Wednesday, April 27, 2011

One Day it Will Blossom

Last spring a gardener started a butternut squash plant from seed and planted it in the garden. One day it blossomed.
That blossom made a teeny, tiny, baby squash. Hello, little baby squash!!

Slowly, all summer long, that squash grew and grew. Late last summer it was finally big enough and ripe enough to harvest and bring inside.

It lived next to its cousin for a while. Then the cousin went to live with the ADG.

But the squash wasn't lonely because it had so many other friends to be near. Over the winter however, the squash noticed that some of its friends began to disappear. Often, one of them had grown a little soft, or maybe grew some mold and the next day they were gone. The squash didn't know what happened to them, but it had a sense that somehow they had fulfilled their destiny. And really yummy smells came from the kitchen whenever another one left.

The winter went on and on. The squash's friends left one by one. It was happy for them, but it wondered if it would ever have the chance to fulfill its own destiny.

Eventually the sun came back, the snow melted and the squash could hear the song birds through the open kitchen window. The squash was mostly alone by now. Somehow it managed to make it through the winter and well into spring with nary a soft spot, nor trace of mold. In fact the squash had never felt in better shape, but it stilled yearned to one day go where its friends had gone and fulfill its destiny.

The squash started to notice some interesting things going on around it. A big bag of organic soil moved in next door, along with pots. Those pots got filled with the dirt and out came packets of seeds. Little did the squash know that a full cycle of seeding, planting, nurturing, harvesting and storing was coming to a close and a new one beginning. That meant something very special was about to happen to the squash.

One day the squash got packed up and taken on a long trip to a cottage in the country. Fun things happened to it there. It spent some time on a swing.

It lounged on the deck by the water.
It got a lovely sun tan.

And even though there was still ice on the lake, the squash wanted to test the water.

Braving the icy temperatures, the squash went for a swim.

Soon, it drifted just a bit too far from shore,

and it started to panic.

Thankfully, a quick thinking bystander was able to help the squash out.

This near death experience caused the squash to reflect a little. The squash had lived a long time. Its life was full of meaning and rich experiences. But the squash yearned to go where all its friends had gone. The squash understood that the cycle of its life wouldn't be fully complete until then. It was ready to fulfill its destiny.

So you can imagine that it was with a sense of peace and contentment that the squash gave itself up to be made into this delicious recipe, that was thoroughly enjoyed by the ADG, friends and the gardener who planted the seed that grew into a squash.

And tucked carefully away in a small packet, are more seeds that came from the squash. In a few weeks the gardener will start a butternut squash plant from seed and plant it in the garden. With luck, one day it will blossom...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Wild Food in the City

Please excuse the shameless self-promotion but I'm excited to tell you all about the weed walk I'm hosting in a couple of weeks. As part of a Transition Ottawa initiative and connected with Jane's Walk, I'll be leading folks on a short tour of urban green space. We'll identify some common edible weeds and medicinal plants, and end with some wild snacks and beverages.

I think it's going to be a lot of fun! If you live in the Ottawa area, come on out and say 'hi!'

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Things I Carry

I pack my backpack for work, as I do every morning.

I check to see that the cloth and mesh shopping bags are there.

At the bottom of the pack is a little, leather pouch with two knives and a Leatherman multi-tool. I also carry a pair of mini-binoculars. You never know what kind of nature you might find, even in an urban environment. It's good to be prepared to take a closer look at something, or to take a sample of a plant to bring home and identify.

Another permanent item in the bag is my trusty utensil carry-all, that my dear friend made me. Forks, spoons, knives, chopsticks and cloth napkins for two, are neatly rolled up in a pretty package that I never like to leave home without.

Into the bag goes the book I am returning to the library. I will exchange it for another book that I put on hold and is ready to be picked up.

Next in is my lunch: leftovers in reusable containers.

Then my travel mug full of hot tea, and a glass bottle pulled from a recycle bin, filled with today's herbal infusion: stinging nettle.

Those are the standard items I carry on any given day and if they were on Monty Hall's "Let's Make a Deal" list of what's in your purse, I'd be a wealthy woman.

This morning however, I added a pair of rubber tipped garden gloves, a trowel and a plastic bag to my pack. As soon as I'm done work today I'm heading to a place I know right in the heart of the city. Surrounded by a busy road, the transit way and a shopping mall, there is a small stand of trees on a hill and growing in amongst those trees are trout lilies. Erythronium americanum. I grew up knowing them as dog's tooth violet. They are an early spring flower, very pretty, with uniquely mottled leaves and they are edible. Sam Thayer gives the best treatment I've found so far of the whats, wheres and hows of trout lilies, in his book Nature's Garden. I highly recommend it.

My quest today will be to gently harvest some bulbs and the newly emerged leaves to bring to a potluck.

I love that my growing knowledge and intimacy of the landscape I inhabit leads me on these adventures on a Tuesday afternoon in April. I love that you won't find credit cards, a makeup compact or an iAnything in my bag. I live in the city and work at a desk job in an office, but at any given moment I am fully prepared to get down and dirty in the nearest patch of earth!

Image Source

Thursday, April 14, 2011


You can see a billhook being forged in this episode of Edwardian farm.

