I’ll be traveling to Hamilton, Ontario this Sunday to do a book signing and give two presentations at the Royal Botanical Gardens. Giving gardening presentations and workshops has become a regular part of my spring schedule yet it is something I rarely seem to talk about here. What’s worse is that I have been noticing a growing disconnect between the things I add to the site and the things I talk about at these events. Looking back I think it’s got to be the fact that I am so exhausted by the end of spring that I just kind of move on and lose the excitment to share. Last spring I wrote, designed (with photos) and gave eight completely lectures within a months time! My New Year’s resolution is to start integrating all of these different aspects into this site.
One of my favourite things about speaking to groups is showing photos of the gardens I find in the craziest places. My attitude is that if these people can pull it off, anyone can! I have taken to starting off many presentations with the following photo since I think it’s about the most successful worst garden I have ever encountered.
I first found this little tomato patch a few summers back while wandering through the alleys of Toronto. Toronto has an exceptionally great alley system that is an interesting (but sometimes indirect) system for walking or biking from point A to B if you’d rather stay off the beaten path. People are less concerned about the back of their house so there is a lot of hidden gems and bits of history that has been left in place.
But I digress. Every summer a group of artists borrow the garages of a local system of alleys to put on an art show called “Alley Jaunt.” I found this little cobbled-together raised bed sitting behind a garage while out exploring these temporary garage galleries. A year later I came across the same garden while on another Alley Jaunt. This time the gardener responsible was there tending to and harvesting an impressive patch of pole beans — his own version of crop rotation! Unfortunately the elderly gent spoke Portueguese and I do not so communication was impossible. I tried to let him know how impressed and inspired I was by his garden as best I could and then went on my way.
A friend and I attended The Royal, Toronto’s big city attempt at a country fall fair. I was unable to make it over the last few years and forgot how good it is. Fall fairs are like cultural anthropology that happens close to home. There’s just something wholesome, quaint, and yet slightly off about neatly displayed jars of preserves, big piles of prize-winning sheared wool, and butter sculptures. I love it!
We went straight for my favorite part: the mutant veggies. I’ve really gotta try my hand at growing an out-of-control turnip or carrot one of these days. I’m too hung up on results-based gardening — turning out produce that is actually edible. I’m missing out on the time-honored tradition of making stuff HUGE just for the hell of it!
We concluded that it had to be a beet. Possibly a ‘Golden Beet.’
I’m disappointed in the lack of grotesqueness of this first place prize-winning potato. It’s too cute to be a prize-winning mutant. Reminds me of a baby seal.
No amount of roasting or Cuisinart trickery can transform this wooden zucchini into something edible. I suggest burning for warmth.
The tag says, “8th Place for Most Unusually Shaped Vegetable.” Help.
Despite the cold — and the fact that we experienced a brief and light snowfall this afternoon — outdoor gardening is still happening here in Toronto. I am yet to put any of my gardens to bed. The side garden is fine really. Doing a last clean-up is pretty much my choice. I choose to be lazy until such time when and if I am struck with the spirit of Martha.
Hardneck garlic before planting. I bought these cloves at the Organic Farmer’s Market… specifically from The Dufferin Grove Market and the Plan B Farm. They were still selling cloves today if you’re looking in Toronto.
The rooftop container garden is another thing entirely. I have really got to get on that action. Dead annuals need to be composted, soil collected, pots scrubbed clean and brought indoors, and everything put away — it’s a crucifixion! Things are starting to freeze up there. I should be out there right now, not inside in the warmth, heating my body by the warm monitor glow. I’ll get on that tomorrow.
Planting Thyme in the cold, wet dirt. Sure is fun!
Thankfully I have been slowly working on the community garden since the first signs of fall back in September. I planted hardneck garlic last week, and Egyptian clumping onions at least a month prior. I pulled up or cut back most of the dead calendula and borage, pulled up a zucchini plant, harvested everything that wasn’t going to see another day, and laid straw down. Rather than overwintering potted perennial herbs as I often do, I elected to plant the marjoram and various thyme varieties in a section of the new community plot. All of the still-green tomatoes were picked and are sat on top of the warm fridge ripening. I’ve got a single precious ‘Black Pear’ tomato left that I am saving until the absolute perfect moment to enjoy on a fried egg sandwich with pesto.
As things get colder I am finding myself longing for the days of summer when I was out in the garden sweating in a t-shirt. Sweat and heat exhaustion sound good right now. I was at the community garden on Saturday wearing several layers to protect against both the cold and the rain. When I got home my hands were frozen and went through that terrible dethawing process that is a mix of both itchiness and pain. I love gardening and even those those wet days can be some of the best for things like planting perennials even I can’t sell it. Digging in cold wet dirt just sucks!
