The potatoes are making a bid for freedom….

What a strange growing season we’re having! Our spring was so cold and wet that I direct sowed my veggies almost two weeks later than usual – a huge difference when you consider that we have, on average, 117 frost-free days in the city.  (I didn’t start anything indoors this year or do any winter sowing).  June was pretty much a blur of rain – I’m not certain we actually saw sunlight for the entire month.  To this date, July has been considerably more moderate as far as temperature and drying are concerned…and my potatoes are kind of blissed out at the moment. I’ve got foliage going on like nobody’s business – I just hope there are a few tubers forming under there.  A gardener in the Alberta Gardening Facebook group recently remarked that her potato plants were over five feet tall and those that commented echoed her claim – this is clearly the year of giant potato plants in our province!

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And yes, those are hula hoops forming the tunnel in my raised bed…you can see how I set that all up here.  I’m a big fan of the hula hoops – they’re cheap, sturdy, and they liven up a public space with their colours!  (I’m not sure what our community garden leader thinks of them, but she hasn’t sent me a cease and desist letter so I’m guessing they don’t offend too many sensibilities).   Instead of row cover fabric this year, I put up fibreglass screen. Its purpose is two-fold: we have deer that like to jump the fence of the community garden and nibble, so this saves my beans; as well – and more importantly – we are plagued by frequent hailstorms in this part of the world, and this keeps most of the icy stones from shredding my squash.  I could combine this set-up with row cover fabric in future years – a good idea if I decide to plant cabbages and want to thwart flea beetles, or if I get seeds into the soil early and need a bit of protection against the cold – but for this year, the screen without the poly has been a satisfactory choice.

Did you plant potatoes this year?  And do you use hoop tunnels in your raised or in-ground beds?  

And…just for fun – what is your favourite way to make potato salad?  

Raised bed gardening – the hoop tunnel is up!

I’m a little late with this post…even here in Alberta, I think most gardeners have their veggie seeds in and even most of the transplants planted out – although they may still be holding out on the tomatoes and pepper seedlings outside of the greenhouse.  I had promised way back at the end of March to offer up some notes on a lecture I had attended about raised bed gardening and here we are at the end of May and I’m just getting around to it now.  While it may be too late to apply some of these ideas this year, there might be a few things on this list to consider for the future!

Without further ado (I’ve “ado’d” enough with this one, I think!), here are a few key ideas about growing veggies in raised beds from Janet Melrose, the garden animator for the Calgary Horticultural Society and facilitator for the Community Garden Resources Network in conjunction with the CHS.  I’m not transcribing the whole lecture – I’d encourage anyone who lives in Calgary and area to attend any of Janet’s talks, as she has a ton of excellent information about gardening in the Chinook zone.

*On raised beds versus inground gardening:  Raised beds have warmer soil and warmer temperatures at the growing height and are less susceptible to cold traps and early frosts; however, the soil in raised beds is typically drier due to wind and heat exposure, which makes watering an issue.

*On combatting dry soil (also weeds!) with mulch:  Straw is an excellent mulch in raised veggie beds.

*On maximizing the limited space available in raised beds (and I’ll add that this goes for container gardening or any small space gardening):

  1. Sow fast growing crops
  2. Sow a limited number of crops
  3. Practice intensive gardening
  4. Sow crops with the largest production value per plant (my suggestion:  zucchini! LOL)
  5. Grow vertically
  6. Use the edges of beds for plants that trail
  7. Grow crops that have more than one edible part
  8. Plant crops that you can harvest more than once per season

Above all, grow crops that you like to eat and can use up!  I was laughing about this one because I’ve been guilty in the past of planting crops that I don’t necessarily need – for a couple of years now, I’ve grown beets and while I love them, we get about a gazillion pounds of them from our summer CSA share and by October I don’t really want to see another beet for at least a year.  Why on earth have I been growing them as well?  This year they were crossed off my planting list!

Another thing Janet recommended for raised bed gardening is something I’ve had on my mind for a couple of years now:  using row covers and hoop tunnels.  While construction was supposed to take place last year, I didn’t get around to it until a month ago (the story of my life, it seems!) but I’m quite pleased with the results!  (I must thank my hubby for all of his help with this – for the build, of course, but mostly for listening to me endlessly blather on about it).  😉

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We used hula hoops for the frame (they’re cheap and strong and already circular in shape, plus they come in a wide range of funky colours) – the ones we bought were just stapled together, so once the hardware was removed, they were ready to go.  We had some old fibreglass tent poles which we took apart and jammed into the ends of the hula hoops to use as “stakes” to put them into the bed, but you could always do without that step.  The poles served to give the hoops a lift, offering additional height – not necessary with most of the crops I’m growing but if you’re planting vertically, it may be useful.

The upper stabilizer is just  a piece of PVC piping (again, very inexpensive), trimmed to fit the eight foot bed and fastened with zip ties.  We debated about adding more piping to each end of the tunnel but decided the whole thing was sturdy enough to skip that step – although we may put them in later on if we feel it is necessary.

Here it is with the row cover in place…the fabric is water permeable (but hopefully not hail permeable!).  I could have used any number of items to hold down the fabric – most gardeners buy pegs specifically for that purpose, but I had some large metal paper clips at home and so I just popped them on.  They will rust, of course, but they work very well.

My hoop tunnel with row cover - BCG - 21 May 2014

Do you grow your veggies in raised beds?  What are your tips and tricks for good harvests?

 

Rhubarb and a garden update.

The very act of writing it down might jinx it, but…it looks like we’ll be snow-free this week!  No white stuff in the forecast, for once!  I’m massively excited about that – it means maybe, just maybe, I can get a bit more work done in the garden.

In between snarly springtime bouts of rain and snow and sunshine last week, I finally cut back all the perennials, and dug in some of the leaf litter.  I removed a fair amount of leaves as well – there are several green ash trees and poplars nearby so you can imagine the quantity I’m dealing with.  I sidedressed the existing plants with new soil and compost (including some of the castings my vermicomposting worms had busily created over the winter). Hopefully I’ll have enough time after work this week to get the edging started – not my favourite job (is it anyone’s?), but it always looks so nice afterwards.

Now I just have to wait for the end of the overnight frosts (June?) to get down to a garden centre and do some serious plant shopping.  (Note to Hubby:  you don’t see that word “serious” in there.  I’m really only going to pick up “a couple of things”).   😉

Over in the community garden, I’m delighted to report that the building of the hoop tunnel that I had blathered on about last year actually took place a couple of days ago.  Better late than never or something like that.   (I’ll post a photo later this week).  The community gardening group held its spring clean up event on Saturday – it was so muddy we risked compacting the soil in the perimeter beds, and so cold very few weeds had popped up to pull (which I’m totally not complaining about).  We focussed our attention on other tasks instead, and I’m fairly certain we may now have the cleanest garden shed in the province….

I was so happy to see that the rhubarb in the community garden is starting to emerge.  We are currently splitting the produce from one plant between 30 garden members, so we each average a haul of about two stalks per season.  I already have plans for mine:  Special Rhubarb Cake.  It seems like a must-try, don’t you think?  Or do you have another favourite rhubarb recipe to recommend?

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