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Archive for September, 2011

My Volunteer Tomatoes

Who wouldn’t want volunteers?  When I was a kid on the farm, plants that grew up spontaneously from seeds that didn’t get harvested were called “volunteer” plants.  I always thought that this was a noble name for these plants.

Then I realized that these volunteers were usually unwanted and unusable. They were considered weeds.  I was disappointed that they weren’t given the respect their name implied.

But now I have my own garden, and when I put the fertilizer from my vermicomposter (composting using worms) on my garden, I sometimes find my own volunteers growing.

I welcome these plants and allow them to flourish.  Last year  I enjoyed a delicious squash this way.  This year I got one tomato plant and one pumpkin plant.

Both plants did well because they were planted in the midst of some rich vermicompost nutrients.  Also, the seeds were from the vegetables I got from FoodCycles, which ran a community supported agriculture (CSA) project last year.  Some of the vegetables they provided me were heirloom plants.

Heirloom plants are open-pollinated, genetically diverse, and not sterile.  Thus, the seeds that  managed to remain undigested by my worms, were productive and grew lush in my backyard.

In contrast, on the farm where I grew up, the seeds used were generally from first generation hybrids (F1). These seeds were from plants that were hand pollinated, and they were often sterile.  If a few seeds did manage to grow, they did not have the same characteristics as their offspring.

My volunteer  pumpkin plant this year grew so large, it spread out onto my back steps.  Since I don’t use the steps very often, I let it be.  When Halloween comes, I’ll have my very own free pumpkin to set out on my front porch. I give this volunteer the respect it’s due.

My Pumpkin Plant

Sources of Information on Heirloom Plants
Canadian Gardening:  Five Reasons to Grow Heirloom Plants
Seeds of Diversity http://www.seeds.ca/en.php
Information on Composting
Compost Council of  Canada  http://www.compost.org/

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Large Size Bin on Small Size Sidewalk

Normally my neighbourhood is very walkable. It’s one of the reasons I live here.  But then there are Tuesdays.

Tuesdays are garbage or recycling days on my street, when all those “monster” bins come out onto the sidewalk.

Now, I understand why the City introduced these bins (grey for garbage and blue for recycling) for better handling by the sanitation crew. But the City  should have considered that, when it comes to waste and recycling containers, one size does not fit all neighbourhoods.

The “monster” bins are great for streets with boulevards between the sidewalk and streets. On those streets, bins can be  placed out of the way of pedestrians; but on my street, the smallish sidewalks get taken over by the largeish bins.

But there are ways to overcome the problems — ways to reduce the conflict between waste and recycling bins and walkability.

Options for Placing Bins

Some front yards are better laid out for accommodating the bins that others.

Space for Bins in My Front Yard

Many yards have retaining walls beside the sidewalk, so those residents must put their bins on the sidewalk.  Other neighbours have a flat lawn or paved area in front where they can put the bins.

For example, my front yard has a flat area between the sidewalk and the retaining wall where I can stow my bins. This was how my house was when I bought it, so I can’t take credit for that foresight.

Other people on my street  have driveways they can put their bins on.  But sometimes, they put their bins on the sidewalk instead.

Other neighbours are more considerate. For instance, I noticed that one neighbour had put their bins at the front of the walkway to their house rather than on the public sidewalk.

The City’s Responsibility

No matter how considerate people are in placing their bins out of the way of pedestrians, it’s up to the sanitation crew to put them out of the way after they’re emptied.  This week, they were placed quite well — close to the edge of the sidewalk.  Sometimes, however, they are put smack dab in the middle of the walkway.  Then the sidewalk becomes impassable for those with walkers, wheelchairs,  strollers trundle buggies etc

My Grey Bin on the Sidewalk After Being  Emptied

Smaller is a Bit Less Ugly

Another way neighbours can take up less sidewalk space, is to create less garbage so that they can order a smaller grey bin from the City.  They’ll also save money, because a smaller bin costs less than a larger bin.

You can also get smaller recycling bins, although you are not charged for your recycling bins, no matter how large they are.

If a neighbour finds they don’t use their bin to full capacity, they can make a phone call to

have them switched to a smaller one.  Here’s a link to the City’s information about the bins.  http://www.toronto.ca/garbage/garbage.htms

Those who have small storage space for bins, but produce more waste than a smaller bin can contain, may ask the City for two smaller bins in place of a larger one. The city’s  web site says a staff person will inspect the property, but when I called to have this done and told them where I lived, they gave me two smaller ones, sight unseen.  They know that the huge bins are problematic for downtown neighbourhoods.

