Toronto Star column – published October 12, 2013
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” ~G.K. Chesterton
This is Thanksgiving weekend and Canadians are celebrating in a variety of ways. For the most part we are taking stock of our great country and our bounty. Let’s face it, very few people on earth can boast that the land in which they live produces the sustenance that we do here.
Thank goodness, I say, for family, health, quality food sources, and, of course, for my pet duck, Clark. He makes me laugh out loud every day. Put all of that aside and a gardener in this country has to be grateful for a lot of things. Here is my short list:
- Rain. It spoiled a few weddings and picnics this season but I ask you, where would we be without it? It was only 10 years ago that we experienced a record autumn drought, when trees in their 30’s bit the dust. Not so this season. From early spring to recent weeks we have had regular rainfall. Try to grow most anything without it.
- Bugs. I know some people hate them – mostly urbanites who do not spend enough time out of doors. And there are bugs that are truly a nuisance – take wasps for example. However it is a fact that over 98% of the bugs in your yard and garden are ‘good’ bugs. That is to say that they perform a function of usefulness and/or they are fodder for larger more useful wildlife. A brown bat, for instance, can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes in only an hour. My point is, don’t be too hard on the insects: they actually serve a purpose.
- Fungi. My friend Lorraine Johnston, the environmentalist/gardener/activist stated in her treatise on gardening that if we did not have fungus to break down the organic material that is produced naturally most everywhere (including fallen leaves this time of year) we would be up to our necks in un-decomposed stuff. More precisely, according to Lorraine, it would stack 5 stories high. I don’t even want to think about it.
- Frogs. We have recently learned that one of the most accurate litmus tests of a healthy ecosystem is the presence of frogs in a neighbourhood. Do you have any in your garden pond? By all means take care of them. Make sure that your pond is at least a meter deep with a soft, muddy bottom for them to winter in. Frogs are very sensitive to changes in the environment, especially where toxic chemicals are to be found. Their presence in your yard is an indication of a healthy natural balance – you are making a valuable contribution to the biodiversity in your community. Don’t wait for any awards in this regard, just take this pat on the back from me.
- Worms. I am often asked if soil tests are a good idea. My response is, “Yes, by all means test your garden soil.” I recommend that you do this by digging a hole about 30 cm deep with a sharp shovel. Save the contents of the soil: sift through it until you have encountered the earth worms there and count them up. Then place them gently back where they came from. Every couple of months dig a hole in the same area and repeat the process. Keep a mental tally of the worms that you find and be sure to do this at the same time of year to be consistent. As time passes, note whether the worm population is growing or regressing. Population growth is an indication that your garden soil is improving in health. Keep adding lots of organic matter each year –spring OR fall. I add about 4 cm of finished compost to my entire garden each year. ‘Feed the soil and the soil will take care of plant health.’ It is that simple. Really.
- Apples. I am very grateful for the apple crop this season. I have about 60 apple trees in my 10-acre garden, a drop in the bucket compared to a large orchard. However even I noticed that the disastrous crop of last year has been followed by one of the most bountiful crops ever here in Ontario. Trees are smart. They knew that they had to flower to beat the band and produce prodigiously this year or life could get cut short. It is an instinctive thing for fruiting trees to bear heavily after a season of barely bearing at all. I am eating at least 2 fresh apples a day right now and most of them I picked from my own trees the day of. Gotta be thankful for that! And you can be thankful for the abundance of fresh, inexpensive apples at your local market.
- A green lawn. My lawn has never looked better. Well, maybe it looked better last year about this time when my daughter had her wedding in our garden. But I worked my butt off to get it that way. This year the cool evening temperatures and the regular rain fall has made for great looking lawns without the extra work. Here is a reminder that you should apply a fall lawn food any time now. It is the most important application of the year.
- Blight-free tomatoes. I grow 200 tomato plants each season. I know, sanity isn’t a strong point. However growing them is my idea of ‘fun’ and the local food bank appreciates it. This year was exceptional not just for the wide variety of tomato seeds that I was able to acquire through various sources, but the fact that early blight was kept at bay all season. It helped that I applied Bordo copper spray every two weeks beginning in late June, but I must say, all 20 varieties were clean and healthy up to the end. Which will come with the first ‘hard’ frost. Again, I am thankful for the rain and cool evening temperatures.
- Hummingbirds. I am fascinated by these little creatures. They came in May for a few days on their way north to make babies. They came back to my garden in late August and will stay until hard frost. This is indeed a blessing and a joy. Every day with a hummingbird in the garden is a reminder that miracles happen all of the time. Explain to me, for instance, how they get to Costa Rica from my place each year?
- Changing seasons. Have you ever met someone who lived in Texas, say, or Florida year round for a period of years and then returned to live in Canada? Ask them if they missed ‘home’ and inevitably they make some reference to the changing of the seasons. Listen a bit longer and they will exclaim over how much they missed the changing colour of the leaves on trees here.
Which brings me nicely back to Thanksgiving weekend.
It seems to me no coincidence that we stop to give thanks the second full weekend of each October. We have a magnificent harvest to celebrate, fresh air, green spaces, and all of the wildlife that supports it to be thankful for.
Question of the Week
Q/ Do I have to rake all of the leaves on my lawn? Can I just blow them onto the garden?
A/ Run your lawnmower over the leaves with the wheels set at the highest setting. After you have mulched them up into small pieces, either rake them up and put the leaf remnants in the compost or rake them onto your garden. The soil in your garden will benefit as worms take the leaves down into the soil and convert them into nitrogen-rich worm castings.