The Crazy Watering Can Lady

You don‚Äôt get two dump truck loads of soil tipped onto your front lawn without attracting some attention. People walking by, as I work in the front yard, often call out something along the lines of, ‚ÄúLooks like someone enjoys gardening!‚ÄĚ

I feel accepted in our cul-de-sac as The Lady Who Gardens. People smile, wave, share their own gardening endeavours, both past and present, or even enquire about certain plants. Some may think I’m quirky or obsessed, but in a harmless sort of way. Not in a grab-the-children-and run-inside kind of way.

Well, until yesterday.

Up until yesterday every trip to the school community garden involved seeds, transplants, garden tools, stakes etc. making it necessary to take the car, despite it only being a couple blocks from our house.

Last night, for the first time, I prepared to go over to the school with nothing more than my watering cans. The gardens have a couple water tanks but no shed or spot to stow any sort of garden stuff. I grabbed my watering cans from the backyard, walked through to the front, said hello to a couple neighbours who were outside, and then headed off down the street.

As I went on my way, all conversation between the neighbours behind me stopped. As conversations are wont to do when someone comes into their front garden packing a pair of watering cans, tosses out a cheerful hello and then continues on across the street and down the sidewalk without so much as a backwards glance.

Not one but two vehicles went by as I made my way down the sidewalk. I noticed that both drivers did a double take and stared at me. One had a passenger who looked at me and laughed.

I wondered if I had forgot to brush my hair or something. It happens. Then it dawned on me that walking down a city street carrying a pair of watering cans could be considered a tad odd.

I thought about the neighbours falling silent in my wake and wondered what they had thought. Did they think I was so addicted to gardening the watering cans were like a token of security for me? That things had escalated to a point where I couldn’t even go for a walk without carrying some sort of gardening paraphernalia for comfort? Or maybe they thought I was so used to packing garden stuff around I had somehow forgot I was carrying it at all. Or that I was simply losing my mind, gardener style.

I decided I would casually wave my watering cans at the neighbours upon my return and call out, ‚ÄúBeen over at the school watering some beds I rented.‚ÄĚ That should clear things up.

Alas, even though I hurried, when I got back home there was nary a neighbour in sight. Obviously they had grabbed their family members, rushed inside, locked the doors and were going over strategies on how to handle any future encounters with The Crazy Watering Can Lady. Because that’s my name now.

I considered knocking on their doors and explaining why I had headed off down the street carrying watering cans, but that seemed even crazier.

There was only one sensible thing left to do.

Move.

When I explained it all to Darcy he suggested that maybe, just maybe, no one really cared why I was wandering the neighbourhood with watering cans in hand. Furthermore, it was possible I worried too much what others thought.

So we’re not moving after all, and I have decided I will continue to pack my watering cans down the street to the gardens, because driving a vehicle two blocks, while at the same time trying to grow more of our own groceries to lessen our footprint, really would be crazy.

Right?

Seeds Springing Up

It’s -20 C, white skies and snow is swirling about the rooftops as I look out our apartment window, but spring is coming nonetheless. Seeds have started springing up all over town and even in some unlikely places.

Yesterday I was at the Homesteader Health Food Store in Fort St John and came across this rack of seeds from a seed company in Barrhead, Alberta called Harmonic Herbs that I had never heard of before.

 

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It is always nice to see dedicated non GMO, open pollinated and heirloom seeds being offered, wherever you find them. To have seeds designed for the prairies-which our region mimics in so many ways-is an added bonus. And to have it offered at a local source is even better. I think most people want to shop local, but we don’t always know what’s out there and sometimes it just gets easier to go online.

It’s interesting just how much people are buying online these days. Back in the day the Milk Man delivered dairy goods, the Bread Man dropped off baking and people showed up at your door hawking everything from encyclopedias to vacuum cleaners. Then came mall mania and everyone went out to source their own goods and home delivery for many things became a relic of the past.

Now we have come full circle-sort of. People are getting pretty much everything delivered right to their door. Some things come from local sources; I have heard of bakeries in Toronto that now deliver door to door. However, a lot of stuff comes from places like Amazon or from companies far away.

