The Big Picture

It’s been almost a year since I wrote anything here and in those last musings I promised I would write next about how permaculture gardening makes for less work overall.

Springtime planting takes a lot of intense work and certainly 6 raised beds, which is what I have now for annual veggies, is a lot less work than the 12 I used to have. You can get a refresher on where the redesign all began at this ch-ch-ch-changes post.  But the two photos below are a quick look at the design in the off-season before all the growth hides the lines. Everything except for the 6 raised beds up front is perennial. Click on the pictures for a larger image.

Not being in as much of a frenzy about planting annuals leaves more time for cleanup after the kind of heavy duty winter of ice/rain freeze/thaw craziness we had this past winter. But even taking that into account, the rewards of the permaculture part of the plot outweigh the work of the annuals.

When it was still too cold to even start sowing warm weather plants inside (tomatoes, tomatillos, and ground cherries this year), we were eating Sea Kale, Sylvetta, and Good King Henry Spinach from the garden. The young fresh leaves on all 3 of these plants are to die for. No less spectacular in their own special ways were the Egyptian Walking Onions and the doing-its-own-thing, ever ubiquitous rhubarb. I’ve already made rhubarb peach jam (peaches frozen from last year’s harvest), rhubarb crisp (well, of course), and multiple iterations of stewed rhubarb. I let one of the plants go to seed just to bear witness to the flower which I’d never seen before. At least not in our rhubarb patch.

Sea Kale

Spring is also the time to take a step back and look at the big picture. What are the plants telling me? Any fruit trees/bushes with weakened, damaged, or broken branches that need to be pruned? Anything obviously unhappy where it’s living that would benefit from a geographical? And which plants need some organic plant food? (answer: all of them)

For every success story, there is also a challenge. Peach leaf curl comes to mind. Leaf curl, though not necessarily fatal, looks really horrid and can, in fact, impact peach production. It often happens when the spring weather is wet, cold, and windy which ours certainly was. The kiwi had a bad case of powdery mildew for the same reason.

Just as the kiwi is now happy and in full bloom, I’m hoping the peach tree will also recover. I’ve had to deal with it one other time and after picking off every effected leaf, had a hugely productive harvest. I’ve done the same thing this year so I’m hoping we get the same result!

 

Hot and Humid

I’m not crazy about the humidity that’s knocked us off our feet but the garden seems to be thriving in it. This year’s harvest is the biggest I’ve had so far. The freezer is full of fruits and veggies, I’ve canned pickles, relish, and jam and the garden is still out there producing.

One of the things I’ve really loved this year is that not only are we filling our pantry (so to speak) with fresh fruits and vegetables to enjoy well into the winter, but we’ve given lots and lots of food away.

Especially peaches. And here’s what I learned about this magnificent fruit … you have to thin them early in the season like you would carrots or beets or anything else. Our tree was so overloaded with fruit I had to pick the fruit to save the tree. But the other thing I learned? Peaches ripen after they’ve been picked.

Peach Tree

Peach tree started from a pit 5 years ago.

I’ve also had this crazy little love affair with the way peas, beans, and cucumbers send their tendrils out to wrap themselves around whatever is nearby, thereby helping them climb rather than crawl. When I have more time I’m going to write a whole essay about that. And the peach tree. Click the pics for a better view.

Of course there’s been the usual shenanigans with bees and flowers.

Next post I’ll talk more about the food and how last year’s redesign to include more perennial foods made for an easier season work wise.

The In-Between Time

So it doesn’t really feel like winter anymore and yet it is definitely not spring. It’s raining but there’s the odd big-flake snow flurry mixed in with it so I don’t quite trust that snow is done for another year. In fact they’re threatening a Nor-easter for next week. Winter does not let go easy here. But I’ve started thinking about spring anyway and gardening is on my mind.

Sadly, I have to be away for most of May this year. Well, not sadly because the time away will be fun but May is, of course, prime gardening time. I’m nervous about getting everything prepped and planted and wondering if I should just let someone else take over for awhile. But to remind myself not to worry about things and to remember that it is Mother Nature in charge after all, I want to share a story I just read in Thomas King’s book, “The Truth About Stories”. He tells about the grandfather of a good friend that he went to visit when he was travelling through Alberta. They were sitting inside having tea when the old man asked (and now I quote King)…

‘You see those tomatoes out there?’ From the kitchen window you could see his garden. The tomato plants were just beginning to produce fruit. ‘When that last storm came through, I was just getting ready to pick my tomatoes. They were big and red. Real ripe. But the storm beat me to it. First the rain. And then the hail.’ And here the old man stopped and helped himself to more tea. And then he sat back and looked at the table. I tried to be sympathetic. ‘You must have been upset’, I said. ‘Nope’, said the old man, without even the hint of a smile. ‘Always good to have some ketchup.’

