Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year End Wrap Up

Well here it is Dec 31 and I have a total of 10 posts for the year. Not very prolific, although in my defense I didn't set out to be blogger, rather just needed a place to keep a record of my gardens. But along the way I discovered a number of blogs that appealed to a wide variety of my interests and frankly I'm a much better reader than writer. So here's a list of my latest addiction

Well Preserved ( and Dana set out to blog about a year's worth of preserving food and other food related issues. They are based here in Toronto and I found out about them through my work with Not Far From The Tree- more on NFFTT later.

Tigressinapickle/ Tigress is another blogger who is passionate about preserving food. She has created a CanJam contest that starts tomorrow and Colette and I are signed up! The goal is to do one canning project a month using a designated ingredient and then blog about it. So I am mandated to post at least once a month for the next year.
Click for tigress can jam food blog challenge

From the CanJam sign up I discovered Ashley lives in a remote area in North Carolina and writes about things I aspire to do, like raising chickens and bees. Jealous!

Not really a blog but I find many kindred spirits at Gayla Trail, another Toronto native, has turned a love of gardening into online world where anyone who grows anything ( or dreams of growing anything) is welcome. There's even a fairly active forum where there's no such thing as a dumb question.

Not everything can be about food and gardening so here's my favourite unrelated blogs.

God Stole My Boyfriend ( written by my dear friend as she continues her spiritual journey and obtains her Masters of Divinity. Sometimes hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking but always honest and intense.

The Daily Asker ( In which La Roxy blogs about her goal to ask for at least one thing everyday. Not nearly as selfish as it could be and full of sound advice and thoughtful insight.

My latest passion, at least while the weather is cold, has been genealogy. I stumbled onto Brenda Merriman's blog recently ( while researching a family name we have in common. The advantage is she's a paid professional and a damn good writer.

Lastly, the aforementioned Not Far From the Tree ( Of all the things I was involved with this year I am most proud of this one. Created by Laura Reinsborough to make use of fruit that grows unharvested in the city, NFFTT picked over 8000 pounds of fruit this year that was going to waste and diverted to homeless shelters and soup kitchens. I was one of the volunteers this year and had a great time picking apples, pears and whatever else we could. It was nice to find another activity that got my away from the computer for a change!

So my resolution for 2010, if I believe in such things, is to be a more frequent poster. Not because I think what I write will be all that exciting but in hopes that things I discover along the way will be useful to someone else. And in the words of Ashley, maybe we can all "attempt to craft a good life"

Happy 2010! Now bring on the CanJam!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Growing season

More notes from the summer of 2009

June 24/09

My garden in the ground is hilarious- the lower half gets full sun and looks fabulous but the rest is pretty shaded and everything looks spindly and slow. The tomatillas are taking off and the pumpkins are taking over. It's a race to see which will be ready to eat first between the beans, snowpeas, and gai lan

June 30/09
And the winner is Beans! Ate my first crop of green bean yesterday although the yellows are lagging far behind.

Snowpeas growing up the composter- ate a few of these in the last week as well.

Gai Lan- just about ready to eat

Planting Season Part 2

More notes and pics- this time of the back deck.

My "Charlie Brown" tomato- actual variety unknown because it fell of a truck and came battered and nameless but full of fruit. I've been eating them all week!

Last years hot peppers from Julianna - over wintered in the sunporch- they were glorious until I left them out overnight too early and they got chilled. Hopefully they make a complete recovery as the weather improves.

And because one cannot live with vegetables alone- the wall of flowers. Lobelia, nicotina, pansies, lemon verbena, moonflowers and a rainbow of morning glories just beginning to take off.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Planting Season

As usual summer got away from me- most of it spent in the garden! I frequently post in the forums at and the following are excerpts from my posts this year- an edited version if you will.

Notes from the garden Spring 2009

May 31
I finally got (almost ) everything planted and decided to take a few photos for comparing later. I'm still doing a lot in containers on the deck since I'm not sure about the soil conditions -it was a parking space up until recently!

