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Oak Bay gardener spends decades cultivating, improving daddy’s beans

85-year-old vegan part of the community gardens scene

Above a row of bright green plants, eager to climb, Norman Mogensen ties string on a line between two poles.

Behind him, Bowker Creek burbles and birds sing as they flit among the trees. Mogensen calls this patch of Oak Bay community gardens on Monteith Street “the sunny side of the creek.” He’s been sowing this two-by-four-metre patch for a decade, since this second set of gardens was added to those on the other side of Bowker.

The beans, however, hearken back decades.

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It started in 1975, he recalls, when his 84-year-old neighbour asked over the fence if Mogensen wanted some seeds from his daddy’s beans. Those were his words.

Lore has it the beans date back to the 1890s and hadn’t “seen the inside of a seed packet.”

Mogensen took those beans, and has upped the yield since. When he got the first batch he averaged 3.5 seeds per pod. Selecting his seed beans carefully for number and plumpness, he’s up to 7.5 on average and hopes to hit eight in his lifetime.

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At 85, he’s been a vegan most of his life and vegetables are a staple. This little patch will keep condo-dwelling Mogensen and his wife Joan in fresh food right through to fall he figures. The patch is filled with radishes, other varieties of beans, onions, beets, greens, pattypan squash and a trio of healthy artichoke plants.

“This is a nice little pastime to keep in touch with the living world,” he said.

It’s also about community and kinship. While on a weekday afternoon he could be alone, weekends are busier. Mogensen surmises it’s because the bulk of his green thumb peers are a fair bit younger and likely work weekdays.

One year the community on the “sunny side of the creek” dealt with rat tenants. After the critters decimated a row of beets, a concoction of chili spice and water dousing the main entrance of their hollow log home enticed them to move out.

The human tenants are harder to oust, and the 27 allotment gardens adjacent to Bowker Creek on Monteith Street currently have a waitlist of 40 people.

They cost $43.95 to $65.25 a year and residents can call the parks department at 250-592-7275 to get on the waitlist.

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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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