I'm a Fan.

Gayla's most recent book - 'Grow Great Grub - Organic Food from Small Spaces' is a must-have.

When choosing a book to give as a gift, I run through a mental checklist.  Does it fit the recipient's personality?  Is the subject engaging?  Will it be cherished and enrich the life of the person I give it to?  No matter who the giftee may be, the answers to these questions are YES, YES and a resounding YES when the book is written by Gayla Trail.

Gayla is a Toronto author, blogger, and small-space/guerrilla gardening champion.  I don't mind telling you that she's one of my heroes.  Her website, You Grow Girl is a wealth of information and inspiration for newbies and seasoned gardeners alike, and includes her awesome blog as well as one of the best gardening forums on the internet.  I first discovered the site in 2005, when I was given Gayla's first book as a gift, entitled You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening

My introduction to Gayla's writing opened new doors.

I devoured  'You Grow Girl', reading it cover to cover at least a dozen times in the first month it fell into my hands.  Shortly after, I found myself in the position to put the book into practice when I moved to an apartment in the States where my only gardening space was a partially shaded balcony.  If not for the book, I'd likely have determined that growing anything in this teeny situation was impossible... but that summer I enjoyed herbs, strawberries, peppers and loads of flowers thanks to Gayla's sound advice and creative small-space solutions.  I didn't know it at the time, but Mo Farm was growing in my heart and mind from the moment I picked the first strawberry that very summer.

Years later, with an actual garden to play in and much more experience under my belt, I was thrilled to hear that a new book was on the horizon for Gayla, and I rushed to pre-order it.  When Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces landed in my mailbox, it was like 'You Grow Girl' all over again.  I read it.  And re-read it.  And re-re-read it.  I filled it with sticky notes and scribbles, compiling lists of varieties that I wanted to try, projects to undertake, and tips I needed to share.  I've bought both of Gayla's books for countless friends, and they're among the most deeply cherished things that I own.  I know from her blog that a new book is on its' way, and trust me when I say I'll be first in line to get it.

Stuck for a last-minute gift?  You gotta get Gayla! 

Better Than a Book

My first copy of Urban Farm... the beginning of a love affair
The other day, much to my delight, I discovered that Urban Farm magazine is now available by subscription.  Huzzah!  My friend happened upon this new publication last spring and brought it into the office, then in its' second edition (pictured above).  It was love at first glance!  I thumbed through the pages, drinking them in, and realized that there was no possible way that I could leave it at the office... this was going to have to be an overnighter.  Weeks later, I finally tracked down another copy of the issue - I had to buy it to replace the worn and dog-eared, post-it-note-ridden, overly-read copy that I'd commandeered from my officemate.  

Since then, I've become an avid hunter of Urban Farm... sometimes found with a bit of luck at Chapters, but more commonly discovered while unearthing hidden, scattered copies underneath piles of 'Country Living' and 'Good Housekeeping' at obscure grocery stores.  The search is over!  

Urban Farm is a new breed of gardening mag, focusing on sustainable city living with practical and creative advice from real 'urban farmers' on topics ranging from growing organic vegetables and improving your composting techniques to keeping city chickens, capturing and using rainwater effectively or starting a community garden.  It's seriously bad-ass, and I always recommend it to anyone who is interested in putting their backyard to better use.  The only downfall has been that it's generally pretty difficult to find - but now it will drop safely at my door!  Perfect! 

Now, off to trick my husband into buying me a subscription for Christmas... 

I Love Books like 'Animal, Vegetable, Miracle'

Barbara Kingsolver's epic tale of a year of homegrown food.
As the holidays quickly approach, I find it gets harder and harder to think of meaningful and heartfelt gifts for my friends and family... especially when it comes to keeping an eye on the budget.  One of my favourite go-to gifts is a fantastic book.  When I read something that moves me or makes me laugh, or resonates long after I've turned the last page, I know I can confidently pass it along and pay forward that great feeling.  Since Mo Farm is now dormant, and I'm trying as hard as I can to hibernate, I'm going to toss out a few book reviews, which I hope can also serve as a menu of gift ideas for the Christmas season!

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is an amazing read, and was one of the strongest influences that called me into action when it comes to Mo Farm.  I read it last winter, and in my very first blog entry I talked about it and how it compelled me to GET GOING and dig into this new passion I was discovering.  It is at once an engaging story, a personal diary, a how-to manual, and a seasonal catalogue that captures the imagination and doles out generous helpings of wry wit and unabashed humour.

