Homegrown Holidays

There are few things I love more than decorating for the Christmas season.  That said, it's been tough to get into the spirit so far, but last week I set my mind to creating a welcoming entrance.  Call it peer pressure, because my neighbours spare no expense or effort in offering a carnival of lights, glowing deer and garland!  I decided to skip the fanfare and focus on what I love most - the understated beauty of natural materials.

I built arrangements for my cast-iron urns using birch poles, banded willow branches, greens, some dried accents from the garden centre and cuts of dried 'Limelight' Hydrangea, plumes from my ornamental grasses and Sedum heads from the garden.  I'm truly thrilled with the result.

I searched high and low for a wreath that I liked enough to spend money on, but found nothing!  Instead, leftover greens from the arrangements, a few pine cones and a re-purposed ornament that I bought for my tree made a perfect alternative.  Tied together with some jute twine from the shed, it makes me smile every time I come home.

How are you decorating for the holidays?

Farewell, Sweet Summer...

I kissed the summer goodbye with a hike in beautiful Shorthills Provincial Park last weekend. Sigh.

Bonus Berries

The surprise (and delight!) of my summer has been provided by a plant I didn't know I had.  When I moved into my house in January, the garden was a mystery.  Discovering perennials and shrubs as they emerged from winter's sleep was a horticultural treasure hunt!  So, when this cluster of hollow woody canes popped up beside the fence, I trimmed them and shaped them as I would any other plant.  Imagine my surprise when hundreds of berries began to form in June!  It took a while, but they've ripened into the most delicious blackberries I've ever had.  Bonus!

My Sisters (A Bit Corny)

High as an elephant's eye?
This season marked the first time I've ever tried growing corn.  With a wet, cool and muddy spring, I chose to hold off on planting until well into June, so I wasn't sure how successful I'd be. That said, like most of my gardening endeavours, for me it's more the experience of trying than the success of the harvest that matters most. With that in mind, my husband and I dug a 10' x 10' bed and plunked seeds into the soil.

More turf bites the dust - this yard's for growin!

Within two weeks of planting, corn was looking like corn. Sweet!
 Reading about how other people grow things inspires and empowers me.  This past winter and spring, I was really interested in learning more about companion planting, and I came across many mentions of the 'Three Sisters', a method of growing long used by the native Americans.  Corn, squash and beans grow symbiotically together, so that's what I decided to do. I interplanted corn with my 'Costata Romanesco' zucchini and golden hubbard squash, the theory being that the rough, spiky stems and leaves of the squash plants deter hungry critters like raccoons and squirrels from climbing or knocking over the corn stalks.
My 'Three Sisters' garden begins to take shape in July, as viewed from the deck.
Zucchini growing happily in the shade of the corn.
In the next phase of planting, pole beans are sown amid the corn.  Beans fix nitrogen from the air into the soil, supplying the hungry, rapidly-growing corn with nutrition.  In exchange, the corn provides structure for the beans to climb upon.  It's a pretty good arrangement!

The ornamental qualities of the corn at all stages of growth was a pleasant surprise. She's a looker!
 So, the big question... did it work?  Well, yes and no.  Nothing is perfect, as I'm always reminded by my garden.  The zucchini produced beautifully throughout late July, but then suffered in the heat and humidity, afflicted with terrible powdery mildew and all but halting flowering and fruiting.  The corn is still growing, and has in fact produced cobs.  
The first cobs of corn begin to form in late July - success?
 Success! (I think.) I'm unsure of when to pick them, as they're quite small, and I'm not confident they'll fully ripen.  The beans were planted very late, but are climbing happily and beginning to form flowers.  I think I'll get some before summers' end, which is approaching much more quickly than I'd prefer!  Overall, I'm proud of my Three Sisters experiment, and I'm looking forward to modifying and repeating the process next season.  Homegrown corn may not be in my kitchen as of yet this summer, but thankfully, there's plenty of local gold to enjoy, courtesy of Ontario farmers much more talented than I!

Welcome Back, Tomatoes!

The first ripe tomato of my season!

They're finally back!  The very first ripe tomatoes of the season appeared in the gardens last night, opening the door to months of juicy, seedy, delicious goodness.  

A big, beautiful 'Black Krim' deepens in colour on the vine.

Oh how I missed you, my dearest Black Krim... never leave me again!

Of course they will leave, as all seasonal foods must.  So it's up to us to enjoy every little bite, and every slurp, and every beautifully glowing orb on the vine.  We shall can! And we shall freeze! And we shall celebrate!  Which reminds me... 

Tree & Twig Tomato Tour 2010. Wowsa!

Linda of Tree & Twig has announced the date for her annual Tomato Bash at the farm! I had such an amazing time last year, and if you missed it, I know that you regretted not coming when you saw the pictures. Don't make the same mistake this year - come on out to Tree & Twig on September 4th!  If you're in my neck of the woods, you're welcome to ride with me.

Until then, I'll be wrist-deep in tomato glory...  Yippee! 

A 'San Marzano' - won't be long now!
'Black Plum' ready for eating. It was so sweet!

Let's Grow Together: A Beet-Down!

Go babies, grow!

One of the many mistakes I made last season was failing to continually seed throughout the season.  It's so easy to be gung-ho in the spring, but it's also easy to forget to keep things rolling throughout the summer by simply plunking more seeds into the empty spaces left by early producers.  Thankfully, it's a lesson I learned, and this year I'm determined to keep my garden producing all season long... and I'm not the only one.

