Saturday, August 16, 2014

Gardening with an accounting principle

Many years ago, when my daughter was a baby, I took a course in accounting. The idea was to acquire a usable skill that might lead to flexible employment, perhaps as a free lancer from home. I didn't get very far. My brain was Mommy Mush, totally obsessed with the adorable 4 months old at home. She was extra special because it had taken two pregnancies to produce her.

But I did learn something in that course that has always stayed with me: The Principle of Ongoing Concern.
It means that no matter how brief the future of an enterprise may be, you keep the books as if it will continue forever.

You may be planning to declare bankruptcy on your startup next week, you still maintain those books as if the business is working towards its centennial celebration.

Right now I am applying that principle in the gardens. One moment I want to stay on this land forever, the next the village beckons. There is much to be said for having friendly coffee shops and the beautiful waterfront within walking distance. A friend is considering putting her home up for sale. I love her place and have often imagined myself there. It is right in the heart of the village, but the fenced sheltered lot is private and offers plenty of scope for the aspiring urban food gardener. No deer and a longer growing season. Dilemmas, dilemmas. 

But meanwhile we serve these gardens as if we will be here for years to come. We garden with the principle of ongoing concern.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Moments of truth

I came into the fenced veg garden on the top level and noticed that a wind storm the previous day had damaged two pole extensions. When the fence was built some years ago Old Dutch did a brilliant job of extending it upwards. Some of the extensions had snapped. For reasons I will not go into here any fixing is up to me. I did a brilliant temporary job using the material on hand: duck tape. 

But while I stood there taking in the damage and wondering how to keep the hungry hordes of deer out now it suddenly hit me: This is getting to be TOO MUCH. The time is coming to retrench instead of expand. 
For the first time ever the thought of a nice small house in the village with a decent size garden began to appeal to me in the middle of summer. In winter the thought has occurred before but once the snow is gone, never! I will die here! Or so I thought. People can change. The thought of the actual move is daunting. It's not like you can wave a wand and magically switch places. But there is much to be said for making those changes while we can and before we must. The offspring has a sentimental attachment to the place but it is unlikely they will want to live here again as long as the present geological and social order holds. It may not but that is another story.

Another moment of truth: I have run out of "If onlies" and I am still nowhere near the perfect garden. You know, if only my hips did not hurt. If only I was not side tracked by the farmers market, house guests or reflexology clients. If only I did not get tired halfway the day. If only I had a greenhouse.
If only I had a fence. If only I had enough manure. If only I had enough mulch.

Well, this year there are no excuses.
Body parts: working fine, thank you chiropractor and physio.
Energy level: great, thank you surgeon and bluegreen algae.
Time: In May and most of June I was available to the garden almost 24/7. I potted up a few plants for the market but not much. 
Greenhouse: check.
Manure: check. I started the year with an ample supply of sifted compost and COF.
Mulch: last fall a friend delivered 25 bales of hay. I can pile it on. Straw is better but hay is more easily available.

It is still not done. There. Moment of truth. I am trying to do too much. If I did not get it all together this year I never will. 

We have now hit the season of extreme heat as well as harvest. Keeping things watered and picked will take precedence over working ahead, framing another raised bed etc. I am also taking part in the farmers market again, getting reflex clients again, and the grandson is coming over for three weeks. The time of total garden obsession is over for this year. Either we relax in the wabi sabi of it and enjoy what is there, which is plenty! or we drive ourselves nuts. Wabi Sabi (the appreciation of imperfection) it is.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Garden seasons by state of mind.

June  2014. (started early in the month, finished later)

Surely it cannot be the sixth month of a year whose date still sounds slightly unreal? Ruminations about time must be reserved for the rants blog, or I get side tracked even more than usual.

I am behind, of course. On the other hand we have been eating home-grown salads since early May, which is pretty good, and I froze my first bags of greens for spanakopita and non-palak non-paneer. One of the reasons this blog has been languishing is the lack of good photos. I have never liked the Canon Power shot A1300 as much as its predecessor, the A560. We finally figured out how to access the menus in the first, and cleaning the lens restored bulky Old Faithful. Better pictures coming soon, I hope.

Meanwhile I have been incubating a post about the states of mind that seem to accompany each micro season in the garden. Today is the first cold rainy day in some time, a perfect time for it. No pictures.

March/early April: Re-awakening.
We have starts under grow lights, and are slowly shifting into garden mode. "Brown Time" is the time after snow melt and before the grass and bracken kick in. The soil is still too wet to work, plants are sleepily stirring underground but not doing much yet. There are aconites, crocuses and snowdrops in the small flower bed underneath the living room window, but otherwise every green shoot is a rare cause for celebration.

