A Gardening Story

For my inaugural post on our new blog I’m going to tell a story. Theresa and I have now grown three gardens together. It has basically been a downhill journey, with worse and worse results every time we try.

The problem is that we had an unbelievably awesome garden the first time we tried it (in Calgary, of all places). That got us hooked and we’ve continually failed to even come close in the two apartments we’ve had since that first patch of dirt. So even though the first photos look really good, this story doesn’t have a happy ending… at least not yet.

Here’s our pride and joy near the height of its green glory. And people told us that gardens don’t grow well in Calgary… ha!

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The growing season is really short in Alberta—basically from late May through early September (when the last and first frosts usually hit). But we decided with Jon and Brittany, our good friends who lived above us, that we were going to turn an empty patch of our backyard into a vegetable garden.

Together we made a list of all the things we wanted to eat from our garden (I think we were hungry at the time because it was a long list), dug up the ground, bought our supplies and seeds and tomato starts, and went to work. With the help of a master gardener friend, Jerry, and my brother, Nathan, we planted everything and had a celebratory dinner out on the porch overlooking our urban farm.

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We took turns watering the garden with John and Brit, and soon enough (just as Jerry promised) things started to sprout.

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After a month or so we actually had something that looked like a garden, and people walking the stairs to the pedestrian overpass beside our backyard could pause to admire it (that happened once while I was pulling weeds and it really went to my head).

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We got daily salads and a bumper crop of peas, green beans, and cilantro. A few things didn’t do as well, but we had more than enough success to make it worth the effort. And our daily watering also resurrected dormant rhubarb plant (someone had gardened there before, apparently), which became the undisputed king of our farm.

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We also grew a few weeds to pull.

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Here my nephew, Timothy, and mother-in-law, Connie, show off what they cut from the lettuce rows.

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Sadly, John and Brit had to move and we got flooded out of the basement. They took the tomatoes (which we got to share at a later dinner), but the rest of the garden was abandoned.

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Theresa and I tried to grow a shelf garden in our new 5th floor apartment. It started out alright, but the lack of direct sunlight eventually made the plants wither away (with the exception of our basil). We harvested only a skimpy side salad, but did get fresh basil for quite a few margherita pizzas.

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Moving to Tucson, we were pretty excited about having three full growing seasons. We got a late start on our winter garden due to the summer heat and school craziness, but we built two 4×4 garden boxes, filled them with gardening soil, and planted our winter crops.

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Within one week, almost everything had sprouted. But that’s where the success ended. The autumn sun cast longer and longer shadows over the salad greens until they never saw the light of day, and an army of ants, butterflies, caterpillars, and aphids attacked the peas and beets.

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Finally, some strange disease killed all but one of our squash plants. Frost and and Arizona “snow” on New Year’s Day finished that last plant off though.

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What did we learn from all this? Gardening is tricky work that takes education and experience that we can’t pick up in one short season. And moving to new climates means learning things all over again. What worked outdoors probably won’t work indoors, and what worked outdoors in Alberta probably won’t work outdoors in the Sonoran desert.

Will we give up? Not yet anyway. We can still taste those garden salads and sugar snap peas from Garden #1, and we plan to be eating them again soon. We’re lucky that we get a second chance in February, when people around here start putting in their spring gardens. Stay tuned for better news and possibly a happy ending to this story!

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