Tag Archives: gardening

Another Garden Update June 2018

We are now in the halcyon days of late spring and early summer. It has been halcyon except for that tornado warning we had two weeks ago. (It was radar warned and did not not touch down.) I love to sit on my deck on my old-fashioned wood rocker seat and enjoy myself in my little piece of the Garden of Eden. The sun rose officially at 5:24 this morning but the dawn actually began about 4:00am when the light first begins and the birds start singing. Last night the sun took an hour and half to finally set at 10:53pm. For the hour and a half the sky was in such a glorious display of pinks, and golds on low puffy “drying clouds” after the rainstorms to the south that I couldn’t bring myself to go inside and get a camera to try to capture it. Today I decided to try to capture some of my plants beginning with my “from seed” flower experiment which has paid off handsomely.

My perennial bed continues its lovely display. Daffodils and tulips have long vanished and we are on the tail end of a glorious display of irises with yellow day lilies about to take their place on floral display. last summer I got some variegated ground cover and some ornamental grass and they taken off very nicely in a bare spot. My middle child gave me a red dwarf lily for my birthday two years ago and it is about to gift me again with orange blooms.

I have one spot that is a mix of gravel and sand and each year native annuals come up. I never know what I am going to get. Every year I have blue bells. This year there are several others. I have no idea what they are but I am hopeful they will have pretty blooms for me. I collect the seeds from local native plants and sprinkle them about. We have one one strip of tall grass we let go wild. The dandelion seeds feed flocks of yellow American goldfinches and this year our efforts to naturalize are beginning to pay off. In addition to the lady slippers (which chose not to bloom this year) we now have a lovely tall marsh grass that is found all over the ditches and wet areas. It grows taller than a man and is spectacular by fall. I tried hard to get a small plant called pineapple weed growing a bare spot near our septic tank. You find it around here growing in ugly bare spots that support nothing else. This year it has finally appeared by the septic tank and I am delighted.

The zucchinis are already producing more than we can eat. In addition to frozen zucchinni lasagna I have been unloading some with the neighbours. I have one cucumber almost ready to eat and more to come. In another week or I can start pickling baby dills. My tomatoes have green tomatoes on them but we are months yet from red ones to eat. It’s hard to wait. Nothing tastes like a tomato fresh off the fine.

The vegetable garden from seed is doing very well. I noticed the ground does well under potatoes so this year I planted potatoes all around the outer boundary of the seed garden. They are growing well. We really enjoyed the corn we got last year but it wasn’t enough so I planted double this year, Every time I look it has grown in our long summer days. Beans, carrots, peas lettuce, dill from seed, and kale also seem to be doing well. Soon we can have fresh salads.

My herb garden continues to delight. I have garlic, oregano, lemon balm, dill started indoors, and I put the peppers in that garden as well this year. I have had to harvest the oregano and its sun drying on the lid of the septic tank as I write.

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In the fruit department it looks like we will have lots of raspberries this year. it’s hard to believe my little single cane is now a full sized raspberry patch. It’s nice to share the bounty with the bumblebees. I have counted as many as forty fat bumblebees in the raspberries at one time. Last summer I planted four apricot trees of a variety that is supposedly cold tolerant to our vicious winters. Three of the four did not take and T&T seeds, my favourite seed supply company, cheerfully refunded my money. I ordered two more and both are budding green this year. I have strawberries almost ready to eat. Last year the strawberries were stunted and funny looking and the birds got most of them. This year I fertilized and watered heavily and the berries look normal and hopefully will be delicious. My Saskatoon bushes are growing my leaps and bounds and have already doubled their size but no fruit yet. My apple tree with the good apples has done very well this year. Last year we got nothing due to a late snow and heavy frost just as the blossoms started. This year we got lucky. We can look forward to a nice crop of apples for juice and pies in August. 

I am leaving the rhubarb alone this year, except for fertilizing and weeding around it. I want it to grow bigger. Same with the asparagus which started as just a single stalk three years ago and is now a big bush about to bloom for the first time. We have a long drainage ditch beside the seed garden with a steep slope that is wet after every rainfall. The should be a good place for fallen seed to take root and grow. 

