Tag Archives: urban farming

Lammas 2015 NON-Pictorial Garden Update

Yeah, I didn’t take pictures this time.
Or, rather, I’ve got a shot of my one yellow zucchini (or crook-neck – whatever summer squash I managed to dig in there), but that’s about it. It’s a lovely zucchini. It finished ripening indoors,though, and now that it’s a lovely deep-mustardy colour, I think it’s ready to be thinly sliced and sautteed with a boat worth of butter and a lot of our cherry tomatoes.
The sad thing is that there’s a good chance it’ll be our only one.
I know, right? Only one zucchini??? How is that even possible?
Oh, let me tell you: It’s possible.
I’m resigning myself to a very limitted squash-family harvest this year. I read, long before I actually planted anything, that squash plants need a good 18″-24″ of soil to dig their roots into if they’re going to get strong and do their vining, prolifically-fruiting thing. My garden beds are one 12″ deep.
So maybe it’s not surprising that they’re not doing so well.
Still, I live in hope and check my blossoms for any that look like turning into fruit. Next year, I’ll be ammending my raised beds – and adding extra depth to them, so that stuff like squash and our valient rhubarb can really get their roots dug in well.
At least I’m doing well (ish) in the tomato department. I pulled about 45 tomatoes off the vines today. No, yes, they are miniature tomatoes. But that’s fine by me. While I’d have been happier to be pulling in 30 full-sized sauce tomatoes (as opposed to half a dozen frequently-on-the-small-side sauce tomatoes) every other day, I’ll take what I can manage.
My chard is looking beautiful – a bit of a relief, I don’t mind telling you – and I’ll have to go out and give it all a hair cut again in the next 24 hours, and put up another big bouquet or two in the freezer. (That’s one thing I’m reasonably sure we won’t run out of – the chard should stick around until Hallowe’en, maybe a tiny bit longer, but the kale will probably hold out into December, and that’s not counting the stuff I’ve put in the freezer).
I’ve decided to just “go with the flow” on the garden, this year, and go ahead a buy tomatoes and beans and such-like to preserve for the winter. I’ll be getting 20lbs of tomatoes about two weeks from now (along with a couple of pounds of nectarines, from the farmer’s market), and I’ve already preserved three cups worth of beans (some from the garden, most from the farmer’s market) as mustard-garlic-tumeric pickles, plus made Goblin Fruit Jam from some wild-harvested choke cherries (and black currants left over from last year). At least my vegetable garden will keep us in fresh veggies over the summer (and, by the looks of things, into the fall), plus provide lots of frozen greens for the winter time. That’s a lot, even if it’s not as much as I was hoping for.
Beyond that, while most of the beebalm and all of the daylilies and columbines are done, my front garden is chock full of Mystery Plant and borrage and morning glories and nasturtiums and wild (and invasive) creeping bell flower[1]. I would love to get some mallow flowers, black (or dark purple) hollyhocks, cornflowers, scilla, and black tulips in there next year (or this fall, as the case may be), but for now, I’m enjoying my heavy-on-the-pink garden and the bees that it brings my way[2].
Meliad the Birch Maiden
[1]Although apparently you can eat the roots, young shoots, and leaves of this plant. It’s the “rampion” of Rapunzel fame, if you were wondering. 🙂 Aparently the roots actually taste a bit more like a nutty radish than onions or ramps (and the leaves allegedly taste a bit like peas?), but who knows? I guess there’s one way for me to find out. 😉
[2] My milkweed brings all the bees to the yard // And they’re like: It’s better than yours // Damn right, it’s better than yours // I could teach you, but I’d have to charge…

Summer Solstice Garden Tour 2015

Hello again!
So Summer Solstice has come and gone (and we’re in the long slide towards the dark again, but it’s easy to ignore that when Bountiful Season is basically upon us), and the garden is starting to offer up food that isn’t made entirely of leaves.
This is very exciting, I don’t mind telling you.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to do another Garden Tour post, partially in response to Erica’s (May) photo tour invitation, and partially just because I like showing off. To that end: Onwards!
Lots of Pics Behind the Cut

