Monday, 26 September 2016

Hot Summer Days at Thistletown

Well, I can't really avoid talking about it so I'll start with the obvious topic this summer: IT WAS HOT!! And dry. Thankfully, we have a drip-irrigation system at Thistletown. Unfortunately, I'm sure we used a tonne of water over the summer  (note: I do not know the precise amount; I don't think a tonne is accurate). Drip irrigation cuts down on water use but given the long periods without rain and how often we ran the system, it had to have been a substantial amount. On a positive note, many of the plants loved the heat, since they had a steady supply of water. So many peppers and eggplants!

Let's rewind a little bit though. We'll go back to the beginning of July when our Focus of Youth Toronto (FOYT) students started working at the garden. The first few weeks after school let out also saw a number of other students coming to the garden to get community service hours. Although we had fewer FOYT students working at the garden than last season (just Dharmik and Ahsif, who added a lot of fun, jokes, and interesting conversation -- oh, and some hard work -- to the garden this summer ;), there were a number of very appreciated helping hands throughout the month. The heat slowed us down, I'm sure, but don't think that stopped us from weeding. I have to admit, though, the compost system got some special attention this summer -- possibly because of it's desirable location in the shade. Ahsif made sure we were chopping materials well, giving it water when it was dry and checking the temperature regularly.

Students volunteers, Diya and Leke, on market day -- happy not to be working in the heat! 

 Dharmik poses with the veggies and berries

 Community volunteer, Sarah, helps with the cauliflower harvest

Ahsif, hard at work mulching the garden


Among some of the highlights while working with Ahsif and Dharmik this summer were The Great Garlic Harvest of 2016 (I know, I know, we didn't call it that at the time); making sauerkraut with fellow FOYT students from PACT's John Polanyi Collegiate garden; market days; and our end-of-FOYT party, again with our friends at the JPCI garden and Laura, our awesome garden manager at Elmbank Junior Middle School.

 Proud Ahsif and young Dharmik showcase our impressive garlic harvest

 Okay, I'm sorry I made you pose for these pictures... wait, no I'm not!! :)

 Mid-July market

Making sauerkraut: Agata, one of  JPCI's garden managers, leads us towards delicious fermented goodness


Throughout July and into August, we had a number of other regular visitors and volunteers at the TCI garden who need some shout-outs! We continued to make weekly donations to both the Rexdale Alliance Church foodbank, and Braeburn Neighbourhood Place foodbank. Getting produce to Braeburn became much easier after Dan, a local friend of the garden and instructor of industrial deisgn at Humber College, brought over the completed bike trailer. Thanks Dan! His great design is low-cost, and very light. 

Laura, garden manager at PACT's Elmbank garden was also a regular face at the garden for a number of weeks this summer. She came by on Thursdays to help us with harvesting, weeding, cleaning garlic, and any number of other tasks that helped us and the garden become even more productive. Thanks Laura!  

We also had regular visits from Prince, the mental health and addictions nurse at TCI, and his colleagues, Jodi and Monica. We spent some Friday afternoons doing fun workshops with them and any other students who were at the garden that day. And of course, we did some work at the same time -- usually their favourite garden activity, compost chopping. Thank you Prince, Jodi and Monica!

Of course, we can't forget our dedicated garden volunteers. Thank you to EVERYONE who contributed over the summer! One of our most regular student volunteers was Tommy, who came by even on some of the hottest days. I think he might be close to finishing his 40 hours of community service by now! Sarah is one of the garden's most regular community volunteers and she has seen so many aspects of the garden this season, and shared many of her experiences of learning and healing in the garden. 

Our compost program got underway this summer as well. So far, a few community members have been coming by with their food scraps for our compost. In exchange, they get 'garden bucks' to use at our weekly market. It has been a good start to the program and we hope to get more people involved this season and next! 

 The huge tomato harvests of late August; plus, sauerkraut jarred and ready for sale!

 Sarah poses with the corn -- it's getting so tall!

 No, it's not a pumpkin. It's a huge Yellow Brandywine tomato!!

