Proudly cradling the basil harvested from my community garden plot. Varieties include: ‘African Blue’, ‘Purple Ruffles’, ‘Sweet Basil’, ‘Genovese’, ‘Columnar’, ‘Spicy Globe’, ‘Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil’, ‘Dark Opal’, and ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ (a variegated variety).
I reluctantly harvested the remaining basil plants from my community garden plot last weekend. With the temperatures dipping low it was time to take the plunge or risk losing all that lovely fresh basil to the frost. I am yet to harvest the remaining plants growing in containers on my rooftop deck but we are enjoying nipping out for fresh leaves to put on sandwiches and in salads so late into the fall season. Really with such a mild fall I am shocked that we have been able to hold out for so long. Basil is notorious for hating cold, wet weather and has never made it this far into the Fall (in my memory) before turning black and flopping over in defeat.
Between last weekend’s mad pesto/pisto making operation, and the basil I have been drying in bunches since mid-summer, I’d say we’re pretty well stocked until the first plants are ready to be pinched back next summer. I think this may be the first time that I’ve been able to look into the freezer and say with a sense of authority that the bounty is good.
The following is a very short clip revealing how frugal I can be about the basil. What can I say, each leaf is like a tiny nugget of gold!
I recently became an official card-carrying member of Seeds of Diversity, a move that was a long time coming. Okay, to be honest there is no actual membership card but there really should be — I am a proud nerd who loves the idea of a special membership card to a club of similarly-minded nerds. A button or t-shirt would be nice too. A patch would be great. I might consider wearing a special pair of gardening gloves if they were available. A hat would be pushing it.
Last Friday I received my first official membership email. Inside was an invite to take part in a national garlic-growing project called the Great Canadian Garlic Collection. Here’s how it works: members choose 3 varieties of garlic to grow (one variety called ‘Music’ is the control and everyone must grow that variety). Members grow these varieties for two years documenting their progress by filling out forms and making careful observations. Eventually the data will be collected providing Canadians with information about which varieties grow best under varying conditions so that gardeners can choose the best varieties for their area. The best part — the garlic is FREE!
Free garlic just when I was starting to consider my garlic options for the year AND I get to fill out pseudo-scientific forms AND be a part of a special very important project in a very important special peoples’ club…. I was so all over the idea that I was literally racing to choose my varieties and get the request off via email within minutes of receiving the invite. My heart was racing a mile a minute as I yelled across the room at Davin, “Would you prefer a variety that roasts well or has nice pink stripes? Which should I choose, ‘Persian Star’ or ‘Inchelium Red’? What should I choose? Help!” What if I was too late to take part? What if they ran out of garlic before receiving my request? What if my email was in a long queue behind thousands of other eager participants? What if they don’t want an urban gardener? All week long I’ve been telling friends and anyone who will listen about the project. An email confirming my participation came as a sigh of relief. And then yesterday my garlic arrived in the mail!
‘Music’ is the control. Everyone has to grow it. I chose ‘Siberian’ because it is supposed to be a hardy purple variety and ‘Persian Star’ because it is good for roasting and so darn pretty with dark reddish/purple stripes and pointy cloves.
And now comes the hard part… something this official requires that I keep track of the varieties, documenting which varieties I grow and where. Some people are hyper garden planners, I am not. I make open-ended decisions about the plants I will grow, the methods I will explore, the changes I will make to each space, and then I throw it all out the window at the last minute and mostly wing it. Some things are set in stone ahead of time but I try to keep those to a minimum so I can be open to something better that comes along last-minute. I hate being locked down into anything and prefer to go with the flow when the season starts. Keeping track of three different garlic varieties that need to be planted NOW means that I’ve got to make some sort of plan for spring. In the past I have planted my garlic crop in the Fall, working with and around that haphazard planting come spring. I often keep my garlic to the perimeter of my community garden plot to make things easier. I do pretty much the same thing with the onions and always have the option of pulling anything out that gets in the way. This has never been an issue because I’m never growing either plant for a project like this and I’ve always got more in the ground than is necessary anyways.
So I’ve got some work ahead of me in the next few days. Some of it is fun and some of it is forcing me to push against my nature in a way that I don’t particularly like. I’d been toying with the idea of separating my plot into more obvious sections next year so I know it will be something along those lines. But I haven’t made definite plans about staking (I try new methods every year) or exactly how to divide those sections beyond working with the perennials that are already in place. Your suggestions are appreciated.
