June 13th, 2016

The Givendale Experiment, part 1

I grew up gardening with my dad (I feel like my dad is featuring in a lot of posts these days!) He himself grew up in cities and was a bit abashed to find himself, by the early eighties with a shed, a rototiller, and nearly an acre of arable land on which he grew lettuce, onions, potatoes, corn, beans, peppers, snow peas, squash and pumpkins, cucumbers, parsley and, the crowning glory, up to fifty-plus tomato plants of many varieties every season.

Since I grew up in the country where everyone gardened to some extent and a bunch of my friends’ parents were farmers, none of this struck me as extraordinary. I liked some of the vegetables more than others, and was happy when my brother and I got our own “little garden” with a cherry tomato plant each, and our own little rows of scallions and lettuce. I was less enthused about helping to water and weed the big garden–that was a lot of plants to keep in good order all summer long–but I liked to pick, especially beans for some reason.

When I left home, I for the most part left gardening like many things–radio and television, pie and meatloaf. I did take my potted plants with me, with which I have had uncanny luck–several of them date from grade 7 and are still going strong! Over the years, I haven’t ventured much beyond the potted spider plants and ferns though. Once in my old apartment, which did not have a balcony, I tried an indoor tomato plant but it grew sideways and only ever had a couple marble-sized green tomatoes (I was going through a bit of a sad period about being single at that point, and I believe referred to that tomato plant in a few author bios as my partner). When I moved to my current place in 2011, I tried an outdoor tomato plant with marginally better results, but let’s face it, it was my brother’s girlfriend who gave me that plant, already well potted, and all I did was water it. And I still only got a few tiny tomatoes. Last summer’s crop was about half a dozen poppies grown in the old tomato pot, with some seeds that had been a party favour.

BUT THEN, the Mighty J and I were on a lunchtime walk at work, and we found a community garden in a hydro field. We wandered around it, trying to find some identifying signs but there were none. The whole thing looked pretty messy but people were definitely growing stuff in there. We went back to the office and looked up the community gardens in the city and found the one on the map that corresponded to the one we’d found–Givendale. Then we tried to sign up for a plot, but you could only do that in February. So we put it in our Outlook calendars and forgot about it.

We applied in February over the phone for some reason, and were told we would go on a wait list. I asked when we might hear about the results of the waitlist, and the woman on the phone said April or May. I wasn’t sure whether we should start seeds or not. I asked how we’d hear and she seemed vague…maybe someone would call…or I could call back.

It turns out we got an email and the signup process was BANANAS with the parks department sending is a photocopied map that someone had partly crossed out and redone in marker and was illegible. They demanded that we pick a plot within a day or our rights to it would be forfeited and we’d go back on the waiting list. There was more nonsense than that–this is a terrible setup but I guess there’s no capitalistic reason to fund allotment gardens. But anyway, eventually, plot 120 became ours, and it was very exciting!

Here’s some facts on what we did in case you are planning your own community garden experiment, or just for myself in case I need to reference this in future years.

