A closer look

Here’s a closer look at some of my jungle:

Red morning glories screen the roof of the revue theatre next door, and stop the wind from blasting across the deck.

Along the south-east corner of the deck, a nice crop of jalapeno peppers, red peppers and eggplant (not shown), and a bright mixture of nasturtiums. They’re doing extremely well, dying back when the weather get hot, and then perking right back up again when it turns cool.

Speaking of peppers, my neighbour gave me two “Scotch Bonnet” hot peppers plants. His mother brought them over for him from Trinidad, but he thought I could give them a much better home than he could.  After an iffy start (I didn’t plant them immediately and they spent a day exposed to the hot sun in a little plastic bag) they now seem to be established in their new home. My neighbour tells me that Scotch Bonnet peppers are about as hot as peppers can get.

The old rose seedling that I collected from that old pioneer graveyard in Burlington has done very well this year, lots of new growth and no sign of disease. No sign of flowers either, but it’s still a young’un. I’m fretting a bit over what to do with this rose over the winter, because I don’t think it will survive in the container — the roots will freeze solid. I may ask my friend Deb if I can plant it in her backyard this fall, and dig it back up again in the spring.

My Staghorn Fern has loved it’s summer holiday outdoors, and has rewarded me with lots of new growth. It has more than doubled in size over the last couple of months. The fairies are dressed up, I figure the tiara and magic wand look better on her than on me. The racoon likes to knock the magic wand out of the Queen Fairy’s hand almost every night, and the fairies STILL haven’t turned him into a toad. There are two little plants sitting in the water, both gifts from my friends Atilla and Anne. I can’t remember what they’re called (some kind of plant-of-the-year some time back, according to my friends), but after a visit to a nursery I learned that they are bog plants, so I wrapped their roots and a bit of soil in an old nylon stocking and stuck them in. They are much happier now.

IMG_0644Finally, a picture of the racoon fortifications around my orchid stand. I wrapped what’s left of the tattered cover over top of the chicken wire each night. I have the satisfaction of knowing that I am finally frustrating the old fatso, because each morning there’s a big dent in the top of the chicken wire where he’s tried in vain to break through.

Gardening on the balcony

I spent the day working on the deck — it was cool outside, but pleasant in the sun. I filled all of the containers, and more or less positioned them for best effect and sun/wind exposure. One whole side of the deck — the side facing the roof of the Revue and the rooftop equipment and ductwork — will one day soon be a wall of sweet peas and red morning glories. I planted snap peas a couple of weeks ago, and they’re just starting to peek out. The spinach has germinated, so I threw another handful of seeds in so that I’ll have a fairly continuous harvest and won’t have to eat it all at once. I also bought a couple of herbs, the kind that don’t mind cooler weather (I hope) — lavender, tarragon, thyme, oregano, and tucked in some cute violas, or Johnny Jump-Ups, around them. They were a favourite of mine when I was a kid, but I only remember purple ones. Nowadays there’s an amazing choice of colours. I also laid down some basil seed and laid a clear plastic cover over top, since this is an herb that demands warmth. It’s still a bit early….but I couldn’t resist.

I also dug up a climbing rose-bush and clematis from my old garden downstairs, and dragged them up to the deck, just for the hang of it. I don’t know if they’ll appreciate their new accommodations, but they’ll be trampled if I leave them where they are. I got a bit of a twinge while digging, a longing for a real garden of my own close to the earth. One day. For now, I have every reason to be thankful for this wonderful deck. A vast improvement from last year.

The hardest part was leaving some of the containers empty. It’s still a bit too early, a bit too cold at night. No, I take that part. The hardest part is deciding what to put in which container, weighing the future possibilities of warmer weather. A couple more weeks, and the choices will expand….

Over the last few weeks

Over the last few weeks I’ve been plotting my deck garden, researching my options and acquiring an eclectic collection of containers. As you may have read in one of my earlier posts, I’ve dabbled with the idea of making my own high-tech self-watering containers. I’ve wandered the aisles of Home Depot, trying to figure out what I’d need to do the job. I bought six very large plastic bins, perfect candidates for the high-yield, low maintenance contraptions I envisioned making. Then one night I let my very practical friend, Marian, in on my home-made container fantasies. She gave me that sideways “look”. You know, the “look”. The “you’re not really going to do that, are you?” look. She burst my bubble with a few well chosen, devastatingly practical words:

“Good grief Sandy…forget that. I’LL come over and water your plants when you’re away.”

So easy. Suddenly, building high-tech high-yield self-watering organic containers just seemed like way too much work.

