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mid-winter garden inspiration

In the middle of this cold dreary winter it's hard to think ahead to spring!  Looking for some inspiration I turned to favourite garden quotations and pictures from last summer.  This one features my dear friend Bonez Poley's garden behind her dwelling which is one part house, one part punk-rock party venue *grin*


Green in the Snow

No wonder Suehlihung, a type of chinese mustard greens, are commonly known as "Green in the Snow"!
These incredibly tough, hardy, cold tolerant greens seem to be surviving the winter remarkably well under the blanket of wintery white we've finally gotten this year.  When they poke through I've been clipping small handfuls to garnish soups and stews - their usual sharp mustardy taste is a little milder and sweeter it seems, though still quite pungent.  Along with the amazing Suehlihung I also still have the everlasting and seemingly impossible to kill rainbow swiss chard that I think has got to be 2 seasons old now!  I just continue to cut the leaves back to the base and they continue to grow, snow and all.  Anyone who claims that it's "too anything" (cold, dry, short season, poor soil) to garden wherever they are can stuff it!  Mine 1 foot wide strip of disturbed land next to a parking spot and now under a layer of snow is clearly proving the odds are beatable.


everything INCLUDING the kitchen sink!

a windowgarden I had, once upon a time ago... now inspiration for future gardens :)


Niagara Seedy Saturday

It's happening again...

I sat down at the computer this afternoon and heard the unmistakable pip..skitter of a hard seed, falling out of my sleeve onto and across the table.  Not surprising really, considering I spent the day at an event called Seedy Saturday!  This day is like the New Years Eve of my growing year.  It won't be long now, before seeds are skittering everywhere and soil is tracked in underfoot.  The new season is almost, but not quite upon us and I feel the same excited glee that others might have felt at the holidays, unwrapping seed packets like presents and leaving my gifts for others, at the seed exchange table.

Seedy Saturday has a real warm and friendly feel to it.  I have to give huge thanks and congratulations to Linda Crago of Tree and Twig Heirlooms for that, she brings together wonderful experts, speakers, vendors and the people who attend round out a true community.  

I am incredibly lucky to have such wonderfully active friends in the local agricultural area and spending the day with these strong women is downright inspiring.  Two of them were speaking at the event - Elva, my dear friend at Rhizome Farms spoke about being a young farmer in Niagara.  It was really encouraging to hear another farmer, my age, speak about  the same struggles I've experienced, but also listening to the joys and accomplishments she's managed in just a short time longer than I've been growing.  She was followed by Tiffany Mayer, a local blogger I read and admire, who spoke about her residential fruit picking program: Garden of Eating Niagara.

Reason #632 that I had a great day at Seedy Saturday (no really, it was that good of a day) I got to meet one of my favourite bloggers - Karen of The Art of Doing Stuff, who was the 3rd speaker I managed to check out.  She was delightfully sarcastic in person, as she is in writing, but also quite heartfelt in how she conveyed her passion for her front yard garden (and illegal backyard chickens).

The swap table is my favourite but also most essential part of Seedy Saturday.  Every year I save more seed than the last and I try to take as much as I can spare to the swap table.  This year I managed to donate 30+ bags of seed, 15 types of tomatoes and the rest mostly beets and rapini since the last thing I did in the garden was let an entire planting of each go to seed.  I was there all day so I tried to spread out my donations every few hours.  Veggie seeds were slim pickings, but despite leaving the less abundant ones for others I still came away with a few very interesting specimens!  Yellow Pear tomatoes, Purple Orach mountain spinach, Tom Thumb popcorn, Elva's chives, and Karen hooked us up with some Cubit's Organic Rainbow carrots - I am now incredibly impatient for spring!  The rest of the afternoon  went by quickly, chatting with other passionate growers and seed savers and enjoying the company of even more friends - Keri and Laurie, organizers of Niagara VegFest and Tikvah, representing Niagara Community Garden Network.  I said it once before, but I have to say it again... spending the day with these strong women is downright inspiring.


COC Free Concert Series

I think one of the most radical things about living in a bigger city is the access to free (or cheap) cultural activities!  Don't get me wrong, when I go to see local bands I always pay the cover and I fully advocate for properly paying our musicians and artists when I'm acting as a community organizer.  But personally?  I don't have a ton of cash, and neither do many of the people I know - so programs like the Canadian Opera Company's Free Concert Series are a fantastic way for an underserved group of people to access classical music and fine performance arts, all on their lunch break! 
I had been meaning to visit Toronto for one of my days off, which for me are always weekdays so I had been keeping an eye on the COC's lunchtime and yes, free events.  I'll admit - I wanted to see dance, ballet or some kind of physical performance because as you can see the space is fantastic.  The stars aligned differently, however, and I ended up seeing Stephen B. Hargreaves on piano.