As I said, I think people want to buy local, they just don’t always have the time or energy to track things down. That’s why whenever I spot something local and garden related, I like to post it here just in case anyone doesn’t know or is interested. Please feel free to do the same.

So far I have only bought a miserly pack of Golden Detroit beets (at Canadian Tire) for my community garden beds. As much as I love regular beets, I love the golden version even more. They look beautiful roasted, tossed in a salad or just as a pretty vegetable side dish. Best of all they don’t bleed all over your hands when you’re cutting them up.

As much as I love golden beets, I won’t be filling all four beds with them. It is time to look over my plans and figure out what other seeds I need to buy.

Wow. You know you’re a complete garden geek when just typing those words gives you¬†a case of the giddys.

mature woman chooses  seeds at store

Fall, Food and Fodder for the Future

There is a tinge of lemon on the poplar leaves and that all too familiar bite in the air. Summers are crazy when you live as far north as we do…just over 1200 kilometers (760 miles) north of Vancouver, BC.

When spring arrives summer is hot on its heels, licking up all the ice and snow and churning out so much fast growing greenery it takes your breath away. My father loved to tell us to be careful not to stand in one spot in the field too long because the grass was growing so fast it would knock you off your feet. As a kid you almost believed it.

Then along comes a string of days like the ones we are having now, with that undeniable shift in the air. Yesterday a flock of Canada geese winged past our apartment window. They weren’t forming their practice V’s like they will be in a few weeks, but they were starting to gather together, sharing gossip, showing off their babies and discussing flight plans.

As for me, I am trying to find a direction for the surge of energy that always comes with this time of year. In my old life I would be elbow deep in the vegetable harvest, busy taking any surplus honey from the bee hives and stacking enough hay to see the horses through to spring grass. Instead I drive down to the community garden and take stock of my tiny plantdom. Someone snapped off the tops of¬†my onions and threw them beside one of my raised beds. I’m not sure what the motivation would have been. Maybe they were trying to pull them up, but the stalks broke and they threw them down in disgust. But why give up so easily? Why not root up the bulbs? Or at least take the stalks and chop them up in a soup or stew or something.

And then it occurs to me that I am annoyed with the vandals for their laziness in not taking my produce. But still. Others report beets pulled prematurely and tossed to the side and  a few immature ears of corn snapped off the stalk and tossed on the grass. The metal hose bracket has been broken off the side of the shed.

It’s the nonsensical waste that irks. If someone just took the produce we would tell ourselves they needed it more than we did, but to pull up plants and toss them about or destroy things like the hose holder is crazy making.¬†We also have lots of “share beds” painted green and clearly marked. We tend these beds communally for public consumption. Why not just harvest from them?

Ah, but what use is anger? It’s simply swallowing rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. Everyone cleans up their plots and carries on.

I still have some beans, onions, garlic, beets, kale and some sad looking tomatoes, carrots and zucchini. I tap my watch, look pointedly at the skies and tell the latter three, Get it together will you? We’re almost out of time. We have ate most of the potatoes already since there is nowhere to store them in the apartment. I have a few plants left and might try keeping some potatoes¬†in the storage locker in the basement, but it isn’t very cool even down there. At best they’d likely only keep for a month…two at most.

I realize now that a large part of the reason I loved gardening was the sense of security¬†I felt every fall when our little log house groaned at the seams with the year’s harvest. I would look in the cold room at the rows of canning jars, dried herbs¬†and baskets of root vegetables and then note our wood cook stove and know that we would be okay no matter what happened. I liked the illusion of being in control of my future.

In our apartment I feel at the mercy of the masses. I feel vulnerable. I am pretty sure I have a few teensy control issues, though preppers would say I was just being smart. Or stupid, depending on how you look at it.

 

Speaking of prepping, I had a strange series of experiences one day last week.

First I walked downtown to meet up with my husband for lunch and across the street from the restaurant the local food bank had set up a display of over 600 pairs of shoes depicting the number of residents who had to access the food bank in a single week. It was a pretty dramatic, sobering display that certainly was effective in making its point.