The Year of the Pig – Part 1: The Garden Accompaniment and Some Formal Disclosure

So, in addition to having half a pig – Francis – in the freezer (minus two pounds of bacon – we sent one with our archivist when she moved, as you do), we also have a back yard garden. Which I’ve been yammering about pretty-much endlessly since we put the raised beds together and got the soil trucked in.
See, the other part of this year-long (or however long Francis lasts) adventure in local critter is local veggies. And, yes, we’ve been doing the “eat local, ideally” bit for quite a few years now. I seem to recall blogging about Give Cabbage a Chance back in, what, 2011? And now here I am growing it. Or, rather, growing its relatives: Red Russian Kale, Rappini and, if my guess about the Mystery Greens is correct, either Mustard Greens or Collards (not sure which, don’t entirely care).
In addition to finding out just how much pork my family of rotating adults can eat in one year without getting desperately sick of shoulder roasts, I’m also trying to find out how much food I can produce (and preserve), in my lackadaisical manner, over the course of one growing season.
Now, this is not Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, the Blogging Version. Although, I kind of hope I wind up with something like that by the end of this. 😉 We’re not growing the vast majority of our (vegetative) food in two cubic yards of trucked-in garden soil. But I do want to see what I can produce in that two cubic yards, both in terms of how long I can stretch the harvest of those cool-weather leafy greens (currently the only harvestable veggies in the garden) and also how much I can produce, primarily through trellising, in the way of winter squash, pole beans, cucumbers, and zucchini (and tomatoes – but that’s a whole other story).
I’ve harvested rappini three times, so far, and snipped the greens off some (perennial) Vietnamese garlic maybe twice. This means we’ve had rappini in dinner three times, and Vietnamese garlic in dinner twice. But it also means I have five cups of blanched rappini already frozen for winter use. It doesn’t sound like much. In reality, it’s not much. But it feels like a really good start.
I’m also – because this is the way of things – trying to use up the last of my 2014 preserves. Having spent the winter feeding our Archivist (who has some food allergies), it’s not surprising that what I’ve got lingering just happens to be stuff she can’t eat without getting sick. Now that she’s off and moved, I’m trying to remember to include things like tomato sauce and salsa in our regular meals (her allergy is not to tomatoes, thank goodness, but it’s going to mean some recipe tweaking in a few places).
I want to point out – “for the record”, I guess – that I have a fair number of privileges that let me run this kind of experiment. The main one being that I have a tonne of time on my hands. I work casual hours as a model (think 30-40 hrs/month, rather than per week) and otherwise mostly do freelance work from home. A significant part of my “job” is keeping us fed, by hook or by crook, and being able to do so from a pre-paid stockpile of animal protein plus a vegetable garden that’s been set up in good, clean (trucked in) garden-dirt, rather than from dandelion greens and wild grape leaves growing in the lead-contaminated soil of our freeway-adjacent neighbourhood, is kind of a load off my mind. I get that most people – most people who work one or more day-jobs outside their homes, most people who have a bundle of little kids or sick parents or other family members to look after – don’t have that kind of time. And a great many of us, particularly in urban neighbourhoods, don’t have that kind of space, either. It’s all well and good to talk about window-boxes and making sprouts in a jar on your kitchen counter, but there is a massive difference in what you can grow – without a lot of know-how or bags of Miracle Grow – in two cubic yards of soil versus in pots that are small enough to fit on a balcony. Having done both, the difference is already staggering, and I’ve only harvested cooking greens so far.
So that’s my bit of personal disclosure, in relation to what I’m hoping to learn/grow/create/discover (how many more inspirational words can I tack onto this plan?) over the course of the coming year: I have tonnes of time on my hands. Let’s see if I can’t parlay that into having tonnes of (almost free[1]) food on my hands thanks to growing a garden and preserving what I grow.
And, with any luck, the food that I grow will go very nicely with the food that I bought, in the form of Francis (and also a monthly bunny from our Rabbit Lady), not so long ago.
That’s the third part of this experiment. Can I (continue to) use a set collection of fairly specific ingredients – pork, rabbit, broad beans, snap beans, snap peas, various cooking greens, various summer and winter squash-type-creatures, tomatoes, and various herbs – to keep a couple of adults in meals without us going bonkers due to lack of variety?
Only time will tell (but I’ve been pretty good at it, so far).
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
[1] If, by “almost free”, I recognize that I’ve dropped probably $50 in seed-starts and seeds, and considerably more than that on garden soil. I’m aware that, for the next year or three, I’m probably making up in “free” food what I lost by diverting hundreds of dollars of grocery money to the Dirt Fund. Like I probably harvested $6-$8 worth of rappini today. Bringing the total up to about $20 of “free food” that we’ve eaten or preserved from the garden so far. That is less than 10% of the cost of the soil in my garden beds. But if I can keep harvesting rappini – and kale, and chard, and tomatoes and zucchini and winter squash – from my garden, and pull 50 harvests of about that size? I’ll have “paid off” my garden start-up costs in one season.

