Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Canadian Kitchen Garden: USDA Zone 3

This weekend is the Victoria Day long weekend, which Edmontonians usually consider the beginning of the frost-free season and safe to plant seedlings, and things are finally starting to green up - so my thoughts have turned to establishing my kitchen garden. 

(September 7th update: skip to the bottom of the post for photos from the end of the season!)

happy bee on an Evans Cherry sapling in bloom at the garden centre
I grew up in Nova Scotia (USDA Zone 5ish), but all my gardening as an adult has been in Edmonton (USDA zone 3, which you can push to zone 4 in protected microclimates). The cottage-style garden I made at my last home was purely decorative, with an emphasis on peonies, iris, hostas, and daylilies. I am sorely missing the now-mature Evans Cherry tree we planted in that garden, and the gorgeous sour cherry gelato I made from its fruit. Sigh.

my little raised bed from last summer needs rebuilding already
However, two summers ago we moved house to a larger lot, and so this summer's labour of love is turning the bare bones planted by the previous owners into a proper kitchen garden.
We started with lots of ornamentals (a mature spruce tree, a ninebark shrub, an inexplicable box hedge that should have died by now, some roses whose rosehips I plan experiment with), a patch of green onion, and a garden bed where the strawberries have been left by the previous owners to, um, naturalize. So, not bad, but not much that's edible. Last summer, we used a potato planter, built a raised bed for vegetables and salad staples, found spots for a couple of rain barrels and a tumble composter, built a storage shed, and planted lots of fruit-bearing treasures:
- an 'Early Gold' pear tree (Pyrus x 'Jefgold', a seedling of the 'Ure' hybrid)
- a columnar saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia 'Obelisk')
- an elderberry bush (Black Lace(tm) Sambucus nigra 'Eva') that may die to ground & regrow
- blueberries (Vaccinium x. 'Northcountry' and 'Chippewa') 
- raspberries

my columnar saskatoon is about to burst into bloom
The plan is to more or less restrict ornamentals to the front yard, and gradually turn the fenced back garden into a food forest. This summer we expect to do some travelling, so my plan is to plant a cover crop (bush beans and marigolds!) in the raised bed we built last summer, let the sunflowers that volunteer under the bird feeder go crazy, and concentrate on adding more edible bushes and perennial vegetables this spring:
- asparagus (Asparagus officinalis 'Guelph Millennium')
- an Evans sour cherry tree (because we love and miss our old one), in the spot where the strawberries are growing so that they'll be the underplanting
- a rust-resistant apple tree from this list since we lost a hawthorn sapling in our yard to cedar-hawthorn or cedar-apple rust and there are other infected trees in the neighborhood (bordeaux mix, organic copper spray and organic fungicidal soaps are recommended if you need to prevent this blight) - update, we decided against this
- grapes
- rhubarb (Rheum 'Canada Red' or one of its selections) < planted in front yard
- blackberries among the row of raspberries
- more blueberries under the spruce tree (eventually to form a guild)
- haskap

the strawberries have survived the past three winters under the snow
I also want to plant potatoes again (organic seed potatoes are at Earth's General Store!), and turn the wee garden bed next to the house into a cold frame. Eventually I'd also like to be raising dye plants in my garden (for my ongoing natural dye experiments), and growing food in a more intensive way in raised beds, but that needs to wait for a summer when we'll be staying home for most of the season.

The garden bed next to the house has some kind of allium (green onion, I think, it certainly doesn't have very decorative blooms) in it, and will make a wonderful season-extending cold frame for greens; you can see my potato planter and a cherry sapling grown from pits collected at our old house awaiting their permanent location there, too, and the shed reflected in the window.

September 7th update: despite benign neglect for three weeks while we were away in Nova Scotia, I've harvested about a dozen zucchini, a handful of string beans, lots of 'Yukon Gold' potatoes, and a ridiculous number of green cherry tomatoes from the garden prior to the early freeze forecast for the next couple of days. Here are a few photos I've taken:

1. Evans cherry underplanted with strawberries (some existing, some from the cultivars available at Superstore this year)(and a lot of weeds that need to be hand-pulled, although I don't mind the broadleaf plantain so much now that I know it's edible)
2. Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis 'Guelph Millennium')
3. grapes (L-R, Vitus 'Frontenac', 'Valiant' and 'Beta')
4. decorative shrub planted by prior owners, awaiting ID (a pink azalea?)
5. a pair of haskap shrubs - Lonicera caerulea 'Tundra' and a 2-in-1 shrub that has the male plant grafted as part of it but didn't state which cultivars were used on the label
6. 'Early Gold' pear
7. potentilla planted by prior owners, in need of pruning
8. rose, pink flowers, ID unknown
9. rose, white flowers, ID unknown
10. decorative shrub (barberry?) planted by prior owners, awaiting ID, in need of pruning
behind and between 7 & 10 = dwarf burning bush (Euonymus alatus 'Compactus') planted by prior owners
11. elderberry 'Black Lace'
12. blueberry 'Northcountry'
13. blueberry (cultivar likely 'Chippewa' but label lost, growing from roots)
14. columnar saskatoon - had very tiny berries this year and some branches died - possibly damaged by runoff from our neighbours' yard?
15. sunflowers (volunteering from bird feeder)
16. spot to replant 2nd Evans cherry sapling
17. blueberry underplanted under spruce - cv. 'Northblue'
18. blueberry underplanted under spruce - cv. 'Northcountry'
19. blue spruce - tumble composter lives behind it
20. blueberry underplanted under spruce - cv. 'Northsky'
beside 20 - unknown tree sapling, need to ID
21. small raised garden bed with zucchini, tomato, & bean plants that survived our absence - I think that's a sea buckthorn that leans over the fence from our neighbours
22. Salvia nemorosa planted by prior owners
23. raspberry & blackberry - a&b Rubus 'Double Delight', c 'Red River', d 'Boyne', e&f Blackberry 'Chester Thornless'
24. ninebark, planted by prior owners (the tag says Viburnum sargentii 'Onondaga', so the fruit's inedible)
This post is part of the Canadian Food Experience project (also on Facebook) proposed by my friend Valerie Lugonja, who is a board member of Slow Food Edmonton. The project began June 7th, 2013. As we (participants) share our collective stories across the vastness of our Canadian landscape through our regional food experiences, we hope to bring global clarity to our Canadian culinary identity through the cadence of our concerted Canadian voice. Please join us. 

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