My garden won’t save the world…

My latest column in the Christian Courier.

My front-yard garden measures 12 feet by 11 feet and so represents a modest effort in terms of urban agriculture. It certainly doesn’t compete with the larger plots tended by some Portuguese seniors in west end Montreal, or with the wide-open community gardens that flourish here. But its postage-stamp size doesn’t tell the whole story of my veggie patch either. Year over year my acreage (dreaming big, here) teaches me much more than many other areas of life—it is the source of innumerable successes, failures, and opportunities to learn.

This year I decided to plant kohlrabi for the first time, which one website describes as “a unique, easy-to-grow veggie.” Easy for them to say! I don’t know whether to blame the less-than-consistent rainfall of this past summer or my less than strategic enriching of the soil, but the resulting, stumpy little kohlrabi stems were rather disappointing. In my defense I should say that I didn’t have a lot of time to invest in the garden this year. And the decision to leave town for four weeks of holidays wasn’t exactly conducive to its flourishing.

IMG_1472Most of the carrot seeds I planted in early June simply didn’t germinate, though the few seeds that did spring up produced twenty lovely carrots. Twenty! (You can interpret that exclamation mark as either frustration or delight!) They were typically odd-sized and wonderfully misshapen. Also, at some point during the season I simply forgot I had planted onion seedlings in the back corner, and only discovered them when pulling out overgrown crabgrass and other weeds a few weeks ago. And there they were, 10 of them pulled up and held in one hand, as remarkable and beautiful as anything on God’s green earth. Continue reading


Put in your place!

My latest column for the Christian Courier.


It is difficult to be indifferent when someone is “put in their place!”

On the one hand, we are likely to experience real satisfaction, or a sense of justice, when another person is brought down a peg or two. “He was getting too big for his britches but she put him in his place!” On the other hand, if we are the one who has been put in our place, the feeling will be quite different. There will likely be some degree of shame or humiliation when someone insists that we have spoken beyond what we know or have acted beyond our competence.

It seems to me that nothing would be lost if that phrase (and the experiences that accompany it) were banished from our lives and lexicons. There is little grace in the smug satisfaction of the one who has put another in his place. And the person who has been put in her place will generally have little sense that the other has acted with genuine compassion toward her, or with a view to her growth as a person.

Putting someone in their place always seems to be a blunt, ungracious action.

At the risk of reaching beyond the scope of that phrase, however, it seems to me that there is still something to be said about discerning, and remaining within, our place. There is a set of boundaries that defines “place” for each of us – a set of relationships, and a geographic circumference, that creates a decidedly local web of awareness and familiarity. If we think of place in this way, then it is certainly important to remember that we have been put in our place and that we have some duty to remember our place. Continue reading

slugs and beer

We started a backyard garden last year, and had a slug problem almost immediatley – I’m pretty sure the slimy critters are creeping into our garden from the neighbour’s yard in the middle of the night. Last year they ruined our peppers and a good number of tomatoes. This year, so far, I’m almost certain they’re the ones eating the leaves off of my just-sprouted beans.

This year we have opened two fronts in the war on slugs. We have put copper pipe on the ground around the tomatoes and peppers (apparently slugs won’t cross copper). Can’t confirm, yet, whether that is a success.

But on the second front we appear to be winning. The secret weapon? Beer, placed in a container whose top is level with the soil. This morning I went out and looked in the beer and, sure enough, about 35 slugs in the containers. It may be too late for the beans (we’ll see) but at least we’ve got options.

Community Supported Agriculture

beet greensOur family is participating in community supported agriculture for the first time this year and have received our first two baskets – lots of leafy stuff in these early days of summer. But also radishes and beets… We receive an email the day before each delivery of vegetables, and I thought I’d share the first part of that email, from Nora Johnson:

Every spring we never fail to be excited by the way our farm, which has lain quiet through the long winter months, comes to life around us. It begins, in late March or early April, with the sound of the wood frogs and spring peepers and grows in intensity. The greenhouse is a warm spot even before all the snow has melted and there is always a toad or two who emerges there in the spring.

This year one of our resident toads made its home in one of the flats of tomato seedlings and during the heat of the day it would burrow under the loose seedling soil. When I watered the tomato plants it would scrunch down and blink its eyes. Continue reading