Sowing Plan, and Hope

Well, well; we meet again.

As my blog is largely my own way of record keeping and of sharing of my garden adventures, I haven’t written much. This is also because I have rarely set-foot in the garden since then. We had a particularly dark December, and just before Christmas we had a fairly significant snow fall. For those readers from far away places, a “significant” snow-fall for me is 8 inches over-night but no trace of it a week later. Life on the coast. We went from -6 Celsius as a day-time-high to +9 and rain a few days later. (Spots just behind the coast mountains in BC’s interior went from -40 celsius to +8 during the same time-frame. Needless to say, with little going from a growing perspective, the garden has been absent from my thoughts. Well, it was until we had a nice sunny day.

When the sun was shining, I suddenly panicked. “It’s week 4. Haven’t I ought to have started something by now?” It seems like as soon as I feel the warmth of sun after Jan 1 I feel like Spring is right around the corner. I can only laugh at my own optimism. For the last three years we’ve had heavy snow and deep freezes between late January and Early March. We’ve hit unusual temperatures of -8C, and the very unusual day-time-highs below freezing. Regardless, the sunshine is exciting. And I’m back out in the garden. We’ve been regularly harvesting kales and mustards for greens, lemons, rutabagas and parsnips. I’m a few sunny days from pulling a few pints of black olives from one of my trees! Lots of it is selling when we don’t eat it. But there is no rush to get this spring started. 

Yep. It’s a big carrot.

I had started writing down when I started flats or direct sowed in the garden. Last year I discovered the importance of writing down varieties and sources of seeds as well. I also included directions on how to sow, when and where. So, with all of that recorded, I have a comprehensive list of what to sow this year. I’ll show you the list, below, but without the sowing instructions and varieties as that is probably specific to me. 

I had trouble making the chart, and follow it exactly, because there is often a lack of information specific to my micro-climate. You’ll see that some plants are started indoors and also outdoors – that’s just to find out what works best. A common term you see on the back of a seed packet like “as soon as the ground can be worked” doesn’t apply to me. Here in my garden there are sometimes only two or three days when the ground can’t be worked – and those days can be months apart. Regardless, it was mostly successful last year, so I will build on it again based on the recommended planting instructions and my own experience.

Starting in flats or pots presents a whole lot of work, but direct-sowing has proven to be a failure at times. I can put a flat of tiny lettuces in the garden and find only one left the following week, likewise, I can throw-down hundreds of seeds, see them sprout one day and be entirely gone the next. I suspect slugs, although I have seen a rabbit in my garden. So, this year I will be starting almost everything in plugs, letting them mature more than average and transplanting into the garden to give them a better chance. Even plants where starting indoors is discouraged (ie corn), I had success with last year. I suspect, however, that the deep, tap-rooted plants are best direct-sown, so I will try both with carrots, beets…etc. 

One change I’ve made to my planting chart this year is to delay up to three weeks anything that will be started indoors and set out after last frost. In 2019, I put nearly everything out on the same sunny and hot week in April. The nice weather leading up to that time and for a few weeks after created some fast-growing, robust plants with a good head start.  I recall May was terrible, everything slowed down and aphids showed up on the cabbages, but it was a successful year. 16 foot tall corn, wheelbarrows of cabbages, jaw-dropped neighbours..etc. The following year I set out the plants on the same week as the year before. However April was cold and wet. The plugs remained small and were subjected to slugs at an unrecoverable rate. Even though May was nice last year, I lost my entire crop of corn other than 3 plants. Two of which produced small cobs. Some crops I sowed three times and then gave up. 

This is the extent of my corn in 2020 (planted chick peas and amaranth in the absence of corn)

So, obviously there is a bit of luck involved in the success of the garden. But by holding everything back a few weeks and planting weeks later may result in less uncertainty. It would be great just to play-it-by-ear, and plant them out when the forecast is promising, but sowing in plugs essentially establishes the time-frame to put them out. Too late and they become root bound and stressed; too early and the soil falls from the roots (sometimes with the roots). 

While there is time to relax this week, I’ll have dirt under my finger nails by the end of next week. Hopefully my kids will have the same. For my daughter’s 5th birthday, one gift I got her was a little “Jiffy” 10-puck greenhouse to start some plants. So we’re actually well underway in sowing for this year, having already started sweet-peas with her. My hope is that she’ll start more seeds with me, especially our snap/shelling peas which will be starting soon.

I’m better set-up this year, with a proper cold frame greenhouse to start things like peas, mustards and other cold loving veg and flowers. Unlike last year, I don’t think the greenhouse will fall over! However, some vicious wind storms have required me to tape it up several times. Eventually I’ll spend the money on building it properly, but this year it might just have to suffer through the winter like the rest of us. Beaten, doubting our survival but hoping for the best. 

