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.