The Party’s Over

Gardening is coming to an end for the 2012 season.  It is time to put the “farm” to sleep.

Where’s Waldo?

 We continue to marvel at how things grew this year.  How most things grew might be more accurate.  Here’s a few lessons learned as the season draws to a close:

Little seedlings that look like 90 pound weaklings can grow into behemoths.  Have faith.  And a watering system.  And add lots of mushroom compost. 

Yes, I was once a little bitty seedling

Do some research about what plants might look like if you have never grown them before.  In our case, it was parsnips.  We have been lamenting that our parsnips never germinate.  We plant, they never grow up.  We buy news seeds.  Nothing.  Late this year we discovered we had been mistaking any little parsnips for weeds and had been regularly plucking them out of the ground.  Darn things don’t look like carrot tops when they emerge.

Pay close attention to invasions of insects and other pests.  And then try to figure out what to do about it before it’s too late.  

Cleaning up the garden can be bittersweet.  Good bye to the growing season, sigh.  No sooner does that thought enter your mind than you start thinking about crop rotation and what you’ll plant next year.  

One of the greatest joys of gardening is sharing the results with others.  This year we actually had some produce to share and we did so with great joy.  Do you have any gardening or horticulture highlights from 2013?

Yes, we grew this.

Gardening Update-The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Here we are, nearing the end of August and there is more gardening behind us than there is ahead of us.  I think people’s enthusiasm wanes a bit at this time of year.  It seems there are fewer people out “on the land” (at the community gardens in our case) than there were in June and July.  For us, year two of at the community garden, it s been a much better year than our first foray into urban agriculture last year.  Now, we have invested quite a bit more but it’s paid off,  for the most part.

With a garden, it’s always something:

It’s been a very hot and dry year in our neck of the woods and a tough time for plants, crops and trees.  It’s apparently been forty years since we’ve had such drought in these parts.  The weather impacts the other cycles of life at the garden too so it’s hard to know if a problem is due to the seed used, one’s gardening practices or the year that was.  

And just like the old Clint Eastwood movie, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly:

The Good

Bounty of many types-swiss chard, beans, patty pan squash, beets, tomatoes, carrots, beans, cabbage and so on.  The joy of starting seedlings and then watching them grow and then harvesting is tempered somewhat when you bring it home and have to figure out what to do with it.  At least this year we’ve been able to share more with others this year where last year that was laughable.

The Bad

You can visit the garden one day and things look great and two days later there are aphids or beetles or the leaves have turned brown and rolled up.  Note to self for next year, if it looks good and is ready, don’t leave it and think you’ll come back in a few days and harvest it for it may not be so beautiful on your next trip.  We are learning we need to be more on the watch for brussels sprout beetles, potato bugs and potato leaf rollers and squash beetles and slugs and four-legged animals that eat cabbages and beets and carrots.  Our poor brussels sprouts will never be allowed to make those little darlings because of the beetles and we didn’t realize what was after them until it was too late.  

The Ugly (and The Good at the same time) 

Yesterday our neighbour at the garden told me there was a “man in your garden with a large black bag”.  He was apparently helping himself to our produce.  Our neighbour, who is likely in his eighth decade and whose mobility is limited, walked over and told the man to “get out”.  The brazen fellow told our neighbour, he was our friend.  Our neighbour retorted, “I don’t care if you are her brother.  If she isn’t here, you get out!” and the poacher did just that.  Brazen,  ugly poacher.  Good neighbour.  

Gardening is not for those who are easily discouraged.  It’s not for those who are unprepared to be humbled by making mistakes.  When you think of it, between the weather in any given year, the winged attackers, the multiple legged bugs, the beetles, the slugs, the four-legged animals and now, our own species, it’s amazing we bring anything home.  No matter, I’m already thinking what we might do differently next year.  

What’s an organic treatment for human interlopers in one’s garden?  Any (lawful) recommendations?  How about advice on keeping down the beetles, bugs, aphids and so on.