  1. I immediately went out and got a Jiffy tray and peat pots to start seedlings–we hadn’t done it beforehand since we weren’t sure we’d get the plot. I also bought a few seeds but I knew a colleague was going to give me her extras, so I stuck to stuff I knew she didn’t have in her balcony container garden–cucumbers, peppers, zucchini, onions, and garlic. J and I also bought gardening gloves and potting soil.
  2. I planted the seedlings–peppers, tomatoes, and a whole whack of herbs–in the Jiffy tray and put them in a south-facing window at home to germinate. I didn’t soak any of the seeds because I thought you only need to do that with parsley, but now I realize I should have soaked the mint and oregano seeds as well, as two months later they are still only a few centimetres tall.
  3. Cleared the lot. As soon as I saw it I realized the previous owners of plot 120 had not cleared or turned the soil last fall. As we got to work removing the dead plants, it seemed like they’d maybe abandoned the plot midsummer, as there were a lot of dead weeds and many of the dead plants didn’t seem fully mature. This was a lot of work and took forever, which made it worse because as spring went on a new set of weeds started to grow–for every week it took us to finish, the work got exponentially harder. We only have a tiny strip of weeds left to clear but that will be the hardest bit as some thistles are now waist high. We borrowed spades and a pitchfork for this work. It’ll probably have been about 10 hours of the two of us working to get it cleared.
  4. Turned the soil and broke it up. Also with the spades and pitchfork, also included in the ten hour timeframe. But much more pleasant work than the clearing. I have resolved that we will do a nice job putting the garden to bed at the end of the season so as to be in much better shape in the spring. Even if we give up on the garden after this year, we’ll still leave it nice for the new owners.
  5. Planted lettuce and onions, the easiest stuff to plant from seeds outdoors, even when there’s still a frost danger. Both are thriving. We also planted garlic, which 100% failed to come up–I think I left the bulbs in a plastic bag too long and they shrivelled, but I’ve never planted garlic before so what do I know.
  6. Planted the seedling herbs, which initially looked unhappy but then we started watering every day and they are happier now. These are cilantro, chives, and basil–I still have the oregano and mint at home until they are big enough to be safe to plant.
  7. Planted the seedling tomatoes, which seem happy to be outdoors, and a week later the seedling peppers, which haven’t made up their minds yet.
  8. Planted cucumbers from seeds last week–they aren’t up yet. The packet recommends planting them four feet apart, so two cucumber plants took up basically all the space we had left. Maybe we’ll squeeze in another row of onions once we do the last bit of clearing.

A few people have asked us what sort of return on investment we expect for the garden, which is a dumb question. If you cost by time and money, there is no question that it’s cheaper to buy your veggies in a supermarket or even a farmer’s market than to grow your own. See above–two professional ladies spent ten hours apiece just on the clearing and turning, and nothing’s grown yet. But we’re finding it decent fun and good exercise, so if you count it as entertainment rather than just a source of vegetables, the investment becomes reasonable. But if you’re curious, here’s what we spent so far:

  1. The plot itself, rented from May to October, cost $86.05.
  2. The seeds (other than the ones we were given), Jiffy trays, potting soil, and two sacks of triple mix (soil-enriching stuff you buy in giant bags at Canadian Tire) were about $40 total.
  3. The gloves were about $8 a pair.
  4. We were loaned the spades and pitchfork, and Mark gave me some trowels for my birthday, which we use to plant and weed.
  5. We actually found a watering can on the plot–who knows from where?–which worked initially. We were offered the loan of a hose from work, but we would have had to carry it back and forth every time, plus setting it up to run the considerable distance to the spigot, so that was out. We were going to buy one, a considerable expense, but then a friend lent us one for the summer.
  6. We also found a bunch of stakes on the lot from the previous owners, which we use to mark rows and possibly will eventually use to stake tomatoes or beans, depending on how things go. I have also one tomato cage at home that my bro’s girlfriend gave me–not sure if we’ll have to buy more or not.
  7. I had a tiny bit of fertilizer at home and my dad has promised to give me some more, but I suspect we’ll wind up buying a bunch before the summer is over.

And that’s the garden so far–almost 1600 words! I love it. If you’d like to see pictures, there’s some on my Instagram

4 Responses to “The Givendale Experiment, part 1”

  • Frederique says:

    I am amazed. Also, I just killed two geraniums in under 10 days so the whole potted plant from Grade 7 thing is quite painful to read.


  • Rebecca says:

    I’m not sure owning several spider plants for a quarter of a century is something to be proud of… As we were weeding yesterday, J and I were talking about My Little Pony and I realized I could name all the ponies I owned. That knowledge is replacing something useful! Similar with spider-plant-care factoids!


  • Frederique says:

    They had names? Oh… I was always referring to them as “the purple one with wings”. Which broke off, disappointingly. Remember the ones that had a velvety coating?


  • Rebecca says:

    YES! I was actually trying to remember what the term for those fuzzy ponies was. I’ve googled to no avail. I had one with red hair (mane?) and a white fuzzy coating that I could have sworn was named Paradise, but none of the pony nostalgia sites (and there are a lot) mention her, or that pony variation at all! What can this mean (and what am I doing with my life)?


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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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