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Asparagus fern

Two ornamental trees that are not native to our area have fared differently. The variegated dogwoods are dead or dying. They have  been doing that since we moved in. I am torn between trying to rescue the ones that have some life left, letting them die, or mercifully ending it by digging them up. On the other hand a small tree that blooms each year but seems to do little else was heavily infested with aphids and always on the verge of dying. Each year I worked fighting the aphids, spraying, cutting off infected leaves and poisoning the ants that tend the aphids. This year I see no signs of aphids and the tree has rather abruptly nearly doubled in size and is actually looking quite spectacular which I never thought it would. So I am leaning toward trying to save the poor dogwoods.

 

And of course there’s my husband’s pond, his addition to our life. He has a passion for diatoms and we grow a lot of them. I joke with the neighbours about he grows green slime on purpose.

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I am a very lucky person to be able to live in such a wonderful spot of God’s earth. I am richly and truly blessed. I do think the Garden of Eden was modelled on Manitoba in summer. That helps to make up for the way Dante’s ninth circle of hell, the frozen wasteland, visits this province each winter. Our seasons are a lesson in how we must seize the moment while the weather is good and enjoy nature’s bounty while we can because winter is always coming.

“The world is so full of a number of things, I ’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

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May 2018 Garden Update

We finished one of the coldest (but not record breaking) Aprils on record with one of the coldest (but not record breaking) starts to May. We are now baking in a powerful (but not record breaking) heat wave for the end of May. My point is our climate in Manitoba is one of extremes. You have to garden by going with the weather nature sends. I folded up my wonderful greenhouses and put them away until next year four days ago. While we may have more cold yet, (and that would not break a record unless it got colder than the -6.0C high of 1983) with severe storms in the forecast and the plants having outgrown their shelving, it was time. I had great fun with the greenhouses this year. That is especially so because of the cold spring delaying the normal greening I would otherwise have been outside enjoying. I look forward to being able to enjoy them again next spring.

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Spring was unusually cool though not record breaking. I used my greenhouses daytime but for many nights had to bring plants indoors for the nights. This picture was April 26 which shows how cold our spring was.

I was concerned that the extreme cold we had this winter combined with low snowfall meant that many of the precious trees I had so carefully planted would die. I was delighted to discover I only lost one tree. We planted nearly 200 little spruce trees that were government giveaways to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary. These trees were once abundant in our quarter section but spruce were largely extirpated by settlers for use in making furniture and they used spruce for firewood. The majority of the seedlings we had went into our quarter section so we could help restore the natural state of it. We planted 12 in our yard and all but one survived so I am hopeful it will be the same on our quarter section. About half, like this one, had some cold damage but also have new growth and should recover.

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Little spruce coming back after some winter damage.

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I am most excited to see my Saskatoons are taking off. They seemed to spend most of last year and their first year just kind of sitting there. I know they were putting in deep roots in preparation for the big take off but it was discouraging to have to wait for visible signs of growth. This spring it’s there. I am still years away from any substantial crop but this sweet blue-apple berry is a special favourite of mine and it has deep historically important roots for our area. Because of the dry weather I have been diligently watering all my little trees. This had no doubt helped even though well water is never as good as rainwater for trees.

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Due to the weird weather, very cold spring followed by a week of steady 30C+ (86F) daily heat in extreme dry conditions (for the end of May) an explosion of blooms has taken place. Normally we have one thing blooming and then the next. Right now it feels like everything is blooming all at once. I am enjoying the insane catch up blooming a lot. I have never before had so much in bloom all at once. You have to watch where you step because of all the bees feasting in the grass.

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I planted the seed part of my garden in a frantic rush because of the prediction for rain. I rototilled twice, added peat moss and fertilizer and then seeded. I spaced my rows at least double wide from previous years. Hopefully I finally got the rows wide enough to actually run my tiller between the rows. This has meant some downsizing in what I am planting. This year I dramatically reduced certain things we had too much to use last year, like beets. I also switched my cucumbers to the same pot method I use for zucchinis. I moved my green peppers from the main garden where they never did well, to my herb garden. Hopefully they will do better there with more sun and better drained soil. This year, with the bigger greenhouse giving me more room, I also started flowers. They are now in pots hopefully planning to bloom soon too. Morning glories are a special favourite of mine and I have had no luck at all with them here near the 51st parallel. This year I started them early in pots. Maybe I will finally get to enjoy their blooms again. I also found that the heat caused my tomato plants to take off so quickly that their tops quickly outgrew their pots. Even though it is entirely possible to have more frosts, I relented, perhaps foolishly, and set them out in the tomato garden. I moved six plants into bigger pots. That way I can still have a few tomatoes even if I get frosted out and I am also going to be trying growing tomatoes in pots if it doesn’t freeze.

