Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sunshine and tomato plants...

I'm no farmer, nor do I claim to be one.

However, I do enjoy gardening, even if I am lousy at weeding and otherwise have a black thumb. Earlier this year, my friend, Helena, and I decided to rent a garden plot from the City of Ottawa. It's 1000 square feet of which 500 square feet are mine to use for the season. Use it I did. With what has to be the wettest spring we have had in a long time, I was worried about whether I would get the chance to plant anything. If going gardening requires the use of dinghy or life jackets then that's called fishing and I don't do that.

In joyful anticipation, or maybe just hope, of sunnier days to come (the days of dumping rain couldn't last forever I reasoned) I purchased 10 tomato plants. I already had a few organic potatoes, red onion sets, garlic and even some carrot seeds to name but a few, but wanted to try my hand at growing tomatoes once more.

To be sure, I had grown tomatoes before and had had some success there (some, just some) but I wanted to see if I could actually grow more than a token few. Besides, I had promised my kids that I'd make some home made tomato sauce for them and with the onions and garlic I had also planted I figured I would have the necessary ingredients.

The garden I'm talking about is the Kilborn Allotment gardens and it lies about 7 kilometres from our home. I could get there by bus or on foot but the issues of cost for bus tickets and both time and endurance for hoofing it surfaced. This is where the catrike would come in handy...very handy...

Armed only with a map and a fair degree of familiarity with the bike paths here, I managed to plot a course to the gardens which would only have me travelling on suburban streets. The busier roads like Conroy or Walkley would be taken on the bike paths. Long story short, getting from our place to the gardens would only take about 25 minutes.

Yesterday's venture also had Adam attach our bike trailer/kiddy trailer to his mountain bike. He had the unenviable task of transporting all those vegetable bulbs/seeds/plants while I only had to pack a good lunch and a healthy supply of water in both the panniers on my catrike. I remain perpetually impressed by just how easy it is to transport items on my catrike, especially after having watched some young man struggle with carrying books in his arms while riding a bicycle. In this day and age with panniers not only the norm but readily available, it makes less than no sense to me to try and carry things in one's arms while attempting to balance on two wheels. But, I digress...

So, after a fresh start on a cool but sunny morning we arrived at our garden plot. The ground was still very damp but the soil was not that grim, unsavoury muck. It was quite workable, despite the backbreaking heavy labour Adam underwent just to turn the soil. I hacked at each row, breaking up the larger clods of densely packed soil into something quite manageable. After a few hours and a good lunch break, we completed the planting of vegetables for the year.

Now, we have yet more rain in the forecast but also a lot more sunshine. That should make my tomato plants happy...I hope!


Monday, May 16, 2011

When it's raining outside...

...I will sometimes look for any cycling information, whether in general or specifically for the capital region; and boy did I find a goooood one! It looks as though Ottawa/Gatineau is creeping ever so gently but certainly towards the 21st century. By that is meant that..yippee.. BIXI is coming to town.

For those of you unfamiliar with what a BIXI is, it means BIcycle taXI and is a new(ish) way to facilitate personal urban transportation that doesn't have the negative environmental impact that fossil fuel burning cars have. The thinking goes something like this: Prospective customers who want/need to get from one place to another can now head up to their nearest BIXI rental outlet and, with a credit card, can rent a bicycle. It's really designed for people who want to travel from one - predominantly downtown - location to another; perhaps as a cycle tourist or even just for some daily exercise without having to rely on cars or buses. I am an advocate of public transit but, face it, who wants to stand around a bus stop and wait for ages for a bus to show up when renting a bicycle at a convenient location precludes all that?

We went to Montreal a couple of years ago and saw BIXI outlets on some strategically placed downtown streets and thought those were such a marvellous idea. Bicycle use is quite common in some European cities (such as Copenhagen) so we wondered why such a thing couldn't happen here. Granted, most European cities are more compact than the more sprawling urban centres here in North America but that doesn't invalidate BIXI as a possibility, especially since, as North American cities go, Ottawa's downtown core is fairly compact. We know this because we have often walked from one end of downtown to the other.

