Gardening in Almonte: Moral Compass?

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David

How do we decide right from wrong? I’m not talking the biggies here – grand theft auto, bank robberies and the ilk – but more the little decisions that we make each day that we have to be comfortable with. I think that we often make rules that we are comfortable with so that we can make quick decisions.

One example that springs to mind for me is the rules I use for birding (One of my passions is observing birds in nature). Inevitably most birders start keeping lists of the birds that they have observed. A friend that I often bird with is very comfortable with recording many birds on the basis of hearing their song; on the other hand, my sister (a life-long birder) has a very strict rule that she must actually see the bird. I tend to the latter position, perhaps mostly because my hearing and memory for sounds is greatly inferior to that of my birding companion. However I’m now finding things are not quite so black and white – the call of a crow is so distinctive – do I really need to see it?

So now we come to the gardening column – many events in the gardeners’ world are cyclical. Since I have been writing this weekly column for 4 years and the deadline looms uncomfortably close at times, it is very tempting to recycle material from previous years.

Last week I was caught. I had described digging out comfrey roots as if it was something that I had done a few days earlier. A gardening acquaintance fired off an email to me asking if it was possible to get a chunk of that root. I had to reply that I had copied material from four years ago and no longer grew comfrey.

Should I recycle material? I have mentioned this to some readers and they actually said that they appreciated the reminder of what they should be doing at different times in the growing season. Other readers have observed that my columns are a tad long.

I’m taking a break for the winter and plan to return in the spring with a restructured format – writing about garden happenings in the community and what’s going on in my gardens followed by bullet-form reminders of what is timely to do in your garden – and all of this within a limit of 800 words.

I am very thankful to my editors Brent and Edith for their unwavering support. I am also so thankful for all that the Millstone contributes to the heart and soul of this community.

So – full disclosure – what follows is taken from a column from December of last year.

Finishing the gardening season

Several days and nights of low temperatures has pretty much eliminated the possibility of doing any more outside gardening tasks – when a pickaxe is required to break through the frozen crust on my gardening beds I know that it is now time to turn my attention inside and catch up with some of the jobs that have been neglected in the rush to get the outside jobs done.

The first job is to clean all of the garden tools, sharpen if necessary, cover metal parts with a bit of oil and hang in a safe place in the tool shed or garage.

The next job is to complete the garden records from this growing season – I have a written record of each growing bed, the date it was planted and the variety of vegetable that was planted and whether it was planted from seed or transplants. To this record I add some short notes such as the earliness of the harvest, any particular growing issues, the quality and yield of the harvest and a recommendation to myself as to whether I would grow this variety again.

One other thing that I like to do this time of year is to create a written inventory of all of the garden seeds that I have left over from this year’s garden. I create a record of the vegetable variety, the source of the seed, the year that I bought it and approximately how many seeds are left in the packet.

Why not buy all fresh seed every year?

Many seed packets contain enough seeds to produce many more plants in a year than I could conceivably want or have space to grow, for example I only have room for 12 celery plants, not 50. But I find it extremely wasteful to throw out partial seed packets knowing that seeds may remain viable for many years. And often I will purchase larger packets of seeds than I need for one year since, for example, for twice the price I’m getting four times the number of seeds.

How long is seed good for?

The following are approximate ages at which seed of good initial viability stored under cool dry conditions will still provide a satisfactory rate of germination:

  • Beans – 3 years
  • Beets and Swiss chard – 4 years
  • Cabbage Family – 5 years (includes broccoli, cauliflower, collards, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts)
  • Corn –1 to 2 years
  • Cucumbers – 5 years
  • Eggplant – 5 years
  • Onions – 1 to 2 years
  • Parsnip – 1 to 2 years
  • Peas – 3 years
  • Peppers – 4 years
  • Pumpkin – 4 years
  • Squash – 5 years
  • Tomatoes – 4 years

I will toss out any seed packets that are clearly ones that I will never plant or ones that I have serious doubts that I will still get a good germination rate. Nothing is more disappointing than preparing the growing space and planting the seeds for a crop that is very time-critical, waiting two weeks for the seed to germinate and then seeing absolutely nothing happen. I’m thinking of vegetables such as squash or pumpkin that I might plant directly in the garden on Victoria Day and where I don’t have a lot of leeway if they are to ripen before the first fall frost.