One of the best ways to get great compost in a hurry is to turn it regularly. Turning (mixing or aerating) your compost pile adds air to the mix, which speeds up the process of decomposition and prevents your pile from becoming stagnant. It also gives you a chance to assess whether your pile is too wet or too dry (it should be moist, like a wrung-out sponge) and amend accordingly.
Turning the compost is an easy—if messy—task if you’ve got more than one bin (three is often considered ideal. Add new organic waste to one bin, emptying it into the second and eventually third as it decomposes). But with one bin, you’re stuck trying to mix a heavy, deep, and tall pile of rotting stuff either by using one of those compost aerating tools (I used to have one but found it less than helpful. Then it broke.) or by scooping out the bottom of the bin and putting the waste back in the top. (At least, those are my methods. If you’ve got a better solution, please share in the comments!)
This used to be a task I’d do maybe three times a year—grudgingly. Then I let Lila in on the action, and she took to it like, well, a worm to a rotting Jack o’ Lantern. She loves visiting “her” worms, wood bugs, and millipedes. And she actually helps move the compost from bottom to top with her little shovel.
Okay, it’s slow going, but I do love watching—and sharing in—her delight as she discovers the simply wonders of a compost pile.
This cabbageworm-chewed bunch of ‘Lacinato’ (Tuscan) kale may very well be the last thing I eat from my garden for months. It’s been incredibly — record-breakingly — cold here in Vancouver, and even my cool-season edibles have succumbed. But not the kale, bless it. Hardy, and delicious to boot.
What are you harvesting now?
After months—nay, years—of anticipation, plus blood, sweat, and tears (though fewer than those who know me might expect), I’m thrilled to announce that Sugar Snaps and Strawberries has arrived! (Wow, that was a little like a birth announcement. Coincidence? I think not.) My advance copy (just one!) came via the slowest courier ever, and arrived while I was off at work. I will admit that I was not the most focused employee this afternoon, thinking about the package that awaited me at home. And then I was home, and the package was in my hands. And yet somehow, I couldn’t open it. I’d imagined that moment for a long, long time, and I wanted to savour it. Preferably along with something alcoholic. But dinner was on the stove and I had a toddler bashing her plasma car into my shins. So I waited. We ate dinner (the package seated alongside us). I almost held out until Lila was in bed, but at some point I said something along the lines of, “screw it,” and tore into the package.
It’s a funny thing, getting what you want. This thing—writing a book—has been on my bucket list since I was an angsty teen (I imagined myself more of a Sylvia Plath or Anais Nin than a garden writer, but heck, I’ll take it). Holding that book—my book—in my hands was a totally surreal moment. As my friend Dave says, nothing is ever as good or as bad as you think it will be. And so it was. The book seemed physically smaller than I’d expected. But somehow bigger with the weight of all the expectations I have for it, the work and love and time that went into it, and just the bigness of it all. I wrote an f*ing book. Allow me to be amazed for a moment, friends.
And there’s so much fear that comes along with it, too. What if there’s an error? What if someone doesn’t like it? It’s so much scarier than hitting “publish” on a blog post. This thing is in print. I am both thrilled and terrified to be sharing it with you all.
Like I said, it was a bit of a surreal moment. I looked at every page. Stuck my nose in and inhaled the ink. Was satisfied. Then I put the book down, saw the spine, and screamed. My husband, thinking I’d spotted a mistake, looks like he might be getting ready to dash our child to safety. Then I explain: “Bellamy! My name is on the spine of a book!” I don’t know why, but that suddenly made everything real, and worth it. I can’t wait to look myself up at the library.
Sugar Snaps and Strawberries: Simple Solutions for Creating Your Own Small-Space Edible Garden features stunning photographs by the uber-talented Jackie Connelly, and is published by the fabulous Timber Press. I owe them huge gratitude, as I do you, my loyal readers. Thank you for being here.
