Category Archives: gardening

Garden updates

Our organic fruit, vegetable and herb garden is coming along wonderfully.


That’s about two-thirds of the garden. The other third would be the zucchinis, who have taken over the entire corner:

The most exciting news is that the tomatoes are beginning to ripen, which means that there will be plenty of salsa, bruschetta, and tomato sauce in our future. I’m particularly excited about the grape tomatoes, as the small tomatoes sell at a premium in supermarkets and are thus usually off our grocery list. The early tomatoes we planted are maturing first, and the grape tomatoes will follow in due course.


Other small fruits are starting to appear. The 5-colour peppers and the green peppers are adorable!


More exotic veggies are coming out, too. Here’s the edamame I planted in a pot:

and the okra:

We get enough basil for four good-sized servings of pesto each week:


(sage and parsley are in there too, too)

I’ve been snacking on beans, as we harvest so many of them:

Bush beans

The strawberries have made some runners, and I’ll figure out where to put them after we replace the tomatoes with a raised bed.

All the pictures:


Garden plans for 2010


Here’s how we’re thinking of using the raised beds we built. I might interplant some radishes between the tomatoes and strawberries, too.

  • Peas: The edamame I grew in a pot could really use more space. We’ll plant sugar snap peas and edamame after we put in some support.
  • Tomatoes: Cherry or grape tomatoes, which we’ll trim more aggressively this time instead of letting them take over the yard ;)
  • Strawberries: Mmm! I’ve left the strawberries out – I hope they’ll survive winter. They’re supposed to be perennial in this zone. Maybe I should move some indoors for safekeeping…
  • Bush beans: Quick and productive. The only thing is that when we planted them last year, they matured just when it was too hot to think about steaming things. ;)
  • Carrots: We had mixed results with our purple carrots. They were cute, but small and often nibbled on by other insects/animals.
  • Beets: Haven’t tried growing these yet, but if they’re sweet, I’m all for them.
  • Lettuce: We’ll give these another try, although I think the squirrels will enjoy them before we do. I want to grow lettuce because buying lettuce usually means wasting a fair bit. Maybe we’ll build a hoop system for our raised bed… If so, I’ll swap this with the parsley from the other box, and plant lettuce in the smaller box.
  • Rosemary: Ahh, potato rosemary bread. And pasta. And roasts. Mmm mmm mmm.
  • Thyme: For pasta. The creeping thyme I’ve put down in the border might do, if it survives the winter. I wonder if I can grow it in our mulched pathways…
  • Oregano: Surprisingly strong and peppery when it’s fresh. Also for pasta. If the oregano plant in the back survives the winter, I may repurpose this space.
  • Chives: We tried growing this in a container and it didn’t take, so we’ll try it for real.
  • Basil: Mmmmm. Pesto. Yum yum yum. And lots of pasta, too.
  • Bok choi: A lady down the street grows lots of bok choi in her front yard. We keep being tempted to pinch some. ;)
  • Cilantro: This goes to seed so quickly, but it’s good to have on hand for stirfries.
  • Garlic: W-’s parents grow their own garlic, so we’re going to try it too.
  • Parsley: Prolific and good for making things look extra-special. I’ll grow a mix of flat-leaf and curled parsley this time. Also, we use it by the handfuls in mussels marinara, and it’s a decent way of bulking up pesto.

There’s also a small section which is not in a raised bed. I’ll probably use that to grow more basil, and I hope the lavender I’ve left out there will come back next year.

No more zucchini. Not only did we not get any un-nibbled zucchini off it, but the plants took over the side of the garden. <laugh> Also no more of those gimmicky hanging planters for strawberries. No more sage unless I trim it mercilessly – we don’t cook sausages nearly enough, and the plant propagates by itself.

Definitely more rosemary and more basil. Good ROI for our kitchen.

I’ll also grow catnip and peppermint in pots, as those are invasive. And if our chili pepper plant will survive the cats’ nibbling (even with the peppers on it!), maybe we’ll plant some more peppers too.

Getting the hang of it, I think!


It was sunny and almost spring-like on Sunday. I rode my bicycle 5km to the Artscape Wychwood Barns, shedding my winter jacket and fleece along the way, enjoying the ride in a light turtleneck and thermals. That 5’C is warm must speak to the reality-distorting powers of winter, which will make a return in the next few days. But today was like spring.

I wanted to check out the Seedy Sunday event I’d learned about on one of my favourite Toronto gardening blogs. The converted barn bustled, hundreds of visitors flipping through seed packets and comparing cultivars. I slipped into the attached greenhouse for a seminar on seed starting, marveling at the rows of young plants sheltered from the cold. After wandering around to see what was available, I bought almost twenty seed packets: cherry tomatoes, assorted carrots, bok choi, bitter melon (W- loves it), and various herbs.

