Three Truths of Community Gardening in Ottawa

Green (sometimes) Thumb-Year Two

A former colleague used an interesting phrase when trying to make a point and wanting to convince you of the veracity of his comment.  “There is a truth”, he would say and then he’d go on to tell you that “truth”.  I always thought it odd, that phrase, and a bit of a push to have you believe something or make it true by prefacing it with that phrase.  

Yesterday at the “farm” (community garden plot), in addition to several weeds, I unearthed the following three “truths”.

1. There is no such thing as making a “quick visit to the garden”  

If you are a gardener, do tell me if it’s possible to have a quick visit to your garden.  There’s no such thing in my experience.  Oh, I’ll just go quickly and see how the tomatoes are doing.  I’ll pinch them back and bit and then I’ll leave.  Well, the tomato pinching is one thing, then you see potato beetles and off you go down those rows, and hey what about those squash that need watering and well look at how the weeds are taking over in that corner.  And so the planned 20 minute visit ends 2.5 hours later.  It is a truth there is no such thing as making a quick visit to your garden-whether it be flower or vegetable.  

2. Gardeners are generous in spirit and advice

Gardeners are a friendly sort.  It’s not a competition and they give freely of their advice.  “Cover up your cabbages until they are stronger or the moths will eat them”.    They commiserate in your sorrow.  They say, “Yes,  those cucumber beetles are terrible and no I don’t know what to do to combat them.  It really is too bad after all the effort you’ve put in but it’s a bad year for them this year. ”  If they have too many plants, they will ask you if you want some for your garden.  Here, take these.  I thought they were romaine lettuce plants and turns out they are swiss chard and now I’m drowning in swiss chard.  Or, have some peas and some beans, they are very good and here’s how I cook the beans.    It is a truth gardeners are generous in spirit and full of advice.

3. Gardening in Ottawa is an opportunity or observe the interaction of many cultures and to joyfully watch the mingling and richness of the interaction.  

Ottawa, Ontario is a very multicultural city.  This city has the 5th largest immigrant population in Canada.  Our neighbours in the allotment garden are a shining example of Canada’s rich multicultural citizenry.  Here’s an example of interactions yesterday in our little corner of the garden:

  • Lebanon: Lebanese born neighbour (Lebanese-first language, English-second language) brings over some sort of beans.  He doesn’t know their English name but explains how to cook and serve them and hands over a goodly amount to this unilingual anglophone.  He grows Lebanese beans.
  • Burundi: Burundi born neighbour who speaks either Rundi or Swahili along with French and English.  He grows African corn. He is a neighbour to the man originally from Lebanon.    They don’t seem to understand much of what each are saying but they stand around and point at different plants.
  • Francophone: the man who does roto-tilling with his garden tractor speaks French as a first language, English as a second.  The Lebanese neighbour tries to explain some sort of request to the francophone who does not understand.  When he’s not understood the Lebanese man starts to speak louder, as if that would help.

Quite a thing to be part of and to observe.  Makes you happy to be Canadian…even if you aren’t much of a gardener compared to many of those around you.  

If we stay at it long enough perhaps we will be able to make short visits to the garden (because we are on top of everything), we will have bounty to give away to others.  We already are part of the culture, although learning some new languages like Lebanese and Burundi would be a nice touch.

Do you have any garden observations to share?  Or multicultural experiences?

Gardening-Crops Improve, Fashion Deteriorates

Green (sometimes) Thumb-Year Two-Update

Crop Report

The true story of our ‘farming’ efforts this year is much different from last year.  And so it should be, for hopefully we learned something from last year.  We got our dibs in early to have our plot turned over, we built raised beds with the now very easy to manage soil (thanks to a very large input of mushroom compost), we added a drip irrigation system and we know to cover the plants in their early development to help protect them from various enemies.  

We started many plants indoors ourselves this year.  Another experience.  While my little plants all came up, they didn’t seem to grow much after a while.  I think I should have put them in bigger pots before their final journey to the farm.  When you start plants indoors and are preparing them for their journey into the big wide world, it’s advised that you “harden them off”.   This means setting them outside for short stints, lengthening the time until they have been out all day and all night.  My plants looked like 90 lb weaklings on the beach-trying to make their way in a sea of muscle men.  I decided on an additional step in  ‘hardening off’.  That was speaking sternly to those plants, telling them to smarten up and get growing or they’d be compost.  So far, it seems to have worked to a certain degree-a few plants didn’t make the grade but the rest are looking like 120 pound weaklings on the beach.  They are gaining ground.