I laughed hard reading that and decided there was no way to go but easy, to do our best day by day and then let it go. I’ll be back here when it’s spring. And it will be spring before we know it.

Reticent Spring

Though it’s not like the springs we’re used to, spring is here. I’ve decided she’s just a little shy this year. Still, the garlic is up, rhubarb, comfrey, chives and ever so many bulbs are showing themselves as well. We have a long way to go but hey, it’s a start and I’m not complaining! I’ve been cleaning up mulch, freeing plants into the open air, and generally “encouraging” slugs to go elsewhere.

Unfortunately, there were tons of would-be maple trees I had to weed out today. Those winged pods that let loose in the fall dig themselves deep, survive the harshest of winters, and start growing into a forest of little maple trees come spring. I cannot have that.

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The ever ubiquitous Maple. No wonder it’s Canada’s tree.

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The ever ubiquitous Maple. No wonder it’s Canada’s tree.

I even had to pull out a maple that had rooted itself inside the rhubarb that’s starting to unfurl its lovely leaves. Makes it way too tempting for the slugs…

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Rhubarb knows it’s spring.

And finally today I rescued a batch of Pulmonaria (aka lungwort). I suppose I didn’t really rescue it so much as clean off the old leaves. As it turns out, it was doing quite well underneath the mess, albeit too wet for my liking.

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Pulmonaria hidden under winter’s mess.

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Slowly uncovering the flowers.

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May Day

It’s been a tough April. May has not been so friendly herself so far. Still too cold to plant most things. But I’m getting a lot of work done in the garden at a pace that’s actually kind of fun and reasonable. Today I spent a few hours cleaning up some of the veggie beds. Kale left over from last year is sending out new leaves so I cleaned out the old mulch, killed me some slugs, and spread coffee grounds to deter them from coming back. (Unlike me, slugs don’t like coffee.) And I planted a couple of blueberry bushes: Duke and Blue Gold. I’ve got haskap and kiwi but I’ve never grown blueberries before. More on all of this later. As well as pictures. Meanwhile, there’s this…

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Spring is Peeking

Yes, it has been a really long and harsh-for-Halifax kind of winter but just as the bravest of the plants are starting to peek out from under their protective mulch, so go I. Twice now I have been out in the garden in a tank top and steel-toed boots cleaning up the detritus (I’ve always wanted to use that word in a sentence). While the perennials may be far behind where they were this time last year, the important thing is that they’re here.

After a little cleanup of dead stalks and mulch, voila...chives! Always the first green I see in the veggie garden. And we've already sampled them...scrambled eggs and chives!

After a little cleanup of dead stalks and mulch, voila…chives! Always the first green I see in the veggie garden. And we’ve already sampled them…scrambled eggs and chives!

Garlic finally peeking out through the mulch.

Look for the green… garlic finally peeking out through the mulch. Last year’s were 5 times the height by now.

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Tulips and daffodils never let me down. They’re later this year too, of course, but later is better than never.

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I’ve never been a big fan of crocuses (crocii?) and this is the first year I planted them. I’m still not a fan but seeing their blooms is beyond delightful when there’s still snow on the ground.

 

seedlings

Meanwhile, inside I’ve got the tomatoes going as well as some squash and goji berries. Goji berries are a first for me and, while apparently almost indestructible once planted out, the suggestion is that they stay indoors for the first year.

Call It A Season

I noticed the other day that the scarlet runners, beans that I thought had finished their growth for the year and had given me all the beans I was going to get, had started growing again. Is this normal? I have no idea. But they’re starting from the ground up and look quite healthy. I know they won’t bear fruit but it’s nice to see them anyway.

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Scarlet Runners get a new lease on life.

I have the feeling most things that can will give it one last blast before the cold sets in. The broccoli is winding down slowly, still lots to eat, and the bees, sluggish though they be, are still buzzing around the flowers. Ladybugs too. You can see they want to hibernate… they’re moving so slowly but I do still love seeing them.

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Bees are sluggish but still active in the broccoli.

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I must have been a ladybug in a past life.

Echinacea (l) and fenugreek also getting ready to call it a day. Or a season, I guess. Note the pods on the fenugreek. Echinacea flowers still brilliant but having a hard time holding themselves up.

echinacea fenugreek