I do (gardening); therefore, I am

DSC00552I look out my window and watch the winter storm blow in and get steadily worse. I don’t have to go on-line to check if the roads are closed: that’s obvious enough. The line of the forest trees to the west has all-but disappeared behind the blizzard. After just a couple of hours, drifts have filled in the driveway I blew clear yesterday.

At my age now, I should be celebrating every moment as a gift. Surely, there’s no sense in looking forward to better weather, or to a spring season still a couple of months away, at best — let alone the early summer, when I may have a modest crop of strawberries to pick from the 100 dormant plants I just ordered from a nursery.

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Jorden and Grandpa picking beans

But surely that too is “living in the moment,” I tell myself on second thought. After all, I’m thinking NOW about how much and what to plant, all things considered. And that includes how much I should challenge myself this year in the planting of my one-hectare (2.5 acres) garden.

Not so much that the work involved is too much, and the pleasure too little.

Such is the balancing act that comes with reaching a certain age – not necessarily chronological, but certainly physical.

Still, “I do, therefore, I live,” is my new motto. That includes physical as well as mental activity, and breaking new ground in both respects.

So, in that spirit I have decided to completely renew the old strawberry bed. It was based on  a gift of plants of uncertain pedigree, some of them wild, from the looks of them. It wasn’t bearing well, though I know from previous experience this clay loam soil with its shallow limestone bedrock is good strawberry ground.

So, the old bed is history. The soil of a new bed has been prepared and currently rests under a metre of insulating snow. Come early spring, I’ll work it one more time, make sure all the twitch-grass is gone, and any other weeds, before planting nursery stock of a certified variety.

The variety I ordered is a proven strawberry that has its origins in Nova Scotia. It comes recommended for Ontario by the province’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food. I also hold to the idea that crops that grow well in “the Maritimes,” as Canada’s Atlantic-coast provinces are called, also do well here in the vicinity of the Great Lakes. The birds – waterfowl and others – that fly over my garden from west to east, or vice versa, have just crossed Lake Huron or Georgian Bay. Much of the snow now falling is “lake effect,” picking up moisture from Lake Huron or the Bay.

It takes a season for a new strawberry bed to settle in and flourish. The first year-crop of 100 plants will not be large. But I look forward to letting the runners go after picking, then training them into nearby, new rows, or to fill out existing ones. So, the new plants will be well-spaced at least a metre apart in the row, and more than a metre from the next row. That will leave lots of room for the runners to root in weed-free, freshly cultivated soil.

Quite a few years of small-scale market gardening have informed me about what grows well in this area; and, perhaps more important, what I love growing the most. Sweet corn, my favourite food, is right up there at the top of the list. But it’s a challenging crop to grow this far north. Especially if you use untreated seed – free of chemical pesticides – as I do. A soil temperature of no less than 21 C is essential for germination. I’ve learned to wait a while even then to make sure the warm season has arrived to stay. But last spring, in my eagerness to get the seed in the ground, I didn’t. A couple of weeks of unseasonably cool weather began the day after I planted corn during the last week of May. I ended up having to replant in the second week of June. More reason to say, the first rule of good gardening is, be patient.

Beans grow well here in Hope Ness. So do potatoes, and I love growing them both. Carefully mulching potatoes with straw will totally deter the most dreaded pest scourge of potatoes, the Colorado potato beetle.

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Rows of well-mulched potato plants

Squash, including pumpkin, does well enough with some tender, loving care and careful cultivation. But don’t overdue it: too much cultivation depletes the soil of vital nutrients. I’ve also found it’s a good idea to either choose varieties with an earlier maturation date or be prepared to spend a lot of time picking and destroying leaves and stems infected with powdery mildew.

Tomatoes are a real challenge. They are extremely vulnerable to plant diseases, including pathogens splashed up on the lower leaves when it rains. Mulching tomato plants is essential to help prevent that. Again, I use straw.

That’s just scratching the surface. Gardening is a never-ending learning experience, ideal therapy for aging well.

So, in the here-and-now of living in these moments on the land in Hope Ness, and having the opportunity to do that, I count my blessings in the middle of a winter storm.

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