St Phocas Garden
Our community gardening project began in 2012. That year, with
the support of Carrot Cache, among others, our head gardener
Laurentiu coordinated the tilling, planting, nurturing and
harvesting of our first organic garden. 2,400 seed potatoes were
planted and 15 tons of potatoes were harvested. 75% of the labor
involved was by volunteers of all ages, from 5 through 75 years.
The harvested potatoes were used by an inner-city mission in
Toronto for its meal program, as well as by those who used the
services of the Refuge itself. In 2012, we learned about the
quality of the soil, the natural environment, local experience
and contacts in the area and beyond in regard to organic
Our project is unique because it establishes a long-term garden
where anyone can experience the joy of riffling the earth
through their fingers. It brings people together in a wholesome
and genuine way, creates and sustains communities. For rural
people, the community element is important as they tend to have
fewer social services available and can become isolated. For
city people, connecting deeply with others in a safe and organic
environment is a rare commodity. Our garden provides education
through participation which will be available through retreats
and summer camps and other activities. People can come together
here to learn about the earth, about day-to-day aspects of
growing and harvesting and about the intangible aspects of
gardening such as patience and discipline. Our garden creates
a keeper of genetic diversity in plants.
Our garden is also a place of meditation and contemplation for
many people. Gardens are places which promote mental and
spiritual healing simply by their very existence. Sitting,
walking, or working in a garden promotes inner peace. That's
why we have planned the center spot with somewhere peaceful to
sit, and the inclusion of flowers and herbs within the actual
In 2013, thanks to a grant from Canon/Evergreen, we were able
to plant 250 species of native fruit trees and bushes,
including American chestnuts, black walnuts, hazelnuts, apples,
plums, cherries and much more.
Seasonal Reports (click a date to expand
Do you remember our chickens from last year? Or the very early
rooster? Our dear Julio was very glad about 2015 that everything
produced in the garden got used, nothing wasted. This year we
intend to add to our summer stock a milking cow, a pig, two lambs
and possibly a donkey. We did not know until very recently that
donkeys are the best protectors of lambs. Plus, they can be used
for a great number of other tasks that Julio will teach us. If you
have not had a chance to work in our garden, please respond to
our invitation to join us!
Our greenhouse is installed and ready to go. Thanks to a generous
and kind donation, this spring we were able to set up a
greenhouse to extend our growing season. Massive thanks to
Laurentiu, Leo and Ruth, and their team of volunteers who
worked over-over-overtime to have us ready by the end of April.
And, thank you to all who helped bring bountiful harvests from
our garden at St. Mary of Egypt Refuge.
It was the end of January, and the wind made -20°C feel like
-35°C. One could hardly believe that trees and vines and
fields would bloom again in the spring. After an amazing 2013 in
our garden, we hoped and prayed it was going to happen again, so
we were preparing for Saint Phocas garden by ordering the seeds
needed: 3,600 beans, winter butternut and buttercup squash,
amaranth, corn, tomatoes, beets, eggplant, carrots, zucchini,
cabbages, radishes and lots of enchanting herbs.
Did you feed grass to our happy chickens at the refuge this year?
Did you eat the orange yolk eggs that they produced during the
summer? Or maybe you just picked and ate a few veggies from our
garden. If you answered yes, we thank you for sharing the joy of
being together at St Mary of Egypt Refuge. If you did not have a
chance in 2014, as the gardeners say there is always next year.
Thanks to you, it was possible for many of us to feed ourselves
from our own garden and to bring produce into the city. This
year we planted only heirloom seeds, so we can save and use our
own seeds in the years to follow.
Ever wondered how many beans one healthy plant produces? Our
winner this year was a Jacob’s cattle bush bean: 100.
For 2015, we are thinking about adding a new companion beside
chickens: a sheep or two lambs, a goat, a cow, a donkey. Let us
know what you would like to see next year.
Thank you all for the wonders of 2014 in the garden.
— St Phocas gardeners
The fruit tree plan worked beautifully this fall: two rows of
eight apple trees ten feet away from the laneway, brought all the
way from Siloam Orchard. Our small little orchard of Mother,
Swayzie Russet, Blenheim and Snow, close to the pelegrines of
Saint Mary. We delimited with some tall poles/ropes so that Dave
does not push snow over the trees. Julio and Olga make a very
good team and Laurentiu started to learn a bit of Spanish too.
