A mixed bed in all it's late summer glory

A mixed bed in all it's late summer glory

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Gardens 2017, 2018, and 2019. three years almost lost but not quite!

I started writing this in spring 2018, had to hunt for pictures, got busy, see below. It is now Febraury 2019. The leeks are up, the seeds have been ordered, a new beginning is upon us.

I will skip the A to Z, just some basic notes.

The garden of 2017 starts in a spirit of great optimism with: "Let there be lights!" I went ape on grow lights and am glad I did. 

On February 12 my husband, who had become increasingly incapacitated, moved into extended care. That story is not for this blog. I mention it only because it left me free to move things around. The grow lights from the room where I practice reflexology were moved to the living room.
Carpentry was committed. Mistakes were made and corrected. When the dust cleared I had two more feet underneath the original shelf and four feet extra in the reflexology room. For good measure I succumbed to the temptation of a second indoor grow garden, so now there is one in each side of the bay window.

So, with that promising beginning, was this the perfect garden? Sadly not. On the contrary, it was the worst garden I have had in years. The reasons are many, some of my own doing, some not.

To start with, the weather. Spring was late, cold and wet, everything a full month behind 2016. Around May 20 there was a sudden shift to full blown summer. Not just regular summer. Epic drought with no rain at all and extreme temperatures. By early July we were in Forest Fire Fear mode. Our valley got off easy, but for much the summer it was too smoky to enjoy and too hot to move. Even so there were moments of beauty. And good bedding plants.

Bedding plants in the greenhouse. May 14 2016

The greenhouse roof did not go up till April 19th. It took a while before I could even get into the main garden. Then in May when I finally got going there I had no water in the big garden, which is uphill.

Precious planting time was wasted diagnosing and fixing the system, and by this time the window of opportunity for peas had closed. They did not get watered during a crucial stage and barely germinated. I had some meals from the early ones I had put up in the greenhouse but that was it. Just when they started yielding it got too hot.

I planted three lillies a few years ago. They usually get deered. This one escaped to bloom, but did not come back in 2018. 

Then there were the VOLES. The dreaded varmints ate potatoes and carrots but worst of all they chewed through the basis of pole beans, just when thosed started to yield. 

So much for Nature's input. The next bad is mine.

Even on the hottest days early mornings are pleasant, but did I get it together to hit the gardens first thing? Not. Without a spouse at home to give structure to my days it was very easy to fall into slouch mode. There has to be coffee before we start, but that should not take too long. Blame the iPad. I grab it for a leisurely read of news and a visit with virtual friends and there goes the morning. I swear the internet speeds up Time. Facebook is a black hole for someone who suffers from CCD. Coming soon to a DSM near you, it stands for Compulsive Comment Disorder.

Before one knows 10 or 11 o'clock rolls around and by that time it was TOO HOT. In 2016 I had my garden day more or less in 2 shifts: a morning time, followed by lunch and rest in the hot afternoon, and then a second stint roughly between 4 and 6. In 2017 and early 2018 that was the time I would go to visit Chris in Minto House, the lovely small facility attached to our local hospital.

Even with a bad garden there was still food in the freezer, just not the perfect abundance one hopes for and not much to share. The flower beds were mostly abandoned and left to quack grass and deer.

 Fast forward to 2018.

The weather was a repeat of last year. Spring was slow and late, after an old fashioned Kootenay winter with record snow. I kept telling people we might be grateful for that snowpack come summer and was I ever right. The shift to summer came earlier than last year. May was warm and dry and could have been wonderful. Unfortunately that was the time my poor husband finally decided to leave his tortured body behind. It took two weeks after he stopped eating and drinking, even with palliative care only. He died June 1st. As a person he had been gone for a long time, so his final departure was a liberation for us both. Even so a death watch takes it out of you. Once it was over I needed a lot of extra sleep. 

I did grow tons of splendid bedding plants which made many people happy. I might turn this into a tiny side job, growing to specification for a few people. Or I might just give them away to the planned community garden, some friends in need, and the table grow box at Minto house. 

