Monday, May 16, 2011

The Garden Chronicles.

Last fall I decided to put in a garden plot. We've always grown tomatoes and a variety of herbs, but I felt that it was time to expand our 'home-grown' horizons, so we picked up the necessary poles and deer fencing and rolled up our sleeves. Hubby sank the first few poles while I tackled our wood pile. Afterwards I helped with a few more, then completed the last couple myself. From this point onwards the project became my baby ( I tend to become very territorial about such things - evidence of an independent streak that Chris often shakes his head at. Nonetheless, he humours me ).
Over the next little while I took my Stihl ( we have his 'n hers chainsaws ) out to an old logging road and cut down three young alders to use as support poles for the netting our peas and pole beans would need, limbed them, sunk them, put up the deer fencing on the exterior poles, and began to prepare the beds for Spring.
A book called Lasagna Gardening had fired my enthusiasm ... it outlines a system of raised-bed plantings incorporating layers of alternating organic materials such as kitchen waste ( no meats, dairy or fats ), leaves, lawn trimmings, seaweed, hay, peat moss, etc., along with newspaper and cardboard. A relatively no-fuss, no-till method of building a fertile organic garden using materials that otherwise would go to waste. We'd been recycling our kitchen scraps for years by dumping them at the base of our fruit trees, and the method had proven itself with phenomenal yields. However, there's only so much kitchen compost that two people can generate, so we arranged with one of the two island grocery stores to save their no-longer-saleable produce for us. This gives us enough material to supplement both the garden and the fruit trees. Win-win.
A dozen or so wheel-barrow loads of soil dug from behind our workshop went into the beds as well: I wanted to introduce a healthy population of worms and active soil bacteria to help things along.
To my satisfaction, by this spring, although the beds had reduced considerably, what remained was rich and well-composted - an invitingly fertile bed ready for planting. Yay!
With the help of a couple of pusses who like to supervise all activities indoors and out ( and who thoughtfully attempted to add their own contributions in terms of fertilizer ... which, while I appreciated the gesture, I nonetheless discouraged ) I got the seeds in. Next step was covering the entire garden - sides and top - with almost invisible bird netting. There’s a wide variety of bird species that live on our land ... we keep a bird-feeder stocked year-round, and with the multitude of salmonberry bushes, blackberries and assorted fruit trees, we’ve accumulated a truly impressive avian population. We enjoy them immensely, but I’d prefer not to have to wage constant war in the garden. It was amusing to watch the particularly determined ones repeatedly bouncing off the overhead barrier during their foiled scavenging attempts. You could almost see the gears turning in their little minds - after the first ricochet they’d perch atop a post while they considered the problem. They’d cock their heads and eye the netting, flutter feathers as if trying to recapture lost dignity, begin to question the veracity of the experience, and gamely try again. Boing. Another confused and indignant bird flies off to more productive hunting grounds.
The predations aren’t limited to deer and birds though ... in B.C. we have Banana Slugs to contend with as well. These are the second largest terrestrial slugs in the world, capable of growing to a length of 9.8 inches ( we grow ‘em big here in the coastal rain-forest! ). They serve a critical role in the ecosystem, breaking down the detritus on the forest floor, but you can imagine what kind of havoc these monsters could wreak in a garden. In defence I've lawn-stapled copper foil onto the ground around the exterior of the plot. The copper is said to repel slugs by jolting them with a mild electrical current, and while I’ve never experimented with this before, I’m hoping that this will be an effective deterrent to our local Garden Godzillas. Fingers crossed.
The remains of a hail-storm dusting the garden. Sigh.

Okay, whew. A virtual Fort Knox. So, after all this prep I sat back in anticipation and waited for the first signs of life. I had a mental time-lapse camera sequence unfolding in my mind ... an unrealistic, albeit thrilling, vision of exuberant growth springing forth with explosive vitality - a vibrant upwelling of vigorous green, shouldering aside the fertile earth and stretching for the sun. T’was a heady dream. I marked the days and waited.
And waited, and waited, and waited ...

As luck would have it, this has been one of the coldest springs on record; according to the newscasts, the worst the local farmers have seen in thirty years. To give you an idea, we had snow on April 28th, and regular hail-storms until just a week or so ago. Just another indication, I guess, of fluctuating global weather patterns. Adventures in climatology. Ah well, despite the unseasonably chilly spring, just about everything is up. The peas - naturally cold-tolerant plants - are doing the best so far, followed by the radishes and lettuce. Spinach and swiss chard have their first leaves, but you have to look carefully to pick them out. The beets are bashful, but I see hopeful signs. The cucumbers have graduated to full exposure after spending their first couple of weeks under cover, and a bold party-crasher ( a squash, I think, germinated from the seeds of our kitchen waste ) has earned itself a spot as well.
One of these days the mercury will rise. The plants and I will bide our time till the sun decides to shine.
Here are some pics of the fledgling garden and assorted critters... 

Part of the extended family ...

... the HUNGRY family.

Karma inspects the tomato bed.

A swallow checks out some prime real-estate.
I'd intended for the birdhouse to be whimsical
decoration only, but someone seems to have
other ideas.

The furry garden gnome.

Chives, chocolate marjoram, peppermint, and
a pretty shrub whose name I can't remember.
At least something is growing!


  1. NINE INCH SLUGS??? And I thought we had it bad when the rats ate our wiring. Giant slugs are way out of my comfort zone. You're a better woman than I am, Nina!!

  2. ...chuckle... they ARE rather awful. Every now and then one will make it's way up the side of the house overnight, leaving slime trails that are a real bugger to remove.
    We used to have a dog that actually developed a taste for them, which was helpful in terms of keeping the population adjacent to the house down, but made it awkward if she wanted to nuzzle you for some attention - you had to resign yourself to getting slimed with the remains of her last snack.
    However, yuk-factor aside, they're more of an annoyance than anything else. Rats, on the other hand, have sharp teeth, bad-ass temperaments, and the ability to move lightening fast. Slugs, no matter how big, seem pretty tame in comparison!