August 14, 2018 at 2:43 pm (Gardening) (, , , , , )

Looking through the archives here (since I haven’t kept up so well in the last two years or more), I realize how much has changed since I first became interested in the movement for seasonal, local real food.  Aside from from some dabblings in container gardening on my porch in Atlanta (where a nuisance mulberry tree changed my mind about scavenging food), I started growing food in earnest in 2007. (See here for my thoughts on organic vs. local food as well as a description of my first season of gardening.)  I’ve moved twice since then, so I know how much work goes into creating a garden and what a shame it is to have to do it all over again when you move to a new place.  But, I also know that moving presents an opportunity for gardeners to get things right from the start with every new property.

When I moved from my 2007 residence, it was in the month of May–a fine time to start a new garden, but it was a pain in the neck moving with all my seed starts.  And, then there was the garlic I had to leave behind…  The previous fall, I had dug up two patches of lawn to install raised bed frames that were given to me.  I filled them with compost and lots of grass clippings from a neighbor’s lawn trimmings bin and replaced the topsoil.  I then planted garlic and put the beds to sleep under a layer of leaves for the winter.  The garlic greens were several inches high when we moved.  Not only did I not get to harvest my first garlic crop (hopefully someone else did and it didn’t go to waste), but I also never got to see how those beds performed.  Maybe they were full of weed seeds from the grass clippings… something I didn’t consider at the time and, fortunately, could avoid when starting future gardens.

We didn’t know how long we’d be in the next house, but I wanted perennials and I had the landlords’ permission to do whatever I wanted with the yard (or so they said when we moved in).  Again, I set about creating new beds and added rhubarb, raspberries, and a tayberry plant to the existing landscaping.  It wasn’t until after the back-breaking labor was done that I discovered the easy way of creating new garden beds–sheet mulching (also called “lasagna” gardening, or simply “no-dig” gardening).

And, think of how great it is, as a perpetually-short-term renter, to get to take over a garden with mature fruit-bearing perennials like berry bushes and asparagus that can take several years to get established…


I started this post over 7 years ago, back when it seemed I would always be a low-income renter in a city whose housing market wouldn’t stand still long enough for me to catch a break, let alone catch up.  Here I am, two-and-a-half years a homeowner (but I had to move back to the Southeastern United States to do it) with gardens I will choose to leave one day on my own terms, not those of landlords and real estate developers… I do still have a soft spot in my heart for the plight of short-term gardeners, those whose desire to root down and grow food is perennially thwarted by the need to move house and move on.

Any garden is a commitment to and a hope for the future, especially the establishment of low-maintenance, long-bearing perennial food crops.  Frequently moving would seem to impede the aspiring gardener.  Who would invest so much time and effort into creating garden beds and building soils they can’t easily move?  Who would plant fruit trees and bushes just to leave them behind?

I propose we rethink our connection to land and plants as temporary stewards instead of owners.  I propose that we think of our contributions to whatever land we temporarily inhabit (by building gardens and establishing food-producing plants) as “paying it forward” to future tenants of that space.  Even now that I live in a home I own, the asparagus, cherry and blueberry bushes, and fruit trees that I plant are not mine forever.  I will sell them with the house, hopefully to someone who appreciates their maturity and productivity as adding value to the property.  As a renter, I contributed my fair share of productive perennials to properties I didn’t own; I hope whoever inhabited them after me appreciated them.  If everyone had this “pay it forward” attitude about transient gardening, it wouldn’t feel so bad leaving plants behind because you could look forward to  inheriting new plants to steward in your new digs.  You’d say ‘goodbye’ to an apple tree and a gooseberry and ‘hello!’ to a pear tree and a kiwi!

How would owners feel about this?  I contend that established gardens would add value to a property, especially as a rental, since renters don’t usually expect to be able to garden.  Going back to the original post, written after moving to a new residence where I had the “landlords’ permission to do whatever I wanted with the yard (or so they said when we moved in),” that proved to be a boondoggle 18 months later when we moved out.  In the end, the landlady was not as cool about the food plants when we left as when we first moved in.  To make a long story short, she called my garden a “hodgepodge of edibles” and claimed it was going to cost her thousands of dollars to put the yard back the way it was before we moved in.  I think she was annoyed that we were moving out much sooner than she had hoped (for which she has herself to blame for renting the basement apartment and our shared backyard to a couple of 19-year-olds and their rottweiler).  To make a long story short, she tried and failed to rent our unit out for another year or so after our departure, but ultimately decided to sell the house instead of play landlord any longer.  Out of curiosity, I snagged a sales flier to see how much they were asking for the house.  To my surprise and amazement, she actually used the “hodgepodge of edibles” as a selling point, advertising that, among other things, the property featured perennial food plants and herbs (which I planted!).  I’d be curious to know if that was her idea to promote the edible landscaping or if it came from the listing agent, who perhaps recognized that mature edible landscaping is an attractive and as-yet unique feature that adds value to a home.