The book is the true story of Barbara Kingsolver and her family making the move from arid Arizona back to lush Appalachia in an attempt to step away from reliance on imported food and water and get back to the simplicity of growing and enjoying food close to home.  They set out to provide as much food for themselves as possible, and to obtain what other resources they need from people that they know personally.  The story in and of itself is engaging enough, but the book is organized by season, and it guides the reader throughout the accounts of successes and failures from the first asparagus in March through to the winter squashes of post-Thankgiving (including 'Harvest Day'... the demise of the turkey) making it a surprisingly useful handbook for those who may be inspired to give the idea a try.      

The story is delivered from Barbara herself in the first person, but is also injected with perspectives in essays from her husband Steven, food stories and recipes from her daughter Camille, and tales of chicken husbandry and the egg business from her young daughter Lily.

If you've ever given thought to the food system in North America, or have ever enjoyed growing a tomato, or even once considered that it would be nice to be a little more self-sustainable, you've got to read this book.  And once you've read it, you've got to give it to someone else for Christmas. 

Mo Farm is MOVIN!

For a change, I have an excuse for neglecting the Mo Farm blog for an extended period of time.  My husband and I have bought a house, and the future of Mo Farm is looking BRIGHT!  I can now begin scheming for the new layout and crops of 2011, and I'll be posting updates on the construction of a chicken coop this spring!

Stay tuned!

Baby, It Ain't Over Til It's Over

Keep on sowin'!
If I was exhibiting my normal patterns, I probably would have called it quits by now.  I apparently love quitting, and I do it very well.  The nights have been colder, the leaves are beginning to dry and drop, and much of the garden has given me all it has to give.  Under ordinary circumstances, I'd have grown tired of my microfarming efforts and thrown in the trowel.  But here's the thing - the garden has made me different.  In a single summer, I've gained a deeper, personal understanding of growing, and of the incredible rewards that are reaped through patience and persistence.  Sure, I was intellectually aware of these things before... I went to school for horticulture, you know!  But there is a substantial difference between "knowing" something because you read it or were taught it, and really knowing something because you experienced it yourself.  There is truly no substitute for first-hand knowledge.

For me, the approach of Fall always leads to a period of nostalgia.  It's a time of conclusions and of new beginnings.  I've been reflecting on the season, and I'd like to share a few of the things that I learned.  I mean really learned, this summer.

1.  Keep on sowing.  All the time.  Whether you want to or not.
Mid-season seeds for late-season lettuce.
I had a few major gaps in my garden's production because I neglected to follow this rule.  I was so thrilled with my carrots and beets as I pulled them from the ground, but as my supply dwindled, I realized with dismay that I would have been able to enjoy them ALL season if I had simply sown more in succession.  The varieties I grew take about 65-75 days to reach harvest size, and I really dropped the ball on that one.  Lesson learned, however - I sowed fresh lettuce in August that is now almost ready to cut for baby greens.

2.  Expect problems.  Embrace the chance to learn.  
What the hell?!?  Tomato trouble led to research and change.

Cracking fruit makes Kris cry.
In late July, my tomatoes were just starting to ripen and I was elated.  Then they got all bitchy on me.  Brown spots, curled leaves, dropping flowers, cracking fruit... what the hell??  I hit the forums and cracked open my books, looking for the solution to my problems, which I suspected were fungal.  The tricky part is that often garden problems can be caused by multiple factors - weather, water, humidity, diseases, insects, human error... the list is endless.  My book told me that the best course of action was to immediately destroy the affected plants, thus reducing the likelihood that the problem would spread to my other tomatoes.  Sound advice, yes, but I didn't like it.  Instead, I removed all of the spotted foliage, cut off the troublesome branches, and fertilized my sick plant with an organic mix high in phosphorus to try and coax some fresh flowers and fruit.  It worked.  Was I right and the book wrong?  Do I possess healing powers?  Not likely.  Next time, it may not work out so well, but at least I have some weapons in my arsenal that I devised from first-hand experience.

