We moved to our lovely homestead at the end of March 2008; 2007/08 having been the second snowiest on record, the garden – well everything – was still under quite a good covering of snow. But we knew from when we had viewed the property in the early winter of 2007, and from talking to the sellers that there was a good sized vegetable garden (roughly 20ft by 10ft), which had been maintained organically.
When the snow was all melted and the ground defrosted we discovered that there was still growth in the old patch; so we decided that we would leave it and start a new patch. There were other reasons behind the decision, it wasn’t as big as we liked and we didn’t know what had been grown where previously. It is important to rotate your crops so the nutrients in the soil don’t become depleted, and to control pests and diseases. You can read more on the reasons and benefits of crop rotation in this article on Wikipedia.
Our experience with gardening at this point was with herbs in England, which basically consisted of putting them in the ground and letting them take over! So the first step was a lot of research, I bought a good book (Vegetables, herbs & fruit; you can find a link to it in the resources section) and spent a lot of time on the internet. And we started preparing our new patch; a 40ft by 40ft square! First step was to remove the sod, this is a task that makes you realise very quickly just how big 40ft by 40ft is!
In addition to the old and new vegetable patches we have a rather large (about 15ft by 9ft) asparagus patch, 2 large and quite healthy rhubarb plants, 2 huge apple trees and a plum tree. In addition we have added 2 grape vines and an apple tree, a cherry tree and a pear tree. The trees are all multi-variety that have 4or 5 varieties grafted on to one trunk. We got the new trees as gifts for each other for our 4th wedding anniversary, which was this year and the traditional anniversary gift for 4 years happens to be fruit or flowers. But also because we have a plan to plant at least a couple of new trees every year.
For this year our ‘herb garden’ is potted. This is partially because we weren’t sure where we wanted the herb garden to be, and so we can bring the pots into the sun room in the winter and have fresh herbs all year round.
The plan for 2008 was to learn and see if we could grow some food at the same time. I started off by buying an amazing book – an encyclopaedia of vegetables, herbs and fruit – which you can find a link to in the resources section. I would highly recommend it and won’t be without my copy. I then went through the book identifying all of the things I would like to be able to grow.
Each of these went into my spreadsheet, which has columns detailing the growing time, the planting dates, the harvest dates and other notes. It also contains a plan detailing the succession of plantings that should happen in certain rows.
According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac here in Ottawa we have a growing season of 151 days, with a last spring frost date of May 6 and a first fall frost date of October 5; and the best time to plant flowers and vegetables that bear crops above ground is during the light of the Moon; that is, from the day the Moon is new to the day it is full. Flowering bulbs and vegetables that bear crops below ground should be planted during the dark of the Moon; that is, from the day after it is full to the day before it is new again. With this information you can calculate the best plating dates for each crop.
All of these planned plantings were then plotted onto a drawing, following some basic rules that I had found in my research:
Rows A, D, G & J were for onions, as these are good companions to carrots. Rows B, C, E, F, H & I were carrots and beets, planted in may for harvest in July and then planted in July for harvest in September. The rows that were carrots the first planting were beets the second and vice versa.
Rows K to S had a succession of plantings as well, with K & N starting radishes and L & M spinach, with all 4 then having a crop of lettuce and then a 3rd crop of spinach. Rows O to S started lettuce followed by spinach.
We had 3 potato patches, with an early, a mid and a late variety, and we had two areas of bush beans, peas and three sisters that went in a month apart to give a nice long harvest of each.
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