With the exception of bitter melons, equivalents for the herbs, fruits, and vegetables I plan to grow are readily available at a supermarket that’s within walking distance. I can buy bitter melons in Chinatown or ask W- to pick up some from Lawrence Market on his way home from work.

But there’s a certain thrill in turning over the soil and watching earthworms squirm back into the ground in search of more nutrients. Seeing something grow and remembering that just last week that patch of soil was brown and bare. Tasting something fresh and knowing that it doesn’t get much better than that.

Also, the supermarket doesn’t stock purple carrots or yellow cherry tomatoes. =) And I hate throwing away herbs if all I need is a small bit of it (I’m talking to you, parsley). Much nicer to just snip a few from a plant that can keep on growing.

This year, I’m learning how to plan ahead. I’d like to start as many plants from seed as possible instead of buying plants from the nurseries of nearby hardware stores. It promises to both be cheaper and more wide-ranging. It’ll be fun. And if it doesn’t work out, I know where to get plants that are ready for transplanting, and I know those will work in our garden. =)

I suspect gardening’s one of those hobbies I’ll grow into. I want to be like that older lady down the street, the one who grew rows and rows of bok choi, tomatoes, lettuce, and other assorted goodies in the front yard of an apartment building. I always peeked at her garden whenever we walked by.

I enjoy gardening a little bit now, and I can imagine how much more fun it will be when I can appreciate the difference between cultivars and know what kind of environment I should provide to help the plants flourish. It all begins from a seed of interest.

Looking back on her years, my mom wondered what she did with her free time and why she can’t identify any particularly physical hobbies. She ran a business and raised us—that must count for a lot of time and quite a lot of exercise. But of the different hobbies she explored, she wrote:

Embroidery, sewing, pottery, carpentry, cooking, baking – I’ve tried them all but could not go beyond introductory levels – there was not one that I was passionate about to pursue through the years.

What I’m learning about passion is this: most of the time, it doesn’t spring full-formed from the ground. Passion comes from skill and appreciation. The more you know about something, the more you can appreciate it. It’s okay to be interested but not passionate about something as you explore it.

I’m interested in gardening and sewing. I enjoy baking, and I’m getting better at it. They’re not my passions yet, but perhaps someday, they will be. I’m passionate about helping people connect and collaborate, and about sharing ideas through writing and presenting. It took me a while to be able to really enjoy it, but now it totally rocks.

Passions develop from seeds of interest. They benefit from a little care, thought, and time. Maybe some potential passions have longer “times to harvest” than others. Some seeds don’t germinate at all, or they grow and they don’t flourish. Others are like zucchini and can take over the rest of your garden if you don’t pay attention. Some passions go well with other passions, like companion plants. Other passions don’t go well together at all. So you do a little planning, but you can’t plan too much, because life happens and you just need to figure out how things work out.

Sometimes you need to put in the right support structure. Sometimes you need to build a protected environment – a greenhouse of time and motivation – so that new interests can survive until they’re self-sustaining.

Cultivate the ground, plant seeds, and see how things grow. Keep what you like and think about replacing what doesn’t work out. And enjoy the process, always. It’s not about the fruits of your labour (although that’s yummy!), but also all the experiences along the way.

(Tangent: My dad is an awesome gardener of opportunities. ;) )

I heart gardening


I used part of my dream fund to buy a 4’x2’ lean-to greenhouse. Right now, it’s sheltering our bitter melon (ampalaya) seedlings. I hope we’ll be able to grow them to maturity this time! That will be fun. I also move other seedlings into the greenhouse as they sprout from our seed starters, because we don’t get enough light indoors and grow lights still feel a little too serious. ;)

Perennials: The blueberry bushes in front are beginning to grow their leaves back. The strawberry plants in our raised beds have returned with a vengeance, bright green leaves pushing through the dried stalks I’d almost given up on. The garlic shoots have poked up in neat rows (except for two – snacked on by starving squirrels, perhaps?). Even the lavender is beginning to recover. The oregano didn’t make it through, though.

New plants: The new blueberry bushes near the deck are still establishing themselves. The basil seeds I planted last weekend sprouted quickly, and I’m looking forward to lining the path with the seedlings once they’re large enough to transplant. Squirrels dug up many of the onions I planted in the back, so I might look into making a scarecrow. The cilantro and lettuce I planted two weeks ago are beginning to emerge. No sign of the bush beans or the pak choi, though. Might be time to plant another set, just in case.