3.  You will always make mistakes.  It's ok.  Write them down!
My peas needed more sun.  My cucumbers did terribly because they needed more space.  I don't really like dry beans, so I probably shouldn't grow them.  I need more herbs, peppers and greens and way fewer tomatoes.  Eggplant seedlings need to be started in January, because they are sssllllooooowwwww.  I'm not ashamed that many of my backyard endeavors didn't work out this year, but I'm determined not to repeat the same mistakes.  After all, I need to save room for NEW mistakes! 

4.  Share the load, share the harvest, and share the joy.
Farmer A.
Farmer C.

One of the greatest things about growing food is that it fosters connections.  You connect with the earth.  You connect with a real food source and a sense of sustainability.  You connect with people, both familiar and strange.  Sharing the work of Mo Farm has been vital, and sharing the JOY of Mo Farm has been life-changing.  I'm so lucky and so grateful to have been able to depend on my sister and my husband for a hand in the dirt.

These are just a few of the things that this garden has taught me this season.  I know now that this is a way of life for me.  It's not a phase, a fad, or a hobby.  Growing food is something that I'll always do.

And baby, it ain't over til it's over.  

The sun is still shining, the vines are still full, and I've got work to do.  Time to get these hands dirty!



She's as sweet as she is pretty... Tigerella gets the K-Mo stamp of approval!

Tree & Twig - A Tomato Tour

Isn't it great when you fit in with strangers?

Last Sunday, my husband and I drove out to Wellandport to visit Tree & Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm for a Tomato Tour.  That's right... a TOMATO TOUR!  Imagine my bliss.  It seems I'm not the only one enraptured with the charms of the tomato, because the farm was packed with like-minded folks, smiling, sipping wine and chatting despite the grim weather. 

The afternoon began with a walk through the gardens of our gracious host and inspirational farmer, Linda.  Donning an 'I heart Tomatoes' tee (which I now passionately covet) and ankle-deep in the sticky clay of her land, Linda guided us along, providing candid stories of her growing season and her favourite (and less-than-favourite) varieties. Here are a few highlights from the garden...

Linda in her element.
Fantastic peppers! Gorgeous!
Blooming eggplant.
Cool pepper!  I'm sorry, I can't remember any variety names!
Amazing marigolds (above) and zinnias (below) from Linda's 'Organic Gardening' magazine trial gardens.
Beautiful basil.

We escaped the mud, and stomped back into the grassy yard to start the main event - time to taste the tomatoes!  I was shocked at the depth of variety - with so many types and sizes and colours to taste, it was impossible to choose where to begin.  I decided that my best bet was to work systematically and try them all.  After all, it's a unique experience to have so many beautiful flavours together at once!

Just 1 of 2 tasting tables.  Wow!
Linda talking tomatoes.
Some of these beauties came home with me.
The culinary delights didn't stop at the tomato tasting.  The group was also treated to some seriously creative and unexpected treats.  Delectable tomato cake, savoury tomato muffins and, if you can imagine it, tomato-basil-mascarpone ice cream were available for sampling too.  Mmmmmm! 
Tomato, basil & mascarpone combine to make a creamy, dreamy treat.

Local Chef Mark Picone created sweet, fresh sips of delight using tomatoes, watermelon, honey, sunberries and basil that danced over our tongues with a bouquet of summer flavours.

Chef Mark Picone
Tomato shooters.  So delish!
 With soaked clothes and arms laden with quarts of purchased tomato favourites, we said farewell to the farm for the day.  I've seldom been so inspired and satisfied while so wretchedly uncomfortable! 

Thanks for the great afternoon, Linda.  We'll definitely be back!

Black Krim - The Queen of the Heirlooms?

Do you suppose it's possible to fall in love with a tomato?  This is the culmination of the gardening/farming season - the moment that growers and eaters of fresh food most anticipate.  Yes, folks, it's officially tomato season, and you'll be hearing much about mine in the coming weeks.  On Monday, I picked and ate my very first 'Black Krim' heirloom tomato, and I'm trying to find a way to describe the experience without sounding absolutely nuts.

I think this tomato just changed my life.

It's bulky and surprisingly heavy for it's size.  It's beautiful in an ugly kind of way.  It's perfect.

There is a very good reason why gardeners and growers so highly covet these prized fruits.  Of all the edibles that you can grow in your backyard, the tomato by far offers the most exceptionally rewarding harvest.  If you've never grown your own tomatoes, I have to insist that you try.  Even just one.

