This crocheted bag looks like a great project to make for toting your garden harvest or trips to the Farmer’s Market. It’s made using plastic grocery bags cut into workable “yarn” strips. I like that the designer used different coloured bags to create a classier looking bag.
It’s time for me to face the cold, hard truth; my plot at The Parkdale Community Beer Garden is officially crap for growing veggies. With every new year I have found that while my soil continues to improve, the light on my tiny plot has been slowly declining. A couple of overhead trees have been growing larger and lusher turning what was a garden on the cusp of partial sun to a garden that is definitely partial if not pretty much (look I’m not yet willing to go there yet) shade.
Partial, sorta, almost, maybe, probably, SHADE.
I finally emerged from the safe and comforting bosom of denial this week to admit that I wasn’t going to get much of a yield this year. The zucchini growing in the plot is a fraction of the size of the plant that is not only flourishing but currently producing fruit in a container on my rooftop. Same goes for the lemon cucumber. Don’t even ask me about the peppers, all of which were positioned in the absolute brightest part of the garden. Even the greens are spindly, pathetic versions of their true selves. I had such excitement for the ‘Romanesco’ broccoli! My beautiful ‘Armenian’ cucumber seedlings seemed to be absorbed by the soil. I have had to face and accept what I have probably advised gardeners about a thousand times over this year alone: know your conditions and grow plants that suit it. Don’t fight nature. Most edibles just don’t do well in shady spots. Grow a woodland garden and get over it. Or a boatload of mint and sorrel. Actually the nasturtiums appear to be kicking major ass and I’ve got enough oregano to keep myself and everyone I know in organic, dried oregano well into middle age.
And there is another up side here. While I was coming to terms with my dilemma I noticed that my neighboring plot — the large one, with the best sun exposure — had gone untouched this year and was quickly becoming a borage, calendula, cilantro, and assorted weeds factory.
The other day I was riding my bike past one of my favorite vegetable gardens and noticed that the usually overflowing yard was empty. And just like that I rode past the next day and discovered the gardener in the yard planting tomatoes. I thought to stop and chat but was instead struck with the idea to plant the abandoned plot. Sure it’s late for tomatoes but I had a few in containers that I had been saving for something else and they were larger than transplant size so it why not take a chance?
I pulled out and dug up the roots of everything you see in the foreground.
My plan of attack was simple: remove all weeds, keep calendula, cilantro, and SOME of the borage (I also discovered garlic chives in there), amend soil (ongoing as my compost reserve was limited), transfer the most hard-up plants from my plot, plant some seeds, and do the whole thing without spending any money.
Stage one of the transformation took most of Saturday. I set out with my favorite cultivating tool removing the weeds that had grown more than knee-high. The sun was brutally hot reminding me for the umpteenth time why this kind of gardening work is done in the spring on an overcast day! But the blaring heat was also a reminder of why this plot is so much better than mine. Sun and heat loving tomatoes, and peppers will thrive here! I will have my ‘Romanesco’ broccoli! There is still hope for the zucchini. I’d be so sick of beans between the plants happily growing on my rooftop and the beans I planned to plant that I’d be having green bean-related nightmares come September.
I required a staking system for my tomatoes but didn’t want to do single stakes like I’d be doing in my smaller plot. It was fine in a plot where the sunny side was at a premium, but I hated the Vlad the Impaler look all those stakes created. Plus I found it annoying if not kind of creepy that every photo of me in the garden looks like I’ve got a stake protruding from the top of my head. It reminds me of that scene in “The Exorcist” where the priest sees a picture of himself with a line through his neck. I liked the idea of adding some height to the garden but didn’t want to spend money purchasing new bamboo stakes when I already had perfectly good (but thick) stakes kicking around. My solution was to set the stakes up like I had planned to do with bamboo but they were too thick to tie, and I didn’t have any tools available for building. As a solution I McGyvered a broken tomato cage over the stakes to keep them in place and braided the top wires together to prevent poking someone’s eye out. It’s not the most attractive “garden architecture” I’ve seen but it’s solid. I sowed assorted ornamental lettuce seed at the base of each tomato plant for added appeal.
