A Gardener’s Progress-Part Three

Freshly harvested beans from the garden can't be beat.

Continuing our conversation with Jodi Rice, new gardener and new mother. We talk inspiration, techniques and gardening highs and headaches.

Any garden inspiration?
Jodi: One inspiration was becoming aware of the work that The Stop was doing at the Wychwood Barns. The Barns is one of our favourite places, and we were so thrilled to be able to move to within walking distance of it. Seeing the work they’re doing in the Green Barn and with the Ethnic Gardens made me feel like I could do that! Also, when we moved in, our neighbour in behind our house had a spectacular garden, easily half again the size of the plot we had. She grew tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, and a bunch of other veggies, and would regularly offer us her surplus. Those tomatoes were so good! My cousins in the neighbourhood have also been growing their own veggies since they moved into their house. A good garden plot was definitely one of our criteria when house-hunting.

Sarah: Great to hear that you chose your house based on your ability to grow your own tomatoes!  And The Stop is such a fantastic organization.

This one came off the vine a little too early. But how cute is it?

Any garden books you have used to help you along?
Jodi: I’ve used a couple of books for reference, both of which I found for less than $10 each on sale this spring at Indigo:
Grow Your Own Vegetables: I like this one because it’s a clear, detailed, beginner’s guide from start to finish, including how to prepare your beds down to how to store your crops. The downside is that it’s a British publication, so some of the information (for example, on pests and weather conditions) don’t apply here.
Canadian Gardening’s The Cook’s Garden: Canadian, so relevant in ways that the other book isn’t, plus it’s organized by season, which makes it easier to determine what to plant when. I haven’t yet tried the recipes it has for the various crops, but some of them look really good. It’s perhaps not as comprehensive in terms of planting and tending advice.

Sarah: That looks like a great book, by local authors Liz Primeau and Aldona Satterthwaite. Aldona is the director of Toronto Botanical Gardens, and both are great writers.

How did you choose what to plant?
Jodi: We wandered the aisles of Fiesta Gardens and picked up stuff that looked good! Actually, I knew the basics that I wanted: tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, some legumes, some herbs and some salad greens. There were a couple of things that we threw in on a whim: eggplant, for example. In terms of tomatoes, I wanted varieties with different ripening times, and I wanted some old standbys (cherry, plum, beefsteak) along with some interesting or heirloom varieties. David wanted pickling cucumbers. And overall, I wanted things that were relatively easy for a beginner to have success with.

Last year, after moving in June 2, we only got around to planting when July was almost over. We took whatever was left and still alive at Fiesta Gardens — some peppers, a few herbs — and chucked them in the ground. Again, since I was pretty pregnant, I found it hard to manage tending a garden. The weeds took over very quickly, and while we did get a bit of harvest, it wasn’t very exciting. I’m glad we managed to do it properly this year.

Ring of Fire hot pepper.

How much was seed, and how much bought plants?
Jodi: All bought plants.

Sarah: That’s definitely the foolproof method. I bought two six packs of swiss chard this spring and I’ve been eating it non stop for weeks. Love it!

Did you amend your soil?
Jodi: We had grand plans of having the soil tested and then working accordingly to amend it, but nah… in the end we just threw a bunch of manure, etc. on it and went to town.

Sarah: Many garden experts say don’t bother getting your soil tested. Just keep throwing on organic matter to build up the soil health with microorganisms.

How much sun does your garden get every day?
Jodi: It gets mostly full sun. We have a western exposure. There is a short period in the morning (until maybe 10am) when it is shaded by the house, but after that there is nothing in the way of the sun — we are on a higher grade than the houses behind us, and there are no overhanging trees or anything to either side.

Sarah: Lucky you that your garden is so sunny! Perfect for vegetable growing. Not always easy to find a sunny backyard in Toronto, when we have so many trees.

What kind of watering do you do?
When it’s especially hot and dry, I give the ground a good soaking with a hose maybe every 2-3 evenings. Actually, during this summer’s longest dry patch, I was out of town, and my dad came by to do the watering. I imagine that’s how he watered, since he’s the one who taught me how to best water plants so they won’t burn and they’ll develop strong roots.

Zucchini leaves are big! Great soil makes a difference.

Biggest surprise?
The size and profusion of the tomato plants, especially the cherries!! I easily get about 10-12 cherry tomatoes a day from four plants. The yellow pear tomatoes are equally impressive. My one plant is almost chest-high and gives me about 8 tomatoes a day. Also, I planted Cherokee purple tomatoes on a whim and have been pleasantly surprised by how delicious they are. Easily the best tomatoes I’ve ever tasted.

Sarah: Good vote for heirloom tomatoes, like Cherokee Purple, for flavour. The dark varieties, especially seem to have a rich taste. I’m growing Paul Robeson tomato this year.

Biggest satisfaction?
Going out pretty much every day and coming back inside with something to eat. Putting food that I’ve grown in front of guests and watching and hearing them enjoy it.

Biggest headache?
Squirrels!!! When the cucumbers and zucchini first started to ripen, we were losing them to a danged squirrel who either chewed them on the vine, broke them off and left them half-eaten on the patio, or made off with them entirely. I actually saw him scamper across the power lines once with a cucumber freshly stolen! We ended up buying a solar-powered, motion-activated super-sonic critter deterring machine. It seems to have kept the critters away since we put it in.

Stand back! These cucumbers aren't going anywhere.

Sarah: I love the sound of that critter machine. Great you found something that works! Thanks for sharing your garden with us, Jodi.

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