a place where all the elements of a pizza are grown and transformed into a pizza pie. Places like the Pizza Farm in California and ‘R’ Pizza Farm and Restaurant in Dow, Illonois, epitomize the concept. At ‘R’ Pizza Farm and Restaurant, a 2-acre pizza shaped plot is used to grow organic produce and livestock (chickens, pigs, herbs, tomatoes, peppers). Each wedge of land is large enough to grow a single crop or to pasture a goat, a cow or another animal that can be milked to make cheese or raised and processed to make meat-based pizza toppings such as bacon and pepperoni. The on-site restaurant at ‘R’ sells pizzas made only from the grain, vegetables cheese and meat raised on the property. It’s a wonderful place where people can see where the food on their plates comes from. ‘R’ Pizza Farm attracts about 4,500 visitors each summer.

Although I don’t recommend raising goats in the backyard (unless you hate your neighbours and enjoy visits from by-law officers), you can still plant a pizza garden at home. Simply make a round shaped bed, divide it into sixths or eighths and plant your favorite sauce and vegetable topping ingredients.

Use the following info to help you create a plant list and to get the most out of your pizza garden as the season progresses:

Basil: If you pinch the stems frequently, your sweet basil will grow bushy and full.

Eggplant: When harvesting, cut each eggplant off the vine leaving about an inch (2.5 cm) of stem remaining on the fruit.

Garlic: Plant garlic in the fall. Where winter is mild, plant cloves 1 inch (2.5 cm) deep, root side down; where winter is severe, put them 2 to 4 inches (5 to 8 cm) deep and mulch lightly.

Onions: Spacing the plants widely apart will maximize air movement and help reduce the time that leaves are wet, resulting in less risk of disease.

Oregano: Don’t begin to harvest the leaves and stem tips until the plants are 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12 cm) high.

Parsley: Try soaking the parsley seeds for 24 hours in room temperature water before planting to accelerate germination. For large parsley plants, thin sprouts to about a hand-span apart.

Roma tomatoes: Commercial tomato growers in California are now planting four tomato seedlings in the same hole since trial has shown that the stress caused by the four plants competing for the same amount of moisture, fertilizer and space causes them to bear more heavily.

Rosemary: As the seedlings become established, pinch the tips to prevent the rosemary from becoming leggy. Once plants are well established, begin to take cuttings; however, never harvest more than 20 percent of the plant at one time.

Sweet and hot peppers: Peppers of all kinds like hot sunshine, warm nights and moist soil. Stakes can prevent branch breakage when the fruit is heavy.

Zucchini: since water on the leaves can lead to powdery mildew, water these plants at the roots. Zucchini dehydrates quickly so mulch the soil heavily but leave some room around the main stem to prevent rotting.

Dana’s Gardening Adventure: Growing veg is also great in a crate

May 30, 2008

So, the plants and seeds are doing their thing in the garden. Weeds seem to be growing faster than anything, which is a bit of a worry but I guess also a fact of the organic gardening experience. While mine is a classic backyard garden plot, I’ve noticed that people are finding any way they can to be better earthlings by growing a few of their favorite veggies and herbs.

Urban community gardens are popping up in all kinds of Canadian cities. In fact, the picture above is of a 2007 summer Toronto garden sponsored by Hellmann’s mayo. This year their project will continue with 94 contest winners who will get urban garden plots in cities such as Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. Hellmann’s also has some useful online garden planning tools I found fun to play with.

If you don’t have access to one of these plots or have a yard that’s suitable for planting, you can still grow food in window boxes, pots and other containers. I’ve done it and it’s surprising how much produce a few pots can yield.

Even if you’re a champ at growing decorative plants in containers, the shift to growing edible plants can be a challenge since soil, sun and fertilizing can greatly affect the taste and nutrient content of herbs and vegetables. So, check out my container gardening tips before you get started:

Sun: To mature successfully, the balcony or terrace where you grow edible plants should receive about 5 hours of sun a day, preferably morning or late afternoon exposure, which is less scorching than the intense, mid-day rays.

