The Haven Community Garden

The Haven Community Garden in Barrhaven is one of the city’s newest community gardens. It’s beautifully situated on Via Chianti Grove off Longfields Drive, at the end of a row of townhouses and adjacent to two low-rise buildings. Residents of these new buildings gaze down upon 25 beds of lush green vegetables and fruits.

The idea of a community garden was first discussed last year, as the neighbourhood was taking shape, but it was not until this year that the idea took fruition. Residents worked with the landlord to secure a spot for the garden, and to sign up interested gardeners from the adjacent residences. The raised beds around the perimeter were completed at the end of May; the ground-level beds were finished by the first week of June. Despite the somewhat late start, the garden has flourished. The beds are filled with massive tomato plants that are heavily laden with fruit, as well as other favourites such as carrots, peppers, beans, and even fennel and bok choy

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What makes this project remarkable is that about 70% of the gardeners at the Haven Community Garden had never gardened before they acquired a plot this year. The response has been tremendously positive. The garden has been a true community effort that readily brought together individuals from various cultures and abilities to work towards the common goal of growing fresh, nutritious produce. Experienced gardeners help newcomers identify weeds, determine how many plants a bed can sustain, and ensure that produce is picked when it is ripe. Though it has been a hot and dry summer, there is always at least one person on hand to ensure that all of the beds are watered. And, when food is ready to be picked, it is often delightfully shared amongst family members and neighbours! One family, having only one strawberry plant, which produced only one strawberry, split it four ways so that each family member could have a taste!

This year, much of the effort was spent getting the infrastructure authorized and built. Next year, emphasis will be placed on organizing the gardens before they are planted, by divvying up seeds and seedlings, and providing more educational opportunities for new gardeners. Interest is growing, and if space can be obtained for additional beds, the garden organizers would love to see a kid’s garden, an herb garden, and a central community garden, in which seedlings could be started before being dispersed to individual plots. They would also like to invest in composters and water barrels, and more tools to make gardening tasks easier for everyone. The garden is open to members of the adjacent residences, but right now, all of the plots have been spoken for.

Mara Watson, one of the gardening coordinators, says that the main positive outcome of the garden is that it provided an opportunity for people to really get to know their neighbours. Individuals who do not otherwise share common interests – or a common language – still find the means to communicate about their plants. It is also a fundamental source of joy for the community. She relayed one story of a new gardener who lovingly photographs her plants and speaks of them as her babies. “The garden gives her such joy and peace,” Mara said, echoing the feelings of the other gardeners who had gathered to discuss their endeavour. Indeed, it is easy to see why this beautiful community garden has become a centrepiece of one of Barrhaven’s newest communities.

CGN Blog: Ottawa Seed Library

The Ottawa Seed Library

The Ottawa Seed Library (OSC) is exactly what it sounds like – a library from which gardeners can check out seeds, free of charge, instead of books! At the end of the growing season, borrowers collect seeds from the plants that they grew, and check them into the library for others to sow.

The Ottawa Seed Library is looking for interested seed savers or gardeners to take a leadership role in the Ottawa Seed Library, as well as additional volunteers who can support this initiative on an ongoing basis. You don’t need to be a skilled, or experience seed saver, or even gardener for that matter to participate in the operation of the Ottawa Seed Library! The seed Library is a place of learning and experimentation. The following sections describe some ways that you can help.

Organizing seeds

The library contains a variety of seeds, including common and easily collected seeds like lettuce, beans, and tomatoes, as well as more exotic species. Volunteers place seeds into packets, which they stamp with the OSC logo, and then note the year, type of crop, and specific variety. They may also note such things as whether the variety is adapted to container growing. These packets are then placed in storage bins. If you and your gardening friends enjoy working with seeds, this is a great opportunity to plan a social day once a month in which you can work collaboratively to pack and organize seeds. You may also need to periodically test the seeds to ensure that they meet the expected germination rates.

