Monday, October 19, 2009


By Trevor Suffield

Nov. 6, 2008

A Wolseley area couple recently won one of the top prizes in a nation-wide contest to find the best organic and pesticide-free gardens in Canada.

Jessie Klassen and husband Joel Ralph were named the winners in the Balcony Bliss category in the recent David Suzuki Digs My Garden contest.

The contest was sponsored by the David Suzuki Foundation. It attracted 580 entries from across the country. Approximately 5,000 individuals voted for their favorite entries online.

Ralph uploaded a snapshot of their outdoor apartment garden on a whim. He was pleasantly surprised when he and Klassen received the top prize in their category.

“Lots of people in our neighborhood have a garden,” says Ralph, “and we just wanted our own piece because we don’t have yard space to have some small little garden.”

Their winning garden consisted of tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, lettuce, herbs, flowers and some catnip (which was a big hit with their cat).

The two green thumbs were married last October and have been together for six-and-a-half years. They first met in high school and attended Queens University together.

Klassen, 25, works at Resource Conservation Manitoba on its Workplace Green Commuting initiative. Her only previous gardening experience was gained when she volunteered at an organic farm while travelling in Ireland.

Ralph, 26, is the manager of education and outreach programs for the National History Society. He attributes his love of gardening to his grandmother, who used to work in a market garden in Toronto during the Second World War.

“Growing up, she always had a fairly large garden, and that is something we’d do as kids, growing tomatoes and stuff like that,” Ralph said.

The key to a successful organic garden, the couple say, is in the dirt.

“We have our own vermicompost bin in our apartment, to compost our organics,” Klassen says.

Vermicomposting is apartment-friendly. All you need to get started is a plastic bin under your kitchen sink, along with some shredded newspaper, a bit of water, organic food scraps — and some red wiggler worms.

Ralph says vermicomposting is not as unsavoury as people might think — there is no smell, you only have to feed the bin about once a week and the results are incredible.

“Some of the plants we used to have that were near death, we put a couple of tablespoons in and they just sprang back to life,” he says.

Along with the national recognition, the couple also received a “David Suzuki Digs My Garden” T-shirt, a gift certificate to an organic seed store and a personalized video message from Suzuki himself.

The couple was so inspired by their success that they want to pass on their knowledge to other people in the neighbourhood next year.

“Maybe start the little plants and then give different people the plants to grow themselves,” Ralph says.

“We’re not expert gardeners, but we just wanted to make a little difference in our backyard, and if there’s a way we can share this with lots of people, I think that’s the real spirit of this event.”

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