We’ve been in our condo for 3.5 months now, and what a couple of months it’s been! We’ve been mostly consumed with taking care of Shakes who was very sick this summer, more on that another day, thankfully he’s doing much better now.
The minute we decided to downsize to a condo, I sprang into solution mode. I couldn’t imagine not having space to dig in and watch things grow. The average community garden is smaller than I wanted and most have lengthy waiting lists. Then I discovered FarmStart and their organic community garden at McVean Farm in Brampton.
We leased our plot while still at the house and then spent 3 weekends preparing and planting out the 1000sq ft plot, while at the same time packing and selling off our extra furniture. We built plant supports, transplanted our strawberry patch, planted 19 tomato plants, 6 squash, 3 kale, 8 chard, 4 peppers, 4 eggplant, chives, thyme, sage, 6 cosmos and 30 pest controlling marigolds! Matchbox Garden & Seeds and Beachhouse Farms were helpful in getting theses plants late in the season – I’d definitely buy from them again. The rest of our plants were grown from my seed collection.
While vegetable and flower gardening has been my domain in the past, the work went quickly with both of us working. I was lucky to be gifted some new hand tools to make this scale of planting easier. If you garden, and you don’t already have one of these, do yourself a favour and get one! It’s like 4 tools in one!
The rental of the plot includes the land, and access to water and runs April/May to the end of October. We have a fantastic coordinator who helps us navigate things like ordering worm compost and straw, both of which I incorporated into my plot mid-season. It was a solo garden day – armed with a shovel and a small pitchfork, I spent 6 hours removing too many thistles before they flowered and set seed, dug the worm compost around each plant and then hauled A LOT of straw over the entire plot with my own two hands – the wheelbarrow was broken. Straw is great mulch, it keeps the weeds down, keeps moisture in and over time, helps make the clay soil a bit lighter and less dense. Here’s me just starting out with my giant straw bale! I used about half of it – the other half belonged to my plot neighbour.
So satisfying seeing my plot all enriched and mulched! To celebrate, I sat down and stretched my legs. Not gonna lie, it was hard standing up after all that work. Who needs the gym after a day like that?
I’m pleased that the knowledge I gained planting and keeping our large garden in Burlington served me well. We had 8 large raised beds in that garden and lots of plantings throughout the property, I was able to apply many of the plant and soil management practices I used there to my plot. I definitely missed having a drip irrigation system though – especially since it’s a 25 minute trip to the garden, and I was only able to get up there on weekends. Despite the dry, hot summer, the thick layer of mulch I put down really helped to keep the moisture level pretty steady, and help from my plot neighbour kept the plants watered for the two weeks I wasn’t able to care for them. Another difference was pest management – there are bigger and different bugs attacking a garden of this size and with all the surrounding plots affected by the actions of their neighbour – one has to be extra vigilant. Down with squash beetles! I also saw some bugs I’ve never seen before – ugh. Also, I hate thistles more than dandelions, they are a pain to pull and they spread like wildfire! A fellow gardener showed me a trick for weeding our 1000 sq foot plot – he saved my back and my hands! If you need to weed thistles, I’ve got tips for you!
Flash forward – add some sun, water and time… BLAM! Garden Haven! Here’s a little visual scan – the straw fills in my plot area.
Most of my plants grew thick and lush. The only plants that didn’t make it were strawberries that I’d transplanted from our home before the move, and the kuri squash. Out of 5 plants, one plant produced a teeny, tiny strawberry before giving up the ghost, and the critters got the only kuri squash. Poop.
Here’s a quick gallery of our harvest – click on the right edge of each picture to advance to the next one.
Not pictured above is the bags and bags of kale and chard I harvested every weekend! We ate little else in terms of leafy greens and more than our share of tomatoes each week. It was a delicious summer! If I do return for a second year, I need to invest in drip irrigation and in organic sheet mulch to further reduce the amount of time spent weeding.
Having this huge garden helped me make the transition from house to small condo a little easier. Because of it, I didn’t have to give up gardening at the same time as adjusting to condo life. I definitely needed that. But I’m a little torn about whether I continue with the plot next year. While I love it, it is time consuming – it’s not more work than our previous garden, but because it’s not right outside my backdoor, it is a time sucker. It also means navigating some unpleasant traffic rather than enjoying a leisurely breakfast with the family on the weekend. It means needing to find or rent storage space for all the garden tools, irrigation and items that are needed for this scale of growing. Part of me thinks that we can better spend that money by supporting local growers/farms, and grow our own small selection of plants on our balcony instead. That same part of me wants to simplify and focus efforts on my crafts and to spend more time on the weekend going different places.
Another part of me wants to explore the possibilities and continue the excitement of being part of an urban agriculture initiative – my fellow growers are an amazing bunch of people – there are those looking to tap back into their family farming history, those who make a living off of their larger plots, families teaching their children how the value of growing their own food, and we all learn and benefit from sharing our skills and know-how, not to mention eagerly trading tomatoes, herbs and seeds!
I’ve got a little bit of time before I have to decide, so in the meantime, I’ll be here – enjoying the last of the harvest…