Saturday, March 31, 2012

Something about gardening...

My first garden was sown the year that I was married. I planted it on July 1st, we did not have very much money and I finally felt like an adult. So I planted a garden. My dad laughed and said I planted way too late. My mom told me I was crazy. They indulged me. My new husband was too busy farming to think about it but he encouraged me. That year, I had the craziest garden I've ever had. We had a late fall and frost did not come until the end of September. Enough time for me to harvest everything I had planted. My dad shook his head and my mom said beginner's luck. I had soooo much that I shared and it made me feel really good. 

I love tilling the soil and feeling it between my fingers. I love the smell of rich soil. There's a kind of peaceful vibration whenever I garden and the stress rolls off of my shoulders. The first taste of the season's potatoes. Fresh spinach steaming on the stove to be eaten with a pad of butter. Finding the biggest tomato ripening on the vine and making the season's first tomato sandwich. I love a rain storm and the way the garden almost hums after having two inches dumped onto it. I love picking crunchy radishes and dipping them into blue cheese sauce before popping them into my mouth. I love having way too much and sharing with others. 

Two years ago, I had a crazy crop of cucumbers, we could not eat them fast enough. So I took a dozen long english cukes to work and told them to help themselves. The guys washed the cukes, cut them up and put salt and pepper on them and had them for coffee break. I so enjoyed that they enjoyed my veggies.

Sometimes I wonder if everyone had a bit of a garden how much healthier we'd all be, how many less hungry there would be in the world. You don't have to go to a poor country to see poor....they are living across the street, go to school with our kids, sit in the pew beside you at church. 

So if you grow a garden this year, plant an extra plant of cukes to share.....it's well worth it!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Time to start your seedlings!

This year, I tried new pots that are biodegradable that aren't peat pots. The pots were filled with a prepared organic mixture made just for starting seeds. I think it cost around $5 a bag. I preplanted all my little seeds in the pots weeks ago because I had such cabin fever and needed to plant stuff! Yesterday, I watered all my little pots to get the seed starting medium really wet. Now, I'll be checking every day to make sure that the pots are damp to the touch so that the seeds can sprout and start growing. These new seed pots really surprised me, they don't hold water very well. I had been using peat pots for years but found that they did not disintegrate as well as I would have liked them to. They tended to keep the root ball together and didn't really allow the roots out of the peat pot. So, not keeping water in the pot could be a good thing.....  Maybe these pots will allow the roots through so that my plants are free to grow as they should. In a few weeks, I will mix up a batch of the seaweed organic fertilizer that I bought at the hardware store to provide much needed nutrients to my young plants. Under my new pots I placed boot trays for the excess water...sure glad I did that!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fertilizing your roses

This is my grandmother's dream house, we bought it and it needed lots of TLC. On the left side of the front door was a rose bush that was over 6 feet high. It reminded me of the yellow rose bush I'd grown at the farm that was just as huge and covered in yellow blossoms. I'm not much of a believer in chemical fertilizers. They're chemical. Instead I use to save egg shells, banana peels and coffee grounds to feed my roses with. My roses went crazy and were covered in blooms. First of all, if I had overripe bananas, I would bury the whole rotten banana about 6 inches from the base of my rose bush. Banana peels do the same thing, it's the potassium that the roses love. I've read on the net, that some people put their rotten bananas through the blender with water and then add water to make a gallon and feed their roses in that manner. Sounds like a lot of work for a lazy gardener. Next, at work, I brought an ice cream pail and saved the coffee grounds. My roses loved that too. I just used it as mulch around my roses and the grounds slowly decomposed as the summer went on. A quarter cup of Epsom salts in a gallon of water, per rose bush, provides magnesium for the plant. Of course when one plants the rose bush, it has to be in fertile soil, with compost, manure mixed in with the soil to provide nutrition for your new bush. I've also used watered down organic fish fertilizer that came out in goops out of the gallon jug. It wasn't too pretty but my roses grew and bloomed profusely. I've just read that throwing a whole banana into the planting hole of a new rose does wonders. I'll have to try that.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Another survivor!

As pathetic as this looks, this is actually a vibrant plant. This is what a Tiger's Eye Sumac looks like without all of it's foliage. It kind of resembles a deer's velvety horn. It is soft to the touch. In the Spring, this cute little tree grows these gorgeous leaves that look like a fern. In the fall the leaves turn a deep red before falling off.

Garagesaling already!

