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!

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

New Eyes on a New Season at Thistletown CI Garden

Barren beds and emerging garlic in April
The start of this season at Thistletown was definitely a chilly one. As the new garden manager of this incredible space, I spent the first couple weeks of April getting a sense of the garden, and writing garden plans while waiting out the snow (remember that wild snowfall back in April?!). It's hard for me to believe that barren garden is the same one that is now, towards the end of June, burgeoning with life and colour!

Growing garlic and staked tomatoes in early June!
The second half of April was spent preparing the garden beds, doing first plantings and beginning to meet the welcoming staff and students at TCI. On sunny and milder days, community members began to stop by, either to welcome me to the garden, tell me about their connection to it, or simply have a garden chat.

By the beginning of May, the garden was beginning to take shape and I had made my first plantings of a variety of mustard greens, leaf lettuce and spinach. There were some solitary days but I soon began to get help from a dedicated community volunteer, as well as a number of TCI students who were taking an interest in getting their community hours in the garden. I was also seeing more and more of Chef Keith Hoare and the Culinary Program's staff and students, who were coming out to the garden in search of early spring perennials like chives, garden sorrel and lovage.

Oh-so-beautiful asparagus!

Garden beds, now prepped with compost

Being new to the garden, I was frequently discovering plants that were making themselves known as the spring progressed. I began to feel more and more excited about what this garden has to offer and appreciative of all the work that has gone into the Thistletown Garden in years' past. The number of perennials at this garden is amazing! -- including the great variety of fruit trees and berry bushes that were recently added to the space.

Apple blossoms
Perennials near the TCI 'riverbed'

"Three Sisters" sign, newly painted
Throughout May, I began to host classes in the garden, for work periods, and workshops including Carbon Cycles for grade 9 Science, Creative Writing in the Garden for grade 10 English, and Sign Painting with grade 9 Visual Arts. Mr. Simnor's grade 9 Science class began to make a weekly appearance in the garden to help with a variety of activities like planting tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, amending garden beds with compost, and of course... weeding! Thanks team!

Growing lettuce and rapini
I was soon making near-daily deliveries of salad and mustard greens to the TCI kitchen, and planning my first donation to the Rexdale Alliance Church foodbank. With the support of Dan, friend of the garden and faculty at the Humber College School of Construction Technology, we will have a bicycle trailer in order to make regular donations to Braeburn Neighbourhood Centre, another garden alley and foodbank in the community.

It been great to see the close connection with the Culinary Program continue throughout the spring. TCI Culinary Arts students participated in Toronto's Mac and Cheese Festival this year, using fresh chives from the garden in their award-winning dish.

The garden has really begun to flourish and show more and more beauty throughout June. We've been having great harvests of  tatsoi, mizuna and tokyo bekana (Asian greens), lettuce greens, southern giant mustard, rapini, radish, kale, chard, spinach, and strawberries, strawberries and more strawberries! On Friday, June 17th, we held our first market stand at the garden. It was amazing to share our work in the garden so far, and make some money which will go towards a new market tent -- helping to keep our produce even fresher on hot summer days!
Oooo check out that shiny spinach! 

The Southern Giant Mustard is spicy and delicious!

The cabbages are growing... watch out

First strawberry harvest!!! With awesome strawberry sign

It's been three months already but it feels like there's so much more to come! Our summer students with the Focus on Youth Toronto (FOYT) program will be starting the first week of July, our weekly market stands are ramping up as harvests increase, and we are starting our 'market bucks' program so community members can get produce in exchange for volunteering in the garden or bringing their home food waste to our compost system. With the garden now established and growing, there's (I hope?!?) time to think about more garden projects like establishing our permanent herb garden, continuing to expand and improve the compost system, and maintaining and strengthening connections to the local community. Here's to summer at Thistletown CI Garden!  

Garden Markets will run from the third Friday in June until the first Friday in October from 12 - 4pm (20 Fordwich Crescent)
*with exceptions of the following weeks, when it will be held on Thursday:
Thursday, June 30
Thursday, July 21
Thursday, August 25

The captivating borage flower :)