Of my garden vegetable/fruit perennials all of them survived and are growing nicely. I have rhubarb, chives, horseradish, asparagus, strawberries, raspberries, and garlic in abundance. It has been very dry so I have been watering even the established plants. I also kept red onion seeds and I have planted them among my tomatoes to drive off aphids. I have already said the special blessing for great events, the shehecheyanu because I was able to use chives from my garden in my potato salad which I have not been able to do since the last Jewish new year.

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Our stately Manitoba Maples were the only plants that did not seem bothered by the strange weather. They were covered in their hanging blooms the bees love so much that the whole tree buzzes each spring. For a while they were the only food available for the poor little bees. The maples have long since dropped their blooms and are fully leafed out right on schedule, oblivious to the crazy weather. My hammock was out once the weather warmed up but I took it in because of the rain forecast. It has been too hot to use it since the rain. We had an extremely dry spring. I put in my potato plants the standard eight inches deep and the ground  was bone dry even that deep. I postponed the planting until the day before the rain was due. We had about an inch and the garden is now in better shape water wise but we need a lot more rain.

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There is a spot near our garage which I have left to go wild. For the last three summers I have enjoyed blue bells in this location and it looks like I will again this summer.

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Finally there are the nuisances. Each year I have to hunt up new thistle plants and pour boiling water on them or I end up with giant ugly plants that are a danger to everyone. And the maple trees drop seeds everywhere and they grow fast and would soon wreck walls and foundations if not removed. It was apparently a good year for both thistles and maple seedlings. Dandelions are both in and out of this category. I love their bright yellow blooms but they are growing in a lot of places I don’t want them.

My rain barrel is full and I have a new garden box the will remain covered for this season. The result should be the grass and weeds underneath will be killed and with the additional some soil I will have a new garden box for next year. I have a lot of weeding and cleaning and mowing ahead. The grass is out of control. Bring on summer. I am so ready for eating fresh veggies and fruit from my garden.

Spring has finally arrived on the 51st parallel!

I live just a tiny bit south of the 51st parallel. We escape to the southern US for the winter but for various reasons having to do with governmental bureaucracies we leave in winter and return to winter. This year that was even more true than usual due to an unusually cold spring. It was not record breaking, but you have to go back to the 1970s to match some of the weather we’ve had since we returned home March 26th.

I spent the time finishing the painting in the bathroom and hunting for deals for new flooring and exterior doors. I found the flooring, the doors not yet. Meantime in spite of how cold it was, I decided to be an optimist and knowing spring was going to come sooner or later I started some plants from seed. Unfortunately I made a  mistake preparing my seed last fall and left almost everything in paper envelopes on one jar. I opened to find everything covered in mold. I had to order new seed because of that. Live and learn. It was my third year keeping seed and now I know what not to do. Fortunately my garlic and onion seeds were not among them so I have those at least. Since I was ordering more seed anyway, I decided to try something. New to this year’s gardening is flowers from seed. I had never started flowers from seed indoors before.

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Day before last it was finally warm enough to get my little greenhouse out and, as you see from the blanks in my seed tray, I have been transplanting the faster growing zucchini and cucumber into bigger pots. I have been having great luck with zucchini grown in big pots and not such great luck with cucumbers in the garden so this year I thought I would try growing cucumbers in pots. They are currently in my little greenhouse.

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Now one issue with growing things in big pots is they don’t fit into this little greenhouse so when I spotted a big tent style greenhouse at a church rummage sale for $5.00 last fall I jumped at it and after getting my little one out and set up I tackled the ‘new’ one. It was quite the bear to set up because the ground is still frozen and it was hard to get the stakes in. However they did finally go when heated with some hot water and once up, the tent greenhouse was surprisingly roomy. I am considering retiring the cover on the little one and using the frame for shelving in the big one. We shall see.

