Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Planning a Community Garden - 1

So I think I already mentioned that my backyard isn't sunny enough for a very productive vegetable garden.  I've also established that I want a productive vegetable garden.  So what's my game plan?

Establish a garden somewhere else, nearby, that I can walk to, that will get a lot of sunlight, that will bring in members of the community, that will give back to the community, that I can share with my children and husband, that I can be proud of, and that I can harvest produce from throughout the season.

A community garden is exactly what I need.  Unfortunately, there is only one in Summerside and it's on the other side of town.  Fortunately, I live very close to a park that has a lot of unused, empty space and that gets loads of sun.  Did I mention that it is exactly half way between my home and my parents' home?  Perfect for playing with kids and getting visits in with Nana and Grandad.  Could it be more perfect?  I think not.

I've been thinking about lobbying for (and putting myself forward to coordinate) this community garden for over a year, but have just really started trying to get the ball rolling now that Craig and I decided to stay here for about three more years.  I'd like to have spent this time in Summerside really enjoying where we live as fully as possible, and contributing to the life of the community.  So I contacted my city councillor, Cory Thomas, who is a great, super-approachable guy, with my idea and I was thrilled to hear that he was excited about it and will partner with me to promote it to City Council as well as city management.  He also independently suggested to me the exact location I was hoping for!  I love being on the same page as local politicians, it's a really good feeling.  We had a phone chat about it last week, and then he emailed me two days later to let me know that he had already approached council with our idea and that council and management were both very receptive to the possibility.

We'll continue to push for it, and in the meantime, I'm going to do what I do best--plan.  I want to have an outline of what we'll need in order to get started, an idea of how many local residents would be interested in volunteering and/or maintaining a plot, an actual plan for what the proposed garden will look like on the ground, and a list of community members and organizations that will be able to help contribute to make it the special place I am envisioning.  As these things (hopefully) fall into place, I'll update here on the blog and you can follow along with me as we see it come together.  It's so exciting!  And I'll be able to grow more than patio tomatoes!  Win.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

This Locavore's Dilemma

So if you're planning to grow things, say vegetables, for instance, what do you need?  Space, check.  Soil, check.  Compost, check.  Seeds, check.  An almost-three-year-old to help you?  Check.  What is that other important thing though?  Oh yes, SUNLIGHT.  Well, it turns out that this may be a problem for me with my budding backyard homestead as while my backyard is on the south side of the house (perfect) the mature spruce, chestnut and Manitoba maple (ick!) trees that I have surrounding it are creating some major shade (not so perfect).

When we moved in here, I thought: wonderful!!  A little backyard woodland oasis, just for me, the chickadees, squirrels, and that female downy woodpecker I noticed a couple of weeks after we moved in.  I even added to the tree cover by planting serviceberry, yellow birch, striped maples, red oaks, etc.  I put in a little pond to attract local amphibians and bathing avian friends.  I hoped that I could encourage a suburban woodland and enjoy knowing that I was creating a little haven for urban wildlife in our neighbourhood.

Well, I did.  We had tadpoles in the pond, song sparrows nesting in our overgrown perennial beds, a skunk family under the shed, a lactating squirrel who I could almost hand feed, robins nests in the chestnut trees, and the odd red fox scouting out the perimeter.  And these are just some of the visitors I had time to notice between commuting to Charlottetown for work and having two beautiful babies.

However, what do we have very little of? Vegetables.  This is what I want to remedy, if this homestead thing is ever going to take off.  Last fall I bit the bullet and cut down one of three chestnuts, this one directly in the centre of my backyard, hoping that the ensuing space would satisfy the photosynthetic requirements of my much hoped-for future crops.  And the backyard is significantly brighter.  But I seriously underestimated the ability of the remaining trees to grab as many photons as possible during the afternoon--so I'm left with a sunnier backyard that still doesn't get enough hours of daylight to be overly productive.

I can grow tomatoes in the planter on my deck, specially built to accomodate a few edible treats by my lovely father-in-law and brother-in-law.  I think I might be able to put in a few more herbs and veggies now that the chestnut is gone.  I have other hopes for some of the rest of the space, that I will fill you in on later. But in order to get larger quantities of pumpkins for baking, tomatoes for sauce-making, garlic for cooking, basil for almost everything, and so on, then I am going to need a sunnier area.

A local well-known environmental activist whose passion is to protect natural spaces and keep our island as green as possible told me (wait for it) to cut down ALL my trees!  She said that as nice as they are, they promote moss growth on my roof and shade out my veggies, and my roof and veggies are apparently more important than the wildlife I am trying to care for in our backyard.  I'll admit I was tempted, for a moment.  I mean, this is the environmental conscience of Prince Edward Island, giving me the go ahead to plunge forward into a homesteader's dream of a sunny backyard clime ripe for the planting!

But then I found the season's last robin's nest.  And I listened to chickadees singing their love songs to each other in the fall.  And I noticed a mourning dove roosting peacefully on the windowsill in the shade of an extremely overgrown weigela while I was changing one of my darling little bums one morning.  And I asked myself, how could I ever have thought I would cut any of them down?  Never mind that the majority are non-native (and even somewhat invasive) species--my nemesis.  Never mind that those spruce were planted too closely together and aren't even very healthy or attractive.  Never mind that there is a lovely wooded park in our city where these birds can find plenty of cover and food.  They like our backyard!  Our children can discover exciting new life when they walk out on the deck.  I enjoy the privacy our trees give us in a subdivision setting.  I want to provide at least a little reprieve from open spaces and predators to the birds and small mammals in our area.

So what is a hopeful homesteader to do?  Well, just wait and see.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

New Beginnings

I grew up as a country girl.  I married a city boy (and I use the term lightly, because he's from Charlottetown!), and we bought a house in an even smaller city, Summerside.  We really enjoy our neighbourhood, but neither of us thought we'd be here long because Craig wanted to move back to Charlottetown and I wanted to find a beautiful rural property with a hardwood stand that included mature sugar maples and clean beech and a pristine stream and an idyllic pasture for the horses, alpacas, and jersey cows I was planning to get as soon as he got his big-screen plasma.  Things didn't work out that way, and we've been in our little urban dwelling for almost five years.  We recently decided to stay another three, before hopefully finding our forever home, a prospect that will take some compromising I am sure!

What does all this history matter?  I should admit that I'm a bit of a planner.  I dream and think and hope and ponder about things for ages before anything even happens to remotely bring them to fruition.  I've been waiting for my rural dream property in order to start the homesteading lifestyle that I've wanted for a long time, probably since I read the Little House on the Prairie books as a child.  I couldn't "farm" in a residential suburban neighbourhood in a small city, now, could I?  Well, that was before I learned about the Dervaes family and realized that if they can have a full-scale farm on one tenth of an acre 100 feet from a freeway in Pasadena, I can work out a passable homestead in suburban Summerside on the Million Acre Farm.

So I'm beginning this blog at the same time that I'm beginning my foray into backyard homesteading here, on this property, at this time.  I have the will, I have the space, and I think I can stumble upon the way, as well.  In the mean time, I'll keep you filled in as I compost, till, plant, harvest, preserve, and do a lot of cooking, parenting, and living along the way.  Right, and planning.  There may be a lot of planning, and I'd be happy for any suggestions as I move forward.