Drainage: Choose containers that have an adequate number of holes in the bottom to ensure proper drainage; that way your edible plants will neither drown nor parch.

Soil: The soil for growing edible plants in containers needs to have a combination of characteristics: container plants do well in soil that allows rapid drainage but also require sufficient water retention to keep the plant roots uniformly moist. “Soiless” potting mixes and peat moss drain quickly, are lightweight and free from soil-borne diseases and weed seeds.

Planting: Since there is seldom 100% germination and emergence when growing plants from seed, always plant more seed than is needed in each container. After the seeds sprout and the seedlings start to touch, thin plants to the desired number.

Feeding: Since you’ll be cooking and eating the herbs and vegetables you grow, choosing a safe fertilizer is very important. Avoid chemical fertilizers that can make plants inedible. Unlike a yard garden, the soil in containers is unlikely to get organic enrichment naturally so work compost into the containers often. Compost is sold by the bagful at most garden centres.

Watering: The best way to water container plants is with a watering can or gentle sprayer attachment on a garden hose. Be sure the water is cool before applying it to the vegetables, particularly if the hose or watering can sits in the sun for part or all of the day. Watering with hot water cannot only damage foliage, but retard root development.

Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure: planting time!

May 23, 2008

Just as I’m getting my seedlings and delicate baby plants into the garden as part of my own personal locavore experiment, big business is catching on to the concept, too. From the sounds of this article, the effect of big companies growing and processing locally is excellent for the economy as well as for the environment. Good news all around.

My intention is to reduce my food miles for produce to zero this summer and I’m off to a good start. You’ve all seen my seedlings and the bricks I pulled out of my garden to get ready to plant. Now, it’s time for you to meet John, my mom’s boyfriend. That’s him rototilling the soil in the garden behind my test kitchen. As you can see, I didn’t fib when I told you that I had great garden plot. Look at how dark that soil is!

After he finished, I marked out my rows and got my seeds and seedlings into the ground. I’m going to be using 100% organic techniques this year as part of my experiment. With soil that has been a fallow compost heap for at least three summers, I expect I’m going to have a ton of weeds. At John’s suggestion, I’ve spaced the rows wide apart (almost 2 feet/60-cm) so that we can run the rototiller down the rows to mulch up the worst of the weeds as they spring up. That said, I’m expecting to spend a lot of time weeding this summer so next on my purchase list is a composter.

Next week I’ll have pictures of my garden and a full plant list to share so please drop by to see my progress.

Dana’s big gardening adventure continues…

May 16, 2008

I’m getting ready to plant at last! My test kitchen is in a house that has a large, unused backyard. The people that owned the property previously had a wonderful, large vegetable garden at the back of the yard. They split the garden into smaller sections with interlocking brick paths so that even if the ground was wet you could walk through the garden easily.

When we took over the place, there was a lot of yard work to do and the whole family came to help. My dad brought in a skid steer loader which really helped Martin and I to move around things in the front yard so that we could expand the parking area and to help move out the junk that had accumulated in the backyard.

Having no intention at that point to use the veggie patch, we drove over the garden with the machine and piled up brush and stuff there until John, my mom’s boyfriend, could bring in his a wood chipper. Needless to say, all that activity in the garden moved the bricks all around. Now, after several years of weather and compost being spread over this space, the bricks were well disguised, making the garden a veritable mine field for a rototiller.

I enlisted the help of two 11-year-olds (my son and his BFF – it’s amazing what the promise of Dairy Queen can do to motivate kids!) and we set to work searching out the buried rocks. See that pile in the picture above? The three of us unearthed the top five rows on Saturday afternoon. To be honest, although it was hard work it was also fun.

Now obstacle free, it’s time to let John come in to rototill the space so that I can get the seedlings and seeds planted on the long weekend! Wish me luck. My big gardening adventure is finally ready to kick into high gear!

What’s happening in your gardens? Have any of you been brave enough to plant yet?

PS: Here’s a blog I discovered that has some good gardening tips. Kalyn’s Kitchen.