I desperately need to clean up my rooftop garden. Desperately. Double desperately. It’s horrible how long I’ve let it got this year really. The warmer Fall temperatures were wonderfully evil and I just went with it pretending that Fall would continue forever. I rewarded myself for cleaning up at the community garden so early this year. I can put it off a little longer, I said. It will be just like last year, I said. There will not be snow until January and by then everyone will be freaking out and talking about the blooming crocus and dandelion flowers and how the end of the world is neigh and it won’t matter that some of the pots weren’t empty or that the strawberries never did get replanted from the big pot into the ground.
And now I am in this dilemma. It has already snowed. The ground is probably frozen. I say probably because I haven’t had the courage to check. I would take a picture and post it here for you to see what I am talking about but that would mean having to look and I can’t bear it. I avoid looking out there entirely preferring to pretend it doesn’t exist. From memory and the occasional tiny peek I do seem to recall an assortment of clay pots that are usually emptied, washed and put away by this time every year prior to this one. I’m pretty sure that tender Echeveria I’ve been over-wintering indoors for years is now dead. The shiso was never harvested. Lifeless bean stalks cling to string and a few remaining lantern-like tomatillos hang from leafless branches.
Today would be the perfect day to get out there and do it already. The sun is shining, the temperatures are above zero, and anything that was recently frozen is probably melted after yesterday’s torrential downpours. I could cut back the plants, remove and wash the terra cotta and be done with it. And I would be totally on it too, I really would, except that I have come down with a terrible cold complete with body aches and a nose that runs like a faucet. So instead I will go back to bed with a pile of hankies and a warm tea, putting those self-preserving powers of denial to work for one more day.
Garlic Shown: Stiff-neck which tends to be hardy and stores well over the long term.
Sitting down to write this, my first thoughts are to apologize for the slow down in updates recently. I consider writing to assure you that the slow down is merely a glitch in workload and I will not stop writing here during the winter season because gardening is a daily thing for me that does not stop it merely shifts with the seasons. While I’m at it I want to apologize for the header that still says “early Fall” when we all know it is proper Fall now. As I sit here a list of assorted lagging details run through my mind and I entertain the idea of apologizing for each one like something in the room that needs to be acknowledged before our relationship can move on. Or a clearing of my throat. “Ahem. Hi. Is this thing on?”
I wonder what it is about internet writing that brings that out? Is it the feeling of an informal and personable context? Is it the assumption that I am sitting down to speak directly to you and you back to me? When I sit down to write an article for a printed magazine I don’t think to begin with apologies and casual shout-outs. “So… Uh, sorry this is my first time writing for this magazine but you know how it goes, I had other stuff going on and insert excuse here. Before I kick this off I just want to say hey what’s up to so and so whom I met last week at such and such event.”
Okay, enough banter. Let’s talk about garlic.
I should preface these instructions by stating that I am not a garlic eater however I love to grow the plant. I think it is a beautiful plant worth growing regardless of personal taste, requires little effort to produce a good crop, is self-perpetuating (you can use this year’s harvest to produce next year’s crop) and it is especially useful as a pest repellent crop warding off insects like aphids and Japanese beetles. You can also crush garlic cloves in water and make an organic pest spray. Because garlic is easy to grow it also makes a good crop for trading with other food gardeners and friends.
The plants were so lovely in the window today on a sunny November afternoon. I could not help but grab a camera to capture the moment.
This is ‘Variegata’ hot pepper, a gorgeous and edible heirloom variety that has got a lot of play on the site recently. I grew it from seed for the first time back in the spring and it has become an unexpected favourite this year. The colours and shapes are so gorgeous, I find myself pointing the camera in its direction time and again. I brought it indoors before the frost kicked in and it has since continued to put out fruit. These will turn bright red when mature.
These are the flowering stems of two sundews: One the left Drosera aliciae and on the right, Drosera capensis.
This is one of two pencil cacti (aka Mistletoe Cactus) I have hanging in a window with indirect light. They are epiphytic jungle cacti which means they need a lot more water and richer soil than the desert cacti most of us are familiar with. This one is a member of the Rhipsalis genus although I have never been able to confirm the species.