Update on the Garden (Planting All the Tomatoes)

So, by and large, I’ve planted my garden. Depending on how things turn out, I may or may not add one or two Chinese eggplant starts (from the Kowloon Market, up the street, which usually has them) and/or a few Ground Cherry starts (for the perennial bed), but those will have to wait until the beginning of June because I need to see which seeds are taking off and where I may (or may not) have space for a few more plants.
That’s how I do this. I intentionally (foolishly, or otherwise) overcrowd my plants to help prevent weedy things (aka: things I can’t eat AND/OR things I can totally eat, but which will take over fast and which don’t taste nearly as good as the other things I can eat that I planted on purpose) from gaining too much of a foothold. So I have a small forest of roma/sauce tomatoes in the middle of Raised Bed Number One and have planted my pole beans in clusters where (hopefully) they’ll do a good job of both (a) feeding my leafy greens LOTS of leaf-encouraging nitrogen, while also (b) providing those same (cold-hardy, heat-bolting) leafy greens with a little bit of shade during the hotter months of the summer.
Click on the Cut Tag to Find Out What I’ve Got

Beltane Virtual Garden Tour – Pictures of What’s Been Growing in the Yard

So I declared, upon the twitter, that my rappini is starting to look like rappini (unless, of course, it’s starting to look like Red Russian Kale but… I’m pretty sure I planted that elsewhere, so… we’re going with Rappini for now!) and Miss Sugar was all “I want pictures!” and I’m nothing if not willing to show off my garden SO here we go:
Lots of Pics Behind the Cut

Punk-Domestic Chatelainery – Some Thoughts on Language and Meaning

So Erica, from NorthWest Edible Life, posted the following picture to Twitter and asked folks “What is Homesteading To You?”

Picture of a rural log-based house (with a big front porch) in early Winter, ft a hazy mountain in the background. Over it all is written:
“Homesteading Is: // being self-sufficient // Living simple // getting back to our roots // breaking away from commercialism // growing your own food”

