Category Archives: gardening

Back in the garden, the perennials are coming back

While raking the pine needles and fallen leaves to prepare the garden, I found new sprigs of oregano and parsley growing by the path. The straggly bit of thyme I’d given up for lost had a few green leaves it didn’t have before. The sage that withered in winter is starting to perk up, too.

Watching the perennials reestablish themselves in our garden will help me pass the time it takes for the annuals to sprout.

Isn’t that like life? Sometimes things take a long time. You can’t rush them. You have to fight the urge to tweak things, because you might make things worse. Give yourself something else to focus on. Find some quick wins to encourage you. What you’re waiting for might be ready before you notice.

2011-04-03 Sun 16:23

Compost magic and happiness

The compost heap steamed in the afternoon sun. “I’d never seen it do that before,” said W-. Neither had I. The compost heap was merrily breaking down organic matter. We knew the theory, but it was incredibly satisfying to see it in practice.

I’d turned the compost last week, layering carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich material and liberally sprinkling the compost accelerator W- had wanted to try out. The compost had been unremarkable last week, but now there were earthworms squirming through it – good-sized ones too, not just the baby earthworms I’d seen the other day. The compost pile smelled earthy but clean, even citrus-y, thanks to the grapefruit peels from our kitchen. It was a good pile, and it would be a great amendment to the sandy soil of our back yard.

I probably don’t need to turn the compost heaps weekly, but I enjoy doing it when the weather is mild. It’s exercise, it gets me out in the garden, and it’s part of the cycle of life. It’s good to see our kitchen scraps return to the soil, and to know that the compost will support this season’s plants. But there’s more to it than that – there’s more value to it than simply the physical or horticultural benefits.

It feels like such an improbable joy. It’s this awareness, I think, that makes it easy to be happy. Everyday activities become special because of the stories along the way. This compost heap has memories from kitchen, garden, and love, and it will take all of that and make something new.

Starting up our garden

One of my gardening role models is the woman down the street who grows all sorts of vegetables in the front yard of an apartment building. I walk past her garden on the way to the library and the supermarket, and I’ve often admired how productive it is: rows of bok choi between the walkways, beans and peas trellised with twigs, even the occasional squash peeking out through the foliage. I regularly see her tending the garden, watering it by hand with a dipper and a bucket, transplanting seedlings and pulling up weeds. She knows I like her garden, and even waves hi to me when we encounter each other on the street.

The woman down the street has started her outdoor garden, turning the soil over, forming it into neat raised beds, adding planks for walkways to avoid crushing the aerated soil. She has more than 100′ square feet to play with, almost all in full sun. Our backyard garden is shadier because of all the trees, but we’ve got about 70′ square feet, plus the pathway sides that I used for cat grass and parsley last year.

I’ve started our garden, too. Yesterday, I turned the compost over, consolidating the winter’s collection of leaves, kitchen scraps, and soil from three half-full bins to one and a half bins, appropriately layered (brown, green, brown, green) and liberally sprinkled with compost accelerator.

We’re giving compost accelerator another try this year. W- brought it up because he was impressed by how quickly last year’s organic material turned into rich, dark, compost. Then again, that was also the year I started turning the material regularly, so I’d like to take some of the credit. (It’s good exercise!) We found it at Home Depot for $8–much better than the ~$20 we’d paid at Plant World as part of last year’s experiment. It’s worth a try. If we get enough organic material, I might do one bin with compost accelerator and one without.

I also started a 5′ double-row of peas yesterday, and about 1.5 square feet each of bok choi and rocket lettuce. The seeds I started indoors still haven’t sprouted, although the cat grass from three weeks ago is now ready for consumption. It’ll be okay. Worst-case scenario is that we buy basil and tomato plants from the store. I do hope our bitter melon plants come up, though, as we can’t find those grown in nurseries here.

“Do you remember the sugar peas? It was a lot of fun eating them off the vine,” said J-.

“And the tomatoes!” W- added.

“My friends are so excited.” said J- as she helped tidy up the garden yesterday.

“Excited about our tomatoes?” W- asked.

“I guess we’d better plan a summer tomato party, then.” I said. (Although that might be like counting your tomatoes before they’ve set.)

