Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring! (I hope I hope...)

Well, Saturday was a lovely day--meaning it wasn't raining, the sun was out occasionally, and there were no windstorms. I've been getting a bit twitchy watching first the snowdrops appear a month ago, then the crocuses a couple of weeks later, and now all the plum and cherry trees in blossom. The rest of Canada (well, maybe not the True North) have been regularly seeing temperatures ranging from the high single digits into double digits regularly, this being the Winter That Wasn't up here north of 49.
However, this fine example of the way global climate change is going to affect us over the next couple of decades aside, I've been wanting spring to be here already. I know I'm probably early (after all, it seems to be November here, even though it's March), but I'm really not used to planting times in a Mediterranean-like climate. And this year, we've got a garden.
I've written about it before, building the raised beds and setting up the poles that will carry the tunneling plastic. But I started some rosemary seeds six weeks back (like I said, I've been hurrying the season a bit), and some tomato seeds a couple of weeks ago. And rosemary seeds either have really have a crap germination rate, or I'm doing something really really wrong.
But looking at the fragile little sprouts in their peat pellets has been making me want to get my hands dirty. So yesterday, Paula and I went to the garden centre to buy more dirt.
Over the winter we've noticed that the rains have made the soil in the beds less fluffy--which was expected. So now we're topping off the topsoil/compost mix with more soil in order to fill the beds. To the tune of 4+ cubic feet per bed.
Unlike on the farm, we don't have a lot of room, so we're having to look at more intensive methods of growing vegetables this time around. I've always wanted to try forcing potatoes in a cylinder. I first heard about this a couple of decades back as a method for re-using car tires.

At its heart, it is just a different form of hilling potatoes; on the farm, we would plant potatoes in hilled rows, and then a couple of times during the season (after they were growing well, we would push up more dirt onto the rows. The purpose was two-fold; to partly bury the green sprouting tops, forcing them to continue to grow higher before bushing out. And, secondly, to add loose dirt around the plants to encourage the root systems to spread. When working in a cylinder, you've defined how far outwards a plant can grow, so you add soil to the top, forcing the potato greens to continue growing vertically. This vertical growth means that the plant will produce more tuber nodes, and so more potatoes. I still remember the article I read back in the day saying as much as a bushel of potatoes off one plant (which is a heck of a lot of potatoes!). 

My new potato barrels
So Paula and I went for a wander through the hardware store the other day, looking for something that we could use in place of tires, and I found this 2' x 8' galvanized expanded mesh for about $5 a piece. We bought two (and a good thing too) and I managed to cut one in half with a very poor pair of metal shears. When I had rolled the two pieces and fastened them with some black wire, they appeared a bit smaller in diameter than I had been thinking. So I rolled the second sheet into a larger cylinder and tied it off. There's not a lot of soil in them at the moment, but that will change as the spring wears on. We planted some blue potatoes in the centre cylinder--I may be pushing the season too much and will end up with rotted seed potatoes instead of plants. But there's enough time left in the season for a re-plant if it becomes necessary. I'm also thinking of using the two smaller cylinders as planters for winter squash.
The thing I like about the expanded metal is that even if I over-water the plants in the cylinders, there's plenty of places for the water to go. Also, I can wrap them with plastic if necessary, making them into miniature greenhouses.
I also decided to take a shot that this really is spring; I planted some German Giant  and Red Bell (?) radishes. Radishes are very cold tolerant and were the first seed in and out of the farm garden. The plants can take a little cold and mature in about a month.
Paula decided to take her own shot, and bought some started Sugar Snap peas. She planted them along the end of the frame I planted the radishes in. I also picked up some floating crop cover the other day, and I've put it over the peas and radishes. Floating crop cover is the best thing in the world for radishes, as it keeps the insects that like to lay their eggs on radishes out of the planting. This means no worm damage to the vegetable when harvested.
Hopefully the floating crop cover will keep the rabbits out as well. We spotted one in the garden Friday night, and noticed s/he had dug up one corner in one of our frames. Rabbits may prove to be a major problem.....

Garden sheds and cold frame

The rest of the garden is coming along nicely. We're in the university community garden and the garden was moved last fall to this new location. the two garden sheds (above) have been brought in and we noticed the cold frame has been installed alongside them.
Compost bins have also been built. I was really impressed by them. They are sized by the pallets that they are built with. Each bin is made up of pallets on three sides, and 2 x 6 lumber on the fourth side.

The line up of six compost bins

Some construction detail
The bins are fastened together, sharing the side wall with the next bin. They are then lined with 12mm hardware cloth on three sides and the bottom. The fourth side is removable to make turning and emptying easier.

The bins themselves are kept from moving by chunks of reinforcing rod pounded into the earth and then strapped to the pallet. We've had a couple of serious windstorms this month since the bins were put up, and the bins haven't shifted at all.
The bins are finished with hinged lids of 6mm plywood and 19mm x 75mm lumber to reinforce the ply. My only quibble would be that the lids don't slope, and without regular upkeep, the lids will perish a bit quicker than might be liked.

Ours is not the only garden, of course. And others are working hard to make things happen. Not everyone is concerned with intensively-gardened vegetables; below is a spiral herb garden I immediately loved. At the moment you can only really see the large rosemary plant, but later this year there will be a lot of interesting plants to bed seen.

Spiral herb garden
There are other gardens as well. Below is a blueberry planting--there are actually about ten bushes planted in the triangle. It's just that they are the same colour as the leaves at the moment.

More blueberry bushes than you can actually see
And, in honour of the fact that the University grounds were originally a large plantation for camas bulbs, and a significant food source for the Coast Salish people who own the land (UVic is on unceded First Nations territory). I find myself looking forward to seeing the camas in bloom--and possibly getting a chance to taste the roasted bulbs.
Camas garden
Like the compost bins, others are finding ways to re-purpose things they have on hand in ways that will help them garden.

As you can see, tray covers are being re-purposed as cloches.
There's still a fair bit to be done. I want another, narrower raised bed for beans and tomatoes (I managed to snag a couple of beans from the Rainbow Kitchen garden to grow this summer. We also stumbled across a Medlar tree at the garden centre which is now living in a pot at the garden. And, before fall, we have to have our seed saving regime in place. So here's hoping this really is spring here on the coast.

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