Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Piece of Paradise

Have you ever thought of planting a vegetable garden?  Just look at the photo above.  Need any more reasons?  That's Chloé just after her 7th birthday celebrating the harvest from our garden.

We receive a weekly basket of organic vegetables from a local farm. We've been a customer/partner of the same farm for almost 17 years now. Despite the fact that we know that we are going to receive beautiful, fresh vegetables throughout the summer, it was very important to me to have our own veggie garden. I wanted Emma and Chloé to have a connection with how things grow and to feel the joy in participating in the process.

This photo is of our first vegetable plot at this house.  Chloé is about two here and Emma would be six. Just to give you some perspective, Emma is about to turn 17 in June and Chloé will turn 13 in July. Teaching a two-year old to plant seeds took a little patience. I think I recall laying down on the ground on one point (not a mommy tantrum, I just needed a little rest), but it is so worth it to involve kids early.

Here are my gardeners a few years later, I think at age five and nine.

Hmmm, where did that fashion pose come from? Certainly not me. Emma is holding an insect cage that was very well used over many summers here.
I use a planting method that I absolutely adore and that is the 'square-foot garden' method.  It is an inspired idea developed by an American engineer, Mel Bartholomew, for growing a diverse array of vegetables in a limited space. Essentially, each 'crop' is planted in a one-foot square. Depending on the vegetable, you can plant one, four, eight or sixteen plants per square. (The rule of thumb is one plant per square if a 12" plant spacing is required, 4 plants for 6" spacing, 9 plants for 4" spacing and 16 for 3" or less.) The number of squares is according to the space that you have.

The next photos you will see document the transformation of our garden this year from a wild, neglected space (I didn't have time to look after it last year and we missed it SO much) to a beautiful, ordered, planted vegetable patch.

I told you it was overgrown. I took this standing on a stepladder about a week ago. All that green is provided by many happy violas, some coriander, a perennial strawberry plant, a monster sage plant and many, many weeds.
The first years we had our garden, I just planted at ground level.  I really didn't have time to create something more elaborate. Later, I followed Mel's method more accurately by raising the bed with a cedar perimeter. I bought long square cedar posts at a home centre.  Then I cut them to the length I needed and attached them together on the inside using metal joints.  (If you do this, please make sure that you use untreated cedar. Some cedar is treated against rot with toxic chemicals that you don't want leaching into your vegetable garden.)  Raising the bed creates a warmer bed that allows for a longer growing period.

Now weed-free with the soil topped up with organic earth and compost.  
To separate the space into square feet, Mel offers many suggestions. I found my own. The simplest and least visually obtrusive method was to put screw eyes at one-foot intervals along the cedar edges and use fishing line to create the divisions.  Once the plants have started to grow, you'll barely notice the fishing line.

Honestly, you'd think that Meeko was the one who weeded and then hauled and spread the ten bags of organic soil and three bags of compost himself!
I use stepping stones to allow access into the bed.  I always try to rearrange them into a different shape each year.  I was very happy one year to create a heart shape. I couldn't wait for the girls to get home from school to show them.  I asked if they recognized the shape. I remember Chloé saying "Of course, it's a dinosaur head." This year, I call my stone shape "T.V." as it is sort of a T and a V. I could have made a more proper V but I would have lost two planting spaces.

Not all vegetables grow close to the ground, so you will need a method to support your taller vegetables.  The square foot method suggests various tall structures.  For me, I need a combination of 'practical' and 'pretty' to be happy, so I bought attractive metal obelisks that I use to support my taller plants.  This year, I will also be using the shrub at the back of the bed to support my cucumbers.

Here I'm trying out positions for all of the vegetables. You'll notice I used both potted plants and seeds.
The potted plants in the photo included six different tomato plants (I try to choose different colours and unusual heirloom varieties for interest), three pepper plants, two strawberry plants, several types of herbs including lots of basil and, at the front, some Spanish and English lavender and violas.

Here is our veggie garden on Sunday afternoon, planted and watered.
Chloé helped me plant several types of seeds on Sunday afternoon. We planted radishes, carrots, swiss chard, turnips, mesclun, beets and cucumber seeds.  Nasturtium seeds were planted all along the two ends.  Five squares have been left empty waiting for Emma's planting touch.

All in all, if I don't count the spaces taken up by stepping stones, we have forty-four planting spaces. It's an amazing way to grow many beautiful things in a small space.

I am very excited to report that I can see signs of sprouting from some of our seeds only four days after planting them.  Sunshine and rain. We've had the perfect garden combination in past days. 

As if planting a garden wasn't a reward in itself, Chloé made a beautiful apple pie all on her own this past weekend (her first time!). Here it is on a beautiful tea towel from a business we love very much here (Bookhou owned by Arounna and John) with a lovely weekend sunset sparkling in the background.

