Gardening by the seat of our pants

We are still really very new to growing food here and I continue to be amazed by what the earth can produce when you’re not looking, even when that earth is f%!#*n* clay.

Basket of purple top globe turnips

Would you take a look at those purple top globe turnips? Are they not beautiful? Gotta see a close-up.

Purple top globe turnips

Look at the blushing purple shoulders on those babies!

We planted turnips in a matter of fact, but also lazy kind of way when we prepared our seed blocks earlier this spring. Eliot Coleman recommends turnips for planting multiple seeds in a single block, and we followed this method, never having planted turnip seeds before. I think I probably never expected to see them come to anything, if I’m completely honest. Why? Lack of confidence from being first-timers with this plant.

Before going away on holiday we transferred a small sample of baby plants to our new greenhouse, and then left them to fend for themselves. The timing for going away was terrible, admittedly, and we didn’t have irrigation sufficiently well set-up for the greenhouse (which is easily a hundred metres away from our house), nor did we feel that we had enough invested in what was planted in the greenhouse to warrant asking a neighbour to help out. We made arrangements for watering our veggie beds up at the house, but considered the greenhouse an experiment and a write-off.

It got incredibly hot while we were away and the greenhouse remained closed up for the period. My husband and I were expecting to find the remains of withered plants on our return, and instead found that the kale in one corner (already a mature plant at the time of our depature) still thriving, and the newly planted bed opposite it home to several abundantly happy and large plants: two red bowl salad lettuces, a green lettuce, a cabbage plant, a beet, and the two turnip plants (which produced what you see above).

Red rock cabbage plant in late spring

Cabbage is another plant I haven’t tried to grow before, so the above was a nice surprise.

Red salad bowl lettuce

Greens are among the plants I’m totally comfortable with and confident about growing (well, you’d hope so, given how easy they are to grow!), but I was still thrilled to see the lettuce above, when I’d consigned it to an unnecessary and early death in my mind.

The tomato plants that we had already moved into the greenhouse were also faring well on our return, and shortly afterwards we got serious about making the most of our greenhouse by moving many more young plants that were still in trays up at the house into beds. We now have a lot of tomato plants, sweet peppers, the above mentioned plants, and more greens growing in the greenhouse, and have directly sown a number of new crops, including some melons (again, these are an experiment).

What I love about the greenhouse (so far) is that the deer can’t steal my vegetables before I can harvest them, but watering plants that never get the direct benefit of rain is taking some getting used to. It’s also a wonderful place for plants that don’t like to be buffeted by wind, although our driving reason for installing the greenhouse was to extend our growing season into the cold months (and that experiment is still in front of us at this point).

We now have irrigation for the greenhouse and the beds beside it worked out, making use of a rain barrel at the top of the hill, next to the house, and a system of irrigation pipes that were left on our land by previous owners. It’s a simple gravity-fed system. We don’t yet have the re-fencing done (or even started) that we planned to do around the larger space that surrounds the greenhouse and which is currently home to four 20-foot long beds (three are planted with potatoes, which look fantastic, and the fourth was planted with chickpeas, which have not been a success). Our potato plants are protected by wire cages, which makes weeding a bit of a job, but which have so far kept the deer at bay.

The list of from-scratch jobs that we have around here is so long that we can’t seem to become experts in anything, but I’m feeling that overall we’ve made a lot of progress on the growing front this year.

Our first couple of years here are really focused on asking and answering the question of ‘will this grow here?’ about a wide variety of plants, particularly given the clay that we’re gardening on. We hear about folks with beautiful rich loamy soil (do NOT tell me if you are one of them!) in which to grow vegetables and it’s a bit soul destroying when you look at the locked-in state to which our ground reverts even after adding good organic compost for the second year in a row. We’ve read that you can’t be too generous with the rate at which you add compost/manure to clay without inviting different kinds of trouble, and we’re living with the slow progress.

The other thing is that farming/gardening here is being done very much off the corner of our desks and by the seat of our pants, if you will, and will likely continue to be for the foreseeable future. I’m really not complaining, just observing and reminding myself.

Next up: a turnip soup recipe that makes use of both the root and the greens, and – if I get to it – a turnip green puff pastry recipe!

10 thoughts on “Gardening by the seat of our pants

    1. Oh thank you!! It’s wonderful to have a bit of a cheering section with something tricky like melons. I think I’ll make myself one of your wonderful cucumber drinks while I watch and wait 🙂

    1. Yes, I love having this sense of wonder at how these amazing plants can come to be from these tiny seeds. Thanks for the encouragement!

  1. I kill indoor plants without even trying, and I’m not much better with the cold frame, though I’m really concentrating on changing that this year – I don’t think I’m ready for a greenhouse! I’m happy to tell you we do NOT have rich sandy loam…we have heavy clay. And lots of rain. Someday somebody with soil like ours will write a gardening book based on heavy clay…

    1. It is very satisfying, and our season is really only getting started I keep trying to remind myself! Just had some more of the turnip leaves in a sweet-potato puff pastry concoction the other day and it was very good!

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