Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Somebody knows my days! Buy this book. Seriously.

No pictures for this quickie post, I am preparing an extensive OMG WHERE DO WE START? tour. Just a heads up about a book.

If you are a gardener, or know one, the book "Crazy about gardening" by Des Kennedy is priceless. It is not a how to book, it is about life as a gardener. It has been around since 1994 but was new to me.

I am an inefficient dabbler, always have been and most likely always will be. Trying to be efficient merely results in paralysis, so I have given up on that. I still always think that the land would be in near perfect order if only I were better at setting priorities! This is a post I did to a facebook gardening group.

Why does everything I am trying to do lead to me standing at the sink in the greenhouse potting up? Yesterday I swore I would put the already chitted, cut up and healed over potatoes in. But first I had to remove the thick pile of leaves that someone had given me and that I had dumped in the boxes below the greenhouse, "just for now", last fall. The potatoes have to go there. Underneath I found a rhubarb plant I had also stuck there. "Just for now". I have a few other rhubarb plants desperate to be relocated. There is a perfect place for them too, but that place has been occupied by Meadowsweet, which needs to be moved to the fenced garden's herb section because it turns out deer love it. I know several people who would love a plant, and next week is the big fund raiser plant sale for the local SPCA equivalent, so......off to the potting place we go. I had been toying with the idea of doing a market table with perennials once in a while, but forgot how much work it is.


Des Kennedy description of an afternoon in May, with a long list of chores, each one more urgent and overdue than the other, had me laughing out loud. I feel comforted I am not alone in my madness.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Little flowers in the chaos

It is April 3. The snow has been gone for weeks. The roof is back on the greenhouse. The last few days it has been warm enough to remove the sweater, once we get going. I believe it is safe to say that the season of garden obsession is fully upon us.

My energy leaves to be desired this spring. I am chomping at the bit on some days and "do I have to?" on others. This could be a normal reaction to stress (spouse is not well) or the fact that I am not sixty anymore, or a return of colon cancer. Fatigue was the only symptom 4 years ago. I am being a good girl and having a checkup tomorrow. 

Meanwhile I am determined to enjoy the process no matter what and not beat myself over the head with the enormous To DO list. The envisioned perfection will never be reached anyway. Apart from adding to the compost pile, standing around envisioning and nibbling a few fresh kale leaves I have done nothing in the top garden yet. Today I mainly felt like playing with flowers.

The first flush of early spring flowers is gone, leaving the usual straggly mess of green that we must put up with if we want to have them back next year. After just sitting there for some years Eranthis AKA Aconite seems determined to take over the yard.
It takes a few years from seed to flower, I am not sure how many. First there is just one tiny leaf, then a single frilly leaf. 
I just love it, so let it spread. In between the mess the daffodils have started to bloom, accompanied by small primroses and Siberian blue quill. 
Coltsfoot should have come with a warning. I would have kept it contained, or planted it in the semi wild if I had known its invasive habits. It will be making a nuisance of itself later in the beds below the greenhouse. Right now its bright flowers, poking through the sawdust mulch in the pathways, are a cheery sight. 
Springing up here and there in the weedy 'lawn' and at the edge of flowerbeds desperate for attention and compost are tiny sweet violets.
I had some violas in a container last year, and they actually came back, yeah! They are company for hyacinths that spent the winter in a veg bed but are now being honoured in a planter. 
If I were sane I would just have a few nice big planters for flowers and let it go at that. Needless to say that will not happen. As a compromise the big flower border will be filled with fewer varieties, all undemanding. Even so, there is always need for maintenance. Last year the Michaelmas daisies had become a grassed over, tangled mess with bare spots in between. Golden Glow, its perennial companion in early fall, was barely visible after being repeatedly deered and invaded by grass. I have started digging that whole section up. 

