Sunday, April 4, 2010

April: Home Gardening

Slow Foodies are locovores. This does not mean that they are “loco” (though it doesn’t mean they aren’t either!); it refers to the emphasis that the Slow Food Movement puts on eating locally grown food. While we in Pelham are fortunate in having an abundance of local food producers, from farm gate and fruit stand sellers to the Pelham Market, there is nothing more local than a backyard garden.

This is the time of year to consider turning some of that useless grass in the backyard into a beautiful, useful, nutritious, and delicious vegetable garden. Have you ever stopped to consider how much time (not to mention gasoline and oil) we waste cutting grass in the name of a green carpet that has no use other than to look like everyone else’s green carpet? It’s estimated that between 30 and 60 percent of urban freshwater use goes into watering lawns, and the cost of keeping North American lawns beautiful is well over $25 billion annually. Converting even a little of your lawn to garden is not only satisfying and productive, it’s downright environmentally responsible!

Late April is a good time to plan your garden, decide what plants you’d like to grow, and choose a plot of land. In early May, you can turn the soil over, breaking up the turf as you go, and then turn it over again and rake it out before planting around the Victoria Day weekend. This is the traditional planting time in southern Canada, as it usually ensures that the last frost of the winter is behind us and the tender young plants have a good shot at growing up.

Avid gardeners will have already begun raising their tomatoes and peppers and herbs from seed in a cold frame or home greenhouse, so on the 24th of May they can transplant their seedlings into the prepared soil. For most of us, this is advanced gardening, and we are much more likely to bypass the seed stage in favour of buying seedlings from a grower just before putting them in the ground. Several growers have seedlings for sale at the Pelham Market, and they are always happy to give suggestions for planting and nurturing the young plants. Other vegetables like lettuce and carrots and beans and peas are grown right from seed, and the seeds, in infinite varieties can be purchased from garden centres or specialists like Tree and Twig (see below).

If you’re like me, an impediment to home gardening is a combination of laziness and travel. I’m not home for stretches of time during the summer months, and when I am around, I’m more likely to want to go fishing or cycling or hiking or… just about anything than plucking weeds out of the garden. As a result, I have become a big believer in biodegradable mulch. This stuff comes in long rolls of post-consumer recycled paper, and can be laid out between the rows of plants or used to cover the whole garden before holes are punched in it where the seedlings are planted. The mulch prevents weed growth, holds water in the soil, and attracts solar heat… all of which make your plants thrive. OK, it isn’t as pretty as well maintained, weed-free soil, raked and hoed to perfection, but it makes home gardening a do-able proposition for folks like me.

Here are few resources for home gardening information: This is the website of Tree and Twig in Wellandport… an absolutely fabulous resource for organically grown seedlings, including many heirloom varieties. Make note: Tree and Twig has its annual seedling sale on May 22and 23. This is the website of Canadian Gardening Magazine and has dozens of articles for everyone from the rank beginner to the semi-pro, geared to conditions in Canada. This is the site for beginning gardeners. It contains all the information and advice you need for getting started.