Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Our very own planting guide!

Considering the number of years we've been at this, it really shocked me to think I hadn't done this before now. And if I'm being honest, if it wasn't for the fact I am home with a sick little boy I probably wouldn't have gotten to it this year, either.

I made our very own planting guide!

In previous years we've kept the rule of thumb of planting everything on the May 2-4 weekend (a pretty big holiday here in Canada - unless of course you don't drink beer - in which case you would know it as the Victoria Day long weekend), with the exception of the onions which I knew could tolerate the last few weeks of frost. But I had a suspicion that we weren't doing our vegetables justice, so decided it was about time I took a closer look at our planting dates.

There are hundreds if not thousands of planting guides to be found on the internet across a myriad of different planting zones and covering numerous crop types. But they didn't always correspond exactly to our frost dates, and didn't match up with what I was planning on planting. I wanted something I could glance at quickly, and help keep us on track, especially with those crops I plan on planting over multiple weeks.

The first step was to decide on what we were going to plant this year. Most of the staples were continuing (like cooking onions, carrots and tomatoes) and a couple were being omitted. Peppers take a lot more work and care than we usually give which resulted in poor yields the last few years, so I'm going to save the space for plants a little more forgiving. Pumpkins have always done well for us, but as they also take up a lot of garden space this year I want to focus on crops that give us more yield in smaller spaces. I'm going to make it up with squash that I know I can train up a trellis, such as acorn and butternut. We're also trying a few new sub varieties of our favourites:

black nebula carrot
golden beet

Chinese red meat radish 
scarlet kale

Once we had the varieties decided I made a quick mock-up of the garden bed layout, and started to list the planting dates (from date of last/first frost). A quick Google search gave our location the last frost date of approximately May 22 (that will usually fall on the May 2-4 weekend) and the first frost date of September 25, so all I had to do was work backwards (and sometimes forwards) from those dates to determine when I could plant my veggies.

I am quite happy with the end result. While I don't have all the harvest dates in yet it will certainly help get us started. You'll notice I added 5 weeks to each month (which I know there really isn't) but I wanted to make sure it could be used for each year going forward (and the months tend to start and end at different times through a week). My rule of thumb will be to just start at the first full (or mostly full) week of each month and go from there!

Feel free to use our own planting guide as a template to create your own! I'm a firm believer that the easier you make gardening for yourself, the more likely you are to continue with it and succeed! At least that's the plan for now...

Our 2017 growing season in a nutshell... (Hint, it wasn't pretty)

Deciding to write a blog can be a funny thing. Though the main catalyst for doing so can be for a myriad of well-intentioned reasons, anyone who tells you that in some small part they are not doing it for the accolades (or to further their own sense of self-worth) is lying; either to you, or themselves.

I mentioned this because I firmly believe that once we make the decision to share our lives or stories publicly we, like other media sources, are helping to control the narrative of the particular story we are trying to tell. While this can be harmless for sharing photos of cats for example, when our blogs seek to educate or help families in their decision to take up a certain lifestyle, it take be disheartening at best or even costly at worst when all the facts - good and bad - are not presented in a transparent fashion.

Take Urban Homesteading, for example. Some of my favourite blogs to follow show a happy family: kids with dirty faces helping their parents tend slightly-weedy, if not perfectly-imperfect raised beds, while their plump, healthy chickens run around in the backyard sharing the same space as well behaved dogs; who show not the slightestinclination that at any moment they will try to tear apart and eat said chickens. Family crafts and activities are a weekly occurrence; recorded with thoughtful words and photos that belong in a gallery. The meals showcased are prepared from scratch and would make any Michelin Star Chef proud – often with well-planned recipes and directions to boot.

To the families that not only provide such beautiful content but who also take the time to share it in such a meaningful way, the praise is most assuredly earned. Such a lifestyle is not easy, and the decision to now share that life with the Internet is also never made lightly. However, I fear that all too often what is started with the best intentions can often lead their readers to feelings of frustration and inadequacy when their own experiences do not match up with what they have been seeing through the lens of a computer screen.

To that end, I want to do our part. We’ve highlighted our own struggles before, but most of the time it was due to circumstances beyond our control and did not accurately show that like any other aspects of life, Urban Homesteading can often run in to issues of our own making.

This growing season was not our best. As with any other year, we started with enthusiasm and the best of intentions. Beds weeded and tilled, seeds planted just after the May 24 weekend. We even spent the first few weekends on top of any new weed growth, ensuring the rows remained clean and the bugs at bay. But then… we didn’t. 

We have many excuses we could use as to why we’ve been especially lazy gardeners this year (more so than normal, at least!). Both of us working full-time, often mentally-draining and stressful jobs. Children’s extra-curricular sports and activities. Extra time spent away from the house visiting family and friends. But in reality, we – I – didn’t try to make the time. And our gardens have suffered as the result.

This has left me feeling frustrated, and very angry at myself. From the sheer force of nature to thrive despite the odds, we will still get a decent crop of corn, pumpkins, and tomatoes. But our onions and peppers became overgrown and did not bear fruit (the onions remained stunted). The majority of our beets (though some grew to a good size) were mostly smaller than desire from not being thinned down enough. Many of the beans and peas simply did not germinate. And in their pots, the zucchini never grew past flowering.

This is our reality. 