Getting the word out

The Ottawa Seed Library reaches interested growers through the Market Mobile, the Ottawa Tool Library, the Ottawa Horticultural Society, and Maple Hill Urban Farm. There are opportunities for interested volunteers to set up additional venues through which the library could be advertised, such as seed and plant swaps. The library maintains a list of individuals who have checked out seeds.

Training individuals how to collect seeds

Just Food periodically conducts workshops to train individuals how to preserve seeds. At the conclusion of the workshop, participants check seeds out from the library to plant in their own gardens.

There are opportunities for individuals who want to train others on how to collect, clean, and dry seeds. Just Food would conduct the initial “Train the trainer” course, and then the trainers can provide instruction to potential seed collectors across the city.

The future

Ideally, the seed library will grow into a seed “bank” from which daycares, schools, food banks, and other organizations can check out seeds. Seed costs can add up. Providing them free is a great way to reduce costs for programs that run on especially small grants.

For large-scale seed collecting, demonstration plots of about 1/16th or 1/8th an acre could be arranged at the Just Food farm. Just Food also invests in the seed library by replacing seeds that have become less vigourous, and by developing, through experimental growing programs, varieties that grow well in this region.

Collecting seeds

Are you interesting in collecting seeds for yourself or the seed library? You don’t need a large garden; even balcony gardeners can get involved, by providing seeds from plants that grow well in containers. Community gardens are often mistakenly thought to be unsuitable for seed collecting, but often times seeds are sown at different intervals, so they bolt at different times.

For best results, start with plants grown from open pollinated, heirloom seeds from a reputable local supplier. Annuals–such as lettuce, peas, cucumbers, beans, corn, squash, and tomatoes–are fairly easy to save seeds from, and produce good results easily.

To see predictable results in future crops, you’ll need to ensure that your plants haven’t cross-pollinated with neighbouring varieties.

  • Inbreeders–such as peas, lettuce, tomatoes, and beans–usually self-pollinate, but can cross-breed. They don’t require large isolation differences; 10 feet is sufficient.
  • Outbreeders–such as corn and squash–must receive pollen from another plant, either via bees or other pollinators, or the wind. Generally, this means that corn varieties should be separated by 2 miles, and squash by 1 mile, but strong winds and high levels of pollinator activity can necessitate greater isolation. In some cases, very different varieties of the same species (such as pumpkin and zucchini) can also crossbreed.

Once you’ve selected your favourite plants, you can now plan to harvest their seeds. This procedure varies depending on whether the seeds are harvested dry (from the seed head or pod), or wet (from the fruit).

Harvesting dry-seeded crops

When the stems below the seeds dry out and turn brown, it is good sign that the seed is mature. Look for early signs of shattering (ripening and dispersal of the seed). Examine the seed closely to see if it is dry and looks like what you’d find in a commercial seed packet.

Most dry-seeded crops ripen sequentially from oldest to newest flowers, so you can harvest seeds once the first seed begins to shatter. To harvest dry-seeded crops, pick the seeds by hand, hang the plant to dry, lay it in windrows, or shake or hit the plant to release the seed. The latter may be easiest for herbs with very small seeds.

Lettuce

Once lettuce grows past its prime, it forms a tall stalk with flower buds. About 6 weeks later you’ll have nearly ready seeds. To collect the seeds, visit your plants at the end of the day with a yogurt tub in hand. Gently bend the plant over the tub and lightly tap it; the seeds that are ready will fall in. Repeat daily until you have enough seeds. You can clean off the fluff if you want; it won’t harm the seeds to leave it on.

Beans

Let beans dry on the plant until the pods are papery to the touch, at which point you can shell them.   If the weather is too damp to let the pods dry outside, hang the plant upside down in a dry, well-ventilated place until the pods are dry.

It’s a good idea to freeze beans for three days after shelling, to kill any weevils that may have burrowed inside. After freezing, continue to let the beans air dry on a glass pan. Stir the beans every day; once you cannot press fingernail marks into the seeds, they’re dry.

