Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city.

Month: May 2012

Two helpful gardening resources from the Urban Agriculture Expo

Montreal’s Urban Agriculture Expo happened this past weekend and I forgot to announce it before going, but it’s better to be late than never. I’d like to introduce you to two websites whose booths were pointed out to me by Jean-Phillippe, a fellow farmer with whom I took the Ecole d’été agriurbaine course in 2010.

One of them is PlantCatching –, which is something like what BookCrossing does:

  1. Announce the location of gardening materials that you are happy to share or give away so that others who are looking for plants can find it.
  2. The website generates a tag for your giveaway. Print the tag, or write a note that includes the website URL code. Attach to the plant, seed, or bulb, or soil, compost, and containers you are giving away.
  3. Then put the giveaway somewhere it can be picked up. You may “advertise” by putting them out for any passer-by, and this will help publicize PlantCatching, but you can also offer things that can only be found by those who know where to look.

Whenever I give things away, I put at the junction of my sidewalk and the kerb. Someone usually takes the goods I put out.

The second website is local to the Montreal area – Troc ton jardin, which means “Barter Your Garden.” It’s a Gardening Circle pilot project in Ahuntsic-Cartierville, a biweekly meeting of gardeners who exchange their surplus fruits, herbs, and knowledge. The initiator of the project, Daniel Rochefort, encourages anyone to start up a Troc ton jardin chapter anywhere. Membership and plant exchange is free, and as such, it’s all voluntary. Also, by gardener, I mean of any style: household gardeners, container gardeners, business/condo-rooftop gardeners, community gardeners. Everyone is welcome.

This kind of person-to-person, sociable community participation is exactly what it’s like in rural areas: where when one wants to learn, you only need call up a neighbour to find a someone-who-knows. The only way this is different from the country is that being in a city, you have to be intentional to find what you need, person-to-person, so a group is needed. If anyone would like to start up a Troc ton jardin circle for Le Sud-Ouest, contact me. I’d be a happy co-conspirator.

Back yard plans for the SPIN farm

This is an incredibly long post for a blog – the photo explanation for today is more complicated than last week!

When you come out of my house to the back yard, you do so at the top left corner (the patio, which is also the roof of the cold cellar) or at the top right which is a recessed stairway to the back door of the basement. That’s also where a little circle denotes my backyard rainbarrel. And where the faint diagonal line representing my clothesline begins. But we will start on the patio at 11 o’clock and go counterclockwise through the plan, which will be described more accurately than the back-of-the-envelope depicts.

Where “Back” is, is the back of the house.

To the left of the patio you see a box with plant-like spikey things. This is my tool shed, on which I built an herb garden roof a few years ago (darn it, I need to get out and show you the picture of that fun project. On my to-do list). It has chives, tarragon, oregano, and soon-to-be-more herbs on it. I’ll have to stand on a chair to get up and cut them, but that’s OK – it’s a garden 6 feet in the air, where presently there is none. (The foot-thick wall between me and my neighbour’s patio is forbidden to have plants on top of it, because the squirrels kick up the dirt.) Also on the patio there is a cafe table for two. Barbecuing will take place just to the right – on the diagonally-shaded deck at ground level. Next to the stairs. I just put the gas canister under them yesterday.

Below the patio on the drawing – three and a half feet, in actuality – is a plot where I will definitely have pole beans strung up to the patio railing. I may plant beets there, but I will plant peas, Swiss chard, spinach, rocket and red endive, and cavolo, which is a geometric form of green cauliflower that I will be very impressed to succeed at (there is some doubt!).

Below that, you have my raised deck, under which there is currently no skunk living, a situation that may change soon as I have always had a skunk live under there. Skunks make great neighbours. The deck’s where there is a limited amount of space for an outdoor table for four, represented smaller than it actually is. There is also an Adirondack chair sitting there, which will be bounded on both sides (and not behind) by two box planters in which I will definitely plant beets and mint, carrots and bush beans. The pole that hoists the clothes line towers above by 9 or 10 feet; the little trellis wall to the right of the Adirondack chair (when the chair faces the house) can have a supporting pole, and between the two poles a potential hammock may eventually hang. It catches the late afternoon rays of the sun.

To the right of the deck’s box planters and trellis wall is a square that represents my lively composter. It has a beautiful, productive flowering vine behind it that spills over the garden wall. I can’t remember the name of the purple flowers it produces, but I welcome any contributions by my readers! And then, to its right, we have a bunch of peonies, a few small rose bushes, some more rambling rose bushes and a volunteer sucker of lilac over in the corner – amongst which I have planted some garlic bulbs and will plant dill for weed/seed (pickling dill, still quite pretty growing next to the roses). I have also planted some milk weed there, as I have around the tree in my front yard. Who knows, it may invite some butterflies. If my hawthorn and high-bush cranberry seeds actually sprout, then I will plant them here, next to the corner of the fence.

Above this garden is the bright canopy of a honey locust tree – not enough shade to kill a garden, just enough to make it a home for birds and, of course, the droppings I would have to clean off the Adirondack chair and the hammock 🙂  I have a small honey locust that volunteered on the right side of the peonies a few years ago; I am nursing it to grow, because when the tall canopy tree ages and dies – or if we get a new neighbour who is rude to nature and cuts it down in its prime – this end of the townhouse courtyard will have no trees except for my tiny (hopefully expanding) copse of cedars. One towers up 5 meters, attracting the house sparrows, grackles, starlings and other birds – including cardinals, robins, the occasional house finch couple, and warblers – that want to drink and bathe in my burbling lily pond. Amongst the cedars, which are represented by an amorphous circle, is a rambling Cabot rose that I never cut; it blooms into late November and peeks over the neighbour’s fence, as well as branches out over the pond.

Next to the diagonal-filled deck, amongst the day lilies and other flowers that I cannot name, I may plant some hot pepper bushes. But in the small open rectangle between the deck and the back stairs is where I will have my lettuce garden. I have six different assortments, so it’ll be a colourful little checkerboard of successive plantings – lettuce usually does best just cut and replanted, though some will take having their outer leaves cut off for use, growing taller and going to seed in the process.

If anyone wants to help get the box planters under way, I will be building them after the weekend. I’m waiting to find out when the Ville gives away its compost in May, because I will need far more of it than my own little composter can provide for the beds. My immediate next step with this garden is to take two soil samples from the lettuce bed and the pole bean/Swiss chard patches to send away for analysis, and then dig in the compost to plant the seeds and seedlings. This needs to happen this week. I feel guilty every single week for not writing enough and not spending enough time looking for project management work, but as soon as I get out in the garden, I am happy and a sense of accomplishment entails.