Category Archives: gardening

Gardening with herbs and exercising the senses

W- and I spent Sunday afternoon gardening. We dug up the boxes, amended the raised beds with nine bags of sheep manure, and filled the deck planter boxes with soil. We had bought twenty bunches of seedlings the day before at this corner store that had a large variety of plants and sold them cheaper than Home Depot or Rona did. Somehow we managed to squeeze all of them in.

I love gardening with herbs. Pulling up weeds among the lavender sprigs, separating the basil seedlings, planting cilantro in the boxes – all those scents wafting through the air, sticking to my fingers. The memories of tastes: basil in pesto and salad and sauce, oregano spicing things up, rosemary sprinkled on potatoes or sausage. And then the softness of a fine tilth, still a touch sandy but better than it was when we started. Our garden doesn’t have a lot of colour, but maybe we’ll plant more flowers next year. Other people’s gardens and the Toronto parks are filled with vibrant colours. This week, the tulips are putting on a show.

Computer work is abstract, but I’ve been building other senses into my life. Drawing teaches me to look more closely, and painting (digital – less clean-up!) gives me a new appreciation for colour combinations. Touch comes from kneading dough and working the soil and cuddling the cats. My husband and I both enjoy cooking, so that takes care of taste and smell. Sound is the one sense I tend to forget. I tend to find music distracting and earphones have a high failure rate in our household (aforementioned cats), so I usually work in silence. Maybe I’ll play around with that.

Garden update

Hooray for perennials! Even when my newly-planted seeds are growing unencouragingly slowly, at least I can look at the perennials and enjoy their returns. The strawberries are green and leafy. The sage, oregano, and thyme are ready to use in cooking. The blueberry bushes in the front have grown their leaves back, too, and the lavender plants are getting bushier.

Of the seeds I planted, the peas are doing the best. They’re almost at the point of reaching the twine that I’ve rigged up for support. I’d say that the lettuce and carrot seedlings were inching along, but they haven’t reached an inch of height yet. They’re centimetring along, that’s what.

Next year, I think I’ll plant more tulips and daffodils. They look pretty in other people’s gardens, and I like the cheerful colours. With the community-supported agriculture program, I don’t have to try to grow as many vegetables, so I’m fine with turning over some of the garden space to decorative plants.

Ice cream season and the first seeds in the garden

20120321-seed-leavesIt’s unseasonably warm by all accounts. The historic average for the next fourteen days is a high of 7C and a low of –2C, according to The Weather Network. Instead, we’re seeing highs of up to 25C and lows of 4C. Not that I’m complaining – I like the sunshine and the warmth.

I’ve shifted from baking season to ice cream season. This amuses Canadians, as it’s always ice cream season for many of them. Yes, even in the dead of winter, while I’m wrapped up in a fuzzy bathrobe and bright pink polyester socks, my darling husband and his daughter munch away on frozen treats. Brr.

But now that the sun is shining and the days are warm, I’m up for ice cream as well. My first one this year was a coconut raspberry ice cream from an ice cream parlour on Dundas Street West. For 75c, you can get this tiny cone with a small scoop of ice cream, which is enough to enjoy the taste of it without being overloaded with sugar.

I’ve also started gardening again. Because we’ve set our community-supported agriculture box to bi-weekly instead of weekly, I don’t feel inundated with vegetables, and I can actually contemplate planting more. I planted lettuce, peas, and a few other early-season crops two weeks ago, and they’ve just started germinating. Instead of rigging up the drip irrigation system, I’m watering the garden by hand, carefully dispensing water into the sandy soil. It takes more time, but it’s relaxing work, and it means I pay closer attention to each spot. Mrs. Wong tends a huge and highly productive front-yard garden down the street and she waters by hand. Maybe it will work for me too.

Things I’m looking forward to growing:

Bitter melon (ampalaya): W- loves this, and it rarely shows up in our neighbourhood markets. We managed to grow it the other year, and the two plants that survived gave us plenty of bitter melons for pinakbet and other dishes. Last year, our vegetable plants didn’t really get established. With this year promising to be warm and sunny, maybe we’ll have better luck.

