container garden

Though every day is bursting, and rarely lets up, though this marks the last of April, there is still time to start a vegetable garden. Just a few minutes one day, to choose some seeds, a few more the next, to prepare containers or, lucky you, a bed. Get some good compost in, pick a bright spot. You need only decide how many seeds to plant, how widely, how deeply, the packet will tell you all of this. Get them firmed in and watered. Keeping them damp, perhaps with a thumb-sprinkler, til they sprout is probably the hardest bit. Plant up another round of some things in a couple of weeks, and keep them rolling all summer! Finding these few minutes for vegetable gardening is something I never regret.

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If you needed something to make you feel industrious and grounded, even a row of potted herbs will accomplish it. At our house the children take care of watering the seedlings. Food becomes education. Later I’ll help them tie up a frame for the peas to grow up, and give the kale collars to keep cabbage moths from laying eggs. Not much to it yet, hardly even a weed. Our vegetable garden is small, no rambling garden with a greenhouse, just a few containers squeezed into my mother’s beautiful garden, but I am as pleased by it as if it were a many times the size. Just to grow some of our food is a great pleasure.

This year I’m just growing lettuces, kale, peas, beans, strawberries and a few herbs in the container garden. I think you remember my doorstep garden, do you? For more small, do-able, inspiring traditional projects, don’t forget to sign up to appleturnover’s quarterly.

planting garlic

When I choose what food to grow, particularly in a small space, with limited time, I like to choose something that is expensive to buy, keeps a short time, or comes from a long way away. Astonishingly, garlic is one of those foods that seems regularly to be imported to this country! Considering how effortless it is to grow here, and that it does perfectly well along the latitude that I seem to frequent, both in Canada and in England, it is a perfect crop for me. Have you grown your own garlic? It’s easy – let me show you.

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My mother let me devote one of her raised beds to a bit of garlic. Any pot or sunny-ish spot between plants will do.

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I topped the bed up with some good compost. No need to dig it in, the worms will have the amusement of that job.

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Like other bulbs that you might be planting at this time of year (if the ground around you isn’t yet frozen, nor yet under snow) you’ll want to notice where the roots are, and where the neck is. We’ll separate the cloves and plant the garlic root-side down. It is a bit flat on that end, and pointier at the top, in case you’ve bought garlic specifically for planting and cannot see any roots on the bulb. Buying ‘seed garlic’ may be a good idea, but I’ve never had a problem just using whatever organic garlic I had left in the kitchen.

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Also like other bulbs, you’re going to be planting garlic at a depth about 2 times its length. Press the earth around it so it is well tucked in. You can mulch over the top if your plants will need that kind of protection. It tends to be far too wet here for that, and mild, at sea level on the coast.

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To amend a verse from The Giant Radish: Grow garlic, grow big; Grow garlic grow strong!; Grow garlic, grow huge! I might put some more in another pot or two, as I aspire to grow enough to braid my own garlic. Such satisfaction, a ten minute task done, and in it I’ve won a tiny victory for eating local. I’ve been wondering a little about the true costs of transporting our food a very long way. They aren’t just ecological, and economical, are they? I wonder if these problems are very much about our own connection to our food, attachment to the seasons and the harvest, and a sense of one’s knowledge and self-reliance, too. There’s still time to plant your own garlic.

sprouting broccoli

Purple sprouting broccoli might take a lot of patience, only I forgot it was there, and had a gorgeous surprise in early May. It’s awfully late to bud, having missed both March and April entirely. The children are mad for it, breaking the stalks off and nibbling it raw as they play in the garden. This is a good thing, as it is a cut-and-come-again sort of plant. A whole year ago we’d planted out the seedlings from the greenhouse into the vegetable patch, hoping that a bit of netting might keep the deer off. They’ve ignored it, all the more for us.

purple sprouting broccoli

After the dull winter, those purple stalks are seriously thrilling! It’s sculptural leafiness is very pretty too, I’d plant it amongst flowers in a cottage garden.

