Gardening is healthy and a good diversion in scary times

Last fall, I planted a variety of bulbs in anticipation of a burst of spring flowers. As the weather warms I keep checking for green shoots to appear.

I held two hyacinth bulbs back to force for some pre-spring blooms. They had been tucked in the back of the fridge until early March when I placed each in a narrow neck vase with the bottom of the bulb just above water. Back in the fridge they went until the green stem popped up. Then they were moved to the west kitchen window. We have just been rewarded with the first lovely fragrant bloom.

Little did I know last fall when I purchased the bulbs how much a single spring bloom would brighten our house-bound days of virus avoidance. That single bloom holds the promise of many more to come and that seeding time and harvest will also come and the seasons of life will continue.

Gardening and farming are acts of faith and hope. We believe that the seeds we put in the ground will sprout, grow and produce a crop of beautiful, fragrant flowers, fresh delicious vegetables or fields of waving crop, no matter what is happening in the world around us.

With the children home, starting seeds, planning a garden and ordering the supplies needed can provide valuable learning opportunities in lieu of school. For those who find the days stressful, physical work in a garden can be a wonderful way to release pent-up emotions and energy.

April is a good time to plan the garden and search out new ideas.

A friend of mine introduced me to the idea of using plastic milk jugs as mini greenhouses for starting plants outdoors. Plant the seeds in the ground as soon as the soil can be worked, then cover the seeds with a milk jug that the bottom has been cut out of.

As the days warm and the seeds begin to germinate, the jug will keep them warm and protected until they are well-established and the danger of frost has passed.

If very cold temperatures are forecasted after the plants have germinated, it is eas y to throw a blanket over the jugs without damaging the baby plants.

I have a book called Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza. It describes a way of enhancing garden beds or creating new ones without the need to dig, till or even remove sod or weeds. It is an energy saving, soil enhancing, organic way of gardening that can be started as soon as the ground is dry enough to walk on.

Organic mulch materials are needed for the lasagna garden. Search your home, yard or neighbourhood for quantities of “brown” materials, such as dry leaves, shredded office paper, sawdust, straw, woodchips, newspaper, cardboard boxes or peat moss. These ingredients are dry, bulky and decompose quickly, so they will ensure a light, oxygen-rich soil.

Green nitrogen-rich materials that are dense and moist are needed for the alternating layers. These include manure, untreated grass clippings, barn litter, garden waste, fruit and vegetable kitchen waste, tea bags, coffee grounds, seaweed and blood meal.

Start with a manageable size plot, probably no bigger than four by eight feet, or an existing bed. The first layer must be thick enough to smother existing plants, grass and weeds. Begin with a thick overlapping layer of black and white newspaper (no coloured print pages) or flattened overlapping cardboard boxes, wet these down well, or soak in water before spreading on the ground. The water will hold this layer in place and encourage decomposition. This layer provides a dark, moist environment for earthworms to do their work loosening the soil.

The next layer is two to three inches of peat moss, then a four to eight inch layer of “green” organic mulch, such as manure, untreated grass clippings, barn litter, garden waste, fruit and vegetable kitchen waste, tea bags, coffee grounds, seaweed or blood meal.

Follow this with a “brown” layer of peat moss or shredded newspaper or office paper, sawdust or straw. Continue alternating “green” and “brown” layers until the bed is 18 to 24 inches high. Top off with a scattering of bone meal and wood ashes to provide extra phosphorus and potassium. The bed will shrink down in a few weeks.

To plant plants, just pull back the lasagna layers and tuck the plants in. For seeds, place a two to three inch layer of sifted compost or garden soil on the top layer of the lasagna garden. Plant the seeds, cover with soil and water. As the seedlings emerge, mulch with grass clippings or straw to limit weed growth. To water, lay a soaker hose under the top mulch layer.

Each fall, add new layers of mulch to provide fresh nutrients to the soil and to suppress weed growth. To make paths between the beds, lay down the wet newspaper or cardboard layer and top with three to four inches of woodchips.

The book Lasagna Garden is available to read online at www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/lasagna-gardening-zmaz99amztak. Also, search the internet for lots of lasagna gardening ideas.

To continue with the lasagna theme, this is a great recipe to pop in the slow cooker before heading out to the garden. Rather than using cottage or ricotta cheese, I have replaced them with a mushroom sauce layer. Prepare the sauces the day ahead to make assembly quicker.

Meat sauce layer:

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef 500 g
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper 1 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. basil, dried 2 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano, dried 2 mL
  • 24 oz. can pasta sauce 680 mL
  • 1/2 c. water 125 mL
  • 1/2 c. tomato paste 125 mL

Mushroom sauce layer:

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 10 oz. can mushroom soup 284 mL
  • 1/4 c. water 60 mL
  • 1/2 c. sour cream 125 mL
  • 1 c. frozen spinach,thawed 250 mL
  • 1 c. cauliflower, chopped (could use frozen or fresh) 250 mL
  • 1 c. mushrooms, sliced 250 mL
  • 3 c. mozzarella cheese (could use a combination of mozzarella, Monterey jack, or cheddar cheeses) 750 mL
  • 1/2 c. Parmesan cheese 125 mL
  • 15 lasagna noodles, uncooked

In a skillet, cook beef and onion until meat is no longer pink. Then add garlic and cook one minute longer. Drain. Stir in tomato sauce, water, tomato paste, pepper, basil, and oregano.

Beat egg in a medium-size bowl, add mushroom soup, water, and sour cream, and stir to mix. Add spinach, cauliflower, mushrooms and half of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses stir gently to mix.

Spread a quarter of the prepared meat sauce on the bottom of a greased five-quart slow cooker. Arrange three of the noodles over sauce (break to fit).

Top with another layer of meat sauce, add a layer of noodles, and top with half of the mushroom sauce.Repeat another layer of noodles, meat sauce, noodles, and mushroom sauce.

End with a final layer of noodles and meat sauce. Top this with the remaining cheeses. Cover and cook on low for four or five hours or on high for two to 2-1/2 hours, or until noodles are tender.

Remove lid and turn off heat and allow noodles to absorb the moisture. Serve with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and a vinaigrette dressing.

Betty Ann Deobald is a home economist from Rosetown, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. Contact: team@producer.com.

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