Raised Bed

Lazy in the fall, happy in the spring


Last weekend, I had the extreme good pleasure to attend a workshop on extending your growing season. The workshop facilitator was Dan Rubin, a home vegetable gardener who, through tactical use of raised beds, glass panes, and plastic row covers, has grown a whole lot of impressive eats in a location which is, essentially, a salt-lashed, wind-beaten, topsoil-less bit of rock (and I say that with love - I was born there and I adore the place). As the workshop participants wandered Dan's garden, and the garden at Points East Bed and Breakfast next door, we identified the plants which, despite having been left outside for the harsh coastal winter, were doing just fine: kale, huge leeks, sorrel, thyme, Egyptian onions... perhaps not looking quite as lush as they had been in October, but still mighty impressive.

Now, my own garden is also bursting with vegetables that survived the winter, however, in my case, most of the veggies are still there because I did such a miserable job of tidying the garden last year. Because really, aside from putting in a new batch of garlic, I didn't do a thing. Even the garlic I managed to mess up - I don't think I got around to planting it until January some time, so if I get decent heads it will be against all odds (and purely down to my excessive application of compost and prayer... and I'm an atheist, so it's really about the compost...).

I've been picking at the sorrel and the chives for a little bit now, and I ate what was left of the droopy kale. The oregano popped up, and my husband and I were compelled to fire up the grill for our inaugural spring "souvlaki plate" dinner.

And then I found something I hadn't anticipated. In the very messy bed in the front yard, there was this weedy-looking thing that had remained green under all the snow (and under the Christmas tree that we had stylishly discarded on top of it). I didn't give the weedy thing much thought, because I couldn't remember what I had planted there. But then it struck me: arugula! Survivor arugula! Survivorugula!

Sure enough, the weedy-looking stuff was the arugula that I had planted last year and which, in the terrible weather we had, didn't make much of an appearance at all. Here it had been, silently waiting out the cold, and then bursting into leaf as soon as the snow melted. It was tender, sweet, and possibly the most delicious arugula I have ever eaten.

I harvested a bunch of it, along with some sorrel, chives, Egyptian onions, and some lemon thyme (a little leggy from spending the winter in the kitchen window, but still tasty). Then I boiled some new potatoes until they were tender, while sauteeing my harvest with some of the last summer garlic. When the potatoes were done and the greens just wilted, I tossed it all together.

A meal fit for royalty, I tell you!

Since then, I have picked at the arugula a little more - I used some for greens in our burgers last night (along with some fresh herb mayo that I whipped together using some more of the chives and lemon thyme, with a generous grinding of black pepper). It won't last long, I'm sure; apparently overwintered arugula bolts at the slightest provocation. That's okay, though, because I have more arugula coming up in the cold frame to take the place of this stuff. I don't think it could possibly be as lovely, though.

This fall, I will definitely make sure I have some arugula overwintering somewhere in the garden. And I'll write down where I put it, too, so I don't end up wasting precious days asking, "What the heck kind of weedy thing is that?"

The garden that lived


I had high hopes for my fall and winter garden. Last summer I surrounded myself with books telling me how to extend the season and eat fresh through the year. I was ready to wrap my whole yard in greenhouse plastic and eat kale quiche all winter long. Alas, dear readers, it was not to be. In September I started feeling super run-down. Around October I started feeling downright woozy. By Thanksgiving I had figured out that I was (and am!) pregnant. Between wrangling three children and gestating a fourth, gardening, even the easy indoor stuff like sprouting, took the back burner.

But it doesn't take much for a gardener to spring back to life. A little sunshine and a bit of inspiration were all I needed. Last Saturday - a glorious, if cold, March day - I attended a discussion on urban farming, organized by the local Slow Foods group. During the talk, someone asked when the speaker planned to start his greens. His reply? They were already growing! He had a greenhouse, and he had lettuce growing away in there, under an upturned aquarium. His wife and co-gardener added that if it's warm enough for weeds to grow, it's warm enough to plant spinach.

Well. That was all it took. Yesterday, when the sun was out, I braved the remaining snow in the back yard and cracked open my neglected cold frame. You know what was in it? Dandelions. Growing. And grass, also growing, and a somewhat floppy but clearly still alive calendula. The top surface of the soil was a little frosty, and the soil around one edge was frozen pretty solid, but after a little bit of stabbing with my trowel, I had nice, loose soil that I could pick most of the weeds out of.

Lest you think my cold frame is some kind of fancy-pants set-up, here's a picture. It's ugly.

Pretty shabby, hey? The body of the cold frame is an old wooden dresser we got from Freecycle, and which, after a couple years of use, was in bad shape. My husband took out all the drawers and supports, and laid the whole thing on its back, then cut it down at an angle so it would make the most of the sunlight. The windows are from Power's Salvage in St. John's, and the hinges are either from Power's, or were in our basement when we bought the house. We have it facing south-west, so it gets sunlight through most of the day. It's great.

This is what the soil inside looks like:

It's not exactly warm, but it's definitely not frozen. There aren't any ice crystals, even. So I did what any sensible gardener would do: I planted some seeds. Nothing fussy, just some spinach, arugula, and radicchio. All three of those are cold-hardy greens, and they germinate at relatively low temperatures. They are also last year's seeds (I think the radicchio is from two years ago), so the germination rate might not be great, but I'll take what I can get. I wouldn't risk putting any delicate plants in the cold frame this early (the peppers, squash, eggplants, and tomatoes will have to wait), but for sturdy greens, it should be just fine.

Today, even more of the snow has melted from my yard, so I decided to have a poke around and see what plants survived the winter. It's pretty amazing. I have lavender, sage, and thyme still green under the snow, and loads of vegetables growing as if winter had never happened!

It felt so good to be able to scratch, sniff, and nibble my way through the yard, in the sunshine. I know better than to trust that spring might already be here - it is, of course, only March, and our average last frost date in St. John's isn't until June 2. Still, a sneak peek at what is waiting for me once the rest of the snow melts is pretty exciting.

Did anything survive the winter in your garden?

Quick Bed Building Update (No Slugs Allowed!)

Quick Bed Building Update (No Slugs Allowed!)

I built my raised bed last week! It didn't take too long. I laid out lengths of weed barrier over the space where the bed was going, with a half foot of extra space on each side. I removed all the grass beneath the bed and around it. Some I had removed last year when I was planting right in the ground. We connected all of the sides first, and then put in some posts on the outside to help keep it in place.

Last year I lost a lot of my small potential harvest to slugs! So keeping slugs out is a major goal this year.

Confessions of a First Time Gardener

Confessions of a First Time Gardener

Hello everyone

My name is Rick Kelly and I’ll be your amateur gardener this year! I’m going to be making posts all season about my backyard garden. This is actually my second year gardening… but last year my whole harvest amounted to about 5 salads and one meal of miniature root veggies. So I’m really hoping to do better this year!

This year I’m armed with knowledge from some workshops organized by FEASt (Food Education Action St. John’s), a lot of advice from friends, and hopefully some advice from you! This can be a space for commenting on any issues facing first time gardeners, or about what I’m doing specifically.