Monday, January 30, 2012

Reason to Garden: The dirty dozen

I have a girlfriend that always tells me that gardening is too much work and you can buy produce at the grocery store. She is right, you can, but what is on that produce? I came across this website that explained "the dirty dozen" as in fruits and veggies that are the most contaminated by pesticides.  It was a real eye opener what I'd been feeding my kids during the winter thinking that I was feeding them well by providing lots of fruit and veggies. It gives me an even bigger incentive to garden and provide healthy food for my family. When I was raising my kids, buying organic during the winter months was unheard of. Today, I went to the grocery store in the city and was able to find a very good selection of organic fruits and vegetables. Mind you, they are a bit pricier but they are chemical free. Locally, there are very few organic veggies and fruit in the stores.  I live right smack in the middle of the grain belt where a large portion of farmers use chemicals on their weeds and insects. We don't live right beside where they spray as our acreage is 8 acres but that darn stuff is in the air. Just a sniff of it makes me wheeze and so the windows stay closed during spray season which happens several times during the growing season depending on the crops being grown and the pests showing up for dinner.Farmers are slowly changing their ways, one by one we hear that one more farmer has decided to go organic, but it's a really slow process. At least when I'm growing my organic produce all summer, I know my produce is chemical free and has lots of nutrients. It kind of makes you wonder, if all our farmers were organic, how quickly would our cancer rates go down? Food for thought.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Oriental poppies

My sister in law grew these huge plants of Oriental poppies in bright orange/red and I fell in love with them.  She told me her daughter had brought them home after visiting the garden of a gardener with her class at school. She offered to give me some but told me that they did not transplant well. Two years ago, I found these in our local gardening center and bought 8 plants in various colors. I carefully planted each plant in bright sunlight in a well drained area. I had planned to mulch them that year because of our harsh prairie winters and because my sister in law had mulched hers. I never got there. Fall arrived and winter set in with a vengeance, we had tons of snow. The next spring, only one plant came up. I went back to the garden center and bought 7 more to replace the ones I had lost. I started again. Once again they were planted in full sun but this time, I mulched all of my plants.  Once planted and mulched, I watered them once a week most of the summer. Last spring, all my oriental poppies survived and continued to thrive well all summer. I bought an organic fertilizer for perennials and used as directed early last spring.  The reason they are hard to move to a new spot in the garden is that they have thick roots that once established are more difficult to reestablish in a different area.  The petals of this beautiful flower look like paper and last quite a long time. The flower bed that these plants have been transplanted to is a mixture of evergreen and cedars with perennials added for color.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Growing Beautiful Tomatoes

Often, you'll see advertisements about growing the juiciest tomatoes and the biggest tomatoes and the most tomatoes with some "secrets".  The biggest "secret" to growing tomatoes is calcium. Yup, that's it. Tomatoes need calcium. It's easily fixed. Save all of your eggshells for the whole winter. Crush them up and I'll tell you how to use them. That's the secret that all these gardening books have been talking about. I like to start my own tomatoes. I like Romas for making pasta sauces and Early Girl, Longkeeper, Big Beef and Sweet 100s to eat and cook with. There are lots of varieties and I always try a new Heirloom variety every year just because I like to. I like to start my own tomatoes but if I don't have the time, I buy my plants at a greenhouse. My tomatoes usually are transplanted in deep holes so that when they are buried, their leaves are just above the ground. More roots will form along the buried stem and this will make the plant more stable. Before putting the tomato plant in the hole to be planted, I always take a good handful of crushed egg shells and place it in the base of the hole, cover with a bit of soil and then plant my tomato on top. The plant then has access to a slow release calcium all growing season and it's free. I've heard of gardeners giving tomatoes a cup of milk every two weeks and then watering them in and some people have even fed calcium tablets to their tomato plants. I generally grow around 30 to 40 plants per season, milk and pills would not be cost effective. Egg shells are free and organic and did I mention they are free? Since adding egg shells to the planting holes, I've had very few plants with blossom end rot.  Every year, I buy perennials and various trees in black plastic containers from the nursery. Once they are empty, the bottom of the container is cut off and I place these around my bedding plants, especially the tomatoes where they stay all summer long until harvest. The gallon containers are usually placed over the plants and pushed into the ground around 3 - 4 inches.  Depending on the heat, those pails are completely filled with water and the water slowly seeps into the soil; this is done every 2 to 3 days.  The bottomless gallon containers can be used season after season. (I have used coffee cans too, but they rust and I'm not crazy about that).  These gallon containers also act as a barrier for cutworms.  My tomato plants are never trimmed to make the tomatoes bigger or ripen faster. I did try it one year and the fruit on the plants were sunburned and thus ruined, I learned my lesson. Where I am, tomatoes have very few pest problems if any at all, so I don't powder or spray them. The only fertilizer I use is manure that is worked into my garden in the fall every two years. Once planted, the only thing you have to do for tomatoes is water and weed them and pick the ripe tomatoes! In the fall, just before the frost, pick all the tomatoes and lay them on the basement floor (where it's cool) on old blankets (1 layer of tomatoes). If you want them to ripen faster, place ripe apples amongst them.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Strawberries and catching a thief!

