Categories: life » gardening

RSS - Atom - Subscribe via email

Hungry hungry compost and other garden updates

| gardening

The compost bin chomps through imageall the organic material we give it. It’s nowhere near the smooth dark brown of finished compost yet, but when I turn it every week, my two full bins have mysteriously become two half-bins of compost. The Internet says it takes a ton of organic material (a literal ton, mind you) to make half a cubic yard of compost. To make two cubic yards of compost, then, you need about one Asian elephant’s weight in organic material. (Yes, I estimate tons in elephants, thanks to hanging out with my dad at the zoo.) So I’ll probably buy lots more cow manure (moo poo, as we call it) to amend the soil next year, instead of hoping that the compost bins will pull through quickly.

Other garden updates:

  • Asparagus: Tall and ferny. This is their second year, so we’re leaving them alone to grow and store energy for next year. Four square feet of asparagus might be too little, though. =) We’ll give it a try anyway!
  • Basil: Still getting established in the garden. Slow new growth.
  • Blueberries: Setting fruit. I’m going to put up some netting this weekend or next weekend so that we have a chance of tasting some berries, not like last year when the birds and squirrels had them all…
  • Cilantro: First true leaves emerging. Thoughts of stir-fries dance through my head.
  • Dill: Starting to look all dill-like. Still small, though!
  • Lettuce: Starting to go to seed. I may have a baby lettuce salad after all.
  • Mint: I had my first cup of home-grown mint tea the other day. Mmmmm.
  • Oregano: Thriving like anything. I must make pasta soon.
  • Onions, garlic, and garlic chives: Growing around the garden. Quite easy to grow. I think I’ll pull up more perennials next year and plant those instead.
  • Peas: More than two feet tall now, climbing up the strings like they’re racing the other seedlings. The ones in the unprotected box near the house are winning.
  • Spinach: Probably growing. I think I might be confusing it with weeds, so I’m leaving that section alone for now.
  • Strawberries: The new runners have established themselves and are even blooming, which is a pleasant surprise. All the plants are beginning to set fruit. Exciting times! Must pick up straw or some other mulch so that I can keep the berries off the ground. Also, it turns out you can make tea from strawberry leaves. Looking forward to trying that!
  • Tomatoes: Growing slowly, but getting there. I think we might have some kind of blight, though. =|

Casualties: a Thai basil plant, and the curry plant in front

I planted bok choi last weekend, and I planted some edamame today. We’re more likely to take the time and effort to cook the edamame than the string beans I grew the other year. =) I also sprinkled a lot of lettuce and spinach near the borders, where I pulled up the lilies of the valley. All those sprouts are coming up now that I’m home enough to keep the soil moist. (Note: Don’t plant lilies of the valley in your garden unless you mean it. They’re invasive and will take over. Ditto mint, which I keep in a pot.)

Pity it’s no longer dandelion season. We pulled up almost all of ours and ate them as salads. If we have more next year, I may host a party. We do have a berry tree out back that will be fun to harvest. We missed harvesting it last year, but we caught a lot of berries on a tarp the year before that. I think it would be a good combination with pastry cream, tart shells, maybe some powdered sugar on top. By that time, the tea garden should be growing quite well, too. Garden party! J- said her friends are excited about our tomatoes and peas, so we should have them over to harvest too. Mmm…

View or add comments

Gardening: Horticultural investments, social dividends

Posted: - Modified: | connecting, gardening

It started when we peeked through the bedroom blinds and saw our next-door neighbour cross the street to the house of the neighbour opposite us. He waved to them and took a wheelbarrow of triple-mix soil from the cubic yard bag sitting in front of the house, rolling it back down the curb, across the street, and up the other curb to his house. “They must’ve gone in together on a yard bag of soil,” W- said. It probably didn’t require much neighbourly coordination – a casual conversation, an offer of help – but we envied the ease and connection it implied. We knew our neighbours on either side of our house, but not so much the ones across the street. How could we get to know more people in the neighbourhood?

