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Grafton Community Garden

2012 Report

Sixth Season in the Urban Garden. It’s the beginning of March and the longer days are so welcome. Luckily we’ve had a reasonable amount of snow this winter. You think that I’m  talking like a farmer who’s happy for the spring snow melt—but no—I’m happy as an urban gardener because the snow covers the litter that accumulates in our community garden at Roncesvalles and Grafton. It is the winter curse of urban community gardens and Grafton is a poster child for urban. The streetcar stop borders the garden. McDonalds is right across the street. And the foot traffic through the garden is constant. Of course there’s litter during the growing season too but the winter litter collects. The wind blows candy and cigarette wrappers and hundreds of streetcar transfers into the tangle of raspberry canes that thrive in the garden. No one likes to stoop and pick up any of the trash—except a few stalwart Grafton gardeners. Thank you.

The Grafton Community Garden has done well over the past six seasons in spite of many urban issues. The most significant in our unfenced garden is theft. The raspberry hedge around the garden is so productive that we are happy to share that crop with the neighbourhood and passers by. But the big yummy vegetables like zucchini, cucumber and peppers are all targets for theft. The favourite target for garden thieves is the ripening tomatoes. Vines are stripped of every single fruiteven the small cherry and weird black varietiessometimes right in front of the gardener who has tended the plant and nurtured it from a feeble seedling. It happened to me this year. Why a few people feel entitled to the harvest when they haven’t contributed any work through the growing season is beyond me. This is not the kind of urban garden appreciation that we want. But last year’s most shocking theft was the overnight removal of an entire mini plot of healthy pepper plants—at least a dozen plants, different varieties—roots and all, gone. We seeded the ravaged bed in carrots and beets and got a reasonable late harvest from the plot.

With the perennial beds, we don’t have too much theft, but what gets taken can be heartbreaking. We lost Carolin’s special floribunda rose in August after a short stay in the garden since May. We even tried to camouflage the rose, keeping it partly hidden by a vigorous sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (sedums never get stolen). From the same bed, we lose the Asiatic lily flower stock every year just as the beautiful buds start to open. Looking on the bright side, removing the flower will strengthen the plant and help produce a bigger flower the next year.

Another scourge of the urban garden is tagging. The mural that looks over the Grafton Community Garden was tagged twice last year. Special thanks go out to the BIA for funding and mural artist Walter Ruston, who came to the rescue and over painted the vandalism in just a few days. The general rule that “trash attracts trash” can be expanded to “tagging attracts tagging”. Prompt action is important in the urban garden.

Special thanks to the Grafton gardeners who made a big difference this year.

Thanks to Wally who kept himself busy through the season weeding the lawn of the Grafton garden—with his penknife! Special thanks to Lauren who has taken on the Facebook page for the West End Flower Fairies. That’s the place to go for Grafton Community Garden announcements.

2012 events in the Grafton Community Garden included a spring planting event, an August treasure hunt for the kids and a winter solstice candlelight get together. The events in the Grafton Community Garden are potluck finger food. We try to produce as little garbage as possible at the events, and we’re getting quite good at it.

How did the 2012 season go, you ask?
It started early as you might recall, and we had an ambitious new planto make all the vegetable plots communal. Carolin Taron and I decided that the community garden organization that assigned personal mini-allotments (in the Grafton Garden they are tiny 3 foot by 5 foot plots) to individuals and families had run its course. We were going communal. It was a solution to the awkward problem that occurred every year, where at least a few individual plots that started out well were poorly maintained and deteriorated to complete neglect as the season got hot, holidays took priority and there were still no tomatoes to harvest. And for families, when school starts up again in September, no one has time for garden work.

So the ‘commie’ thinking was that we’d keep our gardeners involved and busy with the chores that needed to be done on the Wednesday evenings or weekends that they came to the garden. And all the gardeners would have a share of the ongoing communal harvest. This assumed that an experienced gardener was around to direct the effort, which wasn’t always the case. So some plots got planted twice or got the seeding a bit mixed up. No big deal.

