It's that time of year again: the 2013 seed catalogues have come in from my favourite suppliers and now it's time to figure out what the heck I'm going to do in the garden this year.
I really didn't know anything about growing vegetables before we arrived here, and so the last four years have felt like a big experiment, full of the novelty of any new adventure. But now it's time to get real. Or at least real-er. Not that it won't still be fun - it will. But I think I have enough data and experience now to be more realistic about what I can successfully grow. Here's what I'm thinking.
Thought #2: I should only grow what I'm willing to eat. Take beans for example. In my first year's garden I grew lots and lots of beans. Pole beans and bush beans. Yellow beans, green beans, purple beans. Soybeans, filet beans and beans for drying. Consequently I preserved a lot of beans. I pickled beans, I blanched and froze beans, I dried beans. And I learned a few things - namely that there is only so much pickled anything I am willing to eat (I'm much more likely now to reach for something fermented than traditionally pickled), and frozen beans have an awful texture. So awful that most of that first year's frozen beans ended up being given to the chickens. I thought maybe I did something wrong (I blanched for a short period of time, then shocked with ice water, then used a vacuum sealer) so the next year I followed a different set of advice and didn't blanch, I just cut up and vacuum sealed. Still awful.
And the dried beans! My third year I wanted to see how much protein I could get out of the garden so I grew two different varieties of beans for drying. They did pretty well, and I'm happy to know it can work, but it was too much bed space and labour for the result. So last year I planted four measly feet of pole beans for eating fresh, and that was even more than we wanted to eat. This year: three feet.
On the other hand, I keep planting more and more carrots and more and more hardy greens, like chard, bok choy and (gasp!) kale. Between interplanting with onions and covering seedlings with remay cloth I seem to have found a way to produce pretty decent carrots, which we can't seem to get enough of. Ditto for the greens, which seem especially suited to our climate. I can grow them, we like to eat them - this is a recipe for success.
Thought #3: Pelleted seeds are wonderful. Last year I planted my first pelleted seeds: carrots and lettuce. If you have grown either of those vegetables you know how tiny the seeds are. Which means, unless you have much greater dexterity and better eyesight than I do, a lot of thinning. With the right mindset this can be meditative, but it more usually feels like very fiddly torture. So when I saw seeds being offered with an organic pelleting I decided to give them a try. It's kind of like a candy coating on each seed, which makes them easier to space when you're seeding them in the garden. The seeds cost a bit more, but there's much less wastage. I'm sold on them, and will continue to buy them.
One crop that needs to be abandoned is grapes. There are three mature vines along one side of the vegetable garden, and we have yet to get anything resembling a harvest. There's just not enough sunlight. And they're grapes for making wine, not for eating, and neither of us is interested in wine making. To top it off, they contribute to the lack of sunlight for the vegetables. Verdict: they're coming down.
Thought #5: Berries are way easier to grow than fruit trees. When we moved to Mucky Boots we inherited a small orchard with three venerable apple trees (Pink Lady, Cox Orange Pippin and a crabapple) and a number of younger trees (cherry, Asian pear, peach and plum). We added a whole bunch more: pear, fig, more apples and plums. And we quickly learned that there is a disease and a bug for every season for every one of those fruit trees. It's hard to grow fruit!
Berries, on the other hand, seem to practically grow themselves. We have all kinds here - strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, gooseberries and red currants - and they all do well. Every year some types do better than others, but we've never had a bad year. Plus the investment of time before they begin to produce is much shorter. So we're going to replace the casualties in our orchard (between diseases and bears we have had a few) with more berries, not with more fruit trees. We're going with the flow on this one.
Five thoughts in one day. I better quit while I'm ahead.