Morning Glory-ous

Green (sometimes) Thumb -Year Two

It’s been hot and dry in our neck of the woods this year.  We have been declared in a  Level 2 drought.    This isn’t good for all sorts of reasons but there are some benefits-fewer mosquitoes, not much for lightning and thunder (not enough humidity to muster up a decent boomer), reduced e.coli counts for beach swimming-thought I’d throw that one in.  

Crop Report

Dry as it’s been, our garden, or maybe it’s the gardeners, is showing much improvement over  last year (so far).  Yes we’ve invested in all manner of things and we know more than we did last year.  We declare (to ourselves) that we have moved from the bottom rung of community gardeners to possibly mid-range.  One early morning last week I spent a glorious few hours-no mosquitoes-pulling weeds, talking to the plants, chastising whatever varmint is chewing on the yellow beets and thoroughly enjoying just being.  It was a morning glory-ous.

Healthy beets

Evidence about dirt and happiness

There is some evidence that digging in the dirt..and breathing it in-maybe ingesting some is good for your health.  Growing up my Mom would bring us lunch out to the field.  We’d eat sandwiches with our very dirty hands (from hours of operating a tractor with no cab-there might be some grease in there too).  You could literally see the dirt from your hands transfer to the homemade bread and then into your mouth.  Mom used to say “everybody’s got to eat a pound of dirt a year”.   We secretly thought we ate 2 pounds a year to make up for the city kids who likely didn’t eat any.  

Good News and Not So Good News

Pumpkins

Good news-two rather robust looking pumpkins.  Bad news-some nefarious insect or blight is trying to suck the life out of the plant. Any idea what that might be or what we can do about it?

Good news-potato plants very big.  Bad news-potato bugs plus some sort of insect or blight is turning leaves brown and causing them to curl up-any idea what that might be? Or what we can do about it?

Bounty

We are enjoying a much improved bounty this year, so far.  Lettuce, radishes, swiss chard, new beets, patty pan squash and just today-baby potatoes!

Homemade borscht (beets from the garden)
New potatoes and patty pan squash. Beets unavailable-busy in the soup.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We held a breakfast come and go at the “farm” yesterday and we were proud to show people our gardening efforts.  Those who attended were likely hoping that once they showed up maybe we’d quit talking about the garden and they’d get some peace and quiet (or maybe a butternut squash come harvest time).  It was a pleasure to have people drop by.  

Summer garden party-our youngest guest was four months old


 

 

 

 

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?

Green Thumb 2012-Year 2

Caroline, my dear friend and gardening partner, and I are embarking on our second year of “farming”.  The plot is the same 20 ft by 50 ft garden we rented from the city last gardening season. 

During our first year, 2011, we decided not to invest too heavily in inputs (ah, the farming language is wonderful) in case we decided not to garden beyond year one.  After last year, a year of mixed success, we decided to invest in more inputs or soil amendments as Caroline calls them.  Late last fall that took the shape of 10 cubic yards of mushroom compost delivered by a dual axle dump truck that beeped when it backed up and then spewed out a great mass of steaming smelly compost onto our plot.  I was speaking with Bonnie (from Bonnie’s Lavender Farm) about gardening this coming season.  When I told her we’d purchased mushroom compost, she said “that’s just horse shit”.  I thought at first she was dissing our investment but then realized she was calling a spade a spade or in this case, calling mushroom compost horse….well you get it.

No matter what we call the inputs, we are hoping it will turn our 2012 farming season into a smashing success.  We feel very good about trying to grow our own food.  We are hoping this year our bounty will increase and that the compost will make a world of difference.  

Some things that would make us very happy this year:

  • to have more than one resident, migrant earthworm in the whole plot
  • to produce carrots that don’t look as if they were grown in a nuclear waste site
  • to have fewer than 4, 427 potato bugs to squash throughout the season
  • to really sit down, once in a while, in the lawn chairs we take out and store in the little shed

 We do get teased about how you can buy 20 lb bags of carrots in the fall for $3.50 a bag.  No matter, those are not our carrots, that were started by our hands and our attention to water and our monitoring and our great discussions about thinning the plants and on and on.    In a way we may be living the old joke about the farmer who won a million dollars and was asked about his plans. “Oh, I dunno”, he said, “probably keep farming till it’s all gone”. 

