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

  • http://www.countablyinfinite.ca Karen Fung

    What a lovely story. I hope I make it to Toronto in the warmer months one of these days to see your garden! :)

    (And, as a self-interested aside, you can’t possibly understand how gratifying it is to hear you say that you feel lucky to live within walking distance of the things that support the life you love. The systems that need to be wrestled into place to make that possible for more people can be, at times, downright impossible and is constantly under attack and caught up in just justifying its value; becoming an urban planner has made me ever-more sensitive to the fact that, at least in North America, it can be as much a matter of fortune and luck as you put it.)