Montreal Melon

This week’s most exciting garden development: the melon is making melons.


A friend gave me some seeds for Montreal Melon last year; it was too late to start them, so I designated them this year’s project.  I had never considered growing melons.  I grow all my veg in containers, and pack the containers fairly close together to maximize my tiny yard space; I wasn’t sure a melon plant would be happy under such conditions, as they require a lot of room.  I decided to partly address the problem by growing my melon on a tomato cage, so it could grow up instead of out.

melon cage

The plan is to create little hammocks, out of old tights, for the fruit as they get heavier.  Not sure what I’ll do about the raccoons, but so far they haven’t been a major nuisance this year; I will consider constructing a cage as the melons mature, but I might just take my chances.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the Montreal Melon was a hugely popular garden fruit and considered an exquisite delicacy.  However, it was labourious to grow and did not ship well, and so all but disappeared until recently, when, starting with a few forgotten seeds in an American seed bank, one intrepid gardener managed to grow a plant and harvest the seeds.  Since then, local supporters of the melon have made a project of bringing it back.  You can read a detailed history of the Montreal Melon here.

June 23, 2014: The State of the Garden

Not a lot of dramatic developments in the garden this week; things are just chugging along.  A few highlights:

The first cucumber is almost ready to eat.


We have peas!  We harvested a few on the weekend and made a tiny salad.


Because I uprooted all the mature basil in a panic about downy mildew, and because the basil seeds I planted in May are growing very slowly, I treated myself to a new basil plant.


Otherwise, stuff is just growing.  The zucchinis keep coming, the little green tomatoes are appearing, and – at the risk of jinxing – no major infestations have appeared.  (Frantically knocking wood.)  The weather for the last week has been wonderful.  It’s not too hot, it’s not too wet, and the sun is making its way through our newly pruned trees. My plants seem happy! So I’m happy too.


June 16, 2014: The State of the Garden

This week’s most exciting development: the peas are flowering!  I thought I’d planted them too late, but here they are.


I had also given the strawberry plant up for dead, but the few sad little sprouts seem to be hanging in there, so maybe I’ll get a few berries out of it after all.


I’m pretty chuffed about the beans.


The raspberries have done flowering and the berries are on their way.


The cucumber looks great, but does not seem to be fertilizing itself; the little cukes are not growing up.  I have tried to help it along by hand-pollinating it with cotton swabs, but so far, no luck.


The little zucchinis are popping up just fine, although I’ve already had to start battling powdery mildew.


The peppers and tomatoes are flowering nicely, and are looking bushy and beautiful!


I’ve seen the first slugs, and the standoff with the leaf miners continues – they lay eggs, I remove leaves with eggs, they lay more eggs, nobody’s happy – but I’m loving the way the greenery is filling the yard and the first flowers and fruit are peeking through.

The horrible winter now seems like last night’s dream.  (I almost wrote “a distant dream,” but that would be untrue.  It feels shadowy, but very, very close behind me.)  In Montreal, if we get to experience “late spring,” at all, it usually lasts only a day or two, so I’m trying to enjoy every second of this surprisingly long reprieve: it feels like summer, but you can go for  a run in the morning without risking heat stroke, and you can vacillate about whether it’s time to install the air conditioner.  The garden likes it.  Me too.


June 9, 2014: The State of the Garden

A few garden developments over the weekend:

1. My newest acquisition: a pineapple sage.


2. The first calendula flower has arrived.


3. The first zucchini will soon be ready to eat!


4. The new batch of carrots has germinated…

carrot seedlings

5. …as have the scallions.  All my onions, including my scallions, failed last year, but I’m giving these one more go.


6. I’m a bit worried about one of my poor decisions.  I took some basil inside for the winter, and was very proud that it made it all the way to spring in my kitchen window.  Then in April, I started noticing brown spots on the leaves, and some research suggested that it might, among other things, be downy mildew. Some trimming of the plants seemed to solve the problem, and I was so pleased that they were surviving that I moved them outside, although I kept them far from the other basil plants just in case.

This weekend, I started noticing brown patches on the sorrel in the box next to the basil.  This morning, I discovered some pale spots on the beautiful Swiss chard also in the vicinity.




