On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow!

Today was the official kick-off to gardening season. We spent some time this afternoon turning over the soil and doing other spring yardwork tasks. Once the rain started coming down, we moved inside and planted some seeds. This year we borrowed a fancy-dancy seed growing operation from Linda, complete with full-spectrum lights, etc. I’ve tried to start seeds inside before with mixed results — I’m hoping this set-up will do the trick.

Chives, Parsley & Sweet Basil were the first seeds to be planted this year. The plants in behind the white pots are ones we picked up at the Niagara College open house last weekend.

Tazo’s Lily

When my beloved orange tabby cat, Taz, died a couple of years ago Nikki gave me a beautiful orange lily plant to commemorate his life and the happiness he brought so many of us. Each year when the first orange bloom opens I always stop and take a moment to remember one of the best cats that ever lived.

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Grounded

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For some reason the transition from ASLE/Vancouver Island adventures back to normal day-to-day life in Niagara has been a tough one. I felt out of sorts all last week, and I’m sure it wasn’t just because of the difference in time zones. I guess it was a busy week — laundry, unpacking, getting caught up on emails and all the other things that pile up when one goes away.

Yesterday we decided to slow down and just spend the day out in the garden. It was wonderful and exactly what I needed to feel connected to this place again. We weeded, tidied, trimmed and planted. The last of the seedlings we started indoors are now in pots or in the herb garden. I’m sure I’ll never get over the sense of amazement I feel when I look at a happy, healthy plant in the garden and remember that a few months ago it was a tiny little seed planted with lots of hope in the makeshift greenhouse we rigged up in the living room.

Fake Grass

I just read a news story about fake grass. I don’t know what to say.

I guess I could say something about how tired I am of this ridiculous obsession our society seems to have with perfectly uniform lawns. I could also say something about how so-called “weeds” like dandelions seem to be important for the health of bee populations, etc. I could probably also ponder the reasons why someone who doesn’t like to deal with plants bothers to live in a dwelling surrounded by yard.

I think instead I’ll take solace in a good book and dream of a day when more interesting approaches to gardening dominate our yards and neighborhoods.

UPDATED: Here is another story on the same theme. Sigh…

Frosty

Ok, so articles like this one really irk me. If you don’t feel like clicking on the link I’ll summarize: the title is “Impatient Gardeners Lose Out to Jack Frost” and it goes on about some poor guy who “gambled” on planting early and “lost”. He didn’t lose because his plants were died of frost exposure, he “lost” because he had to go out and cover his plants with sheets the past two evenings when the GTA region got a little chilly overnight.

Dramatic overkill much?

It got chilly in Niagara too, so we covered the wee veggie plants with sheets. It took about 3 and a half minutes to cover them and the plants were protected. There is one lettuce plant that looks a little unhappy, but all the rest seem to have survived. I certainly don’t feel too hard done by and, as I previously posted, if the worst case scenario had happened, if the frost had zapped the life out of all the veggies we planted it still wouldn’t be as dramatic and dire as this reporter makes it sound.

Weekend Planting + The First Harvest of the Year!

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This weekend we got some more veggies planted and we’ve now got rhubarb, grapes, raspberries, strawberries, potatoes, corn, beets, runner beans, garlic, onion, tomato, lettuce, red and yellow peppers, dill, mint and lavender growing. I still want to get some spinach and some basil in, although we are quickly running out of room.

Right now most of the garden is planted with seedlings we bought, but the seeds we started in the house are trucking along and hopefully we can plant them outdoors soon too. We’ve been hardening off the seedlings on an almost daily basis and transplanted some into bigger containers this weekend. Below is a snapshot I took during the transplanting activities. I call it “Tomato and Basil sandwich in the Making.” 🙂

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We harvested a whack (that is the technical term!) of rhubarb on the weekend. The scent of rhubarb pie, rhubarb chutney and rhubarb sauce lingers in the air as I write this. Yum!

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And in other gardening news, I was delighted to hear that Gayla Trail (of You Grow Girl fame) will be a regular columnist in The Globe & Mail. This makes me want to renew my subscription to the paper!

Plant Early, Plant Often?

Our favorite garden centre had an open house this weekend. We almost didn’t go because we thought it might be too busy, but we got there early enough in the day that it was still possible to find a parking space. I typically go a little crazy on my first visit to the garden centre each year, stocking up on a ridiculous number of plants only to discover that I don’t have enough room for all of them. This year I promised myself I’d take a much more moderate approach and actually managed to stick to it. As I walked around the greenhouse I was just giddy with the sights and smells of all the plants, and I had to keep reminding myself that I could come back another day and that I didn’t have to buy every single plant that caught my eye!

