Add us to the growing fraternity of backyard farmers
For me this has been a year of much returning to my outdoor roots.
You might remember that I bought a wood furnace and started up serious preparations for wood heating come this autumn. I have my supply of spruce all stacked and drying in this summer’s wind and sunshine. I lift and sniff a piece now and then to check its weight and moisture content. The process is going well. The weather has been excellent.
I first paddled a canoe at about 12 years old, one of those short, stubby sportsman types with the foam stabilizers along each side.
It was fabricated of aluminum and painted to look like birch bark.
That is very weird no matter how you look at it, either faking Canada’s original watercraft with paint, or thinking that any Indigenous paddler would benefit from foam stabilizers.
Please lose the paintjob and be yourself, a tin can that paddled poorly.
But as you might guess, I knew little about the hydrodynamics of a sweet-lined canoe at such a tender age.
I’ve paddled thousands of miles since that first canoe outing, particularly in the 1980s while running a beaver trap line.
I was lucky to have been taught proper paddling at about 14 years of age and as always it pays to have a bit of instruction at the beginning of any learning curve.
Anyway, I slacked off on my canoeing over the past decade; opting more for sit-atop fishing and river-running kayaks. I just bought a new canoe, the best on planet Earth I think, and I’m planning camping trips and fishing with a single-blade paddle in hand.
Stay tuned for more on that.
Supply and demand
What else can I return to? Well, I suppose it’s partly because of Covid-19 and our having more spare time, but gardening and vegetable growing is experiencing a dramatic exponential upward trend. Stores are sold out of all sorts of supplies. I had to put my name on a list to obtain some 6-12-12 general purpose fertilizer. There’s a run on triple mix.
We are declaring ourselves backyard growers once again. I was once a subsistence farmer but I quit in the late ‘90s when it put just too much strain on my salmon fishing and trouting. I’d go off for two weeks of fishing and I’d return home to being totally overwhelmed with weeds. I’m still going fishing of course, but Goldie promises to weed and water while I’m away. It’s a team effort this time around. Back in the ‘90s, Goldie had small kids to care for. Actually, she’s keener on this new gardening imitative than I am.
I had a hankering to farm at a young age. I think I was around 12, the same summer I first dipped a canoe paddle. It was during Easter holidays and I decided I wanted to grow some spuds and turnips, maybe even a few carrots. We had a big backyard covered in grass that I hated cutting. I still hate cutting grass and I’m considering goats. Anyway, I sat at the breakfast table with Dad and asked him if I could dig up the back corner of the yard and set some vegetables. He said yes like always, and told me to use the grubber to cut the sod off. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Rocks on The Rock
Soil in our neck of the woods is not without rocks, and in most places quite thinly spread over cliff, boulders and bedrock. On my father’s property, I could never find a place to bottom out a pick without dinging a rock. You likely know how that feels on the hands and arms. Erecting a fencepost was always a struggle with iron bars, shovels and brute force. I worked harder that day than I had in all my 12 years. By the time my father returned home for supper I was beat completely. I had cleared and tilled an area of about 10 square feet. I wasn’t pleased. But you know what? Dad told me I did well and I became so wonderfully proud of myself. To this day I’m not sure if he really meant it. After supper we worked together and cleared some more.
I spent most of that Easter holiday digging in the backyard and we ended up with a decent sized garden. I’d say about 30 feet by 20 feet or more. Mom and Dad got real interested and we all worked together in the endeavor. We ended up with a decent crop. I can still remember pulling those long blue potatoes out of the ground in September. And we grew those early sort of turnips that don’t keep well, but are so lovely and sweet. It was a fantastic year.
I haven’t set much of a garden since the “90s. Goldie has always grown flowers and I help her with it but that’s about it. For whatever reason, we are going to give the backyard farming a serious go this year. My daughter, Megan, is setting crops as well. She’s totally excited and having a wonderful time with it. She called this evening to tell us about her radishes poking through the ground. There is something truly wonderful about it.
Goldie and I are going with a combination of raised vegetable beds and buckets. The five-gallon plastic pail gardening technique is really catching on. Google it. There are folks almost feeding themselves through backyard container gardening. Self-sufficiency is a wonderful thing. We need more of it. By the way, buckets are sold out at many hardware stores.
On the raised bed side, I built three beds that are 12 feet long and four feet wide. One is dedicated to strawberries and one to potatoes. Goldie loves strawberries and I love potatoes. The strawberries are planted and growing well. I’m setting my potatoes this morning. The third bed is for standard root vegetables, turnip, parsnip, carrot and beet. I might also sneak in a few cabbage plants for a homegrown Jigg’s dinner.
The bucket growing business is totally new to me. So far, we have set in 15 tomato plants, one per bucket. It’s versatile because you can move them around for maximum sunlight exposure and wind protection, and you have total control over what goes into the soil. We are also going to try some potatoes in buckets. Apparently, or at least from what I read, this works really well. I watched a video and could not believe the spuds a guy from Texas grew in one bucket. Carrots do really well in buckets as well and I have a secret recipe. We will see how it goes.
If all goes well I’ll build a greenhouse this fall for spring planting.
Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at email@example.com or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock