My friend and fellow plant/collecting enthusiast Uli Havermann (you may remember her from this incredible succulent pot, this stunning blue sea holly, and these beautiful urns) is a member of a large community greenhouse here in Toronto. Last week she treated me to a glimpse inside. Like community gardens and allotments, community greenhouses are not all created equal. Each function in their own way to achieve varying goals. Years back I was a member of a small community greenhouse that functioned more like a collective in which each member had a particular job or role and worked to help care for each other’s plants.
The greenhouse I visited last week is much, much, much larger and functions more like an allotment garden in which members pay an annual fee for a large, multi-tiered wooden bench (I don’t recall the dimensions) on which to house their plants. Taking care of other members’ plants is not expected, and I would imagine, discouraged.
Regardless of the model, a greenhouse like this is an invaluable resource for city dwellers who don’t have the space in their own homes to overwinter beloved houseplants and start seedlings. I can also see its benefit as a green refuge to enjoy on days like today when the garden is buried in snow and the temperature is too cold for life. Within just an hour-long(ish) visit I was practically wobbling down the aisles drunk on the scent and sight of plant life. I left feeling reinvigorated and positively giddy about the approaching garden season.
My greenhouse grown plants are coming along and at the rate we’re going weather-wise this spring, a few of these babies could be out the door before the typical May 24 planting weekend in this region. I’ve become more cautious than I used to be as we’ve had some fluke cold snaps and hail storms in the past that have sent me running to cover everything with a blanket or bring a thousand pots into my living room. But things have been so consistently mild this spring, I’m feeling daring.
Now if only the whipping winds would settle down.
The ‘Variegated’ tomatoes (above) are really starting to show their colours now. I’m particularly pleased with this one and pleased that I decided to grow them again. As I mentioned in a previous post, the tomatoes themselves aren’t much to write home about, but what’s fascinating is that they do start out variegated just like the plant, and ripen to red. It’s quite a visual treat. I’m hopeful that the year I grew them previously was just a bad year for this variety and the tomatoes will surprise me this time around.
This tomato plant looks really big already but is a ‘Black Seaman,’ a determinate (bushing) variety that grows nicely-sized slicing tomatoes if you give it a big pot. I’ve gone as small as a foot-deep but a bigger pot, if you’ve got it, will grow a bigger plant. My first experience with this variety was wishy-washy but it has since gone on to become a favourite. I never go a year without growing one and I always recommend it to container gardeners.
Remember when the naranjilla were teeny, tiny little things? They’ve had a slow start, but the seedlings are starting to come along to a decent size. They are very hairy now and you can see the beginnings of little thorns that will eventually turn into nasty rose-like thorns at maturity. Here’s a reminder of what it looks like at full size. Ouch.
The naranjilla’s cousin, Morelle de Balbis (Solanum sisymbrifolium) is also beginning to put out thorns. I have allergies to some hairy plants in the garden including beans (just the plants), sunflowers, and globe thistle. If I rub against these plants with wet arms, I break out in hives. Even at this tiny size the Morelle de Balbis is proving to be a hazard. I’ve felt some minor itches when accidentally brushing against it’s teeny little thorns. You can bet I’ll be exercising caution when this thing reaches full size and maximum thorniness.
It should make an excellent, although purely ornamental candidate for the street garden.
p.s. I took all of these photos with my cellphone; hence the weirdness.
What about you? How are your seedlings coming along?
We have been enjoying an unseasonably warm March here in Toronto that has lead into the warmest early April I can recall, ever. Temperatures are supposed to soar this weekend, sending gardeners (including me) into a flurry of activity. I have already sown spinach and mâche into containers on the roof. The chives have been shooting up slowly over the last few weeks, and I am starting to identify lettuce seedlings that have self sown where I let mature plants go to seed last season. I intend to spend this weekend cleaning up, amending the container soil, and getting all of the gardens into shape.
Meanwhile, over at the greenhouse, my little seedlings are go. I started tomatoes and peppers on March 5 and have sown the odd thing here and there since. I’m enjoying the simplicity of this stage of the growing season very much. I’ve been through this stage countless times now and you’d think it would get dull, but it never does. Every year there is something new and even the same old same old haven’t lost their appeal. On a basic level I am amazed by my plants’ progress every time I visit the greenhouse. I am relishing just observing the beauty of new seeds as they come out of the package and discovering the early growth stages of plants I have never grown from seed before. This is a happy time all around.
These are a pansy called ‘Caramel Spice’ from Botanical Interests. It’s a little late to start pansies and violas from seed as they are typically started in January. In fact, I just bought the first pansy cell-packs of the season yesterday. Unfortunately, these seeds came late but I figured I might as well give it a shot anyways. I can always try tucking them into a cooler spot once the summer heat hits and hope they make it to the fall cool-down.
This is cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), one of my fun experiments for the 2010 growing season. Cardoon is a gorgeous, and rather massive plant that looks an awful lot like an artichoke or giant thistle. In fact, they’re related. What’s interesting is that you eat the stems of the plant, not the flower bud as you do with an artichoke. But before you harvest it you’ve got to “blanch” it, much like celery, by covering the stems with a large box or some other cover to keep light out and soften the leaves. Perhaps a bit complicated but my curiosity has got the better of me so here we go. Another fun fact: cardoon is often used as a vegetarian rennet substitute in cheese making.
I like the seedlings at this stage; so perfect.
Remember last year when I invited local site readers to come out and grow seedlings together in a local greenhouse? Well, it’s seed starting season and the greenhouse has kindly offered us some space again this year so I’m putting out the call.
There is shelf space for about 2 or 3 people to grow seedlings depending on how many plants each person would like to grow. It works out to enough space to grow transplants for a good-sized garden. Members can grow for themselves or donate to community groups if they’d like. There are also 2 excellent, newly built coldframes outside that will be available for use.
However, there are some considerations and caveats attached to using the space; I’ve listed them below.
- The greenhouse is located in Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto’s West End.
- Last year was the greenhouse’s first year in production and as predicted there were problems. Everyone is learning how to keep such a large, heated greenhouse functioning well in addition to making it all happen within a community. Thankfully a lot of the major problems have been addressed, and the greenhouse has been completely overhauled. Exciting! I think we’ll have a better go of it this year.
- A $20 donation is requested to help offset the cost of soil and other greenhouse supplies. The soil last year was cheap, and lousy as a result. This year the soil is far better, but exponentially more expensive.
- Members are asked to commit an hour per week to watering seedlings, monitoring plant health, and keeping the greenhouse clean and organized.
- An additional 5 hours per year of volunteer labour to the greenhouse and/or park is required. That can come in the form of the Adopt-a-tree program, Helping with Spring Park Day (planting & clean up) and/or Spring Clean-Up Day (picking up trash in the park, etc).
Here’s the inside. I took this last week when members were still just getting started for the year but will be filled with greenery in no time.
If you feel you can meet those commitments and would like to join, please get in touch with me via the contact form. Greenhouse members are currently conducting weekend grow-alongs to help beginners get their seeds started. Once we’ve got some members for our shelves, I’ll conduct some additional workshops to get us going.
We are experiencing germination at the greenhouse. No matter how many times I do this it is somehow always such a surprise that these first stirrings of life will eventually turn into big plants. Big plants that I will eventually eat.