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Into instant gratification and anxious to have something growing in the garden that becomes edible rather quickly? Try Basil. At Fort York we grow Basil in our communal herb garden, but you can also use it in your plant as a companion plant to tomatoes. With lots of sunshine this May, now’s the time to plant! (But don’t let that instant gratification let you forget to pinch!) Read on!

 BASIL (Ocimum basilicum)

GROW FROM: Seed, seedlings and cuttings.

PLANTING/FERTILIZING  After the last frost in well-composted, well-drained soil. For healthy growth. Worm-casting tea and compost tea can help fertilize your basil plant.   Adding mulch around it will help with regard to controlling water stress. Don’t overwater.

COMPANION PLANTS: Tomato, peppers, oregano, asparagus, petunias. Oregano and anise are said to enhances basil’s essential oils. Basil can help keep white flies away from the tomatoes and is actually said to enhance the fruit’s flavor!

BENEFITS: It adds flavor to a variety of cuisines – Italian to Thai! Also a herbal remedy for brain, heart, bladder, kidneys and lung problems. Can also be used to draw poison out of insect bites.

ATTRACTS: Butterflies.  REPELS: Mosquitoes and flies.

HARVESTING BASIL The secret to growing a great bushy basil bush is to harvest!  Prune, pinch or nip! The plant should be at least 6” or have at least 4 to 6 sets of leaves before you first “nip”.  For the first pruning you should cut the plant right above the second set of leaves. Repeat every 3 weeks or so. A well-harvested plant should be able to produce 15 – 24 cups of basil per plant per season. If you are a big pesto maker, you may want to have 4 – 5 basil plants planted 12 inches apart – or as far apart as you can in our plots. You will know the end of the basil bush is near when the buds start to flower. By cutting off the buds before they bloom, you can still harvest, but essentially the life of the plant is telling you it wants to “bolt” and go to seed.  For best tasting basil, it’s said that the best time to harvest is in the morning when the essential oils are at their strongest. At the end of the season harvest evening, including the root.

STORING BASIL Best used fresh, basil can also be dried, crumbled ,and stored in spice jars Another way is to pack the basil into an air-tight container, cover the leaves with olive oil and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.  You can also freeze the leaves (freeze individually on a cookie tray in the freezer before putting in an airtight container) or freeze via the ice cube method. Can also be used in to flavor oils. When storing fresh basil,wrap in a damp paper towel and store in the crisper, or place a basil bunch in water and cover with plastic in the fridge.

TYPES OF BASIL (from Richter’s the Seed people).

Greek Bush Basil – use as pot plants.

Basil Genovese – large leafed. Named after the Genovest district in Italy, the pesto capital of the world.

Lemon Basil – ideal for tea and pot pourri. Grows as a compact bush. Aromatically “lemon”.

Basil Red Genovese – actually purple. Has the same leaf shape as the green Genovese. Also shares aroma and flavor. Makes a colourful pesto.

Anise Basil – Puplish foliage and a sweet anise fragrance and flavour.

Thai Basil – Has the smallest leaf. Similar to Anise Basil but less licorice-like. Add it to your pho after its cooked, or on top of that pad thai.

Spice Basil – Closely resembles Anise basil.  Has strong spicy fragrance and flavour.

Cinnamon Basil – From Mexico where they use it on the table to ward off insects.  As per its name, has a distinctive cinnamon taste and odour.

Purple Delight Basil – Dark purple and medium sized leaves. Strong flavour and scent.


KUDOS! Great work Stephen Sirisko and volunteer gardeners who helped  fortify the garden boxes for the season. A new hose system has also now been installed that obviates the need for clambering up the fort’s defenses!  Thanks to Stephen for thinking the new system up and for getting it up and going.

WILD FORT YORK Fort York is about as natural as downtown Toronto can get.  Northern Hummingbirds, countless butterflies, bees, redwinged blackbirds, various finches, rabbits, groundhogs make their home there. Hawk and coyote can also be spotted. We’re really privileged to have our gardens in such a natural habitat.  Enjoy the birdsong as you garden and please, during planting season remember to take home all garden waste – pots, etc. for recycling.

