St- John's

Choices for Youth New Leaf Community Garden

Choices For Youth held the official opening of the New Leaf Community Garden on Thursday, June 27th. Choices For Youth, located on Carter’s Hill Rd. in downtown St. John’s, provides safe housing and support to at-risk youth. The garden, located behind the Choices for Youth building, was started in 2012 to provide food and education opportunities for youth. Youth residents at Choices for Youth have been involved in the garden’s design and care since it started, and food grown in the community garden last year was used to serve meals to over 50 youth per day. The garden was funded in part by Eastern Health’s Community Development Fund, Thrive CYN and The Automotive Recyclers Association of Atlantic Canada. Representatives from Eastern Health and the Provincial Government were on hand for the opening, and the Minister of Health and Community Services, Susan Sullivan, did the ribbon cutting. The landscaping work that you can see in the pictures was donated by Sean Russell of Russell Landscaping and Design. Other community volunteers also contributed to the garden.

It was pouring rain so the opening was held inside, but I went out and took some pictures of their beautiful garden anyway. It might look grey and wet, but the rain is good for the plants!

What's in my compost?


I know I'm not the first person to write about composting here on the RCR blog, but I figure you just can't talk enough about turning your kitchen scraps into that lovely black gold. I've composted in one form or another for a long, long time now. The first compost I knew of was not in a bin or a black plastic Darth Vader container, it was just a heap, known imaginatively as the "compost pile." That was in the 1980s. Composting was pretty low-tech back then. Take your scraps, throw them in the pile, and let nature do the rest. It's the simplest thing, and it works just fine, if you have enough space in your yard to not mind a giant heap of rotting vegetable matter. Downtown, we have to be a little more sophisticated, just because we don't want our neighbours to freak out, or our composts to attract little mousy and ratty friends who might see our basement window as a nice portal to warmth and winter toastiness. Now, I say this as the owner of one of the ugliest compost bins in the neighbourhood. It was here when we moved in, and we haven't done anything about it. At the back of the yard, beyond all the still-blooming calendulas and the tasty-looking kale and cabbage and beets that are still hanging on in the November chill, there is a pine-framed, rectangular bin which is slowly composting itself into dirt. It has no cover, it's completely open to pillaging by rodents, and it's a massive eyesore. Worst of all, when the snow comes, my back yard fills up like a bowl with the white stuff, and the compost is only accessible through my neighbour's parking space, which is around the corner, meaning I have to lug bags and bins of compost up one street and down another to get rid of them. It's a little bit silly.

Indoors, I have a very productive worm bin, but one bin of worms can't keep up with the food waste of a family of five. The worm bin, too, is the very image of simplicity. One big plastic container, no drainage, just a few holes in the lid for air. The worms have never tried to escape, thank goodness. I keep it from getting too wet by adding in new bedding frequently (shredded newspaper, cardboard, egg cartons), and on the one occasion that I had a fruit fly infestation (admittedly, an epic one), I solved the problem by adding a few inches of soil to the bin, to smother any fruit flies and mask the food smells that would attract them. It did the trick, and the worms are happy, if indeed worms feel happiness, which I like to think they do.

All this has been going along very well indeed, and I am rewarded with beautiful compost, both the outdoor and indoor sorts, several times a year. But there's still room for improvement. If all goes well, next year will be the year we build a more efficient compost bin for the back yard, one that doesn't look like a garbage pit (and that doesn't advertise to passers-by just what we ate this week). I'm also hoping to add a third composting unit, some kind of wheeled bin I can park near the back door and stow my compost in through the winter, rather than having to hike through the streets with smelly potato peels and carrot tops.

Also, I need to figure out a system for all those tough bits of compost that don't seem to ever break down: I'm forever fishing peach and avocado pits, and avocado skins, and other slow-to-rot things from my garden beds and chucking them back in the bin, only to have to pick them out again next year. I would just stick them in the trash, but then wouldn't they just end up as part of the toxic landfill sludge? Should I smash them with a hammer? Soak them in a bucket for a year? Bury them in a pit? Burn them? Anybody?

I have started adding a few non-food items to my compost units. Like I said before, I use newsprint, cardboard, and egg cartons for bedding in my worm bin, but I sometimes add those things to my outdoor compost, too. I also add all the lint from my dryer to the outdoor compost. I know this is a contentious one, because there are all kinds of chemicals in laundry that probably shouldn't be going into the soil. But I don't use laundry detergents with dyes or fragrances, and I don't use fabric softener (and if you do, you might want to read this, because that stuff can be pretty scary). Almost all our clothes are made from natural fibres, and most of them are so worn out that they have virtually no dyes coming out of them any more. I'm sure there is some kind of residue, but I don't worry about it. The lint adds carbon to the mix, and otherwise it, too, would be headed for the landfill.

