I am an absolute noob when it comes to anything green. I can keep my cats alive but I’m notorious for killing indoor plants and up until recently I’ve never had a yard to attempt anything other than that. I now have a yard that requires my maintenance and I am afraid. My Dad was the gardener in my family and was such a Nazi about his yard that the one time I mowed the lawn for him as a teenager, he went out and did it again as I had the pattern all wrong and it really wasn’t done to his standards. However, my Dad did have a passion for gardening and I always loved eating fresh vegetables or seeing our own flowers grow so perhaps his green-thumb will transfer to me?
To give myself some confidence I picked up a book at the library called Beginner Gardening for Canada by A.H. Jackson. The book is easy to read and has a decent amount of pictures. There were times I felt that the author was a tad pretentious and condescending towards non-gardeners like myself and particularly about the direction that many people have taken in terms of outdoor decorating and the environments we thrive in everyday. With that being said, his passion did rub off on me and he made some very valid points in terms of how humans have fallen out with nature and the benefits of reconnecting with it. The author is also extremely experienced and knowledgeable and I learned a few things! So here are few things that I’m going to retain when I tackle my yard in the coming spring weeks:
1) Map your yard. It’s a good idea to map out the sunny and shady areas in your yard as well as the water drainage areas.
2) Rhubarb leaves are toxic to both humans and to insects. Put the leaves into boiling water and it soak for 24-hours, filter and add a few drops of dish detergent and you have a very natural and effective insecticide for mites and aphids.
3) Know your soil. Analyze samples of your soil by gathering some from various spots and places and put it a large jar with water. Screw the lid on tight, give the jar a good shake and let it sit for 24 hours. The soil will settle into laters: sand on the bottom, then layers of silt, clay, water and floating organic matter. If the sand, silt and clay settle in almost equal layers you have well-balanced soil. If there is little organic material it indicates that your soil needs compost, peat moss, rotted manure or all three. If you have a lot of clay, that will need to be remedied. Clay is the bane of any gardener’s existence as it provides very poor drainage. To counter clay, build raised beds with quality top soil.
4) Soil testing is important. Especially if you’re planning on starting a vegetable garden. Homes and soil have been subjected to a lot of different things over the years and you want to ensure that your soil is free of toxins as those toxins will make their into your grown food. Knowing what’s in your soil will also give you an idea what kind of plants will thrive in your yard.
5) Ditch the deck. According to the author, decks are the “insidious 1960’s-era inventions of lumber dealers wanting to horn in on the rising popularity of the flagstone patio”. The author argues that decks turn landscape into an afterthought and that they raise homeowners above their gardens making them “nature voyeurs”. He insists that we should be one with nature and that a patio is by far a better option.
6) Rookies should avoid bramble bushes. Jams are delicious but brambles are needy. They require a lot of attention and grow like weeds. They can easily become overwhelming for a new gardener.
7) Wear garden gloves. I always figured that gloves were just to prevent scraps and bruises while messing around in the dirt but there is actually a lot more to it than that. Soil is full of bacteria, mold and nematodes. C. tetani, lives everywhere, to the air with breathe, our beds, skin and food but for the most part they call their home in the earth. Many people get this bacteria by stepping on a nail in an outdoor or dirty environment, it’s because this bacteria needs a deep wound void of oxygen in order to survive. If you get deep wound while out gardening always get a booster shot as this bacteria can develop into tetanus which, causes painful muscular spasms that can lead to respiratory failure and, in up to 40% of cases, death. Nematodes, or more commonly known as the Roundworm, lay their eggs and larvae in soil and are everywhere you dig. If they get on your hands and then you touch your mouth you will have some new friends living in your intestine. Wearing gloves will protect you from these microscopic dangers.
8) Shrubs and hedges are great for beginning Canadian gardeners. Shrubs are a result of climate rather than an actual botanical category. They are trees that have evolved to adapt and recover from storms and unfavorable weather. Almost any tree can become a shrub or a hedge with pruning. They can also be a lot of fun to work with as you can get creative with your shrub or hedge shapes.
9) Keep your mower blades sharp. Dull mower blades will rip your grass instead of cutting it causing damage your grass.
10) Weeding. Know your enemy. Careful that you’re not pulling up what you’ve worked hard to plant. Avoid weeds in a vegetable garden by using a rototiller prior to planting and use mulch in flower beds. Mulch prevents sunlight from reaching weed seeds and slows water evaporation. It’s also organic so it will eventually breakdown and add nutrients to your soil.