This is not even a failure. Failure to me implies that despite all best efforts we were still unable to succeed. This year, we just didn’t try.  Yet my husband's And to admit this to others, to show the world that we fell short of our own expectations is painful. But you know what? Sometimes that will happen. We have the unequalled luxury that our very livelihood did not depend on this gardenbut the 9-5 jobs we have as well. We started Urban Homesteading because we wanted to teach our children where food comes from and to start, however small, and become as self-sufficient as possible. This year was no different.

But those ambitions did not prevent our growing season from being, in our opinion, a disaster. I kept meaning to take a couple hours after work to tend and then document the results, or a weekend afternoon here or there. But for whatever reason, for us this year it was not the priority. And I am not at all happy with the result.

At the end of the day please remember: whatever the task or lifestyle you set for yourselfand whomever you use as an inspiration or role model to get you there, there will be times when you believe you’ve fallen short. This will happen, and may even happen often. It’s not necessarily a good thing, but it’s not a bad thing, either. And it certainly does not mean you cannot start again. Raise the bar, lower the bar, do what you need to do to learn from your experience.

This is life. This is messy. This is Urban Homesteading.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

fall in love with gardening...

Ask any gardener and they will tell you that no matter how small a garden, it is a time and labour intensive undertaking - and one that to an outsider may not seem worth the effort for the yield a home garden often produces.

However, I am of a mind (and am certainly not alone) that we get so much more out of gardening than the end result of food.

It's therapeutic. Today was an incredibly stressful day at work. Now don't get me wrong, I love my day job. I have the opportunity to help people become more financially literate and independent, and best of all it allows me to afford to have the home life and gardens that I do. And for that I am grateful. Yet like any job, you have your great days and days that you question why even got out of bed. Today was one of the latter. So after dinner I escaped to the quiet of the garden to clear my head and just breathe.

At first the quiet allowed my mind to run circles around everything I felt had gone wrong today. But slowly, without even realizing it, I was relaxed and instead focused on every weed I pulled, every vegetable I fussed over.

Perhaps it's the repetition, though I'm not 100% convinced. I've participated in repetitive chores before: machine sewing (but not hand sewing - that I love!), grass mowing, washing dishes, etc. But I do not get the same enjoyment or calmness that I do in the garden. You just can't beat the fresh air, singing of the birds, and smell of moist soil to calm a turbulent soul.

It's gratifying. It can be difficult to have an appreciation for the food you purchase at the grocery store. Even I (who knows the effort that goes in to growing even a single tomato) do not pay the fruit and vegetables I purchase much more attention that to make sure they're ripe and unspoiled. And pre-made items? Even less so. But when you've spent a month and a half coaxing a small tomato seedling in to a giant, covered in delicious red fruit? That's appreciation.

Even better is when you know that the beautiful fruit you are about to eat is the direct result of your time and effort. There are few things in life I have found to be more satisfying that to look at a full garden in early August bursting with food and to know "I grew that." Unlike many other tasks that are more abstract in nature, gardening allows you to see the physical fruit of your labours. (And I will not apologize for the pun!)

It's educational. I've already established that growing your own food gives you an unsurpassed appreciation for the true value we should be placing on what we consume. With gardening, I get to share that realization with my children.

I cannot stress enough the importance of educating the next generation on where their food truly comes from. Whether it is the plants we grow or the meat we consume; knowing not only where you food comes from but what journey it took to get to your plate is crazy-important. Firstly, it gives us a greater appreciation for the food we eat, and helps us to become less wasteful. Secondly, by knowing the journey our food takes to our homes we can demand higher standards. And by higher standards I mean the treatment and final moments of the animals we consume, and the products and methods that are used to grow our produce.

In ignorance we allow atrocities to happen everyday in the name of greater yield and production (and this coming from a self-proclaimed meat-avore), and so-called pest-reducing chemicals that are poisoning and stripping our soil of all nutrients. Then we add more synthetic chemicals to replace the nutrients we destroyed. Does this sound logical to you?

Sharing gardening and farming with our children is the first step towards ending that ignorance.

It's inspiring. Many times Chris and I have encountered situations were the topic is "taking away the magic of childhood." I'm sorry, but that is rubbish. Childhood is inherently magical. Life is magical. How can one tiny seed, smaller than my finger, eventually turn in to a towering maple tree with just the rain from the sky and the warmth from the sun? We get to experience that every year. We watch as our yard goes from a freezing, seemingly barren environment to a lush tropical oasis in a matter of months.

And within each plant is a small ecosystem all it's own. Worms and ants build and thrive beneath the soil, butterflies and bees grace the flowers. Birds, absent in the winter months, grace our little "homestead" with the beauty of their songs from dawn to dusk; feeding on the unwanted insects that might otherwise spoil our crops.

In as many years as I've been gardening, I find I am still excited when I see the first sprouts push through the soil. Even when we are visited with blight or another calamity that affects our crops, the following year those same plants develop again unharmed. With or without our guidance, life perseveres.

Perhaps that's the most important lesson of all. Some years it is the tomatoes who fail, other years it is the squash. Yet every year there is bounty, and a diversity in the plants, animals and insects that follow our garden. With or without us, our garden would thrive, and the same can be said about the rest of the world. Changes will happen as a result of our actions, but life on our planet itself will continue. It is up to us to ensure we continue along with it.
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