I love garage sales and I love looking for bargains! The blankets on the left are my latest bargains. Got them at a garage sale for the local sheltered workshop. Last year when we had frost early, I did not have enough blankets to cover my plants. I have since remedied this! I hurried up and washed the seven blankets I bought and put them out on the line. I haven't seen any ticks yet so I was safe putting laundry out. Until 5 years ago, I had never seen a tick. The ones we have in our area are called Deer Ticks and apparently do not carry the dreaded Lyme's disease. Having said that, they certainly can cause problems of infection all on their own since they are still a skin boring insect. I have read that if you spread the old style powdered laundry detergent all over your yard that they will disappear. I'm really not sure how that works or the why but apparently it does. I have 9 acres. Yeah that ain't going to happen. My dogs are pestered with them and I hate giving them the pill that interrupts the tick's reproductive cycle....so instead, they are going to get powdered with diatamceous earth, that's suppose to work too. I'm not sure why this insect has moved into our area but it has. So when they show up in early Spring we are back to doing body checks...last year they disappeared around the beginning of July. First mosquitoes and now ticks, blech I hate some bugs! Should get some chickens they eat every bug in sight!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Weeping Norway Spruce

I know he doesn't look like much, because he's just little, but this Weeping Norway Spruce will grow to six feet tall and 8-10 feet wide. I wanted to test drive to see if this type of tree would thrive in my acreage. So far, one winter has passed and it's still here. So this spring, I'm going to go and buy more to plant around my yard. This is a slow growing shrub in the Evergreen family. According to label directions it should be fertilized in early spring and late summer. What really surprised me that the label says to prune in Winter. I will definitely be mulching this cute little tree to encourage it to live! On the tag it does say that this tree is winter hardy to -40F, so that's good because it does get that cold here on the Saskatchewan prairie!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Got my new toy!


Oh yes, gardeners have toys! :-) This is a picture of my new one, the Dustin-Mizer. Had a heck of a time finding a place to buy it in Canada, but Veseys,  online catalogue has one.  Here is the link:  http://www.veseys.com/ca/en/store/tools/naturalbased/dustinmizer  So what does this little baby do? It spreads a thin coat of diatomaceous earth over plants so that when bugs walk on the plants and ingest it, the diatomaceous earth particles cut the insides of the bug and they die. Diatomaceous Earth is fossilized remains of a type of hard shelled algae. It's ground up into powder and is sold to organic gardeners. I go through several gallons of this stuff in a growing season because of those pesky canola beetles that move into my garden after the canola or mustard crops have been cut. It kind of comes out heavy and I was looking for an applicator to do the job but not use as much of the stuff as it has to be reapplied after a rain. Currently, I can only get the tops of the leaves, but I should be able to get underneath the leaves too! Can't wait to take this baby out for a spin! Diatomaceous earth is wonderful for ant control...just put some out by their ant hill entrance and cover with a board and the ants will take it into their homes and ingest it. Takes care of ants really really well. I often wonder what my grandmothers used in their gardens. There was no pesticides of any kind when they were farming and they all grew large gardens to feed large families. My great grandmother had 22 kids. In those days, there were no refrigerators and so they canned all the veggies. They would have a kind of cold cellar which was a hole dug in the ground lined with chunks of ice that they cut from frozen rivers in the winter time and insulated with straw so that the ice would not melt very fast. I think they built a small hut on top with a door so they could go in an out. From what I understand, it resembled a root cellar. That's where they kept their milk and butter and some of their meat for a short period of time. My mom tells me that they had "beef rings", each farmer would take their turn to butcher a cow and divide it with their neighbors because there was no place to store it. My grandmothers canned beef and chicken as a form of storage when they had too much meat. So there is your history lesson for the day!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Saving old varieties

My grandfather's house, when we bought it, was like it was preserved in time. It still had a lot of the same plants growing that I remembered as a child. My grandfather had these incredible yellow fragrant roses that were my grandmother's that were still living. We never intended on selling the place but life changes and so we did. Before we left, we moved all the roses but they did not survive. In the corner of the picture to the right, you can see an old type of fern like plant with yellow kind of flowers. I don't know what this plant is, but I took a shovel full of this plant and took it to my new home. It's growing!   I did bring home at least one of the old plants and it survived! Now I just have to figure out what the heck it is!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Adverse weather conditions and gardening

Gardening definitely makes a person aware of their surroundings. This is a quick photograph of a Waterspout tornado that was seen East of our place. It actually touched down about a 40 minute drive from our place. If you look closely...the spout goes all the way down. First time I`d ever seen one in my lifetime. Gardening is a gamble, we have lots of wonderful intentions when we put the seeds and plants in. Often then not, one bad storm can wipe out all your hard work. Hail is the worse culprit. Plants will recover from high winds and heavy rain, but large hail just destroys a garden. In all my years of gardening, it has never happened to me. Ive had some damage but never has my garden ever been totally wiped out. It helps when I put gallon plastic cans around my plants. It helps to plant plants closer together. Companion planting such as corn and squash planted close together also helps. I`m going to try square foot gardening this year as a test drive to see how successful it really is. Stay tuned for pictures and hopefully videos!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Seed in the garden or Nursery plant?