Or a bit of both, we will see. I have become obessed with Charles Dowding's youtube channel. He has wonderful tips on prestarting almost everything except maybe carrots.

July was quite nice weatherwise but I was still in recovery mode. The long weekend in August brought a weather system with many violent thunderstorms but not much rain. B.C. basically burst into flame. 

Once again most of our valley was spared, but it was disgustingly smoky for  most of August, interfering with the ripening of many crops. September can be a warm summer month but this year it was cool and rainy. We got some beautiful weather in October, but that often translates into valley cloud.

Because the household consists of me, myself and I these days  I ate mostly homegrown veg year 'round anyway.

It is now late July 2019  and the worst garden ever, my bad. To make a long story short, I have spent hours on my deck, looking at the view, unable to get into gear, trying to make decisions. It is time to move to the village. Not right now but soon. I have bought a lot in the village, and will eventually put a modular home on it. I vacillate between excitement at the thought of being right in town, starting a brandnew garden from scratch, and premature nostalgia for this beautiful place. 

See next post.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Asparagus to Zucchini 2016

By the time I finally finish this it is April 2017. Spring is late, as if to compensate for the late onset of winter.  The killing frost stayed away till early December. Even so, I decided the dark season from Samhain to Imbolc is resting time. The mind wants a turn. I took the greenhouse roof off in the last days of October, by myself. I will need help to get it back on, any day now. The snow is receding fast.
At the time I wrote this: Some bulbs were planted. About half the raspberries were pruned and the garlic is in. If we get some nice days I may putter, weed flower beds and spread wood chips in pathways. If cold and snow arrive tomorrow the remaining  work can wait till spring. After decades of this we know that work that is a chore in fall is joy in spring.

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for, the annual round up!

It came up just fine. We had a few good generous meals and expected many more.
I did notice a few red spotted beetles on one plant but that's organic gardening for you, right? I briefly wondered why lady bugs would prefer asparagus. The next picking yielded a huge cluster of  bugs, to the point where I threw out some spears in disgust. I noticed they were kind of elongated for a lady bug. A little bell went off in my head and I googled asparagus beetles. Bingo. Photo by Google.
At first there was just the orangey red kind, then they were joined by a more speckled variety. 

That was it for the harvest. I did not want to stress the plants more and focused on picking off bugs. I also removed the mulch, because the bugs love to shelter in the duff. They did not get watered enough but are once again a vigorous forest. I still have to do their fall cleanup and give them a dose of COF. We shall see what the spring brings.

Meh. I love them, but it is a one sided affair. They took forever and stayed small in spite of generous applications of COF. One good thing: the improved golden beet performs better than the old variety. I will keep trying.

I planted three tipis of pole beans, 1 Emerite and 2 Blue Lake in the main garden.
Emerite was once again less vigorous and not noticeably earlier than Blue Lake. No more.
Some Roc d'or and a small section of Jade bush beans were planted in the greenhouse, and a patch of Delinel bush beans in the top garden.
For bush beans I much prefer Jade to Delinel. It is good at all stages while Delinel needs to be picked small. We ate lots and there is plenty in the freezer. For some strange  reason the beans in the greenhouse did less well than those in the garden. In other years I had a tiny patch in the greenhouse yielding tons. 

This gorgeous head was dinner on June 6! I came close to getting the succession right. They keep giving side shoots for weeks, but at some point it makes more sense to rip a plant out and replace it with a fresh start. The greenhouse works so well for getting lots of starts happening.

Brussels sprouts
 Not the worst we have had but not the best either. The plants looked great earlier but the sprouts were smaller than I like. No cabbage loopers but lots of slugs to make up for that. Also, the leaves turned a weird yellow, I have never seen that before.
They could have used more water in summer. By the time it got wet the days were short and the the slugs thrived on the moisture. Even so we have eaten many all during December. The last stalk is still sitting in a pail outside the kitchen door. I get the impression they would prefer to have the bed to themselves except maybe very early in spring. I have plenty of room for green leafy things elsewhere so I will do just that next year. It might be nice to have some narrower beds, just 2 feet wide, for crops like the large brassicas and peas on trellis that do not need three feet.