We did our little part, and the rest was in God's hands.
The bridge looks nicer in its place. We took a walk on the other
shore and thought about fishing from the bridge, but it was too
windy and we already had brought Arctic fish from Toronto.
One Saturday morning we went to the chickens, hoping to find at
least three eggs for our breakfast. Julio was very glad that the
chickens recognized him (he did not come empty-handed, but with
some fresh grass and veggie leaves), and I was glad that
Thursday (the dog) eventually recognized us and let us out of
the car. As soon as I walked toward his bowl of food to
replenish it, he became very friendly! Olga and Julio prepared a
feast lunch with amazing dishes, and we skipped dinner.
Sunday we went again to the chickens and they gave us another
dozen eggs. We were very grateful to them. Thursday the dog
was glad to see us, especially after the cats ate his extra food.
We stopped in Belleville at Agia Trias Church and were glad to
see Father Anatoly and his congregation. His blessing went a
long way. Julio, Olga and Laurentiu thank St Mary of Egypt and
her friends for another chance of a fruitful weekend.
— The orchard specialists
On the first weekend of October 2013, we planted about 220 trees
and shrubs at St Mary of Egypt Refuge, with the funding provided
by Evergreen Foundation and Canon Corporation (a photography
company that also provided us with a camera). The goal is to
provide edibles to augment the vegetable garden’s produce. In
addition, many of the selected fruit and nut species are native
to Ontario; so this planting provides something of an interface
between the goals of providing fresh food for the inner city and
the protection of Ontario’s biodiversity.
We were few workers, but Providence was looking after the
Refuge. When one of the nurseries provided enormous (two-metre
tall) trees that could not be transported by car, Laurentiu was
able to provide a trailer. The trees in question were the
endangered American chestnut (Castanea
dentata). This tree was almost wiped out by an imported
disease, chestnut blight, about a century ago. In recent
decades, propagation has focused on trees that have shown some
resistance. The Refuge is outside of the historic range of
American chestnut yet, being on the southern part of the
Canadian Shield, has ideal habitat conditions: well-drained,
acidic, sandy or rocky soils. The tree should be fully hardy
here, yet out of the reach of lingering blight spores that may
float around its original range. Four were planted: two in the
vicinity of the main house and two near the northwest edge of
the vegetable plot along the entrance driveway.
In addition, numerous other native and cultivated species of
fruit and nut were planted by Julio and Fr. Roberto, who had to
work extra hard because of the low staffing and a back injury
which prevented me from actively digging and lifting.
Fortunately, the soil was soft with recent rain and all planting
was done by Saturday mid-day. The weather was mild and the rain
abated during the planting times.
The native species planted included: white oak
(Quercus alba), grown from acorns
collected from old-growth relict trees in downtown Toronto
(Queen’s Park and Casa Loma areas) that existed before the city
did; shagbark hickory (Carya ovata),
wild crab-apple (Malus
coronaria)—suitable for jellies, elderberry
(Sambucus canadensis), smooth wild
rose (Rosa blanda) and American
hazel (Corylus americana).
Cultivated types included blueberries (probably originally
derived from native species) and black currants. As a bonus,
and somehow added in, were a few hydrangeas that were added to
the vicinity of the playground.
The project is not yet over: some apple and sour cherry
varieties not yet available are to arrive in 2014.
We started 2013 garden season a bit early in the year while the
field was still white at St Mary. On the first trip our car was
heavy from the sacks of compost transported in the trunk and
while I was glad that I found my lost keys and we can remove the
potato sprouts I managed to get the car stuck in the mud a few
yards away from the church. Peter and Lucas were in the back
seats and after a few minutes of trying to get loose, the car
sunk even deeper in the mud. While I was Glen Roy thinking
“Oh boy, this is not a good!” I looked at them and
they did not seem to want to get out of the car so I suggested
them to start praying so we can go home. Radu, co-gardener,
advised us to open the trunk and remove the sacks. I remembered
about L’Esperanza ship that got rid of the gold sand sacks to
escape the rocks. Radu, multi-qualified and on the spot
irrigation plumber took some wood boards and put under the front
wheels and out we went. I turned to the kids and told them
gladly: “See, if you prayed!” Lucas answered me he
did not pray. Peter seemed rewarded. This was on March 30,
2013, by that time the garden was plotted and some seeds already
growing at home by Linda and Sophia.
