Garden-sitting for the Alters: Harvest edition!

September 11, 2009

Well, the summer has pretty much ended, which is kind of a bummer. On the bright side, however, harvest season is in full force! Before my final schlep up to the Alters’ garden (I’ve been garden-sitting, for those who don’t know; here’s Part 1 and Part 2), Jacob let out an exasperated sigh and said, “Remind me why you’re doing this, again?”

I had four words for him: We’re sharing the bounty.

And my, oh my, what a bounty there was! I was literally stopped in my tracks when I entered the backyard and saw a zucchini plant crawling up a tree, the tendrils of a squash plant creeping over to the house next-door and lettuce that had grown nearly as tall as my chest (I decided to let it “bolt” just to see how high it would get — turns out, it can get pretty high; and it even has beautiful little flowers at the top in a cute starburst formation). Part of me was almost weirded out by the whole scene, like it was straight out of Little Shop of Horrors and Audrey 2 was everywhere. But I regained my composure and started wandering amongst the foliage to see what I could pluck — I was told by Kelly to “eat, eat, eat” whatever was ready to be harvested — and eventually discovered two HUGE zucchinis. The squash wasn’t quite ready yet, so I gave it more water and let it be. There were ridiculous amounts of kale, so I snatched a few leaves of that; then I took some stuff that I thought was maybe spinach but is actually a complete Mystery Plant to me. It has a kind of lemony taste to it and big, flat leaves. The peas had unfortunately dried up, but the beets were still kicking, so I pulled up a couple of the bigger ones. Here’s the finished cornucopia:

Harvest!

I guess it doesn’t seem like very much, really, considering the square footage of the garden itself. However, it’s still exciting that, with a horribly damp summer and next to no green thumbs, I was able to help the Alters produce real, living, healthy food. Needless to say, I returned home, dragged Jacob outside, pointed to the veggies and said, “THAT’s why I spent all that time weeding!” Then, we had a delicious vegetarian curry.

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Garden-sitting for the Alters, Part Two

August 9, 2009

Anyone who knows anyone in Toronto will be able to tell you that this city has been plagued with the worst summer weather this year — nothing but rain, rain, and more rain. Add a 34-day garbage strike to that (not to mention no daycare, community centres, ferries to the island, etc.), and you’ve got about two million people wearing their cranky pants like they were never going out of style. But I’m finding that one of the best ways to get out my frustration is to head over to the nearest garden and pull up weeds for an hour. However, because my garden is teensy, I usually go to the Alters, who have kindly let me garden-sit for July and August.

So here’s a little update: The beds of seedlings (beets, pea shoots and a bunch of other stuff) are sadly not doing very well but I can’t quite figure out why. I’m guessing it’s either a lack of sun or animals, except they’re pretty well guarded with chicken wire. The peas are faring the best, but who knows if the beets will make it. Here’s the pic:

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Here’s a close-up of the peas (I don’t have a macro lens on my camera, so they unfortunately look a bit blurry):

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On the bright side, however, the lettuce is doing quite well — it’s growing in these crazy vertical stalks rather than stubby little heads. I didn’t know lettuce could grow this way, but it looks healthy:

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And although the kale at the back of the garden is covered in slug holes, the ones at the front look fab:

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The squash and zucchini are also surviving the rain-and-no-sun problems, although I accidentally stepped on one of the zucchini stems while trying to cut back some dead flowers. Grr.

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And finally, there are the herbs — the basil looks to be in stable condition but also appears to have finished growing. The sage, after a bit of pruning, looks pretty decent, and the container pots are still alive and upright (one got knocked over by a raccoon but survived the trauma):

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That’s it for now! Feel free to offer any tips/advice on how to cope with mass amounts of rain… In the mean time, I’m going to stay home today and clean (and also sulk).


Garden-sitting for the Alters (Part 1)

July 2, 2009

My garden is lovely. It really is; and it’s mostly thanks to my mother, who sneaks in while I’m away to plant hostas, Virginia creepers, herbs, ferns and juniper bushes. I’ve added my own lavender and cat grass to the mix, and on my top deck there’s the tomato plant, overly ambitious blueberry bush, spring onions, lettuce and Mr. Meyer Lemon. Out front, I’ve got an enormous, surely hundred-year-old tree (I don’t even know what it is, actually, but I want to say it’s an oak) with some unruly green bushy business underneath (what is that again, Mom?).

But the amount of actual gardening space is still fairly restricted; I do live right downtown, after all, in a highly dense row of houses. While lamenting this fact the other night in a conversation with Lloyd and Kelly Alter — both fellow Torontonians and writers at Treehugger.com — they began also lamenting the state of their own garden. Every summer, they go up to the cottage for two months, and whatever they plant in their backyard usually dies by the time they return.

