51st Parallel Gardening Update

It’s been hard to read in other blogs where people have begun enjoying the fruits of their garden while, poor thing in the harsh cold north, I have not yet been able to plant but finally, finally, I can write another garden update.

I have to wait at least two more weeks before I can put tender bedding plants into the garden without fear of frost. Even so, while the weather is hot and lovely I have been putting all those plants I started in my house out in the sunshine. The winter squash have long since graduated into the biggest pots I could find (scrounged at the dump) and they doing very well. Many of my tomato plants are actually blooming! I will not give into the temptation to think summer is here and plant them as I did last May 21st only to lose them to an early June frost. So I have to carefully water them every day and tend and fuss but wait I will.

Last year’s planning has gone well. The raspberry bush came through the winter bigger than ever and is about to bloom. My careful tending of the rhubarb has resulted in two much more vigorous plants than last year. I planted chives and they survived and the plant is huge. Both my horse radish plants are up and doing well. Low spots in my drive which we filled with sandy gravel are covered with creeping charlie. Our monoculture lawn, something I hate, is now well polluted with creeping charlie. I love those little purple flowers and the bees do as well. My yard is full of honey and bumble bees. My wee little apple tree that had maybe five blossoms on it last year appears to be about to burst into bloom on every branch. I still have no idea if it will have edible apples or yet another type of “throwing apple” but it looks beautiful. I have decided I like dandelions even though I have bought one of those pointy things that let you get at the roots.

I love it when nature gives you a bonus and I got several this year. Normally our winters are far too cold to let many things most southern gardeners consider perennials survive but I was delighted to discover many green onion and garlic shoot popping up and wonder of wonder, my parsley and cilantro made it! I had to bring a salad to a senior dinner and I used purchased lettuces but spiked it with my own chives, onion and garlic greens, and lots of fresh cilantro and parsley. Yum! Just before we left one of our trees came down and we simply piled the branches on the garden until we could find a better place. The result was a heavy blanket of snow and I think that is why the parsley and cilantro were spared. I will try the same thing again this year. The other nice surprise was two local flowers among the grass, the Manitoba provincial flower, the Prairie crocus. Long past its blooming but lovely to see, I have marked both plants so we can keep the grass away and not mow them.

Gardening is not just about this year, but also next and the next after that. Late  last summer I made two boxes of cedar and piled them with grass clippings and compost and then covered them with black cloth and let them bake in the August heat. This spring I was delighted to find rich peaty soil. I ordered strawberry plants, ever bearing, June and a heritage hardy one and every plant took. I am not expecting to get many strawberries this first year but next year should be the beginning of many a crop. The second bed is going to be my bean bed and I am going to put in a trellis and try growing a variety of beans including red kidney beans which I have already started from seed.

I bought five Saskatoon trees. Saskatoons are a native plant in our area that produce abundant small blueberry like fruits although it is actually a small apple tree genetically speaking and not a berry. The wild bushes are exceptionally hardy, being native to our area, and grow rapidly. Saskatoons with their sweet deep purple taste (a cross between blueberry and sweet apple) make wonderful jams and jellies and are great to eat straight from the bush by the handful. They can also be dried and then dried berries beaten into flour that when mixed with dried meat and formed into pemmican results in a 100% nutritionally balanced food that was consumed in winter when first nations people and early pioneers had to get through our winters without outside help. Saskatoons are especially rich in vitamin C and folates. The ones I ordered and planted are a cultivar with larger than wild berries, many more berries per bush, and a richer taste. It will be a few years before they grow enough to produce fruit but I am an optimist. Until they do I can always gather the wild fruit.

 

And last but certainly not least I inherited a neglected perennial garden and put a lot of effort into weeding it. The battle is far from over, as you can see, but I am proud to report more perennials than crab grass and weeds. I have tulips, Johnny Jump Ups, violets, both native Western and blue violets, already in bloom and the first Columbine opened today. This flower bed gave me so much pleasure last year bearing flowers for me all summer long. It is nice to see them back like old friends.

And finally the robins, my dear friends who vigilantly patrolled my garden ever on the alert for cutworms and beetles and slugs, have set up housekeeping once again. Every time I cultivate or weed or plant they watch me carefully and rush right in to check for edibles as soon as my back is turned. Every garden needs a robin family.

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Up here at the 51st parallel summer is short but intense. The sun rises about 4:30am and sets after 10:00pm and the plants grow by leaps and bounds racing to cram in as much growth as they can on those long days before August frosts. I know my northern garden will catch up with my southern neighbours. Two more weeks and the tomatoes can be planted. I have already put in seed for that which is frost tolerant. Soon soon I too can eat from my garden like my southern neighbours.

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