The streets lend themselves well to bicycle use and Ottawa's upcoming conversion of a lane on Laurier Avenue to a cycle only lane is the first step towards proving my assertion. So, it made perfect sense to me, as likely to others as well, that having something like a BIcycle taXI facility here in Ottawa would be quite a boon. This is why I was pleased as punch to have read on website that the NCC, or National Capital Commission, is set to unveil its first 10 rental locations for these simple bicycles on Wednesday, May 18th.

The ten locations, according to the news article, include a number of intersections on Queen Street. Three of those ten locations will be across the river into Gatineau but all of the locations are within the downtown areas of both Ottawa and Gatineau. The rates for renting these simple, basic yet state of the art bicycles are very reasonable. Could you rent any kind of vehicle for $5 for a 24 hour period? Granted, the information on the bikes themselves tends to focus on neat features (eg lighting, covered derailleurs and low seats) there is not much information on such things as how many gears it has. My impression is that it is a single gear bike; however, getting around a downtown area with traffic lights, other vehicles and other obstacles shouldn't require huge amounts of speed.

In other words, if you want a high speed sporty type of bicycle then you'll have to go and buy one.

The site,, features a means for users to type in their current location and to find out what rental sites are closest. The website's identifying logos are colour-coded with active rental locations indicated in red and future ones in a light grey. I typed in a known downtown address and saw that the nearest Bixi rental location is Elgin and Queen. The logo is that light grey which means it isn't in active service yet. That's okay, as none are scheduled to be in service until this Wednesday, the 18th anyway. Still, it's nice to know the website works.

This is something that was long in coming but I am very glad to see that it's here at long last. The National Capital Commission is still indicating that their goal of having 50 rental locations and 500 bikes in the system is still what they're aiming for. This is only 10 sites and 100 bikes...but it's a start.

Am I giving up my trike for this? Not a chance but I am at least relieved to know that the Ottawa/Gatineau area is becoming a lot more cycle friendly.

Long live BIXI!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Dear City of Ottawa...

Thursday, May 12th was a splendid day. Sunny, warm and breezy, we decided to head out for a catrike picnic. This is typically the way we both start and end the catriking season. Armed with an awesome lunch (they're always awesome 'cause I make 'em that way!) we left our house around 10:50am with our intended destination being Mooney's Bay park and likely beyond. I was pretty sure we would get to the park long before lunch time so we had planned to continue our trek north along the bike pathway until we were hungry enough to stop.

We got to Mooney's Bay, veered around and under Hog's Back Road and, as predicted, continued north parallel to the canal. We approached and passed both the locks at Hog's Back and Hartwell. The day remained sunny, breezy and just gorgeously warm enough that anything more substantial than a light nylon windbreaker would have been too hot to wear.

We cycled happily along the bike pathway, passing Lansdowne Park, many joggers and a few more cyclists who were also out and taking advantage of the fantastic weather. Eventually, hunger made itself known and we sidled to the nearest bench. Though Colonel By Drive was right there, it was not so heavily travelled that we couldn't enjoy our lunch in peace and quiet. The trees were leafing up quite nicely, the bushes were displaying their collection of gorgeous little yellow flowers (I think they were potentilla but don't quote me) and Adam and I got to do lots of people watching.

Lunch over, we both decided that we needed to find a washroom. Assuming, as foolishly as we did (or maybe just naively) that we would be able to find some place to go, we merrily headed back. Recalling that we had passed not one but two Parks Canada locks, we both thought that we could find a public washroom. After all, we reasoned to ourselves, with the cycling season obviously having started as evidenced by the copious numbers of cycles on the path, surely the washrooms would be open. Right?