We still have bugs-potato bugs and cucumber beetles and some cut worms but so far we are keeping the pests at bay.  This year we do have earthworms-lots of earthworms.  Last we didn’t amend the soil but this year we invested and it’s worth it.  Although instead of the carrots for $3/bag you can buy at the grocery store, our carrots will likely cost us $15/bag.  But that is not the point.  We love it and it’s still cheaper than therapy.

We talk gardening talk now.  We say “Of course, the amendments have improved the tilth of the soil. We think the micro herd is very happy as a result.”

We are optimistic about this year.  Aren’t all gardeners, all farmers optimistic every year?  

Fashion in the Garden

When you are engaged in everyday office work you spend time on choosing clothes, matching colours, doing your make up and hair and making your way to your desk job.  When you are engaged in gardening the clothes choose you, the colours are not a consideration, the make up stays in the drawer and your hair is under a sun hat.  I looked at myself in the garden today and thought there was hardly a colour that wasn’t represented.  The photo doesn’t show the bright orange blouse that was part of the layered look.  And the thing is, it is highly likely I will do a bit of shopping on the way home and not think a thing about it.

Do you have a favourite gardening outfit?  Is it colour coordinated?

Doors Open Ottawa 2012-Part II

Ottawa Carleton (OC) Transpo-The  Maintenance Garage-Part II

Who cares?

While I spend little time thinking about or noticing automobiles or knowing statistics about vehicles, (I mix up the various symbols on the back of cars-thinking a Mazda logo is a Mercedes and so on.) bus statistics are pretty interesting.  During our recent visit to the OC Transpo site as part of Doors Open Ottawa , we boarded a modern articulated (bend in the middle) bus  and traveled around and through the “state of the art” maintenance garage and the bus wash.  The bus wash is just like an automated car wash-only much bigger.  The garage looked pretty impressive.  They are proud of it, for sure.

If someone does care:

  • Ottawa has a population of 900,000. 
  • The budget for OC Transpo is approximately $4M annually
  • OC Transpo is now running a number of hybrid buses
  • If all the OC Transpo buses were put end to end, they would stretch for 8 km.
  • An articulated bus (bend in the middle) costs approximately $750,000 to purchase
  • That same bus (as above) weighs 19,000 kg.
  • Each bus puts on approximately 60,000 km/year
  • Gas tank-450 L
  • Fueling up at the garage-when the nozzle is put into the gas tank, the flow rate is somewhere close 450L/min.  You could fill up your car in seconds.  At that rate  I could spend more time memorizing car logos then.
And a final vintage bus picture to end the true story.

Doors Open Ottawa 2012-Part 1

Ottawa hosts “Doors Open Ottawa” every year as part of the Doors Open Ontario event.  We’ve gone to Doors Open Ottawa every time we could since moving here.  It can be very interesting to get a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes or to see places where you normally cannot gain access.

There are over 100 buildings/sites to choose from in Ottawa.  At best you might get to 4-6 per day sites if you started very first thing and stayed with it to closing time and the line ups weren’t too great.  I think that would be a bit much.  We usually make it to 2 or 3 locations at most in one day.

We spent a good length of time at one of the new locations this year:

Ottawa Carleton (OC) Transpo, Vintage Buses and the  Maintenance Garage-Part I

From the brochure:  “OC Transpo opened this maintenance garage, the first of its kind in over 30 years, in September 2010. This is one of the most modern bus garages in North America, measuring 480 ft. by 430 ft. It is the first transit garage in North America that is LEED Silver Rated Certified (Environmental) and equipped with latest technology in wireless controlled hydraulic hoist. On display: OC Transpo’s bus evolution – the oldest in our fleet to the newest articulated bus and the double-decker bus.”

OC Transpo Maintenance Garage

Buses From Days Gone By

Walking around the vintage buses made me want to go back in time and ride them in the day. How were the people dressed?  And what did they do on the bus?  No iPods or cellphones or e-readers.  They were likely reading newspapers and Harlequin romances and smoking cigarettes.  Where were you (if you were anywhere) in 1950 and/or 1958?

Model 337 (1950) and model 5931 (1958)