Category Archives: In the Garden

Podcast #1 – From the Ground Up

When I started the podcast, everyone at Matrix Media (the syndicating company) told me that for my first interview, I should talk to someone I felt comfortable with. Who better than a neighbor? Especially a young, new, engaging, enthusiastic neighbor who is studying something about environmental agriculture? And who, along with his equally engaging girlfriend, as capable with a hammer as with a pen, is putting in a garden plot—in autumn?

It wasn’t the greatest interview—it was my first, damn it—but Tyson’s not to blame. He was terrific—an interviewer’s perfect subject: knowledgeable but not in the least bombastic or full of himself, happy to carry the conversational ball, but just as willing to follow the interviewer’s lead.

About the Podcast

The podcast is about preparing a garden in autumn, rather in spring, which is when people tend to think of doing it. There are actually a number of advantages to autumn plot prepping, especially for organic gardeners, who use a lot of composts and manures.

When those amendments are added in fall, the extra time in the ground gives worms and microbes a chance to incorporate them more thoroughly into the soil. They also go to work repairing the soil structure of any damage inflicted on it by rototillers or shovels. Even if your ground freezes, bringing all that activity to a halt, it’s only frozen some of the time. You’re still ahead of where you would be if you added your amendments in spring.

About Tyson and Jessica and my greedy nature

I’d only met Tyson and Jessica a week or two before the interview, but I invited them to Sunday brunch (a staple at our house) almost immediately. To understand why I was so excited when they moved in at the north end of my block, you need only know that for years I’d been almost the only vegetable gardener on the block. “Almost,” because over the past couple of summers one other family had begun growing not only potted tomatoes, but a few peppers and squash, and this year some cabbage and beets, in a back corner.

But there was another issue: T&J’s yard just happens to have the best apples, one of two plum trees, and the only pear tree on the block. For the past several years I’ve had free access to the apples and pears, since the woman renting the house didn’t like either. (Amazing, but true.)

When the house was put up for sale last summer, I watched with trepidation, worried that some greedy fruit-lover was going to move in and that would be that. (My own greedy, fruit-loving nature was all too clearly exposed by such thoughts.)

Near the end of summer, the house finally sold. There went the chance that it would remain on the market and its fruit mine for the taking through the autumn. My heart sank.

Then a rectangle of sod disappeared. They were putting in a garden! My heart rose.

A week or so later I met them, and they were friendly, fun folks, and yes, it was a vegetable garden, and I should by all means stop by and pick apples and pears. My heart soared, and I invited them to brunch.

So what do you do when you get great new neighbors? Actually, I have no idea what you do. I, apparently, rush to exploit them. Which I did in the form of getting Tyson to agree to an interview.* On the weekend he and Jessica were moving in. Which is why she’s building a closet. (You can hear the chainsaw near the end of the interview.)

A couple of weeks later Jessica dropped off a couple peppers she’d grown in pots. If I’d known earlier that she was a wizard with tomatoes and peppers, I’d have exploited her too.

No wonder no one on this block grows vegetables.


*It’s true that I fed them first, but I could therefore be accused of bribing them and then exploiting them.

Plot I: your basic dig and amend situation

Potato plot

This year will go down as the do-or-die digging marathon. Remember those four plots I've undertaken to tame and plant this summer? Here it is, mid-July and then some, and I'm still at it.

The first of the four was by far the simplest. Which may be a good thing, as it therefore got planted before the growing season was half over. Of course, there may be a difference of opinion about just how simple the job was; a certain brother-in-law of mine may be inclined to point out that I can call it simple because I didn't do most of the work. Do not listen to him.

Plot 1 was the last (of six) to be tamed in a garden its owners had given up on. They simply got too busy to garden, and several seasons back, they said sure, I could garden there, if only I'd tackle the weeds. Here's what it looked like when I started:

 Before 7-5-08

As of this summer:

  After 7-19-2011

Not to blow my own horn or anything, but– Ta-dah!

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Fall work in spring: Let the earthworms do it!

I'm not sure where I first heard that line about letting the earthworms do your digging for you, but I'm putting it to the test this year. It's part of my effort to get away from digging in amendments every year, which is hard on the worms (they have permanent tunnels) and can even be hard on soil structure. Besides, it's too much damn work!

This year, I've got another excuse: no time. My shoulder injury last autumn meant that I barely managed to finish the harvest. As for cleaning up plots, laying down compost, prepping new plots—forget it. None of that happened.

Which means that all of that was left for spring. Which, as most of you know, has its own task list.

Now, some people faced with a particularly steep challenge will leap into action.

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Basement garden harvest: the rudest carrot

Rudest carrot

This may be the rudest, crudest vegetable I've grown. It's flagrantly suggestive in rather obvious ways, but even if you manage to look past those, it looks to me like a carrot giving the finger to—what? The other carrots? The spinach?

Perhaps when it writes its memoir, The Secret Life of Carrots, we'll find out.

The real point here is that I picked it on February 15th from my basement garden, which even now remains my only source for fresh vegetables such as those in last Sunday's omelet.

Yes, I know; some of you down south are probably almost ready to harvest your first spring carrots, and your chard may be ready to bolt. But things are different here in the north, especially this year. We are flirting with spring—or it with us—but no commitment has been made. You couldn't say that there's an actual relationship here.

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Wild weather in Toronto

 I'm in Toronto visiting my mother and getting ready for a major gathering at the University of Toronto to honor my father, so I won't be posting much this week. Still, I couldn't resist trying to describe yesterday's weather.

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