Little Garden on the Prairie and Beyond
I caught myself day dreaming in traffic today. I wasn’t dreaming about what to make for dinner or my latest star crush (Mads Mikklesen), or even what my next blog post would be about. I was dreaming about dirt in Spring, that first turning over of the soil and the smell of new season and promise for the summer to come. I began to plan some ‘earth time’ with my two tiny little community garden plots so that I might get the most use of my space and the greatest return for my effort. This year I’ll be planting Chioggia Beets (candycane), Golden Beets, mixed lettuce, purple dragon carrots, and green beans. I accidentally bought two chioggia beet packets so I’ll give one to my mom and see if she can grow them too.
It wasn’t always this way. I grew up a farm girl on the prairies with lots of room to roam and pretty much nothing to do but garden and I hated it. Yep, I hated it because after the garden was planted it was my job to keep the rows clean. It didn’t take 15 minutes like it does with my community garden plots. Nope, mom went all out to ensure we had enough produce to preserve in the fall and enough potatoes to get us through the winter. Often there would be 400+ hills of potatoes to hoe, several rows (and varieties) of beets, carrots, beans, peas, cucumbers, lettuce, radishes, swiss chard, spinach, parsnips, and even corn and cabbage which never seemed to mature before first frost. I hated them all with a passion; with one exception. I begged for mom to plant pumpkins every year and every year it was tough for her to give up the space it took for them to grow but she did it anyway. I was content to water the plants every couple of days to make sure I had a pumpkin to carve every Halloween. The thrill of seeing that first baby pumpkin still attached to the flower is a thrill I think any gardener can relate to. Every gardener looks forward to the first radish or bowl of lettuce and the thrill of accomplishment from a well tended garden.
It took me a long time to realize that sense of accomplishment. Our first home had a 6’x 9′ plot that I made by removing the sod. It took a while to condition the soil and get rid of all the weeds and quack grass but eventually one year they were at a manageable level (do they ever really go away?). In it I grew carrots, beans, lettuce; really only the basics and veggies that gave my young gardeners that feeling of satisfaction. It was primarily a teaching garden space. I was also very proud of the perennial beds that I tended both in the front and back of our yard. Flowers were never something we bothered to grow on the farm as there was often no time for luxury. Now that we’ve all grown up and moved away mom has more time to ‘spruce’ up the front yard and I think she really enjoys it.
Besides a short time in Regina, our little family has always lived in the SE section of Calgary, which is in the hardiness zone 4a (-15 C to -12 C). The seasons are really short and frosts often begin quite early in the fall due to the effects from the Canadian Rocky Mountains. I soon learned that gardening in Calgary was a lot different than gardening in Saskatchewan.We lived in that small starter home for about 5 years, then we found a larger house with a pie lot. This was when I really started to get into gardening. My garden size jumped to about 25′ x 60′. It was a good size so I was able to add some raised beds for strawberries and have a good bit of it dedicated to potatoes and pumpkins. I recall these as my gardening glory days and I do regret selling that property to move to Australia…where the only things I grew were some really fragrant roses and a cantaloupe. The seasons in Western Australia are not well defined and it took me a while to realize the main growing season was in winter!
After we had our fill of life ‘Down Under’ and started looking for another house back in Calgary we didn’t have any luck finding a pie lot. While our yard is a decent size, it has a back retaining wall made out of treated wood so my hopes of having another full yard garden are all but dashed. In fact I haven’t been able to grow anything yet because we ended up with a yard full of a noxious weed called ‘Creeping Bellflower‘. The woman at the garden store told me it took her three years using roundup to get rid of it. The problem with this is roundup gets rid of everything else as well. I don’t want to be shelling out $$$ only to kill it later on. So (fingers crossed) this is year three and so far so good…now if we could just get it to stop snowing we could get out there and garden!
I am writing this post as part of my contribution towards the Canadian Food Experience Project that began in June 2014, in which a group of Canadian Food Bloggers and writers share collective stories through our regional food experiences in the hope to bring global clarity to our Canadian culinary identity. Huge thanks go to Valerie Lugonja (A Canadian Foodie) spearheading this project and for her dedication. Thanks Valerie!