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Growing Urban ~ Early July

The summer and the entire growing season is going by so quickly. The garden changes almost daily and we are fully enjoying our harvest. Lettuces and spinach make for simple, flavor-filled salads. We shuck peas for breakfast, snack on strawberries, radishes and broccoli. We infuse our drinks with fragrant herbs and patiently await the arrival of our tomatoes and cucumbers. There’s nothing like a fresh salsa or bruschetta on a hot summer day.

Here are some photographs from our garden and its progress. I am really loving the companion plants we put in this year. Not only are they distracting pests of all sorts from the crops, they are a joy to look at.

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It looks like a busy place but among all those companion plants, there are fruits and vegetables.

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Giant dill that is now taller than our scarecrow.

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Runaway cauliflower. If not harvested at the right time, it goes on to create little florets that are not very tasty.

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As someone who loves cakes, I have been thoroughly enjoying the edible flowers in the garden as well. Flowers add such a lovely touch to the top of any cake without the need to go heavy on the icing.

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These cake topping beauties attract bees. Borage flowers, the dashing blue stars, refill with nectar every two minutes and have a way of keeping the bees’ attention. I have been on a mission to capture a bee in action for some time. They flutter from flower to flower and are surprisingly difficult to capture.

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I am in the process of starting up a larger Urban Garden Farm. I want to focus on growing specific greens and herbs that are known to be especially powerful for healing, or helping to ameliorate symptoms of, chronic conditions.

So now I am on a mission to find a polytunnel that will be a good fit for our back yard and for growing food free of chemicals or any off-farm inputs.

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~Grow~Share~Thrive~

 

 

 

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Urban Garden Harvest ~ Early June

It is early June and here are some of the delicious vegetables coming out of our urban garden. Our first harvest included Cherry Belle Radishes, lettuce, spinach and all kinds of herbs including dill, cilantro, parsley, lemon balm, bergamot, lemon verbena, marjoram, thyme, oregano, holy basil, and rosemary.

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The kids enjoyed harvesting the radishes, big and small. They are excited about growing their own food. Planting, watering, harvesting and taking care of a garden are a good life skill that may just come in handy.  When we started our Urban Garden in the Front Yard, we wanted it to be a full contact sport.

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Different kinds of lettuce and spinach are in full force. I love running out the front door and chopping fresh veggies and herbs for a nice salad to go with dinner or as a big part of dinner. The lettuce and spinach regrow relatively quickly so we are able to enjoy a lovely salad everyday. There is something wonderful about eating produce cut minutes before it is consumed.

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Below is a sample of the salads we have been making over the last few weeks.

Radishes, spinach, lettuce and dwarf kale. Fresh dill, holy basil, lemon verbena, cilantro and parsley make it into the salad, too.

I keep the vinaigrette simple, 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil, 1 table spoon of Balsamic Vinegar, 1 tablespoon of real Maple Syrup.

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Strawberries are almost ready. They will make a fantastic addition to salads. That is, if they don’t get eaten up first.

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Nasturtium flowers are edible and add a lovely decoration and taste to any salad. Here is our fist flower.

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~Grow~Share~Thrive~

 

All photographs are original by Jane Grueber.

 

 

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Front-Yard Urban Garden ~ May Update

Now that May is half over and all our garden beds have been filled with vegetables, fruit and herbs, it is time to pause and take stock of what is actually growing and to reflect on why we are growing our own and sharing it with others.

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Why a Front Yard Garden?

This is our front yard. We decided to trade our weed-filled front lawn for six 4′ by 8′ raised garden beds filled with organic soil and home-made compost.

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This is our experiment. We want to know how much food we can grow and whether this set up can provide enough for our family of five for a 22 week growing period and beyond.

My hope is that we grow enough produce for our family AND to share with our neighbours as well as those who face household food insecurity in our community.

Read more about our front yard urban garden project here.

What is Household Food Insecurity? 

Not enough nutritious food on the table even though paychecks are coming in? Yes, this does exist in Canada. It is worse in some parts, such as the Northern Territories where two-thirds of children have very limited access to nutritious foods.

On Vancouver Island, where we live, research shows that 25 per cent of families experience some form of household food insecurity and have difficulty putting nutritious meals on the table as their money runs out long before their next paycheck.

