Friends, I hope this is the only time I resort to writing about my mail. This is a special kind of mail, though, yesterday my main seed order arrived. Everyone is rambling about their tiresome first signs of spring so let’s just call this the first signs of good food to come.
Most of the seed for the vegetable garden at my family’s cottage in 2010 has come from an order I placed with William Dam Seeds. The tomato seeds that I saved last year will be augmented by Amish Paste, Black Krim, and Red Currant (all organically-raised seed). I’ll have more beets for pickling and roasting–both the visually-interesting Chiogga Guardsmark and the yellow-orange Touchstone Gold. I’ve tried my hand at peas and soybeans in past years and will add broad beans (Witkiem) to my repertoire this time.
Three big additions for this year are cucumbers, strawberries, and brussels sprouts. For the cucumbers I already have an end purpose in mind. I want to make cornichons and have heard that it is very difficult to find cucumbers small enough so I figure the best way around this is to grow my own. They sound like a delicate crop, especially since this variety proudly announces that it can be grown under cover. Not sure how much space they’ll take so we’ll see how many cucumbers we get. I suspect this will be a sort of trial run and I’ll need some farmer’s market cucumbers to supplement our harvest for the cornichons.
Last summer there was some buzz in the Toronto food community about the ever-bearing strawberries that appeared at farmers’ markets. I hope you are also savouring the image of under-groomed, hemp-clad hippies being thrown into an anti-California-produce, self-righteous rage only to be told that yes it is possible to harvest strawberries in Ontario in September. Apparently, these alpine strawberries (Temptation) will bear fruit all summer and are ideally suited to hanging planters. This is a good thing because my neighbour-cousin’s not very brilliant (except about finding food) dog has learned that the the little red berries taste great and ate all of their ground-levelones last year.
From my reading I get the impression brussels sprouts are a fairly low maintenance crop. In particular they are one of the garden’s most frost hardy vegetables.
It’s not a vegetable but the winter rye is probably the most noteworthy addition to the garden. Once the vegetables are finished next fall I’ll broadcast (fancy garden talk for shaking a few handfuls in an attempt to be both random and even about distribution) this seed in the garden and hopefully by spring 2011 we’ll have our first green cover crop. The rye is supposed to grow on its own during the fall, stand through the snow in the winter, and keep growing again in the spring. The idea here is that this takes advantage of the solar energy that would otherwise have gone to waste as the garden sat dormant, prevents erosion and breaks up the soil a bit as the roots grow, and provides green manure that can be turned into the garden before the next spring planting.
All lofty aspirations for the heartiest of cereal crops, my only concern is that it might actually do too well. The weather in March and April determines how early in the year we can make our first visit to the cottage and I hope I can get there before the rye drops seed in the garden or I may be pulling unwanted rye for a decade. Soil is at such a premium in the cottage garden that I think it is worth the risk for the erosion prevention alone. I may try to source a legume winter cover crop to improve nitrogen levels in the garden.
This is my third summer with a full vegetable garden at the cottage. The new additions are important and interesting but I’ll also be focusing on applying lessons learned from past years to what I have grown before. By May or June we should be tasting the first early crops. I can’t wait.