SpruceRoots Magazine - July, 1999

Elsie Weintraub looked around her home. Nearly every bit of flat surface -- table, countertop, wood stove, dresser, windowsill -- was covered with trays of peat pots exploding with green seedlings. The seeds had been planted right after the last snow melted and now it was time for them to go into the ground, miserable weather or not. It was Victoria Day weekend and already some seedlings were in blossom.

Preparations for planting began for Elsie, as they always do, in January. "That first sunny day I look outside I have a powerful urge to dig, a real itch," she said. Out come paper and pencil to go over last year: what grew, what didn't, new vegetables to try, where to rotate crops. Before filling out her seed catalog order, she mixes in ideas from the Home and Garden Channel.

"Those programs don't take into account southeast gales and slugs, though," she said, "when sometimes you just want to shake Mother Nature." Elsie's first garden, 20 years ago, was a 2 x 3-foot patch of muck and shale; just enough for table greens. Within a few years the plot had grown to 10 x 80-feet, its soil well nourished with fish guts. By then she had discovered the sublime pleasure of eating a hot tomato fresh from the vine.

This six-time winner of the Master Gardener trophy at the Tlell Fall Fair is into her second season in a new space. When she moved in, the area around her house was extremely bare, gravel and scrubby grass its only crops. With a co-operative landlord, a half-truckload of topsoil, a neighbor's pig manure and her pickaxe, Elsie transformed the place.

She built raised beds from salvaged lumber and a discarded child's bed, and planter boxes from 2 x 4's, door jambs and a garden gate. She assembled five mini-greenhouses: folding clothes drying racks mounted on rims of bathtubs and covered with plastic sheeting secured by clothespins. No woodbugs will get to her delicate seedlings here.

Elsie finds gardening in a new space keeps her from growing stale. With less room, she chooses dwarf varieties and scaled-down techniques; Munchkin rather than Pac-man broccoli, miniature roses, strawberries grown in a 24-hole wooden column rather than a full bed, flowers planted in with vegetables. She has to make adjustments for the windier, colder microclimate of Hippie Hill in Queen Charlotte, different from her former garden just four blocks away.

When the plants are in the ground, her favorite part of gardening ­ getting the soil ready ­ is over. "I have a real need to squish dirt through my fingers," she said. Maybe that's because we were created from dirt." Then she'll sit back and watch until the weeds come up and give her a chance to play in the dirt again.

SpruceRoots Magazine - July, 1999