P.S. The pie was delicious!


  1. I had a raised plot, divided into four parts, surrounded by a picket fence with a gate. And then the wars began - the beagle wanted in the plot in the worst way - she dug under the fence, chewed on the fence, worried the fence. When youngest got old enough he got a saw and helped the beagle break into the garden (he was part of her pack). Eventually youngest and his best friend decided to help and took a bag of birdseed and *planted* the garden. I gave up after that and grow my veggies in pots upon the deck.

    1. We've had Meeko for the past two years and he's definitely put his 'stamp' on the back garden. No more plastic garden markers(apparently they are delicious)and I forgot to include the photos of him running away with my pots of herbs in his mouth. I never used to have the fence around the vegetable plot which I've also added rows of fishing line to, in order to make it hard to squeeze into and I place things with toxic leaves like tomatoes toward the inside. Gardens and dogs are a challenging mix for sure. Organic earth is delicious too. Who knew? :)

  2. love it!
    that pie looks so delicious

    1. We would have happily shared a piece with you if you lived closer. :)

  3. What a superb post, I loved each & every photo & word !
    I am soooooo sad of not having a garden, or even a balcony where we live.
    We could have lived a little outside of town & MAYBE have one, but it wouldn't have been as interesting for us (distance to work for hubby/ school for the boys/ grocery shopping, are equal, and we do it all by foot, we have no car) So, a vegetable garden is like a dream for me, as small as it can be. I'm holding to my dream, I know it'll happen one day, but who knows when ?!
    I'm living vicariously through your gardening & others', until then.
    PS : that Meeko is so cute, though I can picture him with your pot of herb in his mouth !
    PS2 : that pie looks deliiicious. Way to go, Chloé !!

    1. Thanks Sonia. I lived in an apartment for about ten years before having my own garden. There are compromises to every style of living and I have to say that where and how you live sounds wonderful to me in many ways. :)

  4. beautiful kids. just want you to know that i am reading (read: translating) your blog to my mom (she's in her late 60s). she's a fan of gardening and cooking too.


  5. i am feeling a little neglectful of my garden and hope to remedy that this sunday afternoon
    that pie does look so yummy

    1. The season was slow to start this year. Our garden has many flower beds(nutty me, putting in so many) so I can't look after it all in one weekend. Despite working on it during the whole long weekend, I have more work to do this coming weekend--then it will just be a matter of keeping the weeds under quasi control during the summer months. And, yes, the pie was yummy. :)

  6. That raised bed is just what I need! We have a rockery at the back, which has flowers in, it's difficult to garden up there, then just grass and lots of pots. I would normally be growing yummy runner beans in pots, but I've just not had time to grow anything this year. Don't know where this years gone? I could still plant them?? Green beans and white sauce.....yum! Much like that pie :)

    1. I don't think it's too late at all to plant beans. I just planted some on the weekend. Green beans, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice...yum! :) I think gardening in pots is wonderful and can be so attractive. As to the time passing quickly, it seems that you've had a banner year illustration-work wise. It's hard (impossible) to do everything.

  7. oh gosh were the girls ever that little?
    I started my gardening today - I bought two hanging baskets at Supercentre (but I did 're'plant them into holders) and I bought an already planted herb garden - so sad - thank goodness for perennials this year :)

    ...oh and our weeds are quite spectacular this year!!
    I think it's time to embrace the dandelions!

    1. I know! Emma and I spent quite a bit of time going through photos yesterday (she was home early after an exam). We found so many with all four of them together...some very cute photos and some odd ones (fancy that?). Gosh they've changed. Not you and me though! :) xo
      P.S. Why can't dandelions be mauve?

  8. Just look at those gorgeous gardening girls! How fast does time pass in the sprouting of kids! How old do we feel in our backs and knees when gardening!!

    Beautiful images - what a vegie patch! And that Meeko is too cheeky for words.

    Here's to a bumper harvest!

    1. Time goes incredibly fast and, yes, I am feeling a little creaky and, yes, Meeko is cheeky. :)

  9. Dear Kathleen,
    I so enjoyed seeing your girls grow up with their love of gardening.
    I have always had a vegetable garden and herbs and flowers.
    My kids also are gardeners. They are in their 30's.
    We are is what we do.
    You are a great mother...the pie looks yummy...

    1. Oh, Sherry, you put tears in my eyes with those lovely comments. xo

  10. I landed here via Margie. What a beautiful blog you have. I like this method of planting, might have just a little spot for it.

    1. Thanks for visiting, Joanie, and for your kind words. I hope you give a square-foot garden a try.


Thanks so much for taking the time to visit my blog and to leave me a comment. I love reading them. -- Kathleen

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