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The tent greenhouse already has two occupants. I have not had any luck at all getting one of my favourites, morning glories, to grow here so I decided to try them from seed. I miscalculated because they were the first thing to come up and the first little plants to outgrow their starting containers. It was astonishing how quickly they grew! Morning glories are also incredibly fussy about being transplanted and usually respond by giving up and dying. So I figured they had to go directly into big pots. I started with 12 and I currently have six left. I lost one to transplanting and four to our rambunctious puppy and one just keeled over and died for no apparent reason. They do seem to like the big greenhouse.

There is very little else in the way of spring though. Last year for Canada Day the government decided to celebrate our nations’ 150th birthday by spending our tax dollars on little seedling trees. We planted 120 on our property outside of town since they are native to our area and were extirpated by settlers. We planted several in our yard and some fared better than others. All my larger spruce trees made it through the winter, helped no doubt by the heavy layer of snow. Somewhere in my perennial bed is a bunch of daffodil bulbs I added last fall. Hopefully the red and white tulips that bloomed for Canada’s 150th birthday made it as well.

My yard and garden is a big mess. It is still half covered with snow and will need a good cleaning and the garden will need a thorough roto tilling before planting but that is still weeks away. At the 51st parallel there is no point planting before June. I did find one sign of life in my herb box. I harvested most of my garlic from seed and brought it inside to be set out again in the spring (or to be eaten as some was) but I must have missed some plants because I actually have some garlic from last year poking up through the dirt. My strawberry plants seem to have made it and my tiny Saskatoon bushes seem intact.

 

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One more thing, our tomato bed on the back of the garage worked so well hubby dearest helped me put in a second larger bed beside it. As the season ended I dumped out all my tubs of zucchini and flowers into the garden. I threw in some egg shells as well. Eggshells serve two purposes. Female birds, especially swallows and swifts eat the shells for the nutrients as they get ready to lay their eggs and the shells break up easily and add calcium to the soil for the plants. Once the melt finishes I will clean it out, stomp the lumps of dirt down and add some fresh soil. I intend to keep using the old garden space for lettuce, greens, corn and potatoes because they did well there. Since I will be growing only those things in the old space I can put the rows far enough apart to easily till between rows with my little portable tiller.

I want to use the new space for beans, carrots, peas and other things that did not do well in the old garden spot. Plus this box is narrow enough I can plant things closer together and weed by hand and with a small trowel. Not yet though. As you can see it is still half full of snow and frozen solid. No matter, I saw the first robin this morning and the cranes arrived yesterday afternoon so I can finally say our long winter is over and spring is here. I expect we will get at least one more dusting of snowflakes and weeks more of cold nights, but spring is finally here.

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Winter is Coming.

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Last night we were under a frost advisory, meaning frost was unlikely but possible. Tonight the advisory continues. The trees have begun to turn. In Manitoba, the lower ground cover herbs and bushes turn first into gorgeous flaming reds, deep purples and brilliant orange and yellows. They are then followed by the trees which turn yellow and then brown with the exception of a few transplanted nonlocal varieties that give a brief dash of colour other than yellow. The lake where we went swimming this summer has already gotten unbearably cold and the swimming season is definitely over.

The four types of swallows we have had around all summer have vanished. yesterday I saw them flocking tightly and sitting on the power lines. Today they are gone. Their nests are empty with their babies all fledged and gone with them. The hummingbirds and the orioles will vanish soon too. I think they take their signal from the frost. One frost and they are gone. In the place of the swallows we have innumerable big heavy northern Canada geese who are pausing in our area to feast on our wheat before they go further south. The farmers are racing the geese to get the harvest in. I expect to shortly see the numbers of sand hills cranes go from a dozen or so that next nearby to over a hundred as they gather to get ready for their migration. By the time they get to the US border they will be numbering in flocks in the tens of thousands.

There is a feeling of fatigue in the plants. They struggled and fought to grow as fast as they could during our long long summer days and now they face frost and with the equinox in only a few weeks, more dark than sun. They have dropped their seeds and the edges of the plants look battered and worn out. It’s time to get ready to sleep through the cold. Time to pull down whatever parts can be saved into the roots and hope for the best when temperatures hit -40C.

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It has been a mixed summer for my garden. On the success list I can put a few items. My decision to move the tomatoes to their own bed against the garage is a huge success. We have an abundance of luscious red yellow and orange tomatoes. (The white is egg shells which add calcium to the oil as they decompose which prevents blossom rot.)