PARLER FORT YORK  Wednesday, May 16, 6.30 pm, in the Blue Barracks,  PARLER FORT YORK celebrates June Callwood and the stunning new park adjacent to Fort York,  through her words: “It’s All About Kindness.”
Admission $8.85 + tax, Students admitted free

SAVE THE DATES: May 21, 11.00 (tbc) Victoria Day –  Officer’s Mess Kitchen Garden, Fort York, Seasonal Planting! Volunteers welcome.  June 3, 9.00 am. Councillor Layton’s Free Compost Giveaway. (Trinity Bellwoods Park – probably up the north end by Dundas).


Rhubarb, Strawberries, Asparagus, Raspberries, Bees, Butterflies, and a whole bunch of greening herbs – including a fab bunch of sorrel – all seen this week!  If you haven’t been down to the garden, you’ll have missed the sight of plots starting their repair! This was the result of concerted efforts of all gardeners at our Member’s Day Dig in last week. And talking gardeners – hooray for ignoring a slight shower to get out and get dirty!  Thanks to Jane for the lemon/poppyseed muffins and Cathy for her Membership Secretary skills in dealing with fees & etc.  Wanting to volunteer to help weed and clean out the beds of the Historic Kitchen Garden – come out on Earth Day, April 22nd, 11.00 a.m.  You will be rewarded by a special treat: refreshments afterwards in the Officers’ Mess Kitchen! This is a super opportunity to learn about what goes into and what doesn’t get planted in a historic kitchen garden (i.e. no tomatoes). The Historic Kitchen Garden is located behind the canteen on the west side!  Rain or shine, see you there!


Due to the early Spring, our Member’s Day will be held on Sunday, April 15th from12 – 2. 00 pm! Come out. Sign up for the season. Pay your dues ($25), and dig in. New members will get an intro to the garden and will be shown their plot! Want to get dirty?  Make Sunday a working session.  Check your plot for repairs required. And if its okay, you  may want to start some soil remediation!That means compost, or whatever NON-CHEMICAL means you prefer. We anticipate compost being made available via the Fort, but just in case you may want to grab some the previous Saturday  you can do so at two local city Environment Days (see calendar for details of two local Environment Days). We know you are keen to start but before you get too busy scattering seeds, remember that the weather is still changeable and the  official planting day of May 24th weekend  is quite far off.

Seeds you may want to plant in the next few weeks: Peas and Beans! To avoid – fragile greens like salads – wait until the weather warms up a little.

 Planting Requirements:  Fertilize the soil before you plant, and dress accordingly as plants begin to grow. Peas: Sow seeds about one inch deep and two inches apart in the row. Create a trellis for the peas to grow up. Also remember that tall-growing plants will shade low-growing plants, so plan out your plot accordingly.  Beans  Sow seeds one inch deep in heavy soils and 1-1/2 inches deep in sandy soils. Bush beans should be spaced three to four inches apart in the row. Space pole beans six to ten inches apart along a trellis or plant several beans to a pole.  Good drainage is essential.


Planting perennials in your plot is a special pleasure. It means that while you are contemplating seed catalogues at home, things are gently growing. Walk through the garden this week and you’ll see, thyme returning, garlic growing, rhubarb sprouting and lots and lots of chives. There were also two green and luscious sprouts of an unknown origin in my plot. Can’t wait to discover what they are! (Not weeds, surely?)

(Sketch’s jute blanket didn’t stop these chives from reaching to the light!)


Fort York’s natural environments is one of its charms. But its also means that critters are rampant. Groundhogs, rabbits, and even coyotes all regard Fort York as home. After terrific crop losses last year, it was decided to take some defensive action and all plots will have an opportunity to put up a fence. Check out the one underway this coming Sunday (April 15th) for ideas on how to keep the critters out. All plots that need repair will be repaired asap and at that time there’s the option of making a “critter proof” plot.

Groundhogs love us for our garden-fresh greens!


Interested in growing “heritage” vegetables. The Historic Garden on the west side of the Fort  is looking for volunteers and on Sunday April 22nd, all Fort York Gardeners are invited to visit the garden, roll up their sleeves and help prep it for another garden season! Exact times to be confirmed, but expect a morning session!


