Category Archives: gardening

On this page:
  • Started gardening – April 2014
  • Gardening plans for 2014
  • Gardening review: 2013
  • Slim pickings from the garden, and that’s all right
  • Sunday
  • Impatient for spring

Started gardening – April 2014

The weather finally warmed up last weekend. W- and I raked the back yard, and I started planting seeds that would likely survive just in case we get another frost. Spinach, peas, lettuce… I don’t know how well the seeds will do, but I want to get things growing again. I can’t grow anything indoors because the cats love nibbling on greens, so I’ll just have to buy my tomato and basil starts from the garden centres. In the meantime, though, I can experiment with seeds.

The soil feels better now than the sandy mix we started with, although there’s always room for improvement. We’ve added lots of compost to it over the years – mostly manure, but there was a year that our compost heap was active enough to steam. Toronto gives away leaf compost every Saturday, so we might check that out too. We’re thinking about ordering compost in bulk this year instead of getting bagged manure from the store. I’ll probably put in the compost around the time that we clear out the peas and get started with tomatoes, so I can get some sprouts going while waiting to sort all of that out.

What am I going to change this year? Here are my notes from October 2013:

Gardening notes

I changed my mind about irrigation. I think I’ll start by hand-watering the plants. It’s not that hard to do, and I’ve marked the rows a little more clearly now so I know what to expect. I probably won’t pay for a landscaping or gardening company. Maybe I can share more notes on our garden and ask folks for tips. I’m looking forward to growing more greens and herbs, and giving bitter melon yet another shot.

I planted the first batch of seeds this weekend, going through many of the leftover seeds from 1-2 years ago. After all, the seeds aren’t going to get any fresher, so I may as well plant them and see what sticks. Some of them germinate in a week, so let’s see if there’ll be any progress.

Yay growing things! (Well, eventually. =) )

Gardening plans for 2014

The weather has really cooled down. W- turned off the water outside so that the pipes and hoses don’t freeze, and we’re letting the plants ride out the rest of the season before putting everything to bed. I have some garlic that I want to plant, although last year’s batch didn’t do too well. Anyway, here are my plans for gardening next year:

Gardening notes

I’m going to focus on the center box. Irrigation will be more expensive than watering by hand, but it will let me be more consistent while I focus on building habits around weeding, planting, and harvesting. If things go well, I can branch out to other boxes. Doesn’t make sense to add more growing areas – even a box on our much sunnier deck – until I can get the basics sorted out.

The box that I’m planning to plant in gets about 3-4 hours of dappled afternoon sun, which isn’t much. Maybe some of the greens will work well. The eternal optimist in me will keep giving bitter melons a try, since W- really likes them and there was that one season where they nearly took over the garden.

I met with Alex of Young Urban Farmers recently. The company offers garden coaching, so we might go for that since the feedback cycle for growing is just sooooo long. Alternatively, anyone in Toronto up for getting together and swapping notes? The Internet is great, but it’s hard to troubleshoot things that you don’t recognize or have the words for, and I have a feeling I don’t even know what I’m missing. =)

Update 2013-11-08: More plans!

2013-11-08 More garden plans for 2014

Gardening review: 2013

gardening

We’ve been readying the garden for winter. The blueberries in the front yard have already changed into their fall colours. I’ve trimmed the lavender back so that it won’t get too scraggly next year. I’ve pulled up all the basil and processed the leaves for pesto. I removed the rest of the tomato flowers to encourage the remaining tomatoes to ripen. I harvested the spring onions and froze them, chopped, on a cookie tray. I pulled up all the carrots (a couple of decent-sized ones and a handful of tiny ones). I’m waiting for the rest of the tomatoes to ripen and for us to finally feel like eating lettuce, and then we’re probably done for the season.

What worked well this year?

  • The spring onion cuttings grew really well. Instead of planting starters, I simply saved the last inch or so of the green onions that we bought for cooking. I grew them in a ramekin of water, and then moved them out into the garden once the roots were established. Free spring onions for the rest of the season!
  • The cherry tomatoes were great to snack on. Whenever I passed the garden cage to or from the shed, I raided the plants for a couple of ripe tomatoes if some happened to be within reach. (Or sometimes, even if they were harder to get to.) Sweet and juicy!
  • The carrots were an interesting experiment. Most of the carrots were really small because I planted them late (and in a box that we weren’t really tending because it ended up taking the overflow of the limestone screenings), but they leafed up nicely and some of them actually grew to a decent size. Next time, I’ll overrule W- and save the carrot tops for stock or other things instead of composting them. =)

Things that didn’t work so well:

  • It turns out that I’m not particularly keen on eating lettuce.
  • Many of the plants in the more shaded area didn’t get around to setting fruit.
  • I didn’t water the plants as regularly as I probably should have. Next time, I should stop wondering about the weather forecast and regularly schedule some time to give the plants a good soak.
  • The dwarf peas grew only halfway up the strings. Maybe a regular variety next time, and sugar snap peas for extra crunchiness…
  • We realized we weren’t using the lean-to greenhouse, so we gave it away.

Next year:

  • I want to grow tomatoes and basil again, although I might need to move these around to avoid pests or blight.
  • I’d like to have planter boxes up next year. We skipped them this year because W- was working on the deck, so I didn’t end up using the bag of potting soil that we bought. The basil grew really well in the planter boxes last year.
  • I’m going to keep giving bitter melon / kerala a try, maybe with more sun. Ever the optimist!
  • I’ll grow carrots along the borders. They look pretty.
  • I want to cook with more herbs.

