Sunday, 6 July 2014

A June Walking Tour of Thistletown Schoolyard Garden (and Taking a Walk with Compost)

Perhaps you are one of the lucky people to have had the great opportunity to take a walking tour through the Thistletown Collegiate schoolyard garden this month.  There is definitely a lot to see and sample now that summer has arrived and the garden has exploded with life.

One of the greatly anticipated events of the summer is the ripening of the various fruits and berries growing at Thistletown.  A great bounty of delicious fruits have been produced this year, including red and black raspberries, cultivated and wild strawberries, black and white mulberries, and red and black currants.  The blackberries and pear and apple trees planted at Thistletown over the past two years are developing their first crops of fruits as well.  The dwarf plum tree planted last year is still too young to start producing fruit, but we look forward to a crop of purple plums next summer.  Earlier in the summer we posted about our attempts with germinating pawpaw tree seeds; unfortunately we are still waiting anxiously to see signs of activity.

These currants have ripened to an amazing red colour and are ready for harvesting.
Black currants are still developing their dark colour, but it won't be long before they are ready for harvest too!
 If you were out ambling around the Thistletown garden in June, you might have noticed others taking a walk in the garden at the same time. Lots of neighbours and school community members passed by on a stroll with their families and family pets to chat and have a glimpse of what has been growing at the Thistletown garden over the past month.  Other garden friends like cardinals, goldfinches, robins, sparrows, and grackles were also out and hanging around taking a walk (or a hop and a flit) in the garden as they searched for seeds and worms and insects to feast on.  And of course lots of creepy crawly creatures were out walking around, like the many-legged centipedes and pill bugs that love making the garden their home.

Wow! A bug's eye view of a crop of head lettuce growing up interplanted with shade-making sunflower plants.
More unusual folks spotted moving around in the garden, however, were the things getting around the garden without any legs.  Perhaps you might have spotted some onions taking a walk in TCI garden.

Wait...what???...Onions???...taking a walk???

Onions! That's right! Egyptian walking onions to be exact!  These amazing plants walk from place to place by growing small onion bulbs at the top of a tall central stalk (called top sets), which with maturity topple over onto the ground, develop new roots, and establish new plants in new locations.  At Thistletown the walking onions are just getting their summer 'walking legs' as the have quickly matured under the warm June sun, and are now drooping over and dropping their top sets back to the earth.  

But onions are not the only unusual things walking around in TCI garden.

Actually quite a few plants at Thistletown have been enjoying taking a stretch, including the strawberry plants.  From just a couple plants installed a few years ago, there are now two full beds of strawberries developed via above ground runners which set root and form new plants.

But an even stranger walking partner is the walking compost maturing and ripening in the Thistletown garden.

As with all of the PACT Grow to Learn gardens, the gardeners at Thistletown are committed to growing fruits and vegetables organically without the use of any non-organic pesticides or fertilizers, and therefore rely heavily on homemade compost to support the maintenance of healthy and productive vegetable plants by recycling nutrients and organic matter to improve soil health.  It is now common to see walking compost  heaps when out for a walk in the TCI garden.  TCI gardeners are working with the walking composting technique, in which alternating layers of high ratio carbon materials (e.g. cardboard) and high ratio nitrogen materials (e.g. garden weeds) are built up directly on top of existing garden beds to take advantage of organic matter decomposed and subsequently deposited during the composting process.  Then, in order to aerate and speed along the composting process, the compost heaps are flipped over from time to time, all along the garden bed from one location to another.  The walking compost technique helps to make composting easier and more efficient because all of the decomposition happens directly in the garden bed, exactly in the location where the nutrient recycling is needed most to benefit the maturing fruit and vegetable crops.

Whether legged or not, there have been lots of amazing things to observe via a walking tour of Thistletown Collegiate this June. You can check out some of the sights below, but you really should pass by to take in the sights, sounds, and scents! 

Swiss Chard (above) and kale (below). These crops are excellent vegetables for backyard gardeners because they can easily be grown from direct seeding in spring and produce a harvestable crop all growing season.

An excellent crop rotation plan for home gardeners is illustrated in part in the photos above and below.  This rotation included an early spring intercropped planting of lettuce and radish, replaced following June harvesting with corn, pole beans, and cucurbits.  

Cabbages can be intercropped with beets successfully, as seen here.  Whereas cabbages grow above ground and best with plentiful calcium, beet roots develop underground and do not require great quantities of calcium.  These beautiful cabbage plants are starting to form nice firm cabbage heads and will be ready to harvest in July. 

Calendula flowering, with swiss chard and lemon balm in the background.

Snow and snap peas ready for harvest! The peas were intercropped with borage and various heirloom tomato varieties.

Chamomile provides habitat and food for diverse insect populations, and makes a soothing herbal tea.
Many pollinator insects seem happy now that buckwheat planted in May is flowering.

In our May post, we included a photo of the beautiful foliage of common herb white yarrow.  Here it is again in June, in it's gorgeous flowering stage.

Last month we set up our vertical growing potato towers. We've now added more straw and soil around the plants growing inside the towers, and the plants are thriving!
The potatoes started in vertical planters last month are really growing well. 

June was undoubtedly a great month to take a walk around the Thistletown schoolyard garden, but there is no doubt that July is going to be incredible!

If you are interested in checking out the garden or volunteering to help with weeding, watering, planting, and harvesting, please feel welcome to email to arrange a time.

Hoping to see some of you soon!

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