The Secret Garden

The gated community  where we live is a dream come true. Mature trees, gardens, ponds, beautiful views, wonderful neighbours, great strata council. The only thing that we both really miss is personal land to grow food, make compost, and experiment with permaculture.

I signed up for our first community garden plot in 2010 and we added a second one a couple of years later. With careful planning, four hundred square feet can produce an astonishing amount of fresh organic vegetables. This goes a long way toward satisfying the deep-felt need to be personally responsible for our food supply. Even so, I’d been longing for another small piece of land, somewhere, with less restrictions and more possibilities.
Out of that yearning grew the miracle. Just before my retirement, a co-worker put me in touch with a small farm owner who had some private garden space to spare – 680 square feet, including an established strawberry bed. We went to take a look and immediately said, “Yes, please, thank you so very much!”
I expected to be inefficient with this space the first year, especially since we would be away for three prime spring weeks. We put in a lot of winter squash plants, relying on various types of mulch to control the weeds. Other crops are spaced more widely than necessary, although I’m now interplanting wherever I can.
With planning, next year’s use of the land will be much better, but for now we’ll just see what we can grow. In spite of the late spring scramble, this end of June garden is starting to feel pretty satisfying.
Of the six early April cabbage transplants, two survived. I seem to have the best sucess with savoys. Notice the lambsquarters in the top left corner of the photo. It’s one of the two most nutritious greens on the planet according to Michael Pollen’s In Defense of Food. So if the vegetables are less than ideal, you can always eat the weeds. Actually, you should eat the weeds regardless. 

The strawberry bed is 4′ x 20′. There are bare spots to fill and some of the old plants need replacing. These healthy young ones are putting out lots of runners so next year we will have a great crop of berries.

We have two very young zucchini plants. This is the first fruit. The cucumber plants are quite small as well, but eager to produce apparently. We found two ready-to-eat cucumbers already. It was great timing because I wanted to try a purslane-cucumber salad with sugar snap peas and mint, which was delicious by the way.

Jerusalem artichokes are tall and the tubers can take over a garden space forever if you’re not careful. I’ve never grown them and don’t really know what to expect from this sunflower cousin, but I’ve confined them to a couple of large pots and we’ll see what happens. Jim built a hinged A-frame trellis for the Fortex pole beans. I had originally considered trying to grow beans up the sunchoke stems, but I don’t know if they’ll be sturdy enough. If they are, a month from now I may sow a circle of fall sugar snap peas around the pot. 

The second A-frame trellis is for the six cucumbers, four that I grew from seed and two that came from the nursery. Most of the fruit is destined for lacto-fermented dill pickles. Just beyond the cucumber patch is a small bed of parsnips, another thing I’ve never grown before. Nothing to see yet.

The winter squash patch is the main feature of our secret garden for this year. We have four sweetmeat, three black futsu, four buttercup and two spaghetti. These were all transplants. A sugar pumpkin for pie is coming along slowly from direct seeding and three Burrell melons are limping along far behind. I don’t think they’ll amount to much (bonus pack of seeds with my order). The first photo shows one of the spaghetti squashes with two tomato plants in the background – heirloom roma and cherry.


The closeup photo is of a black futsu squash plant. These are fairly unique winter squashes because the skin stays edible and tender even at maturity. In spite of that, they are great keepers and perfect for including in a hearty roasted vegetable platter.

And now you’re up to date on what’s been keeping me busy lately. Happy summer to you!