Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city is great – you can do it, too.

Montréal’s annual garden giveaways

The spring gardening season is upon us with even more speed than it usually arrives, because regardless of what winter does, that’s the way time works: every year accelerates. So it is time that the Ville’s annual “embellissement” campaign (“embellishment,” or rather “beautification”) is coming again to many boroughs in just a few weekends.

Pepper plant from the garden giveaway
A pepper plant I received from the garden giveaway as a seedling, once it matured and produced two peppers!

This annual event gives residents of Montreal a number of floral, vegetable, and herb seedlings for their gardens and balconies. Past entrants have been impatiens and begonias, echinacea (cone flowers), sage, rosemary, basil, and mint, and peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Always included: as much compost and wood chips as you want to take. Bring your own bags, baskets, buckets, and a wagon to cart it all away! Oh, and don’t forget your ID. You have to prove residency in the borough in which the plants are being given.

When? Well, you’ll have to check the Montreal.ca website and consult the calendar or the page for your borough, or other community listings, to find out when the “distribution” of plants is (that’s the search word to look for), but it typically happens on the long weekend in May, and for some, the weekend after that, and lastly, the first weekend in June.

I know it seems late for gettting them in the ground (last-frost date seems to be happening in April, if you’re in the city), but frankly, it takes time for the seedlings to grow up and “harden off” (acclimate to the outdoors) before they can be distributed for public planting. Though outdoor plants that are well-established are now as lush as can be, the seedlings I’ve planted are hardly ready for planting; the ones the Ville distributes have been started in greenhouses.

Read on to find out more about Montreal’s giveaways and garden resources:

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Sugar ants aren’t pests – they’re harmless and helpful!

This very popular blog post has been refreshed and updated for Spring 2024 (and thereafter).

Photo caption: A legion (not an army, but part thereof!) of sugar ants committed mass suicide in my bottle of honey. In honour of those that might resurrect – I can see some of them will – I pooled it in the sink and gave them a chance to extract themselves (and several did). A few less foolhardy brothers and sisters are supping from the edges.

It’s spring again— and people don’t know what to make of the teeny-tiny ants that march indoors like school children on spring and summer days (when they should be outside!). They can’t be mistaken for carpenter ants. But, unfortunately for them and all the other ant species that aren’t carpenter ants, all searches end up on results about killing them. As if they were as dangerous as carpenter ants. Carpenter ants won’t hurt you, but their infestations are dangerous to your house – they devour wood.  They’re the only ones you need to be vigilant about. (OK, maybe fire ants too, but usually they’re outdoors, minding their own business).

Common talk, mass media, and the extermination industry has effectively enabled people to think that insects are disgusting and undesirable. This is just flat-out wrong. Bugs aren’t your enemy. All it takes to realize that, is to observe them objectively, doing nothing but watch—and if that isn’t enough, it always helps to do a little research.

Of course, when you try to do some research, you have to get past the “get rid of” them websites. The truth takes lot more digging. So that’s what this blog post is about.

So, those teeny-tiny ants you see in spring, visiting your plants, maybe visiting the fruit on your kitchen counter? The name of this kind of ant is Tapinoma sessile. Here’s the path I took to research it some more:

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Resources to help you design your garden – Newly updated for 2024!

Well, here we are, late, late March! Are you ready to design the layout of your garden and get your seeds started?

For those who have space and haven’t planted a garden before, or for those who planning it anew this year, you always start with a rough plan: what to place where, and how much space and sun it will get. This will give you an idea how many seedlings you should start or have on hand of each kind of plant.

I don’t always start seeds every year, and when I do, I’m almost always late at it. We gardeners always get a little overzealous and end up tending tonnes of seedlings we have to sell or give away. But of course, you start by planting many seeds, because some never germinate, or else germinate and start, but then fail. If you have the space to add a few more good planters, extra seedlings can come in quite handy.

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Just in time for World Rewilding Day, a message for the local neighbourhood

Vous avez peut-être remarqué qu’avec les travaux aux égouts la semaine dernière, les rats ont évacué les égouts et ont trouvé refuge dans nos cours.

Veuillez retirer tout poison que vous avez utilisé pour essayer de les tuer. Il cible d’autres espèces, comme les écureuils, et je ne veux pas que nos (« mes », je les appelle, bien qu’ils soient des animaux sauvages) écureuils subissent la mort horrible que procure le poison. Il est illégal de piéger et de tuer des animaux sauvages, et j’ai eu le cœur brisé de voir quelqu’un dans ce quartier le faire en toute ignorance, car cela ne résout aucun problème qui ne pourrait être résolu autrement. (Il y a un écureuil noir avec une tache blanche sur la queue qui me manque particulièrement, et ses enfants aussi. Elle s’appelait Gladys.)

Les travaux sur les égouts sont presque terminés et les rats peuvent désormais regagner leur habitat habituel. Vous pouvez les aider à y retourner en leur rendant leurs nouveaux emplacements hostiles, en les piégeant dans des pièges vivants Hav-A-Hart et en les ramenant à l’égout. C’est ce que je vais faire.

Gladys, a very sociable but polite mamma of two, with a white tip on her tail, and a penchant for stealing plums and chocolate (OK so it’s not polite to steal, but don’t leave them out on the counter to tempt her!)
Gladys, une maman de deux enfants, très sociable mais polie, avec un bout blanc sur la queue, et un penchant pour voler des prunes et du chocolat (OK donc ce n’est pas poli de voler, mais ne les laissez pas sur le comptoir pour la tenter ! )

You may have noticed that with the work on the sewers last week, the rats have evacuated the sewers and sought refuge in our yards.

Please remove any poison that you have put out to try to kill them. It targets other species, like squirrels, and I do not want our (“my,” I call them, though they are wildlife) squirrels to suffer the horrible death that poison provides. It’s illegal to trap and kill wildlife, and I have been heartbroken by someone in this neighbourhood doing so in all ignorance that it solves no problem that couldn’t be solved another way. (There is one black squirrel with a white spot on her tail, and her progeny, that I will forever miss. Her name was Gladys.)

The work on the sewers is almost done, and the rats can now return to their usual habitat. You can help them return there by making their new locations hostile to them, and by trapping them in live Hav-A-Hart traps and returning them to the sewer. This is what I will be doing.

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