Not a bad haul at all! I started with half a dozen nice savoys in a single file large brassica bed, in between the ubiquitous kale. 
Remay kept the loopers off early in the season. Egg shells, sluggo and the vigor of the starter plants helped to deter slugs. Then there was the garlic/cabbage succession. In 2014 it worked, in 2015 it failed, this year it worked again. The trick is to have the cabbage starters as big as possible. This year I had vigorous plants filling their one quart yogurt containers, going in early August. Growing and harvesting is only half the work, then there is all the preserving. I made some sauerkraut and it worked! I should have made more but did not trust myself enough and just shredded/froze a bunch.

Once again the early crops got slugged, in spite of being lovingly planted in between rows of egg shells. I finally got some going in one of the small squares after the potatoes had come out in August.
For some reason these came up fine, but it was too late in the season. I got some fresh carrots in October, the size you get excited about in early July.

Not this year. Let's face it, they are prima donnas. Fortunately Andy the Intentional peasant at the market had a bumper crop and I got some for freezing from him at a good price. I don't freeze broccoli. I had been pinning my hopes on Romanesco, that crazy green broccoli with the fractal towery thing, as a fall crop. It performed beyond expectation in 2014, failed in 2015, and almost made it in 2016 but not quite. 

No matter how long the last frost is postponed, at some point plants stop growing. These Veronicas were tiny, still wrapped in their cover leaves, and frozen solid when I picked them December 6. It was the latest haul ever! The picture somehow makes them look bigger. It took all three to make one meal.

The good news is, I had tons of it from my own starts. Tango Hybrid comes up vigorously and is a good sport about being transplanted. I had it next to the Brussels sprouts and in between onions. 
The sad news is, the stalks were thin and tough, no good for salads. They do work fine for winter soups and I froze lots. I suspect they want more water and more nitrogen.

Last year I fell in love with Lucullus, a pale variety that is more like spinach. Planted lots but, I hate to admit this, it suffered from being taken for granted. It needed more TLC in the form of a side dressing of COF and more water and/or mulch. Wait. Slugs love both mulch and chard. Sometimes you just cannot win! I did get some but wanted to have more of it in the freezer. This year I will plant it again, but will also plant more Rainbow chard. It is more vigorous. Besides, I love how it looks in the garden. I want more chard for the freezer and will not freeze kale again, dehydrator only.

I had high hopes for the beautiful vigorous starts in the greenhouse. Two varieties this year: Sweet Success hybrid and Fanfare. Fanfare because Home hardware was selling seeds dirt cheap at the end of the season, Sweet Success because the reviews were so incredible. Early, girl flowers make babies without needing help, and disease resistant. 

The seeds were very expensive and the performance was disappointing. Cucumber must have heat. As reported earlier, July and August were relatively cool. I had enough for fresh eating but not tons. I am the only one in the family eating them so even two plants performing below par yielded enough with some to give away. I wonder if planting them in the bed in the greenhouse that has hardware cloth in the bottom has an effect? The yield in those beds, prepared with such care, has been disappointing.

As usual the rot demanded its sacrifice, even though I planted in a new section that had never been cultivated before. Crazy thing: one of the small beds, about 3 X 8, was more than half rotted, but the other bed was mostly fine. I did not plant them on the same day and wish I had kept better records. 

Also as usual, the garlic that was intact kept just fine and I had enough for my small household with some to give away. I am still eating it.

I had all I wanted to eat which is not saying much. I really enjoyed having some greens in containers in the deck, for easy grabbing of a quick lunch time salad. I finally managed to get arugula seeded every few weeks and I grew a nice crop of Pak Choy in the greenhouse. Praise Sluggo!