Malnutrition in children and adults leads to poor health and mental health outcomes. Developmental difficulties as well as chronic conditions are directly linked to household food insecurity and increased health care costs.

Read more about Household Food Insecurity here.

Nutritious foods sold in ‘Farm Stores’ and Farmers’ Markets are expensive and out of reach for many working families and individuals attempting to manage chronic conditions through better nutrition.

Read more about Household Food Insecurity here.

These challenges are real. They are also opportunities. Growing our own as a way to gain independence and create greater food security in our community is indeed a revolutionary act.  Thankfully, there are many people around the world engaged in such subversive grassroots action. Our family is on a mission to Grow, Share and Thrive.

This is our first year. Our total investment in this front yard urban garden was $1600 CND. This is two months worth of groceries for us.  I know that this seems like a large sum (we saved and used many creative shortcuts). But this is a one time investment. Next year, our own compost and saved seeds will decrease the cost significantly. I see this as an investment that will pay off in the long run and benefit many.

My hope is to help others set up similar operations in their front yards; to provide them with free seeds, free seedlings, free compost (or help them create their own compost), to help them put together garden beds the most cost-effective way possible as well as an easy drip watering system that saves time and money.

I am heartened that people are interested in what we are doing. This year, we were able to give our neighbours tomato and strawberry seedlings as well as unused seeds to help them start their own urban gardens. Naturally, the biggest barrier to growing one’s own is time.

We specifically set up our urban operation to be non-time consuming. Once seeds and plants are in place, it’s water tap on, water tap off. Done.

Want to start your own urban garden? Read more about how to get started here.

Get even more inspiration for growing your own here.

What’s Growing in the Garden?

Cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, radishes, peas, beans, spinach, lettuce, cucumber, squashes of all sorts, watermelon, strawberries, sorrel, garlic, cabbage as well as 32 different herbs and perennials.

Here are some pepper blossoms. They are so delicate. We started the seeds for these from an organic green pepper we purchased at a local store (one way to get seeds). We started the seeds in used organic coffee grounds on our kitchen counter.

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They start out so little.

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Here is some dwarf kale.

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Cauliflower which loved the cooler, damp weather that we had until yesterday when the sun found us.

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This is a Gala Apple Tree. We got the seed from an store bought apple and started it in used organic coffee grounds on our counter. It’s two feet tall now. We have three of these started and have high hopes for adding to our fruit forest in our backyard.

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These wonderful Cherry Belle Radishes are almost ready to be harvested.

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Our first strawberry. Small but sweet and juicy.

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My favorite flowers of all time with the fuzziest leaves ever are back. Borage has reseeded itself and is now growing wildly in all garden beds. The start-shaped flowers are wonderful for bees as they refill with nectar every 2 minutes. Another great nectar producer is Comfrey which refills every 45 minutes.

The fuzzy leaves of this plant are very edible and when I’m out of spinach, I substitute borage leaves when making palak paneer.

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~Grow~Share~Thrive~

 

All photography by Jane Grueber

 

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Want to Start your own Urban Garden? Get Inspired with These Essential Reads

When it comes to urban gardening and urban farming, it is clear that there is a lot going on.

“For the reasons of personal health, personal empowerment and the simple joy of growing, every person in every city needs the opportunity to grow at least some of their own food.” ~ Paul Peacock, author of The Urban Farmer’s Handbook

For those who are thinking about starting your own urban garden or even farm, here are a few books that are essential reads. They are filled with much inspiration and down right practical advice on how to get started and what to do with all those crops. I love these books. Our local library carries them and now they are a permanent part of my growing urban garden library.

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Our urban garden

In addition, community and non-profit groups are also essential for pushing change and working toward a more sustainable future.  Want to get involved or start your own? Here are some excellent examples of the food revolution:

  1. Food Secure Canada (foodsecurecanada.org)
  2.  Urban Farms/Non-Profit Organizations across Canada:
  3. Global Food Security (foodsecurity.ac.uk)
  4. Slow Food (slowfood.com)
  5. Global Eco-Village Network (gen.ecovillage.org)
  6. Transition Towns (transitiontowns.org)

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Essential Reads for the Urban Garden Revolutionary

