After a lengthy series of random essays, I’m heading into the blog’s roots and bringing back the life hacking posts. And on the topic of roots, we’re headed into gardening territory this week!
Where Are My Overalls?
I have long fantasized about being an urban farmer. (I blame this on genetics. I’m descended from grandparents who farmed.) Last spring, I stumbled onto a gardening book called “Grow Great Grub” by a Canadian author named Gayla Trail. I loved this book. It combined nifty urban gardening experiments with straightforward, easy-to-read instructions. When spring 2015 rolled around, I borrowed the book again and got all excited, thinking about what kind of crops I might grow.
Enter a little dose of reality. I’m currently living in a 111-yr-old heritage house, perched at the top of Edmonton’s river valley. We have a beautiful back yard, which is also very large. What that means is that the upkeep of said back yard consumes a fair amount of time in the summer. My roommates warned me not to get carried away with my crops, as there would be plenty o’ chores available.
When planting time came, I decided I wanted to undertake two experiments:
- Growing potatoes in a trash can, with Gayla Trail’s instructions
- Growing Early Girl tomatoes, so that I could try out Karen Solomon’s recipe for oven-dried tomatoes
I also planned to grow some herbs that I actually use: basil, rosemary, and garlic chives.
I think that this is the real trick with gardening — to grow stuff that you like and will actually use. And to do it in small quantities.
Trash Into Treasure
Growing potatoes in a trash can is pretty straightforward. First, buy a trash can, dirt and seed potatoes. Next, drill holes in the trash can for drainage, add some dirt, and plant your seed potatoes. Ta dah! You need to be a little bit patient for the next part. I hovered around the trash can every day, looking for sprouts, but it took a good two weeks before those lazy little suckers poked their heads out of the soil. (I even went in and uncovered one to see if it was actually sprouting.) But once they’d come up, my little potato plants grew like crazy.
Skip the Supermarket
Seed potatoes cost $4.99 at Canadian Tire and I only ended up using two of the twenty-odd that were in the bag. This seemed wasteful to me, and I wondered if I could simply have bought some organic Yukon Golds at a supermarket, chopped them up and planted them.
As it turns out, this is not a good idea. In her book, “The Resilient Gardener”, Carol Deppe says not to plant supermarket potatoes. They’re treated with sprout inhibitors and often won’t grow at all. She recommends that you buy certified seed potatoes from a reputable seed supplier.
So, how do you get around the wastage? Well, you could get together with a group of fellow potato farmers and share a bag. You could also give your extra seed potatoes away. Or … if all else fails, they do make an excellent addition to a compost pile. And once you’ve harvested a first crop, you can keep seed potatoes for next year — Carol Deppe will tell you how to do it in Chapter 8 of “The Resilient Gardener”.
Time Marches On
It’s now September 1 and the potatoes are doing great. The tomatoes, however, had a rough start. We have ant hills in our yard and thought that we might do away with the hills by plunking containers of plants on top of them.
Wrong. The ants crawled up the drainage holes and very nearly did away with my fledgling crops. I ended up pulling the tomatoes out of their containers and re-planting them in fresh pots with fresh soil. It was touch-and-go for a few weeks, but the tomatoes survived and are now thriving. The ants DID manage to kill my basil and rosemary but steered clear of the garlic chives (garden folklore says that ants hate garlic).
I expect to be able to harvest in a few weeks, and we’ll do a check-back on the final poundage of potatoes my trash can yields. We’ll also talk about how those oven-dried tomatoes turned out.
Great Grub Indeed
Did I mention that I love “Grow Great Grub”? It’s well-written and beautifully illustrated. It’s smart and funny. And it’s creative. This book gives you basic instructions on how to grow a given vegetable, fruit or flower, but then adds some suggestions about unusual variants on traditional crops. Thanks to Gayla’s inspiration, we’re growing wildly cool chioggia (striped) beets in the communal garden at my house.
Dollars and Cents
When we check back later this fall, I’ll talk about what my crops cost me. But in the meantime, I’ll tell you that you can save yourself an average of $19.23 by taking “Grow Great Grub” out of the library. Here are the details on this wonderful book:
Grow Great Grub:
Organic Food from Small Spaces
Written by Gayla Trail
Published by Clarkson Potter
Released Feb 2 2010
And… We’re Done
That’s it for this week. Tune in next time, when we look at DIY expert skin care with the help of Dr. Harold Lancer, Dermatologist-to-the-Stars. Until then, have a great week, and feel free to share your garden hacking stories!