Garlic!

Planted last fall. Overwintered under a foot of straw. Ready to grow!

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Seedlings are up!

Three of the four lettuce varieties that I planted early last week are up.  The fourth one was an old seed package that I thought I’d see if they were still viable.  Unless they’re really slow germinators, they’re probably not going to come up.

The broccoli seedlings are looking great. This is the first time I try to grow broccoli from seed. I hope it works!

The cucumbers are starting to poke out.  The cherry tomatoes are up while the other variety is still waiting.

I’m still waiting to see the pepper plants come out, but I’m pretty sure they are slow to germinate so I’m not worried yet.

The seedling flats are in our basement laundry room where I can control the temperature better. I also have some grow lights and have been keeping these on for twelve hours a day.

It’s an exciting time of the year!

Winter Garden Fail – Overwintering Carrots

My harvest basket returned home empty tonight.

I had high hopes as I went to the garden to see if I could harvest some of the carrots that I had overwintered in the garden.  These carrots were not very sweet-tasting last fall so I decided to leave them in ground and cover them with a foot of straw.  I was hoping that the cold would sweeten them up and we could have carrots from the garden in the spring.

As you can see in the picture below, the carrots did not fare well over the winter.  I’m not sure if it was the constant change in temperature that we had this winter or something else, but the carrots turned to mush.  Stinky mush!

Since we’re not completely dependent on the garden for our food we’ll be okay without the carrots, but I’d like to try again next year and successfully keep carrots in the garden over the winter.

Have you overwintered carrots in your garden before? Any tips? 

2012 Garden Plan

I sat down last night and designed the garden for this year.  I used growveg.com again as it’s so easy to use.

(The brown square in the garden is a large boulder that I find easier to plant around than to dig up or blow up.)

I used the same Legume-Root-Fruit-Leaf rotation as I did last year.  This means that each group shifted clockwise one quarter. When designing the garden, I kept in mind the position of the sun and how plants would be shaded.

This year I added more flowers in the garden.  Borage, calendula, and nasturtium are all edible flowers as well as beautiful flowers.

I also tried to mix up vegetables a bit more, but that is harder to do with the computer program than when I draw plans by hand.  If I have time this month, I will draw the garden plan by hand and get even more creative with the garden.

The next step is to get my indoor seed starting set-up organized.  I borrowed some grow lights from my stepdad and have picked a spot in the house to start the seeds.  I need to gather supplies and then, at the end of March, start peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, and cucumbers.

I’m excited!

Have you started your garden planning for 2012?

Kingsbrae Garden

In between bouts of winter fun, I’ve been looking out my window at our garden covered with snow, daydreaming of the planting season to come, and thinking back on other gardens I’ve spent time in.

In 2002, after I finished my course at Linnaea Farm, I moved to St. Andrews, New Brunswick – a beautiful seaside town.  I found work at Kingsbrae Garden – a 27-acre horticultural garden built on the donor’s family estate property.

Kingsbrae Garden is filled with beautiful themed flower gardens such as the Bird and Butterfly Garden, the Ornamental Grass Garden, the Scents and Sensitivity Garden, the Heath and Heather Garden; ponds; orchards; forested walking trails; ducks, goats, and alpacas; and a 1/3 scale Dutch Windmill.  Also, to my delight , an organic vegetable garden.

Each of the gardeners working at Kingsbrae Garden is assigned to a few gardens for the season. I was happy to be assigned to the organic vegetable garden. I was also assigned to the Knot Garden which was beautiful, but not so fun, as it required near daily trimming of the boxwood, lavender, and other herbs.

As we started work a month or so before vegetable planting season I took that time to plan the vegetable garden with a four-year rotation cycle and with a good mix of companion plants.

To get the garden ready I took one of the trucks down to the nearby beach and filled with with truckloads of seaweed that washes up on shore.  Seaweed is a great fertilizer that is rich in trace minerals and hormones that stimulate plant growth. And for those who live near the beach, it’s free.