It’s hard to see in the pictures but I did remove a hefty batch of borage. I’m allergic to the prickly plant so while I enjoy it’s beauty and the cucumbery flavored flowers, I’d rather use that real estate for peas and peppers. I did manage to transplant everything from the other plot that was faltering, amended the soil, sowed quinoa, shungiku, edamame, bush beans, peas, and assorted greens. I have plans to add basil and onions but I had done as much as I could take in one day.
My upper thighs and arms are killing today proving once again why gardening literally kicks ass.
Guest post by Renee Garner
Never one to adhere to tradition, I have started swallowing my grassy yard up with perennials and edibles. Several factors have prevented total success with the work so far, though, and a major one has been communication between my spouse and myself. This was especially apparent one evening at dusk when he felt the urgency to mow the yard. Around 6 PM he revved up the mower and began the attacking the grass voraciously; the most recent planting escaped both of our minds. The next morning I proudly surveyed the landscape, until my eyes happened upon the shredded stalk of my blackberry bush. . . and the rose vine. . . and the oriental poppy. . . and. . .
Well to be honest, I was in no position to complain. He couldn’t see well at that time of the day and I stayed inside lazily reading a magazine with a fan keeping me cool. This humid Southern weather envelopes us for a period stretching sometime from June through October. I had no interest in pitching-in by going outside to coach him along. So, I figured, the price to pay for that luxury was a couple of plants mowed down to a severe state of pitiful.
Last year I was decidedly more creative with my resources. Was it cooler, or was my endurance higher? Though expensive if you consider the price of a bottle of wine, I took my ever-growing collection of wine bottles out in the yard and began picking away at the rocky soil, trenching a line for a glass bottle border; the image is of the area mid-process, a very long process I might add. Or, considered in another light, not long enough drinking and too long working.
Immediacy was a major goal. Plastic was to be avoided at all costs. Gayla’s Willow Edging came to mind, but with the temperature averaging in the high 90s, I was more in the mood to brainstorm in air conditioned comfort than forage for twigs. Enter the hardware store. At the opposite end from the nursery, towards the lumber, where DIY items may necessitate a more thoughtful approach, but productivity ends up much cheaper.
Lo and behold, surveyor’s stakes ($6 for 20-25) and lattice edging (around $1 for a 10-foot strip). The thick flat strips meant less time in the heat, the stakes, well, they’re meant to be pounded into the ground. Thanks to the heavy and constant rain we’ve been having, the ground was soft enough to make the task even easier. I took a hammer and started each stake, placing them about 2 feet apart. I then took a sledgehammer and pounded them further into the ground to the desired height (I used 5 lattice strips tall), and began weaving away. The result is fairly sophisticated for my haphazard gardening style, but it’ll save my plants from being coupled with similarly-priced mundane plastic edging!
Guest post by Renee Garner
Office Manager may sound like a hefty title, for those not in the know, but really I am just a glorified secretary. Sure I have a degree, but that doesn’t equate to a high paying job in my chosen field: art. So I make enough to live off of but not much more and that means I can’t afford a landscaper to come out and neatly tend my flocks of daffodils. And really, just to be honest about things, I wouldn’t want one to, either.
So with no offense, Bill Alexander, I dismiss your $64 Tomato. No tomato should cost $64, even in the quest for a perfect garden, if you are willing to invest yourself in your garden. Hopefully then your tomato will be sentimentally worth as much, if not more, than that, but will have a similar or lower price than of the Styrofoam-like grocery store variety. Mr. Alexander, I believe you are proselytizing a myth of the rich, that gardening should be cookie cutter perfection, and an investment in the landscaper’s moneymaking dream machine.
While the book may be humorous and witty, let us not forget that it concerns gardening with a goal free of mistakes. While the story inevitably teaches us about healthy mistakes, and gives us morals, I wonder how satisfying a garden can be if you pay a designer $300 to plot the layout. Who can pay nearly $9,000 for construction?!? I scoff at plants that cost $15, why would I want a bed worth more than my car? I understand the value of a garden. When forced with a choice, I’m much more inclined to spend $20 on plants and a six-pack from the store than I am to spend an equal amount getting into a club and buying a couple drinks. Well, maybe if Menomena came back around. . .I digress.