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Secondly, Shaw’s system had crashed earlier that morning leaving half the city without internet access and no way to accept debit or visa payments. We were lucky enough to have a little cash on us-both to donate and for our meal-but many others arrived at the restaurant and found they were unable to pay for the meal they wanted to order and had to¬†go elsewhere. Some no doubt had lightened their wallets of cash at the food bank booth, only to cross the street and find they couldn’t buy a meal for themselves. The irony!

Thirdly, after lunch I walked home and discovered I had lost my “secret” horseradish patch I told you about in the last post. I am no longer your go-to gal for horseradish should a disaster strike the city. According to a plastic sign and the distressed look to the once healthy green leaves, the city had came along and sprayed¬†the patch of “noxious weeds” ¬†into oblivion.

Here’s what they looked like when I passed them on my way home. Sad enough, but now all the lovely horseradish plants are absolute goners. Just dried up husks right down to their spicy roots. I know they are invasive, but it still makes me sad. I’ll miss walking by and wondering how they came to be there.

I don’t pretend to have the answers for our future food security, but I still harbor hope for a kind of utopia where no one goes hungry and our urban centers¬†become self sustaining. You do hear stories about it happening more and more. Instead of ornamental trees, the cities plant edible fruit trees-which ours already have done here and there. In San Francisco there is a Guerilla Grafting movement grafting fruit tree branches onto sterile ornamental trees in public spaces.

Personally, I would love to see more multi-density housing with rooftop gardens that supply all the produce needed for the residents that tend them, complete with root cellars in the building’s basement for keeping produce through the winter in colder climates such as ours. I like that idea far more than every man for himself bugging out to the bush, armed to the teeth to protect his potatoes.¬†Or their onion stalks and immature corn for that matter.

We live in interesting times to be sure, which means we need some interesting solutions.  I believe we will find them. In the meantime if you have a few dollars, cans of food or garden produce to spare, I know the food banks would sure appreciate whatever you can give them.

Lady vegetable gardener

What’s Growing on in the Red Boxes

After a lifetime of huge, rambling-and sometimes overwhelming-country gardens I am embracing my first year of community gardening. I am so grateful for the loan of these¬†four red¬†rental boxes. I can’t even tell you what they mean to me. ¬†I saw a quote attributed to Doug Green that read “I am more myself in a garden than anywhere else on earth.” Amen to that.

This is what the red boxes¬†looked¬†like when I first spotted them back in April…

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And then a little later after topping them up with compost, adding some stakes for the pea and bean fencing and doing a little early seeding and transplanting…

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Crisscrossed with shallots, red and yellow onions and garlic, it isn’t exactly square foot gardening but it’s close. Crammed gardening…that’s what it is! And yes those are potatoes in tomato cages. I circled them with early peas and am planning to wrap string around the cages for the peas to climb and then harvest and remove them before the potatoes are ready. Not sure how that will work. The potatoes may be¬†starved for light and no doubt it will be a challenge to hill them. I plan on just sprinkling mulch on top to avoid any green potatoes. We’ll see…

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And here is a picture of a red box taken just over a week ago. Over the last month we have had snow, rain, frost, couple days of 27 C weather and then more rain. There is nothing like the determination and resiliency of a plant to keep growing forward! We should all be so tough and resilient.

So many¬†lessons to be learned from a garden. It’s so much more than just kale.

 

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Everything’s Coming Up Radishes

Everything’s coming up radishes…and peas and potatoes and shallots and onions and beets and lettuce. So much growing on and that’s just in one¬†little red box! My square of beets are a bit of a mess. So many here, so few there…I may try carefully moving some about.

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Overall, things are growing well at the gardens. And I am learning some lessons about community in the process.

The other night I drove down to the garden to water. Upon arriving, I was secretly pleased to find no one else there. I sighed in contentment, looking forward to some solo watering time.

I had just finished uncoiling the garden hose and dragging it over to the boxes when¬†a father showed up with his young daughter. The little girl was fairly leaping in the air with enthusiasm. I told them to go ahead and water their garden first, hoping they would then leave so I could carry on with my watering in solitude. Don’t judge me.