Up here where I live, there is a very short growing season. Many of my garden plants are started by myself or I buy them at the local Nursery. Tomatoes need to be started in the house or bought at the garden center. They transplant well and a head start on growing means that I get more tomatoes at harvest than I would otherwise. I did test drive my theory as a lady I knew said that she just seeded her tomatoes in the garden directly and still had a bountiful crop. So I planted some tomatoes directly and others were from the nursery. The Nursery plants won hands down, I had bigger and more tomatoes with the Nursery plants. Zucchini plants on the other hand, I always seed directly into the garden. Yes, the ones I bought from the Nursery still grew but the plant was not healthy and it hardly produced. So this year, I'm going to test my theory...I've started a lot of the vines in fibregrow pots. When Spring has sprung and all danger of frost has passed, I will be transplanting the vine that I've started in the fibregrow pots and beside that, I will direct seed the vine. I want to see if there really is a difference in size and quantity or was it really just growing conditions from that particular growing season.  By vines, I mean pumpkins, gourds, cukes....  Those particular plants don't like having their roots disturbed so if I plant them in fibregrow pots, will those pots deteriorate quickly enough so that the vine can grow like mad or will the fibrepot impede growth. I have tried peat pots where one fills with soil and then starts a seed...but I found that the pot impeded the growth. Plants like peas and beans and corn are short season crops so those seeds go directly into the ground no problem. But those vegetable crops that need a bit more time, buying at the garden center or starting your own is actually one of the ways to get a jump start.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Tiger's Eye Sumac

On a Spring shopping expedition in the city a couple of years ago, I found this wonderful plant called a Tiger's Eye. It kind of looked like a fern...so on an impulse I bought it. I liked it so much, I went back and got a second one. I do that sometimes, I buy what I like. After some research I found it was a tree, a new Sumac variety to be precise. If you google Tiger's eye sumac image...you'll have a better idea of what it looks like, since I don't have a photograph of mine. It grows slowly, which surprised me and that is what the info on the web says too. On the tag, it said it should grow to about 6 feet tall and look like a bush. I planted it in my clay soil on the north side of the house in full sun. Nothing special, I was in a hurry, planted the tree and watered it well...that's it. I live in Zone 3a and it's suppose to be hardy in Zone 4 to 8. Both trees have survived two winters already. They aren't mulched because I haven't had time to do so. I've had comments that it looks like a Chinese Tree. I just ordered two Wisteria plants from down East and I'm going to see if they survive here in the Wild West. I like to push the boundaries when it comes to planting plants in my yard. Makes me get excited about gardening all over again....every time Spring rolls around!

Out checking my fruit trees

It's just a beautiful day, took the dog out for a walk and then I went and checked all my fruit trees. They all survived the winter! I have replaced several of them since moving to the acreage and finally a winter where I did not lose any! Yeah!  It's going to be an early Spring I think as already it's almost t-shirt weather. Farmers are already cleaning grain, getting ready to sow spring crops. Usually by April 15th, seeding is in full swing if it's an early spring. I also noted no rabbit damage to my trees. I haven't had time to put collars on all of my fruit tree trunks as rabbits will eat the bark right around the tree thus killing it. The bark to a tree is like the veins to a human.  It just felt good to walk around the yard with the wind blowing through my hair and smelling Spring! Might be planting potatoes in April this year! Mmmmm can taste them already!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Everybody needs a greenhouse

The only thing I've ever used my greenhouse for was to start and protect seedlings while waiting for all danger of frost to pass.  I have tried to grow crops in the soil inside the greenhouse but it didn't really turn out, it was just too hot and not enough air. Even though I kept the door open and I had vents, it was simply too hot for plants. The bugs seemed to love the plants in the greenhouse too, especially the grasshoppers. When my plants have been started I throw them in the greenhouse so that they get more sunlight. I place a ceramic space heater in there and turn it on just enough to keep things from freezing. If it's going to be colder, I turn up the heat just to make sure I don't loose all my plants. Greenhouse plants get full sunlight and thus grow much stronger. Before setting them out in the garden after all danger of frost has passed, the seedlings have to be hardened off so that they suffer less from transplant shock. I usually get trays and place the plants on them so that they are easily moved from the greenhouse to the cruel outside world. It takes minimal effort to move them back into the greenhouse if frost may be a problem. If you don't have the space for a greenhouse, you can also buy a cold frame that does the same thing. The only thing is that I wouldn't put a heater into it, so the plants would be going out later than with a greenhouse.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Weather Signs and Gardening


