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Unexpected Yields

 
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Perhaps this post belongs in the "compost" forum, but it feels proper here as well.

Have you ever sought out one yield in the realm of growing food, and then received something completely unexpected--even better than the food you intended to grow?

I recently moved to a more urban setting, and was elated that the neighborhood had community garden plots!  Sadly, I missed the lottery for the summer and winter season, but there was one thing I could still do...make compost!

I resurrected the community compost bins, and in doing so, have made more than just healthy soil.  Here are a few unexpected or unanticipated yields from working the compost bins:

*A sense of place* Being outside in the neighborhood year-round provides a sense of belonging to and understanding of the new environment I'm in.  I also get my daily sunshine from the walk.

*Community* I have met other gardeners, strangers, and have made friends!  Mostly people, but some animals too.  (Though I confess I killed one of my mouse-friends digging in the bin).  I even was able to help mentor a young lady interested in my Alma matter...all because of the bin!

*Food* I've been able to appreciate certain foods which other people have tossed as less than acceptable.  Let's just say I never had to buy Tomatoes, Broccoli, or Kale last year.  I also have some sweet potato stocked up for planting soon...if I win the garden-plot lottery.

*Exercise* I'm using a modified Berkeley method...in other words I'm out there just about every other day turning the pile.  My arms get a great workout, and I am weighing the same as I did in college.

Masanoba Fukuoka's quote certainly comes to mind here, but I guess what I'm trying to convey is encouragement.  

I hope people realize that it's not *only* the food itself that is *medicine*, but the entirety of what goes in to making it: the sun, the land, the labor, the people, the patience and hope, and the compost bin.
 
George Yacus
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What are some unexpected and healthy yields that you have achieved in your quest to grow food?
 
gardener
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Location: South of Capricorn
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Sounds like fun, George!

I have a backyard garden in an urban setting, and I see all sorts of birds that are not common here. Recently we are getting a lot of bee diversity as well. I had a volunteer male papaya come up recently: it won't bear fruit, but instead is covered with flowers. It has turned into Hummingbird Disneyland, and I have every intention of leaving it there as long as it keeps flowering-- there are at least 5 kinds of hummingbirds that feed from it every day, here in the city. Definitely not what I was thinking when I started this backyard homestead!
 
George Yacus
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Tereza Okava wrote:It has turned into Hummingbird Disneyland, and I have every intention of leaving it there as long as it keeps flowering-- there are at least 5 kinds of hummingbirds that feed from it every day, here in the city. Definitely not what I was thinking when I started this backyard homestead!



And just like that, I imagine dozens of little hummingbirds singing "It's A Small World, After All" in the tiniest of voices.
 
Tereza Okava
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haha. Just this morning I had to go out there and see what all the squeaking was about, they spend most of the time chasing each other while shrieking what I assume is bloody murder!!! (at each other, at the other birds, at the carpenter bees.....)
 
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Location: 5b Ontario
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I live right in the centre of a mid-sized city, surrounded by about two-hundred thousand others in many kilometres of continual, boring urbanity that is ringed by yet more urban cities. Turning to gardening has been a major source of personal growth and joy, as well as being very educational. Three years ago we had a bit of a life adjustment with the discovery of my husband's brain tumour, and gardening became a much more prominent hobby- a way to really improve upon and enjoy our backyard since we are no longer travelling much. Most importantly, it also functioned to provide more nutritional benefit to our diet in the form of growing fresh, organic edibles. For us, this endeavour has been (and continues to be) all of what we expected, and so much more.

I personally hate exercising as I find it boring. My husband is the same. For us, doing house work, like renovations, and more frequently as gardening, provides lasting benefits and has the advantage of physical activity, which we would struggle to stick with if it was just exercise. I also find gardening to be very stimulating mentally, as it is filled with rewarding and stress-relieving activities. We love to eat our dinner and supper outside in the summer, admiring our garden, and away from cellphones and computer screens. The more stuff grows, the more it muffles the drone of the streets, and the more we hear the songs of birds. I didn't expect gardening would be such an important boost to both our physical or mental health, but it's been incredibly beneficial as a way to manage stress and anxiety, even during trying situations.

In addition, I love to cook, bake, and eat (all the more reason for the physical activity). Besides the benefits of excellent nutrition - by increasing our vegetable intake and variety-  gardening has really allowed my palette and my cooking repertoire to expand, and I have revisited vegetables that I previously did not care for.

Until three years ago, when the guy asked me to start growing them, I really disliked beans. Now I love them, and know many different ways to prepare them. I still don't want the tasteless straws sagging inside little bags at the store, but forays into heirloom vegetables have really made me appreciate produce beyond feeble hothouse crops. It is the same feeling with melons and tomatoes, and I have a renewed love of lettuces since I have started growing different varieties. Salads are wonderful made with truly fresh vegetables, and they smell ridiculously good when chock full of fresh herbs. If I toss in some edible flowers they look stunning, too, and it seems more enjoyable to eat beautiful things. I didn't grow up eating salad (my Irish family didn't eat salad) but now I actually really like it.

