Tardis Bird Feeder

Tardis Bird Feeder Garden Craft by Marlene Wurfel

Says Community Garden Director, Marlene Wurfel, “Within an hour of hanging this in our blue spruce, a blue nuthatch arrived to hover around it in wonderment. Yes, we named him The Doctor.”

To make a Tardis birdfeeder watch this tutorial.

And print these templates (click on them  for resized versions):

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Yield by Marlene Wurfel

In my last “from the permaculture patch” article I asked you to evaluate your relationship with your garden and with our community garden. In high summer do have a garden full of flowers but can only see the few weeds? Are you grateful the snow is concealing the state of your front yard? When you spot a garden gnome, does his look strike you as smug and reproachful? If your relationship with gardening could be summed up by: “Ugh, I just haven’t been doing enough in the garden,” I asked you to stop sewing those particular seeds of shame and regret. Instead, let’s think of a garden as something that is for people, that gives more to people than it demands, and that should give more than it demands. If a garden is taking more than it is giving, we’re doing it wrong.

“Yield” is an important concept in permaculture. In order to design a green space with intention, we need to know what its purpose is. We need to know what we want our garden’s yield to be. Carrots? Beauty? Renewal? Fresh air?

What do you want from your green spaces?

If you want a private place that smells like spice lilies and sounds like wind chimes, where you can sit and sip sangria with your best friend, then make one of those, and don’t feel badly that you aren’t also growing enough turnips in that very spot to feed a monastery.

If you want to fill a root cellar with carrots and potatoes, plant carrots and potatoes, and don’t feel badly that you’re not also growing a row of every type of vegetable ever cultivated by man, including lemongrass, eggplant, and quinoa.

If you want a spot where the kids can make mud pies and kick a soccer ball, or where the dog can chew on some rawhide, don’t worry if wedding parties don’t tend to crash your back yard for photo ops.

If you’re just learning to garden or are new to Zone 3, and you want to experiment with growing cantaloupe, try growing cantaloupe, but be content that both cantaloupe and the knowledge that cantaloupe doesn’t grow very well here are a type of yield.

Do you really just want a quiet and private spot to feel the sun on your shoulders? A place to notice the seasons changing? Something pretty to look at out your kitchen window while you do dishes? One really beautiful tomato to make the best sandwich ever each September? Someplace that renews and recharges your senses and your spirit? A physical challenge?

The really empowering thing about knowing what we want our gardens to yield is that it allows us to perform the essential calculation of yield – investment = profit. Taking the time to calculate how our green spaces are benefitting us or not can help us make good decisions. We may need to repurpose our spaces and recalibrate our relationships with them. Making intentional choices can help us remove ourselves from the grim soldiering through of gardening as a chore, something we do because we must, because that is the way it is done, because that is the suburban dream dreamed up before we got our particular chunk of it and that is the way it has always been dreamt. What is important about a garden to you? Is it how it looks to neighbours and to passersby? How it looks to you? How it feels to be in that space? To spend as little time as possible working outdoors? Any of these are valid but knowing what we want our “yield” to be helps us make good decisions about what we invest. In many ways, yield is such a simple, obvious, basic concept that it’s easy to overlook.

Is there a yield you want from the Parkallen Community Garden? Is it kale? Is it basil? Connections within your community? Solitude? To learn from more experienced gardeners? To teach what you know to less experienced gardeners? Fresh air? To put some food on the family dinner table whether you are 4 or 44? The wherewithal to look the next smug and reproachful gnome you meet in the eye and say, “Look here, lil’ buddy, I helped make the Parkallen Community Garden awesome.” If there is a yield you want from the PCG, I encourage you to go and get it. Take it. Plan to take more from it than you give. Manage your time commitment – guiltlessly – to produce a positive yield.

E-mail sustainability@parkallen.ca at any time of year to be placed on the Parkallen Community Garden mailing list and to receive communications about all ages workbees and gardening events.

Guilt in the Garden by Marlene Wurfel

Since I’ve been directing the Parkallen Sprouts and the Parkallen Community Garden, I’ve been getting a new look from some of my neighbours that I didn’t used to – it’s one that signifies intense garden-related-guilt.

“No, Marlene,” they tell me when I drop by their homes, “please don’t look at my garden. It’s so full of weeds…”

Or, “The community garden looks wonderful this year and I feel so badly that I didn’t make it out even once. Maybe next year…” they sadly say with nothing at all resembling hope in their voices.

The theme is guilt, shame, and missed opportunity. Parkallen – the thing with gardens is that what you cultivate in them tends to grow. Are you cultivating guilt, shame and regret in your garden? Are you cultivating these things in our community garden? Stop it!

