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Balcony Gardening

Dinosaur kale in our balcony garden. What a show-off.The one question about apartment gardening that I am asked more than any other is: what should I grow this year? Fair enough. My sort of obvious, kind of cop-out answer has always been: grow what you like to eat.

My expertise on small-space gardening was always a bit theoretical. I’ve grown tomatoes and a whole bunch of other things in a small garden at the cottage, but it’s really twice as big as some community-garden plots in downtown Toronto. Stretches the “small space” definition. This year though, we moved into a new place with a balcony, just in time to cultivate some plants that gave us food this summer and that made our apartment a more pleasant space.

Two if by Hand Mill

For the second year running my cousin Alex and I took a stab at mass-producing tomato sauce. We changed two things this year: we upped the ante to two and a half bushels and called my grandmother’s grinder-style tomato mill into service.

Last year I remember the two rotary food mills we used to separate the tomato juice and pulp being the choke points that pushed the event well into overtime despite all the helping hands we had. (Alex remembers differently.)

This year, even with a bunch of greatly-appreciated help from friends and family (including an indefatigable seven-year old) the grinding still took at least four hours. I also don’t think our yield–twelve litres per bushel–was very good. (more…)

Hockley Valley: Tomato Supports

If you haven’t looked over the fence into a neighbour’s backyard to see a neat system of cages and trellises for beans and tomatoes you may be the only Torontonian that doesn’t have a gardening Italian neighbour. In it’s native South America the tomato is a bit a hippie that sprawls across the ground and sends its vines in all different directions. Our “square” need for order and desire to concentrate as many as possible into our gardens lead to a variety of tomato systems.

Over the three summers that I’ve grown tomatoes at the cottage I’ve used all the usual suspects. In 2008 I called the pile of rusty, three-ring cages that were lying behind the old outhouse into service. The next year we replaced some of our most decrepit veterans with slightly sturdier versions. In 2010 I experimented with the system that puts the plants between two end-poles connected by twine that is woven between the vines as support. (more…)

June Garden Update

May was probably drier than is strictly optimal for my vegetable garden but June has brought even hotter temperatures (particularly warm nighttime temperatures) and a more optimal amount of rain.

In my vegetable garden at the cottage I have even been lucky with weeds.  I learned to identify the edible lambs’ quarters and the runner up for most prevalent “weed” is an unruly (though fragrant) crop of dill.  My selection of vegetables has also been fortuitous because I have temporarily abandoned spinach and radishes–both lovers of cool weather–for more beans, cucumbers and tomatoes.

Witkiem beans with their black spotted, white flowers


Gardening in April

In Southern Ontario we have had a very warm spring this year.  No snow in Toronto in March (though a bit in April) and temperatures over 20°C on more than a couple days.  This is what May is meant to feel like–in good years.  Last year we had accumulated snow on the ground in the second week of April and I wrote a useful (I think) post discussing the concept of degree growing days.

Garden dug, compost spread, and surface raked: A blank garden canvas

From a vegetable gardening perspective the warm weather has caused a strong desire to start planting.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac site puts the average last frost date for Barrie–the city closest to our garden at the cottage–at May 26.  In my three years of vegetable gardening I have not experienced a frost this late and I’m willing to gamble that all the heat and sunshine we have has warmed the water and soil enough to protect hardier seedlings from any freak May frosts. (more…)