Flowers and tomatoes offered at annual Kiwanis hanging basket sale May 11

In New West, hanging baskets are a traditional Mother’s Day present. After all, why buy a bouquet when you can give flowers that will last all season long? Once again, the Kiwanis Club of New Westminster will be holding their annual hanging basket sale on the day before Mother’s Day (Saturday, May 11) from 10am – 3pm in the parking lot of the Terminal Pub. This year, there will also be cherry tomatoes for sale – and a contest to see who can get the best yield from their cherry tomato plant.

Hanging baskets will be sold for $25 each, with all profits supporting New Westminster charitable causes, including the Lord Kelvin Breakfast Program, St. Barnabas Lunch Program, Monarch House, New Westminster Ambassador Program, Purpose Society, and the New Westminster Secondary School Bursary. Cherry tomato plants will cost $10.

Participants in the cherry tomato growing contest will compare the number of cherry tomatoes on their plants at harvest time. The person with the most cherry tomatoes on their plant on September 8 will win a prize. Any surplus tomatoes will be donated to Plant a Row / Grow A Row.

For more information, phone 604-521-8567. 


Fruits of Labour

One of my neighbours has an enormous apple tree practically dripping with fruit. The apples are apparently tart, and according to my neighbour, aren’t worth much. To me, those are pie apples just waiting to be exploited. I look at that tree and I see rows of pies, waiting to be baked. I asked my neighbour if I could take a few dozen when they were ready, and he practically begged me to. In his words, “that’s less I have to rake up and chuck in the compost”.

Music to my ears.

Figs by Jennifer at chez loulou on Flickr

In the past two years I have acquired plums, apples, asian pears, pears, more rhubarb than I ever thought possible, and most recently, figs. Hallelujah, the figs. We’ve spent hours picking blackberries and harvested thimble berries and salmon berries too. I have not paid anything for these harvests, and have shared the final products (compotes, spreads, jams, jellies, fruit leather, dried fruit, pies, tarts… you name it) with the person who was kind enough to give me fruit. Here’s how you can too:

Learn what the fruit looks like when it’s growing. My sister in law is from the prairies, and she had never seen blackberries until she came for a visit to the coast. To her, blackberries were some speciality berry that came in a plastic box from California. When we showed her acres and acres of blackberry bushes, and regaled her with stories of controlled burning to get rid of them, her jaw dropped. Learn how to identify various fruit trees.

Go for walks around your neighbourhood. You see a lot more trees and bushes when you get out of your car. Take the bike or go for a few walks, and pinpoint those trees and bushes that might bear fruit.

Say hello to the owners and politely ask. Every time I have asked if I may have some of the harvest of the fruit tree, people are happy to share. Most fruit trees bear an incredible amount of fruit all at the same time, and there often simply isn’t enough time to eat it all fresh. A lot of owners are happy to see the fruits and berries get consumed. If the bushes or trees are on municipal or federal land, check the regulations for wild harvesting. Mushrooms, for example, have some rules about where you can and can’t pick freely.

Pay it forward. If I make jam, I pass on at least one jar to a friend and give another jar back to the people who shared their fruit with me. I also offer to teach people what I know (admittedly, a working knowledge only) of canning and home preserving. I freely loan out my food dehydrator when I’m not using it and I often invite friends over to “share the labour and share the reward”.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever made or tasted with fruit you were given?


Urban farming: seeding a movement

A view of Neal's urban garden. Photo: Neal Michael
A view of Neal's urban garden. Photo: Natalie Whiteway

“You look like you could use a beer man!”

Though I certainly appreciated the beer he promptly offered me, I was thoroughly enjoying myself, despite what it might have looked like. Kneeling on all fours in an overgrown planter in the parking lot of Burger Heaven, a small spade in hand tearing irregular sized chunks of weed infested sod out while a light rain fell, I was taking the first few steps to becoming part of the burgeoning urban gardening movement.