That’s a great sign that gardening is paying off. One doesn’t get quite as excited about the plump sugar peas one can get from the supermarket, or the cherry tomatoes in plastic packaging that we pass by because of their premium pricing. But the thrill of checking for fresh strawberries, peas, tomatoes; the convenience of dashing out for some dill or some cilantro; the abundance of pesto picked from dozens of plants; the satisfaction of tasting the fruits (and vegetables and herbs) of your work–you can’t buy these things from the supermarket. And this summer we’ll get to enjoy it from the comforts of the Muskoka chairs we finished last fall!

I’m so lucky. To be 27 and live in circumstances like this – a good-size backyard, walking distance to the supermarket, the library, and the subway station, biking distance to the Home Depot whose garden centre I will undoubtedly frequent (last year some of the staff said “Welcome back!”)… Life is good.

2011-04-03 Sun 08:54


It was so warm on the walk back from the library that I shucked my coat. When I got home, I took my bicycle down from the wall hook. The warmth and sun made me think about biking, and gardening, and other wonderful springtime pursuits. I’ve started a set of bitter melon, basil, tomatoes, and peppers. We’ll see how they work out.

imageWhen I was planting peas in the garden, I realized that last year’s parsley had self-seeded and the new sprouts were starting to come up. The Internet says that parsley germination can be a slow and difficult process, taking four to six weeks to grow from seed, so I’m happy that the parsley decided to get a head start. I took a picture, but it didn’t feel just like that, so I drew what it felt like: life reaching towards the sun.

First game of lacrosse catch, first bicycle ride, first gardening session… Life is good.

All the seasons take some getting used to. Winter is the big attention-getter, of course, but even spring, summer, and fall have surprises for immigrants like me. Planning around growing seasons and frost dates? Dealing with super-long days? Raking leaves and staving off the anxieties of a looming winter? But it is what it is, and I’m where I am, so I’ll make the most of what I’ve got.

What do I want to do and learn this spring?

  • Help celebrate my sister’s wedding. (Whee!)
  • Grow more of our favourite herbs and vegetables.
  • Pick up lots of skills at work.
  • Practise drawing, writing, teaching, etc.
  • Organize more get-togethers
  • Bike farther
  • Have more fun! =)

As I head into summer, I want to be even more comfortable on my bike, I want to have friends over more often, I want to have an even more productive garden, and I want to fill notebooks with drawings and photographs. Hmm…

It turns out that it’s pretty easy to knock the power cord out of my laptop by, say, tripping on it or accidentally pulling it when drawing. I had to draw that three times! <laugh>

Thinking of autumn

A former teacher of mine asked me, “If you were a season, what would you be, and why?” I thought about it because I wanted to dig beyond the trite answers that tempted me: summer for sun, spring for new beginnings.

If I were to pick a season, it would be autumn – and not because of the breeze or the brilliant colours. (Isn’t it funny that the colours are always there in the leaves, but the green must die to let the other colours show?)

I’d choose it for harvest, celebration, preparation, and the ever-present awareness of winter.

If life is a year of seasons, it might be strange that I often think of winter, and of other years I’ll never see. That’s why it’s good to do the work now: to save the seeds from what’s working well, to plan and prepare the soil so that next year’s beds can bear more fruit.

The harvest is abundant, although it might not much resemble the plans from spring. Save some for the long winter – stored sunshine and water and nutrients in a variety of forms.

There may even be just enough time to sneak in one more cool-weather crop of lettuce, which frost makes sweeter. Who knows? Start it anyway.

And then, when winter embraces the garden, let go. You have done your work. Underneath the blanket of stillness is a future you can influence but not predict.

Backyard trades

We live in a semi-detached house and often chat with our immediate neighbors, Dan and Jen. Their kids sometimes come over to play with J
-. When we make jams or jelly, we share it with them, and they share other interesting things with us.

Dan recently bought a smoker because he was pining for the briskets of his Texan youth. He made pulled pork recently, and he brought over some for us. We sprinkled it on pizzas, sandwiches, and other yummy treats. When we finished it, I washed the container and filled it with freshly-picked jalapeno peppers from our garden. (We have too many to eat, and not enough to make jelly.)

It’s nice getting along with your neighbors, particularly when there’s food involved. =)

2010-08-21 Sat 10:13