The Bathurst Street Gate “East Gate” remains closed until the pathway is repaired. It will be open for all formal late-night garden sessions and,  but entry during other times will be by the West Gate. On Sunday, April 15th it will be open just before Noon for a short time only and,  please note,  use of the East Gate is at the gardener’s own risk.  Also note that we are privileged to have a garden in a national historic site and as such we are bound to follow the Fort’s rules: no bike riding through the Fort, and also dogs, if brought to the garden, should be leashed.

Pick Up Some Compost At your Local Environmental Day

Ward 20’s Enviro Day – April 14, Central Tech, 10 am – 1 pm. Take your green bin, wheelbarrow, or your own bags, and dig in and get some leaf compost to help nourish your plot. It’s free!

Seed Season is Upon Us!

If you were returning your library books to Scadding Court library this Saturday, March 3, as I was, you would have been shocked to find it was, yes, Seedy Saturday. While seeds had indeed been on the mind (prompted, of course, by early sightings of spring blooms rising through the earth), it still seemed “early”. But, of course, its not. If you want to start seeds inside now is the time to start gathering (purchasing, or bartering, or swapping) seeds in preparation for planting inside, or for building up your seed collection for when the time comes to plant in the ground (after the last frost and likely May).

Of course I dived in to see what was what. The first purveyor of fine seeds I found was Colette from urban harvest ( who reminded me that her seasonal  brick-and-mortar presence would this year be located at 1604 Queen West (at Sorauren), in the back and in the garden of the Coriander Girl flower shop. Browsing through the seeds in Urban Harvest’s and then other vendor’s, I felt ashamed to say that I hadn’t yet thought of what I should plant. I know that at the end of last season I felt that the strawberries should be transplanted to the south side of the plot to get more sun.  I knew what perennials existed and where (Rhubarb, north west corner of the plot). But what  should I grow this year?  Zucchini (flopped last year due to leaves being eaten by groundhogs, rabbits, but still great in the garden), Eggplant (the source of such great kitchen hits as eggplant parmigiani, veggie moussaka and babaganoush). There’s nothing like browsing for seeds to create the enthusiasm for getting back to the earth, but the truth is that many things have to be considered – as in say what you like to eat, and what kind of harvests you want to have – do you want to have zucchini that keeps on giving throughout the season, or is your desire to grow the Fort York’s biggest pumpkin? The next is your plot. At Fort York you have a certain size to play with. Within it you may want to tall plants (which cast shadows) and small plants (which don’t).  And you’ll want to think about where you will plant them. You may also want to consider compatibility – which plants grow best with other plants and also intercropping.

Seedy events run in March throughout the city and you can find dates and locations here: Entry is by PWYC donation. As well as vendors booth there is also a seed exchange table so if you have collected seeds and want to swap, take them with you.

Two of the more “local” upcoming Seed Exchanges:

Saturday March 10, 2012 from 11 am – 4 pm.

Evergreen Brick Works, 550 Bayview Avenue

Saturday March 24, 2012, 11am – 4pm

Masaryk-Cowan CRC, 220 Cowan Avenue.

If you attend, pick up the booklet “Get Growing Toronto”. It’s free and has info and tips aplenty.

Also remember that if you are planting seeds, there’s no need to go buying expensive planters. Provided there’s drainage and enough space and good enough potting soil you can upcycle many a container. Some info on planting in cans here: And a whole array here: . More ideas, send them in!

Planting references from The Almanac visit:

Closing The Garden; Celebrating our Plots

fort york plotters and the new garden shed (thank you Walmart!)

In the few days prior to our end-of-season celebration on

October 30, plots were bushels of tomatoes picked, plots were dug up,

fencing gathered up…And then it was time to eat, drink and be merry – and

celebrate our new garden shed.   Financed in full by a grant from Walmart (thank you),

the shed was constructed to not just complement Fort York’s historic architecture but actually to

reflect the built form of some of the buildings in the fort. Our thanks to David O’Hara for his guidance there.

Of particular note: the hardware, which looks truly authentic.

antique hardware

Thanks goes out to Joseph Tardif for shopping for and cooking lunch.

We were expect tomato salsa (Joseph’s tomato harvests being always magnificent), but

we had not expected such a repast. Also thanks to all gardeners who took time out on a golden Sunday to attend.


chamomile and borage provided a pollinator's playground in the herb garden.