Linda Crago of Tree & Twig has laid down a challenge to gardeners... a 'beet-down', if you will.  The Late Beet Planting Challenge extends from coast to coast, with participants agreeing to plant and harvest a crops of Detroit Dark Red beets at (approximately) the same time.  It was a challenge that I couldn't resist, and though I was late to the game (I sowed my seeds about 48 hours AFTER everyone else because I'm a terrible procrastinator) I'm pleased to see my new beet crop poking up through the soil.  Will my beets outshine their competition? Will they get munched by mystery pests like my spring drop of Golden Detroits? Only time will tell!

It's too late to join this particular challenge, but it certainly serves as a reminder to keep on sowin'! Right now is the perfect time in Southern Ontario to think about planting fall crops like beets, carrots, parsnips, cabbage and kale, and as long as the sun keeps shining, there is always room for a little more lettuce!  Need some beet seeds? Linda was very gracious in sharing hers, I can certainly pass along the favour! If you'd like some FREE BEET SEEDS in the mail, just drop me an e-mail with your address and I'll send them your way... just promise to tell me how you made out with your late planting challenge!

The HEAT Goes On...

Thankfully, not all of my garden plants seem to mind.

The wave of heat and drought continues in Southern Ontario. I did a rain dance before bed last night, but to no avail...

In Case You've Been Under A Rock...

I feel I would be remiss if I didn't give a big ol' shout out to Julie Bass, the suburban resident of Oak Park, MI who is being charged by her city for the unspeakable crime of growing vegetables in raised garden beds (GASP!) in FRONT of her house. Imagine the horror!

Click on the video for the story, if perchance you've not yet heard it.  I don't think I need to tell you where I stand on the issue... frankly, I'm surprised that the city is maintaining such a strong stance in the face of the outrage they're receiving from people all over North America and as far as Australia. 

Truly noteworthy, however, is Julie herself.  I just spent the morning reading her entire blog, and I have to tell you that I'm utterly charmed.  Julie writes from a real and personal perspective, she answers comments (which at this point, I'm sure is close to impossible) and she conducts herself with incredible poise and dignity.  When crap like this goes viral, which it now has, the central figure suddenly becomes a public personality and is subjected to the opinions and comments of every jackass with an internet connection... it's a scary thing! Julie always takes the high road, and for that as much as her veggie-rights cause, she should be commended.

So, want to help her out?
Write to the city of Oak Park, MI 
Sign the petition 

Cheers to Julie Bass and her front-yard veggies!  

A Summer Pause

How has it happened?  Frankly, I've been a miserable blogger this season... but perhaps that's been to the benefit of my garden.  It's been easy to get frustrated this season, inheriting a giant space with a wonderful bounty to keep over, ambitiously expanding and experimenting, wanting everything to work out right here and now.  But, as usual, the garden teaches me patience. It slows and humbles me. It reminds me that sometimes, despite doing the right thing and planning carefully, harvests will fail. Trees will drop fruit. Flowers will wilt, and aphids will suck, and grass will brown and go dormant.  The high season of summer takes hold, and we give pause to bow to the heat and admit that at times, it's best to put down your arms and retreat, relenting in the shade and the cool respite of a hard-won mint tea on ice.

MO FARM in images as of the end of June follows. I truly can't wait to see what July will hold.

I promise to be better with sharing my fun.

Road Trippin': Bonnaroo 2011

The famous arch at Bonnaroo '11 in Manchester, TN.
Do you ROO?

Every June in Manchester, Tennessee, something wild and wonderful happens.  Tens of thousands of music fans from all across North America descend upon an enormous field in the middle of nowhere for the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival - a celebration of music and culture unlike anything else!  My husband and I had made this trip before in 2004, so this year we were packed, prepped and ready to rock with 134,000 of the strangest and most amazing people you've ever seen.

Kris Mo - wristbanded and ready for rock.
The diverse lineup of artists drew us back to Tennessee this year, and we weren't disappointed. More than 100 bands including Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket, Buffalo Springfield, Florence + the Machine, and yes, even Eminem rocked on multiple stages throughout the 4 days and nights at all hours.  Magic happened, my friends, and it's a vacation I'll never forget.

So what does this have to do with 'urban farming' and why am I writing about it on the blog?  Well, I was surprised and delighted to find that the love of locally-produced, artisan cuisine and enthusiasm for growing food at home was prevalent at Bonnaroo!  Gourmet food trucks came from across the country to showcase their signature dishes to thousands of fans, and we enjoyed incredible meals like vegan curry from Gastropod (Miami), and a quirky and delicious snack you have to taste to believe called a 'Petro'.        

'The Academy' run by the festival offered free workshops all weekend on topics like sustainable gardening practices, composting, and growing food in containers, even showcasing examples of different garden styles and a mud-and-straw house.  Awesome!  Watching people mingle around the gardens, reading tags and touching the tomato leaves was really cool to see, and my heart nearly burst as I watched passers-by empty their (precious!) water from their reusable bottles onto the dry soil for the plants. It was in the mid-40's all week, and the heat took a toll on everyone, including the veggies!

Here's a glimpse at the gardens of Bonnaroo 2011:

Teaching gardens at 'the Academy' - Bonnaroo 2011.

Demonstrating growing food in small spaces with repurposed containers. Sweet!

The Victory Garden surrounded a clay-covered straw bale house - a cool respite from the Tennessee heat!
In one more happy discovery, I found Oxfam at Bonnaroo too! In my last blog post, I mentioned Oxfam's GROW campaign, and they were out in full force at the festival, raising awareness of the campaign and signing up green-minded folks in droves.  Hurray!