Kale was its usual abundant self, bless the stuff. Dehydrated kale makes a nice gift to health conscious non gardeners. I grew red Russian, or rather it grew itself, Lacinato, and the traditional Dutch curly variety called Westlandse. 

I did get some aphids, but they are easily rinsed off with a good stream of water. 

As reported earlier my own starts mainly failed. I bought some but they were pretty pathetic too this year. But wait! The  2017 crop has been started! Hope springs eternal in the gardener's breast.

I wanted to grow extra multipliers, the variety that grows best for me. Regular onions always get some kind of rot. Yes, I rotate crops religiously. Multipliers are mostly grown for green bunching onions. The bulbs are tough as nails and will survive sitting outside without protection. Even getting frostbitten and thawing out again does not stop them from remaining either edible or fit for replanting. They keep well as an eating onion too. So I thought I'd be clever and just plant them by way of main onion crop. Somehow many of them turned out to be ordinary onions, maybe two instead of one, but not the cheerful cluster of bulbs I was counting on. Too big and singular to be a multiplier but smallish for a main crop onion. Many were also attacked by the rot. I wonder if the fault lie in the bulbs? Could some of the sets have been mislabeled by the seed company? I planted some of the good ones in fall. Meanwhile it was an excellent year for those wonderful Egyptian Walking Onions.

Once again a nice harvest of Norli snow peas and Sugar Anne. I love having the earliest snow peas in the greenhouse. 
By the time the trellis is needed for cucumbers they are almost ready op top.

The best EVER! 

In spite of the coolish late season I finally managed to grow decent bell peppers with a good thick wall. I kept them in containers on the table in the greenhouse and from now on that is where they will be. Only two plants each of Jalapeno and Bell yielded a surprising amount.
I may do more container growing. It is fun and age friendly. On a good day I am itching to get started on serious digging and hauling, on a bad day I can feel that I am not 60 anymore, 0r 70 for that matter. On such days the season ahead looks daunting, and I think it may be time to move into the village. Can you tell I have a mild cold as I write this?

A decent year, with the earliest meal ever as posted earlier. I actually did that chitting thing. I now keep them under Remay during flea beetle season in early summer. 
I had been hoping to see more potatoes growing through the piled up straw, but I finally learned that forming spuds UP only works with late varieties. Thanks for that to youtubing urban food growers Hollis and Nancy.  It does irritate me when food gardeners call themselves homesteaders but we will forgive these sweet people. Garden porn on youtube is my antidote for despair about the state of the world.
I learned from them that, just like tomatoes, potatoes can be determinate or indeterminate. Early varieties are determinate, and will only set tubers below the point where they first emerge from the soil. I never knew! 
We still ran out before January, but that is partly because we ate more potatoes this year. 

The success story of the year: BUMPER CROP! I have never managed to grow a meaningful amount of winter squash before, but I did it this year. The secret was using an unfinished compost heap, slightly flattened out to form a new bed in the newish section of the top garden, in between the asparagus and the former raspberry bed. 
The beginning, July 1st.
Six plants of Avalon hybrid butternut squash grew into a wonderful jungle by mid August.

 In September we could see green squashes hiding underneath the foliage.  
I picked one to test it. The catalogue said the fruits would be about 4 to 5 pounds. The first big ones were around 7 and the flesh was a pale greeny yellow, not quite ripe yet. I cannot stand food waste and made a mild curry soup out of it anyway that was surprisingly tasty. 
By early October I decided to harvest. I wanted that space for garlic, and I did not want to wait till autumn cold made the work a burden instead of joy. By this time I had learned that squash will keep ripening even after harvest. Tadah!

  They ripened to a beautiful, deep orange. Wonderful versatile comfort food. At some point in late winter I cooked them all up and froze them. I am still enjoying them.