Urban Farm Projects: Making the Most of Your Money, Space and Stuff

Urban Farm Projects: Making the Most of Your Money, Space and Stuff

“More of us are rethinking how and where food can be grown, leading to a surge in innovation and ingenuity. It;s a movement toward simplification and getting back to the land while incorporating modern technology to facilitate the process. The challenge is how to optimize this on a functional, daily basis. Modern life is too full-full of possessions, activities, news, and information. We have electronic screens in our homes, our offices, our cars, and even our pockets. Everywhere we turn, advertisements tout products that we ‘need’ to make us happy and fulfilled…More and more, people are seeking less and less-fewer objects, fewer activities, less (or at least better) news, more concise information.” ~ Kelly Wood, author of Urban Farm Projects: Making the Most of your Money, Space, and Stuff

 

The Urban Farmer's Handbook

The Urban Farmer’s Handbook

“Food should be free. If I do my part I should hope that this planet of ours will sustain me. Indeed, experience says that it does, particularly in a climate that is neither too hot nor too cold, and has plenty of water. But I can hardly take advantaged of it because I am poor, although in the west I am comparatively well off.” ~ Paul Peacock, author of The Urban Farmer’s Handbook

 

The Essential Urban Farmer

The Essential Urban Farmer

“Urban farming is a way for people of all income levels to eat fresh, local, organic food.  I knew that I didn’t have enough money to buy organic produce or meat, and so I decided to raise it myself…Due to low incomes and lack of access to grocery stores, urban people fail to get the healthy nutrition they need.  A few packets of seeds costing less than twenty dollars can produce enough vegetables for a years worth of eating.” ~ Novella Carpenter, co-author of The Essential Urban Farmer

 

The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities

The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities

‘Government has its role, but all deep change starts with changing our own thoughts and actions. We each make daily choices about what we eat, and we each have the power to change those choices. Governments, corporations, farmers, grocery stores, school cafeterias and restaurants all respond to the aggregated demand of individual people. When we change, they will too.” ~ Peter Lander, author of The Urban Food Revolution

The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities

The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities

The Food Activist Handbook: Big & Small Things You Can Do to Help Provide Fresh, Healthy Food for Your Community

The Food Activist Handbook: Big & Small Things You Can Do to Help Provide Fresh, Healthy Food for Your Community

Urban Agriculture: Ideas and Designs for the New Food Revolution

Urban Agriculture: Ideas and Designs for the New Food Revolution

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~Grow~Share~Thrive~

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Inspirational Tuesday ~ Cultivating Wonder & Skill in the Garden for All Ages

Cultivating Wonder & Skill

One of my favorite how-to gardening books for children and their adults is Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children by Sharon Lovejoy. It is a source of wonderful inspiration where everyone’s imagination can soar.

Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children

Involving children in the process of cultivating a garden, growing their own food, understanding the necessary elements involved in growing successfully is really sowing seeds of knowledge and skill that last a lifetime.

“Twenty years ago on a sizzling hot day, I watched a grown-up teach a small group of children about gardening. The kids fidgeted and looked longingly toward the playground. They barely heard the teacher’s instructions as he said, ‘Dig a square of soil, mark some straight rows with string, drop each seed into a hole, cover, water and move on to the next row.’

I wanted to dive into the midst of the kids and share with them the countless miracles that could be found in a garden. And how every seed held the promise of flowers and fruits and all their attendant critters. I vowed then to someday write and illustrate a book that not only instructed, but also opened the eyes of both grown-ups and children to the many wonders in their own backyard.” ~ Sharon Lovejoy, pg xii

This book guides you through making a bee hive for Mason Bees, growing a pizza patch, bean tunnels, a night blooming garden, throwing Mother Nature’s Tea Party, creating Harvest Treats for the Birds and Bees, making a Sunflower Playhouse, brewing some Moth Broth, building a worm bin, creating a compost sandwich, making gifts from the garden and so much more. I absolutely adore this book and refer to it often.

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My hope is to one day have a piece of land to grow food and create a space with flowery mazes and sunflower homes for everyone in our community to enjoy. Perhaps all communities would benefit from creating functional, edible and playful spaces for people to gather, share and thrive. Connecting deeply with nature through an activity such as gardening restores balance; nature is the ultimate healer.

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Sharon Lovejoy’s idea to use tall flowers as supports for other flowers to wind around got my creative juices going.  I want to grow a ‘house of flowers’ for children and adults to while away their warm summer days enveloped in the sensory parade of grass and a rainbow of fragrant flowers, all creating a cool shelter within. Perhaps they can snack on the vegetables straight from the garden, too.

