Every spring, Andrea Ruelling reads Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life for inspiration.
Her garden is inspirational as well. The front yard is divided into raised beds, two of which are self-watering. Peas and squash plants climb lattices, ripe strawberries tempt passersby, lettuce and carrots flourish. That’s but a sampling of the front yard, never mind a backyard full of potatoes, dill, tomatoes, sunflowers, raspberries, rhubarb and more.
Ruelling is an Alberta Avenue resident and a speech-language pathologist. Although she grew up with parents who gardened, it wasn’t until 2009 that she became interested in growing food.
“I’m an environmentalist and I started to think of how much food is shipped and what’s done to it,” she explained. “I support farmers markets and buy organic food, but I thought I could grow food myself.”
In 2009, Ruelling attended the Bloomin’ Garden Show’s talks on rain recycling and organic gardening. That year, she started gardening. Ruelling and her husband Brent planted a dwarf apple tree and two Nanking cherry trees in the front yard and expanded a perennial garden to include tomato plants.
“That was the same year that we pulled up the patio that was in our backyard and built a deck. We used all the patio stone we had pulled up and framed out some veggie gardens in the back, and got them ready for the next season.”
She’s expanded her gardens every year and suggests doing so in stages. “If you bite off more than you can chew, you resent it when it should be an enjoyable pastime.”
In 2011, she began gardening in the front yard because it got most of the sunlight.
A year later, she photo-journaled the gardening season to stay motivated because she gets tired by August with harvesting and canning. Seeing the photos made her fall in love with gardening. She expanded the front yard garden by creating a ‘lasagna’ garden (repeated layers of newspaper, leaves, compost, and manure) there as well.
Last year, Brent built two self-watering raised beds after Ruelling was inspired by a friend’s self-watering strawberry pot and researched how to build a system. The 18” beds are layered with vapour barrier, six inches of gravel, and perforated PVC pipe that runs along the gravel and then rises to the top of the box using an elbow joint. On top of the gravel is a weed barrier and then 12” of a soil/compost mix. Water is pumped into the gravel, creating a reservoir from which the soil draws moisture. The self-watering system works well, and she hasn’t had to fill the reservoir much due to the rain.
“You can get all the supplies from Home Depot.”
She also composts, collects rainwater, and doesn’t use pesticides or fertilizer. Ruelling said she continues learning about gardening through books and workshops.
As for harvesting, what food that isn’t eaten, frozen, or stored (like potatoes) is turned into jams, jellies, applesauce, chutneys, salsa or pickles. “The most work is the canning. It’s usually in August and it’s hot out, but it’s so worth it.”
Yet her gardening is more than simply growing food; she’s met a lot of neighbours by having a garden in the front yard.
“I’ve even had people stop and help (if they saw I needed a hand) and ask for a tour, which I have happily obliged.”
When asked if she plans to expand more, Ruelling laughs.
“Every year, I say to Brent, ‘that’s it!’, but every year, I find a way to make it bigger.”
Header Image: Ruelling in her front yard garden, which she started after discovering it got the most sun. Credit: Talea Medynski