So. “Homesteading”… It’s convenient. It’s good shorthand for what most of us tend to be doing which, I suspect, falls roughly in line with what’s on the list in that picture: D-I-Y rather than B-U-Y, embracing frugality for a whole slew of reasons, reconnecting with the daily-living skills of our ancestors to a greater or lesser degree, actively taking part in the rhythms of the land that sustains us. But, if you’re a white person (which, by the looks of things, many of us self-identified homesteaders – urban or otherwise – are) living pretty-much anywhere other than Europe, but particularly in North America, the term “homesteading” has a pretty fraught history. If you’re Canadian, some of the stuff our ancestors did (and which is still going on – so maybe try writing your MP about the need for reparations and a good, hard look into the MMIW situation?), directly or indirectly, was genocide. Here. Where we’re growing our own food and taking great joy in planting the Three Sisters together in our gardens.
So as much as I find the word useful (my twitter bio says “I live in 1821”, among other things) in terms of how it manages to imply wood stoves, fibre arts, cast iron cookware, home-grown veggies, pre-electric machinery, wild-crafting/forraging, seasonal rhythms, cozy-warm candle-light, and making cheese from scratch… it’s also a bit of a problem.
So I have to ask: Is there another word I could be using? Something that takes the rural implications (and Quiver-Full-reminiscent family isolation) out of “back to the lander” while hanging onto the seasonal rhythms and self-sufficiency? Something that pushes “DIY” to a more extreme and broad-spectrum conclusion than stenciling “Riot Don’t Diet” onto a hacked-up t-shirt? Something that takes the term “Productive” out of the assembly line and the cubical farm and plants it firmly in the rich, creative soil of an anti-consumerist, pro-interdependence It-Takes-a-Village home and community?
I’ve seen “Green Living” tossed around. “Voluntary Simplicity” (although that just doesn’t fit our stuff-intensive house or people-intensive home-lives) has popped up a few times, too. I rather like “Punk Domestic” and “Radical Homemaker”, in significant part becuase they invoke the activism and, frankly, broke-ass necessity, of some of my personal Do-It-Yourself Skills. My wife and I, as part of our Power Dynamic, use the language of fealty to describe What We Do. As such, the language of the Chatelaine also seems appropriate: The whole idea of the “Keeper of the Keys” deciding who – and in this case what – is and isn’t allowed entry into the Keep (be that BPA, Monsanto, & CAFO-raised critter-flesh, vs thrifted clothes, home-grown veggies, & eight million mason jars… or whatever your personal dichotomies are), maintaining the stores, spending a heap of time on fibre arts[1] and home-preserving in an eminantly social, but also practical and necessary, way. Even the notion of a whole village turning out to handle the bulk of the harvest together (although heaven and earth know that this is hardly an out-of-date way of doing things).
Anyway. If all of the above gives you an idea of what I mean when I say “(Urban) Homesteading”, if you have any suggestions, please let me know.
– Meliad the Birch Maiden.
[1] In my case, this is for fun. In the case of actual Medieval Ladies of the Manor? It was because the work was basically never-ending. The silver lining, when there was one, was that most of it was automatic-pilot enough that, by the time you hit puberty (and had been doing this stuff for 10+ years) you could at least hang with your ladies-in-waiting/relatives/room-mates and be social while getting all of it done.

Every Day, It’s A-Getting Closer… (Shifting towards “local-ish” dry goods)