I splurged on a peony that promises “huge, majestic” blooms, but otherwise I managed to stick to the list I had made before heading out. The veggie seedlings were on sale during the open house, so we picked up some tomatoes, lettuce and other such treats. We did start veggie seeds indoors this year but these seedlings are further along so we decided to buy some and stagger the plantings a bit.

We spent the rest of Saturday going for a hike and then met up with friends at one of our favorite pubs, so we didn’t actually get out into the garden until Sunday. We spent the morning weeding and preparing the soil, and then decided to do a bit of planting. We planted potatoes and dill (a very large and hearty-looking plant), and then decided to try putting in some of the seedlings we purchased. Conventional wisdom says to wait until the long weekend in May to plant the garden, but this confuses me. This was the rule of thumb in Edmonton too, and it made sense to me out there as it is not at all uncommon to have a frosty morning in early May. However, it seems odd to me that people in Niagara cling to the same rule. The climate here is a lot milder and the nighttime lows have not dipped below zero degrees for several weeks now. Anyhow, I started planting at the beginning of May last year and everything turned out fine so I’m doing the same thing this year. Obviously some of the more delicate seedlings need to stay indoors for a while, but we began planting some of the bigger ones on Sunday. What is the worst thing that can happen? Say it gets freakishly cold here and we do get a killer frost. Ok, so I’m out about $6.00? (a 4 pack of seedlings cost 59 cents) I think it is a risk I can live with.

In my opinion, a greater concern is the critters. In addition to the birds and squirrels our garden is also frequently visited by rabbits, raccoons, skunks and possums. While we don’t mind sharing a little of our harvest with them we do like to give the wee plants a fighting chance when they are first starting out. This year we decided to try a trick that I read about in my favorite garden book of all time — cover the seedlings with plastic bottles. Basically you take off the lid, cut off the bottom and place the bottle over the seedling to protect it from the elements and hungry critters.

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This morning we went out to check on the plants while we waited for the kettle to boil and were delighted to discover that most of the bottles were still intact. A couple of the bottles were knocked over, but the plants remained protected inside of them. So far so good. The only trouble we have had is finding enough bottles since we don’t buy pop or bottled juices very often. I am going to go to the No Frills today to buy some cheap no-name brand pop just for the bottles — since pop has no nutritional value I don’t feel like it is a waste to dump it down the sink for the sake of the garden! We will also be hitting up our friends and neighbours for donations from their recycling bins.

Earth Day 2009

I’ve not been doing such a good job of keeping up with this blog over the past little while. I have been busy with things like grading, the Niagara Social Justice Forum, a sick kitty (who is now on the mend, thankfully!), spring cleaning and various other activities. But as spring unfolds it is time to find new routines, ones which include time for blogging and creative writing. I know it sounds funny but making time for these types of writing is beneficial to my academic writing process.

Spring also means that it is time to start thinking about gardening. Over the past few weekends we’ve spent time cleaning up the yard, raking up leaves and turning over the soil. The bird baths and the picnic table have come out of the shed, the BBQ has been used a few times. I’ve got several trays of seeds going in the living room — wild bergamot, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, chives, onions and other such goodies. I want to get the seed potatoes and the sweet peas in this weekend.

It is Earth Day today. There is an interesting article by Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker about the history of Earth Day, a discussion of how Earth Day has “lost its edge,” how it has become a mainstream occasion instead of a radical, fringe effort. I’m not sure this is entirely a bad thing, but I do agree with Kolbert’s conclusion that grass-roots activism is essential for continuing to imagine ways in which society can change. (Update: just saw this interesting article on the topic in the Toronto Star)

There seems to be more consideration of things “eco” and “green” in many aspects of our lives these days. You can’t listen to the news without hearing mention of the environment. But are things really changing? Certainly there seems to be a higher level of awareness of environmental issues, and that is a good thing. I am heartened by the attention being paid to the environment in places like the grocery store — the cloth shopping bag has finally gone mainstream! However, as this article points out, we can’t simply shop our way to environmental salvation.

I will celebrate Earth Day at my desk, working on manuscript revisions. (The subject of the manuscript is ecocriticism, so that counts, right?) Earth Day, of course, is only one day of the year. While celebrating Earth Day has its significance, of greater importance are the choices we make throughout the year. For instance, I’ve been making a real effort to reduce the driving I do. I’ve blogged before about what an adjustment it has been to even have a car, how in the two previous cities I lived in it was actually more convenient not to drive. My long-term goal is to go back to being car-free, but for various reasons that isn’t terribly practical right now. I can, however, reduce the amount of driving I do. In recent weeks I’ve been making efforts to walk, bike, ride transit or car pool more than I previously have. The recent announcement that GO Transit will (finally!) be making its way to Niagara is wonderful news on this front and will surely help more of us to reduce our dependency on our cars.