The newly dug vegetable garden- the lower part in the photo belongs to my downstairs neighbour and is nice neat rows of tomatoes and peppers. I've planted everything above the rhubarb, (which came with the place!).
Top of the picture- 1st row left to right
pie pumpkins x 2, tomatillas X 2, Romas x 2.
Next row Green bush beans x 3, Yellow bush beans just emerging, Acorn Squash x 2., Snow peas growing up the composter
Middle section Gai Lan, Rapini, ( just seeded) Buttercup squash x 2. , Daylily
Last section (next to rhubarb) Butternut Squash x 3, Hill of unknown cubits x 2 from the compost (I'm betting melons but could be cukes) Rhubarb
Bi coloured corn along the fence!

Growing corn in the city isn't all that practical- corn needs neighbours in all directions in order to pollinate and space requirements don't allow for multiple rows in my tiny space. Most corn I have seen growing in neighbourhood gardens tends to produce very few ears and tiny ones at best. My own past experience has been that the raccoons tend to get what little there is in any case- they adore fresh corn on the cob! My hope is that since the raccoons use the fence to climb down from the roof they will be distracted by the corn and never notice the rest of my garden. Here's hoping....

The Rooftop Garden

I've been a container gardener for a number of years. Here in the city it's not always easy to find space for a full garden and many vegetables do well in containers. With a decent size deck and full southern exposure it made sense to continue to grow as many things as I could in containers. Some of the tomatoes I chose were recommended for container growing but others I went against convention and potted them any how.

The tomato patch on the roof eventuall spilled onto the roof of the neighbouring building, which fortunately was empty all summer. And yes those are socks drying on the lattice- dual purpose!
From left to right: White Beauty, Black from Tula, Orange Stripe, Scotia Cross, Black Cherry

These 4 were bought as 6” plants from Wychwood Farmer’s market April 25

White Beauty -
Creamy white color inside and outside make White Beauty a rarity. Extremely mild and sweet because of a high sugar content. Fruits average 8 ounces and are quite meaty with few seeds.

Black From Tula
Deep reddish-brown beefsteak tomato has a rich, sweet flavor that is delicious. Fruit is smooth in texture and weighs from 8 to 12 ozs. This outstanding variety is very productive and seems to set well even when weather turns hot. Russian heirloom.

Big Orange Stripe A wonderful heirloom from the Carter family in Kentucky, Big Orange Stripe fruits are huge--up to 2 lbs. with delicate red striping outside and in. Delicious and sweet, one of the best orange beefsteaks available. With all the attention being garnered by the orange tomatoes and their health benefits, this one deserves a place in your garden.

Big Rainbow Stripe. This is the most visually spectacular tomato; as fruits ripen they resemble a rainbow: green on the shoulder, yellow in the middle, and red on the blossom end. When fully ripe, the fruits are gold on the stem end and red on the blossom end. Early fruits weigh over 2 lbs. with little catfacing or deformities. 'Big Rainbow' has very good resistance to foliar disease and continues to bear until frost.

Grown From Seeds- started indoors in March

Scotia Cross- Hand crossed from Scotia and Tiny Tim. Smaller red fruit that do well in containers. I admired them on a trip to Nova Scotia and was given some seeds to take home- 6 years later I am still growing them!

Black Cherry - . Plants produce a good quantity of purple/black cherry tomatoes that have the great flavour of all those black tomatoes. A tall, vigorous plant that produces abundant crops of 2 cm (1”) fruits. Fruits are irresistibly delicious.

Russian Rose - This Russian heirloom variety is aptly named as it bears fruit as pretty as a rose. The tomatoes are large rose-pink globes with excellent, sweet, full tomato flavor. The average size is usually about 12 ozs. with meaty flesh. Expect a good sized crop of these top-quality tomatoes.

From left to right: Top -Russian Rose, Big Rainbow Stripe, Yellow Bell Pepper
Bottom - Butterbean Edamame, Jalapeno peppers

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Building an Empire

Close behind my love of gardening is my need to build things with wood. Although our new apartment came with a lovely deck already in place I can always find ways to improve it. My first task was to design and build a work/potting bench and some seating. Simple you'd think, but made complicated by the fact that this entire row of buildings were built at an angle to the street. We'd already run into the fun that comes of trying to build square fixtures in a house without any right angles. A similar issue exist on the deck so it took several days of measuring and calculating angles to get the plans in place. Fortunately we live right across the street from a large building centre so carrying all the supplies home is a breeze and multiple trips are no hardship. In a couple days I had built a solid work bench and a cozy corner seating bench. I left the space under the work bench as storage for the green bin, compost and recycling bins and lined it with styrofoam to block the odors associated with them. In the winter it will make a good sheltered place for plants that need to winter over outside in pots. Under the seating bench is more storage for coolers and gardening supplies.