In a panic, I pulled up and trashed the basil plants (keeping the undamaged leaves for tonight’s pesto.)  Then I calmed down a bit and did some more research.  I’m now inclined to think that the problem here might not be downy mildew, but leaf miners.  A pest, but maybe a bit less serious.  I will spend today removing damaged leaves and will have to monitor closely.  I am NOT PLEASED.  My chard was looking so wonderful!


7. In all, the challenges of planting are mostly over and the challenges of insects and warm weather have begun.  I keep reminding myself that gardening is a hobby and a pleasure, not a chore, and my livelihood doesn’t depend on the whims of leaf miners: if I lose a plant or a whole crop, it’s all part of learning.

In the meantime, today I get chard-and-basil pesto! So it’s all good.

June 4, 2014: The State of the Garden

Despite the slow, late start, things are happening over here.


In very exciting news: today we have a bell pepper.  Last year, I was unable to produce a single one; I’m hopeful that this is just the beginning. (I took about 17 photos and this is the clearest of them all; you get the idea.  Next on my list of fantasy projects: a garden photography course.)


This morning, this sage was very bushy.  I gave it a good haircut, and the trimmings are now in the dehydrator.


The zucchini is also looking promising…


…as is the cucumber.


I also have my first chive blossoms.


Yesterday, I made the year’s first pot of Total Garden Tea: raspberry leaf and orange mint.


Look closely at that mint.  Do see that it’s covered with tiny golden baby spiders? They seem to have infested the deck.  I love spiders, but I don’t necessarily want millions of them in/on my house, so I’ve been patiently scooping up nests of them with paper towels and delivering them down into the main garden, where I hope they will grow up to eat bad guys.

The first nasturtium is also looking happy.


Today I cut the first full head of lettuce; it will go into my salad at lunch.


The collard greens were my first yield, and I’ve been clipping leaves from time to time, but they haven’t grown as huge as I was expecting.  It’s getting a bit hot for them now, so I might harvest them for tonight’s dinner and plant some more in August.


For two years in a row now, I’ve had no luck with rapini.  I started some inside and direct-sowed some others at the beginning of April, but the ones that weren’t eaten by squirrels grew into pathetic little runts and then bolted.  The bees like the flowers, so that’s something. I’ll try again in the fall.


I almost didn’t bother with peas at all, as it was the end of April before I could plant them.  They’ve grown, but haven’t flowered, so I’m not expecting any peas this year.  I’ll wait until the end of June before deciding whether to pull them up and plant something else.


A friend gave me some seeds for the legendary Montreal Melon, a species that was an international sensation in the early 20th century, and that a local group is trying to re-introduce.  I’m a little worried about mine, as it hasn’t been doing brilliantly since its move outside, but it’s started to flower, so my fingers are crossed.


I’m really excited about the carrots.  I took some trouble with them this year in hopes that I’d get something more than spindly little crooked stumps.


I wanted to buy self-watering EarthBoxes for my tomatoes, but EarthBox doesn’t ship to Canada, and they cost about $90 apiece on  I couldn’t find suitable self-watering containers anywhere, so I finally ordered pretty red tomato bags with lovely collapsible trellises from West Coast Seeds.  The chicken wire and netting and clothespins detract from the aesthetics, but the tomatoes seem fine with that.  (You may have noted the yards of netting over absolutely everything.  It’s ugly, but it works; the squirrels are frustrated by it and so focus their energies on other things.)


My husband says he’s always relieved when I begin starting seeds in February, because it means our experiment in home ownership might last another year.  It’s true that everything changes when I can get out in the yard.  Yes, there’s still moisture in the crawl space and windows to be replaced and a shower door that leaks and a mysterious crack in the kitchen ceiling.  But look!  Plants!  Lots and lots of plants!


The State of the Garden: “Spring” 2014

It’s been the longest, nastiest winter in my memory. It finally seems to be lifting, but even now, after four days of above-zero temperatures, the yards are covered with a thick cobbler of ice and mushy snow.  Once this ice and snow melts, it will leave brick and mortar scree all over our front lawn and garden, residue from our February window replacement.  Needless to say, nothing is growing.  At least, not outside.

The only blessing of this wintry hell (and yes, it’s really gotten me down.  I used to like winter.  Not anymore) is the intensification of my pleasure at 1. watching things grow indoors and 2. anticipating the day they can go outside.  For example, here are my collard greens.


I started them in February, and they’re happily humming along in the sunny mudroom.  I’m hoping they’ll have time to get outside and grow big and strong before it gets hot around here.