We can walk all over the land. In winter the snow is too deep, in summer the bracken too high. Ideally, Brown Time lasts from about mid-March to mid-April, and is a leisurely season of poking and puttering, collecting stakes from the woods, dragging messy branches to brush piles for burning, raking up some of the dead vegetation from the bracken field to use as mulch later on, tidying up the flowerbeds, moving some perennials around.

In a not-ideal year like this one March is still winter and snow lingers till mid-April. We have to hit the ground running.

Mid April/early May: The season of promise.
We are fully engaged now. Perennials are popping up in the bare flower beds. Hardy starts like leeks and brassicas have been moved into the greenhouse, tender seedlings remain under lights but have been potted up. We are preparing the soil, one of my favourite things to do. Changing a lumpy weedy bed to a smooth dark  seedbed is so full of promise. Everything seems possible, even crops that look like the glowing pictures in seed catalogues. Could this be the year we pull it all together? The land is like a park, a total joy. Daffodils and primroses are blooming in the flowerbeds. The open spaces are green, but the bracken lags behind the grass. We can still see everywhere. 

Mid May/mid June: Obsession and Panic
I live, breathe and eat gardening. It is truly all I want to do, all I can think about, all I want to read about. If this state of mind lasted all year I would be a very boring person. (I may still be) Everything is still possible, but we now feel a sense of urgency verging on panic as the Solstice looms ever closer. Nothing seems more important than to get those last beds planted, those yearning babies in the greenhouse potted up, the flower beds trimmed and finished with annuals. I resent anything that comes between me and the garden work. Peace in the Middle East would be nice, but how will it affect my cabbages and irises? I am behind, of course. I love the work, but I would be much happier if only it were late April instead of late May. Bracken is coming up and unfurling.

Later June: Disappointment
It is becoming clear that once again this will not be the year of the perfect garden. We are still behind, torn between flower beds and vegetable garden. The weather has been too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. Carrots may need reseeding, beans have rotted in the wet ground,  spinach and Chinese cabbages have bolted in the heat.  Slugs have taken their toll, or flea beetles, or cabbage moths, voles, or all of the above. The novelty of having green leafy things to eat has worn off, but the peas are not ready yet. Disappointment season is brief but it happens every year. Bracken is fully up and out now, closing us in. The obsession is waning a bit. We remember that there is more to life than gardening, that minds and friendships need cultivating as much as the ground.

July: Resignation and jungle.
Winter seems impossibly far away. We have always been in the garden and we always will be. Not all visions came true, but the plants that are growing are doing it so fast we can barely keep up. I call it jungling. Besides, it is getting too hot to get upset. Who needs perfection? Let's do some beach, or flop down on the shady lawn with a good murder. In the hottest months the garden has to compete for attention with summer guests, the farmers market and the desire to have some summer fun.

August: The fullness of harvest.
The fullness of summer. Even in a bad year there should at least be zucchini and snap beans. Watering may become an issue. We are starting to fill the freezer. There are early potatoes. In years we have chickens this means we can put an entire home grown meal on the table, I love that.

September to early October: More harvest, and thinking of  next year.
The climate seems to have shifted. These days spring is late to warm up, but September has become a true summer month. This has been the pattern for some years now. I love September in the garden. The summer guests have gone, and we don't feel torn between garden and  beach. The days are cool enough for serious work. We are enjoying the plenty of this year, and leisurely working ahead for the next season, when the garden will be perfect, right? In a good year garlic gets planted between September 15 and October 15. In a bad year it gets planted with clumsy freezing fingers with the first skiff of snow already on the ground.....

Mid October/early November: Wrapping it up, working ahead, maybe.
Once it gets cold the garden feels like work. I may still put in a few hours a day, but when the temps fall below 7 C my hands start hurting after half an hour or so. Guess I am allowed some signs of old age. Brussels sprouts get harvested by sawing whole frozen stalks off and dashing back inside. We start to look forward to the winter break. If the raspberries get pruned before the snow flies, great. If not, by now we know that a painful chore in fall is pleasure in spring.

Halloween to Imbolc: REST.

In May I may picture myself studying and planning during the off season. The reality is that by November I welcome a break from the whole thing. Once the snow covers everything the garden is out of sight, out of mind. The cycle starts again in late January or early February, when we seed leeks. You can't plant them early enough.





Saturday, May 10, 2014

Let there be light! The trouble with trees.

As said before, what this land wants to do is grow trees. It is very good at it. While waiting for trees a lush cover of grass and bracken fern, interspersed with wild flowers, holds the soil on the slope. One of these days I will devote a post entirely to bracken.
June is tiger lily month.

It is hard to remember, but in our earliest years we were thrilled to find baby trees here and there. We wanted a fringe around the place for privacy in case neighbouring lots ended up being cleared. We got it. Indeed, we are now surrounded by clearings, but our neighbours are mainly invisible thanks to our own trees. We also wanted a few islands of trees here and there. They obligingly appeared. 