With that finished it was on to the next project- a clothesline! I have had a clothesline at every apartment I've lived at in Toronto and consider them to be an absolute necessity. Although we actually own a dryer it rarely gets used, for both financial and practical reasons- running a dryer in an apartment especially one without air conditioning is expensive and masochistic. I prefer to line dry everything, even in winter, and find that it also increases the lifespan of our clothing. not to mention the smell of line dried bedding beats fabric softeners any day!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Spring 2009- the beginnings of a garden!

As soon as it was warm enough I was outside digging in the dirt. Our downstairs neighbours have previously done a bit of gardening and the landlord provided them with some topsoil but it didn't take long to realize that it was a very shallow layer on top of the previous gravel parking spot- shades of my former back yard...Using the piles of old bricks that seem to come with every yard space in Toronto, I extended the previous garden by another 10 feet and began to scrounge for good soil to fill it in with. I hadn't been able to bring much compost from our previous place so I had to get resourceful. First stop - Environmental Days sponsored by the city! Every year they dump huge piles of leaf compost free for the taking at various spots around the city. Leaf compost is not ideal nutrient-wise but it's free and it adds bulk to sandy soil. At some locations there's a line-up to get to the pile and fill your wagon /bundlebuggy/ garbage bags. This year I even saw people wheel up their huge recycling bins on wheels and I was jealous that we didn't have one yet. Never the less my friend and I filled multiple garbage bags and loaded them in a borrowed vehicle. Next stop was the High Park Zoo! There we managed to score some 'zoo poo'- slightly smelly and mixed with bedding straw but a great start to the new composter I had built in the yard. Still needing more I was forced to purchase some bags of 3 way mix and manure to get about 4 inches worth of decent soil. It was a beginning.

Outside the garden was already stirring- the magenta violets survived and a few bulbs from a previous tenant emerged. The best news was a large patch of rhubarb appeared near the base of the sumach tree, in a spot hat I hadn't dug up thankfully! Inside my lovely sunporch the seedling trays and wintered over plants were happily doing their thing until the weather warmed up. With the wall of south-facing windows basking everything in hours of sunlight, I was astonished to see how well everything did inside this winter- my former space was lacking in both light and heat so growing seedlings was a challenge and I lost many plants every previous winter. You can imagine my surprise when a morning glory not only grew but flowered inside in April. I even sprouted an accidental tomato in January that was looking lovely and healthy until someone opened a window and it got frost nipped. it was a long spring this year so although I was able to set trays and pots outside often in April, some of them got nipped and nothing went into the ground until well into May. Which left me time to work on other projects - like building things!

New home, new garden.

Nov 1, 2008 we moved to a new apt, not far from the previous one. Although we weren't thrilled with moving, the new place offered a few bonuses that the previous one didn't-a heated, south facing sunporch, a large deck, and an actual backyard! The yard even came with a loosely defined garden so although it was late in the year, one of the first things I did was dig up as many of of the plants from my previous gardens that I thought might survive and trek them over to the new place. I dug up the rose and clematis, the magenta violets, echinacea, rubekia and the lilies. The rose was especially challenging since it had grown to over 10ft tall; I was forced to prune it back to a more manageable 5 ft and it lost a lot of roots.It resembled a bundle of dead sticks once I replanted it.Picking spots somewhat at random. I dug them all in and hoped for the best.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Portuguese Garden 2008

If you lurk around the back alleys of many older Toronto neighbourhoods you will see an abundance of gardens designed in the old world style. The Italians and Portuguese are well known for their courtyard style gardens complete with fruit trees, and of course grape vines. In 2008 my friend Colette purchased her first home- an older house in an existing Portuguese neighbourhood, complete with a walled garden, two grape arbours and an interlock brick patio. She graciously offered to share the garden space with me so early in March we measured the space and began laying out our garden plans on paper. Tomatoes and peppers were a must- the stakes were already in place from previous years. We also happily discovered some volunteer onions and garlic already sprouting. Our plans included lettuce, bush beans, carrots and beets, 3 kinds of winter squash, pumpkins and some zucchini. We eventually decided to add potatoes to the mix-we were definitely ambitious!

