Sunday, January 25, 2009

The (Sub)Urban Garden

I'm sure that everyone who reads this blog has rented living space at some point.  Renting is pretty nice from a number of perspectives.  For example, we don't have to worry about falling property prices at the moment, or think about anything other than cleaning the floors when we move out of this place.  Maintenance is out of our hands, for the most part, and as long as we treat the place with respect we're pretty much guaranteed our bond back.

For those of us who like to play in the dirt, renting kind of sucks.  The landscaping isn't ours and therefor we don't have the right to dig it up.  We're also likely to move out of this place within a few years of moving into it, so investing in things like raised gardening beds and fruit trees is pretty impractical.  We have all of the benefits of using and hanging out in a yard/garden but don't get to do much to make it our own.

As we've mentioned in previous posts, we're tweeking our diet and lifestyle a bit to minimise trips in the car and processed foods.  I remember growing up with a garden in the back yard, as does Peter, and we're both finding that we really miss the flavour and experience of home-grown food.  There's nothing like walking into the yard, picking a bowl full of tomatoes or spinach or berries or what have you, and then returning to your kitchen to make a meal out of the sweetest food known to man.  If we had our way we would landscape our current yard with an "edibles only" policy, ripping out the simply pretty trees to be replaced with pretty trees that produce fruit.  Edging would be replaced with layered herbs and leafy vegetables of various colours, and the only flowers we would include would be for insect control.  We would be in balance with our plants and I would have a full pantry and plenty of dilly beans in the fridge.

Alas, life isn't that easy when you rent in the city.  Or at least a sprawling suburban city.

We have friends who have built large raised beds in their yard and have done a fabulous job of transforming a weed-ridden plot next to the train line into an attractive and fertile food garden. Like our friends, we realise that in densely populated areas you can't really trust the soil quality and have to plant above ground level.  We're a little more limited with the space and sun patterns, as well, on our property.  Last summer I played around with a few herb pots to get a feel for how plants react to sun without a protective ozone layer (we don't have ozone here).  This year I know where the productive spots on our property are and have placed a variety of planters around the property to grow what we can.  Want to see what we've managed to produce?

Our front stoop is sunny in the afternoon and is basically concrete and brick and glass.  We spruced it up with an avocado tree sprouted in the kitchen last winter from a pit, a jalapeno plant, and a small herb box (in ascending order up the steps).  We'll be giving the avocado tree to the neighbours when it grows up, the jalapenos are coming along nicely and will be consumed quickly, and we've picked the hell out of our herbs already.  Hence their stick-ish look.  More are sprouting inside the house as we speak.  This round includes cilantro and dill.

They don't sell jalapenos in grocery stores here, at least not regularly.  We've seen them exactly twice since we've been down here.  I managed to find a little six pack of plants at the garden centre this spring so I brought them home.  I gave one to a friend and another died before I could get it in the ground, but the remaining four are going gangbusters.  Luckily they're producing in shifts, so we'll be able to enjoying them a little longer.  The plant on the left produced first, and these are two of the nearly 30 that are bogging the thing down.  They seem to be thriving on the strong sun down here but need a lot of water - one litre every other day.

Round two of our basil.  These need to be grown indoors until they get to be about 3 inches high, otherwise their leaves turn translucent in the sun and they fry.  These three are taking over the pot that used to grow bok choy.  The bok choy caught a nasty case of aphids and had to be put down.  I'm not too heart broken; we eat more basil.

Curly and flat leaf parsley next to our spring onions.  We're grazing regularly off of both, and I've let one plant go to seed so that I can get some more going inside for the next batch.

And this is the back yard.  It only gets good sun for about 6 hours in the morning at the height of summer, so we have tomatoes going in the bigger pots and baby spinach in the tray near the shed.  It's not much of a yard but it's cozy.  We keep our bikes in the shed.  Notice the groovy new bbq!  No longer must we huddle over our meat, like nomads, as it cooks on a small Coleman camp stove.  Now we get to stand upright to cook, like fully developed primates who have developed tools like tongs and bbq sauce.

The tomatoes are doing surprisingly well with what little sun they get.  The only problem now are the birds.  They've taken to eating anything that gets at all red, and so they've had more of my fruit than I have.
I've tried bating the neighbourhood cats into the yard with small treats and way more affection but it's not scaring the birds away.  Today I had to go down to the hardware store to concoct something to protect my little red globes of summer.  Four metres fine wire mesh, a pair of snips and about an hour gave me this solution:

The side is made of a loop big enough that the birds can't reach through to the tomatoes. I then laid another length of mesh on top.  By cutting the overhanging mesh into flaps, folding each flap over onto the vertical wall, then bending the edges of the flaps into the vertical mesh, the side wall keeps its shape.  All I have to do is lift it as a whole unit to do my picking and watering, and then replace it over the planter when I'm done.  I'm feeling pretty handy at the moment.  Tomorrow I'll do the other tomato plant, though that one is looking pretty root bound and unproductive.  It still has about 6 full sized tomatoes on it so I'm going to see what I can do.  It may not be worth the $15 worth of wire mesh at $8 per meter.  

Oh, and this is Stalker.  She sits on our window ledge and stares at us frequently.  We don't know her real name but since she started this little practice on our first day in the apartment we've taken to calling her what she is.  Here, she's staring at me while I practice my guitar.  She's slightly neurotic (running away suddenly at odd times, obsessively licking her stomach until the hair comes off and she's oozing from open wounds, etc), so we don't let her in the house.  We scratch her ears, though, which I'm guessing keeps her coming back.  What would a garden be without a cat, however transient and disease ridden?


SWE said...

Awwww, cute little Stalker.

Looks like you've done a good job of carving out a niche!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the pictures and description of your gardening efforts! We are looking through the new tomato catalog that just arrived, dreaming of our summer to come. What kind of tomatoes are you growing? We are looking at the possibility of growing some in containers in which they hang upside down from hooks on the edge of our roof. Deer-proofing in the extreme! Your portable gardens seem a good way to go! Char