This was not their finest year. First, a small tragedy occurred early in the season. I had splendid plants in one gallon pots waiting their turn on the big table in the greenhouse. 
They were so sturdy and I was so busy that it never occurred to me that they might be in need of staking. Wouldn't you know it, the very day before I was ready to plant them out they keeled over and I lost a bunch. I ended up with only 6 paste tomatoes. Roma never quite made it. Summer was coolish and by the time the trusses were loaded it was too late in the season. There was always a few for fresh eating, but never enough for canning or dehydration. The beefsteak tomatoes in the greenhouse took their time but did reasonably well.
Somehow I don't seem to have the knack for tomatoes. Needless to say I shall keep trying. 

And, last but least,

Only three plants but what more does one need? By the end of the season they did need all that room.
 They did great and were enjoyed, with plenty to give away.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The redemption of the circle.

If I had a grave, which I won't, since we'll go for cheap cremation, I would want the headstone to read:

Here lies Ien. Next year her garden will be perfect.

This year the plans for doing things differently and better next year started before the snow was even gone, with the failure of the leek starts.
I am happy to report I have the perfect setup for them ready to roll. Home Hardware yielded a planter that fits on the window sill, and did not have drainage holes punched through yet. Yeah! It holds 4 large square pots with just a bit of room to spare. With the addition of a capillary watering mat it is a perfect fit. Leek babies do not mind being cheek to jowl as long as they have room to go down. Seeds are at hand. So there. 

The winter window will be lively. I saved lots of tops of those crazy top setting onions for use in window boxes. Chives always just sit there and complain indoors, multipliers get wimpy, but the smaller bulbs of Egyptian walking onions make great green onions indoors. Is there any dish that is not improved by a last minute sprinkling of fresh green onions? 
Then there will be the indoor garden I splurged on last winter for microgreens. The seed order will be small this time, but notes are being diligently made so we are ready for an early start. MOAR annual flowers! I loved having my own alyssum, snapdragon  and baby zinnia from dirt cheap seeds picked up at the end of the season. Baby dahlias took a long time to hit their stride but are happening now. Why do I never get around to starting more flowers? There must be cosmos, the tall pink kind. Why did I not stick seeds of nasturtium, which I love, in every empty nook and cranny? And why not start petunias myself? I have added more tables to the greenhouse space to emphasize starter plants and container growing. 

Next year.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A year out of sync

This is a strange year. As reported spring was the earliest and warmest we have ever seen. The season was ahead, but as usual I was behind. A while back I did a post on garden seasons by states of mind. This year the seasons are overlapping in weird ways, due partly to Nature and partly to poor management. 

In Nature, we had excess heat and drought in spring, followed by a coolish summer that keeps threatening or rather promising rain without delivering enough where we live. An upside down year, or is that backside front? As mentioned before on this blog, efficiency has never been my middle name and my body has never been able to keep up with my mind. The ambitions of an elderly (73) gardener with a failing husband (80) got out of hand. The section at the dwelling level would be plenty to keep me busy. Next year I might just put the entire top garden in cover crops and give it a rest, apart from raspberries. (Yeah, right.....)

In short, the season of panic and obsession never quite ended.

For starters I focused on the greenhouse garden, starter plants and the beds below the greenhouse, as reported in earlier posts. I did not get seriously going in the big fenced top garden till late May. In some places the improvised boards had disintegrated, giving free access of the raised beds to the creeping buttercups, threadleaf veronica, yellow dock and others. They made the most of it.

Title of this picture: OMG. WHERE DO I START?
To begin with I put potatoes in the two beds that were still sturdy, in front in this picture. I also planted the section with the fortress boxes. Once again, lovingly seeded carrots FAILED, twice. This in spite of lavish application of  crushed egg shells in between the rows. I ended up sticking celery and multiplier onions everywhere. 
Was this a well thought out, planned decision? Heck no. I just happened to have all those beautiful celery plants. Yes, puppies and kitten syndrome struck again. I want lots to freeze for winter soups, but do I need that many? Multipliers one can never have enough of, and the few leeks are in here as well. Note the tide of weeds lapping at the edge of the frame. The paths had been covered with cardboard and hay the year before last. The weeds enjoyed the extra nutrients.