Digging the soil was the first task and an exercise in archeology. Apparently composting in this garden included bits of metal, broken tile, string, wood and what we hoped were soup bones. The soil itself was heavy clay and although it seems nutrient rich there was the issue of it compacting into a solid mass when wet. This was made more apparent as the summer progressed and the root veggies failed to produce the type of roots we were hoping for. Lots of leafy greens but not much else. The tomatoes and peppers started out well but were eventually crowded out by the grape vines that we neglected to cut back. One particular tomato- a yellow cherry, did exceedingly well, producing a prodigious amount of fruit right up until frost hit. However it also sent out 8 ft branches in all directions that we were too timid to prune and too overwhelmed to keep staked, thus contributing to the jungle that our tomato patch became. Lesson learned- plant tomatoes further apart and prune the indeterminants.

As for the other crops- lettuces were great, beans were plentiful and all the squashes did well even if they had a tendency to take over. The baby squash were a magnet for the rodents in the area-we lost a few and the remainder had teeth marks but we managed to see a few of each through to maturity. The potatoes were the biggest surprise- we planted early reds and had to fight the temptation to dig them up once they had finished flowering- again our lack of knowledge was a bit of drawback because we had only the rather vague instructions from the seed package for advice. We ended up waiting until late Sept at which point the vines had yellowed for the most part and we were delighted to find tons of rather large potatoes- about 20 lbs in total! To my taste however they were bland and not as good as the tiny ones I grew in a bucket. Perhaps it was the particular type we grew or maybe we just had bland soil.

All in all, our first year in the ground was a moderate success and we definitely learned a lot of valuable lessons.

Friday, August 28, 2009

If you plant in it, it's a garden!

Over the years I have lived in many different places. Whether I had a big open yard space or barely a window ledge I've always planted things. I've basically left a trail of lilac bushes and lavender all over southern Ont. But until recent years my attempts at vegetable gardening was pretty much limited to herbs and the odd tomato plant.I can't honestly say when my need to putter around in the dirt became an obsession to grow food, but it has become one in a big way. One day I was planting a single tomato in a pot and next thing I know I'm growing nine kinds of heirloom tomatoes on the roof ( actually the neighbour's roof - I ran out of room on my deck). I've grown potatoes and edamame in plastic pails, peppers in an ancient mop bucket and my herb garden is an old enamel basin. But what I really craved was an actual in the ground garden - my last apartment had a cement front step and a backyard parking lot. I did quite a bit of work to improve that ( see Reclaimed Earth at but was leery about planting anything edible in the toxic no man's land. I was working my way towards raised beds but we were unceremoniously kicked out of that apartment when new landlords bought the building last fall. Just as well since they had already made me get rid of my compost under the pretext that it attracted rats! Seriously- what kind of self respecting city rat would be interested in rotting vegetables?

Backyard Farms - My Education.

When I was a child, there was one word guaranteed to ruin my day- GARDEN! As one of 13 kids a large part of my summer holidays were spent in a large garden plot several kilometers from our house where my father attempted to stretch our food budget by growing as much produce as possible. As kids we were the bulk of the labour force for planting, weeding, watering and harvesting, and we had a pretty efficient assembly line for processing the results as well. I spent many days baking in the hot sun picking beans and strawberries, only to spend the next few days blanching and slicing the results for freezing. Hands puckered and sticky from peach juice running down my arms is still a vision that gives me chills- but these days for a much different reason! Now I race from my bed straight to my garden every morning to see whether the squash are flowering and what has ripened overnight. I rejoice as each heirloom tomato emerges, I brag about my early crop of beans and I eagerly share my knowledge of pickling with anyone who will listen. And for that I owe my parents big time!