The idea of a scientific approach on gardening
When I started my new garden, I was wondering about how many seeds I'd need for the amount of veggies I'd like to grow. How much space would be necessary, how many beds of what size and how to plan this whole thing in general. Does that sound familiar to you?
I'm a natural scientist by heart, so I love to think stuff through, I love to plan and analyze and (my husband always makes fun of me when I say that) I love to have an overview of what's going on.
This spring I decided to be not too perfect, and sew too many seeds and therefor had too much to plant. I wasn't familiar with the weather conditions and soil in our new lot and so I thought I might need substitute plants, if late frost kills some of my plants. Well, this is one reason why I ended up with a little overproduction here and there, but most of the time it worked out pretty nicely this year. And I actually had no loss due to frost. The other reason why I decided to 'just do it' and not to overthink it was, that I just didn't have enough time to calculate and plan and think stuff through this time. I had to start the seedlings and the garden and then I'd see what happens. That's one thing I really don't like to do, but it was one necessity I had to learn being a mom of two little boys (now 1 1/2 and 3 1/2 years of age). Just trust your feeling, go ahead and let it develop. It definitely worked out this year.
At this point I want to give you an idea of how I planned the garden, what I did to document it's development and harvests along the way and what I hope to learn from this first year. Based on this personal experience I developed the steps to lead my clients through the process of starting and maintaining a kitchen garden.
During the winter I made a list of what veggies and herbs I definitely wanted to grow. Being new to Eastern Canada, I looked for local seed companies and options to order a seed catalog. This way I came across Vesey's Seeds. After comparing prices and the availability of organic and heirloom seeds between different companies, I decided to go with Vesey's. First of all, I wanted a local company that offered seeds adapted to the Eastern Canadian climate and second, I wanted as many seeds as possible to be organic and/or heirloom. So I took out my wish list of crops and made hard decisions like 'how many varieties of tomatoes are really necessary?'.
I felt really happy sending off my order of seeds by the end of January and even happier when I received my order three weeks later. I got lucky to be ahead of the Covid-lockdown, when seeds were suddenly sold out everywhere.
Spring was definitely coming even tough there was still a big layer of snow and ice all around. But the bay window of our living room turned into my little DIY-nursery and very soon little happy seedlings of spinach, tomatoes, cabbages, broccoli and many more appeared and made my green thumb very itchy.
2. Layout and beds
Now knowing what I wanted to grow and how many seedlings I started, I could start calculating how many beds I'd need. This surely is the reverse way around on how you should approach planning your garden. I got lucky that the space for my vegetable garden was big and my husband willing to build what was needed.
The polytunnel (dimensions: 12x10x6,5f) was dedicated to tomatoes and some herbs right away. I had read that tomatoes planted together with celery are supposed to be very tasty, so I planned to put some celerys in there, too.
For the beets, kale and chard I wanted a cold frame, so I could start the seeds outside very early. The same I needed for all the cucumbers I started indoors. I talked about what I needed with my husband and he created a really beautiful and sturdy (almost greenhouse looking) cold frame with windows on top. He started building them as soon as the weather was warm enough (dimensions: 10x5ft, hight with tops: 4ft). When he was done I was like... 'Wow! Thank you! That's awesome! But you know, there are all these broccoli's and cabbages. I don't know where to put them. Could you build me more beds please?!' I just wanted very simple raised beds with hoops so I could cover them with row covers to keep the white cabbage butterfly away from the plants and shelter them during expected heat waves. A couple of days later they were installed as well and ready to be filled with soil and plants.
3. The No-Dig approach
When I did my research on setting up a new garden from scratch I came across CHARLES DOWDING and his No-Dig approach. I loved that it would save me lots of time and effort, if I wouldn't need to dig all of these beds - not to mention saving my poor back from pain. But more than anything else it was the way CHARLES DOWDING explains the reasons why an undisturbed soil is a better soil for an even greater harvest. From a biological point of view it made so much sense to me, I had to give it a shot. Another great thing was, that we had so much cardboard boxed lying around from moving, that the question of what to use as mulch (mostly as a barrier for weeds to grow) has been solved very easily. As soon as the polytunnel was up, I layered the ground with cardboard right on top of the grass. The next step was getting compost, putting it on top of the cardboard and everything was ready to be planted. I love this way of setting up a garden!
4. Planting and documenting the setting
As soon as the danger of frost passed, I could plant all my little seedlings. I put them outside for at least one night to harden them off and then I started filling my beds. That's such an uplifting fun part of gardening! I just love to dirty my hands when planting. After every planting session I made a sketch of the bed to document the progress. This way I could tell later this year what worked well, which plants grew really well and which ones didn't. It's a simple but very important step when starting a garden, because one just never remembers everything. At the very least you're going to try to remember next spring what you did last year. Then you'll be very happy about these little notes
5. Notes and photos
The same counts for the development of the garden. During the season there are so many changes in the garden. The plants grow so quickly and I want to remember how the development looked like the past year. That will be important when planting next season, especially when I space out the plants in the beds (I tend to plant them a little too close). Other things I like to document are pests, pest control, diseases, temperature and precipitation. It will help to understand e.g. why one crop didn't grow as well as the others or one bed did better than the other. You see, notes and pictures of the garden are really essential. I use a very beautiful nature calendar exceptionally for my garden notes. It's designed and actually drawn by MARJOLEIN BASTIN and I get it every year for my birthday from my mom.
6. Documenting the harvests
Another thing I like to document is the amount of harvest. It is such a fun thing to do! My oldest boy loves helping me with the scale and learns reading it as we go.
The reason for this effort is, that I want to be able to look up, when I did the first harvest of a certain crop, how often I could harvest it and how big the yield was at a certain day. I make notes about these facts in the calendar I mentioned above, because I usually need to make quick notes just before cooking. Afterwards I fill out a chart in Exel I created just for this matter. This way I have an overview at the end of the season where I can see, which crop gave my really good yields and which ones didn't do so good. Now I can try to find out the reasons why and apply changes to the garden next season.
Now you know what I did and it is certainly not perfect, but it was a fun approach to documentation the development of my new garden. These experiences made it possible to develop a step by step procedure for you, my local clients, to guide you on your way to your own dream kitchen garden. I'm looking forward to get to know you!