We gave the strawberries a rest this year, although a couple of them decided to “volunteer” in the back garden. I saw a little sage plant growing too. I transplanted it to the opposite side of the garden so that we’ll have sage growing there too, although I don’t know how established it will get before winter.

The house gets very little light and we have cats who like munching on plants, so I don’t think I’ll be able to start plants from seed before the last frost. I could set up the spare room with lights, but it’s carpeted, so that can be messy. Although it’s more expensive to buy starter plants and the selection is smaller, the tomatoes and basil that we bought did really well, and I don’t mind doing that again next year.

I’m getting better at recognizing weeds versus regular plants. Yay!

Slim pickings from the garden, and that’s all right

Timothy Kenny and I were chatting about blueberries. He wanted to plant enough blueberry plants to be able to make blueberry pie. As it turns out, blueberries ripen gradually and not all at once, so… no.

I told him that you can get a lot of enjoyment out of one blueberry at a time.

My blueberry story started when W- and I were joking about planting blueberries and attracting random bears. (We live in Toronto. Probably the only time I’ll see a bear is if I go to a zoo.) When I saw the blueberry plants on sale at the end of the season a few years ago, I scooped them up. We planted six in the front yard – small bushes, not even very bushy.

This is a picture of our first blueberry “harvest” from 2011:

We haven’t gotten more than a handful of blueberries this year, but that isn’t the point. When we notice two or three have ripened, we eat them: tiny explosions of flavour, and then they’re gone.

It’s not the same as digging into a fruit salad or baking a pie, but it’s a different sort of enjoyment. It keeps me in tune with the passage of time. I see the bushes awaken from dormancy, bud leaves, flower, fruit. And the fruits are a nice bonus, a reminder that the supermarket doesn’t give us everything.

We also have cherry tomatoes in the backyard. We don’t buy cherry tomatoes at the supermarket. They’ve always felt like a bit of a luxury, and I tend to buy whatever has the lowest unit price. The cherry tomatoes that grow in our yard hide the cost of compost and water and soil, so I get to enjoy them guilt-free – again, one or two at a time, always a treasure hunt.

Our garden isn’t nearly as productive as Mrs. Wong’s front yard down the street She has a veritable farm in front of the apartment building. It’s in full sun and full growth. Last year, she grew these huge squashes that hung pendulously from the vines. She works hard on it, though. She waters seedlings by hand, frames the plants with twigs from High Park, breaks up pumpkin shells after Halloween, and adds what we will politely refer to as night water. Our garden is shaded by pine trees, so our plants tend to get a little straggly. I’m not as conscientious as Mrs. Wong, although I do try to water when it doesn’t rain.

Other gardening notes: Having realized that I really enjoy the part where seedlings are breaking out of the ground (even if they don’t end up growing to their full potential), I’ve started the second batch of snow peas, another round of lettuce, and a round of beets. (At least I think they’re beets. I forget.) The bitter melon is gamely trying to grow, although it’s nowhere near fruiting. The zucchini isn’t as prolific as gardening blogs let me think – we haven’t gotten any yet. We’re letting the strawberries rest this year. Next year we’ll plant more.

Maybe someday I’ll learn how to supplement more of our food budget with home-grown vegetables. People figured out victory gardens, and maybe I can too. In the meantime, even these slim pickings are scrumptious meditations.

Sunday

This weekend was very much a home sort of weekend. I planted pansies in the front flowerbox. Planted peas and beans in the back, too. I want to see how much I can learn about gardening during my semi-retirement. I love the way plants grow. For example, the spring onions I transplanted to a pot keep inching upwards, and there are rows of seedlings peeking out of the mounded rows in the back cage. Yay! Maybe this week I’ll buy a 6-cell pack of cherry tomato seedlings and get those started too.

Prepared and froze Japanese croquettes, getting through most of the bag of russet potatoes that we bought. Future yumminess! Also prepared yakiudon, which W- helped me cook. We’re getting better at improvising dishes based on whatever looks good at the supermarket. It takes us a while to shop for groceries, but it’s social time.

Life stretches before me. I think it would be wonderful to get really really good at gardening and cooking and all of these other things that make life better.

Impatient for spring

2013-04-18 17.46.43

If you leave a little bit left when chopping green onions, you can grow new ones. The ones on the right are remnants from last week’s cooking session. Look at how quickly they’ve grown! It’s fascinating to see the difference day by day.

We don’t grow many plants indoors because the cats like chewing on things. I wish I could grow herbs like parsley and rosemary throughout winter, or start seeds for tomatoes and basil, but we don’t have the sun or space for it. We have a spare room upstairs, but it’s dark and carpeted, so working with soil is less fun. Oh well! When the weather warms up enough, I’ll jumpstart the garden with seedlings and set up the greenhouse for more seeds.

I bike through High Park and along the lakeside trail on my way downtown. There are many trees along the trail, and they’re starting to fuzz up with brown leaf buds. I’m sure we’ll see more green soon!

What will we plant this year? The garlic we planted last fall has survived the confusing weather. It now pokes out through the chicken-wire that we stapled over the box to thwart squirrels. We’ve been cooking with a lot of cilantro, parsley, bok choy, and green onions, so I’d like to grow those. Snow peas and sugar snap peas, mmm – I hope it’s not too late. Lettuce might be nice, too. And I’d love to give bitter melon another try, and maybe zucchini.

I want to spend more time gardening this year, so let’s see how that works out!