Project “Grow More Food”

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.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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6 thoughts on “Project “Grow More Food”

  1. Wow, what a lot of work! Quinoa, seriously??? I didn’t know you could grow it…I mean, here…does it make enough to harvest it somehow? Crazy.

    We had one final big day, and a last trip to the garden store, and I think our plot is finally all planted. I waited too long to try the melon seeds I saved from last year, so hopefully they will keep another year, but I think we will have a great crop anyway, much better than last year! I really need to get a photo and post it!

  2. The Quinoa is an experiment. I bought the seeds this spring but didn’t have the space to grow it. The variety is called ‘Brightest Brilliant Rainbow’. It is not only edible but the seed heads grow into assorted bright colours. We may not have enough days left but it was worth taking the chance. You’ve got to grow a lot to get a decent harvest but we’ll see. The heads look like they get pretty puffy with seed.

    Quant: I’ve got 4 gardens to maintain now! Thankfully this has been a rainy summer. We’re currently in the middle of a thunderstorm. The timing was perfect since I would have gone over there to check up on it today. I was concerned about the broccoli and kale transplants. They looked floppy when I left them.

  3. That is intense! I have been eating so much quinoa lately…if I ever have more space, I will definately be trying that out!

    I really hope it rains this week like it’s supposed to, it has been so dry, we have had to water at least every second day since we started the plot!

  4. Wow Gayla, what a transformation! You’re such a powerhouse. Now I’m going to go out and do some planting just because this post was so inspirational!

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