Tag Archives: gardening

putting the garden to bed

garden bed preparing for winter

garden bed preparing for winter

It has been a hectic summer.  At the beginning of the season we’d said – this summer we’re just going to take it easy and hang out in the garden. We sure spent a lot of time in the garden, but I’m not sure how well we did on the taking it easy part.

The past month has been spent madly harvesting, canning, drying, preserving, cooking, bagging, freezing and eating the spoils from the garden. It has been incredibly gratifying and completely exhausting. I have one, maybe two, more batches of tomatoes to can and a couple of bags of peppers to string up to dry and that will be the end of it.

It will not be, however, the end of the work in the garden.

If you’re anything like me – by this point in the gardening cycle you’re ready to curl up on the couch with the cat and some knitting and not so much as look at another weed for at least 6 months. Unfortunately this is no time to succumb to the couch. My garden needs my attention for just a little while longer.

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on happiness

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In the country of Bhutan, they no longer judge the success of their country and society by GDP alone.  Now rather than just measuring their country’s production, they are measuring GDH – Gross Domestic HAPPINESS.  Yes that’s right. Happiness.  You see, they believe that GDP is a means to the end, and have had the courage to ask themselves, as a nation, well then – what is the end, exactly?

The Americans believe in the pursuit of happiness, but I’m not sure how close or far that is from actually finding happiness.

Ok. What on earth does this have with front-yard gardening you say?  And you would be right to ask.  I think it has a lot to do with it.

The Bhutanese believe that one of the keys to happiness is the quality of our relationships, a sense of belonging, a sense of community and security.  Here comes the garden. . .

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pumpkin sex: the ins and outs of pollination

the pumpkin patch

the pumpkin patch

As you know if you’ve read my earlier posts – we had a bit of a mishap in the pumpkin department.  In a crisis of garden faith we planted an extra set of pumpkins, thinking that our initial transplants wouldn’t make it.  How wrong we were.  However, as with most gardening “mistakes”, this one has been a happy accident.  Our ridiculously prolific pumpkin patch is one of our favorite parts of the garden.  We may not be able to get into the backyard soon, but it seems like a minor inconvenience in the face of such glorious abundance.

As our patch grew and flowers started to form, we quickly noticed that something was wrong with our would-be pumpkins.  The little balls, rather than swelling into a teenage pumpkin were simply shriveling up and falling off.  They looked like this poor pathetic soul:

shriveled up would-be pumpkin

shriveled up would-be pumpkin

The bees in our yard just weren’t getting the job done. A sad fact is that many of our pollinators are in danger of extinction. The vast majority of our food supply relies on pollinators to reproduce and bear fruit. Our indiscriminate use of pesticides, climate change and overwork has pushed our honey bees in particular to the brink of collapse.  CCD, colony collapse disorder has rocked the honey bee world in recent years and as of yet, no one seems to know for sure what is causing it.  A great book on this topic is “Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis” by Rowan Jacobsen.

If the bees can’t get the job done for us, we’d have to do it ourselves. And so, each morning, my fiance with a coffee in one hand and a Q-Tip in the other, will grin and announce – I’m goin outside to have sex!

And so, you ask, What does pumpkin sex entail??

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ordered chaos and garden zen

"three sisters" : squash, beans and corn

"three sisters" : squash, beans and corn

We had the hottest and driest June on record.  And my garden is showing it.  The unexpected heat and sun has made my garden go – well – completely bananas.

One thing we have learned this year is to have faith.  In the garden, and in life, a little trust that things will work out goes a long way.  We doubted that early this spring – suspecting our leggy, jaundice looking squash transplants were destined for the compost heap, we planted more.  And there you have it.  My sidewalk in the backyard has been nearly engulfed.  There will be plenty of pumpkin pie this thanksgiving, we’ll put it that way.

sugar pumpkins, black beauty squash and lemon cukes taking over our sidewalk

sugar pumpkins, black beauty squash and lemon cukes taking over our sidewalk

We planted way too many tomatoes.  Thinking we would have only partial germination we planted 9 of each variety and ended up with over 100 viable seedlings.  I didn’t have the heart to throw them away, so what I couldn’t give away, I plunked in the ground.  And now slowly I am realizing – hmm – even if I only get one tomato per plant per day during harvest time – that’s 50 tomatoes a day!  I am already setting up my own little CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) list in my office building downtown.  I’ll be hawking heirloom tomatoes for 5 bucks a pound outside Starbucks come September.  Just you wait. Continue reading

notes from the revolution: fringe benefits

our front yard before the revolution

our front yard before the food revolution

our front lawn after the revolution

our front "lawn" after the food revolution : year 1

A lot of different reasons inspired us to rip out our front lawn; more room to grow food, the benefits of southern exposure, a love of gardening, the desperate need for some curb appeal . . . But we had no idea that none of those would prove to be the best reasons for replacing our lawn with a productive vegetable garden.

We’d lived in our house for nearly a year before we ripped out the lawn.  We got to know our immediate neighbours on either side pretty quick; they were understandably curious when we put in our backyard veg garden before we’d even moved in.  (Priorities!)  Other than that, we hadn’t even seen most of our neighbours our first year in the house.

You don’t realize how much of a moat a front lawn is until you do away with it.  A front lawn is about buffers and boundaries, conformity and anonymity.  The only time we use it is when we’re mowing it, and we only do that because we don’t want to look bad compared to the neighbours.  And as we all know, mowing the lawn doesn’t exactly lend itself to conversation.

I would never have guessed what a bridge our front garden would become.  It demands we spend time in our front yards on a regular basis, in a quiet way inviting our neighbours to share our life.  There is a vulnerability there, an intimacy, as we publicly move through the daily rituals of tending the food that will nourish us.  And unknowingly, we’ve been cultivating not only vegetables, but community.