Gardening, apparently, is an excellent way to meet people over here. Investing in perennials and annuals turns out to pay social dividends. We dug up and gave our front-yard irises to one of our neighbours – we made space for new plants, and he added some more colour to his garden. We replanted the front yard as a herbal tea garden, with the sidewalk box planted as rows of colourful annuals (including one row of edible flowers, the petunias). We dug up the boxwood and juniper shrubs, placed the new plants, and chatted with neighbours and passers-by who complimented us on our garden. We even had an extended conversation with Awesome Garden Lady Down the Street, who as it turns out is Mrs. Wong, and who gave us extra vegetable seeds and plenty of advice.

Here’s what we planted today:

  • stevia
  • lemongrass
  • bergamot
  • spearmint (in a pot, of course)
  • peppermint (in the same pot)
  • garlic chives
  • curry
  • tricolor sage
  • lemon thyme
  • chamomile
  • lots of basil
  • lots of lavender
  • miscellaneous flowers

Weeding and cultivating the front yard will no doubt keep us busy throughout the season, and familiarity leads to conversations. I hope to get quite a few herbal infusions out of it too, and perhaps even a garden party. Our back yard garden is growing well, but is understandably limited as a conversation starter.

If you’re an introvert with a front yard, you might want to give gardening a try too. It’s easier for both W- and me to talk to people when there’s an excuse to do so, instead of just chatting with people out of the blue. Gardening provides an excellent excuse – people talk to us, or we can ask about other people’s gardens as we walk around. Lawns might draw remarks if they’re well-kept, but a more diverse and colourful garden will probably be easier. Have fun!

2011-05-23 Mon 17:35

View or add comments

Victoria Day weekend: back to the garden

Posted: - Modified: | gardening

Back home and back to the garden! The plants had been very busy growing while I was away. The oregano at the back has doubled in size. The peas are climbing up the twine. The blueberry bushes are flowering. The dill’s starting to sprout. Some of my spring onions have even made it, although a few had been dug up by squirrels who disagree with my landscaping.

The Victoria Day long weekend practically marks the start of the main gardening season. The garden centres are open during the holiday, and the herb and vegetable starters have joined the annuals. People are out planting.

W- and I walked around the neighborhood looking at people’s gardens. Down the street, Awesome Garden Lady’s plants are lightyears ahead of ours, and she’s already started harvesting herbs. We looked at the flowers in other people’s gardens, the way the perennials and annuals were arranged, the color combinations that caught our eyes. We identified fruits, herbs, and vegetables tucked into unusual places: mint slowly spreading across a front yard, alliums (onions, probably) with delicate bulb-like flowers, strawberries peeking out between hostas.

I think we’ll plant the front yard for herbal teas and other edibles. =) That will be fun and useful! Here’s what I’d like to plant:

Common name Height
Sage 2-3′
Bergamot 2′
Anise hyssop 2-4′
Lemon verbena (potted/annual?) 4′, can be more compact
Catnip (potted) 3-4′
Stevia (not hardy) 2-3′
Peppermint (potted) 2′
Variegated common thyme 6-10″
Sweet woodruff 6-12″
German chamomile 12-24″
Lemon balm (potted) 12-24″
Curly spearmint (potted) 12-24″
Pot marigold (annual) 18″
Purple basil (annual) 18-24″
Lavender 12-24″
Golden lemon thyme 6-8″
Marjoram 12″
Cilantro (annual) 18-24″

This is roughly based on, with possible substitutions for things that are not hardy in Zone 5. I’ll probably arrange it in some kind of a circle, with the taller plants in the middle.

The library has a couple of books on herbal tea gardens. Exciting!

2011-05-22 Sun 19:13

View or add comments

Back in the garden, the perennials are coming back

Posted: - Modified: | gardening, life

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

View or add comments

Compost magic and happiness

Posted: - Modified: | gardening, life

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.

View or add comments

Starting up our garden

| gardening

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

View or add comments


| gardening, life, sketches

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>

View or add comments