Monday, 24 May 2010

Adventures in Gardening

I started veggie gardening as a way to help my toddler sons make the connection between nature and food. Of course, there are many other benefits to gardening with toddlers and children:
- learning about soil
- exploring microbes
- finding and identifying insects and other invertebrates
- plant identification and ecology
- learning about compost and decomposers
- learning about the life cycle of plants
- exploring gardening through the senses--smelling new soil, herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables, squishing the soil through the hands and comparing the feel of clay, hummus, sand etc., feeling the texture of various leaves, comparing leaf and flower shapes and colours, comparing seeds, etc.
- watching how wildlife reacts to the garden in both beneficial and non-beneficial ways (the birds add fertilizer, the rabbits eat the beet leaves, etc.)
- learning about the preferences of different plants for sun, water, soil ph, and other plants they grow well will and grow poorly with

The list could go on!

From experiments with seeds form the compost, sunflower fort building, Weslandia, saving seeds, starting seedlings indoors, setting aside an area of the garden to leave natural (no weeding, mowing, watering etc.) and letting carrots winter over, we've tried quite a few growing experiments, some of which have yielded successful crops, and others that have not. We learned that raccoons have a high tolerance for eating unripened grapes and that raspberry bushes are perhaps one of the hardiest and stubbornly growing plants in southern Ontario.

This year we are going to try growing tomatoes, grapes, cantaloupe and zucchini vertically. I am building a small frame I found in a book a friend recommended called Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. Some of it will be planted at the base of the deck to grow up the outside perimeter. This should leave more space in our tiny garden for other veggies including beets, carrots and peppers.

The frame will be made from electrical conduit and I will hang string from the top which I'll wind around the vines of the zucchini and tomatoes as necessary.

I really like this book as it gives some great tips for maximizing space. I find veggie (and flower) gardens with exposed bare soil or mulch depressingly barren. Nature doesn't waste space, so why should we? I don't mind an occasional stepping stone to allow for maintenance, but in general, prefer lush growth over coddling a few chosen plants. This book gives some great tips for using the space in the best way possible.

We are also hoping to put in a small 4-in-1 pear tree along the front of the deck and train it to grow in a fan-shaped pattern, again, to maximize the use of space. The 4-in-1 is a tree that has three other kinds of pear branches grafted on to it. This make it self-pollinating, and also allows for a longer continuous harvest. I have mixed feelings about this as a 4-in-1 isn't the sort of thing that would happen in nature, but I am justifying it by the space limitations we have, the fact that it self-pollinates, and that it produces food as locally as we can grow it.

The boys and I are excited about our garden--let's hope our enthusiasm lasts throughout the growing season!
For some fun plant experiments and ideas, check out the Lemonade Plant Page here.