Yesterday my earliest daffodils began to bloom – just in time for temperatures to plunge from their unseasonable summer highs. Nothing is certain in a garden. How many times do we have to relearn this lesson? The following takes me back a couple of weeks - before we were all boldly planting seeds.
Beginning tomorrow days will be brighter longer. The sun will not set until 6:46 pm. It will seem like spring has arrived – even though we have another ten days before the official announcement. For me this seems like the beginning of a new year and my brain is buzzing with new plans and new projects all of which have a more than a passing resemblance to New Year’s Resolutions.
Spurring me on to these resolutions are two new books. The first, High-Impact Low-Carbon Gardening, 1001 Ways to Garden Sustainably by Alice Bowe (Timber Press $24.95) has about the longest subtitle I have ever seen Garden Strategies for the preservation of the planet; The most fuel efficient garden practices; Plants for the changing climate; Design for disassembly; New ways to compost; The safest pest control. The book hardly needs an index, but in fact, an excellent index makes it easy to look up specific plants, techniques and best practices. A full glossary with information and many resources is included.
Bowe’s book is packed with information, but it is all readable and most of it seems eminently doable although not many of us will launch ourselves into the Jean Pain method of turning compost into a methane energy supply. The ideas and techniques in High-Impact, Low-Carbon Gardening will capture carbon emissions, moderate the urban climate, promote health and reduce energy consumption. That all ‘translates into less work and expense for us,” Bowe writes.
There is no way to summarize the 1001 ideas so I will tell you a couple of the new things I learned. I had never heard of the Japanese method of Bokashi composting, which is a fermentation process that requires a small bin and bokashi bran which is available online, if not locally. In two to four weeks the bin of bokashi is ready to use.
I also learned about bimodal plants. These are plants that can take flood or drought – although they might prefer one or the other. Storm and drought tolerant plants include sugar maples, amelanchier, oakleaf hydrangeas, rugosa roses, primroses, baptisia, and columbine, but there are many others. It seems that these days we barely know what season we are in, or whether it is flood or drought that we need to be preparing for.
There are engaging chapters about landscape design, for beauty in every season, and for function, gardens that will attract pollinators and other wildlife to the garden. Bowe adds that the sustainable garden includes food for the gardener. Even a tiny garden can include a few food plants that offer pleasure and nutrition in equal measure.
My second inspirer of resolution is Nikki Jabbour’s book The Year Round Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Your Own Food 365 Days a Year No Matter Where You Live (Storey Publishing $19.95). Jabbour lives in Nova Scotia and the cover photo shows her collecting a generous harvest of lettuces, scallions and carrots from a cold frame in the snow.
Gardening year round means beginning very early in the spring by using low hoop tunnels and coldframes. Early and late gardening also means becoming familiar with cold hardy vegetables, most of which I have heard of, but some I have never tried. This year I resolve to plant some mache. About half the book is given over to an A (arugula) to W (winter squash) listing of hardy vegetables, how to plant and handle them.
Mache, also known as corn salad, can be planted as soon as you can work the soil. It needs cool soil and moisture to germinate which it will do in about 2 weeks. Spring planting will give you early salad. It can also be planted again in August through October for delicious winter salads.
Mache is familiar and popular in Europe. If I want to choose a North American early salad green I can plant claytonia, otherwise known as miner’s lettuce – even though the flavor is not lettucy. California gold rush miners found it very nutritious because it is a good source of vitamin C.
Claytonia rosettes can be picked whole when the plants are young, or as they mature, you can just pick off the leaves you want and the plant will continue to grow. It also produces edible flowers.
Both of these greens need consistent watering. While we all want to conserve water there is no way around the fact that vegetable gardens need regular watering, especially when they are just beginning to grow. Having a water source near a vegetable garden is vital.
Jabbour gives vital information about siting and building the cold frames, low hoop tunnels and high hoop tunnels as well as using floating row covers that will extend your garden season in spring and fall. I like this new angle on intensive gardening getting more produce out of limited space and for a longer season.
There seems to be more and more interest in growing at least a few vegetables. Possibly because of the economy, or because of concerns about good health, or concern about the cost of food miles, or because freshly picked produce just tastes so good. No matter. Both of these books will get you resolving to eat more of your own vegetables over a long season in efficient ways that require less work and less money.
I will let you know how well I keep my resolutions.
Between the Rows March 10, 2012