After that there were a few trips and many hearty volunteers
helped us in the garden and mostly our humble Julio who
delivered many tens of pounds of dry, almost sacred, romano
beans for pasta fazzouli and who is ready to grow chicken next
year (haven’t decided yet about the rooster).
This year was bountiful in St Phocas garden at St Mary of
Egypt refuge. On September 28, Baba Zivka, Dorothy, Chris, Aaron,
Eliana, Tania and Julio filled the church basement and freezers
with multi-variety squashes, tomatoes, green beans and dry beans,
beets, ground cherries, potatoes, green tomato (traditionally
pickled by Mariana and Ionel), pickled cabbage, carrots,
onion, eggplants and even okra. Father and Julio, with a last
stretch, scooped even more potatoes on October 5. Not too long
ago, people were almost worry-free, having enough food to go
through the winter. We started with a few handfuls of seeds,
early this spring and these days Julio is cooking delicious
soups at St John the Compassionate with organic, local and
thrice-blessed vegetables from our garden and will do so, maybe,
all the way to our Pascha.
Father and Julio seeded the garden with winter rye to protect the soil and to keep it green.
I have recently heard, from Father, this word: reverence.
Friends of St John the Compassionate and St Silouan of Athos
joined again this spring to beautify our gardens. Under the
direct supervision of Linda, this year St Phocas garden was
seeded and planted with many vegetables, some of them brought
all the way from Minorca Island (thanks to Cristina). We got
together on two weekends to offer the soil seeds and seedlings
that Sophia grew since February. Will they grow to bring
harvest? So we believe and pray. Our soil improved miraculously
after adding compost sprinkled with holy water in the fall and
spring. Chiara, Evelyn and Presbytera Irina watered the field
joyfully after Father Roberto blessed them in the paschal sound
of the inherited ancient church bell that Alastair pulled
untired. Solomon was so glad to have learned a new song: The
Paschal Troparion, “Christ is Risen!”
In the meantime Julio is bravely keeping away from our garden
all chewers. I just got word that the deer fence is up. This
year Aaron dragged to the field the best poles one could find:
cedar trees. Aaron’s planting experience and zeal showed in the
fields closely seconded by Eliana, Aurora, Taylor and Owen.
Gavin led our efforts in the native species area, around the
chapel where Professor Paul and Jesse made it look like a
garden. I almost forgot Johan, who took great pictures and
cheered everyone by sharing them at night. And not last, Mary,
who quenched our thirst with best water and juice. Oh, and our
wheel barrow master: Steve, who found and carefully delivered
all the plant trays.
Special thanks to all the children who joined us in the garden
and participated in the Divine Liturgy and in the expedition to
the other shore, all the way to “Four Cow Meadow”
and back. The magnificent: Maria, Agnes, Solomon, Philomena,
Barbara, Eliana, Sophia, Alastair, Peter and Lucas. And our
canoe sound speed deliverer: reader Michael. The gift of the
Divine Liturgy was offered to us in the first day of the week
by Father who was accompanied, very early in the morning, by
Theodor, Haroula, Maria, Michael, Christina and Bernadette. What
Anyone experienced the unique, rich quietness of the fields in
the country, rarely interrupted by a few words? Come and hear!
Thank you all for making this possible in the garden of our
St Phocas Garden Staff (click a name to
expand or collapse)
Laurentiu is an organic gardener who develops computer programs
for a living. His love of gardening comes from his ancestors on
whose fields he practiced agriculture while growing up. In 2012,
with financial help from Carrot Cache and volunteer involvement
of many people and Laurentiu as head gardener, St Phocas garden
took life at St Mary of Egypt Refuge's establishment. He and the
people working there received more joy than in many past years;
therefore in 2013 with the participation of even more people,
Laurentiu and Linda led another blooming project: St Phocas
garden grew a much larger variety of summer and winter
vegetables. Naturally, as in the past, Laurentiu’s sons, Peter
and Lucas (who, by the way, want to be farmers), got involved
with all their energy into this bliss.
Laurentiu is actively pursuing his gardening call and enriches
his knowledge by participating in 'agri-webinars,' focusing
especially on soil nutrition. He is carefully planning the
activities of future seasons around St Phocas garden and hopes
for the best organic vegetables that will bring joy to many