Thursday, April 29, 2010

More blossoming trees than I'd realized

I've got to get my husband to sit down with me and show me how to put photos on this blog. I want to write about all the amazing things that are growing in our gardens, and I don't have photos! We went through beautiful forsythia - the blooms this year seemed to be a richer yellow than usual ... almost toward orange when evening was coming on.

The pear tree bloomed its white blooms, beginning over two weeks ago and there was a lot of weather variation while this was going on. There were some really cold days and I worried about whether there would be pollinating insects around at the right time. My concerns are selfish, I admit. I'm really the only one who enjoys pears and last year there weren't many (about two dozen), in contrast to the year before when it was a 1 1/2 bushel harvest. I'm greedy.

There's an apple tree still blossoming ... and this is the year we begin to prune it and take better care to clear up fallen apples and prevent the (insect) that lays eggs in the fruit, which then hatch and eat the fruit, which then falls off the tree and the larvae pupate in the ground to hatch next year. We want apples that we can eat, without the labour of cutting them into small pieces to salvage what can be made into apple sauce. Up until now I've just let the fruit drop for whatever critters want to eat 'wormy' apples. But I've decided I want to have out own so need to do the research and the bit of extra work.

Then there's the crabapple tree, which has the most amazing dark pink flowers right now. It's a bit close to the house and we have to keep a few low branches pruned so we don't have to duck all the time when we head through the yard ... but right now I'm ready to forgive it for catching my hair clip. It is absolutely gorgeous! And it adds a scent to the back yard that is absolutely heady. The spurge blooming acid yellow on the hill adds to this scent. Lilacs aren't out yet, but the buds are coming along nicely.

Bright yellow tulips by the one back door are fading and have a new beauty as the petals become more fragile and a softer colour. The large red tulips in the back flower garden seem to have larger blooms this year than ever before, and their stamens seem to be extra heavy with blue/purple pollen. (for real purple pollen you have to look inside perennial poppies, which come out in June).

What else is interesting? Last year I planted rutabaga seeds from a three year old package and I put them in late, really late. The body of the rutabagas didn't really swell and I didn't get anything to harvest. But it had been a gamble and I didn't think anything of it. Well, two rutabagas made it through our funny freeze-thaw/scant-snow winter and are growing wonderful bouquets of leaves. I anticipate them sending out stalks and going to seed.... a complete bonus. Depending on time frame, maybe I'll have seeds that I can plant to get a harvest of rutabagas this year. But I don't know ... I've never managed to have good rutabagas and I've never had one winter over. The experimental gardener, that's me!

I do have kale, swiss chard and lettuce wintered over. The kale is farthest along. As a matter of fact I'm having to cut off the shoots that are bolting, wanting to flower. And I laugh at myself for worrying whether we'd run out of kale: new plants are coming up from seed the plants shed into the one vegetable bed and along the paths on both sides. I'm hoping to have swiss chard and lettuce to harvest before they too send up stalks and set seed. This will be the fifth season for the Little Gem Pearl lettuce, ie I bought the original seeds in 2006. I don't think it's crossed with any other lettuce. Other kinds haven't flowered at the same time. I'm not a consistent note-taker.

Out of time for this note.

Best regards, Why's Woman

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Why do we need local food? That's easy. Oil

I've been doing a lot of thinking about local food and gardens lately, and doing a lot in the garden instead of writing anything here.

This morning I picked up the Canadian Organic Growers Fall 2005 journal and came upon an article titled Why do we need local food? That's easy. Oil., written by Bob Wildfong, of Seeds of Diversity Canada ( There's no way I could say better what he says and I trust that he will be o.k. with my copying a large section of his article here for all to appreciate. Thanks Bob! Best regards from Why's Woman.

"This generation will face the end of an era of cheap transportation. Life will never be so convenient again. And we, and our children, will eat more locally produced food.

"We will have to reinvent the Canadian agriculture system to employ: more local growers; more diversified farm economies; extended-season production; and Canadian-adapted varieties. Strawberries and pineapples in mid-winter will once again become the luxury items that they were a few generations ago. Culinary choices will tend to follow the seasons again. Passive dependence on southern crops will gradually be replaced by domestic food-independence. The wheels of globalization will turn backwards.

" do you enjoy salads out of season? Better learn to build your own cold frame. But learn also the varieties of salad greens that perform well under glass. May King lettuce, for instance, is a 'forcing' lettuce specifically suited for growing in cold frames in very early spring.

"Canadians have forgotten a lot about growing produce in Canada, outside of the ideal seasons for the most economically-valuable crops. Gardeners of fifty years ago knew how to produce a wide selection of fruits and vegetables from April through November; a feat that would make anyone proud, but which takes diligence, patience, careful planning and years of experience. During recent decades, it has simply been easier and cheaper to grow the crops that give the best return with the least effort and cost. We've been content to import the rest.

"We'll have to relearn the skills and techniques that enabled and fed past generations, and add an array of new techniques yet to be invented. We'll also have to rediscover our Canadian varieties. There has been barely any plant breeding of vegetables in Canada during the past ten years, excepting greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers Nearly all of the 'new' varieties are bred for southern US production from Texas to California.

"Although members of Seeds of Diversity have been collecting, concerning and documenting Canadian plant varieties for over twenty years, we've only really scratched the surface. Of the estimated thousands of Canadian-adapted fruit and vegetables varieties, only 10 or 20 percent are well understood. During the glorious half-century when imports were cheap and exports were the dominant concern of policy-makers, our domestic-bred, tried-and-true Canadian cultivars were systematically ignored. So much has been forgotten.