The Parkallen Community Garden is a permaculture project and one important element of permaculture is “obtain a yield.” That means the focus is on “getting from” a garden, not simply “putting in” for the sake of effort itself. In an ideal permaculture space, nothing is required from the gardener other than strolling through a beautiful green space, replenishing one’s self while filling a basket with healthy produce. The aim isn’t toiling but taking. The permaculturist always strives to let the soil, the sun and the rain do as much of the work as possible because their space has been planned from the onset to perform in that way. That’s why, for example, the Parkallen Community Garden has swales dug into the slope towards the hockey rink: so the garden can catch and store rain and melt water all on its own. Maximum yield for minimum effort is the end-goal. Parkallen Community Gardeners have been putting in effort to cultivate what’s been growing in the garden but, ultimately, probably less than you think. We’re striving to create a self-regulating space that gives more than it demands.

I heeded quite a few warnings when the Parkallen Community Garden was in the planning stages as a communally tended space that everybody would show up at harvest time to take but nobody would be willing to put in the effort. The reverse has tended to be true. We’re civilized people: We’ve read the “The Little Red Hen.” People are reluctant to take from the garden because they don’t feel they’ve put in the requisite effort.

My neighbor who regretted not visiting the garden that season could have walked straight there, picked enough for a dinner salad, marveled at the sunflowers, listened to the birds, tossed a dandelion into the weed bucket, tasted the mint, smooched a loved one in the sunshine, called it a season, and left. But she didn’t feel entitled. She hadn’t put enough in to take that much out. It is my sincerest wish that the Parkallen Community Garden be a place you take more from than you give. It would help me in achieving my yield from the garden – the reward and satisfaction of knowing that I’ve helped create a space in my community that replenishes, teaches, feeds and gives; not one that requires more from time-crunched urbanites than they can reasonably afford.

One of the reasons I love working with kids in the garden so much is that they have absolutely zero compunction with proudly digging up an armful of potatoes for dinner even though they were swinging on the monkey bars while someone’s mom took twenty minutes in the spring to hill the seed potatoes into the soil. Really, they can teach me as much, or possibly more, about healthy relationships to food as I can teach them.

What’s your relationship with your garden? Do you think of it as a place that demands more from you than you can give each season?  Do you think of it as a place that should demand more than it yields? Why? Would it benefit you to re-evaluate your relationship with your green spaces?

People aren’t for gardens; gardens are for people. Gardens are for feeding people, for relaxing people, for inspiring people and for replenishing people. A space that inspires guilt instead of satisfaction is not a well-designed green space.

So pretty please, Parkallen, if you’ve been scattering the seeds of guilt and shame in our community garden, or in your own gardens, just stop. Stop watering the guilt. Stop fertilizing the shame. Stop. Re-evaluate. Let’s cultivate something beautiful.

Much Accomplished, Much to Do

We got a lot done on Sunday. The garden is looking much cleaner. Sunflowers and potted annuals have been planted and the kid’s gardens have been kicked off by the Sprouts. There’s still plenty more planting and cleaning up to do, though, so get your gear on!

Also, I shingled our shed. Doesn’t our shed look a lot better with singles? And what could Mother want on Mother’s Day that’s better than a shingled shed??

OK, so next time we’ll choose a better day.

Anyway, we still need to paint and move it, though, so please, please, please let us know if you can help out!

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2013 Gardening Season Begins

At last! Who’s ready to get started?

Of course, some of you have already been preparing with the seedlings. And did you know there are lots of things that you can plant outdoors in Edmonton in April? Some plants germinate just fine in chilly soil and can take a light frost besides: peas, lettuce, kale, spinach, radishes, and green onions, for example. In fact, most years you can plant these things in mid-April. I have managed to get full salads out of cold frames by this time in previous years, but this year the heavier than usual snow and slow thaw have made things difficult. Warmer weather plants should not go out for a month yet, until the end of May – or better, the beginning of June.

On to business!

  • The shed is awesome (thanks again, everyone!) but not particularly beautiful. Over the next few weeks, we need to paint and roof it and move it back from the curb. We will plant scarlet runner beans in front of it and turn it into a wall of green. Please let us know if you can help! I can be reached through comments or at sustainability@parkallen.ca
  • We are also considering taking the composters down a slat or two to give them a less intrusive profile, and hiding those behind a wall of sunflowers. Please let us know your opinion!
  • Shortly afterwards, we will be holding our first work bee to clean up and plant the first greens. Details on that to come.
  • Plans for this year also include building some raised planters for better access for seniors, and filling our shed with tools to make the gardening easier. We are still working on the funding – almost there!
  • The WWF-sponsored Wild Wings project will be bringing habitat to the garden to encourage beneficial insects and birds to join our little ecosystem.
  • And of course, there will be plenty of gardening with like-minded people throughout the neighbourhood and beyond … and perhaps a barbecue or two!