Guest post by Emira Mears
The only remaining bulbs I had on my list to plant for the Fall was my garlic. Planting out the garlic required a bit more preparation as I had to clean up some space in my veggie beds getting rid of finished beans, cukes and some arugula that had bolted and I swear was making a run for the basement door, before I would have room to put the garlic in.
This will be my first time growing garlic and so far I’ve already learned a lot. For starters, I ordered way too much (so if you’re in Canada and would like some lovely garlic to plant let me know via ourdomicile at gmail dot com and perhaps we can work something out in the way of a trade) getting a bit confused by the whole bulb vs. clove business when I placed my bulb orders. You see, it was obvious to me when they arrived, but for some reason not so obvious when I placed the order that five bulbs of garlic meant five bulbs full of a bunch of wee cloves that then get broken up and planted individually. But I was thinking more along the lines of 5 bulbs = 5 bulbs to plant like with my tulip order and so foolishly ordered 10 thinking that was quite conservative. I now have planted about 40 cloves of garlic and have some extras for those who are interested.
Anyway. I woke up to another sunny day yesterday and decided I would use the opportunity to get my garlic in the ground. I did a bit of web searching and discovered that there are all kinds of opinions about what one has to do to grow good garlic. Many of the web sites I read stressed the difference between “growing garlic” (which is apparently easy) and “growing good garlic” which is apparently trickier. I followed the advice of a few handy tips I read online and soaked the cloves in a mixture of baking soda (1 heaping tablespoon for one bowl containing the cloves of 5 bulbs) and water for a few hours to make it easier to slip off the skins and apparently to help kill any fungus that might be on the cloves. I also read suggestions to add liquid seaweed to this mixture to help feed the garlic but I didn’t have any around the house and I was feeling mighty impatient (and like this may be my last sunny Sunday of the season). I then prepped the soil, turning it over well and adding some compost. After that I undertook the very laborious task of peeling the skin off all those cloves which took a fair while, and then drained the baking soda liquid off to replace it with a quick soak in some 100 proof vodka. This was recommended as a further way to ensure any fungus on the garlic was killed, and given the wiff of garlic/vodka I got as I was planting these little nuggets I’d say that was successful.
I planted them at a 2″ depth about 4″ apart and was careful to mark all my spots so I don’t dig them up again next Spring. I’ve also read in numerous spots now that applying some mulch to the ground for the winter is a good idea to help keep them warm. I had been planning on mulching my veggie beds anyway to help keep weeds down and add nutrients so now I’ve got an extra incentive. If even half of my garlic comes up we’ll be doing pretty well, which is great as I use a lot of it in the kitchen and even more when I’m preserving in the Summer. I’ll let you know how it goes and if I suspect any of these tips were useful, but I’m afraid you’ll have to sit tight for a good six months or so to find out.
At a Toronto area You Grow Girl meet up last week we discussed our gardening successes and disappointments of the last year. Beth, a rooftop container gardener mentioned that she was most disappointed by her container-grown ‘Chinese Five Colour’ (or color for the Americans) Hot Pepper plant, stating that the plant was boring and the peppers bland, and tasteless. I was surprised since my experience with this variety has placed it onto my list of current favourites and a plant that I will definitely grow again if not promote to other gardeners, especially container gardeners. This is one of those discussions that reminds me how varied our gardening experiences can be, even with the same varieties and seemingly similar growing conditions. I sometimes forget in my enthusiasm when reviewing a plant that my outcome isn’t universal. I am reminded that what works for me might not work for someone else, and vice-versa.
And knowing this I still feel an irrational obligation to defend the plant like I’m defending my taste for souvenir picture trays or cheesy poutine. “You don’t know!”
And so, I give you:
In Defense of ‘Chinese Five Colour’ Hot Peppers
- I grew this plant as an experimental comparison to last year’s favourite, “New Mex Twilight’ hot pepper. The plants are very similar in that they are both produce gorgeous green foliage with purple stems and veins, with small hot peppers that start out light purple and evolve into a rainbow ending in bright red when fully mature. In comparison, the plants were very similar but the ‘Chinese Five Colour’ produces larger fruit. The larger fruit stood out sharply in contrast to the leaves. It was really stunning!
- I will say it again: gorgeous green foliage with purple stems and veins that produced an abundance of rainbow-coloured fruit.
- My peppers are indeed HOT!
- One plant produced enough fruit to braid an attractive string of drying peppers. Everyone I know will be in hot peppers for eternity.
- Grew easily into a large plant in a medium-sized container.
- Colette of Urban Harvest (whom I purchased the plant from) informed me that this variety is rare while ‘New Mex Twilight’ is not. I am a sucker for a good back story and admit to being completely duped by the term “rare.”
With Kitty aka “Voltron: Defender of the Universe” who comes running whenever the camera is out.