Variations on 1930 - American pianist, harpsichordist and conductor Stephen B. Hargreaves presents a colourful snapshot of the year 1930 with an eclectic program ranging from piano music by Copland (Piano Variations), Britten (Three Character Pieces), and Kodály (Dances of Marrosszék) to Art Tatum’s transcription of Tea for Two.

Within your own community I would highly suggest keeping an eye on public event listings in the paper, online classifieds and even facebook for free or inexpensive cultural outings.  Adding a little bit of traditional arts performance to your life routine can be incredibly enriching and inspiring :)


Growing, Eating, Living - Vigorously!

Gardening wants Vigour - so I grow, at home.  Because having vitality and green growth nearby throughout the winter, motivates me to keep planning for vigorous growth outdoors in the spring.  

Planting strong, vital heirloom seeds in the nooks and crannies of my home encourages me to save even more seed next year. Producing healthy, organic plants full of nutrition from just steps from my kitchen, encourages me to eat that way. 

Sprouted seeds can be germinated at home, on the counter in any season.  A convenient fresh source of nutrition, sprouts deliver all the vigour of a dynamic seed directly into my diet!  

Sprouts are rich in digestible energy, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, proteins, phytochemicals, because these are all necessary for a germinating plant to grow from seed.  Resting seeds also contain starch, the source of seed vigour and a healthy energy source for ourselves.  Soaking and sprouting removes enzyme inhibitors, so sprouts are enzyme rich and their minerals easier to absorb.


Writing as Activism

Gardening is Civil - and one way of maintaining civility is civic engagement. I improve my neighbourhood, community and social fabric by advocating, participating in local activities and having a strong voice.

Today I wrote poems about the need for civic action towards improving our food security and food networks in a Writing as Activism workshop with B.C. social justice poet Lisa Slater hosted by HYP-Slam.

Writing as Activism - Spoken word poetry is a grassroots art movement reclaiming poetry from the literary elite and putting the oral tradition back in the hands of ordinary people. As a result, there is tremendous potential for us to use our writing as a tool for social justice and to give voice to marginalized stories and experiences. Exploring political issues that they care about, workshop participants will learn strategies to meaningfully address those issues and craft compelling and interesting poetry advocating for social justice





Photo-poem: Anthem


Wild Gardends at BPL

Gardening wants to be like the forest - natural, uninhibited, growing in dense tangled masses, lacking discipline or restraint.  Walking in the wintry forest, at a snow-covered time of year is a truly wondrous feeling and gardens that draw from that natural character have the same lovely, interesting quality :)  The small gardens surrounding the Central Public Library in Burlington are a perfect example of this wild, organic aesthetic with unrestrained massed grasses, tall trees and textured undergrowth.


James St N Art Crawl

Gardening wants freedom - and freedom is not something that exists in isolation.  Tonight I headed to downtown Hamilton to the James St N Art Crawl, in support of community businesses, as an ally to IdleNoMore, and to generally exercise my right to artistic freedom and free speech.

IdleNoMore calls on all people to join in a revolution which honors and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water. Colonization continues through attacks to Indigenous rights and damage to the land and water. We must repair these violations, live the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship, work towards justice in action, and protect Mother Earth.

IdleNoMore is working to stop the federal government from passing laws which erode treaty and Indigenous rights but also the rights of all Canadians, laws which protect land and water and access to them. These ideals go hand in hand with my goal of ecological freedoms and I have learned some of my most trusted lessons from elders out on the land and rivers or in the bush up north.  Today is IdleNoMore's Global Day of Action, so I stopped by their Intertribal Rave / Flash Mob and sought out this exhibit at the art crawl - Storybones, Inuit and English themes woven in a storytelling narrative that is both traditional and modern.

Next I stopped in to SPEAK - a Multimedia & spoken word installation presented by the Hamilton Youth Poetry Slam and Factory Media Centre.  There's nothing I can think of that represents free speech more than Slam Poetry - a competitive form of performance poetry/spoken word.  I was at the art crawl with Dan (aka Dan Murray (aka Dan)), Canadian poet and host of HYP's monthly slams, he explained the process:

A poetry slam is, in a way, like a battle of the bands. Except the lyrics are the most important part. And there’s no music. Oh, and the audience decides your fate, gladiator style. It’s a spoken word competition in which poets step up to the microphone and share their art for 3 minute periods. Poems are generally pre-written, and often memorized – as the performance aspect of each poem is taken into account. At the end of each poem, five judges (selected randomly from the audience at the beginning of the night) hold up scores ranging from zero to ten with a single decimal place. Non-judges are encouraged to cheer or boo scores, and be as vocal as possible in identifying their favourite. At the end of the slam, scores are tallied, and the highest scoring poet often walks out with some cash as a result.