  • Blueberries: We had an enjoyable blueberry harvest last year – a few handfuls, but much appreciated. Looking forward to seeing what they’re like this year! I might try covering some of them with a net and leaving the others unprotected.
  • Strawberries: Yum yum.
  • Basil: We love pesto. Fresh basil makes tomato sauce even more wonderful, too. In addition to Genovese basil, I’m looking forward to trying lime basil. I liked the lemon basil and Thai basil that I grew the other year, too.
  • Peas: The sugar-snap peas are always a big hit. J- sometimes goes out to graze on them.
  • Carrots: We’ll give them another try this year. We grew them three years ago and they didn’t turn out as well as we’d hoped.
  • Nasturtiums: This climbing vine might be nice near the porch and near the back fence. Edible flowers can be a peppery garnish for summer salads.
  • Lettuce and spinach: I’m going to keep giving these greens a try.
  • Edamame: We just don’t feel like boiling water sometimes, but edamame is worth it.
  • Cat grass: I usually grow a small patch of oats at the beginning of the patio-stone path. This makes an excellent cat trap. Leia(cat) likes running out and exploring the garden, but she’s usually distracted by the cat grass patch. This makes it easy for me to put down whatever it is I’m holding, get out, and scoop her up.
  • Catnip: I scattered some catnip seeds in one of the front garden boxes. If they grow, great. The catnip will be in the box with the colourful annuals, so I don’t have to worry about it taking over the rest of the garden.

How does your garden grow?

Taking up hobbies again: photography and gardening

The stereotype of an entrepreneur is someone who obsesses about business at all hours of the day. It’s good for me to be able to relax and enjoy hobbies, though. It preserves that feeling of an abundance of time, which makes it easier and less stressful to make good decisions and to keep my values in mind. Hobbies also give me a way to refresh myself.

This is a picture I took at sunset in High Park. I like the muted colours and the blurriness of the sun just visible through the trees in the distance.

Many houses are slated for demolition along Bloor Street, to be replaced by a tall condominium building that spans the entire block. I took the picture on the left because the hole in the window looked like a cat sitting on the sill and looking out, as cats often do. On the right, you can see a tree fort behind the construction fence.

Ah, cats. =)

Not much in the garden to take pictures of yet, but maybe the seeds I planted will germinate soon. This year, we’re looking forward to growing more bitter melons (ampalaya), basil, snow peas, lettuce, spinach, blueberries, and nasturtiums. (Edible gardens for the win!)

It’s a quiet weekend, my favourite kind.

Batch cooking, community-supported agriculture, and gardening

W- and I are big fans of batch cooking. Making large batches of food and freezing individual portions means that our weeks go smoothly. There are no last-minute scrambles to cook dinner. We hardly ever buy lunch at work. Sometimes it’s like winning a very small lottery – will this lunch container be the one with the extra stuffing in it? Mmm. It takes just a little more time to make a double or triple recipe, and it usually comes to about as much cleaning up.

The community-supported agriculture program adds a bit of a wrinkle. Getting fresh vegetables every week means we cook at least once a week instead of every other week or so. The variety of produce means we try new recipes as a way to use up the produce: potatoes, zucchini, and eggplants might go into curry, green beans get turned into pakbet or sauteed vegetables. Even though it means we don’t get the full convenience of once-a-month-cooking (or however infrequently we can manage), the CSA program has been fantastic – more vegetables than we’d normally eat, and all local and organic too.

Cool weather and a slow start meant our garden wasn’t as productive as it was last year. The tomatoes have barely even started, and the bitter melons aren’t going to produce anything at all. We did get a few wonderfully sweet handfuls of blueberries and strawberries, so that’s something. Still, with tides of vegetables coming in every Thursday, I haven’t felt much like cultivating lettuce or even harvesting our basil.

The CSA we’re with (Plan B Organic Farms) offers a fall share from Oct 18 to Dec 31. It looks like a great haul, so I think we’ll sign up for that.

When gardening season starts up again, I’ll sketch a new plan for the garden to take into account the kinds of things we get from the CSA. No onions, garlic, lettuce or zucchini, but yes to herbs and bitter melon, maybe okra. Yes to peas, which were ever so yummy.

Maybe I’ll try farmers’ markets too. I do like the convenience (and the commitment device!) of having all the vegetables picked out, even if it forces me to get creative with all the zucchini.

It might be good to try out other CSA programs, too. Cooper’s CSA comes out a little cheaper and gets delivered to the house. That’s going to be much appreciated in winter.

Do you use a community-supported agriculture program? What do you think about it?

The first blueberries from our garden

The blueberries are so shockingly flavourful that I wonder what the local supermarket has been selling us all this time.

Another garden milestone: We’re growing and enjoying our own blueberries. The nets were a great idea. I can see why the birds and squirrels didn’t leave us any berries last year. Now I want to edge the backyard in blueberry bushes.

Blueberry blueberry blueberry.

The cherry tomato plants are hitting their growth spurt. I’ve got two that I bought, four that I started, and three that just volunteered in the garden. No flowers yet, but we’ll get there eventually.

Blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, basil, peas. I wonder what other garden joys I’ll discover.