Morning thoughts (9): doing what comes natural in the garden

The garden at rest, January 2, 2022

No sooner has the New Year arrived than thoughts about gardening come up like newly-sprouted seeds. Never mind how many times I told myself last summer, as I got down daily on my hands and knees to pull weeds, that I was going to cut back on the size of the garden next season: the seed catalogues have arrived, and this old heart yearns for spring.

So, then why, when I look out the kitchen window, do I smile at the sight of snow starting to fall, with more to come every day this week? Because, on our morning walk, as the dogs and I passed the front garden where I planted numerous rows of garlic last fall, I heard them say, we’re cold. The garlic, I mean.

Okay, I know that’s a tad imaginative, maybe more. But as I approach four-score years of being on this precious little planet I feel like I’m entitled to some flights of fancy. Besides, if there’s one or two things I’ve learned in recent years, anything is possible, both good, and not. But let’s say a prayer for ‘good’ in 2022. It is sorely needed.

The reason why I’m happy to see snow is because an extra layer of insulation is good for the wintering garlic. Yes, it’s winter-hardy, remarkably so, but there is a limit. I follow ‘the book’ on garlic when, after planting, I covered the rows with plenty of fresh, clean wheat straw. That straw is now largely exposed, amid what’s left of the mid-December snow that mostly melted after the unseasonably mild weather that followed. But the temperature fell to -14 Celsius last night, and the sooner the garlic gets a fresh layer of snow-insulation, the better.

And then there’s also the expanded strawberry patch, with six rows of strawberry runner-plants transplanted last September. Some will say spring is better for transplanting; but over the years, I’ve had good luck with early fall. Strawberries also overwinter well, with the help of a good layer of straw insulation. Even so, I’ll be happy to see the snow come for their sake as well.

Jorden and Grandpa, and friends, in the garden

Those who love gardening will understand how one develops a personal relationship with plants. I suppose it’s best described as a matter of faith: the idea that good feelings are expressed, and exchanged back and forth; and that, I swear, is beneficial to the growth of a healthy garden. That and the good, old routine of the gardener’s hard work.

This seems like a good place to say, I don’t and never will use herbicide, including and especially those containing the active ingredient Glyphosate, with the main one being the first, Monsanto’s Round-up. Such herbicides are now used in vast quantities around the world in large-scale commercial farming; to the extent that it’s hard to buy food free of glyphosate residue. I daresay that’s one of the reasons why grow-your-own gardening is booming. Those of us who have the land to do that are indeed fortunate, especially if that land is as far away as possible from areas of extensive, cash-crop farming because of the risk of glyphosate-spray drift.

Yes, I hoe and pull weeds, hopefully before they go to seed; and thus, I kill plants. Some will compose and add organic matter to the soil. Some, like twitch grass, the farmer/gardeners’ worst nightmare, are better burned. But the whole idea of spraying chemicals on the field or the garden before planting or emergence, and thus leaving glyphosate residue in the soil for any amount of time, strikes me as utterly unnatural. Worst of all is spraying herbicide just before harvest, to stop the plant from growing and to begin the drying process. That’s called ‘staging.’ How can that be good, when the fact is glyphosate residue remains in many of the foods people eat? Canadian government food-safety regulators say the levels are not high enough to pose a threat to human health. But do you really want to eat Glyphosate?

Anyway, after that bit of drumbeating about my glyphosate obsession, bon chance with your garden in 2022. And may the love be with you.

A view of the garden, early summer a few years ago. Many rows of potatoes, onions and kale.

Hopeful Garlic, currents of great mystery in troubled times

My garlic bedded down under a blanket of straw mulch for the winter

All garden crops are hopeful: you prepare the soil carefully, make sure the temperature is warm enough for germination, then plant your seeds or starter plants at a suitable depth with sufficient water. And you hope, with a certain level of confidence that comes from a combination of experience and trying your best to do things right, that in a few weeks or months various crops will grow and flourish. Doing the necessary work through the spring, summer and fall growing season to help nurse the seeds and plants along is also part of what you do to play your role in turning hope into nutritious reality.

But garlic is surely the most hopeful of crops. The care the gardener takes, for market or family, as described above is still as important. That begins with weed control through the summer in that patch of ground where garlic will be planted. In southern Ontario that most normally happens in the fall when the soil has cooled sufficiently.

I’ve heard that one of my neighbors, an excellent gardener, had good results this year planting garlic in early spring when the soil was still cool. A cool soil temperature is regarded as key to encouraging each planted clove to grow and develop a fully formed, multi-clove garlic bulb.

I’ve had good results planting garlic in mid to late October, and even into November: the root system needs some time to get established before winter freeze-up. In the past few years the climate-change instability of the Jet Stream has brought extremely cold arctic air down to North America’s Great Lakes region for many days or weeks at a time, as cold as -30 degrees Celsius, or colder. I worried about that last year, especially because extreme fluctuations in temperature also brought thaws that left the ground where garlic was planted uncovered by a blanket of snow and vulnerable to the next deep freeze. So, this year, I decided to go ‘by the book’ and mulched my 25 rows of planted garlic with straw. And that was despite one knowledgeable old-timer who insisted it wasn’t necessary. I took note of the fact I planted the garlic this year in a location more exposed to the prevailing west winds. And better safe than sorry, I heard 2,000 planted garlic cloves say. I followed their advice.

So, Azores. Georgian Fire, Persian Star, Bogatyr, and ‘my own’ Purple Stripe are, I hope, safely bedded down for what I expect will be a hard, cold or colder, Canadian winter.

I’ve done what I can. The rest is up to them — the garlic, I mean – and whatever impact the fates or spirits may have on their well-being.

Never doubt, my children, there are great mysteries moving through the earth, up into the clouds, the stars above, and beyond, that help to determine, for good or ill, the fate of us all on this little blue-green jewel of a planet in trouble. It’s a delicate matter, but what we do or don’t do, say or don’t say, can shift the fragile balance of fate and the future one way or the other. So, let us hope, by all means.

And then there is this:

Have courage, I tell my hopeful garlic.

You too, have courage, they tell me back.

And yes, I talk to my plants.

The polar vortex challenge: looking on the bright side this gardening season

DSC00043

A well-mulched, healthy garlic crop in Hope Ness after a difficult winter and cold spring. A good crop in Ontario, Canada for challenging times. Two rows of peas on the left are coming along slowly in the ‘unseasonably’ cool weather. But they are also hardy.

This spring a lot of people decided for various reasons related to Covid 19 to plant a garden and grow their own food. They may have had some past experience, or not, in which case they likely did a certain amount of preparatory research and planning in hopes of a bountiful outcome.

But I suspect no amount of homework prepared them for the realities of this growing season. So far it has, and continues to be a shock, even for this old gardener. It depends where you are to a large extent. That comment reflects my experience here in southern Ontario near the 45th Parallel halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. By this date, nearing the end of the second week of June, seeds and transplants would normally be safely in the ground and growing nicely. Continue reading

And now for some good news

DSC00026

Far be it from me to traffic in dangerously unrealistic comments and other false hopes about the current Coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis. But for what it’s worth, regarding the lifting of essential spirits, I humbly say the following:

The garlic is up, here at the end of Cathedral Drive, Hope Ness. Just an inch or so, mind you; and a little touched by frost at the tip. But garlic is tough. It will survive. It already has. Continue reading