My notes for next year include reducing the number of small tomato and increasing the number of larger varieties. I planted three each of small yellow, red, and orange and three Tiny Tim. I also planted three beefsteak, three medium red and three medium yellow varieties. I have too many small ones and not enough large ones. Next year I will do 2 each of smaller strains and four of medium yellow and red and at least 6 beefsteak. And some better sturdier tomato cages are also on the “to buy” list.

The corn did much better this year and we have been enjoying a corn on the cob for dinner every night for a week now and I think we will have another week yet. I attribute this to being more careful about watering during the early stages and so that will my note for next year. Again, water your garden if the rains don’t fall. I had one giant Russian sunflower plant. I do love those. They dwarf the corn which this year was taller than I am. I leave the seeds for birds.

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My zucchini have done stunningly well this year. We have had home grown zucchini in a steady supply even for a couple that likes to eat one small one each day for breakfast. I have already collected and dried and prepared seeds for next year. Note to self: repeat procedure for next summer precisely as you did this summer.

The perennial herbs I started last year, oregano and sage, did very well. This year I started a perennial (for our area) rosemary, parsley and cilantro. They are doing well for the first year. Perennials I started last year (or the year before as in the case of the asparagus and horse radish) have done very well. My herb garden had three herbs survive the winter and flourish. Hopefully next year that will six.

This has been a year for beets. I have so many beets I am not sure what to do with them all and that includes after giving them away to anyone who wants them. I have made six jars of pickled beets. I won’t make more until I am sure we actually eat them. I froze a bunch of beet greens as one prepares spinach. We haven’t tried eating any yet because we can have fresh beet greens anytime we want from the garden. I am considering digging up some horse radish and making beet horse radish preserve. Yesterday we used or new juicer to make lovely juice from the fresh apples on our trees.

Garlic, onions and leeks which I started from seeds which I collected last year have been very successful. Garlic and onions grow to set size in one season and then you can dry them and replant them the following year for eating and harvesting more seeds. I have a year’s supply of both plus enough for planting as sets from this year’s crop. Furthermore, I have enough seed put away for next year. I planted leeks and while our season is too short for full sized leeks they did grow large enough to be used in place of green onions for variety in salads. I will plant leeks again.

I also had greater success with carrots and radishes this year. I actually got radishes to eat and the carrots have been great. I planted a mixture of coloured carrots and we have erects in purple, white and yellow in addition to traditional orange, all of them delicious. I attribute this to two innovations. I used that seed tape so they were spaced properly and I thinned whenever they got too thick. Note to self, thinning is good for carrots and radishes.

It has also been a good year for lettuce. I still have garden lettuce that has not gone to seed. I planted the lettuce in a shady part of the garden and it has thrived instead of going bitter and seeding. The only downer is that we didn’t get lettuce until much later in the year than is normal. What we got was good but I think two plantings next year, one much earlier, will mean better results.

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I will give only half marks for my cucumbers. They have not produced as much as last year but I have put aside enough pickles for the year given last year was so prodigious and we still have a few jars left. The main reason they did so poorly is because I mixed up my planting rows and put the cucumber plants in the carrot row and too close to the corn. The cucumber plants have been crowded and shaded. Note to self, better signage and don’t trust your memory.

Eggplants….well I got one small one. I put the eggplants in the corners of the herb gardens. I also didn’t start them soon enough indoors. Eggplants are slow growers. They need to be started indoors at least three weeks before tomatoes and zucchini. If I fail again I will give up on eggplants for northern gardening.

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My fruit efforts paid off rather well. My raspberries have gown and spread from the one plant to many in two summers and we had three weeks of a few raspberries a day and a week where we had a handful a day. Plus we have had even more new growth. Next year I might even be able to make my favorite jam. My little Saskatoon bushes have more than doubled their size. It will be a few more years before we get berries but I can dream.

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My strawberries also did much better than last year. I had a battle with slugs and the birds got most of them so I need to consider some way to manage that. Suggestions? I am looking at nets and traps I guess.  Even so we had a few strawberries almost every day. The two cycle ones did very well in the late August bearing round but unfortunately our new puppy loves strawberries so she got most of those. Her nose is far better than my eyes and she finds every last one.

My peppers? Better than last year but not by much. I got two green peppers and some hot peppers, enough to two jars of pickles and two of salsa. They need to be started earlier indoors as well. Earlier for peppers and eggplant, mid spring for tomatoes and only six weeks before potting in the final big pots for zucchini.