Also in the mudroom, some alyssum and rapini…


…and the arugula, which I feared was lost when the overnight temperatures dropped to -15 (the mudroom isn’t much warmer than the outdoors).  But no!


Our new windows have nice wide sills.  The cats and the plants appreciate this.  Here, Cat A stands guard over some thyme, dill, calendula and lovage.


I managed to coddle some herbs through the winter.  I’m especially proud of the basil, which was quite spindly when it came inside in October.  Look at it now! The marjoram is also hanging in there.


In the basement, I’ve set up a new grow-light system, and the results have been fabulous. I still have the old purple-bulb-lamps-and-shelf setup for emergency transfers when the main system gets too crowded, but the difference a real adjustable starter light makes is remarkable.  I’ve also bought a couple of heat mats so that the peppers and later the tomatoes can stay toasty.


We’re expecting more rain today, so I’m hoping that the peas can go in their raised bed tomorrow or Monday, and then I’ll keep my fingers crossed that they can produce before summer descends on us.  I’m very interested to see what this season has in store, as Nature seems to be hellbent on proving that we’re not the boss of her.  (Note to humankind: Could you please stop trying to prove that you’re the boss of Nature, and maybe appease her with some nice new rainforests or virgin sacrifices or something?)






July 26, 2013: The State of the Garden

I have built an elaborate, possibly futile anti-squirrel fortress for the tomatoes.





So far, it seems to have been effective.  Before I built it, I found several green tomatoes scattered around the pots, some with bites out of them.  Since I constructed this – a chicken-wire fence, a spiderweb of twine and rubber bands on bamboo stakes, topped with a generous blanket of netting anchored at the bottom with bricks – the plants seem to have been undisturbed.  The trickiest part will be getting at them; three cool days have meant that they haven’t needed to be watered yet, but tomorrow I’ll need to get in there, and it may be quite a process.

In the meantime, the cabbage worms ate my kale.


I’ve put in some collards and lettuce for the fall; I’ll plant some more lettuce after the worst of the summer heat has passed.


The balcony herbs are doing pretty well.



However, the Moroccan mint has been developing brown spots on its leaves.  I’ve moved it into more direct sunlight to see if that helps.


The squirrels have not been entirely deterred by the netting on the strawberries, but it seems to have prevented total decimation.  That said, many of the berries have developed brown spots and, after a few delicious ones in the beginning, the rest have been bland and bitter.  I haven’t determined what’s causing this; maybe you have some ideas?


I’m looking forward to some more dill.


The cress is not happy, but the chocolate mint is doing fine.


The zucchini has gone through a couple of traumas, including falling over and battery by thunderstorms.  It looks fairly happy now, but it hasn’t fruited much for the last couple of weeks.  I’m hoping it’ll pull itself together, especially if we get some hot weather again soon.


The cucumber is doing GREAT right now, and the nasturtiums are making everything cheerful.



I’m looking forward to a second crop of beans.


However, a couple of bean plants have developed these spots on their lowest leaves.  I’m not sure whether this is something to be concerned about.


One poblano fell from the plant during a rainstorm, so I chopped it up to fry in a peppers-and-onions dish and it added a lovely spice.  I can’t wait for this one to fully ripen.


I’m hopeful that August will bring a big pepper crop.  The bell peppers have been struggling but are starting to flower more profusely now, and the poblanos in the shadier part of the garden are showing signs of maturity too.  I’m thinking chiles rellenos.


And finally, after a struggle that began in January and has seen the death of many seedlings, it seems I’m able to grow a catnip plant.


Next year, I may try to scale back a bit.  (Do I really need four tomato plants?  My husband can’t eat tomatoes.  Two zucchini plants in one pot is overkill.  Seven poblano plants – what on earth?)  However, I suspect that in January, when browsing seed catalogues will be my only way to feel like a gardener, plans may change.

Even if everything keels over tomorrow, my garden has been a godsend this year.  In the moments (many of them) when I feel that owning a house is too much for me to handle, I look out at the back yard and remind myself that none of this would have been possible in our cozy second-floor Outremont apartment.  Wandering through the pots every morning, coffee in hand, cats hiding under the foliage, has turned every day into an adventure.

Maybe next year I’ll start caring about the flowers in the front a little more.  I expect the neighbours will appreciate that.

I’m trying to see this whole process as an education.