Today I stopped by the local Hippy Organic market to restock on some dry goods. I got brown basmati rice – which, as it turns out, I didn’t really need (woops) – from overseas, and about 2 litres of red quinoa (which works out to about $30…) from Bolivia, and everything else – the pot barley, the red lentils, and the black beluga lentils – came from Canada, most likely Saskatchewan. (They also have (cultivated) wild rice from Saskatchewan, if you’re looking to bring it in from somewhere closer than California, fyi).
While my rules (which are more like “guidelines” anyway…) about Local Food don’t tend to include dry goods – for a slew of reasons that mostly boil down to laziness and/or… “frugality” (yeah, let’s call it that) on my own part – I find that, while I’m not buying my whole wheat bread flour from the Oxford Mills mill just yet, I am leaning more and more towards buying dry-goods that are grown in Canada, even if they haven’t been grown in Ontario or Quebec.
I look forward to the day when Ottawa Valley edamame and whole wheat pastry flour plus Northwestern Ontario red, green, & black-beluga lentils, yellow split peas, quinoa, and amaranth are available at my local grocery store but, for the moment, while I can probably grow my own quinoa[1] if I’m really feeling the need, I’m probably going to keep shifting our “day to day diet” towards pearl and pot barley[3] and away from grains that have to cross one or more international borders to get to me.
Does this mean that I’m never buying rice again? Hmm… Maybe? I’m hesitant to say “That’s it, no more rice for us!” at this stage of the game. But if this barley business works out well, I can see rice taking a definite back seat to the grown-in-Canada grains quite quickly. Similarly, I’m more likely to grow butter beans – romano, in particular, but also fava, Christmas Lima, and maybe navy or great northern – that can double as dry-beans, and blanch and freeze them (or dry them on the vine, then finish them in my dehydrator, and store them on the shelf in jars) myself, rather than buying kidney beans or edamame that have been brought in from across half the globe. Between that, a lot of Ontario potatoes, and a home-grown crop of sun-chokes, we should be doing okay for starch. 😉
You guys, I can’t tell you how excited I am to have garden space again! I was walking home today, and I picked a few fully-ripened-and-dried seed-pods from a purple-and-pink common mallow, just to scatter them in the front yard. I know I’ll have to wait until May to get my backyard raised beds going, but I’m going to have SUCH a time this winter, planning the lay-out and deciding what to plant where. I’m having visions (not Visions, just “visions”) of dragging in a gallon of snap beans every week for a month, of dozens of pumpkins and butternut squash lining my cold room shelves, jar after jar of tomato preserves, and a freezer full of carefully-blanched chard. I hope I’m not over-estimating what a few 2×8 beds can yield in a given year, but… my last garden (which, granted, was in the actual ground, not in extra-large containers) offered up that much produce fairly reliably, so… Maybe?
Here’s hoping that, by this time next year, I’ll be tallying up preserves that include 40lbs of home-grown tomatoes, a freezer full of home-grown greens and beans, and maybe a litre of dry-beans (cranberry/romano or great northern, most likely) just to see if I can do it.
Wish me luck!
Meliad, the Birch Maiden.
[1] Assuming we don’t go through more than a kilogram of it in a given year, since there’s a limit to what you can do on that front in a small, container-gardened space, and assuming I can winnow it well enough to not be full of chaff[2], AND assuming I can get my head back around to rinsing the stuff before I cook it…
[2] That basmati rice that I didn’t actually need? I thought I had 2-3 cups of long-grain brown rice still to be used up. It turns out I have about double that and, here’s the thing, the rice in question is… chaffy. I keep running up again bits of rice that haven’t cooked properly because they’re still wrapped in their protective, straw-like husk… The texture is awful, they don’t taste particularly good, and the tooth-cracking element is not fun, let me tell you.
[3] Pearl barley is like “white rice” – it’s had the hull removed and cooks in about 20 minutes. Whereas Pot barley is like “brown rice” (or red rice, for that matter), it’s “whole grain” rather than polished, and takes about 40 minutes to cook. Barley also has the added bonus of not turning to glue or losing its structural integrity when it’s been over-cooked. I’ve been known to stew both pearl barley and pot barley for around ten times the recommended cooking times, and they’ve both turned out just fine. Given my inclination to cook 2:1 grain:lentils, this would mean that I would cook red lentils with pearl barley (or quinoa of any colour, or white/polished rice) and beluga/black lentils with pot barley (brown rice).

