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How a $14 Magazine Lead Us Down the Garden Path

I have to admit, I did let the garden shed go. We had such high hopes for the first garden. The shed held all that we needed, we created raised beds to counteract the clay, we built a fence around it to keep out the deer and rabbits, and we had rainwater collection. Even my father got in on the action and planted some grapevines.

But you can't maintain a vegetable garden part-time. Living in the city for the week and only tending to the garden on the weekends meant plants were not watered properly. And, by not tending to it daily, tasks got out of hand. I began to resent all the work that piled up on the weekend and as a result, I let it go.

But I didn't anticipate the snake. The big milk snake that had wound its way around the handle of the wheel barrel. I must have jumped back a foot after I opened the door and spotted our new shed guest.

Now I don't mind snakes generally. This area is full of Garter snakes. Gentle, passive snakes that sun themselves in the spring and scurry away when you get too near. We even have a snake pit under our lawn. I'm really ok with that. Besides, as the Canadian Wildlife Federation says:

Common Garter Snakes eat a variety of animals and therefore play an important role in your garden's ecosystem. In turn, they provide an important food source for many birds and mammals.

But this snake, he curled his body in a way that brought to mind all those Indiana Jones movies. He moved menacingly like he was considering me for his next meal.

He had most likely moved into the shed because of the mice. The mice had taken up residence a few years prior. I had tried to keep them out with caulking and screens but every summer the smell of mouse urine proved that all my efforts were in vain.

By this time we had long since dismantled the fenced-in garden. However, we had also decided to move to the cottage full time. I just couldn't resist building two new waist height beds for tomatoes further back from the shed. You see, I had been doing some research and had discovered that vegetables need sunshine, a lot of sunshine. Who knew?

The placement of our original garden only got about 4 hrs of sunshine a day. Which was not nearly enough. Moving the new beds in to the sunshine made sense. But now my rainwater source and the vegetable beds were about 30ft apart. That meant a lot of walking back and forth with watering cans.

Enter the impulse purchase of a gardening magazine featuring garden sheds. Studying all those gorgeous buildings and their surrounding gardens let to the epic rebuild of a shed closer to the tomatoes as well as an expanded growing area.

It took about 15 days and was delayed over and over due to spring rains. You see our clay soil is exceptionally muddy in the Spring and there was no way we could get the tractor back there for the heavy lifting.

We tried to use as much of the old shed as we could but it was just too rotten and stinky. That shed was the first thing we had built on the property and we made a lot of mistakes. We did salvage some of the drier wood for other projects.

While a lot of the shed is new, the windows on the front are recycled from a house reno project and the door is the original door in my parent's cabin across the street. It is a solid wood door that is a least 50 years old. It seemed fitting to paint it red. The shed is now clean, warm, and dry. It is an absolute joy now to open the door and enter the space.

The new expanded garden area is also working well. It looks like it was always here and somehow balances out the property. It has of course created a lot more work again but I now have a better idea of how to tackle it.

With the expanded space we have extra room to grow spinach, kale, beans, and whatever else strikes our fancy. We have a 250 gallon water collection system right next to the beds and enough south-facing windows that I can start seeds inside in the spring. I am building a bed in the front that will have all sorts of flowers to encourage the bees and butterflies and we even created a little Sit and Sip area from two salvaged and repainted chairs.

The area behind the shed has become storage for the many tractor implements needed to manage all the garden tasks. In the previous layout, they were always an eyesore but now I seldom see them from the house. This Spring we also put down lots of gravel to create roads for the tractor. The weeds will eventually grow through the gravel but at least the surface will be harder and more manageable during the rainy season.

As for the food, the new placement gets sunshine from early in the morning to late in the day. Technically, we could grow almost anything. However, I am taking it slow as I have learned that growing food is not just as simple as sticking a seed in the ground. The nature of the soil, where to get natural fertilizers, how much to fertilize, what can be grown together, and how to prevent pests, all these things have to be considered for a successful growing season. And, I am still doing this semi part-time.

I admit to being a bit wishy-washy about the process. I think if this was my full-time job I would be more scientific. In the past, I have tended to read a few things and wing it. Now I feel I have the space to be a bit more dedicated.

I love a good problem to solve and gardening is all about complex problems. Figuring out how to do things naturally and also efficiently is an ongoing study. But I think we are up for the challenge now.

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