Edible City is where I muse about urban gardening and share tips from my new book City Farmer

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Raising Fish

I went to an aquaponics workshop in Buffalo last weekend. I thought I would learn how to do small-scale raising of fish (in small barrels), perhaps with hydroponic lettuce on top of the barrels, but the techniques discussed turned out to be more large-scale than that. The other people in the workshop were all farmers with large greenhouses, not city dwellers. So I left the workshop early and went to the Albright Knox Gallery instead.

Funny thing happened at the border.

Crossing into the U.S., the Customs fellow asked me the purpose of my trip. "I'm going to a workshop," I said. "On what?" he asked. I didn't want to use any word (such as aquaponics) that sounded anything like hydroponics, so I said "raising fish."

"What do you need a workshop on that for?" he barked. "You just throw some fish in water and they grow." He didn't say this in a friendly way at all.

Crossing into Canada coming home couldn't have been more different. A punky-looking Customs guy with spiked hair asked me the same question about the purpose of my trip to the States. "I went to a workshop and the Albright Knox," I said. "Sounds like a very cultural afternoon," he said.

I laughed and responded with, "well, it was a workshop on raising fish."

"That's agri-cultural," he said.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Greenhouse Luck

Feeling very lucky. Managed to snag a spot in a community greenhouse, so I can start my own seedlings. The greenhouse is in Toronto's Trinity Bellwoods Park and is run by a community group, Friends of Trinity Bellwoods Park. What a great idea! There must be tons of people like me who always have plans to start their own seedlings at home but are defeated by things like hooking up grow lights, providing enough heat to baby plants, etc. Even if a seed-starting set-up were to magically appear in my basement, I'd still want to grow my seedlings in a community greenhouse instead--there's just something about the camaraderie and the instant availability of assistance.

Yesterday, for example, when I went to the greenhouse for the first time this season, there was a woman there checking to make sure that supplies were topped up (a whole bucket of potting soil) and the work table clean. We had a pleasant gab about our garden plans for this year and I felt instantly welcome.

The best part: dozens of fellow greenhouse growers will be keeping an eye on my seedlings, watering them if they're dry, rotating the trays when the plants get leggy, just generally helping out.

As for the veggies I'll be starting from seed in the greenhouse: I can't wait! Cardoon, ground cherries, Mexican sour gherkins, luffa, asparagus lettuce--all the weirdo delights that are impossible to find in nurseries! More on that in upcoming posts. For now, excited dreams.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Moving Trees

Wayne Grady and Merilyn Simonds did a presentation at the Toronto Botanical Garden this week. Their subject was "a passion for trees"--turns out they fell in love while measuring a balsam poplar. Talk about tree-huggers!

As I listened to them and watched their wonderful slides, nostalgia and grief for the trees I left behind when I moved house ten months ago overcame me.

Some context: my new house is roughly seven large city blocks away from my old house, and in the month leading up to my move, I wheelbarrowed as much of my garden as I could to my new digs. The tree haul consisted of:

* 2 paw paws (a native Ontario tree--Asimina triloba)
* a white cedar
* a serviceberry
* an alternate leaves dogwood
* a sumac
* a hemlock

Everything except for one paw paw appears to have survived the wrenching relocation.

But it's the trees I left behind, too big to move, that I mourn:

* the red oak
* the persimmons given to me by Mary Gartshore of Pterophylla Nursery near Walsingham, Ontario, which may be starting to bear fruit some time soon
* the sumac I transplanted from the farm belonging to my ex's father (who is now dead and the farm for sale)
* the Kentucky coffee tree
* the hop tree with its sprawling, gangly branches
* the sugar maple, the first tree I planted at the house after I moved there
* the redbud

Each tree carried a story and meant so much to me. Leaving them behind, I now realize, was the saddest part of a sad time. Yes, I'm happy to be planting new stories, planning the forest and orchard that will transform the sunny expanse of my new home into cool, fruitful shade. But I miss the trees that grounded me for years in my old life.