There is one problem: trees don't know when to quit. They just keep spreading and they just keep growing. I love trees but I also love sunshine and views. 

We have had several cullings when the price of timber was higher. The money we got for the wood paid for the work done by the horse logger. That was some years ago. It was time for a new round. I would have done it earlier but for two factors. Finding a way to get it done without paying anyone, and domestic politics. It seems that in every household in the woods one partner likes shade and privacy, while another prefers sun and openness. My own inertia is a powerful force to begin with. Add the desire to avoid conflict, and years passed with more shade than I like. 

What finally shook me up was remembering that non-action is a form of action. (Thanks for the lesson son Alex) We have never sat down to discuss the pros and cons of turning an abandoned hay field with stunning views into forest with a few openings. It just happened. So why do I feel guilty about removing a few trees? The culling done now is still a compromise.

One large tree shaded the greenhouse section. Every year I pictured it gone, but put up with it for one more year. Its time had come. 
The last blow to inertia was struck by a good friend who found an experienced faller to do the job. The friend pays for the work in return for the firewood. I know nothing about the value of wood, but apparently it is a good deal all around. Win/win.
Note the twin stumps in the center above. The extra light in this garden, just below the greenhouse, is amazing!
The only drawback is the mess of branches. 
I thought of hiring a teenager to deal with them, but after the chiropractor fixed my hips again I did my own shlepping to a central pile. 
And so it goes.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

No spring yet, and not in my step either.

Spring Equinox 2014. 
We had some beautiful days and then some more snow/sleet/yuck. The snow is melting, but it has a long way to go yet. The last of the snow can leave the gardens here at any time between early March and late April. Obviously this will not be one of those early springs when we can get a leisurely head start. Too bad, I love it when I can spend a few weeks just poking around without hurrying. Remind self to be grateful we are not in drought-ridden California. 

We do have signs of spring.
Poor robin. The dramatic pile of snow is what slid off the roof. I love that roof.
As reported I lost my first batch of seedlings due to my own stupidity. That put a damper on the early enthousiasm. 
But a worse damper is coming from my body. 
My injured right knee (tibial plateau fracture in July 2012) has been acting up, after being fine for a year. Last year it allowed me to do absolutely everything I felt like doing, including feats of extreme digging. I walked up and down the hill between dwelling and garden and barn, I hauled what needed to be hauled, I had no pain, was full of energy and had a blast. Hips might balk once in a while but a visit to our wonderful chiropractor took care of that. Aging? Ha! Not yet! Scott Nearing didn't slow down till he was almost a hundred, right? Or so we thought till this week.
The path to the greenhouse is a half-thawed out trail through snow that is still halfway to my knees. That is the worst possible thing to walk on, even when you are careful. You take a few steps and without warning your foot slips off the trail into the soft mush to the side of it. Needless to say this is hard on the knees. It happened a few times yesterday when I took the compost to the barn through a different route. I thought I had gotten away with it, but on the way home from a walk, on the easy flat part just below our own land, I experienced a sudden sharp pain just below the knee cap and felt half crippled for the rest of the day and half of the next.

The plan had been to start some more seeds but it took me too long to move around. I got the planter prepared, that's all. This was one of the days when the thought of a cute house in the village with a small but perfect garden starts to be appealing.

I dug up some of the physiotherapy exercises I never did a lot of. The knee responded with gratitude. Stronger muscles help to keep the knee in place. I should have called this post "When in doubt, follow instructions, part 2".

Post script.
I had almost forgotten about that. The knee as well as the rest of the body has been behaving perfectly after a few exercises. I am so grateful to the good trusty old beast!


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

When all else fails, follow instructions.

WAAAH!!! My first planting of leeks is damping off! And it is entirely my fault. Talk about being penny wise and pound foolish.

This has never happened before. I feel like someone working in a hospital, besieged by increasingly resistant bacteria, who has come to rely on the magic of antibiotics and gotten sloppy about hand washing.

What does every garden book tell you about starting seeds, which I have been doing for more than 40 years now? Use a sterilized planting medium. I usually make it a point of saving some from the big bales and keeping it handy so I can thaw it out come February. But last year I did not sell plants at the market, I ran out of potting mix and did not feel like shlepping another bale to the greenhouse. Instead I sieved potting mix that had been used in containers last year and used that. Sieved, but did not sterilize.

Fortunately I have lots more seed and it is still early. But still. There goes a full month of time advantage. The only other things I got going are leafy greens, that are very replaceable if they die.

Today we buy some bags of starter mix. Grrrr. 

Continued: The next two batches did not do well either. That may have been burning by overzealous use of liquid fertilizer, rather than damping off. There had been no sign of fungus after all. Instead of my usual Sunshine mix enriched with COF I had some Schultz all-purpose liquid plant food and diligently misted my seedlings with it. Did I use an exact measure? No.....more what Jamie Oliver calls a glug. Finally read the instructions. For a one liter spray bottle half a teaspoon will do. Oops. See title of blog. So old, and not yet wise.....