Lastly we wandered up and down James St N enjoying a mild and bright evening, wandering in and out of local businesses and through a vibrant, slowly rejuvenating, downtown core.  These are the sorts of places and civic attitudes I want to cultivate.  Attending and supporting these art crawl events is, well first of all fun, and an altruistic expression of support for my community, but also a symbiotic act - hopefully this community will return the favor and support as ecological allies.


Growing, Eating, Living - Vigorously!

Gardening wants Vigour - so I grow, at home.  Because having vitality and green growth nearby throughout the winter, motivates me to keep planning for vigorous growth outdoors in the spring.  Planting strong, vital heirloom seeds in the nooks and crannies of my home encourages me to save even more seed next year. Producing healthy, organic plants full of nutrition from just steps from my kitchen, encourages me to eat that way.  Even the lights themselves keep me happy and healthy in the winter, sitting under them offsets my seasonal depression giving me more energy and enthusiasm.
One of my grow lights is right inside large south-facing window so I can make the most of both natural and artificial light.  Here I start all the seeds and grow the widest range of plants - micro tomatoes, nasturtiums, individually potted herbs: thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary.  Then I transfer any larger volume crops down to the grow lights in my basement.  The lettuce you see right above, was grown hydroponically in a large rubbermaid storage buckets with an aquarium pump.  The lettuce seedlings below are all waiting to fill smaller running-water hydroponic troughs, I try to seed every few days or weeks for a constant supply of baby-leaf lettuce.  A few dozen of them will go into the larger hydroponic buckets to be grown out into full heads.  Herbs can tolerate growing fairly large in dense cell-pack flats, like the flat of parsley down at the bottom.  
Mostly though, what I'm trying to show - is that it can be done! and I'm happy to swap ideas :)


Entertaining with Heirloom Vegetables

Gardening is social - I'm trying to focus more on incorporating gardening, horticulture and even agriculture into my social life.  I love to cook, to host, to entertain and over the holidays I got a chance to bring the world of heirloom vegetables and farmers markets to the dinner parties I was hosting.

One of the biggest hits was a salad of mixed greens I grew at home, topped with thinly sliced raw chioggia beets (aka candy-stripe beets) and red onions, all drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette.
Not only was I able to convince some of my guests to actually enjoy beets, but telling farmers market stories makes for wonderfully fulfilling dinner conversation.  This aren't just impersonal vegetables from the grocery store, my guests loved hearing about Brian and Alice's onions and beets, unusual heirlooms grown with love on their organic Veggie Patch Farm.


Side-Yard Cleanup

Gardening is Civil, and if I'm going to push the boundaries of urban agriculture, planting a food forest, a market garden and possibly a greenhouse, I probably should be, too.  I need the support of my landlord, my neighbours and my community.  If I am going to demand civil rights, I need to be a responsible citizen.

Civic virtue - habits showing high moral standards or being of use and importance to the wider community.  Our civil relationships with our neighbours and community members hinge not just upon our civil rights to political and social freedom and equality but also our civil responsibilities to maintain, support and give back to our civic society.

I'm starting at home, and trying to develop habits to keep the side-yard clean and tidy, even in the off-season when I'm not using the spot as a growing area.  I want the shared space to look better for my neighbours and show my landlords (who have been very supportive of my growing endeavors) that I respect their property :)

Today's list:
  1. Get rid of any trash, broken pots, recycle any loose or broken plastic (sit it aside until Friday's pickup)
  2. Get 3 separate green bins, one each for: household organics, plant material and soil
  3. Pour leftover clean soil into pots, shallow pool
  4. Sort & stack all pots -> shed or basement
  5. Sort & stack all market stands, chairs
  6. Stretch out frozen hose, run with water & recoil
  7. Sweep patio & jet wash if warm enough


#GardenChat - Garden Trends 2013

Gardening is where it all begins, and #GardenChat is a great way for me to connect with other people who love to garden, grow and green this world :)  The Monday night chats are always a great source of information but it goes by superfast!  The transcripts are saved online, but I wanted to make a bit of a recap that was more comprehensive, for reference throughout the season.  Check in the link below for a summary of tonight's #GardenChat


Growing outside the lines

Gardening wants the vigor and freedom of the OUTLAW - and that's where I see myself.

