Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The joys of gardening

Anyone who grows their own vegetable garden can tell you there's no greater satisfaction than, after weeks of nurturing seedlings, finally seeing flowers appear on your plants! It's the promise of a zucchini or tomato or cucumber that you've been waiting for all along.

It was Monday morning that I discovered my first zucchini flower and I wager, by the amount of giggling and squealing I did, that all my neighbours now know about my discovery as well. It was a moment of amazing satisfaction!

But gardening is not all happy plants with pretty flowers and no wait time. That's one thing I learned this spring. Before successfully getting my garden planted and on its way, I managed to over-water 35 spinach seedlings, under-water 24 lettuces and lose 8 broccolis, 7 cucumbers, 5 corns and 3 tomatoes to the local wildlife. (Amazingly, yes, there are still plants left in my garden!)

I was a beginner this spring, but I've also been a constant and avid student, and now I feel like I know a lot more about nurturing an organic garden. So for those of us who aren't yet experts at growing our own greens, I'm going to post some lessons I've learned this spring, in hopes that they will also help you!

Controlling the water
It will not rain enough to let your veggies thrive! I definitely needed to give them extra water, and to do that in the most eco-friendly way possible, I put out a large bin to catch rainwater and then used an old juice jug to fill my watering can. I always watered at night or in the early morning (before 7am) to be sure that all the water didn't just evaporate in the sun's heat.

My garden also happens to sit just beneath the edge of my roof, so there is very heavy "rain" along one line in my garden that completely up-rooted several young plants more than once. To keep this heavy rain from washing away all the soil, I put small containers (and my watering can!) under the flow to catch some for later watering.

Giving them support
Many of my plants simply broke in two, perhaps because small animals were traipsing through my patch! I found that it really helped to gently tie the little plants (especially long, stringy ones like corn) to a stick that I stuck into the ground beside them. It gives them support while also keeping them off the ground and farther from the line of fire.

Keeping the critters out
My garden looks a little like a compost heap! In it, you'll find a generous sprinkling of broken eggshells, coffee grinds, and orange peels. The reason I did this is that I had cats, rabbits, squirrels and raccoons invading my garden, chewing the leaves off my plants, digging up bulbs, and leaving not-so-welcome deposits! I spoke to a friend of mine about this and she gave me a few tips.

Cats and rabbits apparently hate the smell of citrus fruits (I might add that this is supported by evidence from my own cat), so the oranges are meant to keep them at bay. I was also told that rabbits do not like thyme, garlic and onions, of which I had plenty, so I put those plants around the perimeter to keep the bunnies out.

The eggshells are meant to make a funny noise (and perhaps a funny sensation) when raccoons step on them, so that they don't like being in my garden. The eggshells also give the added bonus of acting like mulch, which keeps the moisture in the soil and the weeds smothered.

And lastly, squirrels allegedly don't like things sticking to their feet, and coffee grinds will do just that.

Keeping an eye on them
One of the best things I've been able to do for my plants this spring and summer is to just check them regularly. On June 8th, there was quite a storm, during which hail the size of grapes fell out of the sky. After the storm, most people probably kept in their houses until they were sure it had passed, but I went outside to check on the plants. I was glad I did; I was able to save 4 onions, 3 spinaches, two tomatoes, and a cucumber, all of which had been uprooted by the wind and rain. I'm glad to say they're all doing just fine now!

When it's dry, I check on the plants often. When they start looking wilted (or "sad", as I prefer to call it), I give them lots of water.

I now have several flowers coming on my zucchinis, one on a cucumber, and some nearly two-foot-tall tomato plants, all begun from modest little seeds. I have to say that while gardening is a lot of work, it is well worth the while when you get to see the results!

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