Give Peas A Chance

I am very pleased to be able to say that my pea vines are starting to produce pods! My rhubarb is usually the first plant to produce edible parts come spring, with my peas are coming in a close second. Unlike the rhubarb, though, if they’re given proper TLC, these plants will give me veggies for the entire summer. Now, I don’t grow enough of them for peas to become a major part of the diet in our house, but my kids love picking them straight off the vine and will snack on them until the vines die off.

I can’t help it though, whenever I work on my pea plants, I can’t help but start humming the protest song parody by the Arrogant Worms called Carrot Juice is Murder. This was the height of humour for me as a teen, and I still know all of the words. I’m pretty sure my dad could still sing along too.

I really hope that I’m not the only one whose mental soundtrack while gardening is this song. But I’ve been told I’m weird my entire life, why should it stop now?

Growing Garden

I am happy to be able to say that my garden is coming along swimmingly!

My little lilac bush, which is no taller than me, is blooming like crazy for the second year in a row. With an intensity all out of proportion of to its tiny tiny size, it perfumes my home when I leave the windows open, especially in the early evening.

My wee pear tree was pollinated, and is actually growing fruit! I can only find four immature fruit hiding under the leaves, but that’s not half bad for a tree that’s only a few years old. I wonder what kinds of pear these will be? The tree is supposed to be grafted with four different varieties, but I can’t remember what type is on which branch.

My apple tree was pollinated well and there are hundreds of tiny immature fruit hiding among the leaves.

My peas have begun to flower, which means that there should be pods any time now! If I’m lucky, the plants will produce food all summer. Now, if only I could train them to grow up the pallet trellis instead of sideways.

All of my potatoes have started to put up leaves, which means that the roots are growing as well.

The shallots, on the other hand, aren’t doing nearly so well as last year. Only three of the plants have started to put up leaves, and the leaves themselves have been quite small. I’ll leave it another week or so, and if I don’t see more growth, I’ll plant more between the healthy plants. Why waste the space?

Last but not least, my tomatoes are starting to fruit! This means that I’ll soon have to put up the cages, instead of leaving them as they are on stakes. If they grown anything like last year, a single stake will not be enough to support the weight.

Building A Garden

As part of my commitment to growing at least some of my own food (because heaven knows I can’t grow enough food to feed a family of four on the amount of land we own), I’ve planted a vegetable garden in my back yard. It’s been a bit of an exercise in trial and error, because I never had a successful garden of any kind before. Until the last few years, I didn’t have the land — but I also didn’t have enough interest. I can’t pinpoint a particular event that changed my point of view, but I think it has been a gradual thing. That being said, my house didn’t come with a conveniently prepared garden plot, so it ended up being being both a mental and physical commitment to working outdoors.

I scoured my old photos for a picture of my old deck, but I hated it so much that it’s not in very many of them. The deck came with the house, and it was very poorly built — and then they painted it with interior paint, which of course didn’t last and led to it rotting out even quicker than it would have in the first place. However, we couldn’t afford to replace the deck right away, so we kept it as long as possible. The plan is to put in a small patio by the patio door sometime in the next year or two beside the garden, since what’s currently there is clay — otherwise known as very slippery mud when it rains.

However, after last year’s spring thaw, my husband and I started stepping through rotten boards on the old deck. That was the last straw for me, so I started taking the old deck apart. It was worse than I thought; the deck had been directly attached to the house wall and siding had been removed to do so. This meant that there was rot that had to be removed, new boards put in, and new siding put up. Also, the basement window under the deck had never been finished properly on the outside.

It was great to get all the boards out, but then I had to take out all of the concrete supports, which I could barely lift and definitely couldn’t carry. I ended up using a trolley to do the lifting and lugging. I also had to remove a huge random chunk of concrete that had been hidden under the deck. It was almost three feet long and a foot and a half wide, and weighed more than I did. That was a fun exercise of digging and lever use to get it out of the ground. Not only that, but it served no purpose that I could see, since there were no holes in the top where something had once been mounted.

Then I fixed up the wall of the house, and my husband helped me clear the sod where I wanted the garden to be. It was ridiculously difficult to get even the small amount of sod out that I needed for the size of garden I wanted. The seed had been planted directly in the local clay, and that stuff, when dry, is really, really hard.

I lugged in probably 2,000 liters of soil for the garden all by hand. Otherwise, nothing would grow in my garden except weeds. The soil is so poor out here. I also added a copious quantity of sheep manure compost.

I added a plastic border around the garden and planted it for the season.

With regular watering (last year was a dry summer), the garden grew really well.

I mean, it grew REALLY, really well. (I’m in the photo for scale.)

Then of course came the harvest, and then winter… By spring, the snow had collapsed my garden border, and the spring rains (which were pretty severe here, even where there was no flooding) started washing out my garden soil. Ambitious weeds started taking root before the planting season began.

Last week I built a cedar border around the garden to hold the soil.

Last year my root veggies were short and stubby, and started poking above the surface of the garden instead of growing down because they were thwarted by the hard clay under the garden soil. So this week I lugged in another 1,500L of garden soil to build up the garden, as well as another 350L of sheep manure fertilizer.

Then I planted the garden. It’s been rainy enough that I haven’t had to water it myself yet. I hope that we don’t get so much rain this year that it destroys crops. Although the way things are going right now, that is a distinct possibility. I have my fingers crossed.

