Monthly Archives: March 2012

Creative container gardening

I’ve been seeing a lot of amazingly creative container gardens around lately, so I wanted to put together a post to showcase some of them.  This is the time of the year when folks with an outdoor garden space start to feel excited and inspired to get planting.  For those of us in small apartments or houses without yards, it can be hard to get motivated to start new projects just because it’s spring — after all, the time of year doesn’t make a huge difference for container gardens.  The flip side of this is that, well, the time of the year doesn’t make a difference, and we can keep growing inside year round without having to spare a thought for frost or snow.

Anyhow, for the lawn-less, the balcony-less and the transient folks, here are some amazingly creative and cool looking options for planters.

When I first saw this photo, I got so distracted by the gorgeous candy colours of the planters that it went completely over my head that they were old toilet tanks.  You might not be able to find the same amazing array of vintage tanks that this woman has, but I’m sure you could track down some plain old white ones and they would make amazingly sturdy and and functional planters.  I would try Used Victoria or the Habitat for Humanity Restore, and I bet you’d come up with lots of free or mega cheap options.

I’ve seen a few different variations on pallet planters (everything from how to re-purpose the lumber to build a standard container garden, or just plain plunking the pallet down in your garden and planting into it), but this one is my favourite because of its ingenious use of vertical space.  Fern Richardson, who created the planter in the picture above (as well as creating a great looking book about small space container gardens, that is available at the library) has a full tutorial about how to transform a pallet into a garden.  One word of caution:  please make sure that any pallets you scavenge have not been pressure treated.  The process of pressure treating  puts some seriously nasty chemicals into the wood, and you definitely don’t want them leaching into your food.

If you’re gardening indoors only, check out this fantastic tutorial about creating a kitchen herb garden that hangs right in your kitchen.  Even when I have lots of outdoor garden space, I try to make sure that I plant my herb garden close to where I cook.  Otherwise, I find I just don’t bother to make the trek out to the other end of the garden to grab a few sprigs of parsley (especially if it’s raining or dark out).  This project is a fantastic solutions to that problem, and is a great way to make sure your tasty culinary herbs are exactly where you need them:  in your cooking space.

Bottom line, you can get as creative as you want to with container gardening, so don’t feel limited by a lack of money, building skills, or space.  Container gardens can be in any kind of container.

For some great books on container gardening and lots more inspiration, check out the public library.  I’m particularly fond of The Edible Container Garden:  Growing Fresh Food in Small Spaces by Michael Guerra; Apartment Gardening:  Plants, Projects, and Recipes for Growing Food in your Urban Home by Amy Pennington, andThe Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible:  How to Grow A Bounty of Food in Pots, Tubs, and Other Containers by Edward Smith.


Rad book alert: Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas

This book recently appeared on my household’s field guide shelf, much to my excitement.  I’m always interested in learning a bit more about wild edibles, and this book is hands down the best and most practical field guide to wild foods I’ve found.

John Kallas grew up in a suburban neighbourhood where he spent much of his time practicing his outdoor skills and eating whatever wild foods he could find.  In college, he pursued a science degree while taking courses in wilderness survival, nutrition and edible wild plants, and spent his summers traveling through along back roads of the European countryside, foraging food and learning about the each region’s traditional foodways.  Over the years, he completed degrees in biology and zoology, a master’s in education, a PhD in nutrition, and obtained training in botany and nature photography.  He has been teaching about wild foods since 1978.  Which is to say, he is a guy who knows his wild foods.

Kallas was disappointed in most available wild food guides, finding them to be broad summaries of edible foods, without enough information on the appearance of plants in all their various different stages, and lacking detailed information on how to prepare the foods (let’s face it, wild foods are a lot more appealing if they are palatable, not just edible).  He wrote Edible Wild Plants:  Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate to remedy these shortcomings, and I think he did a damn fine job.  This guide is chock full of good quality colour photos and detailed descriptions, which made me feel confident that I could actually successfully identify the plants I was learning about.  Also, he includes lots of detailed recipes and cooking instructions which give a clear picture of what the foods will taste like and how to best use them.  Almost all of the recipes looked delicious, not just edible.   I would be totes stoked to chow down on a chickweed burrito, faux gumbo or vegan meringue made from mallow, curly dock pie filling, sheep sorrel pesto, wood sorrel ice cream topping or or any one of a ton of tasty recipes included.

Unfortunately, the Victoria library does not carry this book, but we picked up our copy at Bolen’s, and it’s put out by a reasonably big publisher and should be widely available.  You can also check out John Kallas’ website, Wild Food Adventures.  You can find out more about his cool looking courses in wild foods and wilderness survival (see Kallas and some students in mid food prep at the left), and you shouldn’t miss the excellent book review section.  Also, if you’re jonesing for more wild food info right away, check out this article Kallas wrote on making dandelions delicious.