 The garden started filling up with sunflowers
The beginning of our beautiful, bountiful eggplant harvests


That was the summer, but there's still the fall! School will be back in session, we'll harvest even more, and ready the garden for it's winter sleep. But to wrap up our summer update, here is a reflection on the garden by Ahsif, one of the TCI garden's summer students. 

It’s been my pleasure over the the past two summers to be working at the Thistletown Garden and to be apart of it’s amazing growth. Within this time, I have learned how to maintain plants, trees, soil, compost, and the overall landscape of our garden. In order for the garden to remain healthy and fruitful watering, weeding, trimming and other chores are tasks that need almost daily commitment. There is never a day where something can’t be done to improve our garden. Ironically, even things that have died and made into compost require the same amount of attention in order to create successful compost bins. It’s this constant message of “you get what you give” that surrounds the garden like an aura.

A successful garden requires many hours of many days, and many days of many months in order to be as beautiful and well maintained as it can be. Most evident of this was this summer in the condition of our compost bins. They were inactive, at the beginning of our placement, but as a group we managed to bring heat activity back to the compost as it continues to decompose into soil. This took a few weeks to do as much time was spent watering, cutting-up compost, adding compost, and shoveling compost had to be spent to get our compost bins literally hot. Many groans, grunts, and muscle aches later, this goal was achieved and we finally have fantastic compost bins that were active and heating up! It’s really crazy when you feel the warmth of compost too; who would’ve thought that heaping pile of stinky kitchen scraps and pesky weeds would be in the process of becoming something so essential for plant life? Still boggles my mind even after my second summer of working how nature works in such awesome and efficient ways.

I think this effort of hard work and time to maintain the garden project should be something we all use to treat ourselves as individuals. Being healthy and being happy are goals that everyone should strive for. Spending time on the field, watering, harvesting, cleaning, trimming, weeding, lifting and carrying things, and, reanimating ‘dead’ compost bins, with Clara, Dharmik, the other PACT workers and the volunteers showed me that with time, and effort, seemingly difficult goals are achievable as long as you work with others and never give up your goals.

This past summer working with PACT also gave me the opportunity to make new friends and see old friends too! It’s been quite a stressful summer for me as University is right around the corner and to be surrounded by funny, open and interesting people took the edge off for me and really made this summer a summer to remember. The day at John Polanyi’s awesome garden was some of the most fun I’ve had in quite a while! The food was great, the garden was beautiful, and it was great to see the friends I have gained over the past two summers again.

Overall, this summer, although very hot and humid, felt really well spent with PACT. I’ll miss our weird conversations, the volunteers I have met while working (all of whom were very helpful), the John Polanyi group, Laura from Elmbank, Dharmik, and Clara. All of you made my summer special.

Butterfly lands on Echinacea flower -- does anyone know what kind of butterfly this is? Let me know if you do!



Sunday, 21 August 2016

Seasons at JPCI

A New Season in the Garden

When off to a snowy start it is  always amazing to see how the garden transforms throughout the year. We are going to take you on a journey through our spring and summer season that has been our most productive and rewarding yet. We have been donating more vegetables, diverting more waste, educating more students, coordinating more volunteers, working with more community members, and running more community markets then ever before. 
Snowy Beginnings 

First things first

Spring is a time or renewal in the garden everything and everyone is thawing out and collecting the suns first strong rays. Garlic is usually one of the first things up, breaking through its twelve inch thick blanket of fall straw and leaves. Spring is usually our busiest time of the season, We are flipping and sifting large compost piles so we can have perfect garden beds to greet the first seeds and transplants of the season. We practice a lot of permaculture and small scale organic farming practices not only for educational purposes but because we also produce a ton of food (over 16,000 pounds) for a ton of people and this involves timing, planning, and teamwork.
Garlic and the Lawrence Heights/Kensington Market Car 
Straw helps keep all the weeds at bay.
The new 1/4 acre plot we opened up is made out of specially designed water retention raised beds.
Community volunteer with the first daffodils 

Fibonacci herb spiral starting to wake up 
Weed salad made from tender spring dandelion greens wild violets an over wintered onion and mango (even though we are asked all the time sadly we cant grow mangoes here)
Cabbages, Kale, and Mustard's are all hiding under row cover. The floating white fabric is an organic farmers best friend. It allows water, air and sunlight to the plant but keeps out all insects. They also help retain heat for earlier plantings. 




