Wondering about my allotment garden?

It’s growing! Actually, I need to make another trip down there, either today (late afternoon) or tomorrow morning.

Things are happening.

Here is the section that contains kale, curly endive, lettuce, eggplants, and two types of basil. So far, the weather’s been cool-ish, which has favoured the lettuce types. I expect that the warmer weather crops will gain the upper hand in the near future.


Continue reading

Lack of measurable rain

Last evening on Twitter, it seemed that half of the people I follow in Toronto were talking about the ’86d competition for Toronto’s Hottest Chef, and the other half were focussed on the sky: would we get rain, or would we be bypassed yet again? I took a quick panorama using my iPod of the sky: we had overlapping layers moving at different speeds:

Clouds but not rain

Alas, a friend sent me a link to the WeatherUnderground map that showed rain pretty much everywhere but the old city.

I could no longer put it off. I had to go water my veggie garden this morning. Good thing I went. Lack of rain does not mean lack of weeds: they’re highly drought-tolerant. I did not photograph my shame of weeds! The zucchini, shoshi, and bolting mesclun mix were almost lost among them. I spent a good hour weeding, and could spend a couple more. I think I’m going to get some straw to lay down as a mulch where I’m not growing things to impede the growth of more weeds. As I weed an area, I’ll lay down mulch.

Here’s how some things looked today. I only took pictures of things that looked significantly different from last post. That means no pictures of zucchini, chard, plum tomatoes, or eggplants: they look like they’re in stasis.

First, my cherry tomatoes — Sweet Millions are beginning to ripen. Ripening will progress down the bunch, so it will be a matter of picking before the top one is too ripe and the bottom one isn’t ripe enough. Or just picking the ripe ones off instead of grabbing the whole bunch.

Sweet Millions getting sweeter

The sweet red pepper is definitely getting larger. I’m not seeing signs of any siblings for it yet.

Sweet red pepper

The Portuguese hot pepper is getting twistier and longer!

Portuguese hot pepper

I did manage to harvest a few things: some basil (it needed the tops lopped off, and I needed some fresh basil for today’s Caprese salad for lunch). And a handful of yellow beans that I’ll eat for dinner. I have a variety of squash that I got at the Leslieville farmers market on Sunday, so I may sautée up a mass of squash & beans and put them together with some pasta for dinner.


About 4 of the yellow beans had been munched from the bottom to about halfway up. I suspect it may have been the bunnies I’ve seen down there. I broke them off the vine, and scattered them around the plant. Maybe they’ll come back for them, now that they’re at ground level.

How’s your garden growing?

Initial planting done.

Planted on Sunday morning. Went down there about 8 am: not many people about, just me and the birds. Lots of birds in the birdhouses scattered around the place — diving, insect hunting, calling to each other in kind of a drippy tap sound (but not the same as cowbirds). Cornell’s bird ID guide tells me I’ve got tree swallows, which adapt well to boxes, but the sound’s not quite the same (hey, do birds have regional dialects?).

Raked things up, put the pots where they seemed to make sense, then planted, then watered again.

So I’ve got:

  • 4 Sweet millions (red cherry tomato)
  • 4 heart-shaped sweet red peppers
  • 4 Roma (paste) tomatoes
  • 4 early girl round slicing tomatoes
  • 4 San Marzano (paste) tomatoes
  • Swiss chard
  • 2 pots of basil
  • 4 black magic eggplants
  • 4 green Zucchini
  • 4 hot Portugal peppers

Plus seeds that I’ve kept in my ‘fridge for a few years:

  • Birdhouse gourds: I want to make birdhouses and birdfeeders of them. Planted 2 seeds each in 4 spots. I suppose I could get tree branches and stick them in the earth to give a structure they can climb. Was thinking I’d just let them wander all over the soil, but they might be safer from rodents chomping them if up in the air. When I planted soybeans, the local bunnies chowed down on all the fresh new shoots.
  • Mesclun mix: oooh, my own salad greens, guaranteed not to be watered with water downstream of a CAFO. Planted two rows, about 6 feet long each. Sowed the seed pretty thick, because I’m figuring the germination rate will be lower than when the seed was fresh, even though it was in a ziplock bag in the dark fridge 🙂 We’ll see if I get any to harvest.
  • Cleome: red. common name: spider lily. It grows about 4-6 feet tall, so I put it along the edge of the fence on the west side. The neighbour has lupins behind it, so it won’t interfere with them.
  • Lavatera: white. common name: mallow. It’s a pretty flower, a simple, clear, uncomplicated. Planted it in front of the cleome.


Here’s a picture of one bed: this contains the paste tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.


I’m hoping to pick up a few more things for ratatouille (I want to *grow* it!) at the Leslieville Farmer’s Market this Sunday morning: Urban Harvest had some awesome heirloom varieties of vegetables last year.

Early spring on the Spit

The Leslie Spit is one of my favorite places to bike: I can watch birds, see what is growing, and sometimes, when its foggy, feel like I’m nowhere near Toronto, just out on a country road somewhere.