Something entirely different. Last year my struggles with hoops ended with the serendipitous discovery of the seven foot bow, consisting of a five foot length of PVC and part of the rebar. PVC in my neck of the woods comes in 10 foot lengths. Rather than trying to fence in this whole garden with a wobbly construction  I will just use hoops over each individual bed. Cheaper and faster, though it does mean a small change of plans. I know from experience that one does not always get around to lifting the netting to work underneath it. Therefor, rather than fiddly little things like carrots, I will use these beds for less labour intensive plants like Brussels Sprouts and potatoes. I have started already.
The small square behind the cardboard was planted with Sieglinde potatoes today. I had a bunch that were sprouting. They take a long time and do not yield as much as other varieties but they are delicious. Remay will be installed once they start showing. The cardboard still has to be covered with nicer looking sawdust.
The square behind there is devoted to Egyptian walking onions. Most of these will not be eaten, but will be encouraged to set seed for replanting. They give the earliest greens of the year, beating out even fall-planted multipliers. I learned this spring that there is no advantage in planting them in the greenhouse.
And finally, in the spirit of permaculture, some lettuces and arugula were allowed to go to seed in the far square bed. It worked! Behold, extra early Freckles romaine babies! 




Thursday, March 10, 2016

First Flowers, First Fails.

Is there no mercy? The snow is not even totally gone yet and already we are reporting the first fail. But wait. First something more cheerful. We had a mild winter followed by an early spring. We may pay for this with drought, fires and low water in the lake/reservoir this summer, but let us rejoice today.
The earliest ever blooming flower, in the sheltered bed below the living room, even earlier than snow drops. February 23, beating the previous record by 4 days.
These brave aconites have been joined by many more of their sisters, as well as snowdrops and purple crocus. That early flush is now at its peak, March 10. I find it hard to get a nice overview picture but we get the idea. I did not want to lie down on the wet ground this morning, which is what it takes to do them justice. We had a dusting of snow, which does not faze them at all. 

Now the fail. My beloved leeks will be fewer and later. One cannot start them early enough. February is good, January better. Last year I had them in a planter in the window sill and  that worked great. 
First I discovered that leeks were not part of the leftover seed stash. I made a rush order for just leeks, but somehow William Dam forgot them and they did not arrive till later, included in the main order. Still, they were planted in mid February, not too bad. The planter had become damaged and I thought I'd be extra clever this year: fill the planter with 2x2 pots and do a precision seeding, 16 0r 9 in each pot. Using a skewer for a dibber, one tiny seed at the time. Painstaking is the word.  Well. Somehow the precision seeded babies were not happy. Only a few pots came up. I suspect they got too dry. 
Meanwhile the new toy was performing nicely. We enjoyed a few crops of baby arugula and some tender salads. I ripped out the arugula and planted leeks in one of the containers, 
just for good measure.The seeds in the grow light  contraption, watered consistently from below , did much better. I also planted one container with celery. It came up surprisingly fast. 

The contraption lives in the living room, which is kept ridiculously warm because of old spouse. Meanwhile I started preparing the big grow lights, which live in the reflexology room that is kept much cooler. In order to save on electricity I will move the celery and leeks to the cool room, where I will also start some brassicas, mainly broccoli and Brussels sprouts. The four planters in the living room can house tomatoes and peppers. I hope to get this done in the next few days. 
Outside the perennial onions are coming up strong!



Thursday, January 21, 2016

MOAR grow lights!

The Indoor Garden contraption that I first saw on Lee Valley has been on my wish list for some time. I finally treated myself to it. I have grow lights for starting bedding plants, these are extra and will serve for microgreens.  With shipping and taxes included I paid almost $180. A tub full of California spring mix is around $6. You do the math. 
However, apart from the question how much longer we can count on California, and considerations of carbon footprints and all that, I need the therapy. Life has been somewhat challenging lately.


The words "assembly required" inspired some dread, but assembly was duly provided. By your's truly. If grandma Moses could start painting after 70 it may not be too late for me to become a handywoman.

One thing I did right last fall was preparing for an early start in spring. Starter trays and pots, pails of fresh potting mix as well as a batch of Super COF are standing by on the deck. It is a mess but it is there. 