Since moving to the downtown area of New Westminster over three years ago, I had toyed with the idea of seed bombing one of the many derelict areas near the tracks or guerilla gardening in the unused parking lot across from our condo. The planter at Burger Heaven, however offered an ideal location given its proximity to our apartment and generous size. Motivated by an interest in urban farming projects in cities across North America and a promise to myself to be more action-oriented, I decided to indulge the itch to grow something and go for it. After a few e-mails to the owner of Burger Heaven and a couple of meetings, I began working on the garden.

A growing movement

Beets harvested from Neal's garden. Photo: Neal Michael.
Beets harvested from Neal's garden. Photo: Natalie Whiteway.

Urban gardening has been getting a lot of press these days, most notably for its role in helping cities improve their urban environment, while also providing fresh meat, fruits and vegetables to cash-strapped citizens trying to reduce their rapidly increasing food budget. With global energy demand rising, food costs around the world have also risen substantially making gardening an attractive and reasonably easy way to offset costs. Given that the average Vancouverite (and one can only assume resident of New West) requires approximately 7 hectares to feed him or herself, it would be next to impossible for an urban farmer to grow all the food he or she needs year around. However, what they do grow helps to lowers their household food budget, while also serving the city in a variety of ways.

An increase in green space provided by parks and urban gardens can help cool down a city by as much as 4° Celsius due to the cooling effect of water evaporating from plants. As well, food grown or raised locally cuts down on the emission of CO2 associated with the global food trade, as it doesn’t need to be shipped or flown in from another region. And though sometimes overlooked as an important factor, urban gardens improve the overall aesthetic of a community. With rich colours and textures, gardens bring to life what are sometimes lifeless urban areas that have been built with little regard to design or good architecture.

In the trench

Given that I knew very little about gardening, beyond some reading online and having attended a one-session balcony gardening course a few years back, the garden is doing surprisingly well. In terms of actual yield, I’ve got a bucket full of radishes, a few rows of lettuce that will be ready soon and some arugula that needs another week or so. The tomatoes, zucchini and beans need a whole lot more sun before they’ll start to really grow.

The benefits of the process have gone well beyond the actual yield. Many people, including the employees at Burger Heaven, notice that the garden has improved the look of the area and cut down on the amount of garbage. Interest from local residents has been great. Many people have stopped by to chat, to give a much-appreciated tip, or just to inquire as to what was going on. Its amazing to see just how many people are interested in gardening and have a real enthusiasm for it.

A call to spades

Though just a small project, the ability of a garden to build a greater sense of community is evident. As New West grows and increases in density, we will need to continue to improve our urban environment through small community driven initiatives and creative thinking. Blank walls, small patches of unused earth or a long abandoned rail line can be re-imagined as canvases, gardens or other projects that will improve the sustainability of the community. Who knows, if you look desperate enough while building your own garden you may just earn a few free beer out of it too. In the words of X-tina, “lets get dirty”.

Learn about permaculture in a free presentation by the New West Community Gardening Society

Permaculture is a fascinating field of gardening expertise. By trying to replicate the natural systems of a wild environment within the garden, permaculture hopes to reduce or eliminate the need to add water, fertilizer and chemicals.

If you’re interested in learning more about this holistic approach to gardening, you might want to check out the New Westminster Community Gardening Society’s upcoming presentation “Permaculture Principles and their Applications in an Urban Environment” with Jodi Peters, this Saturday, February 19 at Mary Mount Garden (121 East Columbia St.).

The presentation description is: “Permaculture principles and the ethics that guide them give powerful new ways of understanding the natural cycles of nutrients and energy, which helps gardeners to make decisions that save time, effort and are sustainable over the long term. These principles help illuminate the vast, but often unfamiliar resources in the urban eco-system. Some examples will include work with urban waste streams, no-till bed preparation, aquaponics and urban seed saving.”

The presentation will be followed by the NWCGS AGM. If you go, NWCGS asks that you bring a reusable side plate & cup for the snacks & drinks that will be available.

I had the pleasure of attending a workshop about permaculture a few years ago and was struck by the difference between a permaculture perspective and mainstream gardening advice.

Permaculture doesn’t just look at a plant in isolation, adjusting soil and water conditions to support its growth. Instead it looks at the interactions between plants and how they affect the soil.

