The Garden Plot: Summer 2018 Update
Hey fellow gardeners, foodies, and nature lovers!
How’s your summer going so far?
The weather has been brutal here. If you live in Eastern Canada or the Northeastern U.S., you already know about the record-breaking heat waves we had this month. Here in Ottawa, our Canada Day celebrations were cut short by the highest humidex ever recorded: 47. As the weeks went on, the heat abated (somewhat), the humidity stayed high, and we did not get nearly enough rain. A few days ago, Environment Canada issued a severe thunderstorm watch, and wow did we ever get a thunderstorm! It rained so much that Ottawa saw a record rainfall of 43 mm on July 23.
As a gardener, I don’t see this crappy weather as being all bad news. The heat and rain has been amazing for the plants (except for the grass in the backyard, but I digress). Nowhere is this more apparant than my garden plot. I had lousy luck with it last year. But this year? Wow! Take a look at these ginormous yellow zucchinis.
When I rode up on my bike and saw the huge golden squash, I couldn’t believe it.
For the sake of size comparison, here’s the first harvest next to a hand spade.
Think those are big? The next harvest makes those zucchini look puny.
See how much shorter the spade looks now? For an even better idea of the size, here’s the golden zucchini beside the normal-sized green zucchini I harvested that same day.
Something tells me I’m going to end up with way too much zucchini this year! I’ll have to start making zucchini bread and maybe freezing some for later.
As for everything else, nothing is ready to harvest yet. BUT, my grape plant is finally growing fruit.
Seeing the fruit totally made my day. I’ve been waiting three years for this to happen. The vine only has a few bunches of grapes right now, which I’m guessing is normal for year 3. Up until now, it hasn’t fruited at all. I can’t wait to try them when they’re ripe!
I also planted brussels sprouts, which are supposed to do well in clay soil.
Time to go off on a tangent for a minute (feel free to skip this part if you need a break from my yammering :p). As I probably mentioned in previous posts, my garden plot has clay-heavy soil. Working with it has been challenging; it doesn’t drain well, which can lead to root rot after heavy rains; you can’t work with it when it’s wet, or else it clumps together; and it’s so compact that root vegetables won’t grow properly in it.
Nearly everything I planted last year died of root rot: my raspberry bush, the artichoke plant, even idiot-proof plants like tomatoes! When I pulled up the carrots and saw how stunted they were, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to plant beets, parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes, or any other root veggies. Yes, I did plant garlic last year (see my post from last spring), but bulbs don’t take up much space, and I added plenty of potting soil to the planting holes. I could grow carrots the same way, sure, but I would need an awful lot of potting soil, and I’d already blown my garden budget.
Hence my decision to read up about clay soil and figure out which plants might actually grow well in it. Turns out that almost anything from the cruciferous family (like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower) will benefit from the firm anchorage clay soil provides for the roots. So I planted Brussels sprouts seedlings along with marigolds as companion plants.
That decision turned out to be a smart one. Behold the fantastical Brussels sprouts plants!
I hardly did anything to them, yet look at them! I’m definitely planting them again next year.
As I was saying earlier, I did more research this year. Along with reading books and online articles, I also looked around at the other gardeners’ plots to see what plants worked well for them. Nearly every plot had corn and green beans. I like corn, so went ahead and planted the peaches-and-cream variety. I’m not a huge fan of green beans, so I planted peas instead (they belong to the same family).
They’re doing well so far. Because I planted them a bit later in the season, they likely won’t be ready to harvest until September. That’s fine, though, since we usually have warm autumns.
I also looked into flood control methods. The last thing I want is to watch my plants die of root rot again this year. One of the simplest solutions I found is to make raised beds, so that’s what I did. The ones I’ve made so far don’t have wooden sides, but that’s fine. They still keep my plants a bit higher off the ground. Now when we get heavy rain, the excess water pools along the pathways, away from the vegetable beds.
This new approach seems to be working. This year’s tomato plants (unlike last year’s plants that died a miserable death) are still thriving after that crazy thunderstorm.
And I made another major change this year: adding more organic matter to the garden beds. For each garden bed, I made what I like to call “mini compost heaps.” All I did was set out some layers of newspaper, pile on a bunch of straw and dead weeds (ones not gone to seed), and add just enough soil on top to cover it all.
THEN I made the planting holes. For plants with deeper roots, I dug the hole down to the newspaper layer and filled it with a mixture of compost, bagged black soil, and clay soil from the plot itself. For seeds and plants with shallow roots, I kept the holes a bit smaller.
I like this technique because:
- It’s easier on the back. I don’t need to shovel nearly as much soil, and
- The organic matter in the “mini compost heap” will break down over time, releasing nutrients.
The point of adding soil mix to the planting holes is to give the plant roots something to grab onto. Also, any seeds I plant need good soil-seed contact to germinate properly.
I’ll admit that I almost gave up on my garden plot. Last season’s harvest was so disappointing that I didn’t even post an update for you guys. Thankfully, I kept at it, and all that hard work payed off. Here’s what my plot looks like now:
Keep in mind this is only HALF of my garden plot — I still have a huge amount of work ahead of me! My goal is to have at least 3/4 of my plot weeded and garden-ready by the end of the summer.
Have you ever had to work with clay soil? What are you growing this year? Let me know in the comments below!