On the other hand, while I was still prepping and planting the big garden a bumper crop of raspberries demanded to be dealt with, starting the last days of June. We had already enjoyed some fresh potatoes robbed from the earliest planted bed, broccoli heads and side shoots, snow peas, bok choy, and mesclun mix, all from the blessed greenhouse. 
My prize broccoli from the greenhouse, June 6.
Sieglinde potatoes on June 22!

I thought we would skip the 'season of disappointment' this year, but suddenly in mid July the early vegs were finished, even the lettuce in the planter on the deck went tough and bitter and bolted, and the main glut had not arrived yet. Beets were started early in the greenhouse but took forever to form roots. There was always enough to scrape together for a stir fry, but one expects more in July. 

The first half of the summer flew by in a frenzy of work, not quite enjoyed because I felt constantly under pressure. Never mind the astrological detail, but it is a year for Saturn, the symbolic representation of hardship and duty. Into each life some rain must fall etc, and I have had more than my share of good fortune, so no whining.
Well, Gaia bless the zucchini. It must be August. I have finally reached the stage of 'jungle and resignation', together with fullness of harvest, and feel in harmony with the Wheel again. Of course we are not caught up and never will be, and of course the work continues. It is my passion and my joy. But some priority will be given to just sit in the shade with a book every afternoon. Shady lawn is the new beach, a sure sign of age and that is O.K.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Notes on a cool day

In the middle of that frenzied time known as Panic Week(s), when everything is late and screaming to be planted already! we are having a change of weather. The earliest spring ever, with droughty weeks of above average temperatures, gave way to a cool rainy period. The ground is too wet to do anything. I didn't even set foot outside today.  I hope my potted plants in the greenhouse forgive me because even they did not get checked. The day's main accomplishment was the finishing of a jigsaw with two parrots on the iPad app. 
Gaia knows why I find that useless activity the ultimate in relaxation, but I do. I needed the rest. 

Meanwhile, let's record what we have so far.  I am focusing flower efforts on the area right by the dwelling. Anything else that gets done will be bonus. Once again begonias were planted right by the stairs. Must clip back that periwinkle one of these days.
I managed to get the 'lawn' mowed before the downpour but that is all. The yard zone needs trimming and weeding badly. 
The clematis blooms abundantly in spite of neglect.
The big flower border is going to wreck and ruin, too bad but we can only so much. The white peony was stunning but the pink lupin in the border died out. Lupins bloom freely all over the land. Let's leave them in peace in places of their choice and enjoy their beauty without striving for control. This stunning specimen is a volunteer.
I got started at renewing the corner where the Michaelmas Daisy had degenerated, but never got finished. At some point food takes precedence.
Speaking of food: the earliest Sieglinde potatoes are thriving under cover in the section I call the Greenhouse Zone. It has those nice sturdy boxes but no surrounding fence. The row cover does double duty as deer protection.
Brussels Sprouts are doing well in two of the four large beds in that section. They are accompanied by Lucullus chard and celery.
One of the other large beds, below in front of the wheelbarrow, has Norland potatoes, and one is still full of flowers that need to be dug up first. Since this was taken the Norlands have come up and been covered as well.
A few years ago I stuck a few irises in front of the greenhouse, "just for now". They have gone nuts and were glorious. The picture does not do them justice.
I could happily spend an afternoon tidying up that area, BUT. Food first. Inside the greenhouse things are going well.

I should have planted just one broccoli plant in this spot, more towards the middle. I almost did but greed overtook me. When will I learn? This variety, Packman, keeps giving side shoots for months. In the meantime this bed also holds two tomato plants in cages and two short rows of Jade bush beans.
The 3 by 4 boxes are planted in early greens and snow peas for now. Look Ma, flowers! That is only the few who survived being prestarted and transplanted.
The other ones are catching up fast. The spinach in this bed has gone to seed, and meanwhile the green onions have been harvested. In between the peas and the bok choy is now a short row of Roc d'Or snap bans.
Then there are many plants on the big table patiently waiting their turn to be planted out or potted up. 
But that is a whole other post.