Behold my new toy! Filled with COF enriched potting mix, capillary mat functioning beautifully, planted with mesclun mix, arugula and baby spinach. Let the growing therapy begin.




Monday, December 21, 2015

Asparagus to Zucchini 2015

By the time I reach Zucchini it is the Winter Solstice. So it goes.
It is November. Snow is creeping down the mountain and will reach our level soon. We finally had a light frost on November 10 and a killing frost this morning, November 16, a record I believe. I am still putzing around tidying up some loose ends, and not everything that I wanted to accomplish got done. That was to be expected. Never mind perfection, or what is next year for? Overall it was a good season and I feel quite content. By now gardening is a chore. I feel ready to pack it in for the winter. Serious reading, cooking and the blogosphere are calling. Soon. Meanwhile we might as well get started on the almost-annual Asparagus to Zucchini post. 

Asparagus.
Behold the jungle in August. The tallest fern must have been 8 feet high. We finally had a serious harvest this spring, with several meals a week for a month or so. It was wonderful and I look forward to more.
Beans
Did I even take pictures? I don't think so. The season was so long and hot I regret not trying to grow some dry beans. I also could have left more room for bush beans to share with friends. Too many healthy brassica plants led once again to puppies and kitten syndrome. How much kale does one household need unless there are chickens? Oh wait, chickens were one of the projects I was hoping to get done. Not. Maybe never again. Anyway, we had all the fresh beans we wanted from mid July to late September and have quite a few bags in the freezer. 

I played with a few different varieties of pole bean this year. The oriental yard long one was disappointing. It took forever to get going and the plants were not healthy. The novelty aspect was cute but the taste was meh. This would be worth the effort if there were grandchildren to impress. Emerite was not much earlier than Blue Lake. The latter do the best and I love the taste.  Keep it simple! 
Note for next year: do prestart some bush beans in the greenhouse. Like zucchini, they are best fresh as a seasonal treat and the sooner we get them the better. 

Beets
The voles were mostly absent this year. I saw one at the start of the season and that was it. It may be a natural fluctuation or the presence of a visiting cat adding to the efforts of the resident. Anyway I am grateful. I had a nice planting of small Kestrel Hybrid beets. The second planting, golden beets, suffered from not being thinned in time. Somehow I did not get around to planting more in time, which is a shame. 


Broccoli
Pacman Hybrid is just fabulous. The succession of plants was less than perfect but the original six, planted in May, kept giving side shoots all summer. The second generation yielded some heads but they were no larger than the side shoots from summer, pictured below. 


Brussels Sprouts
The best ever! This picture is from October. It is now early December. The sprouts were not large but solid, mostly undamaged and there were no gaps on the stalk. We have been enjoying them as a side for weeks. There is another meal or two worth in the fridge and  4 stalks are sitting in a pail outside, frozen solid. 
Cabbage
I had planned more of a succession and did not quite pull that off. We did get 2 nice small savoys in early summer but I had been counting on the second generation of brassicas. The fall crop did not do well. Last year a second generation brassicas followed the garlic and did great. I thought I was on to something. This year the starts got badly slugged in infancy. I must admit to some neglect as well. They should have been thinned and potted up sooner. Anyway, the plants that went in were smaller and September was much cooler than last year. A few Farao white cabbages made it to useful size, though small. The Savoys, my favourites, were a dud.

Carrots
You'd think with my loose sandy soil I would have a bumper crop. Once they get going they do fine, but I have a hard time getting them started these days. Slugs are the main problem. It is quite normal to have to plant several times. Lining the rows with crushed egg shells helps a bit. I also did not always get around to timely thinning of the later plantings. The square foot method, planting in clusters 10 cm apart, causes gaps in the row where slugs have hit. I will keep trying. We make carrot juice almost daily, so I could use several beds worth.

Cauliflower
I got two nice heads in early summer, in spite of heat and drought, always a triumph.