purple sprouting broccoli © elisa rathje 2012

I love to cook sprouting broccoli simply, as I do kale, just tossing in a bit of butter, with a squeeze of lemon and sprinkle of sea salt when it comes out of the pan. Fresh from the garden it is tender and rich. Absolutely worth the wait. If you remember that you’re waiting. When I’m settled in Canada I’d love to plant some of this, it is my sort of vegetable.

vegetable patch

Last minute, as usual, I’ve put together my best attempt at plant care to sustain the kitchen garden for a summer away. (It’s been madness, putting all of our belongings into storage. A trial.) The major threat to our vegetable patch is deer, though I’ve no doubt that rabbits, slugs and snails will have their share.

vegpatch © elisa rathje 2011

After long deliberation with a kind and knowledgeable gardener at the little local shop, I brought home a pair of rose arches and assembled them like poles for my netting tent. This stuff is distinctly not handmade. That would be the trouble with last minute gardening!

veg patch © elisa rathje 2011

I fear it will be merely a deterrent rather than prevention, even if the wind doesn’t put it sideways, but I’ve chanced it and planted out all of the brussels sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli, artichokes, kale, cavolo nero, and dill. The earth is in excellent shape, having rested a few seasons, and very few weeds survived my partial no-dig preparations. The squash are out to fend for themselves, as are the raspberries. The garlic is entirely self sufficient, and I will plant more of it next year as protection. A few strawberries made it under the arch; I am pinning my hopes on them to send out runners under cover, so that next year we’ll have a little patch of strawberries that might escape browsing by deer with delicate tastes. If anything survives our long absence I will be so very pleased. All of this could make a gorgeous crop at the end of summer, and much of it right could be harvested through til next spring, if we are so lucky. The greenhouse holds tomatoes and a lone pepper. My self-watering plans in there have been thwarted; perhaps if I convince myself to rise at dawn I will come up with a solution.(Friends may water – best to put one or another in place. Our London garden faired beautifully with both!)

We’re off in the morning to Canada, and I will write from there about new projects, tea parties, and adventures, just as soon as I can.

netting

We’re moving out of the cottage for the summer, leaving in just a couple of weeks. It is hard to leave, especially just as the garden is becoming so beautiful. I’ve got some plants growing which should give us autumn and winter crops. A few have been feeding us this spring, amongst them, the snap peas. Those peas needed a place to climb, so I made them one.

netting © elisa rathje 2011

Like many objects I use, I was thrilled to discover how to make netting myself. I made this one last year, and brought it with me from London. Useful stuff, netting. I need to make a few nets to keep the rabbits and deer out of the vegetables while we’re away, just simple little ones strung over low supports, is my plan, so that the kale and the purple sprouting broccoli can grow without being browsed to death. I usually use nets for climbing plants like squash, beans, cucumbers, peas. Sweet peas were very pretty on this net last year.

netting © elisa rathje 2011

As you might expect, making netting is very simple, though slow at first, like knitting. Get out some snips and string. I used jute twine. Tie a length of string to a couple of supportive things, as wide as you’d like your net, either just where you’ll use it, or somewhere you have space to work.

© elisa rathje 2011

Cut several lengths of string triple the length you’d like the net, and fold once. I experiment with how wide apart I’d like the holes of the net. To keep out little rabbits I’ll have to go quite small.

netting © elisa rathje 2011

You’re going to slip the loop of the fold you’ve made over that string you’ve tied up, then pull the double strings through the loop, to make a loose knot. Slide the knotted string over a little if you need to rearrange. Continue tying on more doubled lengths of string until you have as many as you want, hanging in a row.

netting © elisa rathje 2011

Here’s the part I love. The first string, and the last, will form the outside border of the net. Everything else will form full diamonds, in the following way. Take a piece of string from one pair, and another from the pair beside it, and tie them together, adjusting the size of the gap you’d like to maintain across the net. Try to keep the length of each side the same. Move along the row, tying them together. Go back to the beginning, and tie along the row again so that you form a diamond shape (excepting the first and the last, which will form a half-diamond.) That’s it! Keep going. More. You’ll be done soon. Stop for a cup of tea, good idea!

Happy netting!