I have a great deal to tell you about the gardening I have been doing over the past weeks. But before I can do that the marginally anal retentive side of me demands that I address my appearance on The National last night. The segment was arranged at the last minute and we had not yet done our seasonal clean-up so there was winter junk strewn about. I had hoped the camera guy could do some “creative” in-camera editing but knew that probably wasn’t the case since he was using a very wide lens. When he walked over to the far end of the deck to take shots of the whole thing I knew my dirty secret was blown and that viewers across Canada would see that sometimes my little rooftop oasis looks like crap! And I imagined that they watched the segment and thought to themselves why go to the trouble when it looks so awful.
In an effort to ever-so-slightly redeem myself in the eyes of the world I present to you photographic evidence that a rooftop container garden IS a beautiful thing.
You can see lots more pictures taken of the rooftop garden over the years on my Flickr account.
I spent Saturday doing hardcore gardening work including prepping the fire-escape windowboxes for planting. On Sunday afternoon I purchased a few plants for the boxes and decided to get them planted up rather than wait for additional plants. Check out what I found buried by our friendly neighbourhood squirrel:
A sign of the times. Last year peanuts, this year an entire slice of pizza!
I know it was a new addition because not only was it still intact but I had just dug that spot yesterday. There was also evidence of squirrel digging on the other side of the box.
The location of the squirrel pizza.
I’ve been receiving requests for information on starting a community garden since posting about my experience working with the H.O.P.E Community Garden Group here in Toronto. Starting a community garden is an awesome experience but it is also quite an undertaking. Starting a garden is as much about the physical labor involved in building the garden space as it is about building community and working co-operatively with a sense of commitment and purpose. My experiences with The H.O.P.E Garden have been so positive because of the efforts of project organizer Shannon Thompson of Greenest City, a Toronto based non-profit that has gone above and beyond in organizing one of the most well-functioning teams I have ever had the pleasure to work alongside.
Of course most of us don’t have the benefit of a team experienced in community building and the practical ins-and-outs of community garden organizating. In that case I would recommend that anyone looking to start a community garden in their area pick up a copy of “How Does Our Garden Grow?: A Guide to Community Garden Success” published by FoodShare and written by Laura Berman. This is an excellent and comprehensive resource that outlines many of the issues that you will face when starting a garden from leadership, site design and selection, to raising money and establishing gardener expectations. There is even a practical gardening section for beginners covering topics such as companion planting and composting.
You can’t beat an early spring harvest courtesy of cold-hardy perennials. I’ve barely done anything in the garden and I’m already raking in the food stuffs!
Clockwise from top right: Onions, dandelion greens, garlic chives, chives, lemon balm.
These chives have been growing in a large galvanized wash basin on my rooftop deck for several years. They always survive whatever winter throws at them and are the first thing up in the spring. Buds are starting to show which means that chive blossoms aren’t far off.
This is only the beginning of lemon balm (aka lemon bomb!) season at the community garden. The trick of it is to catch it early and harvest the tender leaves before flowers make an appearance.
My French sorrel (another early riser) inexplicably disappeared this year so I walked over to the garden early this evening and popped a new one into the ground.
I went out foraging stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) last weekend. I harvested young leaves for eating and have set aside most to be made into a liquid fertilizer for my plants. Stinging nettle is very high in magnesium and iron making it good for both your bod and your plants’ too.
I went out partially prepared with snips and a collecting bag but forgot my gloves and was stuck slowly and delicately lifting each snipped piece into the bag wielding the sharp clippers like tongs. I suffered a few small “bites” to my hand after growing impatient with the delicate procedure but the early season foliage doesn’t seem to be as nasty as late-season plants because I didn’t need to seek out foliar antidotes (Rubbing the leaves of dock, mullein, jewelweed, or plantain on your skin will neutralize the sting. It is said that the cure is always growing within eyesight and in my experience that has proven to be the case everytime.)
I’m thinking of going out again before the plants mature. I’ve become intrigued by the idea of making up a batch of nettle soup after seeing it done by school kids reliving WW2 times on the BBC show Evacuation. Why yes, I do know that I’m a geek.