Archive for December 2009

Under the Wire

I just made it! One of my goals this year was to get on board the social networking bandwagon. I joined linkedin several months ago, and this week I created a "fan page" on Facebook. Whoo-hoo! Click on the link in the right hand column of this blog anytime you want to visit (you needn't be a Facebook member to view my fan page.)

The great thing about this new resource site is the events page. Go there to see all of the details about my speaking engagements: full event description, fee (if any) address, time, and links to the organization that's sponsoring me. I hope you'll find it helpful.

My goal for 2010? Work it, baby!

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Want to get Away?

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When I pulled out some of our shovels and spades the other day to illustrate this post, I was horrified to see that most of them had been put away dirty, smeared with mud or caked on soil. How embarrassing--- please don't tell!
As soon as our photo shoot was completed (my model was in a hurry to get back to the job) I grabbed a rag, some steel wool, and mineral spirits. After wiping off the worst of the grime, I scrubbed off the blade and shaft with with steel wool, hoping to remove any bits of rust. This particular shovel had been recently sharpened, so I didn't need to take the file to it, but a few of the others got a quick once-over.
Next came a thorough wipe-down with mineral oil to both the metal areas and the wood handles. Whew! I feel so much better knowing that our tools are now in good shape while they "rest up" for gardening season.

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Holiday Reading

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This break is turning out to be a great time to catch up on some reading and gather up more inspiration for being a part of Vancouver's urban agriculture movement.

Here are a few good sites for those interested:

1) The Tyee's summer series on urban agriculture in BC - here

2) City Farmer's new News Blog for more international stories - here

Have a safe and happy end to 2009. We hope you have a lovely time welcoming in the New Year and that it is filled with great new resolutions, like growing local.

- Marnie

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A Whole New World

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Have you gone LED yet? I bought new LED lights this year, lured by the safety factor, mainly. We always get a live tree, and like to keep it up for 2-3 weeks. No matter how diligent I am with the watering, the tree is usually pretty crispy by the time I'm ready to give it the heave-ho. The heat given off by the old incandescent lights always had me a bit worried, but what's a Christmas tree without the lights?

My favorite discount store (kinda rhymes with Margaret) offered both cool white and warm white colored lights to choose from. I brought home the cool whites, but returned them after one strand was up---they really looked blue, which I didn't want. The warm lights are what you see in the (sorry so blurry) photo above. They are startlingly bright, without the warm, candle-light glow of the old incandescent lights, and I'm not too thrilled about that.

The good news is that the brighter lights allowed me to use less strands (5 on a 6' tree), they are totally cool to the touch, even after being on for hours and, of course, they use much less energy and will be less expensive to run. So despite the aesthetic drawbacks, I'll continue to plod forward into the new world of LED lights.

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Gifting Part 3

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Are you headed to the garden center this weekend to do a bit of shopping? Well, if a shovel is on your favorite gardener's with list, then read on...I invited Jim to share some tips on selecting a well made shovel that's designed for the job at hand:

Serious diggers and gardeners need good tools to do a good job. My expertise is in purchasing, using, and repairing digging implements [nearly 40 years in the nursery/landscape/garden business]. I look for solid shanks, forged steel, and flexible wooden handles. In addition, I use the right shape for a particular job

A square point shovel (above) is used for scooping loose soil, sand, or gravel off of a flat surface. A round point shovel is good for digging if the blade is relatively straight (below), but use one with a more angled blade for excavating, lifting, or moving soil.
A tile spade (below) has a long, flat, narrow blade for digging straight down.
Trenching shovels and scoop shovels are used less often but are labor saving when needed.

Snoop around or ask your gift recipient what they really want. Avoid purchasing stainless steel or brightly painted shovels, they are basically for show not work. Also avoid purchasing too large a shovel. Size the tool to the operator. A well made shovel is a joy for a lifetime.

This short handled English garden spade (and a matching fork) were gifts from Jim one Christmas about 25 years ago. The shorter handle and blade makes it ideal for using in raised beds or in tight quarters (ie. lets see if I can shoehorn just one more plant in this bed!)
In this photo Jim is holding our favorite shovels. Can you tell which one is mine? I had to paint the handle pink because it kept "wandering off" to Jim's job sites. Another gift from my favorite gardener, this one was for my 23rd birthday (you do the math!.)

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Happy Holidays

As you wind down for the upcoming holiday season the idea of building an organic food garden might be far from your thoughts. Not here at SPEC!

Our School Gardens Coordinator, Catriona Gordon and our School Gardens Facilitator, Marnie Newell, have been busy attending meetings, doing research and gathering resources to help 4 Vancouver Elementary Schools start their gardens in the spring.

It’s amazing what can go into the process when you’re trying to do things right!

We’ve been discussing garden plans/dreams with incredible teams of passionate people at all of our participating schools. But our goal is to start building the physical infrastructure for our garden as soon as the ground has thawed. This means deciding on the design and materials for garden boxes and raised beds, which are the best options for school gardens (the little guys don’t compact the soil by walking on the beds).

Our teams are learning more and more about what needs to go into a garden to make it successful. Perhaps the most important words here are “teamwork” and “staying power”. Many gardens have been built on school grounds only to be torn down soon after because they fell apart or their creators left them and no one kept them up. This is what we’re working to avoid right now. Schools interested in building a garden should establish a Garden Committee with teachers, parents, students, administrators and the community involved. The more individuals who are ready to commit to the garden’s continued success the better. When the project is a whole school and even a whole community initiative more people become invested in its success and ready to offer their expertise or even supplies to help it thrive and grow.