 I had hoped for some of those crazy green fractal things in fall. Romanesco, variety Veronica Hybrid did great last year. This year Veronica did not make it, see note on second crop of brassicas. Close but no cigar.

Celery
I started my own from seed,  and wonder why I did not bother to do that earlier? Like their cousin parsley they take their time coming up, but are excellent sports about being transplanted. I cook a lot of soup, which always starts with the holy trinity of onion-garlic/celery/carrot. Why did I never bother freezing celery before? Chop it up, freeze first on cookie sheet, bag. I had lots but could have used even more. Plan for next year is to dehydrate more of the leaves.

Chard
Both Rainbow chard and the light green Lucullus grew well as usual. I grow the rainbow mix mainly for pretty. I should grow even more Lucullus for freezing. For dentally challenged seniors a soft sauteed side of chopped greens is easier than a salad. 


 Cucumber
I only had three, then two plants and that was plenty for fresh eating and sharing. Marketmore, a tried and true OP variety, did better than the expensive hybrid, which was supposed to be resistant to all sorts of cucumber ailments. This was the first time I had used trellis and net instead of a tripod. What a difference! Picture below is from July. They had a late start but caught up fast.
Egg plant
We had egg plant! I had no idea they would get as big as they did. Kip at the market told me to just get the plain purple variety since they are more prolific than the fancy white or striped ones. He may have been right. They will get more room next year.
 They are so pretty I would grow them for the flowers alone. 
Garlic
They were small this year because they did not get watered much, but rot damage was only 10%. Most years between 25 and 30% of bulbs are affected. I refuse to give up growing my own garlic. The bulbs that are not affected store well, so we just plant extra, give them extra space between bulbs and buy fresh seed every year.

Greens
Greens of all kinds were enjoyed from April till November. 
You'd think someone with 10 acres would not need a container garden on the deck? Think again. 
Arugula goes to seed at the slightest hint of heat. I now grow it in a pot on the shady deck, more like a herb than a vegetable. Ideally, start a fresh pot every 4 weeks. I love my planters for those times when you just want a few lettuce leaves for a sandwich or some parsley to garnish lunch. As mentioned, salads are hard to chew for dentally challenged seniors. We don't need as much lettuce as we used to. 
Pak Choy goes to seed when it is hot as well and slugs go ape over it when it is young. I started some in a planter on the deck instead. 
It is amazing how much one planter with leaf lettuce will yield if you just keep taking the outer leaves. Freckles Romaine remains my favourite. 

Kale
Where there is compost there will be kale as a welcome weed. 
I call the picture below "Fifty shades of kale".   
Somehow the three varieties I have planted (Dutch curly, red Russian and Lacinato) have crossed and created many versions of themselves, all slightly different in leaf shape and colour. I love it. Most of the harvest was dehydrated. I use it in all sorts of dishes that call for chopped spinach and have given quite a bit away as well.


















Leeks
Best harvest ever! Thanks to the planter in the window sill there were tons of seedlings to set out. Next year I will give them a few more side dressings of some high N substance, probably feather meal. The giants produced by the local grower show that there is much room for improvement. I am not complaining. 
We had our last fresh leeks just before Solstice.
Onions
Regular onions get fungused so I don't bother with them. Green onions are one of my favorite things. Multipliers and top setting onions did well. I finally have it together to get fresh salad onions late in the season: start some rows of bunching onions at the same time as you plant your multipliers. They will take their time but will be ready when your bulbs go to seed. I might plant even more multipliers for winter eating. They always keep well.

Peas
I just love getting a head start on snow peas in the spring greenhouse. Once the season gets really going it can get too hot fast. I only grow snow peas and sugar snaps. Shelling peas are not on the list of gotta-be-organic. Considering how much garden space they take up and how cheap frozen peas are in the grocery store I don't bother. I would if I had small children or grand children. There is something so magical about opening up a package of garden candy. In spite of the heat they did well this year. The key to enjoy them from the the freezer is to give them the berry treatment: freeze spread out on cookie sheet before bagging.
Peppers
Nothing to write home about or take pictures of, which is disappointing considering the excellent season. I suspect an unbalance of nitrogen and potassium. We had some and will keep trying. 