So those are my suggestions for reducing the conflict between the “monster” bins and pedestrians in my neighbourhood.  Sometimes there’s no way of getting around the problems, but with a little consideration by neighbours and City staff, the conflict can be reduced.

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Behold the glorious goldenrod!  It’s one of my favourite wildflowers. Yet to some it’s little more than a common allergy-causing weed.  I found out about this dislike of goldenrod the hard way.

My Goldenrod

I was living in a house with some friends. We decided to tear up the grass on our front lawn and make it into a diverse flower garden.  I was in charge of one side of the lawn, and I planted a variety of flowers.  Some I didn’t need to plant, including some small purple violets that bloomed spontaneously in the spring. Later on, I noticed a few stems of goldenrod sprouting up.

Where had they come from?  Perhaps they had been dormant in the soil underneath the grass for all these years.  Perhaps the seeds had blown in from a neighbouring garden, although I hadn’t noticed any goldenrod nearby.  My goldenrod grew tall and proud; it needed no watering, and no fertilizing.  I watched with anticipation for the golden flowers near the end of the summer.  They were just about to bloom when one day I came home and found they had been chopped down.  For some reason, a neighbour had cut off my flowers!

Obviously, my neighbour didn’t appreciate the virtues of these flowers.  But to me, three of their assets are that they are beautiful, easy to grow and, contrary to a commonly held belief, they are not guilty of causing allergies.

First of all, let’s explore the beauty of these plants.  The flowers bloom in the late summer early fall and are colourful, showy additions to gardens. You see them growing in meadows and roadsides throughout Ontario.  You may think they all look alike, but there are actually 125 species of goldenrod that are native to North America, and 30 of these are native to Ontario.

Goldenrod flowers are quite plentiful; however, a few species are rare in Ontario. The Houghton’s goldenrod, for example, grows at the tip of Bruce Peninsula and on Manitoulin Island. The few populations exist in very small areas of provincially rare habitats called alvars. These alvars are at risk from gravel pits, use of recreational vehicles and from invasive species – species of plants that crowd out others.

Another rare species of goldenrod is the Riddell’s Goldenrod. In Canada, populations are found in southern Manitoba and southwestern Ontario, where it is has been reported at 20 sites.

Ontario is at the northern limit of the species’ range, and so Riddell’s Goldenrod was probably never common here. The changing of prairie to farmland and urban areas may have caused the species to decrease.

For the most part, however, the sight of goldenrod brightening up a field, a meadow, a roadside, or a ditch is an expected part of Ontario’s fall delights.

Goldenrod are “short-day” plants, meaning that they begin to bloom after the long, hot days of summer are over, and the cooler temperatures and moisture has returned.  Because few species of plants are blooming in fall, many insects, such as beetles, butterflies, wasps, and bees, are attracted to the flowers.

Because goldenrod is native to Ontario —  that is the plants were not brought over from another country, but grew here before the early settlers arrived — it especially easy to grow.  They are accustomed to the amount of rainfall we get here, so they don’t need any watering.  Many types of goldenrod thrive in nutrient-poor soil, so don’t need to be fertilized.

You can grow them in areas of your garden that get full sun, or partial sun. If you’re lucky like me, you won’t even need to plant them.  As with a lot of plants, you may have to do a bit of control so they don’t spread to other parts of your garden.

Or to your neighbour’s garden, who, like my past neighbour, might not like the flower.  Perhaps my neighbour didn’t know that they are not guilty of causing allergies.  Too bad I didn’t have a sign like the one I saw one fall when I came across a lovely stand of goldenrod in someone’s front yard.  Accompanying the flowers was a colourful, weatherproof sign, just like you’d see on a nature interpretation trail.

The sign was there to educate neighbours and passersby  about the myth that goldenrod causes you to sneeze. I was thrilled to see that someone had made the effort to dispel the falsehood, and obviously the sign had worked. Unlike my goldenrod, which was unjustly beheaded, theirs was actually allowed to bloom.

Now I have my own garden, and welcome the goldenrod that has appeared in my front yard.  It’s now blooming beautifully, unhindered in its late summer glory. Perhaps the prejudice against goldenrod is being overcome.

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