Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Selling Sweet Peas for the Sharing Farm ...

Bunches of Sweet Peas have become a yearly Sharing Farm fundraising project since 2008.

The work begins in early spring with drama of keeping the hungry mice at bay when we plant trays upon trays of sweet pea seed. As the soil dries out the ground is prepared with carefully weeding, tilling and fertilizing and planting up hundreds of seedlings along the trellis, then keeping the hungry slugs away.

Finally, by mid July, the fragrance and brilliance of the sweet pea blooms climb the trellis, to please the eye and tantalize the nose.

In previous years, the bunches were sold through the Steveston Farmers’ Market, by the Farming Students.

This year the Farm has not taken a booth at the market so we had a situation on our hands. Beautiful sweet peas, but no where to outlet them and our Fundraising opportunity at risk.

This was the topic of conversation one day, among the volunteers and the idea came up to approach our neighbourhood supermarket, Save On Foods, to see if they would care to partner with the Sharing Farm to sell the beautiful bunches.

They were approached on Friday and by Monday the bunches were displayed at the entrance; before the display was even up three bunches were sold.

So do look out for our sweet pea display and support the work the Sharing Farm does in our community by taking home an inspiring bunch of sweet peas flowers.

A technique for planting many, many, teeny tiny seeds ...

This spring I faced the challenge of planting up a large quantity of patchoy seed ... fits the 'small as a grain of mustard seed' analogy.

When you are planting trays which consist of 100 cells per tray hence the dilemma.
Big fingers, little seeds, many cells ...

So I hit upon a little technique using a bamboo skewers ... still takes patience ... but works quite well. Not even necessary to dampen and flick the skewer with each new seed.

I made a little Youtube video of the process:


(Copy and paste the link to your browser.)

See if you find it useful.

Finding a good place to dry garlic when living in a small space ...

In mid July, I finally harvested the garlic I had grown in my commumity plot. The garlic had been planted in October. Nine months, folks, to create a head of garlic from one clove ... Appreciate it ... as longs as it takes to gestate a baby!

Now the garlic was harvested, the next task was to hang it to dry. Somewhere dark, cool, and out of the rain. I decided that under the front staircase fit the bill.

Getting out from under the stairs after hanging the garlic was not quite so easy.

The good, the bad ... the happy, the sad, of growing tomatoes

Miguel, had to leave for his home country of Guatemala in a hurry due to some family crisis leaving his garden in our care. I took it upon myself to prune his tomatoes heavily as I have learnt from experience that the wet, cool weather we were presently experiencing brings "THE BLIGHT", the terror of west coast tomato growers. All was going very well. I was cutting though the jungle of closely planted tomato bushes, creating airflow and minimizing the tangle of overkill shoots upon shoots that overzealous tomato plants are famous for and then ...

I came across a plant showing the classic signs of "THE BLIGHT" ... stems turning black infiltrated by the disease moving along the healthy green stems. So I ripped the entire plant from the ground and threw it out.

We had cleaned up all cuttings and the infected plant and threw it all into the trash rather than the compost so as not to spread the infection, when we hear this fury coming towards us. Unfortunately, it was not one of Miguel's plants I had pulled out, it belonged to another resident who shared the box with Miguel. She was coming towards us at full sail, bellowing like a bull and shaking with indignation. I had ripped out her tomato plant with the little cherry tomatoes on it that she had been nurturing so tenderly and awaited with great anticipation.

Well, Dorothy jumped into the fray and the two went at it in Chinese and with me humbly apologizing, empathizing and explaining in turn, to no avail. It took half an hour for her fury to abate enough before she could accept what had happened. I had to pull the garbage bag out of the dumpster and find her plant ... the one with the cheery tomatoes and show here the black stems before I saw a glimmer of understanding in her face. It will probably take longer for to actually forgive me. I learnt a powerful lesson ... come between a gardener and her treasured tomato plant at your own peril!

The Trouble with Tomatoes

Well, you know my thoughts on tomatoes if you have read any of my earlier postings on the subject.

Miguel, who arrived from Cental America, approaches growing tomatoes as the weeds they are in his tropical world and as I did when I first migrated from Trinidad.
He loves his tomato plants ....

He wisely kept them covered with a plastic sheet in the cooler, earlier months. I really like his support system ... a grid of interlocking bamboo posts. He planted many
tomato plants and close together. It reminded of the culture we come from, where we create from what we have before thinking of making a ready made purchase. An attitude that fosters ingenuity.

Cultural Sharing ....

These Grow Project sessions have been interesting on more than one level. I also enjoy the cultural exchanges that start our day. Our participants are from different parts of the world ... the Philipines, Japan, Cuba and Guatemala.

We start with a little refreshment ... Emiko brought a special Japanese snack and tea to share which results in interesting conversations around food from our different cultures.

Emiko was also very proud of the "kabu" turnips she grew and shared the best way to eat a fresh kabu is sliced thinly with a sprinkling of salt, sugar and rice wine. She prepared it in this traditional fashion and brought it for us to sample ... Yum!

Our youngest member ... Emma

A couple of weeks ago, Emma, who is home on holidays, discovered the Grow Project happening every Friday morning in her complex. That week she helped us plant cucumber plants and carrot seeds. Since then she has joined us and participated in what ever we are doing.

I think she is very lucky to have this opportunity to learn all the various aspects of growing food ...

The Grow Project ...

One thing leads to the next, they say....

I was approached at the beginning of this season to start working with residents of a Coop Housing. This complex has an ideal situation. A large central court yard with raised boxes. The boxes were cleaned up and new growing medium installed and then I began working with a few interested residents and committed volunteers already involved with an ongoing cooking program happening through the communal kitchen.

The Grow Project actually grew out of the Cooking Program with the intention of both growing organic veggies for this project and to support and share learning with residents who would like to grow food for themselves.

Despite the surrounding buildings blocking direct sunshine for much of the day many of the varieties we grew have flourished.

Our first harvest for the Community Kitchen. The volunteers look quite proud of the results.

Time to Catch Up ...

My last entry was November of 2010, so you be justified in thinking I had packed it all in ... not so ... I have been very busy ... just in different ways.

My Balcony Garden has moved next door to my neighbour, Craig as my balcony has been under repair for the last month ... summer maintenance in a town house. So not much happening there this year.

However, I am still doing Urban Agriculture through RUF (check the RUF Blog on the front page). I am still learning lots though the Sharing Farm where I manage the greenhouses and work with the volunteers.
This is the second year of growing food through South Arm Community Centre with teenage volunteers. This year, 2011 we started a new Urban Agriculture program called the Grow Project in a Coop Housing Complex.

So there is lots to share, both through the Richmond Urban Farmers (RUF) Blog and the Balcony Gardening Blog. which I will use for now for all my other activities. I will be updating both as I have the time ....