What I’m Growing in 2017: Home Gardening 101

I remember when my kids were little, I visited the Waldorf school in my neighborhood and I spoke to the director.  She was a very quiet woman who spoke to me at length about healing the child…about going on field trips to the farm so kids could get their hands into the soil and really feel the earth…a place where we all heal because it’s where life originates.

I’m not going to lie…I thought she was a bit flaky.

But, as I grew older (and moved to my own piece of land where I cultivate almost every day throughout the summer), I finally got it.

There is rebirth everywhere (even in the form of robin eggs that sometimes land mysteriously on a dirt bike).

And as you begin to work the soil and understand the birth/growth/death cycle that happens every year in the garden and the area that surround it (like small birds that try to fly but don’t make it), you can’t help but have a renewed appreciation for how things grow, and, in particular, the origin of the food that we eat.

In Ontario, we generally begin planting on the May long weekend.  This past weekend is when the ground is generally soft enough to plant and the threat of frost has passed (usually!).  The garden centres are full of people, and you will almost always find what you are looking for.  The downside of waiting past this weekend is that some things that you want/need may be sold out.  The upside of waiting is the crowds will thin out and you will get some awesome deals!

So, let me walk you through this year’s planting.  Some more will be added as I find them…I’ll keep you posted!

These are my black currant bushes that I planted about 8 years ago. I do absolutely nothing to them except trim them back in the fall…and they grace me with enough currants to make jam for everyone in Ontario!

Years ago, my friend Tina, who owns a company called Garden Sensibilities, drew out the plans for my garden as a project to put on her blog.  I loved it so much, we built it and the rest is history.  You can see the original plans here (click on chefs garden).

The entire garden is edible – so if we plant flowers, to make it pretty, we also have to be able to eat it!  Part of the design was to leave a perimeter of soil around the outer edge so I could plant some climbing flowers to make the outside look as inviting as the inside!

The next few photos are what I’ve planted on the outside this year…

I left a head of garlic in the ground from last year and it sprouted in a bunch. So I dug the cluster up, separated it and transplanted it to one of the border gardens.

I snagged some nasturtiums this year (I often am too late and they sell out before I can grab some!!). This year they are front and centre so I hope they bloom gloriously!!

Here is my rhubarb that grows back every year…I don’t think it’s an ideal place for it (the stalks are pretty spindly) but I’ll leave it there for a few more years to see if it will pick up. Rhubarb is a perennial so it grows back every year…if you love it, plant some along an edge of your garden. Just remember that the leaves are poisonous so only use the stalks (the other benefit to planting your own rhubarb is that it isn’t the easiest to find frozen out of season so just grow your own and freeze it to use all winter long!!)

The last of the four outer border gardens is filled will all of my perennial herbs…sage, oregano, mint, and thyme. This shows the growth already by May 20th and it will continue to give me beautiful cooking herbs until the frost (I’ve even picked beautiful sage into December!!)

 

The two perennial plants that come back every year in the beds are strawberries and chives (see below and click here for a recipe for chive oil!)

These strawberries are only 2 years old and have taken a while to take root but I’m hoping they give me some nice berries this year (I only got a handful last year!)

Now, we will move to the inner beds…4 raised beds each with their own plants (that are rotated every year to discourage pests and enrich the soil )…

These chives are about 5 years old and came from one small plant…look at how it has spread!! I use the flowers on pizza and salads all year long and also make chive oil!!

Now onto the vegetables that were planted this year:

These are spring onions that I can use almost immediately (think green onions/scallions) as I wait for the red onions that are planted deep in the soil and won’t be ready to be harvested until the fall.

I’m Italian so, of course there are tomatoes…lots of varieties!! If you have only a small space, start with a few cherry tomato plants (they are usually good producers), but if you have more space, plant a few varieties that will give you harvest throughout the summer (look for an Early Girl variety that will give you fruit sooner and then beefsteak that will harvest into October). Remember to save your eggshells throughout the summer and toss them at the base of each plant to discourage critters from chomping  at the stem.

This is chicoria…Italian for dandelion. Yes, we eat the leaves that every other Torontonian tries to get rid of! There are so many good recipes for the weed that you find on your lawn (you can make wine with the flower and you can also put it in your pasta dough to make it pretty!!). But, the leaves, although edible, are tough. If you love it (and it is sooo good for you!!), plant some in your garden and use it like spinach….cooked in olive oil and pancetta and then add a beaten egg, this makes the best filling for the middle of your pizza – or just in the middle of a pannino!!)

Swiss chard…love it!!!! Grow your own! It’s pretty easy to grow, and if it loves where it is, you will pick it all summer long (and if it REALLY loves where it is, you can pick it and freeze it to use throughout the winter!).