Prepared garden beds in our south plot  and a beautiful flowering Saskatoon berry tree.
Removing dandelions from bed edges. Dandelions' long roots capture and bring deep hiding nutrients to the surface and ariate the soil. Dandelions are also a first food source for overwintered bees. Do not worry though we left plenty for the bees and composted anything we harvested to more effectively trap and store nutrients. 
First red mustard's growing!

Education is Key 

Our gardens exist first and foremost to educate. There is a wealth of information and experiences to be shared by community members in diverse neighborhoods through Toronto. Every community market, meal shared, and interaction brings a wealth of new knowledge and experience to the garden. We are constantly pushing ourselves to get more schools, more teachers, and more community members involved. Over the winter we created a unique and flexible garden curriculum that can be modified and tailored to different age groups, learning needs, and teacher specific lesson needs. This has allowed us to reach out and work with schools and organizations all throughout the GTA. The continuity of our programming and our connections to local primary, middle, and secondary schools allows students to have a connected continuing outdoor education in every grade and every school.   


Students shifting castings so they can make there own vermicompost bins for the classroom.

Our resident hens love the spring sunshine

 Community Compost and Markets

After an extremely successful trial last season our food scraps for vegetable program is running all season. Community members bring us their sorted kitchen scraps in exchange for market dollars which they can use at our PWYC biweekly farmers markets. We have diverted tons of food waste from the garbage, have been able to provide much needed fresh vegetables in a dignified way to our community, and brought together different Toronto residents from all over to share stories, food, and laughter.
Aga stiring a large pot of soup on our rocket stove

Volunteers helping to prepare and setup for market
What a beautiful space to get together share food and stories
preparing pizzas for the market 

Sayara helping with the first sale of the day

Making Kraut

Every year with student workers and volunteers we make a ton of beautiful traditional salt fermented sauerkraut for our markets. Learning how to prepare and cook with fresh vegetables is as important as learning how to grow and harvest them.  Close to 700 pounds of cabbage gets processed and fermented. Harvesting, prepping, fermenting, and marketing skills are taught throughout the process. We explore fermentation throughout the world and learn how connected we are to food, land, and bacteria. 
Our favorite heirloom cabbage for making Kraut

Making Kraut!

Beautiful cabbages companion planted with onions and dill which will all get processed into the same jar. Kraut specific garden beds! 

Finished Kraut at the farmers market, juniper apple sage, curtido, and dill galic

Persistence and Beauty 

This is the gardens sixth full season. No one would have imagined it would it be what it has grown into. A haven for insects, bees, and butterflies; a migration stopping point for hundreds of birds; an oasis for the community, and a beautiful safe space. The persistence of many individuals dreams and handwork is what has allowed the garden to flourish. Each flower bloomed and every pound of food harvested is because of a shovel lifted, a bead of sweat dropped, and a dream realized. The garden will have produced over 60,000 pounds of food after this season.  We are so excited to see what the rest of the summer and the fall has to bring!

A mix of herbs, native perennials, and vegetables 

North side beds full of cabbage and kale




The Fibonacci herb spiral has really come to life

One of our reclaimed log sitting beds 

mint, sage, and lavender 


The new 1/4 acre expansion is full of peppers eggplants, tomatoes, and zucchinis 

New bench seating was build and installed all throughout the garden


Swiss Chard inter-sown with onions

More Kale, our staple


Garlic braided and drying 







Farmers Markets 

This is our fourth year selling at the Downtown Souraren Farmers Market. We are extremely proud of the beautiful produce we are able to bring every week. It is a great opportunity for students to learn the business component of farming. Weekly markets allow them to refine setup, harvest schedules, inventory amounts and make connections for job opportunities. Supplying super local, nutrient dense, organic vegetables is a very rewarding experience for everyone!