Outdoors, I limit my compost to raw, non-grain foodstuffs (so as to not attract too much wildlife), but indoors the worms get some cooked veggies, and occasionally some cooked rice or plain cooked pasta. I hate throwing that stuff in the garbage, and it doesn't seem to upset the balance in the worm bin at all. My mother, who has a very long back yard and whose compost bin is way at the back, regularly throws bread and grains in there, and doesn't mind that there are always crows circling her property. So if you don't mind crows (and possibly rats), you're free to do the same.

If I had one wish for my compost, it would be for regular additions of what garden writer Alys Fowler calls "UPP," or "urban pet poo." Of course, she just means the herbivorous pets - bunnies, gerbils, hamsters, those guys. I know there are people who compost cat and dog waste, but it's a whole different process, and way beyond my scope of knowledge. Vegetarian rodent waste, combined with the wood chips that surround it, makes great compost. If I didn't have the world's most viciously territorial cat, I would get a guinea pig or something just for its sheer compost-making powers (and, okay, for cuteness). But, alas, it is not to be. If you know you live in my neighbourhood, and you have some UPP to share, please don't hesitate to wing it over my neighbour's driveway into the gaping garbage pit! Seriously. I would love that.

For more information on backyard and vermicomposting in NL visit MMSB's website.

For resources to get kids involved in composting and waste reduction, check out the Root Cellars Rock Children & Youth page.

And keep an eye on the blog in the coming months for the launch of the new Root Cellars Rock Food Skills Workshops kit, which will include everything you need to know to host a beginner composting workshop in your community!

The good, the bad, and the ridiculous


Well, friends, I had planned to offer you a delightful round-up of what worked and what didn't in my little downtown garden this year, but unfortunately the cable for my computer has vanished, and the extra cable I keep on hand for such emergencies has had both of its ends filled with play-dough. (Hey, guess what! I found the cord! We have photos!) I have an angry, teething toddler trying to get into my lap, so you'll have to settle for a photo-less post in list form. Okay? Okay! Most amazing discovery: the rat tail radish. Holy crow. Rat tail radishes are heirloom radishes that were bred to produce tasty pods instead of the roots we're used to. They're delicious! Zippy, like a regular radish, but kind of greenish at the same time. They're really good with a dip or just on their own. Super crunchy and juicy. Apparently they're good pickled, but I haven't tried that yet. As they grow they get kind of jungly and lanky, so they're not the best if you're into ornamental edible landscaping, but they're well worth the mess.

Biggest bust: beans and peas. Between the slugs and the damp spring, hardly any of the four kinds of beans I planted came up. Also, two kinds of peas were lost to sogginess and slugs. It was very sad. The troopers that survived were the Schweizer Riesen snow peas and the Blue Jaysnap beans, and they're both still truckin', even in the cold. I should note, though, that neither one of those has had a particularly impressive yield, but I'm going to attribute that to the weather, not to the seeds themselves. They did the best they could.

Most impressive harvest: garlic. I planted my garlic late last year, well into November. By that time, nobody local had any seed garlic left to sell, so I had to order some from away, at considerable expense. When my package came, I was kind of sad to realize that for all that money, I had gotten a mere two heads of garlic. I sighed and carried on. Then, that same week, what should I spy at Dominion but packages of organic hardneck garlic from Furmanek Farm in Arthur, Ontario. There were three bulbs in a little net pack for, what, maybe six bucks? I took them home, planted them lovingly, and they outperformed the ordered seed garlic by far. All the garlic I planted did well, but the grocery stuff was incredible. Just goes to show that sometimes it's better to ignore conventional advice and just try something crazy.

Most ridiculous out of season action: squash. All of my squash, winter and summer, sulked through the whole season. Now I have two baby zucchini and a load of baby pumpkins, just in time for the frost to kill them. Oh, the tragedy! I'll eat the baby zucchini, but I'm afraid there's nothing I can do for the pumpkins, except keep my fingers crossed for a ridiculously warm November.

Wackiest season-extending scheme: tomato dome. Like pretty much everyone else, I have a load of green tomatoes that will probably never ripen on the vine. Some are far enough along that I can ripen them indoors, but others are nowhere close. They're in two adjacent 4" x 4" beds, with a trellis along the inner edge of each bed. My scheme is to encase the whole thing in vapor barrier (cheaper and easier to find than greenhouse plastic, and just as durable - I know someone who's had an amazing greenhouse made from the stuff for the last three years) and hope for the best. I'm also going to remove all the last of the blossoming flowers and pinch out the growing tips of the plants so that all the energy will be sent into the fruit that has already formed. Wish me luck!

There are some things I haven't been able to harvest yet. My Jerusalem artichokes and my ground cherries are still growing, and my parsnips will want a frost before they can be dug up. I have kale, lamb's lettuce, and red mustard started that should take me into winter, and I'll be starting some more winter crops over the next couple weeks. I hope I can find my camera cable soon so I can show you pictures of them.  Photos to come soon!