The gardens somehow gives us permission to not ignore each other.  Some people still try the first time they walk by while I’m out there, but its hard to look away from the yard.  They always look shocked when I  put up my hand and wave good morning, but the startled expression always quickly dissolves into a smile and a wave back and often ends in conversation.  The Italians and Portuguese always comment on my veg and give me pointers on my tomatoes, and even the Korean, Philipino and Chinese neighbours, who often speak little or no English stop to “chat”.  One older gentleman gives me an enthusiastic two thumbs up everyday as he walks by.  Our differences of age, language and race melt away in the shared simple joy of the garden.

We haven’t had a single negative comment about our decision to remove our lawn.  Instead what we have is an unexpected sense of community, security and belonging.  Our garden has become a means of sharing knowledge too, knowledge that at one time would have been considered essential and commonplace – like what a potato plant looks like.  Or even, can you believe it – strawberries!?  One friend even thought my irises were corn!

And when our lovely cat went missing early this month, I was touched to discover that not only was I looking for him, but so was the rest of our block.  One little seven year old girl from down the street came by with her mum as I was watering to tell me that she had cried when she saw my lost poster, and that the two of them had gone out looking for our lost little guy.  They have shared the joy of my garden, and now thanks to the community and friendship we have built, are also sharing my loss.

All of our initial great reasons to rip out the lawn have been diminished by the look of surprised pleasure on the face of a lady from the neighbourhood whom I’d just met when she commented how much she loved cabbage and I offered her one come harvest time, and to hear from folks out walking that they make a point of walking past our place to see what is new and how the tomatoes are coming along.  The garden slows me down, and it slows down our neighbourhood.  My biggest garden triumph to date was looking out the window to see two little straw-haired girls with their rosy faces completely buried in my forget-me-nots.

Talk about stopping to smell the flowers.

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strawberry fields forever (or at least the month of june)

fresh strawberries from the front yard

fresh strawberries from the front yard

The strawberries are on.  My are they ever.  My fiance was adamant when we bought the strawberries months ago that I get June bearing exclusively.  And now I understand why he did.  We’ve grown ever-bearing on apartment patios before and the take was maybe two a day.  Just enough to spur your appetite but not nearly enough to satisfy it.  This is something else altogether.

I have taken to heading straight for the strawberry patch as soon as I get home from work – before I’ve checked the mail or even opened the door you’ll see me doubled over in my business clothes rooting through the strawberry patch before my fiance can get home and beat me to them.  We keep talking about making jam but so far I can’t say too many strawberries have made it as far as the kitchen.  Most are devoured right there, warm from the sun.

It’s only common sense that homegrown strawberries are going to taste better than something flown in half-ripe from California.  But I had no idea how much better they were going to taste.  No crunch, no nothing.  Just pure sweet-tart melting juicy goodness.  Heaven.  All of that weeding seems like an easy trade for such a glorious treat.

We planted the variety kent.  Apparently it’s susceptible to disease but we’ve notice no problems so far.  Strawberries are perennial, meaning that they will come back year after year.  They also send out runners much like those beloved spider plants my mum always grew on top of the fridge, and just like the spider plant all those little runners will become new baby plants; my patch will get bigger!  After the harvest is done the whole patch can simply be mowed, not super-low – don’t scalp them, just sheer them off so they won’t rot over the winter and encourage disease.  Mulch them and with a little luck, come next June I’ll be bottom up in the berries again.  Some varieties will last longer than others, but be aware there will come a point where you’re going to want to offer them to the compost heap and start your patch anew.

Our strawberry patch is a good size – probably 2 x 8 feet, but even the great big handful a day I am getting is not going to satisfy me now – I am hooked.  I will be out this weekend – the official start of strawberry season in search of even larger fields – in order to stockpile both freezer and cupboards with strawberry goodness.

our motivation (or what on earth were we thinking)

our year one backyard garden

our year one backyard garden

My finance and I bought our first house together spring of last year, longing for something more than our tiny urban balcony, rammed with potted plants and more bulbs than any sane person would ever buy without owning a yard.

Last spring, between moving and renovating, we put in a small garden in the backyard; tomatoes, lettuce, leeks, carrots, onions . . . but this year, with renovations behind us, we have completely dug in.  Literally.

I don’t know what made us do it – the grubs eating our lawn into oblivion, outrage at the price of trucked-in, petroleum-soaked ‘organic’ veg – or maybe just the thrill of knowing that the most subversive, rebellious thing we could do to stick our little wee fingers in the great big eye of agri-industry was to plant a garden and grow our own food.

Determined to flip the bird to a food system that gives us tasteless shadows of strawberries in mid-January and tomatoes as hard and palatable as baseballs year-round, we are growing a garden made up almost exclusively of heirloom vegetables.  We would not select our veg based on uniformity or the ability to travel thousands of miles unscathed; we would select our veg for taste, personal pleasure and unique and unabashed beauty.  Take that, Agri-Man!

Sometime in January as we waded through seed-catalogues in anticipation, our ‘to-grow’ list grew longer and longer and somewhere along the line we realized our backyard alone simply would not do.  Our sun drenched south-facing front lawn was simply begging to be transformed.

After digging the first two pitchfork rows of sod I began to have an inkling of what we were in for. I often say to my fiance, that if I knew in February what I know now in June – that this was going to be so much friggin work, I might not have taken the plunge.  However, the big digging is behind us; my arms are stronger and significantly freckle-ier and I wouldn’t change our decision for the world.

I would, however, have rented a sod-cutter.