Sunday was clear and warm. There was a fairly strong wind from the southwest, which meant working on the way out to the lighthouse and almost (not quite) coasting home.

Here are some photos I took on Sunday. It was definitely the earliest in the year that I’ve gone out there.

Nice view from about half-way out: the red osier dogwood provides some foreground colour. There have really been huge changes to the Toronto skyline since I moved here in ’87:

Spitting distance of downtown

I liked this view of the cormorant nests. After a few years of them nesting in the trees, the trees die because of the bird lime. They look ghostly and out of place in the summer. In winter, before trees have started leafing out, they don’t seem quite as unusual. They almost look like stalks of broom, except the scale is four to six times greater.

Cormorant nests

 One of my favourite winter-time ducks in Toronto is the long-tailed duck. Soon they’ll be leaving, heading north and east. Unlike mallards, they’re relatively fearful of people and keep their distance. Very cute little diving ducks — they’ll suddenly disappear, and reappear on the surface 10 or 15 feet away after a minute.

Long tailed ducks

 I was really surprised to see a few woolly bear caterpillars on the move, but I guess the soil has warmed up enough that it woke them up. Hope they survived the onslaught of cyclists and joggers! If they make it, they’ll grow up to be Isabella tiger moths, and they’re not considered pests in either form, so don’t kill them, please.

Wooly bear caterpillar

But some wildlife seems more of a pest than other types. Some of the gulls are back, and setting up house on the spit, preparatory to mating and laying eggs and rearing their young. There are three or four different types that nest out here (and some terns, too). It’s why UNESCO has declared it a significant bird sanctuary.


There was one fellow off to the left of my picture with a big wooly microphone, recording the raucous keening of them.

Continuing my meander out to the lighthouse, I came across a woman feeding a pair of mute swans:

Mute swans

Within sight of the lighthouse, I heard an early spring territorial call. A male red wing blackbird had set himself a guard tower in a tree. This is definitely the earliest I can recall hearing one.

Male Red Wing Blacbird

Out at the end, I saw a para-surfer (para-sailor?) wrestling with his sail in the strong wind.

Para surfing

 For the bike ride home, I rode along the eastern path. Although rougher and more pot-holed, it doesn’t have all the speedbumps they’ve felt necessary to install on the harbour-side path. Oh, I’m sure they’ll get there.

I stopped to look at the beaver dam to see if there was any action. I didn’t see any beavers, but I did watch three robins flitting about.

First robin I've seen

I also saw some canvasback ducks in another of the internal ponds, but they were too far away to photograph.

Sure, I’ll get myself a 500mm prime to do that. I’ll get right on it.

Well, maybe I’ll rent one for a bit. My 120-400mm zoom is a bit of a soft focus.




Photographing the sunrise on Sugar Beach

I got up early this morning and biked over to Sugar Beach, on Queen’s Quay just east of Jarvis street. The sun is now swinging farther south, making it easier to capture the rising sun over water. In the middle of the summer, it’s rising over land to the east, and is quite high in the sky by the time it’s visible from the beach.

I took a series of photographs as the sun came up.

This is one of my favorites:

Sunrise on Sugar Beach #4

I like the colours of the sunrise and the water, but realize that if I want to get the picture that’s in my mind, I need to bring my tripod and shoot a series of images quickly, and then merge them together in Photoshop as a high dynamic range image (HDRI). That’s the only way I’m going to be able to capture the pink of the umbrellas and the sunrise together. Here’s a picture before the sun came blazing up:

Before sunrise on Sugar Beach

 I’d also like to see if I can catch a sunrise with some photogenic clouds.

I see more trips to Sugar Beach in my future! Maybe the ugly fence will go away, too.

(Click here if you’d like to see the full set of photos)

Urban — ex-urban? Nature? Artificial?

I know a lot of people (and more every year) are opposed to zoos: they disagree with animals being kept in an artificial environment, in unnatural circumstances.

The animal may be safer, but is it happier? Is it living out the nature of its being?

 These are questions I’m not going to try to answer.

I like to see animals: Toronto zoo is endeavoring to give them the best environment possible.

I was there on Thursday. I didn’t realize it closed at 4:30pm, and only left here at 11:30am: it takes almost 2 hours to get there from here by TTC (there must be a faster way!).

Still, I had 3 hours to walk around (I have some problems with the signage at the zoo: I think it needs work, and may have deteriorated over time with budget cuts from first Metro Toronto and then the amalgamated Toronto).

I took my new camera, my Canon 5D MkII, and I was really impressed. From 25 feet away with my 400mm lens, I’ve captured each separate bristle on  the red river hogs.

Red river hog profile portrait

Most of the animals are prettier 😀

Go have a look: let me know what you think in the comments section, either here or on Flickr.


Calendar order has arrived!

I’ve just received what will probably be my last order of calendars before Christmas.

If you want one and didn’t order one, you’re in luck: I ordered some extras, just in case there were any last-minute requests! Just click over to my e-store and order one — since there won’t be time for shipping, we’ll have to arrange to meet up so you get it on time.