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How time flies…

November 7, 2009 at 7:29 pm (environment, food, Gardening, permaculture) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Is it really November already?  Seems like just last week the tomato vines were laden with heavy ripe fruit and we were eating garden-fresh salads daily… oh, and it wasn’t raining every dang day!

Yes, November is one of the wettest months in Vancouver, so when the sun is out we have to make good use of it.  Already this month I’ve dug up two patches of the front lawn for new veggie garden beds.  One, the garlic bed, is about 15′ x 2′ and it’s up against the hedge row on the east side of the house where it will get good sun for much of the morning and mid-day hours.  After two beautifully sunny days of working on this project–removing all that grass, and digging in 3 very full 5-gallon buckets of compost into the top 10-12″ of soil–Day 3 saw rain, rain, and more rain.  Nevertheless, I trudged out to the yard in full rain gear to plant 54 of the largest cloves of garlic I could get my hands on.  I finished off with a layer several inches thick of decaying leaves collected from my own yard, my neighbor’s yard, and even the street.  About the garlic, some 20 cloves are a hardneck type called Music that I purchased from one of my favorite Farmer’s Market vendors–Brian from Sheffield Farm.  The rest are supermarket garlic–smaller, less pungent, but guaranteed to be organically-raised and as local as you can get.  I know, I know, 54 heads of garlic sounds like a lot, and maybe it is, but I’d rather have too much than too little.  It’s fun to share!

Besides, I was inspired to try growing enough for a whole year when I recently attended a workshop on the long-term storage of raw foods like squash, pumpkins, onions, garlic, potatoes, tubers and root vegetables.  The class focused on how to cure veggies for storage and how to decide where to store them so that they receive appropriate amounts of moisture, warmth, light or dark–just as you decide where to plant what in the outdoor garden based on the “micro-climate” of a given spot (how much sun it gets, how well-drained the soil is, or whether the spot is warm and protected from wind due to a nearby wall, for instance).  The workshop, taught by Robin Wheeler (whose book Food Security For the Faint of Heart I devoured in a matter of days and ultimately got her to autograph!) was a nice complement to my recent interest in other types of food preservation such as canning and drying.  This summer saw my first rough attempts at hot water bath canning.  I did some whole, peeled tomatoes, tomato sauce, applesauce (from some beautiful Ambrosia and Gala apples obtained at the Farmer’s Market), huckleberry jam (a failure due to bad recipe calling for waaaaay too much sugar), blueberry-rhubarb jam (a winner), and spicy dill pickles.  I love the look of all those colorful jars up on the kitchen shelf and the feeling, not just of security and comfort knowing it’s all there waiting to be eaten, but of satisfaction and pride in having put it all by, all by myself:)

Oh yes, back to the garden work I’ve been up to… The other new bed that I created in the front yard is a large round area tucked up against the west side of the porch stairs, a perfect spot, some would say, for some lovely ornamentals and perhaps a colorful flower border.  But not me!  I transplanted my rhubarb crowns there and look forward to seeing their bright red stems and broad green leaves displayed next to the lilac bushes, tucked in with the perennials as if they belong there–and they do!

Since I’m renting, I’ve inherited a yard that is well-planted, but somewhat over-landscaped (for my tastes and purposes) in bushes, bulbs, and ornamentals.  My plan is not to commit to any major earth-works and not to invest too much time and effort in tearing stuff up and starting over, but to work with what I have, even if it means that I end up mixing veggie plants and berry bushes into the established perennial borders.  In fact, maybe the result will be all the better for being nice-looking as well as edible.  Edible landscapes are a recent phenomenon, you know… As an aside, I picked up a circa-1970’s gardening book from a thrift store over the summer and I was amazed (in a horrified kind of way) and kind of saddened to see the vegetable gardens all tucked away in hidden, unused corners where they do not detract from the look of the landscaped yard.  Interesting how times have changed…

