the end of the story

So we harvested everything above ground that we could before the first major frosts, and then we left what we thought would look interesting underneath the snow to overwinter.

We will definitely be growing corn again next year, not because of a bumper crop (although the 30 ears or so that we did get were so sweet we generally didn’t bother cooking them, but ate them outside, right off the stalk, giggling when we squirted each other with the exploding kernels), but because they are fun to look at all winter, and in the summer you can literally watch them grow over the course of the day.


And one lonely little pepper that we missed.


the rest of the story

I posted last spring about my plans for straw bale raised beds, having read about them in a gardening magazine. Then, while in France, I saw them (on the one day I forgot to bring my camera!) in Paris’ Parc Floral, one of the country’s most renowned public gardens. I figured if they were good enough for Parisiens, they were good enough for Mill Creek.

I would do a few things differently (this spring, I’ll be adding another layer of bales;  last year’s shrunk over the season and this way when I’m 9 months pregnant in August, I will be harvesting at almost waist level!).  I planned my plantings in the beds with the tallest plants in the middle, forgetting that anything on the north-facing side would not be in ideal growing conditions. Hence my super-cute, but not remotely appetite-satisfying (Rich was, I’m sure, secretly relieved), mini-eggplants (or “aubergines” for some of you).


The beds looked quite lovely as the summer went on and harvesting potatoes has never been easier (you fish around in the compost till you find them and then lift them out– like a game really).


My then 3 year old has his own wee garden, and it was the perfet height for him.


And the pictures I most appreciate at this time of year–all the veggie goodness to eat (bear in mind looking at the first picture that I wear a size 10).

Green and red and yellow; I know they’ll be back again–it’s just a matter of waiting out this snow…


back again

Can you call a long break a hiatus when you’ve only done 10 previous blogs? Might be a bit of a stretch, but I’m back on the wagon again, with just a little post on a fun project we did in the fall.

Our friends Viv and Mike were getting rid of an old double utility type basement sink, that I immediately volunteered a home for, much to Rich’s chagrin.

I steel brushed it down and painted it with chalkboard paint and tucked it in neatly next to the back door steps. I plan to use it for re/potting and washing kids down and I’m hoping Rich can rig up a kind of board counter I can pull out when we have guests and no space on the picnic table to be used as a kind of a sideboard. I’m planning on going all out on those occasions and marking if dishes are vegan/hot/allergy-unfriendly etc. on the chalk board. We’ll see…

In any case, the boys loved it and it added some fun colour when everything in the garden was going to brown.


Part 2

Short and sweet. If you flip back and forth between the shots in this post and the ones in “Setbacks” from yesterday, you’ll see the change from mid-May to early July. Some flowers. Green. Weeds. Neighbours and passer-by’s want to chat about the plants, what they are. About the pea-gravel walk way and “How the heck are you going to shovel that?”. About the bales.

My boys are learning where poppy seeds ripen and how to saw off a spruce branch and the best way to to pick zucchini without getting poked. Helping it grow. Watching it grow.  Letting it grow.

Less dirt showing in the backyard. More weeds.

Hyssop coming in strong.

Attempt at a provencal-style walkway, with catnip instead of lavender. Verdict is still out.

Mexican hyssop that pops.


Front yard fall 2011. Dirt. More dirt.
Still more dirt

My mom, also a plant person, sent me lovely lines from Mary Sarton (an American writer):

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.

which I thought was quite inspiring, and so made a mental note to fit it into a posting somewhere. But when I read it just before starting this note, I realized, it is lovely, but, in some senses, is more a reminder of my shortcomings, rather than a reflection of a gardening experience where my personality is honed in affirming ways.

Sometimes, raising two small children, I feel as though life is trapped in “slow circles” (cleaning, tidying, redirecting) that, true enough, during this time of year  could be connected to nature (just today–my one year old face-planting in the mudpit we call our backyard, during an attempt to climb to the top of a plastic patio chair, or my three-year old peeing just upstream from all his playmates in the River Valley creek). Slow circles (is a Dante reference too strong here?) that are not always identifiable as magically help-full.

In the same breath, there is something hopeful to be found in the moments when I watch a quick clip of my kids from last summer, even this spring. I don’t actually want them to rush into stages of life that are often about achieving, hurrying, arriving. The same can be said for my garden (although I am sure the neighbours appreciate the ratio of dirt to plants tipping towards all things green).

The pictures in this post show part 1 of the adventure that has been our garden.We lost some shrubs and trees since our fall landscaping attempt (notably, a smoke bush and 6 cedars), eventually filled in the spaces in between the beds with sod ( a discussion for another day), and are battling ant hills that are not plant-friendly. But the July photos to follow are proof of learning and growing.  I will make every effort to do an immediate part 2 tomorrow. No drawn-out gardening cliff-hangers here…

Backyard in May.
Front yard in May. Quack grass and some perennials start to outweigh the dirt.

Back in the Saddle

It’s done. The yard’s looking particularly farmy, but no complaints so far. I’ve had some great chats with neighbours and people passing by on foot, on bike, with kids/dogs in tow.

The order of events went something like:

1. set out bales in bed configuration. Keep kids and their dad from making forts long enough to figure out what works.

