Working on the Yard

I spent the majority of the last two days working on my back yard. First I put in the garden along the fence I’d been wanting for the last few years:

I’d had one there before, and I’m pretty sure the previous owners of the house had one too, since the soil was black and rich instead of being just clay, at least for the first few inches. I hadn’t done anything with that garden since the old fence started to fall down, but this year we have the new one up, so I don’t have to worry about either a pile of wood or contractors squashing my plants. I planted Jerusalem artichokes, pumpkins, Hubbard squash, butternut squash, cucumbers, zucchini, and asparagus, alongside the rather tiny rhubarb plant I planted years ago. I tried putting down landscaping fabric to prohibit the weed growth, but we’ll see how that goes.

I cut back the apple tree, although it’s still pretty huge, all in all. There were a bunch of dead limbs and I ended up losing almost a whole one of the major subsections closest to the house. I really hope that whatever killed those branches doesn’t spread to the rest of the tree, though. One of the reasons I got a deck (instead of a patio like originally planned) is to accommodate the apple tree’s roots. It would really suck if the tree then ended up dying. Also, I just plain old love that tree, especially every second year when it blooms.

In my main veggie garden, I’m happy to report that the potatoes are starting to sprout — alongside a bunch of tiny weeds. I only just weeded that bed, I’m a little annoyed that the weeds are already returning. Hopefully the plants I actually want will grow tall soon and start choking out the plants I don’t.

A friend of mine gave me a black tomato plant to add to my cherry tomatoes, and I’m curious to see how the fruit turns out.

My pear tree is flourishing, despite still being shorter than me. I might get twice last year’s harvest, so… Ten fruits, maybe? I always like how pears grow up while they’re tiny, but then the weight of them drags them down to hang how you’d normally expect over time.

I also had to mow the grass, at which point I discovered that apparently I have wild strawberries growing in my front lawn, which surprised the heck out of me. I don’t care much about my lawn so long as it is green — grass, clover, strawberries, it’s all okay by me, so long as it’s not thistles, which are painful to step on. After a quick Google, I discovered that wild strawberries are perfectly safe to eat, especially if you know that the ground they grow on is pesticide- and herbicide-free, which mine definitely is. They’re not really big enough to make much of a crop, but they are definitely more flavorful than the commercially-grown variety.

I finished the day with a barbecue dinner for my family, my parents, my brother, and his friend. I made salmon on the smoker barbecue — not burned, just a little ashy — with a glaze of maple syrup and a sprinkle of salt. My mom brought over her famous potato salad with bacon, and I grilled up some zucchini and steamed asparagus. I also made some rice to serve on the side, at my kids’ request. All in all, it was a lovely meal, and I’d eat it again in a heartbeat.

Mystery Plants

Victoria Day long weekend (more commonly known as May Two-Four) is this coming weekend, which is usually the time when most people in this neck of the woods start plating their garden for summer. Mine isn’t quite ready to be planted yet. The one along the fence line needs cleaning out, added soil, and sheep manure fertilizer; the one near the house may be partially dug up so as to do some work on the foundation. Even if that wasn’t the case, I’ll be at Russell Flea all day Saturday and I’m hoping to hit the Rockland Community Garage Sale on Monday. (Yes, Monday — apparently they hold it on the holiday Monday every year.) So I wouldn’t have much time to garden this weekend in any case. I’ll try to get as much possible done next week instead.

Since I wasn’t sure how much of my garden I was going to be able to plant this year, I didn’t bother starting plants indoors for a change. Once I know how many I’ll need, I’ll just buy seedlings from a local nursery. However, I do have a few items sunning themselves on my window shelves. One of the gifts that I got from Thing 2 for Mother’s Day this year was a cute little bee plant pot made from a recycled aluminum can. When I received it, it was filled with soil and, I was assured, a few seeds.

And the seeds have sprouted! I am probably way too excited about this, but plant gifts from children often aren’t in the best shape by the time they arrive home, so their survival was not assured. I have no idea what kind of plant this will end up being, so I don’t know how much to water it or if it’s a sun or shade plant, so… Fingers crossed?

(And yes, I know that my photo is kind of hazy, like a femme fatale in an old film noir movie. I’m not sure if the lens/mirrors need cleaning or if there is something wrong with my camera/lens since I kind of dropped it on Saturday at the con. I have to give it a good once-over; I’m really hoping it’s just dirty!)

Signs of Life

The “on this day” features on my phone and Facebook and whatnot keep reminding me that last year at this time the city was really greening up. Leaves were unfurling, plants were sprouting, and spring had definitely sprung. This year, not so much. I mean, that’s probably a good thing, because it’s only been two weeks since we had an ice storm. For those who don’t live in northern climes, ice or snow on leaves instead of bare branches puts a whole lot of weight on trees, meaning a lot more breakage and overall damage. Not to mention the frost damage that would have affected lower-growing plants. So in the long run it’s probably good that spring is springing slowly this year, even if it does mean that things like Ontario parks have had to have a delayed opening.

But if you look closely, you can see some signs of life, like buds on a lilac bush:

Or on a pear tree:

And hardy rhubarb sprouting up despite being thoroughly trampled by the fence installation guys in the fall:

With any luck, my harvest will be better than last year’s.

Of course, the tiger lilies are one of the first plants to shoot up after the snow recedes — they generally survive the last few freezes of the season just fine:

And the first dandelions have started to bloom:

I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of digging dandelions out of my lawn and my gardens, but they are one of the earliest foods for bees in the spring before the rest of the plants flower. So, yay!

I don’t generally plant my gardens until after the May 2-4 weekend, as late frosts can kill tender young plants. Given the weather we’ve had this year, I may be extra-cautious and not plant for another week after that, at the start of June. I mean, it hit 28°C (82.4°F) yesterday out of the blue, but average temperatures for May are generally much lower than that. However, I still enjoy seeing the native and perennial plants coming back in force after the temperatures rise.

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.