Proudly cradling the basil harvested from my community garden plot. Varieties include: ‘African Blue’, ‘Purple Ruffles’, ‘Sweet Basil’, ‘Genovese’, ‘Columnar’, ‘Spicy Globe’, ‘Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil’, ‘Dark Opal’, and ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ (a variegated variety).
I reluctantly harvested the remaining basil plants from my community garden plot last weekend. With the temperatures dipping low it was time to take the plunge or risk losing all that lovely fresh basil to the frost. I am yet to harvest the remaining plants growing in containers on my rooftop deck but we are enjoying nipping out for fresh leaves to put on sandwiches and in salads so late into the fall season. Really with such a mild fall I am shocked that we have been able to hold out for so long. Basil is notorious for hating cold, wet weather and has never made it this far into the Fall (in my memory) before turning black and flopping over in defeat.
Between last weekend’s mad pesto/pisto making operation, and the basil I have been drying in bunches since mid-summer, I’d say we’re pretty well stocked until the first plants are ready to be pinched back next summer. I think this may be the first time that I’ve been able to look into the freezer and say with a sense of authority that the bounty is good.
The following is a very short clip revealing how frugal I can be about the basil. What can I say, each leaf is like a tiny nugget of gold!
I recently became an official card-carrying member of Seeds of Diversity, a move that was a long time coming. Okay, to be honest there is no actual membership card but there really should be — I am a proud nerd who loves the idea of a special membership card to a club of similarly-minded nerds. A button or t-shirt would be nice too. A patch would be great. I might consider wearing a special pair of gardening gloves if they were available. A hat would be pushing it.
Last Friday I received my first official membership email. Inside was an invite to take part in a national garlic-growing project called the Great Canadian Garlic Collection. Here’s how it works: members choose 3 varieties of garlic to grow (one variety called ‘Music’ is the control and everyone must grow that variety). Members grow these varieties for two years documenting their progress by filling out forms and making careful observations. Eventually the data will be collected providing Canadians with information about which varieties grow best under varying conditions so that gardeners can choose the best varieties for their area. The best part — the garlic is FREE!
Free garlic just when I was starting to consider my garlic options for the year AND I get to fill out pseudo-scientific forms AND be a part of a special very important project in a very important special peoples’ club…. I was so all over the idea that I was literally racing to choose my varieties and get the request off via email within minutes of receiving the invite. My heart was racing a mile a minute as I yelled across the room at Davin, “Would you prefer a variety that roasts well or has nice pink stripes? Which should I choose, ‘Persian Star’ or ‘Inchelium Red’? What should I choose? Help!” What if I was too late to take part? What if they ran out of garlic before receiving my request? What if my email was in a long queue behind thousands of other eager participants? What if they don’t want an urban gardener? All week long I’ve been telling friends and anyone who will listen about the project. An email confirming my participation came as a sigh of relief. And then yesterday my garlic arrived in the mail!
‘Music’ is the control. Everyone has to grow it. I chose ‘Siberian’ because it is supposed to be a hardy purple variety and ‘Persian Star’ because it is good for roasting and so darn pretty with dark reddish/purple stripes and pointy cloves.
And now comes the hard part… something this official requires that I keep track of the varieties, documenting which varieties I grow and where. Some people are hyper garden planners, I am not. I make open-ended decisions about the plants I will grow, the methods I will explore, the changes I will make to each space, and then I throw it all out the window at the last minute and mostly wing it. Some things are set in stone ahead of time but I try to keep those to a minimum so I can be open to something better that comes along last-minute. I hate being locked down into anything and prefer to go with the flow when the season starts. Keeping track of three different garlic varieties that need to be planted NOW means that I’ve got to make some sort of plan for spring. In the past I have planted my garlic crop in the Fall, working with and around that haphazard planting come spring. I often keep my garlic to the perimeter of my community garden plot to make things easier. I do pretty much the same thing with the onions and always have the option of pulling anything out that gets in the way. This has never been an issue because I’m never growing either plant for a project like this and I’ve always got more in the ground than is necessary anyways.
So I’ve got some work ahead of me in the next few days. Some of it is fun and some of it is forcing me to push against my nature in a way that I don’t particularly like. I’d been toying with the idea of separating my plot into more obvious sections next year so I know it will be something along those lines. But I haven’t made definite plans about staking (I try new methods every year) or exactly how to divide those sections beyond working with the perennials that are already in place. Your suggestions are appreciated.