Other stuff that’s changed since last I wrote–I know, I know, I’ve been really bad about updating this blog lately…  Well, I completed my yoga teacher training program at the end of June and taught two classes over the summer.  The first was nerve-wracking; the second went so smoothly and the response from my students was so positive, it was a major confidence booster.  I came out of that class feeling like I had really achieved something and had really made a major transformation from the beginning of the training program to the end.  I still don’t know if I want to pursue being a yoga teacher as a profession; that was never really my intention in deciding to enter the program.  I wanted to challenge myself to do it for the deeper understanding of yoga philosophy and physiology, as well as to push myself into a deeper commitment to my own yoga practice.  Unfortunately, summer visits, trips and the lack of free time due to no more Happy Hands for Eleanor have all conspired against my sustaining a regular yoga practice and, because I feel out of practice myself, I do not feel like I’m in a position to teach.  However, I’m trying to get back into a regular practice and I have noticed in the brochure of classes offered in the new community center that there’s no one teaching a mom-and-tot yoga class or a class for moms with child-minding available (it was for want of these types of programs when Eleanor was a toddler that I first got it into my head that I could become a teacher and offer them myself), so we’ll see what the following year holds…

Deciding to do the yoga teacher training program in December of last year also held out the hope of possibly being employable if Stephen’s job ended up taking us to Switzerland, where his boss was and presumably still is trying to start up an office.  Well, I don’t know if you all have noticed, but the economy hasn’t been that great lately and financial services companies have been especially hard hit.  Stephen’s employers are apparently doing just fine, but certain things like opening offices in Switzerland have taken the back burner for now.  That’s okay, though.  Stephen has decided that he wants to go back to UBC and complete his PhD.  He can continue working for his current employer nearly full-time and incorporate his work-work into the work he’ll be doing for the PhD so he can continue to be paid as he currently is and we can consider ourselves settled for the foreseeable future–which is a good thing for me since I just went to all the trouble of digging up two new garden beds and I’m sprouting asparagus from seed this winter and I won’t be able to harvest it for at least two years!

Here’s a thought…  Renters are hesitant to do much in-ground gardening and they certainly don’t bother to plant things like berry bushes and apple trees that take years to produce their first crop, mainly because they regard their adobes as temporary shelter, they know it’s only a matter of time before they move on and they don’t want to make long-term investments of which they’ll never reap the benefits.  Imagine, though, if every renter who felt that way went ahead and planted those long-yielding perennials anyway.  Then, every time they move, they wouldn’t have to mourn the loss of those raspberry canes or that strawberry patch, because they’d have fresh blueberries, and an established, productive asparagus patch to look forward to.  It would take a change of attitude on the part of renters everywhere: namely, to stop thinking of their gardens in terms of what it produces for them, or how much money it saves them, or that it’s even “their” garden.  A garden does not serve the gardener.  A garden is self-creative and self-renewing; planting one and cultivating it is a service to the earth and to one’s community.  Renters should go ahead and plant anything and everything that strikes their fancy, knowing that they’ve done their small part to heal a little piece of earth (and more, the more they frequently they move) and that one day down the road many, many people will enjoy the benefits of their labor, as as they themselves will go on to enjoy the benefits of someone else’s labor at their new place… Just a thought…

In other news, Eleanor’s doing great.  She’s as smart as a whip and very clever, too.  She’s got a real sense of humor these days and, though she doesn’t shy away from poot jokes, she’s also very mature for her age.  She’s in a combined three- and four-year-old preschool class for two hours two days a week.  Her favorite thing to do at preschool is dress up in the beautiful dress-up clothes.  She’s a real girly-girl.  She was also doing ballet and gymnastics once a week and a program called Happy Hands, which is just like preschool, all at the community center.  The center has been slated to move into a new location for a long, long time and the time had finally come… or so we thought.  The old center closed and took reservations already for classes at the new center, but they’ve just informed us that construction delays at the new center have held up the move once again, so everything is canceled for the rest of the year.  Boo hoo…  That community center was like a second home for me when Eleanor was young and we were new to Vancouver and to parenthood.  I started taking her there when she was just a baby; I met a lot of my neighbors and other moms there; Eleanor’s practically grown up at the tot gym there… and now it’s all over… and we’re stuck waiting around for the new center to open.  The new center will be very nice and I like that it has a library in it and it will be easier to get to from our new house.  In the meantime, Eleanor and I have been forced to find other things to do on the days that she doesn’t have preschool.  We’re discovering free drop-in playgroups and strong start learning centers all over the place.  Vancouver’s publicly-funded services for families cannot be beat!

Well, there’s a lot more I could write about.  Seeing as I haven’t blogged in well over half a year, I have a lot of catching up to do.  Knowing myself, I won’t make promises to be back often and fill in all the details of the summer months or recent projects taken up around here, but I’ll do my best.  Even if I never get into the habit of blogging about everything that goes on in my life, I would like to share more of my thoughts and philosophical ideas about the world and what in it is important to me–my family, community, good food, the environment, my garden, sustainability, politics… I could go on and on and on…

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