This year we planted three times the amount of potatoes and they did very well. We have been really enjoying the potatoes but we only planted one variety, Yukon Gold. Next year I want to expand the potato and corn in the back garden area and plant more varieties of potatoes. I really missed having fresh from the ground red potatoes I love so much. We could triple our crop and still eat them all.

We started three more plants in our yard. We planted many more small evergreens. We got free plants to celebrate Canada Day. (Well not really free since our taxes paid for them.) At the end of the festivities leftover baby trees destined for the garbage were rescued by Hubby Dearest and we found homes for all of them. Some went around our yard to fill in gaps in our windbreak. Some we gave to local folks who were happy to get them. The remaining 120, we planted at our bog/farmland. The trees are a native white spruce that used to be abundant around here but were largely harvested by settlers. Even if a few take on our land then generations of neglect and local species extirpation will be undone. We also added a hardy small apricot tree. We started with four babies but only one made it. (We got a credit for next year with the nursery.) We also started some shade loving perennial ground cover our neighbour kindly gave us and it has settled in nicely and should cover the ugly spaces under the deck very well as it spreads.

I found the planting boxes I made last year are really nice to work with. It is far easier to decide to weed a box than to look at the garden and see masses of weeds and not know where to begin. I have enough material to make four more boxes. I want one for my peppers so they can get more TLC. I want to get the eggplants into their own box and have one box for my leeks, onions and garlic. That will free up my herb garden for the parsley and cilantro and rosemary. I want one box for my “special projects”. I ordered and got a package of seeds for four colour varieties of raspberry. Those need to go over winter into a safe spot where I can find any seeds that successfully grow in the spring. I want to always have one box for fun stuff like that.

Last note to self: I need to be certain to space the row in my garden much wider than I did this summer. I had planned to be able to go up and down the rows with my little electric rototiller but I didn’t space the rows enough. The result was if I tried to use the rototiller, I buried the rows of little plants and so I really neglected the weeding. I also lost the dill, spinach, kale, turnip and peas I planted by rototilling them. That was my big disappointment this year. Live and learn.

And that is how it goes if you are a gardener. Some successes, some losses, and you learn more each season. I am sad the season is coming to an end. I wish I could be thinking about a fall garden like my friends in the south. Up here at the 51st parallel we are lucky to have a summer long enough to get much of anything. It is time to think about stews and soups and electric blankets on the bed, and frost. The snow doesn’t usually stay on the ground until November but we should see the odd bit of flakey white stuff that melts away fast by the time this month ends. Winter is coming. It is not just a theme for a TV series. At the 51st parallel, winter is an ever present reality.

 

Zucchini in containers.

My husband and I are big fans of zucchini. Our typical breakfast includes fried zucchini, lots of it, with mushrooms, onions and eggs. Naturally, zucchini plays a big role in my garden. I have tried for many years to get zucchini to grow consistently and well. It is not as easy as I thought it would be but this is the second year now we have been enjoying early and great abundant zucchini. So I think I have the knack of it now.

As my followers will recall, we live in Manitoba near the 51st parallel and so we have to adjust our gardening for late and early seasons frosts and occasionally even snow in May. Zucchini are delicate when it comes to frost, and slugs and cutworms love to eat them. After trying for years to get really good zucchini, I finally gave up on growing them in the garden and I switched to container gardening. This way, on nice spring days we can put the plants outside but if we have one of our late May frosts (or even snows) they can be carried inside to warm safety until the cold passes.

Since they are going into containers anyway, it makes sense to start them indoors under artificial lights. I started mine April 15th this year from seed I saved from the previous year’s harvest. I had both yellow and green (actually called “midnight” variety) that grew very well for me. Since we like to eat our zucchini young, that meant leaving some to grow large enough to produce mature seeds. That happened more towards the end of the season when we had so much I was actually getting sick of it.

The zucchini grow quickly. In this image they are only about three and a half weeks old. The tiny tomato plants beside them were started at the same time. Zucchini like rich soil, and they require a lot of water but they also like good drainage. This is why some successful gardeners put them on hills in the garden. I started mine out in high quality potting soil. Zucchini are subject to blossom rot (like tomatoes) so I added extra calcium powder and ground egg shells to the soil. Deeper pots work better in the early stages as the zucchini like to set deep roots fast. Zucchini also like to grow with companions so I start with about six seeds per pot and then reduce it down to two plants per pot once the first leaves are open.

