The Gardening Life with Lori and Keith Michaelson
Want to be transported to a gorgeous fall day for a tour of a regular city yard where Lori and Keith Michaelson grow dozens of varieties of vegetables, beans, berries, and even fruit in a city that gets only 120 frost-free days each year? It is an urban farm that not only produces food to be enjoyed all year round but is a connecting point for the community's kids and neighbours.
It might surprise you, to find the variety of foods that can be produced from a garden in this climate and some of the edibles may also be new to you - Hosta sprouts anyone?
So, I rode my bike over to Lori and Keith's house for a tour of the garden - yes, that is my beautiful salvaged bike there in the photo below! We started out in the backyard (or back 40) as Keith likes to say. After all, he does have a background in agriculture, so this might seem like a natural trajectory, but, I think that he would agree that most of what he and Lori do with their gardening has come from un-learning what they thought a garden had to be, experimenting and developing it into what they wanted it to be.
In the back yard, facing onto the back lane, they have the most functional aspects of the garden, including about 20 raised bed garden containers made out of various used and salvaged pieces. But this is where they grow the leafy greens, strawberries, beans, squash and of course some tomatoes too. Below are the showy and late to ripen Scarlet Runner Beans just about ready in mid-September.
This garden is in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada (my hometown) where we are in Zone 3A with about 120 frost-free days each year, so a relatively short growing season and rather harsh winters reaching -40 Celcius, but still, the Michaelsons are managing to produce an absolute bounty of wonderful food, and making the most of what they produce!
Salvaged windows make quick and easy cold frames and extend the growing season in those raised beds. Keith had just planted another crop of leafy greens and will harvest those into snowy November!
Simplicity is key here, and composting happens right on the raised beds, adding leaves for mulch and focusing on building the soil naturally.
As Keith says, do that, and "your buddies the worms will do the job for you."
The portion of the backyard that can be viewed from the house and screen room is focused on beauty, not just food production. This is truly a backyard oasis and Lori's whimsical mosaic artwork adorns salvaged planters, and reclaimed materials and provides beauty and interest even when nothing is in bloom!
Grapevines provide the delicious treat of grapes (I love making grape juice with mine), as well as the grape leaves that Lori dries and adds to recipes all year round for a slightly lemony flavour, and the vines provide a screen from the functional raised beds further back.
No space is wasted, with water barrels and a few raised beds beside the house, but all screened from the road by other vegetation.
A narrow strip of garden on the other side of the house beside the driveway is the place where most of the rhubarb is grown. This is bartered with a local bakery for bread, honey or store credit.
Keith is especially fond of trading for local honey so that they can enjoy some berry-infused homemade Mead next summer sitting on the front deck on a warm summer's evening.
Even Goji berries grow in this northern climate with the right care and attention, and are used as salad toppers all summer long!
Lori is still harvesting tomatoes into the fall from the plants right in the front yard - but you would never know they are there. The Michaelsons take care to make sure that the front yard is especially attractive with flowers intermixed with the berry bushes, herbs and tomato plants.
The front boulevard is home to 2 of their 5 cherry trees and is wildly productive. While it was sad to see the stately elm have to be removed by the city due to Dutch Elm disease, Lori and Keith made the best out of the increased sunlight and space.
Even the front yard's Calendula plant has both form and function to offer as Lori harvests the flowers and makes Calendula salve from it. Lori was kind enough to share her recipe with us here!
And, I was lucky enough to have a chance to visit s we chatted on the front deck looking out over the front yard (view below), I asked Lori if she thought of what they do as "Permaculture", and she responded without taking a second thought and said, "no, I consider this to be Urban Farming".
Well, my friend, Greg Peterson, The Urban Farmer
, would be thrilled to know there are plenty more Urban Farmers out here, learning as they go, and reaping the benefits of producing their own food right within the city limits.
There are so many ways that urban farming is sustainable and one of the solutions to climate change and food insecurity. Finding ways to produce healthy food, that is hyper-local, engaging your neighbours, bartering with local businesses, this gardening life gives me hope!
A HUGE thanks to Lori and Keith, not just for the garden tour, but also for sharing your bounty with A.J. and me, and others in the community. I am grateful for the beauty that your yard gives us, and for the example of how local food production can happen all around us.
In addition, all of this garden labour keeps the Michealsons pretty darn fit in their senior years! Oh, did I mention that their primary mode of transportation for most of the year is a tandem bicycle that they ride all over town?
Well, maybe it's not surprising, but remember how they began their garden transformation? It was done little by little, one bed at a time, always paying attention to what will grow where, and what will also be aesthetically pleasing - for them and their neighbours.
It is a beautiful example, and I hope that it inspires you too!
Now it's your turn! If you have gardening, permaculture, local food production, or urban farming wins to share, I would love to hear from you!
See The Urban Farm for all kinds of resources, courses and information!
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