April 28, 2020
The unusually cold weather of the past couple of weeks has made it difficult for our early crops to achieve much growth. This happened last year as well making one wonder if this is a new weather pattern for this time of year in our part of the world. In any case, we shouldn’t assume anything when it comes to weather.
In our garden, of the vegetables we seeded out in March, radishes, beets and peas are up, surviving unprotected through numerous freezing nights. The garlic is standing tall and chives are almost ready to cut. Rhubarb is pushing up new shoots and asparagus will start appearing soon.
As we head into slightly warmer temperatures predicted over the next couple of weeks, we will resume seeding and planting into the garden. That takes us into May with more sunlight and fewer nights of freezing temperatures.
It’s time to put the first potatoes into the ground. A cover of straw will help protect them from frosts until they grow up through the soil. We will soon be starting the cucurbits in plugs to plant out in late May. Over the next couple of days, we will plant out dill, cilantro, parsley, cabbages, chard, etc. We will also seed our first beans knowing that we may need to protect them from frosts. The frost blankets we used all winter in the cold frame greenhouses now come in handy for frost sensitive crops in the garden.
It’s not advisable to try growing heat-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and basils out in the garden until later in May as the ground is still very cool and risk of ground frost is high.
People often ask about bringing in soil for their garden. That is only necessary if the soil is shallow, where the bedrock is close to the surface, or if the soil is so high in clay that it is hard to work and difficult for a lot of the crops that need a looser soil.
No matter what soil you have in your yard, it is precious. It took millions of years for water, ice and wind to reduce mountains of solid rock into sand and clay. This is the basis of soil that supports life. It supports us. If the soil is not suitable for food gardens, it can be amended.
To get a sense of what type of soil you have in the yard, take a handful of moist soil and squeeze it. If it is sticky, light in colour and can be formed, it’s high in clay. If it’s gritty and falls apart, it’s high in sand. Black soil is high in humus (composted organic material). The ideal soil has some of all these components. The clay holds water, sand allows for drainage and humus enriches soil. Soil that is high in clay is hard to work, but can be amended with the addition of sand and compost.
When we work in the soil, we get to know many of the organisms who are part of the soil community. The more diversity there is in this soil community, the more stable it is. A healthy community has checks and balances with each creature contributing to the overall wellbeing of the ecosystem.
Soil erosion is a major problem where land has been cleared of vegetation and excessively cultivated. Wind and water will carry away precious top soil. Keep in mind that Nature has no tolerance for bare soil. Weeds help prevent erosion. These opportunistic plants are usually short lived but their seeds can stay dormant in the ground for many years. It’s best to remove “weeds” only when we’re going to plant or at least cover the area with mulch, landscape fabric or other opaque material until planting happens.
One thing about gardening with Nature, we need patience. We become observers and participants, not controllers. Any action we take is guided by ecological principles. We can observe these principles in natural woodlands and meadows. When leaves and branches fall, they protect ground creatures from the scorching sun and droughts of summer or the cold of winter. These creatures, in turn, break down the organic material into humus that is a vital component of any soil.
A natural community is a perfectly sustainable system that only requires the input of sunlight and rain. The ideal yard is also sustainable. Most yards need some initial input but with time and the composting of organic material, seed collection etc, there is real potential for sustainability.
One of the ecological tragedies of urban and many rural areas is the meager amount of room we leave for wildlife. Wildlife, in general, will live right next door to us if we provide space. Wildlife is vital to our own well-being.
To thrive, creatures need wild spaces. Farmers can keep fencerows, woodlots and wild meadows along with cultivated areas. Urban land owners can provide space for a few native shrubs and trees as well as an area of native wildflowers and grasses. Animals like butterflies, birds, reptiles and amphibians could then move from one yard to another, connecting with rural areas on the periphery of the town or city. We would essentially have never-ending wildlife corridors as Nature intended.
Wildlife spaces can extend into our food gardens. Gardening naturally means we don’t use chemical weed and insect control. A piece of cardboard covered in mulch like fallen leaves or grass clippings makes for a good weed barrier, provides shelter to soil dwellers and eventually decomposes into humus.
Many of the creatures inhabiting our yards are predators of those who feast on our gardens. Lady beetles, hoverfly larvae and tiny parasitic wasps control aphids. Ground beetles hunt slugs and snails. Toads, frogs, birds feed on insects. Once we set up a garden, it is best not to see wildlife as competition but rather as participants, each in their own way. A hole in a leaf or fruit does not make it bad for consumption. We best take the scientific approach and see our garden as a place for observation and learning. One may go so far as to document the critters that inhabit the yard and learn about them through observation and research. Any biologist knows how fascinating all life forms are.
We all started life as scientists, eager to learn without judgement or expectations. Getting back to that approach frees us in a very profound way. It ensures a stimulating back yard gardening venture in a year when staying at home can reveal all kinds of possibilities.