Monthly Archives: June 2013

End of spring means sweet deals

I was in Toronto when my uncle returned last week. He was upset that there were so many weeds in the garden and that my cousin hadn’t mowed the lawn. That was my fault. I’d accidentally locked the shed door. The key had gone missing so we couldn’t get at the necessary equipment (the garden claw and lawn mower). I’d felt bad that I hadn’t gotten around to planting his okra as the plants were starting to look yellow. He planted some since his return and told me today he`d plant the rest tomorrow. He`s realizing now that space is an issue in his area.

Look at all them weeds. Almost didn't notice the spicy salad mix on the left.

Look at all them weeds. Almost didn’t notice the small light green patch of  spicy salad mix on the left.

I haven`t been spending enough time in the garden to really get at what needs to be done. This is evidenced by the fact that the tomatoes were getting out of control. One plant had even fallen over, it was so top-heavy.  I swear, I was watching them closely; removing the suckers every time I visited. I thought I was doing a good job of maintaining one main stem, but each plant has bifurcated and continues to grow new shoots in any way it can. Some suckers are so big and have tiny flower heads on them that I couldn`t bring myself to remove them. I`m really bad at a tomato management.

The plant to the back left has fallen over

The plant to the back left has fallen over

Technically you`re supposed to insert the stake right when you plant the tomatoes in order to reduce the risk of damaging the roots, which is much more likely when the plant is full grown. I tied them gently but firmly to the stakes using twine.

Looks pretty good!

Looks pretty good!

Tomatoes forming!

Tomatoes forming!

I’ve noticed that one of the strawberry plants is starting to lose its leaves. I’m wondering if the weeds are strangling its roots.  Sure, it’s still forming and ripening berries, but for how long? I’m planning to do some weeding on the weekend now that the shed is accessible. Apparently they never found the key and had to cut the lock.

Strawberry plants in May

Strawberry plants in May, when they were first planted. The one on the right was the first one I planted. It was less mature than the one on the left.

You'll notice the weeds all around and the fact that the foilage is not as dense as it once was

The first strawberry plant I bought. You’ll notice the weeds all around and the fact that the foliage is not as dense as in the picture above (and no, it’s not the angle. It is much thinner).

On a positive note, Urban Harvest was having a plant sale as this is the last week their physical store would be open for the season. The sale started last weekend: 3 perennials or 4 annuals for $10. I didn’t make it on the weekend and my week was filled with after work activities. But what a deal! I couldn’t miss out…

I managed to get into union station in Toronto at 5pm on Monday. My aquafit class started at 6:30 so I took a chance and took the subway north to Dundas West station. I was in such a rush that I ended up getting 3 perennials: rosemary, lavender, and yarrow, and only 2 annuals: nasturtium and cilantro.

Left to right: yarrow, rosemary,  lavender, cillantro, nasturtium

Left to right: yarrow, rosemary, lavender, cillantro, nasturtium

The staff were nice enough to give me 2 annuals for $5 rather than $3.50 each. By the time I left, it was 6pm. As I ran to the subway, it briefly crossed my mind to go back and see if I could get the 5 for $10 deal because I wouldn’t make it all the way to the east end in 30 minutes.  I should’ve listened to that thought because I didn’t make it to class. I was kicking myself for a few days. But I suppose it was a blessing in disguise. I don’t really know where I’m going to plant what I bought…

Close up!  I can almost smell them...

Close up!
I can almost smell them…

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Good growing (sort of)

Some good things happening in the garden this week:

Nasturtium

Finally!!!

It’s taken about 3 and a half weeks, but the nasturtium is finally starting to show itself. I’m really surprised because I’d read they were pretty easy to grow and would start to germinate 7 to 10 days after being planted. I’m glad I kept putting down new seeds every week and lots of them. If things are going to be this slow going all season, it won’t get to a size where it can be beneficial in the garden as a flowering plant that attracts pollinators or an aphid trap.  The calendula are coming along, but the borage and cornflower haven’t come up at all. I think the borage is not getting enough light as they like full sun and I’ve planted the seeds on the shady side of the sage bush. The cornflower are just over run by weeds. I’ll have to weed and do a new planting.

Strawberries are coming along as well. Some interesting information about alpine strawberries from Vegetablegardener.com. Apparently I’ll be able to tell when they’re ripe by their smell, which is supposed to “rival the most intoxicating of flowers”. I don’t think I added kelp meal to the strawberries like I did with the other transplants. The article mentions that they like fertile soil with lots of organic matter.

Alpine strawberry

A tiny little strawberry bud at the centre of this flower. So cute!

Alpine strawberry

Looking more like a strawberry now…

Wonder how long before they are edible?

Wonder how long before they are edible?

Sage is the one plant that’s done amazingly well in my uncle’s back yard. You’ll notice some mint mixed in among the sage leaves. I’ve been enjoying mint tea the past few nights. My aunt tells me I should boil the leaves so the tea will be stronger, but I’ve never heard of that. I’ve been steeping the leaves in boiling water in a covered teapot . It’s pretty good after a few hours (I’m enjoying some right now!). I took some sage leaves home to Toronto last weekend for the purpose of making tea but I haven’t used them yet.