But the beauty of my job is that I get off at 3 in the afternoon, with plenty of post-work plant time. Since I don’t use my creative skills at work (unless you count these stolen moments blogging! Please don’t tell!) I use them in my yard, much to the disdain of my neighbors, who would rather my tomatoes cost $64. Which brings me back to the concept of money.
One of my most valuable resources has been dubbed “the midnight lumber sale”, also known as “the five fingered lumber discount.” There is new construction all around my house, and I am willing to bet there will be construction within spitting distance for another several years. Hammers echoing in the neighborhood at 6:30 AM are not my favorite sound, but I am indebted to those brand new condos, for they have been the suppliers of the goods used to build my raised veggie bed. And without that, I would have no place for my free manure (well, $3 in gas to pick it up) that I found on Freecycle! I did ask for permission before trifling through the riff raff, but for the most part you can tell which piles are good and which are trash. Need I remind you, dear friend, we want to sort through the trash and not the good building materials, because that would be stealing, and stealing is worth its weight ten-fold in bad karma points. However! In the trash pile you will find glorious resources aplenty, and with a little creative ingenuity, you too, can build the garden of your dreams. From the demolition phase, I loaded up on concrete blocks, 2 x 4s, and a picket fence that now gives my beloved pups a yard to run around freely in. Now in the construction phase, I have scored some beautiful and fairly large rocks for my shady woodland garden. I have also gotten piles of untreated lumber to build my raised bed with! Total costs: I’m gonna guess high and say $40 for bagged dirt and compost of the cheapest variety I could find at my local gargantuan hardware store. $0 for lumber and since my lumberyard is essentially spitting distance, no cost in petrol. I can go ahead and add in another $12 investment: black rolling trashcan, which is now my portable compost container, but I bought that with a Target gift card, so technically it doesn’t count. Just to make Bill not feel so bad, I’ll include the cost of that. So I’m up to a hefty $56.
The plants were grown from seed, which ranged in price from free (trading for variety) to $2.75 for a pack of 6 heirloom tomato seeds (way to rich for my blood, won’t make that mistake again) in any container I had lying around the house. Cloched in pop bottles a la Gayla Trail, the bottles have been recycled into another fabulous Trail idea: an irrigation system. I have grass-clipping mulch to maintain soil moisture. I did buy 5 plants because my first batch of seedlings pooped out on me when I went on vacation. I’ll add $15 for that. I can say I’ve spent less than $30 on plants. Considering I use rainwater gathered in buckets and pitchers, I’ll add another $6 so far on water, which is, again, a gross overestimate.
Since Alexander has included books and resources, I have 3: You Grow Girl by Gayla Trail (2 copies since my dog ate my first one, total including tax:32.25), RodaleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Organic Encyclopedia bought new 10 years ago for 21.35, tax included, and Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening bought used on Amazon for $6, shipping and tax included.
All of these variables accounted for, I’ve spent less than $200 on my veggies. I have approximately 60 tomato plants, and if they each produce one tomato and nothing else produces, I will have $2.53 tomatoes. So, Bill, next time you diddle in the garden, think outside the box of plastic perfection, I guarantee your tomatoes will taste so much better for it. Because as far as I can figure, following the status quo to grow a ‘mater: $16,565.00; Utilizing your own resources: Priceless.
Growing succulents in the window box on the fire escape portion of my rooftop garden has become a tradition — most likely because they are just about the only plants that can survive the intense sun, heat, and drought. The deck is fully exposed to all sorts of harsh conditions but the fire escape area takes it to another level with black metal railings that absorb the sun’s rays throughout the day. And of course I had to go and make it worse by installing a galvanized metal window box to boot.
I try and mix up the plantings every year with the one requirement that the plants can survive. Plants that make it through both the summer and winter are given an easy retirement in less sunny pastures. I was shocked to discover a lavender from last year’s box still kicking it this spring.
From the Front:
Clockwise from right front: Sedum reflexum ‘Blue Spruce’, a sedum that keeps coming up all over the place, Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’, Sedum acre ‘Golden Acre’, Sempervivum, Sedum spurium ‘Dragon’s Blood’. Hidden Behind: Sempervivum and Sedum album ‘Coral Carpet.
Future Boxes: 2007