Friday, February 21, 2014

Asparagus to Zucchini aborted, and Wrapping it up, working ahead.

Finally!

Asparagus: 30% win. 
Yup, that's all. They had been neglected in 2012. This spring there were some stalks of edible size but never enough for a meal. They were enjoyed raw on the spot, the gardener's reward. This fall they got a thorough weeding followed by manure and mulch, so let's hope for more in spring.

Arugula:80% win
Gaia bless the pungent trusty stuff. The only reason it did not get 100% is that I don't always remember to replant every few weeks.

Beans: 80% win.
Earlier I complained about the lack of snap beans. Once the Blue Lake pole beans kicked in they made up for it. We enjoyed them daily for weeks and I froze quite a few. They don't really freeze well, I should investigate pickling or canning.

Beets: 100% fail.
I only planted a a few golden ones and they never amounted to anything. 

Broccoli: 90% fail
The early transplants were demolished by slugs, overnight. I was left with two plants that yielded many side shoots. I do like this variety a lot. Pakman. The second batch was meant to mature in fall, but the timing was off. Close but no cigar. Will try again and start the late batch in late June instead of late July.

Brussels Sprouts: 60% win
The plants were splendid and well looked after. I did exactly the same things as last year, except better. But when it came to harvesting time the sprouts were still small. I heard the same thing from other people and have no idea why. Yes, I did top them off to encourage sprout growth.

Cabbage: 100%WIN!
Alcosa hybrid savoy yielded the nicest cabbages ever. I even got a second batch in November, smaller but  worthwhile. They were eaten fresh, frozen, and honoured as a main ingredient in giant batches of borscht. Our first home in B.C. was in Christina Lake, in Doukhobor country. We have the fondest memories of delicious Russian food in the Yale Hotel in Grand Forks, now burnt down. A search for Grand Forks style borscht turned up this beautiful blog with traditional Doukhobor recipes and memories. 
http://kootenaigirlcooks.blogspot.ca/2012/11/borscht.html
I follow the recipe almost to the letter, except I do include some cubed beets, and I poke the stick mixer in at the end. It tastes like the best restaurant borscht. The blog says you can halve the recipe. No way! It freezes beautifully and I double it. Note to self: must grow and freeze dill next year.

Carrots: 30%win.
I seeded early and carefully in one of the fortresses. The lined raised boxes may be a deterrent to voles, but slugs get right in there anyway. The first sowing was about 90% eaten. The carrots that survived were excellent, but too few. The second seeding in July was still a bit small, and to add insult to injury, we got a hard frost before the snow and I couldn't get them out of the ground. Next year: sow in the main garden again, the voles seem to have died down to a manageable number. And never mind the square foot method, it doesn't leave enough for the predators. Back to rows and laborious thinning.

Cucumbers: 50% win/fail
They are always an iffy proposition and I won't waste too much garden space on them. One tripod in the greenhouse yielded enough for fresh eating, but not the abundance I was expecting and they fizzled out early. My bad for planting a bush variety? 

Egg plant: 10% win
I only put in one plant, in a tub in the greenhouse, as much for beauty as for fruit. That tub also contained marigolds and nasturtiums, just for the joy of walking into a blaze of colour. I don't know if it was the company or something else, but I got exactly one aubergine. Two years ago I got 5 from a single plant that was in a smaller container, go figure. 
__________________________________________That's all she wrote. I must have been planning to continue this back in the fall and never did. It is now the end of February 2014 and time to plan ahead instead of looking back.

I also had a half finished post on wrapping it up, working ahead. 
This was the first October in years that I had the chance to just carry on gardening and working ahead. It was quite wonderful. I am, of course, nowhere near ready, but there is no such a thing as ready, is there? 

Done: 
The small flower garden by the stairs was totally prepared. When the snow drops and eranthis appear I won't have to remove slimy stalks from the previous season.
The big flower border got tidied up. Some daffodils were planted where they are meant to go, others are waiting in containers in the ground in the greenhouse and some in the veg garden.

I made enough good rich COF for 400 square feet of garden.
Before I can make more I need a trip to Nelson.
Last year's compost heap yielded at least a hundred gallons of garden gold, sifted and ready to go. This year's heap was turned and enriched. There is still some manure left from the gifts of my friend Els, whose sheep and horse produce more than she can use. It is covered with a tarp and happily curing.

Last but not least: I got my hands on 25 bales of hay for mulching. Supposedly spoilt and only $2 per bale, but it had no discernible mold and smelled delicious. I did not put it on the garden because the voles would enjoy it too much as a winter home. Slugs likewise. It is also kept under a tarp and  will be nice to have handy in spring.