2. fill centres of beds with organic compost. Add a bale of peat moss and some vermiculite to the mix (a nod to the square foot gardening technique, but not the 1:1:1 ration). Kids swim through the combination, mixing it nicely. Followed by baths all round.

3. Lay 2-3″ of compost on tops of some of the bales. Trying to calculate which spots will grow well, leaving me room to manoeuver for weeding (positive planning). Water over 6-7 days. Keep kids from shovelling it off every time we water.

4. Plant seeds. Corn in north-most bed.

Carrots, lettuce, spinach, potatoes, onions in centre bed with peas and beans planted at base of bamboo supports.

Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, broccoli planted in southern-most bed, with zucchini, cukes, butternut and acorn squash around the periphery, so they can spill over the bales, onto the ground if they so desire.

Plant some herbs in the on-top-of-bales section. Way too premature and the basil pays the price (sorry Trish, thanks for the sprouts, but they won’t be making pesto).

herbs along the top of the bale

If nothing, this has been a lovely experiment that has allowed me to get to know people in the area a little more and my children are huge fans, whether or not they ever eat anything we produce.

Bare bamboo, beans to follow

I also put up the long-awaited bean teepee. There are little mini- compost pockets at the foot of each bamboo pole, where my 3-year-old planted scarlet runner beans. He wants to know when we put his bed in it.

Growing Carrots from Hortophile’s blog

For those of us who are cynical about growing carrots but keep trying anyway…


Growing Carrots.

The Beds that Straw Built


We are in the throes of some transient  weeks, did the math and realized we will be living out of suitcases for about 2 1/2 months. This means less blogging, but it also looks like gardening season will begin with me hitting the ground running. I mentioned in an earlier post that my idea of raised beds that could convert into a skating rink was kiboshed, so starting out with a much more temporal version, I am going to attempt a variety of straw bed configurations (similar to those pictured here in Sunset’s blog). Having in-laws with bales all over the place doesn’t hurt and apparently the remnants make fabulous mulch when the growing season is over (which, on a side note, I just discovered through a super little planting guide tool my mom found at Art Knapp’s, can actually be 2-3 weeks longer in Edmonton than in the South Okanagan. Who knew!). Anyone tried this technique before? Tips for a newbie?

So until we are unpacked and frost is really over, I will do my best to share photos of gardens we come across in our travels. Seeing green is just about as good as getting it growing.

Wild Ones or Tame Ones?

This will be a mini post, as waiting to do the “real” ones running around in my head keeps getting put off. I am reading through a new stack of books from the library (it’s amazing what you can find by changing one simple word in search combos!). So I am thinking a lot about meadow and indigenous plants. I came across a group called Wild Ones in Wisconsin and am enjoying the writing on gardening theories that are held by such folks and other like-minded people. They have some straightforward pro-native plant points on their site that are worth a quick read.

John Greenlee's American Meadow

I still feel torn when reading some of the material I’m going through. There are 2 gardening ‘me’s. There’s the front yard ‘me’ (brown eyed susan, potentilla, veronica, sage) that is all about finding plants that originate in our geographical space. And then there’s the backyard ‘me’ (peony, hosta, spirea) that is a sucker for a good, old-fashioned English-cottagy type garden. Is it possible to marry such contrasting schools of thought on one property, or is it going to present as an unbalanced, insecure character? Either way, the gallery of meadow gardens is tempting for any space.

Playing is their work

Make sure there’s dirt. This was one of the straightforward words of wisdom I read while researching different ways to make corners of a garden attractive to kids; the author goes on to share the basic supplies that make a yard a place of interaction and adventure. A pile of sand. Somewhere to hide. Something to climb. A place to dig. Spots that smell good. The older we get, the harder most of us have to work to create (unaided by any form of media or technology) an alternate world . I watched my son spend hours, days even, perched on a  pile of dirt, inventing games, farms, mountains, school buses, racetracks. Until a neighbour stopped by and dropped off some outgrown toys, our little guy had been thrilled with his dirt universe, accessorized with branches and rocks.

I had great intentions this past summer, to start on some projects that were kid focused, but the pressing need to re-grade (see first post) took precedence. One project I did buy all the supplies for, but didn’t actually complete, was a bamboo teepee. All the pieces are tucked away in the garage, awaiting the coming warmth. I found the idea in one of the numerous books EPL had on the subject, but I have no idea which one anymore. This eHow version is basically the same principle.

Winter has shown me that, while we often talk about all-season appeal in the bones (hardscapes, trees, shrubs, etc.) of our garden, I haven’t seen much (or anything that I can remember, in any case) about how to make our gardens appealing to kids in the winter. Maybe snow’s enough. I tried to dream up a way that a raised bed could morph into a rink we flooded after everything was harvested, but my husband felt I would be either stretching the structural integrity of the thing, or that I would be asking him to sink hours into it. No rink this winter!

first layer

adding dried apples

So, as a more modest compromise, we are trying other options. We did find a fun little project to try, a modification of one created by a very crafty mom  (found in one of her books, The Rhythm of Family). Critters in the area will be snacking on cranberries, dried apples and sunflower seeds in our frozen suncatchers (they come out of the pans and hang from trees!).

And now that the cold has returned, we may be enjoying the critters from the front window. That’s part of appreciating a garden too.