Bladders uncomfortably full, our trek to find a public facility of any kind became a comedy of errors as it were. We stopped at the Hartwell Locks across the street from Carleton University and I hurriedly walked up the ramp and across the little bridge to one of the Parks Canada buildings. Three women were outside enjoying a picnic lunch. They looked to be employees there and so I asked them if there were any public washrooms in any of the buildings at the locks. Sadly, there were none and I was directed to the university across the street. Oh, they were quite sympathetic to my increasing distress level but they couldn't help me either - or Adam for that matter whose level of discomfort must also have been mounting. "Go across the street to where all that beeping was happening."

I turned to see that there were clusters of university students milling around while a loud and obnoxious beeping was heard. At first, I didn't know what the problem was - then I found out very quickly. I had tried to enter one of the buildings only to be met by a firefighter who gently informed me (and a few others) that the fire drill was still in effect and that we all had to leave the building.

I hurriedly zipped across the street, seriously considering finding the nearest ladies tree, and sadly announced to Adam that a fire drill was happening and that we had to continue on our way. Growing exasperated, not to mention increasingly desperate, we got back on our trikes and continued our venture south to Mooney's Bay. There is a pavilion on the north side of Hog's Back and Adam directed me to go there where we would likely find at least some place to relieve ourselves.

It was the existence of construction crews and the port-a-potty that, quite literally, saved our butts. We quickly parked our trikes and, not caring whom would say what, I darted into the telephone booth sized biffy. Adam followed suit after I got back and all was well.

So, here is my special message to the city of Ottawa:

When the weather turns nice and there are people outside cycling, jogging or otherwise partaking in outdoor activities, having facilities to - uh - make our ventures more pleasurable and less distressing would be a huge help. It would be a tremendous help if there were some actual portable toilets as some of us don't have bladders with the capacity of basketballs. Otherwise, keep the cycle paths closed tightly until you open up public facilities.

Once relieved, we went on to explore Vincent Massey Park, following the bike path around to Riverside Drive and approaching Billings Bridge. No longer distracted by having overfull bladders, we were able to take in the sweet sunshine and finish the trip having done 28.78 kilometres. The intention here is to build up my endurance and distance; now we work on speed...and maybe being able to find places to go pee that much more quickly!


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Garden trip #1 - checking the plot out by trike

Monday, May 9th dawned and, by golly, it wasn't raining, neither was it excessively windy and it wasn't even cloudy. Finally, I thought, I can get up to the allotment garden plot Helena and I rented for the season.

Getting there was a lot simpler than I had thought, despite my having reviewed the route thanks to Google Maps street view. I was to meet Helena at the plot for 11:00 am and the purpose of this gathering was to survey the plot itself to see what condition it was in and to plan the next step...when to plant.

Conventional wisdom here says not to plant anything before the May long weekend and I agree with that. Planting anything, really, before that starting weekend is a risky venture as a late (very) season frost is not out of the question. The only sniggly issue for me was how to transport the de-thatching rake I never use here at home but would certainly need up there. Adam came to the rescue there by offering to bungee cord the rake to the frame of his mountain bike and come up with me to the garden. Besides, he had said over a lovely breakfast, he wanted to see the plot himself.

So, around 9:48 am, we left, I on my beloved and trusty Catrike and Adam on his equally trusty mountain bike. It was mid morning so the rush hour traffic, such as it was, had thinned out quite a bit. Our route to the Kilborn allotment garden did involve us cycling along a few streets but these were mostly suburban ones so there was little in the way of - uh - cycle/car interactions. Mostly, we zoomed along the bike path from Cahill to the Greenboro branch of the Ottawa Public Library. That got us to Lorry Greenberg and, before long, the corner of it and Conroy.