During the next few weeks the herb garden will be cleared, pollinating (blooming) plants removed to another plot, and garlic will be planted in the

north side of the herb garden. This year’s garlic plot will be repurposed – possibly for something to celebrate Fort York’s upcoming bicentennial. A historic

vegetable garden was proposed. If you have suggestions you want to put to the steering committee, please feel free to submit them here.


a) Make sure the plot is clear. There are still some jungle plots. Please clear asap.

b) Time to plant some garlic. 1 clove, tucked four inches deep into the soil. The shape of the clove itself tells you

which way it wants to go into the hole.

c) Optional. It might be a little late  for this year, but planting alfalfa – or red clover – seed (the former readily available at natural food stores) can help

nourish your garden with nitrogen  in the next planting season. The idea is to dig it back into the soil before the flowers appear.

Ideally this should be done at least 4 weeks before the first frost.

The last days of the garden…

garlic from the garden 2011

This Saturday I’m in an awkward spot.

The garden needs tidied. Tilled. Composted and Garlic for planting needs to be found.

The latter seems to be the most pressing at the moment!

A quick check on a local source – The Cutting Veg (

reveals that they are sold out. Too bad. They have a global array of garlic:

Ukranian, Tibetan, Korean, Russian, Persian, Italian, Sicilian, something called

Former Yugoslavian, Salt Spring, Chinese and Israeli.

This leaves me having to forage the local markets – today either St. Laurence, or Stop at Wychwood Barns, or even Phil’s stall by the Grange or

during the week at Sorauren, or Dufferin Grove. I could try Evergreen Brickworks, but I might get

knocked down cycling there.

Why the fuss? When I love the aesthetics of the bulb (and yes, each have their own strengths of taste and texture).

I love the individual tinges of blue or mauve that tint the outer skin…And the fact that they are the first thing to emerge from the

earth in the Spring and that also gives us two harvests – first the ramps, and then the bulb!

So if anyone knows of a local source of good garlic choices  that I can ponder, and quickly, for who knows when the

frost may come, please comment here!


Much Ontario Organic garlic out there in the markets, but when you ask

what “kind” it is, there’s often a blank. Three purchased at the North St. Laurence Market:

Music (which seemed pretty common); Montego, and an Anonymous.

I discovered some Russian, but it was only available if I bought a whole lot for $30!


On October 30th,

all Fort York Gardeners are invited out

to celebrate the end of our Gardening Season, and yes,

our massive new Shed.  In the spirit of Fort York it is

designed  to complement the heritage architecture of the Fort.

Come out and see it!


2.00pm – 4pm.

Refreshments will be provided.

RSVP to:


Also, a quick read of a newly purchased gardening book revealed that

Rabbit Droppings make an excellent source of nutrition for the garden.

Not just excellent, perhaps the Best, at least if I can believe the book.

We know we had rabbits this season (chewed leaves and various hoppity-hop sightings attest to that),

but I can’t imagine going on a search for their droppings.

The book was “Small-Plot, High Yield Gardening” by Sal Gilbertie and Larry Sheehan. (Ten Speed Press).

It was purchased from a great independent bookstore in Toronto: McNally’s, on Bay Street, just south of Queen.

on the west side.


All gardeners – even non-returning ones – need to clear their gardens!

a) Remove all hardware and store for next year. The new shed should be available next week for those wanting to store stakes, etc.

Just bundle and tag unless you want to share them next year.

b) Compost all organic garden waste. Either drop in the far compost and chop up with shears and add a little water

. Or tip over into the ravine taking care that you are not throwing over any wire/non-organic waste that can injure wildlife.

c) rake the earth and remove any ripe fruit – particularly tomatoes . If they are left in the soil they will seed next year as rogue plants and

take vital nutrients away from your new planting.

d) Perennials can be blanketed with some straw to help keep roots frost free.


a) hardware – wire, stakes, etc, should be bundled for storage.

b) organics go to the composter

c) rake earth till clear of fallen fruit, seed-pods.

fallen  fruit.

d) late chard or kale could go on into November so keep & harvest.

(although the snails got into mine!)