When I say outlaw, I don't necessarily mean criminal, more outlier or oddity.  I want to learn to live beyond or detached from the main systems of our society, be it physically living outside the civil grid or existing away from the constraints of a social group.  I am opposed to "law-and-order" notions of conformity and authority when bio/eco-logical civil liberties are at stake.  I need more gardening outlaw allies, to save seeds from biotech companies, to plant gardens instead of lawns, to make green spaces an integral part of our societal fabric and community lives, to grow vigorously and freely, to demonstrate civil disobedience in the form of front yard agriculture and back yard chickens.

I am, an Outlaw@Home.  


Forest Gardening

Gardening wants to be like the Forest - natural, uninhabited, uncultivated, not domesticated.  I want to let my gardens grow in dense masses of vertical or tangled objects, lacking discipline or restraint.  Along with planning for my home vegetable garden, and urban agriculture farmers market business, I'm doing research with the hope of suggesting to my landlords that I turn sections of our lot into an urban forest garden.

Forest gardening is a low-maintenance sustainable plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans. Making use of companion planting, these can be intermixed to grow in a succession of layers, to build a woodland habitat. [w]

Forest gardening, as developed in the 1960s by Robert Hart, was in some ways the predecessor to permaculture as many of us know it today.  Succinctly stated by many of the food forest garden professionals, these plantings are "perennial polycultures of multi-purpose plants powered by the sun".  Robert Hart developed an intercropping system across the landscape, consisting of the following layers:

I am still at the information gathering stage of this idea, but I have found some excellent resources online.


Growing Vigorously with Vandana Shiva

Gardening wants Vigour - bringing energy, effort and enthusiasm to grow plants with vitality, strength and good health.  At this time of year, as I plan my garden and urban agriculture plot -  I am trying to choose vigorous crops, open-pollinated seed and plan organic methods mindful of the soil.

Last November, I had the incredible opportunity to see Vandana Shiva speak at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education / University of Toronto.  Her words and ideas are certainly influencing my thoughts as I plan for the upcoming growing season.
(I will be returning to this wise woman's words, and this lecture, many times again as there is far too much to fit in one post)

Vandana Shiva: 

everything is connected

"Non-separability in quantum theory is precisely what in ecology we learn as the interconnectedness of life."

seed patenting = biopiracy

"I see it as a deep aberration in humanity, because we did not invent that life.   At best we modify it, at best we take it from a community.  And when we take it without permission, we have given the name biopiracy."

microbe > human being

One of the ideas that sticks with me most from Vandana's talk is the idea of nurturing soil ecology.  "The smallest of microbes in the soil, that eyes don't see" she says "this is the real source of food security." She explains that humans have a misconception about our place on this earth, he human being is less than the microbe, not the top of the pyramid.  

Vandana gives us just one example of vigorous abundance: the millets - each tiny seed gives you a MILLion seeds, for a "miracle crop".  She tells us of these plants for the future: using 1/10th the water of industrial crops while producing 40 - 50x more nutrition.  She reminds us that every morsel of food we eat, becomes our body and that some of the tiniest of little plants, even weeds, bear the only cures we have for certain diseases.

"I absolutely love this room, because it is a teacher of how the world really is.  The world is circular, it is not linear."

Vandana left me pondering the idea that cycles tell us: life renews.

"In diversity and multiplicity lies resilience, monocultures are highly vulnerable."



Enjoying My Wintry Backyard

Gardening is social - well suited to companionship, our backyards are backdrops to a huge range of social functions.  But it's usually the plants and greenery, the gardens themselves, that are on display and outdoor living seems to be a seasonal thing.  So, when autumn arrives, people usually clean out their flowerbeds, lawns, patios and decks and store everything away for the winter.  Not me!

I've left a few distinctively shaped objects out on my deck, for a bit of wintry interest under the snow :)

See the pretty snowflakes,
Falling from the sky;
On the wall and housetops,
Soft and thick they lie.

On the window ledges,

On the branches bare;
Now how fast they gather,
Filling all the air.

Look into the garden,

Where the grass was green;
Covered by the snowflakes,
Not a blade is seen.

Now the bare black bushes,

All look soft and white,
Every twig is laden,
What a pretty sight!

Falling Snow Author Unknown

I don't limit my backyard socializing to pleasant weather, I want to make the most of my outdoor space, year round!  I heated up hot chocolate in travel mugs, and invited a friend over to join me in those snowy chairs.  You're never too old to get into snowpants (every Canadian adult should own some) and have a great time playing outside!