Strawberries love being mulched. I prefer to mulch  them with grass clippings that have not been chemically treated. In the fall, there's always an abundance of leaves and strawberries need to be mulched so that they are winter protected, leaves cheaply fit the bill.  Strawberries also like wheat straw and I have also used chemical free pea straw and slough hay.  If you want to add peat moss as a mulch, you must cover it with another mulch to protect it from blowing away. Pine needles can also be used as a mulch, I tend to mix it up with other mulch or cover it with grass clippings as they are quite sharp, especially when you're picking the berries. Strawberries do better with pine needles as they acidify the soil.  I like to use a variety of mulch because a mixed mulch creates a beautiful rich soil as it decomposes. Mulch also keeps the soil moisture in longer so you don't have to water as often and keeps the weeds down really well. I've also read that pine needles have some compound in them that is released into the soil as the needles decompose, thus discouraging the weeds. Not sure how it all works, but less weeds gets a thumbs up from me.  My strawberry patch is always placed in an area of the garden that has good drainage. I like to water the patch slowly and deeply and let it dry out between waterings. This has really worked well for me in my area. With the Tristars, I get an early summer crop and then I harvest strawberries in the fall until a heavy frost damages the flowers. I've had strawberries as late as early October, depending on how nice the fall is. The worst pests for me are the birds and my dog. Covering the patch with a wire meshed box has saved a lot of my fruit from being eaten both by the birds and my dog. I don't like the plastic meshes as the birds tend to get really tangled up in them and sometimes, I am not home and can't save a tangled bird in time. A well prepared and well taken care of strawberry patch can last a long time!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Strawberries...nectar of the Gods!

After I married and started my own garden on the farm, the first thing I mooched from my dad were some of his extra strawberry plants. He had two kinds, Tristars and June berries. I chose the Tristars because they produce early in the spring, rest and produce again in early fall.  Where I live in Saskatchewan, our soil is mostly clay and strawberries do better in sandy soil. After researching strawberries in various books from the library, I found out that if one adds pine needles to the soil, the strawberries do exceptionally well. My uncle let me pick up a couple of well packed garbage bags of pine needles and cones.  Next, I bought two large bales of peat moss and finally, several bags of sheep manure at the lumberyard. My husband took out the garden tractor and rototilled the garden area twice. We waited about a week for the weed seeds to sprout and then rototilled the ground one more time. Now it was time to add the pine needles, sheep manure and peat moss. Once again, my husband rototilled my new ten foot by ten foot strawberry patch. I thought for sure that I had put way too many pine needles into the plot but I continued as the book from the library had said not to be stingy. First, I dug with my hands holes for my new plants about 3 inches in diameter and three inches deep. I filled the holes with water and let the water seep into the ground. Next I took my strawberry plants and spread the roots in the hole a bit. The crowns were level with the surface of the soil and when the hole was filled with soil, I was careful not to bury the crown of the plant as the plant would probably rot.  The soil was pressed firmly around the plant and watered  in. The plants were transplanted in rows about 10 inches apart to give the plant runners lots of space to start new plants. The newly transplanted plants were then watered slowly with a sprinkler to settle the ground. Any flowers were picked off to let the plant have enough energy to settle into their new home and transplant successfully. Strawberries love lots of sun and I placed my new plot away from trees and in full sun. There is still a lot more to learn about strawberries, stay tuned for the next installment about this yummy little berry!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Gardening is a family tradition

Grandmere Louisa was an avid rose gardener. When my grandpere moved her and the family to town, she brought some of her roses with her. My uncle sold me the house that she lived in when he moved to the nursing home. Her yellow roses were still there. We did our best to move those precious roses to my new home when we sold the house. Not one survived, even with all our tender loving care. I can still smell those roses, beautiful fragrant yellow roses on long stems. Before we moved them, I picked the seeds and they are carefully hidden in a box somewhere that I have yet to unpack. I will be trying to start new seedlings, if not, I will be haunting heritage rose sites trying to find a similar rose. She is no longer here, so I can't ask her the secrets to her success of moving those roses from the farm to town. Actually, I never met her, she passed on shortly after my parents were married, way before I was even thought of.  I have researched how they use to farm and grow plants and control pests before pesticides became such an integral way in which we grow food now. I have been researching and learning and test driving organic gardening for 25 years. I have so much more to learn and every growing season I come across a new way of growing beautiful, healthy, successful vegetables and fruit. Every season, brings a new adventure as I try new plants and fruit. This year is no exception, I'm already poring over seed catalogs and heritage seeds sites on the internet. For those of you, who have a love affair with roses and happen to come across beautiful old roses in abandoned farm yards, you should check out this wonderful website on saving those precious flowers: as they have an abundance of wonderful information that is very well done. Take time to smell the roses!

Starting a new Chapter

Ever since I can remember, I have been in love with growing things. I've toyed with writing a really good gardening book, I'm still toying with writing an ebook. Less hassle. I decided I had to start somewhere, so I'm starting this blog. So much information out there for gardeners to choose from. I've tried a lot of it and for my Saskatchewan garden, the information I will be posting is what works best for the growing conditions in my garden. Hopefully, along the way, some of the information will be helpful to some of my readers. Welcome to "My Grandmere's Garden".