Over the last 5 years I've planted a lot of seeds. The plants in my garden have sometimes grown and sometimes not. In the beginning I didn't have a clue, but over time, after starting with some easy-to-grow greens and tomato plants to build self confidence, my skills have developed to the point where finally I can say "I'm starting to understand".
Not yet a gardening guru, but well on my way, I have learned the hardest and possibly the most important lesson this year: The Soil is Your Best Friend. Take care of it and it will take care of you in ways that you cannot fully comprehend at the start.
Often told this by my Uncle- horticultural expert extraordinaire- and all those excellent gardening books bought along the way, I still didn't quite realise that it's the one factor that will make or break your garden. Last year was my first year with actual garden space- not just pots and grow-bags- and I converted a large grassy area into garden-central. What I didn't do was add lots of dry horse manure and home-made compost into the soil in the autumn. This would have given me an excellent soil to work with this year complete with heaps of minerals and other goodies for my plants to feed on.
As a result, I now have to regularly feed my plants with nitrogen and other goodies in the form of organic fertilizers, as well as adding calcium through diluted milk and epsom salts (the milk's a great tip by the way- especially for melons- feed them with a solution of 1/2 milk and 1/2 water). But a good experience that's come out of this is learning how to make my own fertilizer with things I have on hand such as manure and coffee grounds. Not a very pleasant smell but these homemade fertilizers are rarely pretty. Despite this my boyfriend has given it the classy name of 'CaccaCino'.
Some of my crops were absolutely demolished this year by a field mouse or two and 'the quail'- local birds (and also very tasty although I haven't got up the nerve to catch one for dinner yet) who have now figured out how to enter my garden which is surrounded by netting (it worked last year but they've adapted!). I sowed carrots 3 times and a total of 15 out of 150 came up. It was fairly obvious to tell who the culprits were by the peck marks in the soil.
On the up side I've learned the hard way that the Okanagan is a very dry place and plants really need to be mulched. Straw is really expensive here so if you can use that then excellent, but I use dried grass clippings- cheap, easy, and effective. This prevents the soil from drying out on the surface and keeps the moisture in the soil right where the roots need it. It will subsequently save you from having to water every day.
Another tip- buy yourself a drip-feed watering system- it's basically like a flexible hose that you can wind through your garden, around the plants, and this will feed the water right onto the soil instead of getting it on the leaves, which can stress the plant in hot weather, and will save you A LOT of work. Just a simple turn of the tap and you can walk away, do something else, and return a half hour later to switch it off. Simple :)
This year's successes so far:
The tomatoes are doing really well. I am so relieved because one year in London all of our 9 tomato plants got Blight because it was such a wet and humid summer, so we had to burn our plants before they'd even produced fruit. Last year I was still getting a feel for cherry tomatoes- we had plenty- so this year is all about trying lots of varieties, big and small, and hopefully I planted enough to get a 'glut' as they say- enough tomatoes to make classic tomato sauce, canned and stored for the winter ahead. Not to mention all the other possibilities- homemade ketchup, canned tomatoes, you name it. Some varieties I've tried this year are Royale de Guineaux, San Marzano (plum tomatoes), White Beauty (the skin supposedly tastes like honey- more on that later), and Gardeners' Delight (a very dependable cherry tomato), along with a few more.
We've had one crop of regular and snap peas (you can eat the shell of these like snow peas or wait for them to develop larger peas) and a second crop is on its way. I tried Broad beans (aka Fava beans) for the first time this year and they were great- a perfect 'meaty' addition to a spring salad of young lettuce leaves, peas, and fresh mint. The purple French beans are coming along excellently with new ones appearing every day. I swear they grow inches overnight! There's a little theme going on at the moment- purple kale (now in abundance as the mice have 'disappeared'), purple beans, and purple peppers. They're really colourful which is the main attraction, but it's also great to grow something that's unique- something fun and interesting that isn't available all year round at your supermarket or produce shop. That's the fun of gardening- growing beautiful fruit and vegetables that taste far superior to store-bought produce. I'd go as far to say that home-grown carrots and melons can even taste like the gods- pure heavenly nectar.
On that note, I'd better let you get on and attend your garden, or plant that first seed you were just thinking about.