For weeks on end, you watch carefully as the smallest plant begins to grow and change.  You can't help but giggle with excitement  when you glimpse the first, tiny yellow blooms that appear - a hint of the glorious fruits to come.  Finally, little green globes begin to form, and you know you're in the home stretch.  They swell, blush and ripen, twisting on their vines.

You've made tomatoes.  You.  All by yourself.  Congratulations.

It's difficult to explain the first bite of a homegrown tomato.  It's warm in your hands, full of sunshine and sweetness, a miraculous and compact package.  Biting into it, the flavour rushes throughout your mouth, juices running down your chin and arm.  It's impossible not to smile as you savour this reward for your efforts - this remarkably delicious fruit that was alive and breathing just a moment before.  Everything you once thought you knew about a tomato was wrong.  This is what makes life worth living.

My 'Black Krim' became the ultimate toasted tomato sandwich, but only after I ate half of it while standing on the warm deck with the summer sun on my hair.  I'll never again be without this variety.  She's the Queen of the Heirlooms.  But that's just my opinion... what's yours?

Zucchini 'Costata Romanesca'

She's a beaut!  'Costata Romanesca' harvested on Aug 3, 2010.

According to the seed supplier, this gorgeous variety is often voted the 'best tasting of all zucchini'.  I love the distinctive stripes and intricate patterns of it's skin, but I was instantly hooked when I grilled thick slices coated lightly in olive oil, salt and pepper.  It's wonderfully nutty and delicious... a must-grow for me from now on.

Grilled zucchini, risotto & warm mushroom salad.

On The Wild Side

My garden has gone feral.  In a way it's a relief, but it's an odd realization that all of my planning, preening and care is in many ways completely irrelevant.  Throughout the summer, life gets in the way of my good gardening intentions, and I'm left with little choice but to allow my garden to thrive on neglect.  (Oh... did you think you were the only one?)

With vacations, a busy work schedule and old-fashioned summer laziness taking up my time, I've been able to let the garden just... be.  To my chagrin, it remains lush and productive without my intervention.  Who knew?  Yes, the tomatoes are out of control.  Yes, that IS a bolted, flowering head of lettuce in the middle of the photo.  But that's ok.

Here are some additional pictorial updates.  Summer madness - it's good stuff!  

Carrots, mixed beans and thyme for the dinner table.

A 'Dusty' eggplant.  It was a 'cheater' I planted in mid-July when I realized that my 'Little Fingers' were definitely not going to reach fruiting size this season.  A good score from the garden center saves the day... there's nothing wrong with a back-up plan!  I don't feel guilty!

Another ringer.  'Sweet Cherry Pick' peppers I bought at the same time as the eggplant, just because I couldn't resist.  C'mon, look how cute!

'Bright Lights' swiss chard.  Indeed!

Remember how I planted some watermelon in the space left by the spent lettuce?  It's gone bananas, and I couldn't be happier...
Little 'Malali' watermelon.  More where this one came from, too.  There WILL be home-grown watermelons this season, and by any account I can think of, this officially makes my summer gardening effort a success.

Anatomy of a Local Dinner

It started with a small inspiration.  I was wandering through the garden in the golden hour of the evening, absentmindedly pulling a few weeds, munching a few peas, when I spotted it... the telltale rounded crescent of the top of a Golden Detroit beet, the first of the season, peeking from the surface of the soil.  I crouched down and prodded it with my finger, making sure it was loose enough to pull.  It was.  With a gentle tug, it popped out of the earth, and I literally gasped - it was so pretty!  Bright orange and perfectly round, it demanded to be turned into something special.  The wheels in my head started turning...

I foraged around the rest of the garden, looking for more ingredients that were ripe or big enough to consider harvesting.  I managed a bowl of crisp baby greens, a small handful of carrots, and a giant of a green onion, curved and beautiful.     

After a quick consultation with Jamie, I set to work washing and chopping, seasoning, wrapping, heating, and singing, filled with the simple joy of cooking for myself and my husband with fresh, delicious ingredients that promised to nourish our bodies and delight our palates.  Here is the result:

Fresh, roasted veggies in olive oil with sea salt, pepper, garlic and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

Local chicken from Fenwood Farms, buttered sugar snap peas and roasted peppers, zucchini and mushrooms from Hildreth Farm Market, and Mo Farm baby greens, beets, green onions and carrots.
Good food = good marriage.  The math is simple.