With central control, all the garden plots were prepared at the right time, really making a difference to the look of the spring garden. All the paths and beds were maintained to the same levelnot perfectbut tidy, well tended and ready to grow. The planting days of spring are always the most popular with volunteers. It’s fun planting peas, radish, arugula, chard, beans, carrots and beets. Our volunteers bring a few cell packs of vegetables and we look for space to tuck them in strategically. Taking the theft problems into account, in 2012 we attempted to concentrate more on what could be successfully harvested. Whole mini plots were assigned to beets and carrots; others to leafy greens or beans and peppers. Only a few tomato plants were allowed in the whole garden. In the past everyone planted 2 or 6 tomatoes and they just grew out of control and swamped every plot. Nothing else had a chance.

We intend to apply what we’ve learned in 2013.

Every year we try to do things better and focus on what works. Plant and maintain the garden so that volunteer gardeners can actually harvest and enjoy the produce. Our plan for 2013 is to plant more of the things that won’t be stolen and to continue with the communal approachno individual plots. We’ll do more greens—arugula, lettuce, chard, parsley, basil and broccoli. We’ll do more root veggies—carrots, beets and parsnips. We’ll continue to plant ‘Garden of Eden’ climbing green beans and cucumbers on the trellis. One zucchini plant on the compost pile is enough. 2013 might see only one tomato plant in the entire garden as we reduce the number of theft target plants. We will move the Asiatic lily to a spot that is less accessible to thieves. And, here’s a call out to any carpenter or handy person who would like to help build three free-standing low gates that we will install at the vegetable garden entrances. The gates might make thieves think twice as they approach the garden with intent to steal the work of their neighbours. The gates will also provide a barrier to dogs that are not welcome in the veggie plots. Carolin also has plans to add more children’s art and colour to the garden this year. The colourful painted posts that define the miniplots in the garden are the only real colour during the winter months.

I think that with our communal approach to the community garden, we actually had fewer people participating. By September, when school has started and the days shorten, the garden relied on the efforts of Carolin and I. But even with fewer participating in the work, the appreciative remarks from passers by were very numerous. Every time I was at work in the veggie plots or perennial beds someone would stop and say thank you for the beautiful garden. The community does appreciate the work.

The bulb display will start soon with the spring thaw. The Hort supplies funding for the increasingly beautiful spring bulb display in the Grafton Garden. Thank you. Surprisingly, there isn’t much theft in the spring. The minor bulbs are too small, I guess. But even the tulips and daffodils last for weeks without being picked. It is encouraging. In the fall of 2012 the Grafton Community Garden also participated in a wonderful bulb distribution organized by the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation. We received several hundred bulbs and planted them right away. The spring 2013 bulb display will be the best ever. Please stop and have a look at the garden if you are in the neighbourhood.

Thanks for giving me this opportunity to rant on about the urban community garden and a huge thank you to the Hort for its ongoing financial support.
Richard Kerr, March 2013

2011 Report

Our community garden has been through five seasons. Wow! It feels like the garden was just started and yet it’s hard to imagine the corner at Roncesvalles just north of Queen without the pleasant little oasis known as the Grafton Community Garden.

I’d say that even though it’s not official, the Grafton Community Gardeners have taken over the entire Grafton Avenue Parkette. The City cuts the grass but we now plant and maintain all the beds in and around the parkette. There are perennials, clematis and shrubs along the east side chain link fence; a shrub and annual flower border along Grafton; a series of small round beds planted with sunflowers and echinacea along the south mural wall, the main community vegetable garden at the centre of the parkette and, as of this year, the original City-planted area along Roncesvalles has finally come under our wing.

Thanks to the support we received from the Hort in 2011, we expanded and improved the bed near Roncesvalles with at least 30 bags of composted sheep manure and topsoil. The City-planted sumac had branches and roots trimmed back and the refreshed and enlarged garden was planted with perennials including – echinacea, chrysanthemums and a rose in the sunnier parts; ferns and Solomon’s seal further back in the sumac shade. Late in the year, this bed was also planted with spring flowering bulbs. Tulips and daffodils with alliums are our favourites now because they provide a great show of colour in the spring. Luckily, they aren’t getting picked by passers by, which is a concern with anything too showy and beautiful at our location. Maybe we just don’t notice the picked tulips because we’ve been able to plant lots of them. Sadly, the two Asiatic lilies coming into flower proved to be irresistible to someone this June. Flowers and produce do disappear from the Grafton garden, but we have never experienced any malicious vandalism. The flattened plants that provide an overnight sleeping spot for a homeless “garden appreciator” do spring back with a little help and staking.

