The best thing about being retired and somewhat hermitish (not a real word); the day of the week does not matter to me. I usually rely on Sarah to keep me on track, using her schedule to keep oriented. Alas, we are in step with many others, quarantining ourselves for our safety and that of others. We have all heard the warnings and protocols, so I will not belabour the point. All that to say I know it is Monday because I am in full calendar mode, planning the gardens.
Planning is important in most endeavours, and gardening is no exception. Especially if you are gardening in an area like ours, with a very short season and potential frost issues at either end of the season.
“From May-October 2016, Cochrane had an average of 545 mm of precipitation, 1,426 growing degree days and 2,226 crop heat units. Cochrane lies in plant hardiness zones 3a & 3b. Soils are primarily Gray-Luvisol, Gleysol & Mesisol – the district features deep soils with a mix of well and poorly drained clays, covered by organic deposits. The majority of Class 2-4 soils are located in and around the communities that lie along the Claybelt, including Timmins, Cochrane, Iroquois Falls, Matheson and Kapuskasing.” http://planthardiness.gc.ca/
If that information helps you at all, lol. We get about 110 frost free days on average. With global warming, precipitation has increased along with temperatures. This is not opinion, by the way. It is fact. People in an area tend to have distorted views on these things, I have found, claiming we “got a lot more/less (pick something)” than we used to.” All my findings are based on extensive research found in government or agricultural sources.
Another aside here, which I will address in more depth later in the season, concerns resources and advice.lot of these resources are designed for farmers or larger producers. Not for the home gardener. Farmers and other commercial growers deal with issues most of us will not need to address. It is a matter of scale and business productivity. If I collect a few less peas from a plant, it is not such a big deal, but multiply that by the number of plants in a field, and the impact upon the larger grower, who depends on income from the crop, is much greater.
An example is in order. A simple one is soil tests. Farmers need to do this for reasons beyond the scope of this writing. Again…farmers are dealing with larger areas and economic issues. I do not pretend to know how to be a farmer, but I know how to grow a garden. I would recommend a soil test if you are encountering particular issues, but other than that, it is largely a waste of time and money. Are you going to test each individual bed? How do you know the soil is the same in different locations? Trust me, your back and front beds may be totally different.
Bottom line: Don’t bother unless it will make you feel better. Your plants will tell you if things are not right. And you will be building your soil through natural processes. Each year, following natural methods, your soil will improve. Adding a lot of other “products” is not usually necessary. Long term improvement will have lasting impact.
I started off talking about planning. Planning involves making assessments about where you are and what will grow easily/with encouragement/with a greenhouse or other shelter/not at all. Those are your options. I can grow okra, for example, a southern crop, but I have only had success in the greenhouse. Do I like Okra enough to dedicate a significant part of the greenhouse to it? Nope. So a grow a couple of plants each year and experiment with different settings. Nothing exciting to report.
The point? If you continually attempt to grow plants in a location they do not naturally excel, you may have some success, but not as much as if you had grown something adapted to those conditions. Soil type and PH are factors to consider. Light, drainage, warmth, hours of sunlight and other conditions are often overlooked. Planning is only as good as the sum of its parts, I think.
Another aside. Be careful of your sources. There are a lot of “miracle” people out there in almost every aspect of life and gardening is no different. Do not be misled by people claiming that their product will do amazing things. As we have seen, even if something is a great product, location and other factors (above) enter into the equation. Too much of even “natural” products can poison the soil as surely as any other chemical compound.
You can build healthy soil almost entirely with compost and mulching. Honestly. I have lived in a lot of different locations across Canada and have had good success everywhere and these are the only consistent factors I can see, apart from commitment to the task, etc.
You may encounter conditions that test your commitment but, trust me, short term solutions (read, unsafe chemical products that tend to exacerbate your issue) are not the answer. If something refuses to grow somewhere, it may just not like the particular conditions in that location. Or you may need to cross it off your list or things to grow.
If you spray with insecticide (yes, even the organic and homemade stuff) it will do its job. It will kill insects. No problem, right? Unfortunately, as most of you already know, you kill beneficial insects as well as the ones you are trying to kill. Evolutionary principles teach us that the “bad” bugs will reproduce at a much higher rate than natural predators. Plain english? Every time you apply your “solution” you are, in fact, making the problem worse.
I have bought ladybirds to eat insects in the greenhouse. And predator wasps that eat aphids by the truckload. But the greenhouse is an artificial environment and counting on nature to solve problems is not always possible. The ladybirds were native species (not the Japanese variety, that eat more aphids, but are invasive). And the wasps are native or will die when our harsh winter sets in.
Nature, outside the greenhouse, solves most issues with very little help. I have mostly controlled slugs without chemicals or that “natural” substitute, diatomaceous earth. I remain unconvinced that something that cuts insects apart has no impact upon soil organisms. I have no science, just an opinion.
I have used straw bales (they do not seem to like it much), or a combination of wood ash and cardboard. Again…these are solutions that have worked for me and I would love to point to a science article verifying them, but to no avail. So it may be one of those “folk” remedies. I will cover these things as the growing season progresses, with pictures and better descriptions.
Back to the planning. In the past, I have grown way too many transplants and have ended up overextending myself, sticking them in places where they did not belong. This was after giving free transplants to others. No more. I buy less seeds. I only use a partial pack one year and the remainder the next.
Some of you may be concerned about germination rates. Again, this is usually more of an issue for professional growers. I grow few things that seem to be impacted by an extra season of storage. As i said earlier, I have always had more transplants than I can use, so a few less seeds germinating had little impact.
I write everything down because I have pretty significant short-term memory issues. I find that the act of writing helps things to stick better. I make notes as I “grow along” and then go through my observations over the winter months, helping me to to better prepare the following year.
Planning means deciding when and where things will be planted. I have had so many years where I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to stick plants in here and there, usually forgetting what was planted where. Then things can get too crowded.
So this year, learning from years previous, I have drawn up a map of my gardens and will decide how many plants I need and where they will be going. Careful organization is key, as I do not have a lot of elbow room in my season for things like peppers and tomatoes. And I do not like to have soil sitting bare for too long, as weeds do not take long to establish.
If you have not done your planning for this growing season, I invite you to get to it. Some of you have already planted and are well underway. I will be covering my growing season as it progresses, so keep posted.