Potatoes
They are perhaps the ultimate survival crop and there are never enough. These days we eat less rice and more potatoes because dentally challenged. They did reasonably well but I always think it ought to be more. The plan for next year is to plant more of the top garden in potatoes and manage the close to the house sections very intensely. They absolutely loved being under row cover during flea beetle season! One small bed below the greenhouse got row cover by way of deer protection. What a difference! This picture was taken after the Remay was replaced with PVC hoops and netting. Hardly any beetle holes while the cousins up the hill were full of pin pricks. MOAR REMAY! 
Radicchio
This was the third year for Indigo hybrid radicchio and the best yet. Radicchio is slightly bitter. It is not everyone's cup of tea but I just love those little red balls. The seeds are not cheap but every single one of them seems to come up.  They are among the most resilient of crops. Slugs love to devour them in childhood, but as long as they have the tiniest growing tip left they will bounce back. They are so tolerant of a gardener's neglect they almost make me feel guilty. Did they have to wait too long in a crowded starter pot before getting thinned and transplanted? No problem. As soon as they have been potted on they take off. They withstand both frost and heat. The heads will wait patiently till the gardener is ready to pick them. If they get overripe, the worst that happens is that the outer leaves get slimy. The heart may look small but they are so dense that there is still a lot of salad material in there. They keep forever in the fridge. I like them best raw, chopped fine with a ranch dressing. Raw purple onion and crisp chunks of a sweet apple really make it a treat. Bonus for us dentally challenged seniors: the crisp texture makes them easier to chew than regular lettuce.
And last but not least: they look so beautiful in the garden while they are growing, like roses.




Raspberries
How I love those red bursts of health boosting deliciousness! In this case the love is mutual. This is not always the case, see cauliflower and winter squash. Raspberries grow well here, this is a natural habitat.
One of these days Project Raspberry, about moving canes around, will get its own post. Meanwhile we had another excellent crop, earlier and more concentrated than usual. We have eaten lots, made some drink base, and this half bushel fruit box, raspberries all the way, is still waiting in the freezer.

Tomatoes
We knew it was a going to be a hot summer so I devoted a whole bed to them in the top garden. However, they had to wait their turn under the grow lights till after an Easter trip to the offspring on the coast. April 13 is later than I would have liked. Most of them went outside, just a few stayed in the greenhouse. Surprise: they did much better outside.  We enjoyed tomatoes for fresh eating since the second week of August, Stupice leading the pack as usual. Once again, too much leafy growth, not quite enough tomatoes till late in the season. By the time I finally had Romas just loaded with trusses it was early October. Frost was late too, but tomatoes ripening in October lack flavour and tend to succumb to rot before they ripen. I never had enough at one time for canning. However, I did dehydrate quite a few. I keep them in the freezer just in case. They are delicious and so handy when you just want a few.
Zucchini!
I did not mark each starter plant separately, so when it was time to give some away I lost track of which one was which. I ended up with 3 out of the 6 being patty pans, not my favourite but what does it matter. I did not bother preserving any. We ate various kinds of zucchini to our heart's content from early August to late October, and that is that till next year.

And that's a wrap! Oh yes, there were flowers too. Lots of them though never enough.



Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Farewell to summer. (written early September)



Hallelujah, it has rained! It is also much cooler, quite a shockafter months of living without so much as a sweater. For much of the last months the thermometer on the deck looked like this, in the shade. For the first time in 72 years I was tired of summer before its end. 
I love heat up to the low thirties. Beyond 34C all I can do is sit in the shade and sweat. 