I’m already thinking of what to do as we expand our “productive garden” space further into the back yard. W- will help me clear and prepare maybe eight more square feet of sunny garden.

What a wonderful thing it is to have a garden where we can grow herbs, fruits, and vegetables. I’m looking forward to good cooking, good food, and lots of learning.

Over the next few years, I plan to:

  • experiment with cultivars
  • keep a more detailed journal. MyFolia looks tempting, but requires too many clicks for what I want to do. Back to Org mode!
  • extend the garden
  • extend the growing season
  • grow cat-safe flowers for cutting (Dimorphotheca? Clintonia uniflora? Calendula officinalis (also edible, but not good for people with asthma)? Zinnias?)
  • grow food for storage


Squirrels, shop class and drafting: making my peace with high school

The squirrels had messed with the wrong seedlings.

To entertain cats and people alike, we’d fed the squirrels throughout winter. Now we were paying for it with the consequences of population explosion: ravaged seedling beds, munched-on sprouts, and dug-up and discarded onion bulbs.

The stench of bloodmeal didn’t stop the marauding rodents from plundering our vegetable patches. We didn’t want to use hot pepper flakes and other painful irritants. We needed a plan.

We stapled chicken wire on our raised beds, which kept the scallions and other bulbs safe for the moment. When the strawberry plants grew tall enough to poke white and pink flowers through the mesh, we knew we needed something bigger.

I was about to experiment with circles of chicken wire held together with duct tape and string. But W- had an engineering decree, and he wasn’t afraid to use it.

After days of discussing diagrams on scratch paper, we decided to build a semi-permanent frame. We picked up spruce and hardware from Home Depot, and then set to work. W- taught me how to use a circular saw to cut the lumber. I told him that it felt a lot like sewing: marking my seams and following the lines. We sanded, measured, marked, leveled, measured, and fastened. We finished the frame just as the sky darkened.

This is what it will probably look like:

 garden-frame (… minus the text, of course, and liberally covered with chicken wire.)

We’ve finished the vertical and horizontal supports, and we’ll work on the chicken-wire doors this week. I’m looking forward to it.

I’m making my peace with subjects I detested in school. Now that sewing and cooking have become enjoyable hobbies, I’ve set my sights on shop class and drafting.

Working on shelves and other small projects in high school shop/tech class, I had felt awkward and clumsy. I struggled to wrap my mind around the spatial puzzles of carpentry. The classroom was full of sweat and sawdust, and the lab coats we wore did nothing for either.

Drafting classes in fourth year were more refined, but not more enjoyable. My classmates drew neat lines that intersected at just the right places. My papers were full of smudges, distortions, and impossibilities.

Now, without the pressure of a classroom and with more developed spatial skills (thank you, sewing and drawing), I can find these long-forsaken subjects relaxing, even enjoyable. Working with wood, I found myself thinking of other things I’d like to build. Drawing the structure, I though

Helps to have the right tools, too. Axonometric grids in Inkscape for drawing isometric images? Yes! So much easier than erasing and redrawing segments.

It’s great to challenge my memories. I’m learning that sometimes things are better learned the second time around. It’s great to know it wasn’t me, it was then. Who knows? I may yet revisit the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and learn how to look at fiction and poetry with a critical eye.

But first, I have some squirrels to chase off the lawn.

The garden in May

 dscf2076 dscf2081 

I’ve written a little bit about our garden, but I haven’t reflected on how the garden helps me write and vice versa. Does it?

The usual benefits: Weeding and watering provide meditative breaks from the buzz of daily life.  The garden teaches me patience and anticipation. It keeps me in better tune with the seasons.

What can I write that hasn’t been written before?

I tell people to never let  the fear of clichés stop them from starting. After all, writing what has already been written is part of the process of discovering what is your own.

So: Why do I garden?

The mundane: I don’t want to pay the premium for cherry tomatoes at the supermarket, but I’ll happily invest in the seeds, soil, and screens to grow my own (even if it comes out to be more expensive).

I want to experience the taste of peas picked fresh from the vine, the glint of strawberries in a matted patch, the scent of rosemary lingering as I brush past. dscf2075

The stubbornness of weeds inspires me, as does the revival of the sage that I’d given up for dead.

Composting fascinates me. It’s good exercise, too.

I love the everyday miracles of seeds growing into plants ever so slowly and quickly all at once. Every day is a game of spot-the-difference.

What do I like about gardening? Turning lawn and patio stones into lettuce and tomatoes, putting down roots, and reaching for the sky (perhaps with a little help).