Meanwhile, bags of planting medium (soil-less mix), manure, and organic topsoil have been piling up beside the stacked bins in a corner of the deck. Assorted wooden vegetable boxes and bushel baskets have been stacking up beside them, pilfered from the corner green grocer’s garbage. The “found” containers weren’t exactly ready for prime time planting when I brought them home, so over the past week I bought construction grade garbage bags from the hardware store, cut them to fit and stapled them inside to line the boxes and baskets and hold in the soil. Finally, I poked small holes in the bottom for water to run through to create found objets that are fully modified for a second life as very interesting plant pots. Not as interesting as my friend Meegan’s idea of planting flowers in old cowboy boots, but not bad nonetheless. I’ve acquired a pile of seed packets, and I’m ready to go. Except for one thing. I couldn’t figure out what to put in the bottom of these voluminous as well as numerous containers for drainage. It would take an awful lot of smashed clay pots. I immediately rejected the idea of lugging bags of gravel or stones up two flights of stairs. So I turned to the internet, and the wise folks on the Garden Web forums didn’t let me down. They suggested styrofoam peanuts, the kind that are the scourge of the shipping and packing industry. The kind that are actually made of styrofoam, not starch — which would dissolve into a gooey mess at the bottom of a wet pot.

So I went on a hunt for styrofoam peanuts. A treasure hunt, as it turned out, because it took many visits to many stores to finally track some down at a shipping service at the corner of Adelaide and University. Tonight after work I lured the long-suffering Laird downtown with the car, and he waited patiently for me outside the store while horns blared all around him. Meanwhile, inside the store, I paced anxiously while the store clerk very methodically and slowly filled one bag after another with peanuts. Seven bags, in total.

Once I got them home and up on the deck, I had everything I needed to start filling the containers. I had the containers, many containers; I had the peanuts for drainage at the bottom of the containers; I had landscape fabric to add as a layer between the peanuts and the soil; I had the soil; and I had chicken wire to lay on top of the soil so that my darling cat doesn’t turn my vegetable garden into a giant kitty litterbox. How could I not start work immediately???? The only problem was that a gale was in progress, with gusts of wind that sent planters toppling over, and peanuts flying. I would not be deterred. An hour and many missing peanuts later, I finished putting together the first four containers complete with plantings of peas, carrots and spinach seeds, and some straggly looking dwarf nasturtiums that I had started way too early indoors. By the time I was finished I was covered in a fine layer of dirt from head to toe, thanks to my attempts to transfer soil-less mix from bags to containers in the middle of a windstorm.
A satisfying evening, all round. Winter is finally over, let the gardening begin!

World’s Greatest Landlord

Last fall my kindly Italian landlord built us a huge deck off our back mudroom. He and his elderly uncle appeared one day unannounced with tools and supplies, and started building. The weather turned cold and after I got over my astonishment that a landlord would actually volunteer to do something like this, I kept them plied with coffee and hot chocolate to try to keep them warm, keep them working. Every day they would break for lunch, huddling on the back stairs with their brown-bag lunches and bottle of home-made red wine, refusing my offers (pleas, really) to come inside and sit in the warm kitchen, at the table. They shook their heads, pointing at their dirty clothes. I shook my head in wonder at their old world manners.
Highly unusual and suspicious behaviour for a landlord. Not least because he didn’t jack up our rent.

Today, looking out at a winter’s worth of detritus on this magnificent new deck, I started laying plans for a container garden. But first, I ran a mental inventory of current conditions. In the centre lay four big bags of recyclable bottles and cans, and three bags of wet newspapers and cardboard. We missed several recycling pick-ups this winter…all of them, actually. The snow piled up, and it didn’t seem worth chopping them out from under the ice.

These were not the only things liberated by spring thaw. Dog poo. Yes, I confess. During those long stretches of 20 below weather, I sent Jake on to the deck and quickly closed the sliding door behind him. I couldn’t face standing at the back door in my pyjamas, calling for him and waiting while he reluctantly jogged back down the lane, and climbed every ice-caked steel stair one by agonizing one. Other gifts of the spring thaw: Wet cat litter, a neat pyramid where a racoon-nibbled garbage bag broke open. An old Christmas wreath. A kiddie pool, now full of leaves and brown water. Half rotted wet leaves, everywhere. A cooler with a broken lid, set aside for its container gardening possibilities.

I did say it’s a large deck? It won’t take long to clean. Then, the serious work of planning my garden begins. But first, I need containers….for my plants, for my plans. Containers that don’t cost a fortune (after all, it IS a rental apartment), but are big enough and deep enough to grow vegetables.

I turned to Garden Web for suggestions, and the container gardening forum. Jackpot!! (pardon the pun) Great ideas on how to build self-watering containers out of old buckets.
Now. Where do I find free (or cheap) 5 gallon buckets???