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Tilling a Garden

Gardening Virus

No matter how it goes, well or poorly, you’ll never forget your first real foray into gardening. You’ll also never forget the devastation of your tender seedlings getting hit by frost.

The first time I ever planted anything, which I don’t count as real gardening – was back when I lived in downtown Toronto. The gardening experience was nothing more than laying a flat of sod over a postage stamp backyard. If memory serves it was 13 feet wide by 25 deep.

The sod, died even though I watered it.

The next time I tried to grow anything I arrived in my backyard with a few flats of perennials plants dug up from my father’s garden. I carefully planted each plant given the information he’d provided regarding the amount and intensity of sunlight required and watered the plants as required. Three weeks later all but one had died.

The one plant that survived grew tall and wide. I no longer remembered what it was but I took care of it and asked my father about it the next time he visited. Lo and behold it was a burdock (a weed).

I gave up trying to grow anything.

Years later, after moving to the country and being sure that I should do something with all these acres, my 3 year old and I decided to plant a vegetable garden. We poured over the seed catalogs, books and magazines on country gardens, and considered quantity and preferences required for my daughter and I. We were keen to grow our own food. I eventually settled on growing some heirloom tomatoes and beans, plus the standard lettuce, carrots, pumpkins and potatoes. And let us not forget the herbs! It is my passion to cook with herbs and in the small neighboring town no one sold fresh herbs, not even in the summer months.

As our growing season is very short we started tomatoes and beans indoors, about a month ahead.

They took off like wildfire. we had trouble keeping up with the watering and had to make temporary trellis’ for the beans to grow up. Our window sills were full of growing vegetation.

Then, May 24th rolled around. There is a big celebration in Canada as well as being an important day in the United States. I knew from reading all my magazines and listening to gardening friends over the years that this was the ‘safe planting’ weekend. When all chance of frost had passed and temperatures from here on in would be adequate to grow those seedlings into healthy producing plants.

Perhaps it was safe, in Toronto and Boston, but it sure wasn’t safe in northern Ontario.

Saving Seedlings Hit By Frost

We hardened off our seedlings in the day’s warmth and gave them their final home in the gardens we’d prepared a week later – June 1st. On the night of June 8 frost hit and took all my lovely little heirloom tomato plants down. We were both heartbroken. These were the babies that we had so carefully planned and cared for.

I ended up planting the rest of my garden that year and did quite well – all except for tomatoes – even though we both wanted to throw in the towel. I felt the land and the weather here had beaten us. I was still content to buy my groceries in town, just like everyone else seemed to do, and give up growing my own food.

But by the middle of the next winter, when the seed catalogs came again, the gardening virus struck again and we’ve been planting every year since. We just learned to get a little bit better at listening to the weather until the end of June and covering up those tender plants at night if frost threatens. I have also learned that some seedlings touched by frost in the night can be saved in the very early hours of the morning by gently watering them with cold water from the garden hose. It doesn’t always work but we’ve saved a few plants that way.

About Laura Childs

Country Living enthusiast Laura Childs was a downtown city girl for many years before heading to the hills to live a sustainable lifestyle, raise her daughter, get back to the land, and learn the time tested traditions of a simpler era. Throughout her farm life adventures of raising animals, working from home, home schooling her daughter, and being more green, Laura Childs has been sharing on the GoodByeCityLife website through articles and personal musings since 1998.