Adventures in Canning

I did a really fun high school canning workshop this past week (thanks Westshore Learning Centre folks!).  We were going over some questions at the end of the session, and I was asked a lot about what you can’t/shouldn’t can — not because it would be unsafe, but because it would be too gross.  Ice cream and cheese were batted around as two options for what not to can:  cheese because it would potentially get all weird and melty, and ice cream because you’d have to add more acid to get the balance right for hot water bath (and really, would you want to chow down on vinegar-y ice cream?).

It was an extremely entertaining discussion, but it also got me thinking about some of the weirder options for canning.  I’ve done tomato sauces, salsas, pickles, jams, jellies, and so forth.  You know, all the regular old standard canning recipes.  I’ve never looked into the weirder side of canning, but once I started asking the internet I was pretty surprised and entertained by the results.

First off, apparently you actually can can cheese.  I found a recipe detailing how on an Alaskan homesteading message board.  The author tried her hand at canning cheese after her previous storage method (in a sealed 5 gallon bucket, along with her year’s supply of dehydrated bananas) was discovered and consumed by a black bear.

You don’t need to stop at cheese, however.  Ever had a hankering for homemade cheese whiz or wondered how to save your bacon grease through a hot summer?  Or maybe you’ve dreamed of the pleasures of Mountain Dew Jelly (that’s right, 3 1/2 cups of Mountain Dew and 4 1/2 cups of sugar will get you this tasty delight) or  pickled pumpkin.

Some of the recipes I found were on the dark side of wackiness (Kool Aid Jelly comes to mind), but others were amazingly creative uses for underused plants.  Kudzu Jelly and Dandelion Jelly fall in the latter category — what a rad ways to use plants usually dismissed as weeds!

What is the weirdest or most creative thing you’ve ever canned?  Any notable successes or failures with odd recipes?  I’d love to hear other folks’ experiences on this topic!

Important note:  Some of the recipes I link to have pretty old school/outdated procedural advice for how to can.  Please feel free to use the recipes as inspiration, but always make sure you are using the procedures of modern hot water bath canning to ensure the safety of your canned goods.

Haultain Common Transplanting Party, Sunday March 18, 2-4 pm

ImageOur last garden planning session last weekend saw a solid permaculture food forest plan put together for the Common.  The next step is to start digging — we need to transplant some of the delectable perennials to their new locations.  Come on out to lend a shovel, move some artichokes, blueberries, gojis, and other tasty and fascinating plants.  This is a great learning opportunity as well as a chance to support your friendly neighbourhood community food resource.  Thanks for your help, and looking forward to seeing you there!

Location:  1420 Haultain St, Victoria, BC

Embracing Gardening in Small Spaces

Thanks to everyone who attended last Saturday’s Portable Permaculture workshop.  The image to the left shows participants braving the cold evening to mix up a batch of potting soil for our container gardens.  It was really inspiring to hear about all the creative small space gardening and permaculture projects everyone had on the go, and exciting to share ideas about our epic future plans (home greywater systems!  tool share collectives! backyard ducks!).

I also wanted to share this great book I found at the Victoria Public Library:  it’s called Fresh Foods From Small Spaces:  The Square Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting and Sprouting, and it is an amazing resource for those of us measuring our garden space in feet rather than acres.   It has great tips for maximizing your food production while minimizing the amount of space you need and amount of stuff you need to buy.  There are DIY projects like an improvised self-watering container, info on sprouting and delicious recipes to use the finished sprouts, instructions on cultivating oyster mushrooms indoors, and even ideas for survival during resource shortages.  In short, you will be a far better nourished and informed person for having read this book and I highly recommend snagging it at the library!

A Crash Course in Composting: Backyard Bins to Worms and Everything In Between, Saturday March 17th, 2-4 pm

ImageDo you live in an apartment and feel like you have no space to compost?  Have a composter in your back yard but never seem to see results from it?  Have good intentions about starting a compost pile but feel a bit daunted by the process?  This workshop is for you!

Spring is the perfect time of year to start thinking about composting:  as we start to get gardening on the brain, it’s a great time to start turning your food scraps into beautiful soil which you can then use to grow more food.  This workshop will cover a thorough overview of composting basics, give you a chance to ask questions and troubleshoot your existing compost system, and let you get some hands on work in as well.  We will all be working together to build a worm composting bin, and once you see how easy they are to put together, you will be inspired to build one for your own home.

Location:  The straw bale building at the Compost Education Centre, 1216 North Park St

Cost:  $5

Please email to reserve your space for the workshop.