Cheating

Over the past few years, I have developed a reputation for cheating. This causes some disgruntle among observant neighbours. They feel like I am getting away with something I shouldn’t be getting away with, and the truth is, maybe I am.

My confession? I don’t wait u

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Patrick with his December Carrot Harvest

ntil the May long weekend to plant my crops. No. I pay careful attention to the weather, and I plant my crops as soon as the soil is workable. I then leave some of my crops in the ground until the end of October on occasion. This is my cheat.

As Calgarians, we are told to wait for that magical date in late May before planting and seeding our crops ensuring they don’t freeze. But I just happen to be well versed in cold crops; a gardener’s dream come true if you live above the 49th parallel, so I’ve decided to take advantage! We only h
ave between 90 and 110 consecutive frost free days per year, so we don’t have time to wait for these frost free days, instead we must take advantage of our cooler days.

There are some crops
that, in fact, need cooler temperatures to thrive. I will highlight these so that us Calgarians can feel proud of our amazing growing season; not for the tomatoes we can squeeze in before it gets below 5 degrees Celsius, but for the mineral rich leafy greens and e family delights, some of which can handle as cold as -8 degrees Celsius and grow beautifully here.

I am going to break these cold crops down into 4 categories: Leafy greens, cabbage
family, root crops and peas, to simplify the memorization aspect.

Leafy Greens
Apart from basil, almost all leafy green vegetables are considered cold crops:
Lettuces
Spinach
Arugula
Collards
Chardimg_0012
Kale
Beet

Cabbage Family

Kale
Cabbage
Broccoli
Collards
Cauliflower
Brussels Sprouts

Roots
Potatoes
Radishes
Carrots
Onions
Garlic
Beets

Peas
Only some varieties are frost tolerant, so check the package!
These crops can be direct seeded into your garden as soon as the ground is soft enough to dig. They can then stay put until they freeze solid, so try not to harvest them too soon. Leafy greens for example, can be harvested by simply plucking off a few leaves from each plant as needed, which means come September and October, you will likely still have leaves that are still available for harvest. You can also harvest peas quite late into the season, although I have noticed their production rate starts to slow down as the light gets lower and  air temperatures get cooler.

Root crops are some of my favourite cold crops, as the soil essentially preserves them. My friend Patrick Sweet dug out his carrots just days before christmas after covering the rows with straw and tarps for protection. Just because the green tops have died back doesn’t mean the roots are gone too. I have occasionally dug up a carrot the following spring that somehow got missed the previous fall, and it is still as sweet as any home grown tuber you might harvest during the summer or fall.

Patrick says he waits to cover his roots crops  until the weather is cool, between 0 and 5 degrees C, and dry outside. The key is to keep both the moisture and the mice out, and he shared with me a system that he has found worked for him this year. He says that putting an old blanket down first (as it’s breathable) then a large load of dry leaves on top works well to create air pockets, which is what insulates the carrots. He then puts a tarp on top to keep moisture out, and “hems” the edges of the tarp down by shovelling a small amount of soil around the perimeter. He suspects this might even deter a wandering mouse, or keep them from smelling the carrots. He suspects his success this year was also due to a layer of snow that blanketed the works, sealing things, and most importantly providing a little more insulation.

Extend that vegetable season and enjoy the cold crops to make the most of them in this frosty winter land we live in!

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Inspiration

Yes, here it is, my blog, post #1. This will be a simple exploration for me; part of my life experiment, to see where my musings take me, and others perhaps… but not to get ahead of myself.

I was raised amongst a family of agriculturalists, in the middle of a large city. Both my parents, in fact, managed to earn their incomes over the courses of their lives through gardening and farming and various related topics, which seems a bit miraculous considering our northern positioning and our limited 90 days of frost-free weather.

Clearly, miracles are commonplace where I come from.

Fond memories from childhood include picking buckets of rocks out of the garden; this being assigned as punishment for wild behaviour. My sister would not agree (re- the fondness, that is). While this could have been cause for complaint, I found it did not dampen my enthusiasm for the mud and bugs that abounded. Inspiring my sister to seek comfort in a day job, I found those rocks to be a source of inspiration in a much different way.

Whether picking rocks, or weeds, or plucking slugs from pea plants and lettuces, I started early on to use these experiences as a way to attain a certain calm, or to induce a meditative state of sheer joy. To this day I use my garden (and those of others) as a haven when things seem chaotic. My life otherwise being full of kids with their many personalities, and a house that has it’s own highs and lows; needing constant attention in various ways. Gardening, for me, provides a certain balance that I have come to crave and cherish.

I find inspiration when I can feel the cool damp earth under my bare toes, or when i can enjoy the wet early morning dew transfer to my own skin as I harvest baby kale at sun rise. I am awe-struck when a robin accidentally lands only centimetres away from my nose while I weed from under low pine branches. We pause to stare at each other, engaging in a game of “chicken” to see who will flinch first, neither of us wishing to spoil the precious moment.

In my life, I quickly worked out the sanctity of outdoor spaces; wild or cultivated, fruited or barren; and soon discovered that people would happily pay me to linger in their own precious yards while pulling weeds or planting new specimens, cultivating the earth, or trimming old growth. I thrived in these environments, and began collecting a pay check from sincerely grateful clients, much to my sheer amazement!

Good intentioned friends and family have suggested, over the years, that I hire employees, or that I advertise my services, or that I somehow loose the intimacy of what I so preserved;  the one on one with mother nature. The business aspect had never been the motivation however. But, as a dear friend of mine says; “shift happens” and I felt this exact phenomenon unfolding before my very eyes and mud-caked fingernails as I found my basket of time filling, and spilling over. This “perfect niche” began taking on a life of its own; for better, as always.

I thought I was in this for my simple love of the garden… but there is more to my life’s lesson and the initial inspiration after all. Thomas Fuller wrote; “He that would have fruit must climb the tree.” And after years of thinking I was eating the fruit of life, I suddenly realized I had yet to reach any branches.

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