So today I went to a one-time three hour class on garden planning and preparation. It was offered by http://www.villagevancouver.ca/ in the same series as that chicken class I attended a few weeks ago.
The class was taught by a man named Grant Watson, and it was geared towards beginners like myself. Grant also founded a company called Grant’s Gourmet Gardens (http://www.gourmetgardens.ca/) which mostly consists of edible landscaping. He also runs some workshops about gardening for/with kids which sounds really interesting to me.
So, I went into the class hoping to learn more about some of the things that have been confusing me:
- how to get started in terms of scheduling (what needs to be done by when)
- SOIL. For some reason soil was really intimidating me.
- how to know what I should grow given a) my skill set b) my location and c) the time I have to actually get into the garden.
This really was the perfect class for me. I would recommend it for anyone who’s not yet started or who maybe has started and not gotten anywhere. I am sure I was annoying with all my questions, but Grant (and the rest of the people in the class) took it in stride and I got answers that worked well for me. Although the group was really varied there wasn’t a single question asked that didn’t help me – even the ones I thought I knew the answer to. It was nice to be in a room with other people at the same point in the process as me. So, if you have access to something like this class, go! Also, if you are in Vancouver I strongly recommend joining Village Vancouver. They have great offerings in terms of courses, and they’re friendly and helpful people who really are just looking to build community in the areas of sustainability and food production etc.
Sorry, back to the class. I’m not going to write out all my notes – I don’t thing that would be fair given they charge for the course. The following are highlights that stuck out to me, or came up in discussion.
Grant talked about planning first.
- Goals: what do you want to grow/eat? how much time can you commit? What other uses will you have for your garden? This was interesting to me, as I think lots of people forget they also expect to have room for their kids to play, a place to eat al fresco etc.
- Location: think about sun vs shade, where is the best soil, how is the water in various parts of the garden (boggy vs dry) and of course more.
- Layout: my notes are rough here but I know he mentioned staged planting (tall plants versus shorter plants etc.) Also, we chatted about how to keep vegetables that have the same water and nutrient requirements together but not to put all your eggs in one basket (in terms of pests/disease) by having all of one vegetable in one spot only. I had never thought of it that way- I always assumed it would be more efficient to keep them together in terms of maintenance and harvesting.
We talked a lot about winter gardening, which was great. I had never heard of using crop cover to protect soil between growing seasons. I would recommend everyone who will be wanting a productive plot to look at your options for winter crop cover. The benefits are keeping soil in place, keeping nutrients and carbon in the soil etc. You can either try to grow a winter crop like peas or plant something like fall rye or winter wheat that you then cut down and till into the soil or mulch the soil with to build up/retain nutrients. A reminder: you can plant your winter crop or cover in mid-July/1st week of August even if you are still harvesting your summer veg. The two crops won’t be in competition at that point.
I asked a lot of question about polytunnels/coldframes etc. as I was really confused. I knew I wanted one but didn’t know the details of why. Grant pointed out that they’re really just large coldframes (as they’re not heated like greenhouses are). They let you have an earlier start, and extend your harvest later (so extending your overall growing season). They also get hotter, which is good for crops like peppers or tomatoes. I asked if humidity was a problem and he suggested that once you get to June you keep the ends open. Also try to water the plants directly at the soil, not on the leaves.
Grant suggested that I talk to Greenway about getting organic soil/compost. He also reminded me that Lee Valley has a great and cost-effective low-flow irrigation system that I had always meant to use but had forgotten about. I’m thinking it should work perfectly with rain barrels, and they may even have the fittings I need to build the super-system that I’ve been dreaming up (lining up several barrels in sequence to capture more water in one rainfall). I’m even thinking of putting a simple sloped roof and gutter system on the chicken coop – although the comment on greenroofs for chicken coops is still worth investigating!
We talked about a lot more (seeds, how to start seedlings, when to plant what and how etc) but the biggest point I got out of the rest of the class was my dream: a schedule – of sorts.
Here’s my plan – big picture level – I haven’t figured out how to get calendaring on the blog so this format is going to have to do in the meantime.
- meet with my Dad and friends who have said that they’d like to work on the garden in return for space and/or crops. We will have to sit down to figure out how we’d like to work out our deal and to plan what we want to grow.
- choose and buy seeds
- Plan layout of garden on paper
- Get rid of big bin and clean up yard
- build raised bed frames
- start onion seedlings
- Run irrigation system (rain barrels, low-flow irrigation and soaker hoses etc)
- Bring in soil mix
- start tomato, leek, garlic, spinach seedlings
- direct-plant peas
- Build polytunnel
- start broccoli, cabbage, kale, herbs, pepper seedlings
- direct-plant salad and mustard greens, maybe early potatoes
- transplant tomatoes to polytunnel
- Build chicken coop and run
- start cucumber and squash seedlings (in fibre pots)
- direct-plant beets, carrots, anise, turnips maybe late potatoes
- transplant peppers to polytunnel
- direct-plant beans, corn and squash
- transplant cucumber to polytunnel
- Get chickens
So as you can see, a few things need to be done in November. I want to get started looking at seeds right away so that I have information to bring to the conversation with my friends and Dad. Grant recommended a group that a friend of mine used to work with, Farm Folk City Folk (http://ffcf.bc.ca/). They have SO much information on living sustainably (in terms of food) that you can almost get lost and maybe even overwhelmed on their site. It has a fabulous resource section that I think we should all get familiar with – especially if you’re looking to buy locally year-round. One thing they’ve got covered is seeds. This pagehttp://ffcf.bc.ca/resources/kp/seeds.html lists places you can get non-GM seeds that are local and therefore good for our specific climate. I think it’s vital that we support local farmers in seed saving, plant breeding etc. so please consider getting your seeds this route.
So, I’m off on a seed hunt, no complaints here! I’ll be back tomorrow with a list of my dream vegetables and varieties once I’ve had a good nose around. I’m going to be keeping in mind the layout of my garden, how to stagger harvests and planting, what actually grows well right here and what my kids will love to plant, foster and eat!
Wish me luck…