In the Garden

Knowing my love for all things hedge related, the ADG gifted me with a billhook for my birthday! Traditionally, its use is most often associated with laying hedges, although the tool is well suited for removing small shrubs, branches and the tough, woody stalks of large weeds. Since I don't have anywhere to lay a hedge yet, that's exactly my plan for my billhook. I've had to wait for two long months to use it, but I finally broke it in last weekend.

Here is a section of one of our plots before.

And here is what it looks like after taking the billhook to it.


It's a very satisfying tool to use and I'd say the billhook did a fine job of cleaning up the place.

And here are a few more shots of other parts of our garden. We did a lot of sheet mulching last fall and I'm really excited about having fully prepped beds ready to be planted this spring.

The ADG protecting his awesome dude guy identity.

Part of our first harvest of 2011.

The bike ride home as the sun sets. I look forward to many more of these skies over the coming months.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Armoracia rusticana

"...used as a sauce with country people and strong labouring men in some countries of Germany."
~Parkinson, 1640

The International Herb Association has declared horseradish the Herb of the Year for 2011.

In honour of the occasion, I dug some out of the garden last weekend. It wasn't easy. Horseradish roots go deep.
I dug and dug until I had quite the hole.

But it still did not want to come out.

This root is tenacious!

Finally, I guess I got a little impatient and careless with the shovel blade and snapped the root off near the bottom. That's ok though, the piece left behind will grow again.

I also severed the crown and replanted it back into the horseradish patch.

The root I harvested is destined for one of Sandor Katz's kimchi recipes. Yum!

Aside from its use as a condiment, horseradish has a long history of medicinal use as well.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I Heart Ruth Stout!

This weekend was a real milestone of the season for me. It marked the first harvest of the year (1.5lbs of sunchokes and 9oz of horseradish) and the first good chunk of time working in our allotment plots! I nibbled raw, stinging nettle leaves. I got in a tussle with a raspberry cane and have scratches on the tip on my nose to show for it. I relished the feel of tools in my gloved hands, reacquainting myself with their heft. I emptied soil and straw out of an upturned boot and left the dirt under my nails as a badge of honour. It all felt so unbelievably good, and I'm eager to go back for more. If all goes well, we'll have peas in the ground by the end of the week. I've lots of pictures to show from this weekend, including a pretty epic unearthing of the aforementioned horseradish root, but I've got to sort through the pics yet.

In the meantime check out the story of amazing gardener Ruth Stout. The woman didn't even start gardening until she was 45 and kept at it well into her elder years. She seems to have been quite the gardening renegade, advocating a no-till, no-weeding, no-watering, no-fertilising style of raising up vegetables at a time when plowing, chemical inputs and irrigation were the order of the day. Her story is an inspiring one and has me dreaming about pottering in the earth until the end of my own days.

You can read more about her methods here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Crows of Alta Vista

It looks like the Alta Vista crows have made the news, though the news isn't that great. Most residents find the crows to be a nuisance and are complaining to our ward councillor to do something about them.

"Alta Vista is plagued by the annoying black birds and residents want Councillor Peter Hume to do something about it."

"The abundance of crows is not welcomed by staff [of the Ottawa Hospital], who don’t like the crow poop all over the sidewalks and their cars, but there is a bigger problem. The crows can interfere with the medevac helicopter. When it lands or takes off, the roar of its rotors causes the crows to surge into the air, creating the possibility of damaging the helicopter or even disabling it."

Not surprisingly, some of the comments on the article struck me as a Now I don't profess to be anything close to an expert, but I couldn't help myself, I had to leave a comment in the hopes of balancing out the views somewhat and reminding people of how connected we are to the ecosystems we share with other living things, including crows. The crows are here in part because of the choices we humans make in how we live. Anyway, here's what I said:

"Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom From the Urban Wilderness by Lyanda Lynn Haupt is an excellent and well-researched book about crows, their behaviour and the role they play in urban environments. Increasing crow populations signal environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity, as crows become one of the few species resilient enough to survive habitat destruction and increasing amounts of toxic chemicals and pollution. They are also highly susceptible to avian flu, so large populations mean that the virus is not widespread in our area currently. Crows are an indicator of the health of our bioregion. Trying to eradicate them or move them along is an overly simplistic response to a situation that urbanisation and modern society has created. Whenever I see the crows (and I live in Alta Vista) I stop and think about what they are telling me about the environment I live in."

If there is any response to it, I'll probably be branded as a leftist, communist, hippie, tree hugging, crow lover. Whatevs.

Also, here's a couple of videos of the crows.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Winter is Past

"The winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the
singing birds is come, and the voice of the
turtle is heard in our land..."

~The Song of Solomon, II 11-12

My belly is full with a yummy stew that cooked in the sun oven this afternoon. I just confirmed with an area farmer our delivery to the garden tomorrow evening of 20 straw bales. The trays of Welsh onions and Scottish leeks (both new crops for us this year) have sprouted and are out in my neighbour's greenhouse. Seven different varieties of tomatoes have taken the place of the onions and leeks inside. I've got garlic chives, basil and sage seeds soaking in water and lined up for planting next. Earlier today, I spent an hour outside in the sunshine at a makeshift washing station where I gave all my planting pots a thorough cleaning. I think it's safe to say gardening season is officially here!