“Well, why don’t I look after it?” I said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Kelly’s eyes lit up as she realized the potential of this: They could spend the next few days filling their yard with fruit and vegetable seedlings, give me a quick briefing on which plants need what kind of care, show me where all the tools are and how to get in, then relax up at their cottage knowing I’d be dropping by the Toronto homestead on a regular basis to water, weed and maybe aerate the soil.

By September, there’d be a solid harvest.

What’s in it for me? Well, the Alters have done all the purchasing and planting ahead of time and have also offered to split the bounty (providing I don’t kill everything!), and in the mean time, I get some extra gardening practice. It’s kind of like a community garden or an allotment, but more straightforward — in a word, I’m garden-sitting.

So from time to time, over the next couple months, I’ll be blogging about my experiences in surrogate urban gardening, posting lots of photos so Lloyd and Kelly can check in on my progress from the cottage and see how things are going. To begin, here’s a pic of me weeding around the kale plants earlier this afternoon, snapped by Jacob, who claimed he was too jet-lagged and full of ribs to help:

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Er, yeah. Ignore the cleavage please. Anyway, I was mostly weeding, but also clipping back some dead parts of the rose bushes, aerating the soil a bit and making sure everything was watered. Some things are looking pretty good: The lettuce is still alive, the squash and zucchini plants are growing, the basil is healthy. But the Alters seem to have a lot more animal issues than me: The kale was being eaten by some sort of bug, a lot of the bell pepper and bean seedlings are now only tiny stalks, and the tomato plant… well, see for yourself:

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I don’t know what got into that. Either way, we’ll see how things go — maybe I’ll bring around some of my organic slug bait and fertilizer next time, or rearrange their chicken wire to make it more animal-proof. I’m also going to wear sturdier gloves — those rose thorns are killer!

That’s it for now! Happy gardening, everyone!


Green on the inside

June 4, 2009

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I often talk about the myriad ways we can green our lifestyles — drinking tap water from a reusable stainless steel bottle (although, I actually just switched from my aluminum Sigg to a Kleen Kanteen after learning that the company still won’t reveal what they line their bottles with, but that’s a whole other story), changing lightbulbs to CFLs (well, technically we should be moving towards LEDs because there have been some sketchy reports about the mercury and whatnot in CFLs and personally I hate the glare that fluorescent bulbs give off, so the only CFLs in my house are either outside or in a closet), or … wait… I forget what I was trying to say.

Oh yeah! My point is: It’s all very well to make these external changes, but it’s just as important to be green on the inside. We should be thinking about our actions, of course, but we also need to think about what we put into our bodies. If you want to follow this green-on-the-inside advice in the literal sense, I highly recommend Meghan’s green smoothie cleanse, which starts this weekend. This is NOT one of those sketchy juice fasts or lemonade-and-cayenne-pepper detoxes, and it doesn’t involve endless weeks upon endless weeks of cabbage soup. It’s actually pretty simple: You just make a series of smoothies for a few days that are loaded with healthy vegetables — no protein powders. You can download an incredibly thorough tutorial about why these smoothies are so beneficial to your skin, heart, immune system, etc., and Meghan will even be Twittering (or tweeting… whatever) support for everyone along the way.

But what I think is extra great about this particular cleanse — and this comes from someone who is pretty much anti-cleansing; in fact, anti-anything that screws with my routine or prevents me from drinking red wine — is that it’s garbage-free, which makes it green on entirely different level. All of the ingredients are whole foods like kale, spinach and parsley, which can be purchased in the produce aisle of your nearest grocery store or farmer’s market with no packaging whatsoever; and if you want to take the smoothie out with you to work or to a picnic, you can pour it into a reusable cup or bottle. Everything you don’t throw into the blender can go into the compost bin.

Even if you don’t sign up for this, it’s kind of fun to take at least one day a week and try to create no garbage whatsoever, especially when it comes to food. Some items are always difficult to purchase without reams of plastic attached (I’m thinking of berries, in particular, which come in those unrecyclable cases), but this is actually the perfect excuse to go out and get a blueberry bush for the garden. My boy and I got one a few days ago and named it Boris. I’ll keep you updated on its vital stats.

Speaking of packaging, I will say this: Sometimes it’s unavoidable, so don’t beat yourself up over the occasional indulgence — after all, even Meg and I will succumb to certain food or enviro vices at times. For instance, at a friend’s wedding recently, we both got a little peckish before dinner, and in unison reached into our purses and pulled out two food bars. Here’s the photographic documentation:

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Admittedly, they were both raw, unprocessed, preservative-free, [insert a few other hippie-and-nutritionist-friendly terms here] food bars, so it wasn’t as though we were secretly noshing on Cheetos. But still, my aim is to be at least 90% on-target with all my green goals and values, so although I allow the occasional pre-packaged nonsense, I always try to make up for it with something like a garbage-free weekend.

With that, happy cleansing! Or just happy green-eating and garbage-minimizing in general! There’s no such thing as too much loose, organic kale, people… no such thing…