Sugar Snaps and Strawberries will be hitting shelves within the next month. If you want to get your copy faster, please pre-order from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.
How beautiful are these handcrafted air plant pods by ceramic artist Michael McDowell? Incredible, right?
Available in matte and gloss white, as well as matte sand, these stoneware ceramic pods are designed to house a tillandsia (air plant) and can be hung—each pod comes with a natural hemp cord—or set right side up (upside down?) for a more traditional display.
Clearly, they look amazing hung in clusters.
Mudpuppy’s air plant pods are available through Dirt Couture (seller of other amazing garden accoutrements such as hose clothes and those lovely Gallant and Jones deck chairs) for $30.
You should also check out Michael’s sweet little peace dove trio, stoneware moon bells, and, my personal favourite, his Peking blue bird sculptures.
Tomatoes and basil? What is this, August? California?
Nope. Just proof that sometimes, green tomatoes will ripen on the vine if you leave them long enough, even if it is nearly freezing out and all the other heat-lovers have given up the ghost.
What are you harvesting now?
I’ve always thought of our back patio garden as a spring garden, with its ferns and ephemeral natives. It took a positive comment from my husband for me to look objectively at the space and think, “wow, it does look pretty great right now.” I know, duh, right? With three Japanese maples—one normally red, one green, and one yellow—plus a fourth deciduous tree (a European hornbeam) it should look pretty damn good in fall.
So, since my last post focused on trees I could grow if I had the space, I thought I should celebrate the ones I have—especially since they really are giving it their all.
Here’s Acer palmatum ‘Beni Kawa,’ otherwise known as that totally-out-of-control tree. Despite the fact that it is too large for its space, I do love its colouring. Its new growth (and it always seems to be growing) is deep red, and its leaves are a lovely pale yellow—at least until fall, when it seems to burst into flame.
Red maple. Photo credit: inoc on Flickr.
I’ve been having all kinds of fantasies lately. No, not THAT kind. The kind that comes from being a gardener raising a toddler in a tiny urban apartment. That’s right, I’m dreaming about land.
My fantasies are very specific, very romantic, and very far-fetched. In my fantasy, I have a big white farmhouse with a wraparound porch bounded by fields of wheat, a small but productive orchard, and, further out, forest. With all that space, I’ve got lots of room for chickens, and goats, and of course, a huge vegetable garden. But when it comes down to it, I’ve got room for trees.
I grew up in a rural, forested area. Our yard was choc-a-block with trees: Douglas-fir, cedar, hemlock. And a huge big-leaf maple that dumped mountains of burnt umber leaves every autumn. I miss that. Don’t get me wrong; I love my Japanese maples. They’re very pretty. Very clean. And very urban. But I yearn for real trees. Big, sprawling, messy trees — the kind you need a lot of space for.
So, in my daydreams, I construct my fantasy tree list. Trees I would grow if I had unlimited space. They are:
Red maple (Acer rubrum). Simply for that brilliant red. We don’t get that eastern show-stopping fall colour in our deciduous trees here in the Pacific Northwest, but these trees provide it without fail. Its fallen leaves ook like scraps of red and white paper to me, all scattered around in perfect disarray.
Katsura leaves. Photo credit: Schnittke on Flickr.
Katsura (Cercidiphyllum). What’s not to love about this tree? It has a nice, rounded form and heart-shaped leaves that blaze orange-red in fall. To top it off, fallen katsura leaves perfume the air with a lovely burnt-sugar scent: like the crust of a of creme brulee!
White birch grove. Photo credit: Nakae on Flickr.
White birch (Betula papyrifera). Actually, a grove of white birch. For the white bark, obviously. These aren’t commonly grown around here, but the interior of our province has many, and they remind me of holidays spent at my grandparent’s ranch in the Kootenays.
Sycamore. Photo credit: Dakota O on Flickr.
Sycamore (plane tree) (Platanus occidentalis). I have no first-hand experience with these trees, however, I love their rounded shape, the mottled bark, and their fantastic seedpods.