You also need a few kinds of lettuce…here is some green leaf lettuce…I will buy a few more in the coming weeks!!

Celery! I find it a bit tough but a couple of plants thrown in make a sturdy variety that I mince and freeze to use as a mire pois in the winter (so much easier when it is pre-chopped!!)

Eggplant…’cause it’s yummy!!

Other than what you see here, there are also seeds (that you can’t see – yet!) of carrots, radishes, zucchini, squash, pole beans and climbing beans. I also forgot to take pictures of my annual herbs: lots of parsley, basil, and cilantro.

It’s important every two years to top up the beds with some fresh triple mix to mix into the existing soil. Over time, the soil will compact and you need to fill it in!

And, it’s more important that you bribe (I mean ask) your kids to help!

This is a grape vine that my husbands best friend brought back from Italy…it was a cutting from his dad’s garden in Italy that is over 30 years old. When he found out that I was beginning a garden years ago, he wanted to “gift” me with this plant. It is very finicky, but when it has a good year, it gives me enough grapes to make a decent amount of jelly!!

The grape vine grows up and over a trellis that connects the 4 beds together…it is so pretty as it flowers and the beautiful sturdy leaves begin to grow!

 

About 6 years ago, I planted 8 apple trees surrounding the garden. I am supposed to spray it with lyme in the fall (before it goes dormant) and sulpher in the spring (before it flowers) but I always miss the window of opportunity! Si, this year, I had tons of worms (that apparently kill the tree) but my husbands uncle told me to use a kitchen torch to torch them…it looked like it worked!!

And of course a few pots just outside my kitchen wit some herbs that will be easier to grab than running all the way out the the garden!!

Trying some lemon basil as an addition to the regular lettuce leaf basil I have growing in the garden beds)

some rosemary and more chives!!

Every morning when I go out to water, I thank my lucky stars that I have the space to experiment like this!!

 

6 Comments
  • Vincent Cirivello
    May 24, 2017

    Suzie,

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful garden. I once had a one acre garden on a three acre piece of land in the Santa Cruz mountains in California. Vince Delisi visited once and helped construct a two bedroom addition. Yes, he has many skills.

    I was young and naive and planned to live off the land but it became evident quite quickly that I didn’t know that I didn’t know. But I learned a lot from an elderly neighbor who took pity on me. Like you I came to appreciate the cycle of life and the complexity and beauty natural has to offer if we would slow down enough and see what is in front of us.

    Thanks again,

    Vincent Cirivello

    • Suzie Durigon
      May 24, 2017

      What a great comment to find this morning!
      I can imagine what your place must have looked like…a piece of heaven I’m sure!! It’s so nice when people tell me that they have learned about gardening, and in turn, nature, by working the land. Most people think I know what I’m doing but I really don’t…I learn as I go and with the help of people like my dad, every year is a new experience!
      Thanks again for sharing yours!
      xo

  • Katy
    May 24, 2017

    I am so #jealous. Look at that magic. I live on a dune with absolutely no flat surface. The few berries in my tiny herb bed alongside the house get eaten within 4.32 minutes of turning red. Not red, not red, not red, red/eaten. I do have a lovely roof deck away from critters and fill that with herbs and flowers and an occasional pepper or arugula. It’s probably a lot less work than yours but I’d kill for what you have. Comin’ over NOW.

    • Suzie Durigon
      May 25, 2017

      Oh I am sure your piece of heaven is amazing too!!! I’ve always wanted a deck! I’ve never lived anywhere that my patio goes out to my backyard (it’s always been a level up!!),
      It’s funny about the berries though…I planted raspberries (which I had to subsequently remove because we put a patio where they were)and they were amazing…I picked them from June to the end of October!!! But when I removed them, I found some wild raspberries along my driveway! Can you believe that the birds ate those?!?!?!? Ughhh!!
      And you’re welcome anytime!!

  • Lisa Torres
    May 25, 2017

    Suzie!
    I am INSPIRED to photograph and share my garden in a post on my website! Loved seeing all the things you are growing, especially the Italian grapes and the chicoria. Your garden is just a dream…I have an 8 x 8 raised garden box that I usually overplant full of too many plants, and what survives is always interesting. This year in Southern California, we had so much rain (and might get more over the next week), so things are really growing well so far. For the first time, I am growing tomatillos (for green salsa) and beets. Crossing my fingers that I have a nice harvest this Summer!

    • Suzie Durigon
      May 29, 2017

      Yes, yes, yes!!!!! I would love to see your garden!! I have been doing this for a few years and I still feel like I am flying by the seat of my pants!! I learn from other farmers at my local farmers market and my dad!! Let me know what you decide to grow!!! Lucky you that you have a longer growing season!!!

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