"But the seeds still exist in collections. That's why collections have been so important. We can still grow our own Canadian varieties, learn again which of them are best for various uses and regions. Considering the many valuable discoveries that have been made in the heritage gene pool during the past ten years, we undoubtedly have plenty more treasures waiting to be discovered. You can help. If you hear or read of an interesting variety that hold promise for Canadian gardens, get some seeds and grow it. Tell your friends. Tell Seeds of Diversity. The more we all experiment, the more we will relearn, and the closer we will come to food self-sufficiency.

"We'll still have bananas for a long time, but they'll become a luxury. Diversity is the key to future food security."
Bob Wildfong, Seeds of Diversity Canada
Box 36, Station Q, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4T 2L7

Congratulations Jenna Woginrich

For a few months now I've been following Jenna Woginrich' blog at

Jenna is not quite thirty years younger than me, and is about thirty years in advance of me as far as being a brave, adventurous woman.

Jenna has just been able to purchase her own property ... her own farm. This achievement is after several years of hard work renting a small property and learning all sorts of things about raising animals and crops. She even, somehow, found time to write a wonderful book - Made From Scratch: discovering the pleasures of a handmade life.

Thank you for the honesty of your writing, Jenna.

Congratulations on getting your home. I know you'll be bone tired with all you'll be doing, and delirious with the beauty and joy of it.

Very best wishes,

Why's Woman

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Finches mean the garden is just right

It's 9:00 a.m. and raining the steady, warm, gentle rain we've had for the last two days. Over 3 cm of rain collected in the big tub I'd emptied down by the vegetable bed. During all of March we'd had less than 4 cm, so I'd been worrying as I always do about adequate rainfall.

Beautiful rain. Everything in the gardens is bigger and greener and so ready to go it's almost unbelievable ... except that it happens every year so I have to believe it, and I consider myself lucky to be able to care for this space.

I had glanced out the window a little while ago, thinking to myself: 'I should tell Chris that over the next few days as we go out, if each of us cuts down a few of the leftover plant stalks out front, the passersby will know we're tidying up'.

Then I went right up to the window and looked down to see a male and a lady finch plucking seeds from the heads of brown-eyed susans. Well, that answers the question of whether there were still actually seeds in the heads! They seem to take turns watching and eating, both do not have their heads down at the same time. And to mention the good disguise that the female has, she blends in so beautifully with the grey/brown tones of wintered plants around her that I didn't see her for almost a minute, and when I did I realized that her shape is quite like a dried milkweed pod. What a great fit she is with her early spring foraging environment.

I'll trim down obedient plant, rue, oregano stalks and grasses, but will leave the purple coneflower and susan heads. Most of the stalks I'll break into pieces and scatter around the new-growing plants. Some I'll trench in, giving in to the pressure I still put upon myself to keep the front looking 'tidy' for the passersby and neighbours ... and the garden rules buried deep in my memory about how to 'clean up' in the spring. On a practical side, I'm aware of gardeners' vulnerability to neighbour's complaints if they don't like the looks of something (of if you p... er, annoy them).

My reward for deciding to not tidy up the front too much? I went to the back windows and spotted a pair of mallards scouting out the yard. They've been in the neighbourhood for two weeks and we're really hoping they'll choose a spot in our yard to nest. She seems to be really interested in a spot under the apple tree, and that would be good because we could keep an eye on them and it's not on the raccoon's direct path as it cuts through to Doug's place.

Friday, April 2, 2010

So many gardens I'm dizzy and urban chickens

Last weekend I met Ron Berezan, a really neat guy who operates The Urban Farmer, an organic gardening, edible landscaping and permaculture design business in Edmonton. (

He happened to be on a speaking tour in Southwestern Ontario and was going to stay overnight in London. I got an invitation to come over and just talk. So I went with Diane, who is one of the most knowledgeable people I know in regards to local environment issues and how they relate to other regions and levels of government ...

... and, along with Phillip Penna of the Ontario Environment network, we talked about gardens and farming, and urban chickens and local food production, and permaculture, and ... did I say gardening?

... and after about an hour and a half several others arrived and we kept right on talking about urban agriculture and feeding people and municipal bylaws and gardening.

It was terrific! It was wonderful! It was totally mind-boggling. Thanks Ron, and Phil and Diane.

And yesterday's mail brought me my quarterly edition of the Canadian Organic Grower and there's a wonderful article written by Rob Berezan, titled On a Wing and a Prayer: the urban chicken-keeping movement takes flight. It's a well-written, useful overview of what's happening in Canada in regards to this, with a wonderful resource list, which I'll put below and check with Ron to make sure it's o.k. to do so. But he gets full credit for putting this list together.

The Canadian Organic Grower is the newsletter of The Canadian Organic Growers organization, website It puts out a terrific e-news every month, has a useful website on topics organic and ... well, check it out. And you don't have to be a farmer to be a member. The journal may be in your public library. If not, suggest it.

Best regards to all and, if you are celebrating Passover or Easter, some happy times with family and friends.

Why's Woman

Here's the list of resources from Ron Berezan, who's with River City Chickens

Urban chicken activists on-line
CLUCK (Calgary:):
River City Chickens (Edmonton):
Chickens in Vancouver:
SBCS (Saskatoon):
Backyard Chickens in Toronto:
Waterloo Hen Association:
Halifax Chickens: