Archive for the ‘Bike Gardens’ Category

The end of week one…

Back in March, I got my appendix removed. It was one of those dramatic middle-of-the-night trips to the ER that ended 24 hours later with a groggy version of me, a stitched up belly, and one less appendix.

At the time, I remember saying that if a city councillor wanted to know how many pot holes there are in Toronto, s/he just had to drive downtown with a rupturing appendix. Every little bounce felt like a million knives being driven into my belly. Not fun at all. I have now discovered an easier way for councillors to experience the effects of uneven roads – riding a bike with a front basket bike garden in it!

I have to admit, friends, the front-basket-bike-garden isn’t a project I’d recommend trying if you want to use your bike functionally. While the “wow” factor is great (it was a great conversation starter in Kensington Market this weekend), the functionality is very low. With every bump, my veggies bounced up, exposing their roots. And with every bounce up, I got covered in soil. And with that loss of soil, the plants shriveled up and died. See where I’m going?

On the up-side, both Emily and I have little sprouts poking their heads out of our cross-bar-cheese-cloth gardens. They aren’t big enough to take a good picture, but they are there, and as soon as there is more to show, I’ll post photos. It’s pretty cool.

For those of you eagerly awaiting the results from the battle of soaked seeds versus un-soaked seeds, I’m happy to annouce that soaked has won, hands down. I don’t think there was really any competition. Pre-soaking your seeds overnight does miracles for growth.

With this week’s project already underway (stay tuned tomorrow for the start of the woven place mat tutorial), it’s time to look at last week’s statistics:

Cross-bar Cheese-cloth garden:

  • Cost : under $10
  • Time required: 20 minutes to set up, and then ample watering
  • Difficulty: Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy
  • Success? To be determined (haven’t eaten any of the sprouts yet)
  • Favourite part of the project: chilling with Emily and getting her bike sprouting before her big trip!
  • Lesson learned: Water, water, water to make those sprouts grow tall.

Front-basket Bike Garden

  • Cost: $20 if you already have a basket, $40-50 if you don’t
  • Time required: 30 minutes if you have a basket, 1 hour if you are assembling that too!
  • Difficulty: Easy-Medium
  • Success? Epic fail. Unless you plan to never ride your bike again. Or if you live in a magical land with perfectly smooth bike lanes.
  • Favourite part of the project: Walking around Dufferin Grove Farmers Market with it and making lots of friends.
  • Lesson Learned: Toronto is a bumpy city to ride in. Seriously.

So, there it is folks. One week down, 51 to go! Thanks for following!

Thanks to Emily, The Bike Joint and Urban Harvest for supplies, laughter and support on this one!


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How fun is this?!

The thing about pulling the bike garden project first is that I’m really flying by the seat of my pants. Whereas some projects have tutorials, recipes or guides to use, the bike garden concept is pretty much a free-for-all. This has the potential to be discouraging, but this afternoon it was just plain exhilarating.

After venturing downtown to get a first-hand glimpse at the G20 security measures (whoa), I retreated back to my own neck of the woods to start on The Bike Garden – Take Two. The first step was taking another trip to The Bike Joint (so great) to pick up some more supplies to spruce The Ring up with. On today’s list — a front basket.

Luckily, attaching a front basket is way easier than fenders, which meant lots of time for getting a garden growing. The basic concept is to create a space in your basket in which to put soil, and thus grow food. Ready? Here we go.

The Materials

  • A bike with a front basket on it
  • Cheesecloth
  • Lots (20-ish) of large safety pins
  • 4+ twist ties
  • Soil
  • Plants or Seeds

The Instructions

1) To start, you need to line your basket with cheesecloth. This keeps the soil in your basket, while also allowing for proper drainage. Because cheesecloth is thin, you want to have many layers of it for extra security. I had 4 layers, and wouldn’t go for anything less. You also want to be generous in the size of cheesecloth that you cut. Make sure it goes right up the sides of your basket, lining the whole inside, and not just the bottom.

2) Use safety pins to secure the cheesecloth around the top edges of your basket. You also want to secure it in the bottom four corners. I found that twist ties worked best for this. Poke them through the cheesecloth, with the ends hanging down towards the ground, and then twist them up, nice and tight.

3) Once you feel good about having a solid and well-attached lining for your basket garden, you’re ready to start planting. In general, you don’t want to put too much weight in your front basket, so don’t put too much soil in. I filled mine about 3 inches full with moist, organic potting soil from my local gardening store.

4) The hardest part is choosing what to grow. The main constraint is that you’ll want plants that have shallow root structures. I wasn’t sure what to choose, so I took the opportunity to go to my local farmers market and get some advice. Just about every week, I visit the folks at the Urban Harvest stand at the farmers market, and swoon over their plants. I bought all the seeds for my garden there, and let me say, they haven’t disappointed. For this particular project, they advised that herbs like thyme and mint would be good, as well as swiss chard and lettuce mixes. I had in my mind that I wanted some pretty, edible flowers to wind around the front. In the end, I settled on a crawling nasturtium, some rainbow swiss chard, and a lettuce mix.

5) Plant / Transplant your babies. Water them. And marvel in what you’ve just made.

I can’t tell you how wonderful a project this has already been. Everyone has oo-ed and ah-ed over my lovely bike garden, and let me say, it’s a great conversation starter.

There is one very important disclaimer though. Riding quickly is difficult with this fragile load. Bumps are also bad. Think seriously about whether this is an appropriate project for your bike-riding lifestyle before you get planting. But also remember – if you buy an easy-to-install front basket, you can take it on and off depending on your riding needs.