Here is an illustration of my plan. There are others out there, a ‘tent’ made with simple sticks tied together at the top with a wide, round base (think upside down cone) with flowers climbing all over the structure. I want to try tying fallen branches together to form a sort of lattice hut that supports a ‘curtains of flowers’.

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House of sticks and flowers ~ sunflowers and morning glories

In addition to creating this shelter, I know that our front yard garden will need some shade from the relentless summer sun as well as an attractive aesthetic. We need to create natural shade for some of the vegetables that enjoy the heat but not the direct sun. To achieve this, we  have Kong Sunflowers to plant around the entire garden a couple feet apart, tie strings from one Kong to another (once it’s grown) and grow leafy climbers such as Morning Glory or others up the Kong and hopefully across on the string.

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Using sunflowers and morning glories to create some shade over raised garden beds.

 

It is all an experiment and who knows where it will all lead. But without plans and dreams, where would the future be?

~Grow~Share~Thrive~

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All photography by Jane Grueber.

See more my photo gallery here.

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Growing Urban ~ Raised Garden Beds are Ready

Where we live, a shovel going into the soil does not make it far. The clang of rocks and a sudden stop don’t make the ground a hospitable place for growing food without much augmentation and work to get the soil conditions right. I am not the patient type.

RELATED: Read more about our Urban Garden Project here.

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Our front yard last fall

My wonderful husband was charged with creating raised garden beds for our front lawn so that we could start our urban garden all on a Colt 45 budget. He went to the local saw mill and purchased 36 – 1 by 6 inch rough-sawn red cedar boards and five 4 by 4 inch posts (dimensional posts). In a couple of days, he built six 4 by 8 foot garden beds at a cost of $42 dollars each. The average retail price is over $200 dollars each.

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Our front yard Spring 2017

Although I filled the first garden bed with our own compost as well as purchased organic compost, it took a lot of dirt to fill one garden bed. To fill the other five, we will order some organic manure and soil from a local supplier.

Starting a garden this size is certainly an investment in the future. We have done it with budget at the front-of-mind. Sourcing wood directly from a local saw mill (there are plenty here on Vancouver Island), purchasing half-dead annuals and perennials at hugely discounted prices and using saved seeds from last year’s gardening exploits.

Herbs for the Garden

I have to admit I invested in some amazing medicinal herbs/vegetables from a local farm – Hazelwood Herb Farm. They are mostly perennials:

  1. American Arnica
  2. Betony
  3. Bistort (Shakeroot)
  4. Burdock
  5. German Chamomile
  6. Hedge Hyssop
  7. Horehound
  8. Lovage
  9. Lemon Balm
  10. White Yarrow
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Herbs purchased from Hazelwood Herb Farm

Upon the suggestion of Hazelwood Herb Farm, I ordered a copy of Jekka’s Complete Herb Book and await its arrival so that I can learn more about the world of medicinal herbs. If I’m going to grow all this stuff, it behooves me to know what it’s for, right?

Jekka’s Complete Herb Book

 

All that money and effort will hopefully pay off over the next 5 to 10 years as the perennials become established and annuals reseed themselves. I am motivated by the hope and promise of fresh, organically grown produce, including culinary and medicinal herbs. My sense of joy and inspiration are renewed with all the possibilities growing (or about to grow) in our urban garden.

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First Raised Bed is ready to Grow

Sowing Seeds

Our first raised garden bed now contains the following seeds and plants started on April 5, 2017:

  1. Hedge Hyssop (plant)
  2. German Chamomile (plant)
  3. White Yarrow (plant)
  4. Gaillardia (seeds)
  5. Sunflowers (seeds)
  6. Radishes (heritage seeds)
  7. Carrots (heritage seeds)
  8. Kale (heritage seeds)
  9. Cauliflower (heritage seeds)
  10. Cabbage (heritage seeds)
  11. Spinach (heritage seeds)
  12. Lettuce (heritage seeds)
  13. Peas/Beans (heritage seeds)
  14. Cucumbers (soon to be transplanted)
  15. Various Squashes (soon to be transplanted)

I ordered heritage seeds from West Coast Seeds and Heritage Harvest Seeds.