The Grafton Community Gardeners met regularly on Wednesday evenings through the summer of 2011. We enjoyed potluck celebrations at our Spring Planting Event and the Summer Harvest Event which was a special occasion to honour one of the first champions of the Grafton Community Garden, Janis Rosenbaum, who passed away on Mother’s Day. Jan’s enthusiasm for our little corner of Toronto was contagious and she will be missed by all. The Winter Solstice Event on December 21 was a surprising success considering the drizzly wet evening. With all the regular gardeners and supporters, plus a few people new to the neighbourhood, we enjoyed snacks and warm cider while lighting candles to encourage the return of the light.

The edible harvest this year was good though we still tend to overplant in our small plots. We also let the sunflowers have their way which is great for the birds, especially the goldfinches, but not great for the crops that end up in the shade.

This year we grew: rhubarb, radishes, lettuce, arugula, chives, basil, sage, parsley, thyme, sorrel, chard, beans, carrots, beets, tomatoes, strawberries, gooseberries, red currants and of course raspberries. The raspberry hedge around the centre garden gets a trim in the spring (thanks Wally) and then we just wait for the bounty. We get the biggest crop of berries in late June and July. The fall berries come in September and they just keep coming through the fall until the frost hits them in December. Yes, we were still harvesting raspberries, carrots, kale, chard, beets and Brussels sprouts well into December.

Now, what did we learn in the 2011 season?

Well, it’s becoming clear that communal gardening at our location is making more sense than individual plots. Although people agree to tend their assigned plots from planting until fall cleanup, there is a definite flagging of interest as the season progresses. Planting is popular, weeding and maintenance – not so much. Often any setbacks encountered by the newbie plot gardener, like crop failures due to heat or drought and plant or fruit theft, can destroy all interest in the garden for the year. So, next year we’ll use most of the plots as communal garden areas. That way, when friends and neighbours come out on Wednesday evenings, we will always have something for them to do. We can maintain the whole garden through the season and everyone will feel that they’ve been a part of the garden’s success. The plan is to make easy-to-care-for communal plots of strawberries, carrots and beets. Maybe a few herbs or a brussel sprout plant along the edge, but we’ll keep it simple. I have a feeling this will increase our vegetable harvest considerably.

Another lesson that we learned was to make the best use of volunteer time by dividing the bigger chores into parts that can be completed when each person has time. For example, Carolin Taron and I were having trouble coordinating the time for our fall bulb planting. It was going to be just the two of us but our work schedules and the short days in late October were causing delays. I knew how many bulbs that we had to plant (thanks again to the Hort support we had several hundred) and I took the time one morning to dig enough holes and trenches all through the garden for the entire lot. I actually enjoy a good dig. When she had time, later the same day, Carolin popped all the bulbs into the pre-dug holes and filled them back up. Quite a successful division of labour and a big job accomplished.

Carolin was in the Grafton garden for most of the Sunday of the Veggie Tour this September. She was happy to talk with people on the tour who made it down to our garden, but what was more impressive was the number of passers by who enjoy the garden. Some just walk by with a lifted spirit as they look into the garden from the sidewalk. Others are drawn in to the space and really appreciate the air, the lush vegetation, the sense of community accomplishment and the wildlife. It’s true that the regular volunteers carry the heaviest burden of work through the year. But we receive back so many good wishes and so much positive energy from everyone that it makes the work worthwhile.

Richard Kerr

The Grafton Community Garden in its first year ‘before’ (April 2007) and ‘after’ (August 2007).

Located just south of 27 Roncesvalles Avenue, this garden is a very active community food garden that has engaged the community and become a social hub for residents in this area.