What has been absolutely inspiring in our experience so far is how many people believe in this work and are ready to donate their time and skills to make it the best it can be. The wealth of resources provided by the internet and other agriculture-related organizations is also astounding.

Keep an eye on this blog to learn more about this work. Updates, insights on school garden design and links to resources are on their way shortly.

posted by Marnie

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Gifting Part 2

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Two words, folks: gift certificate! This is another easy out as far as shopping goes. Click on a web site, make a phone call, or write up your own special card. Here are a few ideas to ponder:

  1. A gift certificate to a nursery or garden center. Need plants, gloves, pots, soil amendments, books, hats, sprinklers, mulch, stepping stones…..? You get the picture. Whether you know someone who loves to garden, or is just starting out, they will enjoy picking out exactly what they need (or maybe just fancy) from a large array of products.
  2. A gift certificate for a gardening class. Pick up a course catalog from your local community college, rec center, or botanic garden and wrap it up with a “you choose, I pay” card. If you can include an offer to watch the kids or get dinner on class days you will earn big, big bonus points!
  3. A gift certificate for professional services. Consider things like a design consultation (yes, I have done this several times for people, and it’s great fun), delivery and tilling of compost, pruning services by a certified arborist, having a stone patio or deck installed, an irrigation system upgrade, lawn service for a year, etc.
  4. A gift certificate for your own time. A book of 10 (or more!) I.O.U. tickets for an hour of weeding. How about a promissory note to spread a load of mulch, till the veggie garden, or fertilize the water lilies (on schedule, all summer!), etc. You get the picture.
  5. A gift certificate for a garden vacation. Feeling really flush? Perhaps your favorite gardener would love to take a tour of the gardens of Italy or France (these things exist!). Who wouldn’t want to go to the Chelsea Flower Show in England, or see the springtime tulip displays in the Netherlands? Closer to home, a visit to the Northwest Flower &Garden Show in Seattle is a real treat.

Have fun dreaming up the perfect gift certificate for your gardener!

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Winter greetings from City Square!

Here are some images from our last meeting of the year, Dec. 7th.

Our beautiful new sign, created by SPEC volunteers Marcie and Carmen. Thanks so much for your contribution!

Broccoli and Brussel Sprouts still going strong, we look forward to harvesting these in the next couple months!

mmm, already looking delicious...

These were the oats we had planted in September, the most successful of the cover crops we planted. Once turned in, they will help to build the complexity of the soil.

Our gardener Beng, with a celery - harvested in December! Only in Vancouver....

Also parsnips! Although dirty, they are beautiful (and tasty!) A highly recommended crop for winter gardening.

This is one of the many marigolds we planted as a companion to tomatoes and other crops. Now that they have finished their life cycle we can harvest the seeds from the pods for next year.

Just open the dried pods, remove the seeds, and put in an envelope for future use. No need to spend $ on expensive bedding plants.

Our next meeting is Sunday, January 17th at 10am.

Seed catalogues are in, which means soon we will begin planning for next season. Let the fun begin!

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The bitter cold and snow we’re experiencing right now has me thinking about (and wishing for!) warmer days in the garden. Since gift giving time is right around the corner, I thought I’d offer up some ideas. You may have a loved one that would appreciate a gardening related offering, or you may see some ideas to add to your own wish list!

Today I’ll present a few ideas that you may be able to acquire on-line or with a quick phone call---no braving the cold necessary!

  1. A subscription to a magazine. A great gardening magazine is educational, inspirational and entertaining. There are many fine how-to publications out there such as Fine Gardening, Horticulture, and Organic Gardening that are chock-full of great information. Some regional home and garden magazines do a good job, too. I especially like Sunset for the western US. However, two of my favorite occasional splurges are Garden Design and Gardens Illustrated. Garden Design is pure eye-candy with lots of outdoor, and outdoor themed, living products and (mostly) estate type gardens featured. Gardens Illustrated is from Great Britain and is a refreshing and beautiful take on European style gardening. I love browsing the ads, reading the copy (often quite informative if not applicable to my region of the world), and drooling over the beautiful photos. Single copies of all of these magazines are available at larger newsstands, like Barns & Noble, and would make great stocking stuffers.

  1. A membership to a botanical garden or arboretum. Nothing beats the opportunity to see mature plants in a naturalized setting, something the garden center can’t always offer. These organizations often offer classes, docent tours, lectures, concerts, and volunteer opportunities as well. A membership is a gift that can be enjoyed all year, and keeps your gardener in touch with the seasons. Here’s the link to Denver Botanic Gardens.

  1. A membership to American Horticultural Society. This organization was never on my radar; like many things in the horticultural "establishment," it is located in the eastern US and I never thought it could have much relevance for me either personally or professionally. However, I decided to join up about two years ago and have been very pleased with the return on my $35.00 annual dues. Their website is fantastic, but I especially like their magazine. The articles cover all aspects of horticulture, including landscape design, and are well written and with enough detail (though not textbook-like snooze inducing) to make them a cut-above your grocery store variety publication. The most recent issue included “America’s Evergreen Hollies,” “Gardens for Recovery,” and a profile of American plantsman Allen Bush, among other things. As a landscape professional for nearly 30 years now, it was refreshing to find a new resource and a fresh perspective on gardening!

I hope this gift idea list gives you a few ideas to consider. More to come!

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Eeeeek a Mouse!

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So the other evening I'm looking out my office window and notice a little mouse feasting on the crumbs beneath the bird feeder. He scurries around, popping down one hole in the snow and back out another. Before long, there's a second one! They're having a great time, running over and under the snow in --pretty much--broad daylight.
Before I know it, one of the mice has climbed right up the side of the house and onto the window ledge and is peeking inside.
"Wanna come out and play?"
"Thanks, but no."

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