I have been watching the posts from southern gardener friends with great envy. Some of them are already getting fresh beans and greens! I live just a bit to the south of the 51st parallel and winter has barely left. My plants are still in the greenhouse. The locals say you cannot put out bedding plants until either the big northern geese have continued on north or until the first full moon in June. I learned the hard way my first year here that you can’t rush the bedding plants.
This year I cut back on my ambition and started only tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and eggplant indoors under a grow light. As soon as the daytime got warm enough I moved the plants outdoors into my mini greenhouse. I have replanted everything I started from seed into larger containers. At night if the temperature is supposed to go below freezing I put a small electric oil filled heater in set on law. If it is going to snow or get below freezing even daytime (which can happen here even in May) the plants are moved indoors and back under the grow lights for a while. As you can see, my favourite container is the tall yogurt one. It is sturdy, flexible and just the right depth for encouraging deep roots. We have long spells of hot dry weather followed by monsoon prairie downpours. Deep roots are really important for survival under our demanding conditions. It will be another three or maybe even four weeks before these plants will be planted out in the garden.
Today I moved the zucchini plants into their final container. I will set these out in the yard and let them grow. Last year I got an enormous crop of zucchini from pots and I hoping for one this year. However, I can’t relax yet. Though it is a lovely 22C (72F) right now, the forecast for tomorrow night is below zero and flurries. In spring, I get my exercise carrying pots in and out of the house. The first hard frost does not generally show up until late September here at the 51st parallel but we have gotten them as early as midAugust. Sometimes I am carrying pots in and out again in early fall. For really tender plants like zucchini I find big pots work best. If you plant in the garden you will get zucchini only in some years when conditions are right.
Two years ago I planted a raspberry cane. I haven’t gotten much fruit in those two years but the plants have grown like crazy and spread, as I hoped they would. We want the raspberries to eventually fill the space between the sump pump pipe and the rainwater pipe. Maybe this year we will get enough fruit to do more than taste. I made sure to get a local hardy variety that can take our extremely cold winters.
My strawberries I started last year all survived. I planted three varieties, one June, and two ever-bearing. Last year we had about five strawberries. This year I am hoping for more. I am also hoping to create second box for more strawberry plants off runners.
This is my herb box. It has oregano and sage from last year and lemon balm. I also tried an experiment. I started onions (light green top) and garlic (lower darker green single stalks) from seed produced in my garden last year. I collected the seed. I started it indoors in a couple of pots. Garlic and onions are tough and take the cold so I have already planted those into my herb box. The onions were far more prolific in coming up. I will thin those and use the thinned plants for greens as the season progresses. I have lots of large garlic that survived the winter so I will leave these tiny garlic for next year. I will also be planting some parsley and cilantro. Last year the parsley and cilantro survived the winter and I didn’t have to plant again. This year was not so lucky.
My chives are from my first year and they are doing very well. I have one flower formed. In a couple of more weeks it will be covered in lovely blooms. We have already been enjoying fresh chives in salad.
Rhubarb is another plant that does well in our northern garden. I use rhubarb for juice and pies and as fruit bits in muffins, sweet breads and cakes. It also freezes very well. Sliced and frozen on a cookie sheet and then loose packed in a bag, we can enjoy a taste of spring in winter. Rhubarb is extremely tart and so I typically blend it with other fruit. These plants were already in my garden when I moved in but they are small. The previous owner did not like rhubarb and mowed them every chance he got. Last year I got enough rhubarb for only one single pie. You can only harvest about half the stalks once they are fully out. I made Rhuberry (rhubarb and strawberry) pie with store bought strawberries. My husband declared it the best pie he had ever had. Maybe this year I will get enough strawberries and rhubarb to make one from entirely from my own produce. We shall see. Rhuberry jam is another special favourite of mine but these plants will have to grow a lot more before I can do that again.
Horse radish is one of our northern treats. I planted two plants two years ago. One plant has taken off and is doing very well. The second plant is unhappy and I don’t know why. It barely puts its head up. I have not yet been able to use my own horse radish roots. Fortunately my neighbour has been very generous with hers which are well established and many years old. And of course dandelions are blooming everywhere now.
