A friend recently gave me a clipping of a news article from a Guelph area newspaper. The story was about the establishment of a new community garden in partnership with a local church and noted that the town would cover the costs of establishing the garden within its annual budget of $6,000 for community gardens. And just let me add at this point how much I appreciate the support of the Municipality of Mississippi Mills for community gardens. In 2017 that support helped build the garden in front of the Mississippi Mills Youth Centre.
So far, so good, but then I came to a sentence that left me gasping for breath. The article reported that the town also has an arrangement with a private landowner for community garden plots for four and half months a year. I don’t know about you, but I am in the vegetable patch for at least seven months a year and with the development of hoop houses, row covers, spun fabric and tunnels I am growing vegetables for at least nine and a half months a year. Being limited to four and a half months would greatly curtail the diversity of vegetables that I grow and leave me very frustrated.
At various times over the last three years I have reported on the gardening activities of a local gardening group that has been testing the limits of how much we can reasonably extend our season for growing vegetables without using fossil fuels. We are using a 1500 square-foot hoop house (basically an unheated green house). Saturday was our inaugural day for checking out what survived the winter, for spading and fertilizing six beds and for planting seeds of cold-hardy veggies. The frost was completely out of the soil and the bags of well-rotted horse manure that we had carefully brought in last fall were fully thawed so it was full speed ahead. This compared very favourably with our experience of the last three years. In 2017 we started on March 10, in 2016 on March 11 and in 2015 on March 13.
On Friday and Sunday the sun was out and the hoop house was hot – at least 30 Celsius. Saturday was cloudy, so not so hot in the hoop house but it was shirt-sleeve temperature and very comfortable. For me it was such an incredibly sensual experience to work with my hands in the soil and breathe in the scent of that rich fertile soil. The experience was all the better for being shared with several other like-minded gardeners.
The first job was to pull back the row covers and see what had survived the winter. The main survivor was a few rows of spinach.
There were also a few scallions, a bit of mache and some winter lettuce. The survival rate was much less than other years – one of the most noticeable was the claytonia. This very hardy green thrives on cold weather but was almost completely killed this winter. I’m not certain of the reason but I suspect it had something to do with the very extreme temperature swings we suffered through this winter.
After examining the plants, it was time to get down to work.
Dead plants were cleared, weeds were pulled, a few empty beds were covered with well-rotted horse manure which was then spaded in, beds were raked level and smooth, rows were marked, seeds were planted and then straw was spread in the pathways as mulch.
On our beds, which are about thirty inches wide, larger vegetable such as peas get two rows per bed, smaller vegetables such as carrots and radishes get three rows. One technique we often use is to plant two rows of carrots on the outside of the bed with radishes in the middle row. The radishes are very quick to grow, being ready to harvest in a month, and are long gone by the time the carrots start to expand and need more growing space. At the end of the afternoon six beds were worked up and planted with peas, radishes, carrots, radishes, lettuce and arugula.
The beds were once again covered to hold some heat in the soil as another gardening season is officially underway!