One of the things I grew up with, being the daughter of a Saskatchewan farmer, was how to watch the weather signs. A pink sunset always foretold a windy day the following day. A hot pink sunrise foretold rain or snow, not necessarily in your area. Sundogs on either side of the sun, look like mini suns and my dad always said a sundog on the north side was colder weather and on the south was moisture. Not far from us, there is a deep river bed that the locals call Horseshoe Canyon. On an average day, you cannot see that river bed unless you come right up to it. But when a cold front and a warm front meet in our area, the canyon is clearly visible through a weather phenomenon called a Mirage. So when the Mirage appears, we know that there is a change of weather upon us. Northern Lights are not very common where I live, but occasionally we do see them in the fall. More often than not, they are white in color and appear after dark. I have seen them in green, blues and once in red. I was listening to the radio and an old timer said that if the Northern Lights were short, winter would be upon us shortly; if the Northern Lights stretched across the sky like long fingers, we'd have a nice long fall. Out of all the Weather Lore I've learned, the Northern Lights one has been bang on.  A ring around the moon, like a ring around the sun, foretells of bad weather. More often than not...the bad weather arrives about 4 days later in either case. The brighter the ring, the worse the storm. I've also read that the number of stars inside the ring tells how many days before the storm. For me, it's usually four days. Other things like thick tomato skins or onion skins foretell a hard and cold winter. If the muskrat huts are built high, it's because we are going to get a lot of snow. Are all these weather signs correct? A lot of the time they are...but there is only One who knows for sure and He arranges the weather as He pleases.

Early starters in the garden

There are some vegetables that are not as easily affected by cold weather. Some people even sow the seeds in late fall, ready for spring to get an early start on garden vegetables. Lettuce is one of these crops, it thrives in cool weather. As soon as the ground can be worked, you can seed the crops that I'm going to talk about today. My favorite by far for lettuce is called "Prizehead Leaf lettuce". It is a read tinged lettuce and grows like mad! I love the taste of it and I love how it washes up easily! It has a far better taste than romaine. When it goes to seed, you can harvest the ripe seed and easily seed it into your garden year after year. Spinach is another hardy variety that thrives in cool weather. The only thing is that it bolts easily (goes into seed) and then it is harder to wash. Last year, I came across this really cool variety of Spinach called Perpetual Spinach. It looks like Chard but tastes like spinach and doesn't bolt and washes easily. I'm never going back to the old kind! Ever! Radishes are another crop that can be started early. This year, I am trying an old radish variety called German Giant. I have always sown the Cherry Belles but they bolt super easy. I have had trouble with bolting radishes once the spring warms up and this variety says that it can grow to the size of baseballs and not go woody! Sounds good to me! I also like to start my Swiss Chard early, as it is a heavy producer, I only have 4 feet of seed sown. Swiss Chard grows all summer and into late fall when only a heavy frost will do it in. Now is the time to pick up your garden seeds for this season as some of the more popular varieties disappear fast!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Roses for my Grandmother

Every place I've lived at, I have grown roses. Some more successfully than others. Because I live in the country and my gardens are subject to more wind than living in town, it can be a challenge to grow beautiful roses. Some of my favorite roses are "Therese Bugnet", "Flora Bunda" and "Adeline Hoodless". At the farm where my husband and I lived for almost 20 years, the only side of the house I could grow roses was the west side. On the East side, for some reason, the top would die above the graft and then the wild rose plant would take over. I always like to try to pick up those rose bushes at the grocery store or hardware store that are bare root...the ones in the boxes or smaller plastic pots. You just never know what treasures you are going to find there! A couple of years ago, in the Windmill brand, I found a climbing rose called "Golden Showers" . Could I grow a climbing rose? I had to try. I planted it on the south side of my house. It grew and produced beautiful flowers that almost looked like a tea rose. It didn't climb much but the flowers were just beautiful. The next season the rose wood was dead and I just left it in case, then forgot about it. After all my perennials were happily on their way, the darn thing started growing from the bottom. I was tickled pink of course! It seems to be the pattern of this particular rose. It doesn't climb a whole lot but it grows back every year and I love it! My experience with roses is that if you get them started and established they will grow for years. It's the starting thing that complicates matters. If you're looking for varieties other than those already mentioned, the Explorer and Parkland varieties have been bred for Canadian Winters and climate. Follow the directions on the package for planting. When I dig my hole for my new rose bush, I always fill it with water and let it seep until empty, then plant my new rose. After planting and filling in with dirt around the roots, the soil is gently packed in by stepping carefully around the plant and once again the new rose is watered in well. I wait a month and then fertilize once with an organic rose fertilizer. I have used watered down fish liquid fertilizer and those roses really loved that! If the roses are fertilized too late in the season, you set your roses up for winter kill because fertilizer promotes new growth and if fertilized too late, the plant doesn't have time to harden off for the winter and thus you lose your rose bush. I like to mulch my roses and to water once a week when hot. I generally don't fertilize after the first of July. Pruning for me, is just pruning the dead wood and depending on the year, that can be a lot. Then I burn the deadwood so as not to spread disease in my garden. Although Tea Roses are gorgeous, I never grow them because they don't survive the winter and I'd rather put my energy into plants that overwinter. I'm trying to cut down on this "work thing".