Last year I planted Saskatoons. These are northern natives small trees/large bushes. They produce a small blueberry size dark purple fruit. They grow wild everywhere around here but each patch has a jealous guardian and it is considered the height of unneighbourly behaviour to pick from someone else’s patch, and unless you are a bear, you will be chased away. I purchased five little trees last year. The Saskatoon is a close relative of the apple tree and should grow into a hardy apple tree sized bush that will have white blossoms in spring and will produce abundant fruit about the end of June. The taste of the berries is halfway between apple and blue berry. These berries freeze and can beautifully, and make great jam, jellies and pies. They are also one of the reasons people were able to settle in the north. The berries are exceptionally high in vitamin C and when dried and pounded into powder, the powder retains much of its vitamin C. If you mix one part dried Saskatoons with two parts dried powdered lean game meat and stick it together in with some grease or fat, you have traditional pemmican. Pemmican is a perfect food for humans containing every nutrient we need to stay healthy and it will keep for years. Without pemmican, Canada would not have been settled. All five of my teeny Saskatoons survived the winter. It will be few years before I can look forward to harvesting my own. Until then I will have to beg to be permitted to go berry picking with a generous neighbour.
Sorry about the fuzzy picture but this is tamarack. Again a native tree, this looks like an evergreen tree but in the fall turns golden and then drops its needle like leaves. I had a low wet spot in the yard where the preexisting evergreen had died from drowning. Last year I pulled it up and went hunting for a tamarack to put in its place. Tamaracks can grow in the nastiest wet marshy soggy soil. I found this little one in a ditch outside of town in an area that gets mowed for hay. I transplanted it before haying season and it is coming back. If I can avoid mowing it, the tamarack should one day be big enough to fill in the holes in my windbreak where the ground is so soggy.
I have the loveliest perennial garden. I can take no credit for it. It came with the house but I love it. The one daffodil I saw bloomed this year. Right now the violets are blooming. I will soon have tulips and columbine. After that come lilies of assorted types and colours and Canada anemones. Later into year it will have delphiniums and other late season flowers. If I can keep the grass out, I will enjoy blooms all season. The previous gardener was a clever lady and planted the perennial flower bed with both local native plants and hardy exotics. I am trying my best to preserve her delightful legacy. Last fall I added a bunch of tulip blooms and they are coming up among the older tulips. I plan to add more daffodils this fall.
The grass has needed its first mowing and it is full of this little lovely, creeping charlie. I know most gardeners abhor creeping charlie but I like it.It has lovely little purple blooms all summer, it grows in places the grass doesn’t like and it does not need mowing. It happily accepts trampling and traffic. If my entire lawn were taken over by creeping charlie I would be delighted. Right now it has a lot of strong reddish colour. Every spring we have high UV in May. The annual ozone northern hole means we get a lot of UV. The native plants adjust without a problem. Bedding plants need to be exposed gradually by a couple of hours a day or they get sunburnt.
My vegetable garden is not yet started beyond a few onions and some garlic. It is simply too soon to seed anything. The packages say you can plant as soon as the ground can be worked but it really isn’t so in the north. If you plant too soon, the plants come up scraggly and miserable and don’t produce much. So this time of year you just rototill every week or so to kill the native weeds and remind yourself you need to wait. At least this makes the robins happy. The know what a rototiller sounds like and congregate nearby eagerly awaiting my departure after which the dirt gets thoroughly inspected for bugs. I will plant cold hardy seeds that can take a freeze next weekend on the Victoria Day Weekend in Canada. Anything cold fragile will have to wait until that full moon in June.
Today the sunrise was at 5:49am and sunset and the sun will set at 9:40pm. We have very long days in spring and they will be even longer come June. This means that once the stuff is actually in the ground and growing, it will grow much faster than my southern neighbour’s can boast. By the end of July you would be hard pressed to tell my garden is so far north. It will be all caught up.
That is where my garden is today. Northern gardening requires rethinking and more planning but it can be just as bountiful and rewarding as southern gardening.
Where is your garden at these days?