After they finished the little girl asked if she could water my garden and, of course, I told her that would be wonderful. She flew about spraying water here and there with unabated joy.

I’ll just water it properly after they leave, I told myself as I smiled and thanked the girl for all her help.

“You can leave if you like,” the father said unexpectedly. “We’ll put away the hose.”

The conversation that followed went something like this.

Me “No, no, I’ll do it. You’ve helped enough.”

Him “No, I insist.”

Me “That’s okay, I’ll finish up.”

Him “No, no, we’ll put the hose away. You can just go.”

What could I do? There was nothing for it. I left.

At first (did I already say¬†don’t judge me?) I was a bit annoyed. But as I drove home I thought about that beautiful little girl helping me with my garden¬†and I had to smile. It is a wonderful thing to see a young person taking an interest in gardening. It’s even more wonderful to see a young father taking time out of his busy day to encourage that interest. I hope to see¬†them at the gardens again.

And that, dear Shannon, is what community gardening is really about.

And here I was thinking it was about deeply watered carrots. Pffft. Amateur.

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Allotments and Summer Homes

 

In many parts of Europe allotments- what westerners call¬†community gardens-are common. And big. Very, very, big. Here in North America 4 X 8′ raised beds are the norm. Europeans laugh at us. Their allotments can measure in at 5,000 square feet which translates to a 50′ X 100′ plot; the size of a city lot.

Panoramic view of Communal allotments in Suffolk, England

Panoramic view of Plots of land cultivated by the tenants for food production

People often rent these lots for a lifetime,¬†frequently handing them down through their family.¬†They can keep chickens and bees on their plots and because they¬†are there every year, they can also plant fruit trees and other perennial things. Even though they don’t actually own the land, because the gardens¬†are so long term, the renters¬†even build garden sheds on them at their own expense. In some places, such as The Netherlands, these sheds are decadent enough to double as summer homes that gardeners live in during the growing season.

Excuse me while I swoon and shed a few green tears.

Wouldn’t¬†a summer shed/home in a garden patch¬†be heavenly? Of course,¬†when I say the garden sheds are¬†decadent, I simply mean they have¬†a roof, a door, a window, a bed and a hot plate, as well as a corner to store ones tools and a few shelves for seeds and such. For a gardener that is enough. More than enough.

Gartenhaus mit Gem√ľsegarten

Honey, I’m home!¬† Okay, I admit this is a pretty tricked out decadent garden shed…

 

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This would do equally well for my “she shed”¬†¬†¬†¬† My¬†garden home away from home…

 

I recently read a book of fiction called The Mulberry Tree about a fellow who inherits his grandfather’s allotment. It left me wishing we had spacious places like that we could rent.

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In Europe the rent for allotments is low. Really low. The yearly¬†lease usually rings in¬†at the equivalent of $50 – $150 Canadian. The idea is to provide an affordable place for people to raise their own food; never mind that land in Europe is becoming rarer than hen’s teeth.

Here in Fort St John we have an enormous empty space near the heart of the city where our hospital used to be. Every time I drive by that big empty space I picture it filled with tiny house garden sheds and garden spots.

I think it would be a wonderful green use of space and if done right, it could even offer alternative housing as well as giving people an opportunity to grow a significant amount of their own food. The whole tiny house movement stumbles on where to park the tiny houses once they are built. An allotment-type subdivision could be the answer. Stir in some green energy options and the whole project would be incredible.

Gartenlauben / Schrebergrten

Something like this for an allotment/tiny home subdivision could look as good as the vegetables taste…

It’s fun to think about, but I suspect few would share my enthusiasm for¬†such a¬†project. As always, there are economics to consider. Right now our city lots-the equivalent of one allotment-can sell for $180,000. You can buy a lot of vegetables for that kind of coin. The space where the hospital used to¬†stand would be worth a fortune. And-as weird as it sounds-it is possible that wanting a tiny home wouldn’t necessarily equate to wanting a huge garden.

It’s all very interesting. Oh, and while we are on the topic of tiny houses, I have to put in a plug for my favourite tiny house book by Dee Williams…The Big Tiny¬† If you are at all interested in building your own tiny house this is the definitive book on the subject. You can also find some really interesting¬†videos about Dee Williams and her tiny house on youtube.