Harvesting wet-seeded crops

Seeds harvested from wet-seeded crops need a little more preparation than dry-seeded crops before they can be put into storage.

Tomatoes

Extract some seeds from a ripe tomato, and clean them with a towel, removing their jelly coating to prevent mould. Let them dry.

If you’re saving a lot of tomato seeds, try slicing the ripe tomatoes and crushing them into a bucket. Set the bucket in a warm place (no warmer than 32C), for 3-4 days. The pulp moulds and the seed jelly rot offs. It smells awful, but the seeds sink to the bottom of the bucket, so that you can then easily extract, rinse, and dry them.

Winter squash

Select your best squash and let it sit for a week or two in cool, dry, conditions, then remove the seeds and clean them. Place racks of seeds over a heating duct to expedite drying and maintain air circulation.

Cucumbers and summer squash

Leave the fruits on the vine long past when you would normally eat them. When you open the fruit, the seeds will be larger, harder, and more rounded than the immature seeds you find in the cucumbers you eat. Clean and dry them as you would tomatoes.

Storage

Once the seeds have been harvested, leave them on a paper plate or in a paper bag (that’s labelled!!), to completely dry for a few weeks in the fall. Once the seeds are completely dry, you can store them in an airtight mason jar for use in the next 3-5 years. Store in a cool, dark, dry place. Seeds slowly reduce their germination percentage with time, so plant older seeds more thickly.

 

 

CGN blog: Norman Johnston Secondary Alternate Program

This is the fifth piece in an ongoing CGN’s blog. This blog will be filled with snapshots of the network, garden activities, garden profiles, coordinator profiles & more!

This post is about Norman Johnston Secondary Alternate Program, where indoor and outdoor gardens and even a greenhouse are used to teach students more than just gardening techniques.  The post is written by Nancy Moir at her blog Grown In My BackYard. 

Norman Johnston

CGN blog: Growing Up Organic

This is the fourth piece in an ongoing CGN’s blog. This blog will be filled with snapshots of the network, garden activities, garden profiles, coordinator profiles & more!

This post is about Growing Up Organic, a garden and farm-based educational program for children and youth.  The post is written by Nancy Moir at her blog Grown In My BackYard.

Parents and teachers, are you looking for a unique way to engage school-aged children in learning, teach them food skills and nutrition, and connect them with the environment?  Growing Up Organic (GUO) may have a solution for you!

GUO is a garden- and farm-based educational program for children and youth provided by the Ottawa, St. Lawrence, and Outaouais Chapter of Canadian Organic Growers.  Since its inception in 2007, GUO has enabled many schools across the region to build their own school garden programs. These gardens do more than produce delicious, healthy food; educators use them to foster experiential learning to meet their teaching goals.  They enliven the curriculum for students who feel disengaged or who could benefit from hands-on experience to help with their comprehension.

Implementing a school garden does not add to a teacher’s workload; rather it reduces it by providing a simplified, vivid, real-world model that can be used to teach almost any subject.  This program requires that students draw plans, calculate many different types of variables, engage in physical activity, and much more.  Students of all ages and backgrounds have expressed delight at working within a school garden and their schoolwork reflects this newfound excitement.  Through this, they acquire a solid understanding of the life cycles of plants, and an appreciation of the environment.

So, how does it work?  GUI hosts gardening workshops in the spring and fall that are free to OCBSB educators, and available to other schools for a fee.  In these workshops, GUO provides educators with an overview of the garden-based activities that they can facilitate in their schools. Their website offers a thorough overview of the preparation that should be undertaken before a garden is built. As well, each garden requires a support team of interested parents, teachers, and other community members.  GUO provides the information needed to fundraise, build, and maintain a school garden, and most importantly, to use as a tool within the curriculum.

GUO is more than just a repository of information.  Behind the website are the friendly faces of its facilitators and volunteer advisory committee (teachers, master gardeners, and stakeholders), who shape the program and provide support.  For more information, visit their website.