There is a wide bike path cum sidewalk on the west side of Conroy Road which we took and very easily slid north to where Conroy ends at Walkley. We couldn't cross Walkley on the west side so we did have to cross Conroy to get to the right place. A few seconds later, we rode through the intersection and immediately found ourselves back on the bike path which turns out to be more of a hydro right-of-way. No matter, it was paved with a welcoming yellow line identifying it as a perfectly usable bike path.

The end of that particular pathway met up with Kilborn Avenue, itself a quiet suburban road even though buses and trucks do use it. No matter, on that quiet Monday morning, there was nary a soul about so we had less than no problems at all whatsoever getting into the allotment gardens. Our plot is on the north side and as we had entered from the south did get to survey some of the others who were already there and digging through the sodden but workable mess.

I found my Catrike worked perfectly here. The route to get to the garden involves so little in the way of dealing with cars that I found I was more able to just enjoy the trip though that's not to say I don't enjoy any of my trips because I do. It is just that some ventures are a little more - uh - tense than others. It's the difference between driving a set distance on a quiet and enjoyable road in perfect weather conditions and driving that same route at night during a raging freezing rain and blizzard conditions.

We met up with Helena, organized our shed (which we also rented for the season), met a couple of the other suburban farmers and then took a good long and serious look at the plot itself. I know I have about 500 square feet of space (20'x25') to work with but it's a different thing altogether to see it in its full, un-snowy glory. When Helena and I first looked at the plot, it was during the earliest of spring and during the last gasps of winter. Dirty crusty ice and sodden bone chilling ponds dotted the squishy ground as we had delicately tip-toed around the place. I figured that, once we got to start the actual gardening, that the place would look a little less foreboding. More importantly, I figured it would be easier to get to.

Happily, I was right!


Monday, May 9, 2011

a (mostly) sunny Sunday!

Our original intent was to take the quadracycle out and meander through the neighbourhoods. It's early May now which means that some streets are having yard sales and I am looking for a piece of window glass so I can make my more permanent solar oven. The cardboard one still works nicely but its purpose was only to test the concept and whether I could actually make one. I proved I could so it's on to the next step.

So, we thought it would make more sense to use the quadracycle since it has the carrying capacity for such items were we to actually find anything. However, about a kilometre out, one of the chains broke so bang went that idea. It was all for the best, actually, as there wasn't a single yard sale anywhere to be found so we didn't think we would miss anything.

With all the cold and rain we had had recently, we really wanted to take advantage of the sunshine, as mottled by high clouds as it was. We wanted to be outside and cycling along the streets. We were both disappointed by the breakdown of our quadracycle but decided that we weren't going to let that stop us from enjoying the day.

Enter the catrikes!

It was a simple matter of taking out the trikes, plunking ourselves into our seats and zooming away. Yard sales could wait and, besides, there hadn't been any on the Sunday anyway. Most neighbourhoods don't have those weekend-long yard sales until the May long weekend anyway so neither of us was particularly worried.

And how could we be worried as we zoomed and zipped through the neighbourhoods? With the clouds continuing to thin, more or less, and with little in the way of wind, the day could only get nicer. We have had a rather persistent upper low spinning over top bringing with it rains, winds and cold temperatures. But now, finally, the low has edged away, s-l-o-w-l-y as it had done so. By the time we had finished our jaunt through suburbia I had added another 8.13 kilometres to my annual tally.

Now, I sit and see that the skies are that brilliant blue, the tree branches steady in the no wind condition and the nearby forest sporting that green haze of emerging leaves.

Today, we have an actual practical mission. My friend, Helena, and I have rented one of the allotment garden plots the city of Ottawa provides to residents. Although it is still too early to plant anything per se, we are going to meet up with her at our plot (#198) to at least see what tidying and ground prep needs to be done. So, I'm taking my trike while Adam, whose Catrike Speed has a lot less clearance than my Trail, will be using his mountain bike. If the plot is what Helena and I recall when we first considered renting it for the season, there shouldn't be too much to do for now but that's another story.

Enjoy the sunshine, folks. I know I will!