The spirit is willing, and the fresh is weekly: Review of “A Year on the Garden Path”

For the past few weeks, I've been watching the snow drift down with deceptive lightness, only to accumulate in deep piles (18" and counting here in northeastern Ohio) that have well and truly buried any remotely green thing on the ground.

While it's lovely to sit inside and watch winter's show, I also find myself reaching for the seed catalogs. Winter may not depress me as it does some people, but now and again I long for the scent of rich earthy loam, the soft but sturdy leaves of new seedlings, and the brilliant colors of garden vegetables. And lately I've been thinking that I really need to pull together my seed list, figure out a seed-starting and planting schedule (and rotation in the garden beds), and get prepared for the growing season.

gardenpathbookI always say I'm going to start early and be on top of things so that I can work the soil in good time and get crops planted for a longer season, but somehow I never quite get everything together. I hope to rectify that this year, though, by learning better organization and timing in two ways: apprenticing myself to a local organic farmer, and following the ideas found in "A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide."

Though this book was published in 2005, I've only just recently stumbled across it. The author, Carolyn Herriot, started The Garden Path on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, in 1999 as an "organic heritage plant nursery." She began sharing information on organic gardening with her customers but eventually branched out to the local horticultural society's newsletter, a local radio program, her own television show, and then this book. In it, she tells what happens at the nursery each week through the year, between the garden and the greenhouse, and from flowers to fruits and vegetables.

lower-bed-6-21-09Now, Vancouver Island isn't exactly northeastern Ohio. We get pretty frigid winter days around here (not to mention that big pile of snow outside), and according to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, it looks like Victoria's climate is much more temperate, akin to California's. I'm pretty sure Herriot can start planting things outside sooner than I can — and extend the harvest longer.

But the book still provides plenty of useful ideas to a snowbound gardener like me. On the big topics of soil testing and amendments, seed starting, and so on, I didn't find a lot of new information, but the arrangement of the topics into weekly activities provides a much more helpful delivery of that information. If it's February, then, yes, I should be thinking about the soil in the garden and planning applications of compost or leaf mold or manure before spring planting, and I should be cleaning up all the equipment I need for starting seeds.

carrots-10-10-08Beyond the usefulness of a weekly planning guide, I found some of the little details even more helpful. For example:

  • Every year, I have damage from the carrot rust fly on otherwise beautiful tapered roots. According to Herriot, mulching the carrot patch with spent coffee grounds produces an aroma that confuses the female rust fly and sends her elsewhere to lay her eggs. (Thanks to that tip, I'm working out a collection schedule with a local coffee bar to collect grounds!)
  • When saving seeds, different varieties need to be planted certain distances apart to avoid accidental crossing. So when I plant my heirloom pole bean varieties this year, I'll need to keep the different varieties thirty feet apart.  I can do that!
  • I've planted beets a couple of times and had a pretty poor showing; Herriot recommends sowing these seeds thickly but also adding wood ashes to the soil to improve the germination rate.

green-manure-patchesWith Herriot's advice, I am considering planting even more herbs in with the vegetable beds as a way to reduce the number of pests that want to damage my crops. According to her, basil repels aphids and mosquitoes, mints keep away assorted cabbage pests, and tansy wards off Japanese beetles. She also includes a lengthy section in June's to-do lists of what symptoms are caused by which insects, how to prevent or control that damage, and homemade remedies such as garlic oil spray and sticky traps.

Come July, I'll be thinking about my fall and perhaps even overwintered crops, and Herriot has enthusiastic support for that, too: "Growing a winter vegetable garden is a snap once the vegetables have been planted. There's no weeding, no insect problems to deal with, and no watering." While I suspect that's a somewhat optimistic view, my experience with late crops of golden chard last year has encouraged me to plant more vegetables for fall this year. And by the time I'm starting to enjoy some of that cool-weather harvest, I'll be ready for Herriot's ideas on sowing green manures such as buckwheat and rye to build up the soil again for next year.

nasturtium-starsThe book includes information on many varieties of flowers, something I don't plant often, as well as sound advice regarding edible flowers: "Only eat those grown without pesticides, and then only in moderation." She also includes a wide variety of recipes for using fresh garden produce, and even  poetry for the literary-minded gardener. While the photos and sketches are all in black and white, most provide enough clarity of detail to allow for plant identification and understanding of the related text. My sole quibble with the book comes from the subtitle, since each month is divided only into four weeks, making this a planning guide for only 48 weeks in the year. (Presumably I'll be able to sleep during those missing four weeks?)

Beginning gardeners will find the book easy to follow and perpetually encouraging; just don't try to do everything Herriot outlines! I've gardened for many years, but like most gardeners, every year I find there's something more to learn. "A Year on the Garden Path" will become a useful companion in this year's growing season.

I've got most of my equipment for starting seeds at home, I've got my garden beds started or planned, and I've got a large share of my seeds ordered. Now, if I could just will away all that snow...

Editor's note: The Ethicurean maintains a comprehensive list of books about sustainable food and agriculture and related topics at Goodreads.com. You can see what we're reading via the Goodreads widget in the righthand column (and if you click on one of those book covers to purchase it via Amazon.com, you'll be helping us out financially, at no extra cost to you.) To browse our collective library and read previous reviews, visit our Goodreads bookshelf.

6 Responsesto “The spirit is willing, and the fresh is weekly: Review of “A Year on the Garden Path””

  1. Interesting about the coffee grounds. It also acidifies the soil - keep that in mind. On the beets, we grow a lot. They do very well in the high nutrient winter paddocks for our livestock. Then in the fall and winter those big tubers become food for the animals. The cole crops and pumpkins also do spectacularly in those areas.

  2. Sarah says:

    Being in the southern hemisphere, we've already planted our garden. Like you mentioned, our beets didn't germinate as well as we'd hoped. I'll keep in mind the wood ash trick for next season!

  3. Bart says:

    I'm sure you have some very important things to say in your article—and I may read it soon, but I just wanted to say that the headline is awesome! A horribly wonderful play.
    And now to read on...

  4. I like gardening and I had a beautiful garden before two years. But then after we had to shift because of some personal reason and then life became too busy so I had to put aside my hobby (gardening) but now I think it's a time to do it again and have fun of it. I want to do gardening of different flowers and I will appreciate yoy if you share some tips for it in your upcoming posts.

  5. Frederic says:

    The other great thing about nasturtiums, besides that they're are edible and tasty, is that they draw away aphids from other plants like broccoli.  Planting a row of nasturtiums means that you don't need pesticides or anything special to keep down aphids.

  6. Sandy says:

    ". . . a planning guide for only 48 weeks in the year. (Presumably I'll be able to sleep during those missing four weeks?)"
    Yup - that's about December, when everybody (um, in the North) is frozen solid anyway, and it's too early to sprout anything.
    If you rotate what goes in which garden bed, you shouldn't need to worry too much about acidifiation, should you?  Because eventually the ashes you put on the beets will neutralize the coffee grounds, until the next time carrots go in that spot.