And now, a couple of pictures for fun: on the left are some of the seedlings growing on my window shelves (artichokes, peppers, leeks, lobelia). On the right, the haul of seeds we got from Sustainable Food Edmonton. It’s going to be a good year!

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Raising Seedlings Part 2: Folding Paper Pots

Here’s another idea that is frugal, space saving, and environmentally friendly: grow your seedlings in pots made out of folded newspaper. It’s quite simple and you get to reuse *and* recycle while producing your own local food. What could be better than that?

In the past, I have used old seed catalogues and flyers for this. This year, I grabbed a bunch of copies of the Metro out of the recycle bin at my kids’ school. I also cut strips off the edges of the page so that the final product would have nice flaps, but that’s not strictly necessary. You’ll have to experiment.

You want to start with a rectangle, not a square, so that you will have flaps to hold the pot open when you fill it with soil. I also like to double the paper over to make it stronger, since a few weeks of wet soil will make the newsprint quite weak.

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Crease an X through the middle of the paper by folding it first one way and then the other:

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Now collapse it in on itself, like this:

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Now fold in the flaps on both sides in two stages:

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Flip it over and repeat on the other side, so you end up with this:

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Pick it up and pinch it closed while you fold down the top flaps:

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And now gently open it up, and you have a pot for a seedling:

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I make these in batches. They wrap themselves nicely in bundles of ten, like so:

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Well, I make a few more than that, actually!

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Hey, I didn’t build those shelves for decoration, you know!

A few notes: because they are wicking paper fibre, these pots can dry out quite quickly once the seedlings form a good root ball, so keep an eye on them. You may also want to plant the seeds in plastic trays to begin with for the same reason, but I have grown strong tomato and peppers seedlings by sowing them directly. However, at the beginning, you are more likely to have a problem with too much water, so I recommend that you poke a small drainage hole in the bottom of them as you plant.

When you plant your seedlings out, you can either peel the paper off entirely, or just take off the bottom. In either case, you will disturb the root ball a lot less than you would by pulling a seedling out of a plastic pot.

Happy folding!

Building Natural Light Shelves for a Small Space

I love winter as much as anyone. Skiing, skating, and tobogganing keep me going through the deep cold and long nights. But it is awfully long in this corner of the world, so what’s a gardener to do – I mean other than the annual browsing of the seed catalogues, hot drink in hand?

Here’s an idea – how about growing your own seedlings? You can save yourself a bit of money and get your fix of dirt in the warmth of your own home! Not only that, but if you buy the seeds from a reputable place (I suggest mail order from Vesey’s or Stokes) you know exactly what you are getting.

Seedlings need a lot of light. My place is small and I have only two (also small) south-facing windows, so the first thing to do is to build some shelves to fit them.

Step 1: Find a window. Here’s a likely looking spot:

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All that juicy light, plus the steam from the shower? My future seedlings are smiling already!

Step 2: Decide how big the shelves should be. This little pepper plant (don’t we hope all our seedlings look half as healthy?) seems to suggest that 8 inches would be a very reasonable size. That gives us room for four shelves.

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Step 3: Gather the materials. In this case, that’s a pair of 8′ 1″x4″ planks. Cost: $7. Oh, and a 1.5″ screw. You’ll want a screw.

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Step 4: Cut your shelves. The basic design is two planks on the side to support the weight, with four shelves going across. They will be held in place by tabs in the shelves fitted into slots in the sides. This is known as a mortise and tenon joint. Plan carefully to use the wood best for the dimensions of your window. You want it to fit the window fairly snugly, but leave a bit of room for error. Maybe a quarter inch. In my case, I cut one 35.5″ side and two 27″ shelves per plank.

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Step 5: Cut the tenons (tabs): Measure this very carefully. You will want the tabs to be just the depth of the wood they are going to slot into. I just cut these with a hand saw.

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Step 6: Cut the slots (mortises?). This is trickier. I used a 3/4″ spade bit to carefully cut two holes at each end of the slot, and then cut out the corners with a jigsaw. Be careful to account for the width of the wood when you are measuring!

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You probably can’t see it from this picture, but I gave the top shelf an extra inch and a half because it gets the least light (the window frame shades it somewhat).

Step 7: The bottom is a special case. If you have a level windowsill, you don’t really need to do this, but mine slopes in a weird way, so I put a shelf at the bottom and pinned it in place with a bit of doweling.

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Step 8: Put it all together, fit it in the window, and pin the top of one of the sides to the window frame with the screw so it doesn’t fall out. Just a quarter inch will do. The landlord won’t mind.

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Note that by this time, it is dark. Ah, winter!

One final thing: because this is all push-fit (i.e. no screws, nails, or glue), once you are done with the shelves, they can be taken apart and stored under your bed, like this:

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Happy winter gardening!