Our Green Garden

About Our Garden

June 2013 garden update

By Matthew

Local no-spray produce sustainably grown with passion

My garden is a joint project of mine and my mother’s, on a lot next to my mother’s house, which overflows into many beds on her property, too.

I grow because I love to grow, because I like to know how my food is grown, and because I grow it with what I consider the best practices for health, taste, and the environment.

The vast majority of my produce goes to feed my mother and her partner, my wife Melissa, and our son Gabriel.  Occasionally I sell some of our extra production to great local businesses such as Local Harvest Grocery and Five Bistro.  I love turning a bumper crop of delicious produce into a bit of income to help pay for seeds, mulch, and the other garden expenses.  I also enjoy knowing that other people will savor the produce of our garden.

I grow using minimal fertilizer, and use fertilizers like alfalfa or chicken manure (from my grandparents’ flock).  I use no herbicides, and no sprayed or dusted pesticides.  I do make limited use of boron laced peanut butter ant traps, and I do practice manual control of broccoli worms.  I use fences to keep rabbits and dogs out of the garden, and provide water and intermittent sunflower seeds to distract squirrels from my tomatoes.  I use rain barrels for hand or hose watering, and drip irrigation with city water (to minimize water use), and compost (lazy, inefficient pile method) as much as I can.  I provide habitat for beneficial insects, embrace moles eating grubs from my soil, and rotate my crops (informally, striving to make it slightly more systematic).  I grow varieties that are resistant or unpalatable to pests and diseases, such as my predilection for c moschata squash.  I time my plantings and the sizes of my transplants to avoid peak insect pest problems (putting out eggplant late and large to fight flea beetles).  I force myself to shrug off the occasional crop failure, knowing that letting one go occasionally does far less damage to my nurtured ecosystem than spraying that would kill off my predatory insects.

I start my own seedlings inside, growing mostly heirloom open pollinated seeds, and I’ve begun saving my own seed, expanding my repertoire of skills, and creating my own strains of crops that do best in my garden.  This isn’t practical for me for all crops, notably ones that need large distances for isolation or that need large numbers of seed saving plants to avoid inbreeding problems, but it’s a fun and useful technique.

I love the garden, and enjoy a productive pastime.  My wife has a love hate relationship with our garden, as it takes a lot of work, and uses much of a Saturday weekly for most of the year.  It also provides much of our food for the year, and food of a quality and environmental footprint that would be completely out of reach without the garden.

We grow raspberries, blackberries, black raspberries, strawberries, plums, apricots, paw paws, and persimmons.  Asparagus, garlic, onions and leeks, potatoes, summer and winter squash, celeriac and celery, lettuce, kale, collards, broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower (work in progress), cabbage, cilantro, parsley, dill, carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips, arugula, peas, green beans, tomatoes, husk cherries, eggplant, tomatillos, peppers sweet and hot, Swiss chard, basil, flowers, lemongrass artichokes, fennel, sunflowers, amaranth, quinoa, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, okra, melons and stevia, Brussels sprouts, corn, radishes, spinach, and cover/compost crops.  I grow about 50 kinds of tomatoes, and many varieties of other garden plants.  I now have 18 kinds of garlic, and 6 varieties of potatoes I’m maintaining.

I’m trying hardy kiwi (two plants will be 3 years old in February, so I hope for fruit in 2013), plan to try potato onions, and have tried and kept or discarded a number of different plants and varietals.  I’ve retired rutabagas, but kept mild turnips.  I’ve eliminated a few tomato strains, but added far too many more.  I tried chicory for winter greens, but we decided it was more bitter than we prefer, and thus forcing inside was too much work.  Quinoa is not strong enough or tall enough to support pole beans like corn does, but amaranth is.  A dense tomato planting really does benefit from a little extra nitrogen fertilizer added during the season.  Row covers help exclude insect pests from young squash and cruciferous crops.

I compromise with time.  Much of the garden still gets tilled once a year, but I’ve been slowly working toward double dug permanent beds with clover walkways.  The right hand tools minimize the need for mechanical cultivation and tilling.  Mulch is chopped leaves, straw, and jute coffee sacks.  I’ve been using row covers and low tunnels for a few winters now, although my dream of large beds of winter spinach has been delayed once again due to two failed plantings (no germination) but it’s fun to have an area where there’s always more to learn, and improving skills lead to delicious meals.

Click here for garden-related posts, including recipes, how-to’s and more photos.

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