~Grow~Share~Thrive~ 

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Growing Urban ~ Here We Grow

All photographs by Jane Grueber Copyright 2017

Here we go. Finally the time has come to get our food garden plans underway on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. It is so wonderful to see people sharing their joy of growing food on social media. Their joy and enthusiasm are highly contagious and fill me with inspiration for 2017. I am inspired by the principles of Permaculture (being fully aware that it is so much more than ‘gardening’) and appreciate Geoff Lawton’s inclusive invitation to his Permaculture Circle to those who are just starting out or perma-curious as well as those for whom it’s old hat.

Last year, we started growing our own food in our back and side yard for fun. It was a way to show our three kids where food comes from and how to grow it. After seeing and tasting the results of what benign neglect in a garden can produce, I was eager to grow more of our own. Our front lawn has a usable area of about 360 square feet (9 feet by 40 feet). We have planted fruit shrubs among the existing decorative bushes and trees and it is now time to turn the grass into a vegetable garden.

Read more about our Front Yard Urban Garden Project here.

This year, we have decided to conduct an experiment in our very sunny front yard which has thus far been a haven for weeds, dandelions and moss. The plan is to set up garden beds using  compost, yard ‘waste’ and mulch to grow vegetables, herbs and companion plants in semi-accordance with Permaculture principles that I have managed to glean from various sources.

On a side note, our fenced backyard is well on its way to becoming a self-sustaining fruit forest (tall native fruit trees, native fruit shrubs underneath, perennial herbs and flowers, etc.) where the deer and bears can’t get at them while still affording some room for three young kids to roam.

Read more about inspiring examples of Urban Agriculture here.

At the end of this experiment, I want to be able to answer the following questions:

  • How much produce can a roughly 360 square foot garden yield?
  • Can a front yard garden feed a family of 5 for an entire 22 week growing season and beyond?
  • Can we grow enough food to share with others?
  • Can growing our own save us money overall?
  • Can we set up a viable (and deer proof) garden with minimal investment of time and money?
  • Is the effort to grow our own food worth it? (or is it just easier to go to a store and buy)
  • Can we help other busy families and neighbours set up and grow their own food with minimal cost through sharing of resources, seeds, and skills?

Read more about Creating Food Security in your small circle here.

With six 8 foot by 4 foot garden beds to fill (to be built), we decided to start a few plants in the house now. We will start more in about 3 weeks in order to stretch the yield over a longer period of time. Last year, I put everything in at once and felt the consequences of feast and famine later.

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My hope is that once the weather gets warmer in April, these seedling will be ready to go.

We also have plenty of seeds saved from last year which will go directly into the ground.

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This is what we planted so far:

18 tomato plants

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  1. Money Maker Tomato – heavy producer
  2. Bush Beef Steak Tomato – great slicing tomato; sweet flavour
  3. Cherry Tomato Sweetie – plants produce sweet (1 oz) cherry red fruit throughout the summer
  4. Jubilee Tomato – in intermediate beefsteak variety that produces golden-orange fruit 1/2 lbs in weight

12 Zucchini/Squash

  1. Waltham Butternut Squash – a very heavy producer of bulbous shaped, creamy yellow smooth skinned fruit
  2. Golden Zucchini (C. Pepo)
  3. Yokohama Squash (C. Moschata)
  4. Dark Green Zucchini – easy to grow, plants mature quickly, heavy yield
  5. Spaghetti Squash – winter or storage squash
  6. Ronde De Nice Zucchini (C. Pepo)

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12 Cucumbers

  1. Beit Alpha Cucumber

3 Watermelon

  1. Sugar Baby Watermelon – a dependable, easy-to-grow variety that produces round, sweet, crisp melons.

3 Giant Atlantic Dill Pumpkins – produces pumpkins over 3 feet across weighing over 100 lbs

15 Nasturtium

  1. Single Tall Climbing nasturtium
  2. Alaska Mix – dwarf nasturtium with marbled foliage
  3. Empress of India
  4. Whirlybird
  5. Phoenix

6 Peas

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  1. Oregon Sugar Pod – Mild, sweet flavour, heavy yield
  2. Lincoln Homesteader Peas – good early crop, heavy yield

6 Beans/Legumes

  1. Tendergreen Bush Beans – great flavour and large yield
  2. Bush Beans – early starters

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~Grow~Share~Thrive~

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Turbo the Dog sniffing Bush Beans