David Hinks

by David Hinks

Once upon a time in a far away allotment garden plot in the wilds of the Alta Vista area of Ottawa, a well-meaning gardener thought that it would be very worthwhile to grow many different types of herbal and medicinal plants.

Some of those plants rewarded the gardener’s care and nurturing by growing large tangled clumps, spreading rampantly, flowering profusely and spreading their seed far and wide. So it is time now after many moons of neglect to clear out some of the dark corners and restore areas that have been lost to ‘civilized’ plants back to the dominion of order and control – perhaps only wishful thinking!!

So continuing on the theme of doing as much clean-up as possible in the fall as our spring is such an incredibly short period of time to get all of the gardening chores completed, I decided to tackle some of those neglected corners. The soil is now saturated with moisture and plants have all but stopped growing, so now is as good as it is going to get to battle against some of the garden ‘monsters’.

The first area that I tackled contained several clumps of comfrey (Symphytum officinale).  Comfrey is a very large perennial plant with a large branched root growing two feet or more into the soil. It needs a place about four-feet across and grows about three-feet tall before it starts to sprawl. Comfrey is for external use only and has been used traditionally as a topical application for bruises, fractures and wounds. The deep roots of comfrey mine minerals from the subsoil and the foliage can be used to make a manure ‘tea’. Its blossoms are also highly attractive to pollinators. However, if allowed to go to seed, little plants spring up all over the place and in no time at all turn into ‘monsters’. The following photo shows a large root that has been wrestled from the soil (Warning: Do not attempt this in dry summer soil as you will break the handle of your shovel – how do I know??)

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 Another area that I decided to ‘clean-up’ had been taken over by Stinging Nettle (Utica dioica). This cold hardy perennial has stinging hairs on its leaves and is generally to be avoided, except for those that believe that the stings relieve the pain of arthritis. However it has been widely used as a medicinal plant and as a culinary plant is used for its young green leaves that are one of the first greens to emerge in the spring. It is recommended that they not be eaten raw but cooked like spinach or added to soups.

Notwithstanding its many virtues, it had outgrown its allocated space and I decided to show it who is boss. As the following photos show it looks relatively innocuous on top but the roots are truly a wicked tangled web that is nearly impossible to extricate completely from the soil.

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 Tansy (Tannacetum vulgare) is a very hardy perennial herb growing to about four feet in height. It has been traditionally used as an insecticide and disinfectant. As shown in the following photo it produces huge amounts of seeds that sprout readily. Its root clump can be relatively easily dug this time of year but a lot of effort can be saved if seed heads are clipped off before they mature.

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One of the most notorious ornamental plants to eliminate is goutweed – it is virtually impossible to dig out as little pieces of root break off and they will all re-grow. If anyone offers you a “pretty green-and-white ground cover that grows itself” run the other way!

So what is one to do if one has a patch of goutweed or Canada Thistle that one wishes to get rid of? We are no longer allowed to use chemicals and it is impossible to dig them out – one solution that I have used with considerable success is to cover the patch of ground with a heavy black plastic sheet as shown in the following photo – with a plant such as goutweed it may be necessary to leave the plastic cover on for a full growing season.

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I think that as gardeners we often find that it is more satisfying to start a new project rather than deal with the hard work of maintaining existing plantings. The question of garden maintenance and how to simplify it and make it easier is a subject that we will be examining among many other gardening topics such as the growing requirements of vegetables and how they fit with the realities of the Almonte climate. Plan to take some workshops with the Neighbourhood Tomato in the spring as we share our experience with starting seedlings indoors and getting our gardens ready for another year.

The fourth community potluck (actually the sixth if you count the two potlucks at Augusta Part in July) sponsored by the Neighbourhood Tomato Community Gardens will take place Thursday November 28 at 5:30pm at the Civitan Club in Almonte. Tell your friends, invite a new neighbour, whip up your favourite dish, and bring your family to the Almonte Civitan Hall for a wonderful and welcoming evening of sharing good food and getting to know your neighbours. This is a free event and everyone is welcome!

Also coming up in November for the Neighbourhood Tomato Community Gardens is an Action Planning meeting for 2014.  It will be held November 22, 2013 from 9:30 AM to 2:00 PM at Hillside Reformed Presbyterian Church Hall located behind the church at  273 Almonte Street, Almonte.

We encourage anyone to attend who is interested in supporting the Neighbourhood Tomato Community Gardens. Its mission, “Growing food, building community,” and guiding principles:

  1. We support the growth of a vibrant local food network.
  2. We value learning through doing, mentoring, and skill sharing while building respectful relationships among all people, food and nature.
  3. We celebrate and nurture the abundance of strengths, gifts and passions in our community.

In the morning we will be reviewing our 2013 achievements and looking at what opportunities exist while creating an “action plan” for this upcoming year.

To Register Click Here: http://neighbourhoodtomato.eventbrite.com

I had the privilege of spending Saturday afternoon at Patrice’s Your Independent Grocer in Almonte encouraging people to ‘Build a Mountain of Food’ and make donations for the Lanark County Food Bank, which serves Mississippi Mills and Carleton Place. This is one of the most important events of the year for the Food Bank to collect the resources to help the less fortunate in our community.  I was truly overwhelmed by the response from the amazing number of people that passed though the front door of Patrice’s on a busy Saturday (I believe that if you stood by the door long enough you would see the entire population of Mississippi Mills pass through). The staff at Patrice’s are a really great bunch of people who helped in many ways including the staff that assembled the pre-packaged bags, the staff that stacked the donations and the guys that retrieved our flyers from the carts in the parking lot.

The response from people was not uniformly positive – I certainly understand that some people are in a hurry, are stressed, have donor fatigue, or believe that Food Banks have been abused by some. But I was really touched by the generosity of the community and most particularly by a six or seven year old boy that put his quarter in the money box and asked his dad for more change to donate.