Ever since I was a little girl my dad would tell me…”you never want to do anything unless you already know how to do it.” This has been a common theme throughout my life. I would always have to read and re-read and study up and explore options and check and check again…before I would even attempt most things. I was never that just try and see kind of kid (or for the most part adult).
As I grew up I adopted an all or nothing approach. I was either an expert or knew nothing on any given subject. There was no in-between here. Gardening was always a passion of mine. I’ve always adored watching things grow and change (maybe that’s why I have five kids)! When my husband and I got married we both wanted desperately to teach our children about growing food and I quickly realized though I thought I knew alot…I knew not enough. Every year was a trial and error. How hard could it be I thought. I read countless articles and books on soil types, moisture levels, zinc? what the heck? You plant something water it …weed it and it grows. So I thought.
Year after year we planted and sometimes we got lucky and had some amazing peppers grow and a few tomatoes but nothing we could live off of and certainly nothing that saved us any money. Slowly year after year I learned things. Little things and to be honest I never really noticed I was learning them until someone one day asked me for help. She wanted to know where to buy organic heirloom seeds…..I knew this! I knew that heirloom seeds by nature are organic because they have been saved though generations and came before a time of pesticides and herbicides. Yet still before I answered her I looked it up to make sure I was right. Somewhere along my path I had lost all confidence and decided I knew nothing and was so afraid to fail and look dumb.
I checked, checked and checked again…ok it seemed I was right and I wrote to her. I offered her some of my tomato seeds. This year we had bought a cool tomato plant at a local greenhouse. Cherokee Tomato. It was purplish in colour and the kids love funky coloured veggies. When I brought it home I read all about it and through that learned it was an heirloom breed. I wanted to save my seeds because I also learned that it was not a very common tomato. Then my four year old begged me to save some pepper seeds and plant them one day in the middle of winter. I let him and expected nothing but very slowly a giant plant grew and gave us peppers. I was so proud and if he could do it so could I. So I learned about how to save tomato seeds. I learned and taught my kids that there is a growth inhibitor surrounding each tomato seed (the slime) and that is why you never cut open a tomato and see the seeds growing like sometimes you do in peppers. You actually have to soak off this layer and then dry out the seeds before they sprout in the water (something else I learned). Now I have literally hundreds of tomato seeds to share.
This year we wanted to keep the dogs and kids out of our garden, so my husband built a pallet box which we used as a raised bed. Once we started to put the dirt in it leaked out, so I took all the plastic bags from our dirt and lined the box. It worked great!. Its pretty cool here in Alberta and you never know when it might snow so we bought a greenhouse frame to put over our garden. We planted in some cheap black dirt and a layer of organic compost. I remember reading somewhere that tomatoes loved compost. But all the plants shrivelled up. What the heck!!!! It turns out they were burning from the intense sun so we had so make sure to open the sides of the greenhouse every morning. So we cut the plants back and hoped for the best. Well it paid off and we got the most gigantic tomato plants ever, with tons and tons and tons of tomatoes.
Then they stared to crack, and I learned that tomatoes like to be kept moist and will crack if left too dry.
As the end of the growing season arrived we noticed more and more cracking….Apparently tomatoes also crack if they start to freeze, which many of our big beautiful Cherokee tomatoes did. We had to harvest everything fast (we had been covering the garden with a tarp but it was still too cold at night). We picked it all and brought it inside….I went through them a few days later to separate the ripe and not ripe ones and found we had lost many of those that had cracked because they started to mould. This was harder than I thought and if I was a farmer or someone living totally off the land that would have been a devastating loss.
This year we also rented a plot at the local greenhouse and let our kids plant whatever they wanted. Our greenhouse garden is yet to be harvested, we are waiting on some purple potatoes and gorgeous sunflower seeds. I’m so ready to harvest them because I learned how and can not wait to eat fresh sunflower seeds. FYI did you know all sunflower seeds are edible some just have more meat and are tastier. Yup I learnt that! I also learned that onions don’t like to grow next to potatoes in a confined box. The potatoes pushed all the onions up and they had no room.
We were also surprised to get some awesome loose leaf lettuce in that plot. Our 9 year old had no seeds to trade but managed to charm seeds out of several women at the local seed swap and we had never even seen his lettuce seeds. He planted them without our knowing and we were going to pick the lettuce out thinking it was a weed, but instead I looked it up and found out what it was. I also learned that you could keep harvesting the lettuce and it would grow taller. We are going to plant that again for sure! It was wonderful having fresh lettuce all summer. Though it does like cooler weather and can bolt (go to seed) if too hot. When it started to bolt I noticed a milky bitter substance coming from the leaves and a lot of it on the stalk. I looked it up…guess what all lettuce makes that stuff and its why lettuce is a little bitter and not sweet. I just didn’t notice it on the other leaves we had picked as I really wasn’t paying attention.
So all in all when it comes to gardening I have learned that I actually knew something but I’ve also learned I still have a lot more to learn… and I can’t wait.