My favourite tool bag at my community garden plot, October 4, 2007. I forgot to bring a harvest bag and had to cram everything into the top of the tool bag. I’m currently harvesting lots of dandelion greens for boiling and herbs for drying but the weather has been so mild even the summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, and ‘Mexican sour gherkins’ are continuing to produce. It was so peaceful and fresh there yesterday evening — for a moment I wished I had a sleeping bag to curl up into.
Lately, I have been receiving emails asking me to talk more about the community garden. I will admit that I am so horribly behind in writing about progress there that it’s been difficult to know where to begin. So this morning I browsed through a few folders of photos and decided to begin with the above photo showing some of my plot (to the right) and a few other garden member’s plots around it.
I took this photo on August 9. This was before The Worst Drought in Toronto in 50 Years kicked in followed by the Worst Drought Plus Massive Humidity but NO Rain. That was the week many curcubits (the family that includes cucumbers, squash, and melons) died. I lost most of my cucumbers and most of my zucchini plants that week. I am posting this picture so you can see what that side of the garden looked like before the gapping hole. I’m still trying to figure out what to put there because the soil is great and it would be a shame to let even a small portion of the space go without producing something before the season comes to an end!
I took the above photo on August 25. It was a wet Saturday morning, having finally rained after several days of intense humidity. It was a beautiful, quiet morning in the garden. I thoroughly enjoyed the solitude listening to the buzz of crickets and the soothing hum of the Beer Store refrigerators. By this time it is already too late for my zucchini plants. They have loads of fruit on them but the stems have rotted. You can see how yellow the leaves have turned — it was all within a matter of days! I picked all the fruit that morning and removed the plants a few days later once I’d had some time to come to terms with the loss. It was a good year and we harvested a lot of flowers and fruit earlier in the season but in past years I have managed to collect zucchinis into fall. I was wearing a winter jacket when I pulled out last year’s plants! The loss of all that potential harvest still bums me out a little.
Here it is, photographic proof that last year’s zucchini plants came out in October. Mind you those tiny little things in my other hand are the last of the “harvest.”
On a positive note, scroll back up to that last shot of the garden and check out all of the ripe tomatoes! With 16 plants, I have had my best harvest ever. Their size and numbers have dwindled but tomatoes are still coming and I am harvesting at least 2 handfuls every few days. Of course it doesn’t FEEL like enough. I actually had surplus this year between the harvest on the roof and the harvest in the community garden allowing me to can up jars of tomatoes in addition to the purchased 50 lbs that were made into sauce and salsa. We can’t eat enough tomato sandwiches and salads to keep on top of the fresh tomatoes from the gardens and yet I am still wanting more. Last year’s 5 jars felt… okay. This year’s 35 jars… My god how will we make it through the winter?!! I may have a slight hoarding tendency.
Here’s a photo of the first big cluster of ‘Zapotec Pink Pleated’ tomatoes. Aren’t they beautiful? I have a secret wish that tomatoes would just last a little longer. They are all so beautiful that I just love having bowls sitting around to look at and admire. Unfortunately the fruit flies also enjoy them but I do not enjoy the fruit flies. Of all the new varieties I tried this year, ‘Zapotec Pink Pleated’ has turned out to be a very prolific plant and a new favorite. This particular cluster held one additional tomato but I was impatient and plucked it off early for a taste.
The bottoms of all of the ‘Purple Calabash’ tomatoes are so bumpy and misshapen that they are morphing into cartoonish grumpy old man faces as they ripen and mature. Today a friend remarked that we are so programmed to accept perfectly smooth-shaped produce that people often refer to lumpy heirloom tomato varieties as “ugly.” We both agreed that it is their irregularity that makes them so beautiful much in the way that I can study the portrait of a grumpy old man’s face for hours because there is so much to see in every crease, bump, and scar.
Maybe tomatoes are not the best produce to illustrate my point because when push comes to shove I like most tomatoes, smooth, bumpy, pink, purple, or otherwise. I suppose it’s just that within a sea of uniformity unusual shapes and colors are fascinating. They taste better too! And maybe I grew up with enough of a certain kind of pop culture influencing my sense of taste that I just can’t resist the charm of anthropomorphic produce.
Today I traded some garlic and tomatoes from my garden for two tomatoes: a ‘Paul Robeson’ and an ‘Aunt Ginny’s.’ Another round of tomato testing is in order.