Blossoms

Now that I live in a house with a proper yard, I’ve decided to try to grow some of my own food. I don’t think it saves me any money (especially the first few years, with all the set-up and trial and error), but I am proud of the food that I grow, and I know it’s as fresh as can be. I’ve never been one for taking care of purely ornamental plants, but I wish I’d started at least with basic herb pots years earlier — those things are very difficult to kill, and the fresh flavour is unparalleled.

One of the things I’m cultivating, since I do have the room and I do like shade, is fruit trees. Until a few days ago they were all in bloom, hopefully meaning that I’ll have a decent fruit yield this year. I know that flowers don’t mean that I’ll necessarily get any edible fruit, but without blossoms I definitely won’t get anything.


Pear tree.

The first tree to bloom was my pear tree, which I planted only three years ago — and this was the first time there were any flowers! It’s what I like to call my “mutant tree”, because it’s actually four kinds of pear grafted onto a single tree (it used to be five, but one branch died). Only two of the four main branches bloomed this year, but who knows if the maturity rate of all of the kinds of pears is the same? The rest of the branches are still alive, at any rate. I didn’t do the right kind of research before I planted this tree, because the blossoms do not smell very nice — which is apparently pretty common. Ah well, they don’t flower for very long, and it will be a number of years before there are enough blossoms to perfume the air; the tree is still shorter than me. The odor also isn’t very intense, since right now I have to stick my nose almost touching to smell anything at all.


Plum tree.

I was thrilled that my plum tree flowered as well; I only planted it early last year, and it didn’t flower then — and then Japanese beetles ate all of the leaves. I honestly didn’t think the poor tree would survive the winter. We shall see if the beetles return this year! They’re not quite in season yet. I would be happy if I never saw another one, to be honest. They are persistent pests that can decimate a garden, although the only plant they were interested in that I planted last year was my plum tree.


Apple tree.

The tree that I was least surprised to see flower this year was my apple tree. It came with the house, and it was probably planted about thirty years ago, when the neighborhood was new. I’m not entirely sure what kind of apple tree it is; the fruit is yellow-green when ripe, and ripens late into September, much later than a lot of the farmed apples around here. This indicates to me that it’s some kind of wild apple crossbreed (there are lots of those), or possibly a (or partly a) Russian Antonovka tree. It also seems to flower only every second year, and this is a boom year.


Apple tree.

This tree was very unhealthy when we first moved in. There were lots of dead branches, the apples all had apple scab… But I’ve trimmed back the dead wood, and (hopefully) taken care of the root of the apple scab. Last time this tree bloomed, it produced hundreds of pounds of fruit. It’s even healthier now, so I expect the yield will be even greater — especially if the sheer number of flowers is any indication.

Tulip Festival

Yesterday was lovely, if hot (30°C with a humidex of 36°C), so I headed out to Dow’s Lake to check out the gardens that were planted for the Canadian Tulip Festival. If a tulip festival sounds like something more apropos to the Netherlands than Canada, that’s kind of the point.


Canada 150 tulip.

There is a strong bond between the two countries, primarily because in 1945 Canadian troops participated in the liberation of the Netherlands and then helped to rebuild the country after the war. Not surprisingly, some 1,800 war brides and 400 children came back to Canada following the troops. Additionally, in 1940 Princess Juliana (who later became Queen of the Netherlands) and her two daughters, Princesses Beatrix (who grew up to be Queen for 33 years) and Irene fled from the Nazis to take refuge in Ottawa during the second World War. Prince Bernhard and Princess Juliana’s third daughter, Princess Margriet Francisca, was born in the Ottawa Civic Hospital during this period of exile. The “Canadian” princess was later baptized at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on June 29th, 1943, with the Governor General of Canada as one of her godparents.


Canada 150 tulips.

After the end of the war and the return of the Dutch Royal Family, Princess Juliana and the people of the Netherlands sent, among other things, 100,000 tulip bulbs to Canada in thanks. In 1946, Princess Juliana gave an additional 20,000 bulbs, and since 1958 the Royal Family has sent 10,000 bulbs annually. The Canadian Tulip Festival has been running since 1951 and obviously not all of the nearly one million bulbs planted each year in the capital region are gifts from the Netherlands, but all of the flowers are a symbol of international friendship.


Canada 150 tulips, with the Rideau Canal and Carleton University in the background.

This year is particularly important, as it is Canada’s sesquicentennial — the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Basically, the year has been planned as a giant birthday party for the country, and the Tulip Festival is part of that celebration. Specifically, a Dutch grower was commissioned by the Government of Canada to breed a tulip especially for the occasion, with red and white petals meant to mimic the Canadian flag. I’ve read that when some people planted these bulbs privately, they came up orange or pink, but the ones planted by the National Capital Commission came up in the promised red and white. Perhaps the variation available for public purchase in garden centers was a different cultivar?

At any rate, when the weather is fine, a walk through the gardens for the Tulip Festival is definitely worth fighting the traffic downtown. My favourite spot is Commissioners Park at Dow’s Lake, although I’m told that Parliament Hill and Major’s Hill Park are also planted beautifully for the season. Of course, you can check out the art installation of 5-foot-tall painted tulips at Lansdowne Park as well.