Indoor Container Gardening – Part The Umpteenth

Someone with a bucket and long-handled garden fork is out front raking through the Official Apartment Flower Beds – presumeably to uproot any weeds before they get a foothold[1]. I’m inside, having just done some (optimistic) transplanting and, er, learned a couple of unexpected things.
1) I really like growing plants. I like the hope they represent, and the very literal harvest that they might just manage to provide (provided that I don’t utterly mistreat them).
2) The giant pot that I thought had zero drainage? It’s just started drainage-ing all over my living room floor. So apparently drainage wasn’t the problem for my tomatoes. (Still not sure what was, though…)
3) There are uses for Ottawa’s city-focused, sports-centric, hyper-conservative newspaper. Who knew? 🙂
I’ve also gone over to the dark side, so to speak, and tucked a fertilizer stick into the soil, in the hopes of feeding the plants a little better (all my compost goes to the city, which means my bins of soil have been getting depleted for the past couple of years. I’m hoping this will help feed the plants without burning their roots.
The wheely-tray upon-which my “non-draining” pot has rested, lo, these past eight months, is about a foot wide at the base. If I can find a foot-wide tray for my pot to drain into, then we’ll be goo and I can just keep doing what I’m doing (or not – we’ll see how this works).
What I have is:
1) A smaller pot (with drainage holes AND the bottom layered with big chunks of “river rock”, to facilitate not drowing the plants) planted with my chervil and lemon verbena plus a new (and very droopy) basil plant that, hopefully, will start perking up now that it’s in a bigger pot.
2) The smaller pot is nested inside the original Big Pot, on top of about 4″ of soil, with more soil packed around it. I’ve sprinkled chive seeds in the “surround soil” in the hopes that they sprout and grow (and thrive?) and give us some fresh chives of our own.
3) Less relevant to the gardening situation: A heap of tiny perenial peas – I think they might be Broom? – Stuff I used to eat at recess, anyway, which I’m now snagging off the hedges along Somerset Avenue, a few blocks east of the big cathedral. (Need to shell them, as they’re going into dinner tonight).
I’ve also got a rectangular “pot” (a plastic packing box) half-full of dirt that’s going to get re-homed to an outdoor “bed” (a stump with a bit of a flower-bed built over it), along with all this very damp newspaper I suddenly have lying around and, hopefully (even though it’s fairly late to be trying this), I will still manage to grow some squash (someway, somehow) this year. I can dream.
Wish me luck! 🙂
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
[1] Which would explain why my turnip greens and squash never came up. Bastards. :-\

Garden Post (Wishin’ and Hopin’ and Plannin’ and Dreamin’…)

So I took a bit of a risk/plunge today. I spoke to the super of my building about possibly taking over the gardening of the two front beds of my apartment complex.
Of course, I said that I was planning on growing drought-tollerant, shade-loving ornamentals (partially because not much else would be happy growing there and partly because I’m honestly worried about possible soil toxicity), in spite of my long-term desire to grow, y’know, “ornamental” food crops (or at least rhubarb, kale, “neon lights” rainbow chard, and maybe some black currants) in amongst the yarrow, mallow, peppermint, and chives…
There is, of course, a strong likelihood that my request will be denied. The building is owned by a large (ish) local property management company, and they have Views about how the frontage should look. None the less, given how it looked a year ago (drought-stricken, unwatered, and really, really crispy) I think I at least have bit of a chance at getting what I want.
Anyway. Here’s hoping. If nothing else, I should (I hope!) be able to keep my window boxes and grow some salad herbs or something, if nothing else. (My dreams of gorgeous, prolific squash may have to wait another year or so).
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Time for another garden post! :-D

So. As you know bob, I now have a garden space (er…) directly outside my window. I don’t (officially) have use of the space, but I don’t think using it will be a problem.
The problem, instead, is that thee garden space is badly neglected by everything but the neighbourhood cats and, well, it’s been awfully close to the highway for enough decades that it’s probably got some exhaust-based lead built up in it.
Urk! O.O

So, for the moment, I’m looking at planting things that (a) are okay with really awful growing conditions – shady and dry, but also generally bad nutition – and (b) that are good at being sacrificial plants (that don’t later get composted) that are A-OKAY with soaking lead and other nasties.

Right now, the winners for (b) are cabbage, bearded irises, and sunflowers.

Now I’m sure as hell not going to make my tasty-and-delicious kale varietals act as vacuum cleaners for my soil. But I’m game for getting a couple of packages of “ornamental” cabbage (do they even sell that stuff from seed?) from the local home despot or whatever and interplanting them with some (small) sunflowers. Even though chances are good that sunflowers won’t like the growing conditions. I figure between them and the morning glories (and maybe some sweet peas?) I’ll have a colourful, beautiful, eye-catching, “curb-appeal” garden that, at the same time, is feeding the soil (sweet peas are nitrogen-fixers) and cleaning out its system.
… That probably makes me a really terrible annimist, doesn’t it? “I like them better, so YOU get to be poisoned!!!”
Cripes. What a mess. 😦

Maybe I’ll be able to do a mix of clean-up crew stuff planted directly into the soil and food plants grown in hanging baskets or similar.
I can dream. 🙂

Meliad the Birch Maiden. 🙂