When I was growing up I recall my parents dabbling in gardening. I can’t say they were the greenest of thumbs but I do have various memories of gardens, planters, flower beds, and yard work that seemed to keep them busy throughout the summer. It seems my Mom usually took more of an interest in it but Dad was there to help her around the yard whenever she needed – usually with some gentle prompting to my recollection, but I digress. I suppose my interest in plants, their growth and purpose, always seemed to follow me along as I watched my Mom all these years work hard to grow plants. I’ve always enjoyed the fruits of her labour whether it’s some fresh peas picked right off the stalk to some very delicious potatoes with dill and butter to sweet tangy rhubarb crisp with vanilla ice cream.
Last year my Mom journeyed out to British Columbia where the growing season is much longer than ours here in Saskatchewan - I sure hope she’s able to find her knack out there where the red cedars grow like mountains. She left behind a sweet garden here in Prince Albert so I decided to finally get outside my comfort zone a bit and began doing some gardening myself. With the help of some over-the-phone guidance from my dear Mom, some hands-on tips and tricks I’ve learned from my auntie, and some starter tomato plants I was gifted from a friend (thanks, Jess!) I can say I’ve officially developed an interest in gardening.
The carrots became overrun with weeds, the dill looks strange, the peas are less than enthusiastic – but the tomatoes and beans are coming along splendidly. I’ve learned a few things up to this point:
Don’t forget gardening gloves. You don’t absolutely need a pair but they make the process of picking away at weeds and dirt a little easier on your hands and fingernails. Tip: make sure you have some sort of brush to scrub away at your fingers if you don’t use the gloves. Don’t decide to go into any public places if you haven’t done your due diligence in cleaning under your finger nails – it’s nasty and you get looks. The same goes for feet.
Plan to weed. This is just part of the garden lifestyle. I learned very quickly that if you don’t keep up with weeds they will soon take over the garden. My Mom’s garden consists mainly of four very large garden boxes so I was able to plant sections of seeds in each box. At the beginning of the season I was routinely pulling weeds but unfortunately became caught up in some other priorities which resulted in my neglected carrot garden. I’m not sure if they’ll pull through or not although judging by the way the tomatoes went from sketchy all the way to strong and beautiful, there’s a good chance. Bring a bag to contain the weeds.
Use fertilizer. I started off the season using chicken manure which wasn’t what my Mom recommended but it was the only thing I could find during the pandemic as shopping trips became less frequent. I was hesitant to try it but did a little bit of research and learned that chicken manure is a perfect fertilizer for the garden. That got me to thinking about and planning backyard chicken coops which is a whole other perfectly funny story I’ll share another time. As mentioned previously, the tomatoes and the beans are lush and producing well and I’ll attribute their success partly to chickens.
Keep an open mind to all plants. There were some “weeds” in the garden that I learned are completely edible – in fact, in some other countries maintain a good market with them. Purslane, aka Portulaca, is an example of a local common plant many see as an invasive weed (I will attest it is incredibly hardy and can grow anywhere) but is actually an incredible source of Vitamin A and C; it is a superior antioxidant and can be eaten fresh in salads or soups or smoothies. I’ve seen this plant and several other species in the garden which pique my interest and create an opportunity to learn more about what’s naturally available to us.
Most importantly is the need to make time for growing. Like it takes to achieve anything, I needed to come to the conclusion that if I want to have a successful garden I will have to commit a good amount of time to it. Gardening is good for the heart and soul. Having a source of homegrown vegetables is not only a logical thing to do but it’s a good thing to teach children for gardens benefit the individual, the family, and the community and that’s a lesson I want my kids to learn. It’s a bit of a joke amongst my partner and I to talk about the effort I put into gardening and hunting where he can easily do this at the local grocery store. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to have such easy access to food but there is a part of me that feels the drive to do these very basic things and be proficient at them. Perhaps it is built into us and we just need the time to explore. Regardless, gardening is like hunting and both are a lot of work even though the yield can never be predicted. Whatever it is, despite the work, I look forward to my small harvest this year and putting some time into canning again.