Friday, April 16, 2010

Best laid plans...

Every wise general knows that in battle, the best strategy only survives as long as first contact with the enemy. And as we have quickly learned; so it is with garden planning.

I had spent the better part of the last few weeks finalising the layout of the three vegetable beds; based on what I thought would be the best spacing and with vegetables adjacent to others that offered some sort of benefit to one another. What I did NOT do however, is actually measure the beds, and using optimal spacing, figure out just how much of each vegetable we could actually fit. Which is an important step!

Once I actually did this, I realised very quickly that my beautiful garden plan would not work. For example, in the original plan I had only accommodated room for a few rows of cooking onions. Once I actually started placing the bulbs at 6 inch intervals, I ended up using almost half of the first bed! (Mind you that was 100 onion bulbs planted!) That combined with the fact that not all the vegetables we will be growing will be planted the first year (corn, asparagus, and rutabaga to name a few), and a few last minute additions (radishes as a surprise for our neighbour) means that the actual layout of the garden is much different than originally planed. Yet I think we found a suitable solution, and one that has room to evolve as we find what works, and what vegetables are just not worth it at this scale (I hope all do though!).

Another change that will occur from the original plan is that the tomatoes will not be planted in the beds alongside the other veggies. When planting tomatoes, one has to be very careful as they have a tendency to leach nutrients from the soil at a much greater rate than most other vegetables. This means at the least their position in the garden has to be rotated from year to year, and that extra care has to be made to replace the nutrients via compost and manure. Originally, we planned to do this as we have in the past; until in his research Chris came across the idea of planting the tomatoes upside down, in planters.

I have seen this done before with annuals such as petunias or violets, but was initially skeptical of planting vegetables this way (from what we've read, not all vegetables can be planted this way, but in addition to tomatoes, peppers also take to this method of gardening). Chris has since devised a creative way to hang the tomato planters which will not only take up no extra space in the garden, but also provide shade during the summer of intense heat and little to no rain, as well as visual interest. He is going to build a set of three trellises; one above each garden bed. From these trellises can be hung the tomatoes, which will still be high enough to work in the beds without any hindrance. Each trellis will also have a set of hooks along the top, and I'll be making sets of canvas "sails" that can be attached across the three trellises. On days when we need the extra shade, the sails can be attached, and will save the vegetables from being scorched, and should also look interesting. The sails will be narrow and not block out the sun entirely, just enough to provide some relief. It should look pretty unique!

In the meantime Chris has also been doing his own researching on composting. In fact, his knowledge in that subject has now far exceeded mine, and he has become our very own Compost King (and he seems to take glee in informing me what I can and cannot place in the compost and what is "Greenbin" material - though if you ask him he is still frustrated that his compost is not "composting" yet).

Contrary to common belief (including my own), it is not sufficient to simply throw organic matter in a composter and let it sit. You will certainly have the materials break down over time, but it will take a VERY long time, and the compost will not be at it's prime condition. The method Chris has employed involves two composters. The first we used until it was about half full of kitchen waste, or "green matter," at which time Chris filled the rest of the composted up with leaves and other yard waste, which provided the "brown matter." He let that sit for several days, after which he shoveled everything out of the composter, mixed it thoroughly, and put it back in. Now the composter will begin to compost, when the matter begins to heat up as it breaks down, and that heat is what creates the compost. The exact ratio of green to brown matter varies depending on who you ask, but Chris decided that half and half would be best for now until we have a chance to experiment. I believe the more brown matter added, the more carbon, whereas the green matter provides the nitrogen (which you want slightly more of) but I would have to check to be sure. Now we are on to filling the second composter, and the theory is that once we have filled the second, the first will be ready to be emptied, and the compost spread on the gardens!

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