Do you have some gardening experience to send our way?  All guidance and advice is most welcome.


Green (sometimes) Thumb-Chapter Nine-Fall is Approaching

It’s always easier to look back than it is to look ahead.  I just had a quick peek at the bits I wrote about our garden earlier this year.  There were 3-4 blogs about gardening before we put a seed in the ground and now, here we are, technically it’s still summer but everybody knows what comes next.  Fall.  Although the season isn’t over and we have yet to sit down and conduct an objective “lessons learned” review of our community garden plot-here’s some initial observations (objective or not).

Gardening by the numbers:

  • 102-number of days between the day we started planning and today.  That’s days for germination to harvest to date (some plants were supposed to have been started weeks before we got seeds into the ground….sounds like I am rationalizing-and I am)
  • 2448-number of hours in the 102 days for rain, sun, wind, humidity and other forces of nature to embrace our bit of dirt
  • 1000-square feet in our plot
  • 2-number of friends who have dug, planted, bent over, cut, pruned, weeded, tenderly handled, hoed, covered, perspired, commiserated and enjoyed the past 102 days
  • 1,298-at a minimum-the number of potato beetles we sent to their just reward

Gardening by the adjectives

  • Beautiful-the few flowers that graced our land.  There were Shasta daisies earlier in the year and now sunflowers.  Those sunflowers ended up being robust plants-to the point that they provided too much shade in some areas. We know that now for next year and we will adjust.

  • Marginal (economists love the term)-the overall yield we harvested this year compared to our hopes.  If I remember correctly we had dreams of bountiful crops-lots for us, lots for friends.  Don’t get me wrong it’s not that we haven’t enjoyed produce along the way.  A recent article in the Globe and Mail “Cashing in on an Urban Garden” mirrors our experience to some degree-except her yield was bountiful.
  • Adequate-our yield-enough for several meals but not a winter’s keep-recently we dug up carrots, onions, potatoes and took home more swiss chard.  But fair to say compared to some neighbours our harvest was meagre.  There are more vegetables yet to be harvested -this gives you an idea of our “take”.

Gardening accident-what are the chances

  • After digging up the vegetables you see above I took the fork and shoved it into the ground and took off my gardening gloves.  There-we got that done!  I need a statistics expert to help me to put the accident in context.  Now there are 144,000 square inches in our 1,000 square foot plot.  There are 4 tines on the garden fork-each no longer than 1 inch wide.  Our garden hose is 3/4 of an inch wide.  What are the chances then, that when I plunged the fork into the straw and the ground that one tine would go straight through our garden hose!! Excellent…that’s what the chances were-excellent.  We are starting our list of purchases for next year-a garden hose is on the list.

Gardening  wisdom (learned this year so far)

  • Gardening takes time….lots of time.  Don’t take on a 1,000 square foot garden unless you will be able to dedicate time to keep on top of things.   
  • Next year holds great promise.  Next year we’ll start sooner.  Next year we’ll do this differently, next year we’ll do that instead of this.  Next year the weather will be different. Next year.
  • It is about the experience.  Time with a friend, time to chat (while hunched over a row picking weeds and bugs).  Meeting gardening neighbours and learning from their experience and their wisdom.  It’s the smell of the dirt, the joy of watching things grow and the discussion about why they aren’t (usually we pin the lack of success on the soil and the weather this year-not on the two of us who are tending the soil).  
  • And from our neighbour Kahlil who has tended the same plot for 30 years.  He is there day after day convening with nature and visiting with neighbours.  From him came perhaps the wisest of statements.  “Every year I put in $1,000 and I take out $500!”  