What are your favourite fantasy trees?
The theme song for this week could have been “Here Comes the Rain Again.” Hello autumn in Vancouver. On the upside, it’s time to break out the cute rain boots. And on the upper upside, here come the greens again.
After an absence of many months, I’m once again harvesting arugula, Tuscan (lacinato) kale, broccoli raab, and a whole mess of Asian greens. Yay!
What are you harvesting now?
‘Red Sails’ lettuce going to seed.
The garden has started its slow decline, and I am not overly unhappy about it. I feel like the ant in that classic fable, putting up food, saving seeds, and drying herbs. While I’m still savouring the last of the summer fruits, I’m also enjoying the cycle of the seasons, and trying not to fight the inevitable decent into winter.
Herbs for drying (mint, oregano, and thyme).
There are so many things to love about fall. I think it has to be the most sensory season, don’t you? The swish-crunch of your footsteps on leaf-strewn streets. The pungent earthy whiff of wood fires. The sharpness of the morning air in your nostrils.
Drying seeds (peas, kale, cilantro).
For me, fall is for cocoa, school bells, chunky sweaters, and collecting acorns and pretty leaves. It’s about putting away the sun hats, and bringing out the warm coats and knitting needles. It’s also about preparing the garden for winter — the endless cleaning and emptying of containers, tidying of foliage, and storing of tools that is definitely not my favourite part of the season. In fact, I’d like to just skip that part of gardening altogether.
Strawberry rhubarb jam
But crisp mornings and long evenings in front of the fireplace with a good novel and a cat on my lap? Yes, please. And having a larder (okay, a shelf or two) packed with homemade preserves? That’s something I can get behind.
Before you scoff at my teeny corn, let me explain. This corn almost didn’t make it. At each turn, my crop was beset by terrible weather and thieves. The remaining six baby cobs almost didn’t get harvested, and thus, almost didn’t make it onto our dinner plates last week. Which would have been a gross travesty, because they were terrific.
I planted a block of ‘Sugar Buns’ corn in my community garden plot in early June after pre-sprouting the seeds (to ensure germination in our unseasonably cold, wet soil). Because my plot is small, the block of corn was, by necessity, small. I think I planted 4′x3′ for a total of 12 plants. After the corn finally reached 4 in. (10cm) high (which took FOREVER; this June was surely the coolest on record), I planted ‘Fortex’ beans next to each emerging corn stalk and ‘Black Beauty’ zucchini at the edges of the plot. My plan? To grow the Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash.
The Three Sisters companion planting technique was first practiced by North American indigenous groups. The corn stalks provide vertical support to climbing beans, while in turn, the beans supply nitrogen to the corn and squash. The squash shades the soil, retaining moisture, while its prickly vines discourage squirrels and raccoons from accessing tender corn cobs—at least in theory.
I wouldn’t say it was completely successful for me, largely because of the slow start to summer we experienced. Corn needs really warm soil to truly thrive, and mine didn’t get that until at least mid-July. The beans quickly outpaced the corn, and I ended up adding a few poles to support the more vigorous vines. And while the zucchini might have kept squirrels and raccoons from my corn, it didn’t stop human pests, which took the earliest and biggest cobs. At that point (mid-August) I considered ripping out the corn (because surely it wasn’t going to produce a second crop by the time the weather cooled) but left it in simply because many of the stalks were supporting beans.
I’m glad I did. Last weekend, when I finally decided to replace the corn, beans, and zucchini with spinach and mache, I decided to open up the tiny cobs that had formed in spite of my predictions. And wouldn’t you know it? I had corn! I thought I’d find shriveled, unpollenated kernels, too small and hard to be edible, but instead I found plump, yellow pillows just waiting to be cooked and slathered with butter. Of course, I obliged.
One last thing: yes, I chose ‘Sugar Buns’ largely because of the name!
What are you harvesting now?