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One of the first things I did when I moved to Toronto was join the Karma Food Co-op. Along with being my favourite place to buy a wide variety of local, organic products, it has also introduced me to a wonderful community of people. Like Paul, who coordinates Slow Food Toronto. Frank, who shares my love for the Millennium Trilogy. And Derek, who runs my favourite bike shop, The Bike Joint.

Derek sold me Ring of Fire a few months back, and she’s been a wild ride ever since. When I pulled the “bike garden” suggestion from the hat last week, I decided that if the Ring was going to start growing food, it was only fair to tune her up a bit. So this morning, I went to work on her. After some loving lubrication, and careful brake adjustments, it was time to attach some brand new fenders (that’s where the sprouts were going to go). Being the ultimate-fixer-girl that I am, I figured this would be a cinch. Famous last words.

An hour later, with the help of my dear friend Emily and a bag of chocolate covered almonds, we had the front fender attached, but had given up on the back. Thus, the fender sprouting story will come later on in the week. Never fear though, Emily and I still got up to some serious bike garden action.

A quick shout-out before we get to the knitty-gritty though. Emily, my partner in bike-garden-growing-crime, is taking off on an amazing adventure that you should all keep an eye out for. Starting next week, she’s going to bike around Quebec, the Maritimes and the North Eastern US, learning about exciting farm and food-based projects, and writing about them as she goes. You can follow her adventure (and find out how her bike garden is doing) here.

So, the bike garden. Take One.

The Materials

The Instructions

1) Ideally, you should soak the seeds for a good 2-6 hours before starting this. We didn’t. But we did start soaking some for the fender version of this How-To, which will follow later on in the week. Stay tuned for the verdict on soaked vs. unsoaked!

2) Cut a piece of cheesecloth that is long enough to wrap around your crossbar about 8 times. Start by wrapping it around your crossbar 3-4 times, leaving the rest hanging down. You’ll want to make sure it’s pretty tight, but not so tight that it gets in the way of your brake or gear cables.

3) Sprinkle the seeds on the cheesecloth. You want the seeds to ultimately be on the top of the bar, which is easy if your cross bar has a groove in it like Emily’s (pictured right). But if your crossbar is round like mine, this is kind of hard. For my bike, we poured the seeds into the cheesecloth, and later twisted the cloth around so the seeds were on top. Not sure what I mean? Keep reading. It will make sense.

4) Wrap the cheesecloth around another 2-3 times, trapping the seeds in and holding them in place. Using your safety pins, secure those suckers in. Then carefully snip the excess cheesecloth off.

5) Once everything is in place, you can gently twist the cheesecloth around, so that the seeds are facing the sun. See — it makes more sense now. Right?

6) Moisten, moisten, moisten. For your seeds to sprout, they need to stay nice and moist. On hot, sunny days, you may want to water your cheese cloth up to 10 times. It’s especially important to keep them moist at the start (and given that we didn’t soak them first it’s especially especially important!). To make sure that we had lots of moisture, we soaked a tea towel and safety pinned it around our sprouts. The plan is to leave it there to trap the moisture in for the first 1-2 days to allow for optimal sprouting.

For those of you who are Stuart McLean fans, and have heard the story “Tree of Heaven”, you can take a page out of Dave’s book and carefully water your sprouts by mouth.

So there you have it. The first attempt at creating a bike garden. Stay tuned later in the week for instructions for starting a fender-based-bike-garden, the battle of soaked vs unsoaked seeds, my attempts at growing herbs and nasturtiums in a front basket, and oh so much more.

Thanks to the Ferocious Farm Tour for the inspiration and guidance!

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Thursday night was one of those affirming life-is-wonderful nights.

The initial plan was to attend a dinner put on by one of my favourite Toronto-based organizations, at one of my favourite Toronto-based spots. Unfortunately, at the last minute, the dinner had to be canceled, leaving the evening free for creative fun. Enter Melissa and my sister.

Melissa and Chris are two of the most empowering, beautiful women I know. So full of wisdom, creativity and sincerity. They are also super supportive and into the 52 Projects idea. So, with a bottle of wine, and their support and laughter filling the air, we decided to inaugurate my year from scratch.

We sifted through all the ideas that have been submitted (74 in total!), separated them into easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, (im)possibly-possible, and that’ll-take-all-week categories, and stuck them into my favourite cow-girl hat. At 10:47pm, the first project was drawn. I’m excited (in a first-day-of-school kind of way) to announce that the project pulled was…

a bike garden!!!

It was a pretty exciting moment, but after the “oh my gosh I’m going to make a bike garden” feeling wore off, the “um… what’s a bike garden?” feeling started to settle in.

The bike garden concept was submitted by several people, all inspired by a group of actors who biked through Toronto last week with The Otesha Project. The Otesha Project uses theatre to educate people about the power we have as consumers to make more conscious choices. The play connects our every day consumer choices to larger world issues (like sweatshop labour, industrial food systems, fossil fuel dependence, etc) showing audience members that they can take positive action every day. Otesha’s main way of showcasing their play is by running cycling tours, where 18-30 year olds bike from town to town, performing for anyone and everyone.

As we speak, one of these tours is pedaling around Ontario. The Ferocious Farm Tour is specifically focused on food & agriculture issues, and the team members have been inspiring people far and wide with their experiences and stories. One thing they’ve been doing while pedaling around the province is growing food on their bikes (check out the entry ‘Greening our Ride’). Hence, the bike garden challenge.

So! Starting Monday, I’ll be chronicling my week-long attempt at turning my bike (fondly named, Ring of Fire) into a luscious, green paradise. Thoughts and suggestions, as always, are welcome.

Till then, happy weekending!

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