My garden has been such a source of joy over the pandemic. When things were getting tense in the house during lockdown, I could slip on my shoes and take a five minute pause to look at my plants. You’ll always notice something new every time you look at your garden.
Over the last few years my anxiety over climate change and food supply have grown. Truthfully, it’s started to feel a bit irresponsible to own a piece of land without trying to grow some food on it.
Our vegetable gardens are getting bigger every year. In 2019, we grew 5.7 lbs of vegetables by planting seedlings in our flower beds and patio pots.
In 2020 we built our large raised beds which gave us 112 square feet of growing area. We brought in 80.8 lbs of food that year.
This year we added another raised bed. This one was a kit I bought from Costco that gave us another 7 square feet. The purpose of this new smaller bed was to get the greens and herbs out of the larger bed.
I’m proud to say, we grew 214 lbs of food this year. And those numbers are probably on the low side. We didn’t weigh every morsel that came from the garden. Peas and beans were gathered and munched on in the kids’ playhouse. Zucchinis, tomatoes and squash were plucked off the vines to hand to friends when they popped in to say hello. Moments like these are why I put in a garden in the first place—why interrupt them by pulling out a scale?
- Soil: Good soil definitely makes a big difference. The soil we purchased in 2020 wasn’t great quality. After spending so much money on lumber to build our large raised beds, we cut corners and bought the lowest grade triple mix. We regretted the decision immediately—it had pieces of plastic and metal wire in it. It just didn’t look good. This year we bought a better quality soil. As soon as I opened the bag I could smell the difference. (Local friends, I would definitely recommend the Big Yellow Bag from Vissers.)
- Rain: There was a big jump in the amount of food we produced this year. No doubt this was because of the heavy rains we had in July. Everything just flourished and we didn’t have to spend as much time watering. Some of the zucchinis and cucumbers could have been picked a bit earlier. The rains caused them to get really big, and this made them less tasty.
- Raspberries: The raspberry bushes we planted in 2020 started producing berries. We didn’t get a lot, but I’m excited for things to come. We planted two varieties: a red one that had fruit in July, and a golden raspberry that produced fruit in September. The kids eat so many berries—I'm excited to send golden raspberries in their school lunches next fall.
- Preserving: We put way more produce into the freezer this year. We smoked batches of tomatoes to make spaghetti sauce, shredded zucchini to have ready for muffins or bread, and cubed and froze squash for quick weeknight side dishes.
Next year’s focus:
- Timing: The new raised bed we bought was used exclusively for greens. I planted rows a few weeks apart so that we would have salad greens for a longer period of time. Still though, by July, the greens were overgrown and had gone to seed. I wish I had pulled it up and planted something else in there after the greens were done. It really was wasted real estate.
- Produce: We had a lot of squash, tomatoes, zucchinis and peppers this year...none of which the kids particularly enjoy. I’d like to focus more on the fruits and vegetables that the kids actually eat—peas, beans, berries—to get them more involved (and also cut back on those berry bills).
- Pest control: Our backyard bunnies and squirrels do not mess around. Even though the kids love strawberries, I haven’t put much effort into growing them because every time I've tried, a squirrel manages to get to the fruit before I do. Broccoli is a similar story: it’s the kids’ favourite veggie, but bunnies have always gotten to it in a matter of hours after planting. Next year I’d like to create some barriers with chicken wire so we can keep those crops to ourselves!
- Seedlings: We haven’t started any crop inside for our garden—the seeds have either been sown directly into the soil or we’ve planted seedlings. Next year I’d like to start some of the seeds inside. I’m also going to research the varieties of plants I’d like to grow rather than just taking what we can get from the garden centre or friends and family.
- Pollinators: I haven’t focused a lot on the flower gardens over the last few years, but when I have put in new plants, I’ve been choosing native and pollinator-friendly plants. I want to research this more and perhaps start some perennial seedlings indoors to cut back on costs. My ultimate plan is to shrink the size of the lawn year after year and replace it with vegetable gardens and native plants.
- Backyard Ecosystem: I had plans to build a composter and attach a rain barrel to our eaves this year, but, alas, I didn’t get to them. Next year I’d like to reduce the amount of kitchen scraps leaving our property in the municipal compost program and keep it for ourselves.
- Preserving: I'm very proud of how far we've come with storing our crop for the winter, but most of it was done with our vacuum sealer. While I love our sealer, I'd like to find an alternative that doesn't use as much single-use plastic. Maybe I'll learn more about canning for next year...but I'm also going to give myself a bit of grace on this one.
Growing food on our property is something that I started without a lot of intention. There was no plan: I mostly just wanted to see what would happen. What's beautiful, however, is that now that I'm a few seasons in, I can see the changes in myself and the garden. I can easily flip through my phone's photo album and compare year to year. The seasons give us a natural cycle to follow when planting, growing, harvesting and preserving. Every winter we can plan and prepare for next year. Even though the 2021 season is just finishing, I'm excited for what 2022 has in store.
I want to hear from you. What went well in your garden this year? What didn't? What's your biggest piece of gardening advice?