Garlic is muscling its way through the frosty leaves as spring begins in the Cowichan Valley. (Mary Lowther photo)

Garlic is muscling its way through the frosty leaves as spring begins in the Cowichan Valley. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Spring is when gardeners really bloom

We endure the elements, fortified by the knowledge that soon we can put away the wellies, long johns

By Mary Lowther

David once had a neighbour who moved to Vancouver Island from Saskatchewan, a genuinely nice fellow who would stand at the fence and chat while both men avoided yard work. One day he told David he had sold his house and was moving back to Moose Jaw and, having been there, David was moved to ask why.

“It’s too green here,” was the reply.

Yes, it is green here, which is why we can grow winter crops under protection and harvest outdoor hardy crops year round but despite this, spring is when gardeners really bloom. We endure the elements, fortified by the knowledge that soon we can put away the wellies and long johns and feel truly enthusiastic about a day in the garden. We are sustained by the rituals of the seasons.

For example, snow tires come off at the end of this month, promising warmer weather when I can remove the mulch from the garlic beds I planted last fall. I don’t normally mulch, because in this climate the leaves can provide an ideal cover for insect predation, but when the Dodds sold me their terrific garlic they said they’ve been doing it for years I figured that this year I’d give it a try.

Once the sun drives off the rain and clouds I’ll rake the leaves off the beds to warm the soil and encourage quicker garlic growth. I learned a long time ago (from an old gardener who was probably younger than I am today) not to water garlic, but recent hot dry summers have forced me to reconsider. I’ll wait until the soil has warmed up nicely and then cover the beds with fresh mulch and see how much evaporation that prevents before I consider watering them.

In the meantime, once the winter leaf mulch is raked off, I’ll fertilize the bed with Solomon’s mix at the rate of two quarts per hundred square feet as growing plants need extra nutrients, giving them a good spray of compost tea in about a month to boost immunity and help ward off diseases.

Spring also means it is time to transplant our asparagus into a freshly cleared bed in the property down the road and that’s all I have to say about that, for now. David has calculated that we have room for 60 beds, three feet wide by 70 long; so far we have five planted and a long, long way to go.

David has been chomping at the bit to grow vegetables over there ever since he bought the land and spent the last five years cutting trees, clearing brush, levelling and fencing, but I explained we had to build up the soil first. The best way to do this is by planting cover crop, cutting it down, leaving it to rot, plowing it under and repeating the process. Patience is not David’s strong suit; when he was a child he used to dig up his peas every day to see if they were sprouting yet!

He also bought a truckload of composted chicken manure and built two compost heaps that cover about 100 square feet and started out about four feet high. Most of those leaves came from the parks crew, generously mixed with a contribution from Pat Thomson’s horse, but David says if we need more we can always shred old budget speeches from Hansard. It doesn’t matter which party was in power because it all ends up looking like it fell from the hind end of an equine.

He also warns me that from now on I should be buying my supplies by the pallet, which is why he built me the barn that he promptly filled with all of his tools, to the point where he had to build another shelter for the tractor. I’m not sure how I’m going to go about fermenting enough compost tea for half an acre, but fearless, trusting David assures me it can be done. I am afraid to ask how. When we met he warned me he was looking for a “tempestuous relationship and regular feeding” but never mentioned his methods.

When he was proof reading this column David asked me to point out that he had a lot of help preparing the site. Bruce Lamb felled 200 trees and Wayne Ferris helped trim them and bust the brush. Lyle and the boys at Ridgeline chipped 1,000 branches and Keith Christie deep plowed the land and pulled the roots. Don I’Anson helped him learn tractor and Jim Neiser taught him to use a chainsaw without self amputation. Gord Closson built the fence, Denis Pilon the barn and pergola, while Bob Day helped with the compost heap. It may take a village to raise a child but it took a small army to grow my garlic.

Thank you one and all.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Abby Dyer of Shawnigan Lake School. (Submitted)
Shawnigan Lake School poet wins to prize

Abby Dyer has won first place in the Senior Poem category in the Legion’s Youth Remembrance Contest

The Cowichan Valley Regional District has applied for a $199,000 grant to upgrade its emergency communication systems that are used during such events as the major windstorm that hit the Valley in 2018 (pictured).
CVRD looks to upgrade emergency communications with grant

Staff say communications issues plague emergency response efforts in area

A police car at the scene of a child’s death Friday, April 9, at the Falcon Nest Motel in Duncan. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
RCMP investigating child’s death at Duncan’s Falcon Nest Motel

First responders attended to a call about an unresponsive child at the… Continue reading

Brent Clancy, president of the Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce, takes down the signs at the Lake Cowichan Visitor Centre, which closed its doors for good on Jan. 31. Mayor Bob Day says the possible creation of a Town tourism committee is not a response to the closure. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Town of Lake Cowichan looking to form tourism and housing committees

Decision not related to the Lake Cowichan Visitor Information Centre closure

“Representing the school district, legion, and Kaatza Station Museum left to right are Georgie Clark of the museum, Wilma Rowbottom of School District #66 and Ernie Spencer, representing the Legion. The museum and Legion, along with the Village will each take a piece of the old wood shop.” (The Lake News)
Lake Flashback: Soapboxes, woodshop split, taxes down

Remember these stories from Lake Cowichan?

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Most Read