Phenomenal food garden

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

Seed selection: what to grow? Ask yourself what you most like to eat. There’s not much point planting a row of space-hogging cabbages if no one likes cabbage. It also makes sense to grow food that costs more, especially if space is limited in your garden. To select plants that will thrive in your garden’s microclimate, check the number of days to maturity.

Soil fertility: add “The Four Secrets of Successful Soil Building” – compost, manure, leaves and seaweed – to your soil every year and notice an incredible difference in productivity. Plants remove nutrients from the soil as they grow, which means soil quality degrades over time.

Lots of compost: make what I call “Super Duper Compost.” For layers, use leaves, weeds (no seeds), herbaceous clippings, manure, grass clippings, spoiled hay, sawdust, chicken litter, etc. To make it super-duper, add layers of comfrey leaves, nettles, seaweed and dried horsetail. Tip: Don’t add kitchen waste because it attracts rodents.

Companion planting: plant diversity is key to healthy gardening because communities of plants work together to keep bugs at bay, attract pollinators and improve plant growth. Grow a diversity of food crops together with hedgerows, flowers, grasses, herbs and berries and allow nature to control potential problems.

Crop rotation: if the same plants are grown in the same place year after year, problems arise. After seven years, club root develops in brassicas; after 10 years, white rot develops in garlic; bean-weevil populations explode where beans are continually grown. Moving plants around inhibits pests and diseases, as the lifecycle can be broken.

Pest control: in my experience, the only way to keep deer out is with eight-foot-high fencing. Raccoons and birds can cause a ripe corn or cherry crop to disappear overnight, so net plants as the crop ripens. Collecting slugs at dusk helps keep their populations down. To control whiteflies in the greenhouse, cover cardboard squares with bright yellow plastic and smear with sticky Tanglefoot.

Starting seeds early: instead of direct seeding, grow seedlings in the greenhouse whenever possible and transplant outdoors when conditions are settled. Improvise a greenhouse with cold frames and cloches, which can be made inexpensively from recycled glass windows and wooden frames.

Weed control: the best time to remove weeds from the garden is when the soil is moist. At the start of each season, go through the garden and do a major weeding to prevent weeds setting seed. At the end of the season, smother any new weed seeds with a thick layer of mulch.

Seed saving: grow open pollinated seeds and save your own seeds – those that have not had their genetic makeup tampered with through hybridization or genetic modification. Plants adapt to the conditions they grow in, which is why using organic seed is best if you are an organic gardener. Local seeds have an edge; seeds grown in different bioregions have adapted to the local climate conditions.

Winter gardening: there’s no need to leave beds empty from October to April when so many food plants can be harvested in winter. In cooler areas, a cold frame will be necessary, but growing some food is still possible.

September 23
Free talk and booksigning
The Zero-Mile Diet – with Carolyn Herriot
at Banyen Books, 3608 West 4th Ave.
604-737-8858. Sponsored by Word on the Street.
More info at

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