Nature is tired as well. The lawn is littered with ugly dead leaves that fell from the drought-stressed trees in August, without turning pretty colours first. The bracken is turning. Geese started gathering in the field below in mid August. Since spring everything has been almost a month head of normal, and that seems to go for the coming of fall as well. The last week of August was the worst. The air was choked with the smell and taste of smoke from the many wild fires in B.C. and just across the border in Washington state.

We could barely see across the field to our friendly Box Mountain, the one we see from our living room.
Saddle Mountain across the lake, our view in the other direction, was completely invisible. The sun was a red ball in the sky one could look at without hurting the eyes. People in Midway near the border reported not being able to see across the street. We all counted our blessings at being spared fires in the immediate area. The rain was welcomed but the dip in temperatures is still a shock.
The same view after the rain. Note the bedraggled state of the lawn which has spread to everything in the flower gardens. I barely did more than harvesting and preserving for two whole weeks. The air quality was such that people were admonished to avoid exertion. It doesn't take much for a pleasant yard to start looking like a sad mess. To make things worse the rain washed off the Bobbex deer repellent. Late blooming perennials got deered earlier in the season.
 By now I depend on annuals in containers for colour.


The geraniums which are my pride and joy were much enjoyed by the white tailed rats. I could spruce things up by mowing the lawn and doling out some badly needed TLC to the flowers in containers, but there are only so many hours in the day. The mornings are now unpleasantly cold and the days so much shorter. 
It takes me longer to get my butt out there. Once I am going I don't want to stop.

Garden priority went to shifting gears in the food garden, from favouring the heat lovers to planting some hardy things for the fall garden. 


That's all she wrote in early September. I guess I was planning to add more, never got around to it and it sat in draft. Typical. Now I wish I had hit publish before the previous one. Oh well. Record keeping is not my strong point.

Space well wasted.

A variation on the old theme: LESS is MORE. I have to learn that over and over, but the message is finally sinking in. 

If one has a limited amount of garden space the first instinct is to cram in as many plants as possible. Even though I have ten acres to play with, vegetables have to be grown inside the fenced garden and the greenhouse. 


When I make a garden plan I hate wasting square footage on pathways. Surely, a foot and a half in between beds should be enough? It's not as if I plan to drive a roto tiller in between the rows. 


Space is especially at a premium in the greenhouse. One hates to waste any square footage in that precious micro climate. This year I crammed the three two feet diameter tubs together and fitted a fourth container in as well. The location of one tub is a given, It sits on a huge unmovable but flat topped rock. I have to work around it. The picture below is from early May. Arugula on the left, the other tubs just used as table tops to hold trays with starts.


Well, by the time the permanent residents of those tubs grew up I could barely get around them to tend to the plants. The slugs on the other hand had no such problem. They love slithering up the smooth sides. The three large tubs were planted in heat lovers, jalapeno and egg plant, plus a few marigolds just for pretty. They suffered from slug depredation because I could not get to them easily enough. The smaller black pot held strawberries and became sadly neglected. Not that it was impossible to get to the plants, it was just awkward, and during the growing season one is just TOO BUSY. At least I am. I really have too much garden, but I keep thinking that if I can just figure out how to do it smarter I should be able to have flowers and herbs and vegetables in all the available spaces, and get the successions all figured out, and never have to buy anything I can potentially grow ever again....Dream on. 

Anyway, every action that requires that extra bit of effort tends to get postponed, not out of laziness, but because there are so many other urgent things that need to be done. So, semi fail for that one.


The most productive space in the greenhouse has been the narrow bed across from the tubs. Even there, I noticed this year some neglect crept in because the space behind it was crammed full of pots with plants in waiting and I just could not get to the beans without carefully stepping over things. 

I finally got around to making a box to protect that space, and even though I could potentially make it 3x8 or even 9, I choose to leave easy walking space and make it 71/2 by 21/2. 
This bed can also get separate  protection and be a mini hoop house or cold frame before and after the greenhouse cover comes off, any day now.
As long as the building supplies store cuts the boards to size I can create my own boxes. I am quite pleased with myself.