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Perfect Garden....no weeds!

I read once in a book that if a gardener achieved the perfect soil that weeds would not grow. Over the years I have come close to having a rich and perfect soil and still had weeds. Weed seeds can live over 7 years in the ground. A single weed plant can produce hundreds of seeds. I have been reading and researching lasagna gardening and square foot gardening. I had read the book Lasagna Gardening ten years ago and had applied some of the principles but hadn't really dug into it for various reasons. Then I was researching square foot gardening and think that a mixture of the two would work fairly well for me in my garden. Square Foot gardening advocates a mixture of peat moss, compost and vermiculite as a growing medium. Vermiculite is a mineral that is mined and it absorbs water. But in clay soil, it's pores can plug up with clay and it loses it's water retaining properties. It does not decompose, so I don't think I want that in my garden. Perlite is volcanic rock and it actually sticks to clay so it's useless in my garden too. I'll stick to what I know best. Adding organic matter that decomposes is the best way to build soil. I am going to try a test plot this year using some of the principles of each manner of gardening. Lasagna gardening is putting layers of peat moss, manure, compost, leaves, grass clippings etc in layers without mixing. Well, I don't have leaves right now, nor compost so I'm going to use what I have on hand and what I can buy. I'm not sure if I will buy compost for the simple reason that newspaper is often used in compost. Some websites say the ink is harmless and others say that it is not for gardens because of the components in the ink. I will err on the cautious side and simply not use it in my veggie garden. The newpaper is soaked and placed at the bottom of the Lasagna Garden to block out weeds. It works wonderful because I've used it as bottom mulch around trees that I've planted. I've read on the net that the ink can leave very small amounts of mercury, cadmium, lead and chromium behind. Again, maybe I'm over reacting but I really don't want to eat that stuff if I don't have to. I'll use cardboard instead, with as little ink as possible. Then, I'll buy some bagged topsoil, I have lots of horse manure and a couple bales of peat moss. Maybe some sand and some worm castings too. At this point, with snow on the ground, I'm not sure how this is all going to come together just as yet....I have to think about it. I want a bed that I can test how two plants of everything I grow will do in a compost bed. Setting the beds up takes time and energy and I think, over time, if I'm successful, most of my garden will be planted in this manner. I'm really curious how my test bed is going to work out!

Grows like a Weed but actually an Herb

There are two herbs that I use a lot of in my cooking that grow really well in my garden, they are dill and cilantro. I never ever seed these as it always happens that I always run out of time and never get to harvest all of  these two herbs. They are prolific and grow like weeds! I let them grow wild in the garden and if they get too unruly, the rototiller takes care of them easily. But I kinda hate to do that so I share as much as I can...why let it go to waste. I like to pick some of the dill while it's still young and not woody. This picking gets washed and dried in my veggie/fruit drier. I've also heard that dill can be frozen just as is, I'd like to try that. The cilantro can be also washed and dried in the drier in the same manner. One of my girlfriends use to dry all her herbs in bunches hung upside down in an old cleaned out wooden grain bin hanging in pillow cases to keep the herbs clean once they've been washed. Herbs are really expensive to buy and these two in particular, grow like weeds! Put a few seeds in the garden let them grow out and go to seed! Ripe seed heads can be used in dill pickles and the others allowed to fall to be reseeded in the garden. The cilantro, I like to keep and harvest as a young plant...it grows thick like a carpet, so grabbing a handful and cutting with a scissor works really well.