The Big Tiny

Well it looks like it is going to be another blue sky gorgeous day in the Peace. I think I will go for a morning walk and get some of that¬†sunshine on my face. Maybe I will even walk by the old hospital lot and do a little dreaming…

Grandma’s Birthday and Discovering Garden Magic

Today is my paternal Grandma’s 106th¬†birthday.¬†She passed away 20 years ago at the age of 86.¬†As I work all¬†the numbers in my head, I realize I am the same age right now that she was the year I was born. How can that be?¬†It seems like just last week I was a little kid, excited to be staying at her farmhouse for the weekend.

The first time I noticed the magic of gardening was on one¬†of those¬†weekend stays.¬†Grandma and I¬†had got up at the crack of dawn to wash windows.¬†She was up on the ladder and it was my job to hand up the cloths and the glass cleaner in turn. We worked our way around the house until we ended up on the south side in the middle of her flower bed. Just as she reached down for a cloth a peony burst into bloom between us. One second it was a tightly packed bud ball and the next it was massive multi-petal blossom. It opened up like a spring loaded action toy. I will never forget the startled delight in Grandma’s voice as she cried, “Oh!” and how I was uncharacteristically speechless.

close up of white peony flower

The shared witnessing of that blossom opening became our story. The one we never got tired of telling or talking to each other about. Or at least I never did. “Remember the time that big flower opened up in your garden?” I would ask, and of course she would remember and we would tell each other the details all over again.

Moments like that are why I got interested in gardening.¬†They are why¬†I still love gardening.¬†Your mind can be off worrying about your kids, or money or what to make for supper and then bam! A blossom springs open and you forget everything. You come back,¬†fully present. It’s the best kind of therapy.

As my gardens expanded to hold several peonies, I always told myself I would take the time to witness a blossom open. I would get up at the crack of dawn, pull up a chair, sip my coffee¬†and watch¬†until it happened. I would have the best intentions, but there was always so much to be done. Soon I was distracted by a robust dandelion growing up inside of a rose and off I went weeding,¬†thinning, pruning…one task after another until winter covered the whole thing in a white blanket once again and it was too late. Next year, I would tell myself. Next year I will make time for watching a peony¬†blossom open. Then it occurred to me that¬†on the day¬†Grandma and I¬†saw the peony bud open we were busy washing windows, so there you go.

When you think about it, gardening is always¬†one big magic. It can’t help itself. Dropping a microscopic seed into the soil and having it morph into a petunia that fills and spills over the side of a barrel-sized pot is pretty mind blowing. If you showed someone who knew nothing about gardening¬†a teeny tiny carrot seed the size of a punctuation mark¬†and tried to tell them it held everything it needed to grow into a snowman’s nose, they wouldn’t believe you. But it does. Discovering the perennial you planted three years ago¬†and thought had died, but here it is in full bloom…that’s magic too.

And getting to¬†see a peony open¬†just once in a lifetime, and sharing that magical moment with a person you love, well that’s more than anyone can ask for.

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This¬†is my¬†Grandma a few seconds into 1976. My sisters and I¬†always stayed with our grandparents on New Year’s Eve while our¬†Mom and Dad¬†went to the dance at the¬†Bessborough Hall.¬†We would always say “See you next year!” when they dropped us off and think we were¬†wildly original and¬†funny.

At midnight we¬†would bang pots, pans, lids etc. (Grandma has a tin pie plate in this picture) with spoons. We would march around the house banging¬†away¬†and then fling open the front door and¬†smack our spoons for all we were worth, shouting “Happy New Year!” into the frosty, star-filled, quiet, country dark.

The peony bush was under the curtain covered window to the left. Grandma (Isabelle Weselak to the world) came to the Peace Country in 1931 and made her way to their homestead in Bessborough, 20 miles or so northwest of Dawson Creek, BC, in a horse drawn wagon with a toddler (Aunt Doreen) and a baby (our Dad).

She had a small flower bed, a gigantic vegetable garden and an optimistic zest for life, as you can see by this picture.

We miss her.