I also took the time that month to build a scarecrow.  I called her “Stella” and she became quite the attraction over the summer.

The summer I spent at Kingsbrae Garden was wonderful.  I spent most of my days in the vegetable garden, planting, weeding, and harvesting.   I would offer vegetables to taste to the visitors that walked through the garden.   I would also offer vegetables to the other staff who were not always used to my odd vegetables.  No one took me up on the offer to take home purple potatoes!  What was left over I took home and cooked up for supper.

During the time that I wasn’t in the vegetable or knot garden I helped the other gardeners in their flower gardens and helped to take care of the ducks and goats.  I learnt so much that summer.  Maybe I’ll go back to work there someday. 🙂

If you’re in St. Andrews by-the-Sea, go visit Kingsbrae Gardens. You won’t regret it.

Linnaea Ecological Gardening Programme

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my first garden was grown during my time at the Linnaea Ecological Gardening Programme on Cortes Island in British Columbia.

In 2001 I was working at the Falls Brook Centre in New Brunswick and getting interesting in gardening and organic farming.  I decided that I wanted to go out and get some more hands-on experience with farming.

Unlike the day-to-day parts of my life where I plan and plan, I tend to make big life decisions on a whim.  I looked around a bit on the internet for a gardening program, came across the Linnaea program, and applied the next day – all without doing any research on the program.  It wasn’t a few days before I was to leave on a cross-country train trip for B.C. that I actually looked up where Cortes Island was located.  To my surprise it wasn’t directly across from Vancouver as I had thought, but further up Vancouver Island, nearer to Campbell River.

Thankfully I didn’t end up on a crazy farm, but had a wonderful 8-month (February to October) experience on Cortes Island.

The Linnaea Ecological Gardening Programme has been running since 1987 and offers a full-season hands-on course on organic agriculture, small-scale farming, and permaculture.  The farm runs a market garden and CSA program and also has 30 acres of pasture and hay fields, cows, sheep, and chickens. Each year ten or twelve students students are in the programme.

My time at the farm consisted of work in the market garden, work in my own vegetable plot, an applied permaculture design course, classroom sessions on various agriculture topics, and various hands-on short courses such as herbology, blacksmithing, woodworking,  and food preservation.

I loved all parts of the programme, but my favorites parts were working in my own garden plot and my special project on natural dye-plants; our class project for our permaculture design course where we designed a full-property plan for a local small-scale farming property; the blacksmithing course; and the times we helped out on the larger farm with haying, cattle rotation grazing, and lambing.  One night I spent a two-hour shift looking over Della the sheep who had a prolapsed uterus, in case something happened and the vet needed to be called.

Cortes Island itself was amazing.  It’s a small island of just over 1,000 permanent residents.  The closest community to the farm has a school, restaurant, small grocery store, and a community building which houses the library, doctor’s office, post office, second-hand store, kindergarten, cafe, and the weekly farmers’/craft market.  Mail only came in three times a week, so mail-day was always a good time to run into most of the community members and catch up on news.  The island has beaches, lakes and hiking trails and I spent many days traipsing around the woods (thankfully never encountering one of the island’s cougars), canoeing, kayaking, and swimming.

When I was there, the instructors for the programme were all residents of Linnaea Farm and they would teach part-time and do farm activities the rest of the time.  Most of the students lived in a large house on the lake.

There is a cost to the programme.  When I went it was less than $2000 for tuition. I checked the website and it is now around $3500.  I still think this is a great price for an eight-month course considering a two-week permaculture course usually costs around $1500.

As has been pointed out to me many times over the years, I could have saved my money and time and learnt all of these skills by myself, by reading books, and talking to other gardeners as I went. That’s true, but I don’t regret my decision to take a year off work in 2002 and go live and learn on a small island in BC. It was awesome.

Over time I’ve realized that full-time farming is not the occupation for me, but I’m still grateful for the time I spent at Linnaea and continue to use many of the skills I learnt there in our home garden.