I have also been learning to hand pollinate, harvest, and store seeds from my most successful plants for the next year (some of which I have now started for planting this year). It's been amazing to learn to cure and store my own squash, and to eat it all winter, to pickle beans, and jam green tomatoes after months of eating ripe ones fresh and then making litres of passata. When I started plans for a garden, it wasn't anywhere in my mind that I would grow enough of anything to put it away through the winter, and seed saving wasn't a consideration- I didn't even understand the difference of hybrid seeds versus open pollinated varieties. I never expected to put so much thought into seasonal growth, rotations, soil quality, even moon phases. lol. It is truly fascinating  and very exciting to learn about, and the more we learn, the more we shift our habits and preferences (like drastically reducing the amount of exotic fruit we buy, as well as not buying out of season produce, and finding new, local supplies outside of the usual chain stores.)

We have built seven raised 1.2m x 2.4m wooden vegetable beds in the back garden, along with a kingly 5m x 1m x 1m wooden planter that runs the whole length of our patio, that is topped with a 3m high pergola and a back trellis wall. In our summer parties last year, guests could not resist wandering over to the planter with it's beautiful wall of burgundy-tipped foliage, dripping with fuchsia flowers and deep violet beans. Big, ink-topped tomatoes shone out from under emerald branches overhanging the front of the planter, and brilliant green vines with enormous yellow blooms laced the whole exterior and piled across the pergola, crowning a line of vermillion pumpkins that hung between the slats like big painted lanterns. Along the bottom was a mixed variety of basils, affording a green, maroon, and chartreuse carpet. It functioned as a living, edible art installation, it smelled like perfume, and we ate many meals from the offerings. It also gave us a much needed privacy screen from a neighbour's raised deck that overlooks our patio, and acted as a lightweight noise buffer.  It was such a conversation piece, I would catch even aforementioned curmudgeon neighbour admiring it. (No one has seen trellised pumpkins hanging 3 metres from the ground.)

My strategy to fight pests with natural control methods has been working quite well, and is far less stressful (actually usually enjoyable) than trying to use chemical cocktails to control everything. I enjoy supporting my local birds, which has completely eliminated my (originally severe) snail problem. I benefit from families of cheeky robins that are ridiculously cute to watch, and I also get to eat my cabbages.

The birds understand my yard is (mostly) welcome to them, as do the squirrels, rabbits, voles, raccoons, possums, and foxes, and the balance of my critter companions is that most of my insect problems are handled, and I don't suffer from various rodent issues which plagued the original owners of this house. I mean yes I have some voles, but they aren't interested in tunneling into the house, and they can't possibly eat the *whole* garden. Watching the cheeky, chubby buggers line up as a family and tear the leaves off my alliums one-by-one is mesmerizing as some kind of Wind in the Willows sketch- with the robins pulling worms out of the clover, the buns munching on the lilies, tiny sparrows flitting about on the creeping juniper, and fluffy squirrels stuffing pine nuts and crocus flowers into their faces up in the mulberry tree above. We built in a custom box bay window in the master bedroom so both myself AND my fluffy house cats can enjoy the free entertainment. If the critters get themselves too fat and adventurous we have a gorgeous slinky ginger fox around here that will happily eat them.

Our garden is still very much a work in progress, but we started with a flooded, smelly clay bog topped by a rotting wooden deck and an over-choked mini-pond that was a mosquito heaven, and now we have a nice and tranquil place to sit, a space to walk around, a storage shed, a bountiful supply of fresh food through the warm months, and a bunch of bird varieties that either visit throughout the year or are now permanent residents. (Woodpecker, bluejay, robin, housefinch, goldfinch, cardinal, black-cap chickadee, mourning dove, nuthatch, warblers, sparrow, swallow, gnatcatcher, and grackles- that I have identified so far.)
I document the new varieties of butterflies and bees that I find every year while sketching the birds and flowers in my backyard. I have bought books so I can identify my various new garden friends. I've also made a nicer relationship with most of my neighbours, who are usually interested about the odd young couple with the unusual flowers and strange vegetables whose house always smells like bread.

Every year, my plans for expansion of this conservatory of plants becomes more ambitious, and this year I am starting vegetable and herb seedlings for 3 other branches of the family, my next door neighbour, and my best friend in addition to my own garden. Enthusiasm is apparently very infectious, and many of those that ate gifts from our garden are keen to grow a few of those interesting and colourful items themselves. I did not expect my in-laws to try, let alone relish, Japanese cucumbers, French pumpkins, or Siberian tomatoes, or to enjoy borage leaves and calendula flowers in salad. Expanding horizons!
 
                                
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I moved into a suburban house with a little land a few years back and had continually battled bermuda grass from overtaking new earthworks, beds, etc. This year i made the decision to surrender to the persistent grass and utilize it by buying a lawn mower with a bagging attachment. This has been my unexpected yield in unlimited supply of clippings for composting and mulch. Before utilizing clippings, I did not have a consistent source of mulch/cheap waste stream inputs for composting in my area (or on site) and as a permie, that is incredibly anxiety inducing.
 
pollinator
Posts: 360
Location: Southern Germany
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Sionainn Cailís wrote:I live right in the centre of a mid-sized city, surrounded by about two-hundred thousand others in many kilometres of continual, boring urbanity that is ringed by yet more urban cities.


Sionnain, I love the journey you describe into gardening and food appreciation, and that you could infect more people with your enthusiasm! Beautifully written.
I am sure I am not the only one who would be happy to see some pictures of your garden!
 
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