For those of you who have gardened, who garden now or know things about gardening, we welcome all advice and commiseration.  Are there great references or on-line forums we should be checking out?  We are all ears and we didn’t even try to grow corn.


Green Thumb-Chapter Eight-Gardening is a Team Sport

Lone Responsibility Albeit Temporarily

My gardening friend went away for three weeks.  I was on my own in the garden and found my relationship with the patch of dirt changed.  It was similar to the way a home feels different when those who usually live there with you are absent.  It’s just not the same.  I know now that for me gardening is a team sport.

I made my treks out to the garden.  There was weeding, watering and some produce to harvested.  I didn’t feel drawn there in the same way as when my partner in gardening was there.  But then I thought about the responsibility and how things would look if I didn’t put in some time in care and tending.  The weeds have never given up, never abated at any time in the season.  The place would look terrible upon her return and that would never do after the sweat equity we’ve put into the patch of clay.

August Trials and Tribulations

Our friends are very kind.  They ask ‘how is the garden’.  They seem truly interested when they ask.  Often, though, after a description of the ups and downs and the time spent, they talk about the ease and relatively low-cost of shopping at the local outdoor markets.  Yes, yes I think they have a point.  But we’ve had such a good time-watching the garden grow, replanting/coaxing those things that didn’t grow, and relishing the consumption of vegetables from our own garden.  Not exactly a bounty but we have served our vegetables at a few family dinners.

  • The Disappearing Squash Family: we have grown a number of members of the squash plant family such as pumpkin, butternut squash, zucchini and patty-pan squash.  Some of the plants grew well initially, some were outright attacked by some insects that kept eating at them and hindering their development.  Through covering them up and pampering them we got them going and things looked good-until about three weeks ago. (about the time my friend left).   The leaves started turning milky/white and then they would die off…wither away.  We think it is white powdery mildew.  Help!!  The squash family is disappearing before our eyes.  We have one pumpkin-it seems to have no mother plant any longer.  We have had three zucchini-three!  Aren’t those the things that people grow in great abundance?  The patty pan squash was our pride and joy-then half of one plant fell over-maybe it was too heavy and along came powdery mildew and the plant began to dissolve before my eyes.
  • Potato Bug Life Cycle: I figure that the multitude of potato bugs in our garden missed the lecture on life cycle.  That would be the lecture that tells them that after week upon week of trying to eat all the leaves off the plants and having hundreds of their kin squashed by the resident gardeners they should just give up and move to the next portion of their life cycle.  That would be the portion where they lie dormant in the soil for 100 years.
  • The Promise of Yield:  It occurred to me during one of my weeding sessions that perhaps after all the bug murder Mother Nature might have a trick up her sleeve.  What if, after all the care of the potato plants, there were no potatoes!  It’s possible.  Our soil is mostly clay, it is hard to hill, weeds are very difficult to pull…and maybe the bug assault has been just too much for them.  I started scratching around to find potatoes…thought I found one or two and they turned out to be a smooth clump of dirt down inside more dirt.  Don’t tell me!  I quit looking for a while.
  • Last week I thought, that’s it.  Before I spend more weeks of bug squashing, watering and weeding, possibly to no avail, I got out the garden fork.  And there they were-there is something about digging vegetables out of the garden, smelling the fresh dirt and paying some attention to just what it takes to produce food.  While digging around I turned up our one resident earth worm again.  

More Fun Than Vegetables

A dear friend who reads this blog said it looks like our garden is more fun than vegetables.  What do you think?  My spouse and I were in a grocery store yesterday and there was a special on vegetables grown locally.  For five dollars, you can purchase four 5 lb. bags of an assortment of vegetables-20lbs in total.  The assortment included carrots, beets, onion and turnips.  

And yet, I am quite sure we will do this again next year.  We have plans to improve the soil and try different crops and use raised beds and maybe we’ll get to sit a bit more and weed a bit less.  We have yet to see the end of this season.

I am very happy to have my partner in gardening back in town. Game on!