Monday, September 17, 2007

Garden 101



My Riverdale property boasts a large variety of perennial flowers and decorative plants such as ferns, violets and lilies. It's a great place to be.

This year I decided to turn every available square foot over to the production of heirloom food crop varieties. The goal was to see how much food I could grow on my own property in the city. This represents year two of an ongoing experiment I've been carrying out, to test - on myself - to see how self reliant it's possible to be with limited resources of land and solar energy.

Below you can see the garden as it looked in April. This was my first real gardening day, when I organized the plots. I also celebrated with a solar cooked feast of polenta and grilled veggies. Here they are, cooking away on my parabolic solar bbq...they were tasty!


Alas - the veggies were not local at this time of year. In our temperate climate before the advent of fossil fueled agriculture, the early spring was often a time of meagre rations or near famine, as the food preserved from the previous season would be running short, stale or even rotten. The expansion of fossil fuelled agriculture - where we literally consume the energy from oil and gas in the form of fertilizer and mechanized power - ended famine for a couple hundred years, and enabled us to enjoy peppers and eggplants in April. Despite the fact that it's second nature to eat this way today, eating out of season veggies is a luxury born of a temporary fossil fuel feast.

As frequent readers and friends of mine know, we're on the edge of two earth shaking developments, both growing out of the interactions of human beings with the earth. The first is peak oil and gas, which arises out of the depletion of finite stocks of fossil fuels limited by geology. The second is climate change, which arises out of the limited ability of the atmosphere and oceans to act as a "sink" to absorb the additional carbon released by the burning of the fossil fuel resources.



We're about to go back to a way of living that is governed by limits: limited energy from renewables, limited food, limited ability to pollute our environment with wasteful emissions. Used to living in a world where natural limits have been suspended by a feast of seemingly limitless energy, I've found that most people are allergic to the true implications of scarcity. Dealing with it, other than as an abstract, unreal idea, is difficult, because it confronts some of our most cherished ideas about progress, and our imagined place at the centre of the universe.

Eating local, in season food, and better yet - growing it yourself and learning to enjoy it, is an empowering way of dealing with the unpleasant realities of scarcity.

My project is to get ready for a future of scarcity by living the change I want to see. I'm growing my own food, and cooking it with renewable energy. The goal isn't 100% off the grid independence - at least not yet. The goal is to define the limits of my dependence on larger systems for the energy I need to live. I'm defining those limits by testing them in life.

I divided my garden into six plots: a small plot at the front (barely 2 square feet) was devoted to herbs and some Chinese long beans.

Against the south side of the house Matt's Cherry Tomatoes self seeded from last year. This year I added Market More and Lemon Cucumbers. Last year the Matt's Cherry Tomato literally took over a 12' X 12 ' area, and passively cooled the house as it absorbed incoming solar energy before it could heat up my pad. Cool!


Here are the self seeded Matt's Cherry tomatoes in May. Right now they've taken over the house, and I can't eat them all. More photos soon....


Here's one of the delicious lemmon cucumbers I grew. I'll be posting more photos of these soon too.




In the third plot, also against the south side of the house on the east side, I planted various heirloom tomatoes, including White Queen, Green Zebra, (my fave!) Caspian Pink, June Flame, and Blondkopfchen - also self seeded from last year.

Plot # four features Bok Choi, Peppers, Romanesco Broccoli and Purple Carrots. Here you can see the carrots being germinated under a board. Bok Choi is in the foreground. Those ended up getting stir fried on the parabolic grill.


Plot # five is my salad bed, devoted to arugula, dandelion, Oak Leaf lettuce, spearmint, lemon mint and chocolate mint, radicchio, tarragon, perennial sage, thyme and sweet peas. Here's the bed in early may, when I'd just planted radicchio and Boston lettuce seedlings. Interestingly enough, the seedlings all got attacked by slugs, while the heirloom varieties I planted from seed seemed totally slug proof. More on that later.


In the final plot I attempted to grow the three "Sisters of Life" corn, squash and beans. The corn failed alas, as there was not enough sun on this plot. However the New England Pie Pumpkin worked out just fine, producing both fruit and edible flowers, while the Aztec runner beans are only now beginning to fruit in August / September.


Above you can see the gorgeous five fold symmetry of the pumpkin flower. Like many other flowers (Hollyhock, many tomato flowers) the pumpkin flower is shaped like a pentacle. This shape embodies the golden ratio (1.618033....to infinity) because the ratio of the length of the petal to the width of the whole flower is exactly this ratio. I'm a golden ratio geek, it's true.


Above, pumpkin flowers battered and deep fried - using only energy from the sun! I used a Bengali recipe for the batter, just some organic cornmeal (substituted for chickpea flour) egg and some hot chilies....it was so tasty.

I'll be detailing my project in subsequent posts. There has been little time to keep this blog updated over the summer due to visiting relatives, lots of solar energy projects and gardening.

More updates soon now that I've got more time.....

2 Comments:

Blogger Mary said...

Great article - it'd be great if we could all utilize our backyard space for veggies, our parking lots for greenhouses.

Have you considered creating/finding a solar heater for a greenhouse so that you could grow your veggies during the winter?

1:19 PM  
Blogger Annie Khan said...


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12:00 AM  

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