This January, it's been frosty, and foggy, and now we're back to rain again. But believe it or not, the gardening season has already started!
Planning: There's lots to consider for the upcoming season: in recalling what crops your grew last year (where they were planted, how they did), you'll be working out what this year's crop rotation will be. You don't want to plant the same plants in the same place year after year, because the soil will have accumulated diseases and fungi particular to that kind of plant. So in order to keep down such pests as garlic rust, tomato blight or wireworms in your carrots, it's important to rotate the location of your crops each new season - preferably on a 3 or 4-year cycle.
You'll also want to think through whether the various crops did as well as they could have - or whether you want to change strategies: maybe you just can't grow a pear tree in such waterlogged soil, so you'll have to move it to a drier spot. Or the beets were too tough and fibrous, so they should be planted in a somewhat shadier area. Or those heirloom beefsteak tomatoes just aren't your thing.
Beyond the planting plan, there are plenty of other issues to consider, of course - take your pick from the full array of gardening issues and questions that constitute the rich world of food gardening! From wheelbarrows to soil care, from building new beds to contemplating companion plants (like calendula, left).
Ordering Seeds: The absolutely best part of food gardening - except maybe the eating part - is deciding what to grow for the coming season. Time to have a look in the freezer at the seed you saved from last year. You'll also soon be seeing veggie seeds in every grocery store and gardening centre - and it's impossible to resist browsing them. Or if you're going the catalogue route, it's worthwhile working with a company from your local area so that you're sure you're getting accurate information (for people on the West Coast, we've mentioned West Coast Seeds before).
Outdoor Planting: the one crop you can sow outdoors within a few weeks, is peas. They prefer the cool climate of late winter/early spring - and die off by late June. Plant them in repeated flights 2 or 3 weeks apart, so as to keep a steady supply going for as long as possible. They'll need to be near a trellis or other support, of course, so they can grow up into the sun and away from the damp soil!
Indoor Sprouting: It's a bit early yet, but for some of your planned crops, you'll need to be starting the seeds indoors well before the outdoor season starts. Tomatoes, peppers (right), melons and artichokes, among others, need a longer growing season than we actually have here in the Vancouver area, so they should be planted indoors in March. You can probably get any of these as a bedding plant in May or June, but growing from seed means you have far more varieties to choose from - including heritage plants and organically grown seed. And it's a lot cheaper to grow from seed, too.
Sprouting Set-Up: In addition to getting seeds, you'll also need to ensure that you have the plant trays and lights needed for indoor sprouting. These days, most good gardening stores supply these set-ups. Just make sure to get not just growing trays - with holes for drainage - but also another set of trays without holes, to catch the run-off (learned that one the hard way!).
Inspect Your Garden: Now is also the time to go out and give your garden a good looking over, with an eye to what needs repairing or replacing - or how you want to expand your garden. Do some of the raised beds need replacing? Will you need a new wheelbarrow? Is this the year to expand your garden to the front boulevard, where the light is amazing? How much manure should you order? And so on.
How Can We Help? We would be glad to talk over your ideas with you, and look at your garden, however large or small. We can help you: arrive at an overall garden design for your particular situation; repair raised beds or build new ones; do the heavy lifting of moving soil and manure; plan and build custom planters, trellises, arbours, garden sheds and composters; lay a new drip hose system; dig in your cover crop; and spread compost. Feel free to inquire about anything you need help with.
Expert Gardening Advice: We have recently welcomed gardening expert Susan Stewart, 30-year veteran of West Coast food gardening, to our crew. She's available to consult with you, in your garden, about your garden design and planting plan or on any other food gardening questions you may have. Email or phone to book an appointment!