I’m better set-up this year, with a proper cold frame greenhouse to start things like peas, mustards and other cold loving veg and flowers. Unlike last year, I don’t think the greenhouse will fall over! However, some vicious wind storms have required me to tape it up several times. Eventually I’ll spend the money on building it properly, but this year it might just have to suffer through the winter like the rest of us. Beaten, doubting our survival but hoping for the best. 

Speaking of hope, I’m really looking forward to this year in the garden. Last year I took my foot off the gas, and the garden suffered. Part of the fun of our yard is entertaining and with few friends visiting on account of the Pandemic, that extra incentive to keep it tidy was lost. We make an acceptable amount of spendable money from selling extra plants, veg and flowers at our stand – or at least enough to cover the cost of materials. I’m hoping to try and make enough to pay for glass in the greenhouse and ultimately the replacement of a couple of beds with cedar, or just more spruce, if I’m ok with how long the spruce lasts. I have hope that the Pandemic winds-down and we’ll be enjoying the company of friends and neighbours on a sunny, tidy deck overlooking a well-kept garden. 

My plan is to get out early, before work, and do the harvesting. My wife will wash them up and prep for sale, storage or eating. I have to remind her the garden is for us first, freezer second and for sale lastly, but at the same time I recognize that part of the success of a road-side-stand is based on always having enough there to be worth stopping and taking a look. So there may be times we bypass ourselves to get it to the road. (Although, sometimes we put veg up there for a day, and if it doesn’t sell, it’s dinner the next night…I’m ok with this.).

I’m also looking forward to getting my kids more involved. My daughter, now 5, is likely to be able to contribute more, although I’ll just let her come about that interest naturally. And my son will be the age where he can at least push seeds into soil and help pick things like peas and strawberries. And, even if they aren’t helping, they are more likely to entertain themselves while I weed or do other necessary garden chores – which will make it easier than last year.

Don’t be fooled by kids though. If they offer to help pick berries, you’ll end up with nothing but kids with fruit stained mouths and hands and empty buckets! (But if that isn’t the fun of it, what is?)

So, without further ado, here is my planting/sowing chart to work from this year.

WeekStart Indoors (20C)Start in Greenhouses (0-12C)Direct Sow
1
Asciepius
2


3


4


5Celery / AlyssumSpinach / Lettuce / Sunflower / Arugula / Stinging Nettle
6
Peas / BarleyPeas / Barley
7Peppers / Straw Flower / Onions / China AsterAmaranth
8Cilantro / Snapdragons / Lettuce / BeetsMustardsMustards
9Tomatoes / GaillardilaArugula
10Amaranth / Chrysanthemum / Tomatillos
Delphiniums / peas / barley
11Lettuce

12Cabbages / Broccoli
Arugula
13Kales / Cauliflower
Chrysanthemum
14Winter Squash / Summer Squash
Parsnips
15 (Last Frost Date)Pumpkins / Ornamental CornOrnamental TobaccoGaillardila / Chick Peas
16Basil / Sunflowers

17Sweet Corn
Carrots / Beats

There are still some things to add. I’ll regularly be starting carrots and beats in the greenhouse to set out with some hope. Black and Kidney Beans will be direct sown at some point after week 16 (probably later). Then, summer starts for fall crops begin shortly after this for Rutabaga, and more cabbages. Plus we always try something new from time to time. And we’re still debating whether or not to do potatoes….which were a success, but take up a lot of space.

And I’m really hoping to get some tree fruit this year. I have no idea why I got nothing. There were lots of weeds around the trees in the back, as well as some intentionally planted flowers which may have caused some stress to the trees. This year we’re moving squash plants out of our primary beds and into the fruit tree gardens. This is not ideal, as they are heavy feeders, but we’re hoping to shade the ground around the trees to keep the soil cooler and suppress the weeds. I will likely have to fertilize the squash – also not ideal. 

You might be looking at the list above and wondering “where are you going to put all that?” And even if you’ve followed the design of my beds and garden you’ll see I’m short on space. What I’ve decided to do this year is divide beds into the 3 5×5 foot sections for some like crops. For example, the grass family may have thirds of Wheat, flax and corn. Hopefully it looks good! I’ll keep you updated. 

Appendix: 

Things I’m hoping won’t happen this year:

No fruit-set in apples, pears and plumbs. 

Racoon eating every single grape and fig and fighting my dogs

A cold, wet April

The lawn-mower breaking

Greenhouse toppling

Zero blueberries

Total domination by slugs

Extended summer drought

Global Pandemic

Instead, let’s hope for the best!

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