Sage

Sage – who knew it had such beautiful flowers!

The sage has been picking up the slack for the edible flowers in attracting pollinators. I noticed this bee last Friday. He didn’t stick around for very long. Maybe he didn’t like getting his picture taken; I was following him pretty closely with my camera.

Sage

First pollinator of the season (or more accurately first pollinator I’ve seen this season)

The best sight this past week — hands down! — has been the appearance of garlic scapes!  A bit about garlic scapes from About.com. The ones in my garden are still young. I had been told in the past that they are ready to harvest once they start to curl, but this article says they will be nice and tender if harvested young. Harvesting the scapes puts more energy into bulb formation, which is what we want.

Garlic scape

A little taste of garlicky heaven!

I used to roll my eyes when foodie friends talked about garlic scapes (foodie, I am not) — until I tasted them. They have been the most flavourful product to come out of my garden to date. If you love garlic, you’ll love scapes. If you’re not a big fan, you might enjoy the milder flavour of the scapes.

 

 

 

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Community gardening and public health

The City of Waterloo Public Health department recently released a report entitled Not Just a Passing Fancy: How Community Gardens Contribute to Healthy and Inclusive Neighbourhoods, a storytelling project which uses ethnographic interviews to understand the impact of community gardening on the lives of people who do it.  You can read about the report on the City Farmer News  blog and you can read the report here. This issue is particularly close to my heart so I’m looking forward to reading the full report.

notjust

Cover image taken from the City Farmer blog

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“Mysteries” of the garden

My cousin picked me up from work on Friday so we could check out the organic farmer’s market on scenic drive. It was a pretty small market, about 6 vendors outside Scenic Drive Convenience Store, at Scenic Drive and Upper Paradise Road. She’s trying to lose weight for a wedding in August by increasing her consumption of greens and veggies. She’s decided that heirloom vegetables are what she wants to eat. It was funny to note that she had no idea that I was using organic and heirloom seeds and plants in the backyard. She picked up some kale and greens from Japan (looked like bok choy and name begins with a K). I was happy to sample blueberry pie and apple strudel while she made her choices and I learned from one of the farmers that a plant I had picked on the trail near James street stairs was from the spirea family (he was selling some). I’m trying to see if I can root it for transplant.

Not long after we came home, the sky turned dark. Storm clouds rolled in and the rain started coming down sideways. I was disappointed. I’d planned to quickly plant another strawberry that I picked up at Urban Harvest on Wednesday, take stock of what was going on in the garden, and then head back to Toronto. About an hour, tops. It had been a long week of commuting after recovering from a cold that had kept me off work last Thursday and Friday and in bed for most of the weekend. I wanted to head home at a reasonable time so that I could relax and enjoy my weekend. However, I wasn’t prepared to travel home in a storm so resigned myself to staying the night. I was dying to see what was happening out there so when the rain let up, I went out to check things out.

Snail on the prowl

Snail on the prowl after the rain

The first thing that caught my eye was mysterious little sprouts all across my beds. And then I remembered that my cousin had warned me – “don’t blame me…” she had started. My uncle had decided before he went away for work again (he goes every other month for a month) that he would sprinkle down “mystery” seeds in every space that was unoccupied. This included walkways.

My uncle's "sprinkle" method inside the greenhouse

My uncle’s planting method inside the greenhouse. This is how I knew he was to blame for what I saw below…

"Mystery" seeds around my tomatoes!!!

“Mystery” seeds around my tomatoes!!! Argh!!!

Clearly he doesn’t understand square foot gardening method. And, as I mentioned, he likes to do things his own way. Well, so do I. I had planned to put some companion spicy salad greens and basil on every corner of the tomato plants (ie. 4 plants to one tomato plant) so I proceeded to do so. We’ll see whose seeds to better. Did I mention I was stubborn?

Some plants are doing quite well after about a week and a half. Others not so well.

Onions are doing well

Onions are coming along

Apparently I didn't need to worry about the zucchini

Apparently I didn’t need to worry about the zucchini. I’ll have to remove the smaller plant.

One of two pea plants coming up.

One of two pea plants coming up.

I was disappointed to find that neither the butternut squash nor the nasturtium had come up so I planted more seeds. Also, surprisingly, no borage! That stuff grows like mad. I planted a few more seeds near the strawberries. I also put down some spinach because I had seen in one of the companion planting charts that it was a good companion for strawberries.

This strawberry plant is larger than the first one I bought and has a small strawberry growing already.

This is the first strawberry plant I bought. It doesn’t seem to be doing much right now. The new plant I ot is larger and already has a small strawberry growing on it.

It’s a mystery why some plants do better than others. A combination of seed issues (eg. germination rates),  soil and weather conditions, water,  pests… Nevertheless, nature always finds a way to reproduce. I have a feel that although some things are coming along more slowly than I had expected, it will be a very productive garden. I also have a feeling that I’ll have to put in a lot more work than last year. Damn.

My uncle's okra are really coming along.

My uncle’s okra are really coming along. I wonder where he’s going to put them…

My uncle's section of the garden.

My uncle’s section of the garden.

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