For instance, in the workshop I attended, we were recommended to plant in spirals or circular mounds instead of typical rows to make efficient use of space. One lovely tip was to build up a spiral mound using large stones and plant with herbs. The rocks help contain heat, and when you water the plants, the water runs down the spiral. Plant dry soil-loving herbs at the top and herbs that require more water at the bottom and all the herbs are happy. Other tips to help minimize watering requirements, included selecting plants with watering requirements that are compatible with the natural environment of the garden, spacing them closer together to reduce the amount of free space that weeds could colonize, and mulching liberally to discourage weeds and retain water in the soil.

I’d highly recommend checking it out if you’re interested in gardening. Whether or not you decide to change how you garden, you will almost certainly come away with a different perspective on gardening and likely also a number of tips you could apply in your own little plot of soil.

What: Permaculture Principles and their Applications in an Urban Environment, a presentation by Jodi Peters

When: Saturday, February 19th, 7 to 9:30pm

Where: St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church Hall (Mary Mount Garden), 121 East Columbia Street

Planting season is here! Celebrate with plant sale, garden workshop

Welcome planting season by picking up some quality seedlings at the insanely popular New Westminster Horticultural Society Annual Plant Sale this Sunday, then follow with a garden-planning workshop on Thursday, courtesy of the New West Community Garden Society!

The Horticultural Society plant sale is on Sunday, May 2 from 10am-4pm at the Armoury (Queen’s Ave & 6th St.). Expect long lineups, quality plants and many friendly green thumbs. Come early and bring help to carry away your treasures! I know I envied the gardeners who thought to bring their children’s ride-on wagons last year.

Later, on Thursday, May 6, the New Westminster Community Garden Society is offering up some advice for both those applying for plots at the new Simcoe or Mary Mount gardens and home gardeners. The Society’s first workshop, “Planning Your Garden,” will teach participants how to incorporate concepts like companion planting and permiculture into their garden planning. Seasonality and indigenous gardening will also be discussed. The workshop will be held in the main auditorium in the lower level of the New Westminster Public Library from 7:00 – 8:30 pm. The cost of the workshop is $5 for NWCGS members and $8 for non-members. Attendees may register on site at the workshop or phone 778-372-1333 for more information.

Welcome migratory birds to your backyard with native trees, shrubs

This is a guest post by Marianne Dawson. Marianne will be presenting a  public education program on migratory birds visiting Metro Vancouver during the summer and how to create habitat for them in backyards and attract them to nest on April 9 at 6pm at the New Westminster Public Library. You can read more from Marianne at

As gardeners across Metro Vancouver begin working in their gardens, there are some spring and summer visitors who are very interested in what they are doing. These visitors are the birds. Every summer, thousands of these little migrants fly up from the States and South America to breed in and around Vancouver. But as commercial and residential developments spring up in former bird habitat, some of these visitors will find it increasingly difficult to compete with invasive birds for the last remaining nest sites.

A Yellow Warbler is a summer visitor to the Vancouver area. Photo: Marianne Dawson.
A Yellow Warbler is a summer visitor to the Vancouver area. Photo: Marianne Dawson.

In 2003, a study showed that in highly urbanized areas, three of the four most common birds were non-native species. The researchers attributed this to a lack of suitable habitat for Vancouver’s native birds. The highly competitive nature of non-native birds for food and nest spots only makes the problem worse. Every year, migratory birds are having more and more trouble finding the food and nests they need due to these unsuitable habitats, invasive species, and shrinking territories. But the situation is relatively easy to fix.

Most birds think that perfectly manicured lawns are a yawn. What they want most are native plants planted in a natural way, similar to how a forest is structured. This includes trees such as Rocky Mountain Juniper, mixed with medium shrubs, and some flowers and ground-creeping plants like Kinnikinnick to finish it off. To really get these birds excited, the addition of feeders and bird baths will make your yard seem like a luxury suite. They will be breaking down the door to get a chance to nest and raise chicks in your backyard.

Currently, most migratory birds will try and find parks and undeveloped areas to nest in. Creating bird-friendly backyards will make habitat corridors to link parks together and encourage our friendly migrants to nest in new places and better compete against invasive species.

To learn more about how to help these little birds, visit the What the Heck Are You Doing Down There blog at