Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Pardon my Garden

My house has a big, big, big, backyard. When we moved in 2 summers ago. I'd stare into the backyard and imagine a world where it was transformed into a farm, with rows and rows of vegetables and lanes i could drive down, overall-clad on my mini John Deere... 

(exit dream sequence)

Back to reality: Last summer I planted a pretty elaborate tomato & herb garden taking up only 30 percent of the available space in the earthy soil / designated planting space in our yard. The herb garden went really well - healthy, beautiful and smelled absolutely divine - mint, basil, sage, parsley & rosemary fragrance wafting into the house every time the back door opened. Flowers, I've got down, no problem. The tomato plants, to make a long story short, were a disaster. The plants grew large and intertwined, creating a tangled jungle of vine, fruit and massive spider webs complete with big spiders. Sounds like a blast right? Everything was planted wayyyyyyyyy too close together. Who'd have known when they were tiny tomato plants how huge they would be 8 weeks later!? Also, I didn't support the large tomato trees properly, so as the tomatoes grew heavy and plump on the vines, they would snap and fall onto the ground. Where they'd get scooped up by an animal or left alone to never fully ripen. The experience was all in all very disappointing for a gal who loves her do-it-yourself tomatoes. There were however, hundreds and hundreds of cherry tomatoes - most very difficult to access due to my poor landscaping job. This past winter I even kept up my farming practice with a brief two week obsession with farmville (sorry to those I dragged down with me), my virtual cows constantly moo-ing at me, & checking my watch when out for dinner (had to get back to water my rice on time!).

Last years jungle disaster

Which brings us to......  2010. One year of experience under my belt. I'm ready to say good riddance to failed gardening attempts. I'm going to chronicle the growth of what is my baby garden right now, as it blossoms into the tomato/raspberry/herb/arugula garden of eden. I've learned my lessons; plant with distance. These plants need their personal space to grow & flourish. Never "play" and prune in the garden at dusk (this will result in 87 mosquito bites and two benadryls). Lastly, be prepared to defend against the wildlife invasion. More on that later.

My ideal plan was to have a full herb garden (obviously, in order to create all the Bistecca Florentine a person can handle), tons of tomatoes, other micro greens, heirloom raspberry plants that were transplanted from my grandmother's old house, to my aunt's house, and now finally to mine (think... picking from the same raspberry plants my mom picked from as a little girl). That was the rough idea, with some new fruits and veggies to try out too.

Early the last Saturday morning of May, with coffees in hand, we headed to Jardin Jasmin. What a place. A huge and sprawling nursery with every species of fruit, vegetable, herb, rose & trees one could imagine- with helpful staff ready to answer your questions and help you find the best fruit and vegetables for your soil and yard conditions. We packed an entire 2 trolleys with plants, and our friend Alty (who came along to help out) even bought his own pile of crops to plant and harvest for himself in our yard.

After a hearty lunch, we threw on our billy boots and hit the yard with rakes and hoes in hand, ipod blaring out of speakers on the patio in the 28 degree sunshine. The work was physical, turning the soil, adding fertilizer, mixing it in, & watering (repeat, repeat, repeat) 

And then came the planning & planting. We split the garden into three sections, with rustic stone tiles we chose as a walkway to access the plants. From left to right: a new rose bush and a flower bush, the tomato section, herbs & vegetables, fruit.


The tomato section:
3 large tomato plants in the back (2 pink lady plants, and one with large cherry tomatoes)
the second row, beefsteak tomatoes, yellow cherry tomatoes. The large plants are in cages, in order to support the stems and fruit as they ripen and get heavy. As soon as the beefsteak tomato plants grow to a substantial size (if they ever do, I cant imagine a big tomato plant growing from the puny little guys that claim to be beefsteaks now), I'll put cages on them too. All of the tomato plants are planted verrrrrrrrrry far apart, to give them maximum space for growth, while keeping them separate.

Really, you're going to be a Beefsteak?

Herbs & Small vegetables:

Rosemary, basil, micro basil plants (my favourite new plant already), mint and sage (from last year), arugula, spinach, chives, purple onion, thyme, parsley, eggplant, zucchini, artichoke (artichoke was one of Alty's choices). Herbs are pretty easy to grow, and I'm not worried about my leafy greens. But the artichokes, zucchini (which I'm really hoping to have some blossoms with), and eggplant... really not sure how they are going to fare or if I planted them far enough apart. I didn't let anyone come into that section. I had to plant perfectly aligned rows (like a proper farm), and had to have complete control to be sure I got it right. 

My mom must be a geometry teacher right?

My predicted mvp of the summer, micro basil
I transplanted 5 raspberry bushels from my aunt's house, which should fruit this year (at least a few of them should - Raspberry plants fruit every other year). The Blueberries that I planted last year should fruit this year. 

Then we got extreme. These are are mega-longshots to grow in but I'm hopeful: Watermelons, Cherries, ground berries, grapes (would be cool if they grow and cover the entire fence one day), and yellow rasperries that I dont expect fruit from this year. 

After a long day

The issues:
Animals. Montreal squirrels, racoons, and groundhogs are nervy little bastards - they come right in, even de-rooted my home made chicken wire fence last year and devoured everything just as its ready to be picked. The dividing wood fence above our vegetable garden serves as a squirrel freeway. There is tons of furry action on that thing - they run back and forth all day long, and climb down into my garden for breakfast, lunch & dinner. I caught myself a few times banging on the kitchen window like a crazy old lady yelling at squirrels who can't hear me from inside my house, and don't care anyway.  Let's not forget the groundhogs & occasional raccoons. Awesome. Eric has visions of finding me on the back patio in a rocking chair, shotgun in hand, muttering to myself, protecting my lawn from critters, like a total whacko. I've officially waged war, scouring the internet, buying books, joining chat forums. So far the general consensus on defense weapons is Cayenne pepper. Animals dislike the smell (no kidding). I went outside with some of the strongest cayenne pepper I could find at Douceurs (yes, these squirrels are getting a nose-full of the strong, fresh, high end stuff, because that's how I roll), and sprinkled in all over the garden. Makes me sneeze just dusting the crops with it (which isnt saying much), but it sure did a number on my poor poodle dylan, he was squinting for hours after a romp in the yard inspecting the veg. So... we'll see how that goes. 

Minute 4 of what would be hours & hours of him squinting at me

Maintenance: I have to make sure I know how to clip each species, prune, fertilize & constant watering.

Finally, sunshine. All I can do is pray.

I'm learning as I go. Reading about bugs, animals, soil & gardening. Carefully caring for each tender vegetable, I head out after every rain and re-up the cayenne, snip away the dead leaves, and cut back the herbs where I have to. I already harvested 4 gorgeous tomatoes.


  1. I cannot wait to have my own garden one day, for now i'll make do with raiding yours along with the other animals of Montreal.
    Jordyn and Bev just started their own garden so we'll have to combine and feast one night on fresh fruits and veggies!

  2. This is fun. Watched the whole garden develop and didn't have to turn a spade fun of soil. Good luck.