Gardening: It’s About Knowing Where and When

Can you smell it? … fresh-tilled dirt. There is nothing like it to a gardener or farmer.

It is one of my favourite smells of spring. With the warming sun and the longer days, people who garden are waiting impatiently for planting time, a time when the garden is tilled, the rows are laid out and the seeds are planted.

I used to have a ritual at planting time in Saskatchewan. I would walk barefoot into the freshly tilled garden and rub my feet deep into the soil. I tried that once here and almost froze my feet. Of course, the soil there was warmer in May.

Cold soil doesn’t stop seeds from growing, especially the hardier varieties, but some seeds need to have warm soil. There are ways to warm up the soil quickly: some are temporary, like row covers or black plastic; others, like raised beds, are a more permanent solution.

Raised beds are often ready to work and plant long before the snow has left entirely. But even then, the plants in a raised bed may need to be protected from freezing temperatures.

The height of a raised bed may give it some protection from a mild frost, but a hard frost or even snow would not be easy for some seedlings. And, of course, transplants would have to wait until later in the season.

Sometimes perennials such as chives and winter onions can be planted in deep beds so they can be enjoyed even earlier than usual.

I have tried strawberries in raised beds and they seem to be very susceptible to the freeze-thaw cycle of spring. Quick crops such as radishes and spring greens are also a possibility in raised beds. They are worth planting if only to have that first taste of spring a bit earlier.

One of my favourite spring greens, which grows wild in my garden, has been called wild spinach, also known as lamb’s quarter.

Lamb’s quarter has been treated as a weed. In fact, that is how I treated it until a few years ago when a friend had me taste it. Raw, it has a flavour that resembles fresh peas or maybe asparagus, but steamed it is more like swiss chard.

When I tasted it, I was amazed. No wonder the chickens liked it.

Lamb’s quarter is also a wild relative of amaranth and quinoa, which are grown for both their early leaves and seeds. Amaranth is a warm-weather crop and quinoa does better in cooler regions.

So, this year, I am going to give Quinoa a try although I won’t plant it close to where my lamb’s quarter usually grows as the plants will cross-pollinate. I do look forward to the results because I hear that they still grow at -6.

Ultimately, deciding what does well and what doesn’t can be simplified to one phrase: Location, location, location. What is your location like?

I have heard from different people that last summer was a good year, a bad year and an average year for potatoes. We were all growing in the Yukon and had the same summer, but the deciding factor may have been how well an area held heat, moisture, nutrients or where that particular rain cloud was.

Some things will absolutely thrive in my garden and die in someone else’s and vise versa. Farming or gardening is a gamble, at best and, in the Yukon, anything can happen.

Happy planting.

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