Miriam Schnee - Bio
by Miriam Schnee

Miriam Schnee farms at Gwynne, AB, which is about 90km SE of Edmonton, half way between Camrose and Wetaskiwin. Their farm straddles the beautiful Battle River valley.

Her garden is on the top of the bank, facing and sloping south; the large windows of their home have the same view - 'we are truly blessed'. They have 4 children, which is the reason she raises a large garden. 'Besides the economics, it's much easier for me to make jams and pickles than to shop'

January 12, 2001

1pt.gif (86 bytes)I love to garden. It gives me great pleasure to co-operate in the miracle of growth, watching the plants blossom and fruit, and feeling the kiss of sun and caress of breeze. But I also garden to feed my family all the fruit and vegetables they want (and some they don’t!). Not only is it rewarding, the money I don’t spend in the produce department is tax free. Seventeen years ago, however, I began to experience serious problems with my back, forcing me to figure out ways to grow as much nutrition as possible for the least amount of labour, especially the heavy labour that I must hire, either for nagging or cash.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Since I could neither bend nor sit, the only way for me get my hands at the same level as the weeds was to lie down among them – hence a backwards denim apron, knee pads on my elbows and the development of wide rows. Wide rows, I discovered, have several advantages. I can, of course, reach more garden from a certain spot (reducing the moving needed), and the area required to grow a given amount of vegetables. Also, once established, wide rows reduce weeding by shading the area and reducing germination.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)I then began to streamline my labour output by changing the vegetable profile. After calculating that one package of frozen peas cost an hour just in picking, podding and blanching, I had long since switched to sugar snap peas, but I realized I could reduce the summer rush further by concentrating on vegetables that store well; food preparation is transferred to winter. We also eat plenty of lettuce and salad vegetables in the summer – they neither store nor freeze.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)“Mulching reduces weeds” I read. Thinking that by spreading some old hay between the rows rather than hoeing or tilling (and thereby reducing the nag quotient) I decided it would be worth a try. I was quickly converted. Not only did the mulch reduce weeding, it made a big difference in conserving moisture, and it provided a springy shock absorber – the ground underneath didn’t pack hard with walking. So if the ground isn’t being packed, why do I need to till? I began experimenting with raking the mulch aside in the spring and direct seeding. I also read that potatoes didn’t need to be planted in the ground – just cover them with 8 in. of hay. The first year was a great success; in retrospect it was a wet spring and the hay would have quickly rotted, making a moist, warm environment for the spuds. The next year the hay available was stemmy and open and the spring dry; the mice had a party. After further experimenting I have settled on putting the seed in the soil, then covering with mulch. I now have the entire garden covered with 4-6inches of straw as soon as possible after the garden is ‘off’, before the soil gets cold. In the spring, I simply rake aside the straw leaving 3ft wide rows, make shallow rows across with the hoe and plant the seed.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)No till also means I don’t have to wait for someone to work the garden, then put it all in at once so the soil doesn’t dry out. I start early. If I haven’t fall seeded lettuce, it goes in mid April, with some radish. With a portable greenhouse over it, we start eating thinnings mid May. Frost tolerant plants, such as peas, carrots, beets and cabbage etc. go in the beginning of May, then as the soil warms later in the month, beans, corn and cucumbers. Another plus for mulching; straw absorbs more heat than black soil, (I measured – the straw was 3F warmer) and holds the heat overnight.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)At about the same time I read that Reemay and other such fabrics control root maggots. Unbelieving, I tried using an old sheer curtain over radishes; Wayne was delighted with his worm free crunchies. So I bought Reemay to put over cabbages etc. It worked at first, but the wind was hard on it and before the end of the season it was shreds held together with clothe’s pins. It was only wide enough for a single row, too. I visited a window design shop and asked for scrap sheer fabric which I then joined into a single piece about 8 ft wide and 30 ft long. It covered a triple row, and lasted about 5 years. Not only does the fabric eliminate root maggots, I found I didn’t even have to look for caterpillars in broccoli or cauliflower. I noticed too, that it acted like a greenhouse – we’ve eaten broccoli on July 10. I used to start plants – now I put 5 or 6 seeds directly into the soil where I want them to mature, and then thin them.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Greenhouse tunnels became popular a few years ago, but they were too small to be practical. My experiments eventually led me to have 3 welded frames covered with vented greenhouse plastic. Early in the spring I get one out and start frost hardy vegetables and bedding plants under it – lettuce, a few carrots, radish, cabbage, cauliflower etc. When the bedding plants are ready to go out, I use the greenhouses over tomatoes, peppers, and melons. I haven’t measured, but they make a significant difference for heat loving plants. Milk jugs with the bottom cut out make good mini-greenhouses too.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)I compared tomato plants grown in wall’o’water containers this year – they definitely work. I’ll probably buy another set for next year.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)These ideas have made it possible for me to enjoy feeding my family the best and to continue to enjoy dirty hands and the wonder of Creation. I hope there are some ideas you can use too.

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