Zucchini also need abundant sunshine and so as soon as possible I put them outside in my little greenhouse. At about six weeks, I repotted them into some large pots I scrounged from the local dump that were originally used for transporting trees, again using the best quality potting soil with water conserving beads and fertilizer. (Pot size is 12 inches (30cm) around and 10 inches (24cm) deep.) I topped up the calcium in the bigger pots as well. I started with six pots going. Four are yellow and two are green. I gave one to my neighbour who has also had trouble getting good zucchini in the past.

Another advantage to getting the plants outside well before it is warm enough for the garden is to let pollinators get at the blossoms. My plants had blossoms by when they went into the big pots at 6-7 weeks and they were soon full of busy bees, especially bumble bees. The plants grew and overflowed the edges of their pots. By June I didn’t have to worry about carrying them inside overnight. I moved them into their own sunny location in the back part of the lawn. The nearby trees provide shelter from the occasionally fierce prairie wind and they are near the rain barrel. Even in these pots they need watering almost every day. They do much better with soft rain water than our extremely hard iron laden tap water.

It is important to pick the zucchini young in order to keep the plant producing more. Last year I noted that the zucchini ran roots out of the pot into the ground and seemed to halt growing for a few days when I moved them. So once they are in their place on the lawn I now try to mow around the pots rather than move the pots to mow. My final tip is that as soon as the first two plants are producing zucchini, put in more seeds near the edges. Allow two of these secondary plantings to reach maturity for a total of four plants per pot. The second pair of plants will take over peak production just as the first set are getting too old.

And we are now enjoying the rewards of my not-too-hard work. It is more about planning than work. I picked my first zucchini last week which is nine weeks after I planted the seeds. Yesterday I harvested four good sized zucchini. Two are yellow and two are green. One of the green ones I made into a layered zucchini vegetable lasagna. (Cooking tip; zucchini have a lot of moisture so I find you need to double the typical cooking time fora lasagna and leave the lid off for the last half of the cooking to make a good texture that is not watery.) The other three are in my fridge and will be consumed soon.

 

 

 

51st Parallel Gardening – May

I have been watching the posts from southern gardener friends with great envy. Some of them are already getting fresh beans and greens! I live just a bit to the south of the 51st parallel and winter has barely left. My plants are still in the greenhouse. The locals say you cannot put out bedding plants until either the big northern geese have continued on north or until the first full moon in June. I learned the hard way my first year here that you can’t rush the bedding plants.

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This year I cut back on my ambition and started only tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and eggplant indoors under a grow light. As soon as the daytime got warm enough I moved the plants outdoors into my mini greenhouse. I have replanted everything I started from seed into larger containers. At night if the temperature is supposed to go below freezing I put a small electric oil filled heater in set on law. If it is going to snow or get below freezing even daytime (which can happen here even in May) the plants are moved indoors and back under the grow lights for a while. As you can see, my favourite container is the tall yogurt one. It is sturdy, flexible and just the right depth for encouraging deep roots. We have long spells of hot dry weather followed by monsoon prairie downpours. Deep roots are really important for survival under our demanding conditions. It will be another three or maybe even four weeks before these plants will be planted out in the garden.

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Today I moved the zucchini plants into their final container. I will set these out in the yard and let them grow. Last year I got an enormous crop of zucchini from pots and I hoping for one this year. However, I can’t relax yet. Though it is a lovely 22C (72F) right now, the forecast for tomorrow night is below zero and flurries. In spring, I get my exercise carrying pots in and out of the house. The first hard frost does not generally show up until late September here at the 51st parallel but we have gotten them as early as midAugust. Sometimes I am carrying pots in and out again in early fall. For really tender plants like zucchini I find big pots work best. If you plant in the garden you will get zucchini only in some years when conditions are right.

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Two years ago I planted a raspberry cane. I haven’t gotten much fruit in those two years but the plants have grown like crazy and spread, as I hoped they would. We want the raspberries to eventually fill the space between the sump pump pipe and the rainwater pipe. Maybe this year we will get enough fruit to do more than taste. I made sure to get a local hardy variety that can take our extremely cold winters.

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My strawberries I started last year all survived. I planted three varieties, one June, and two ever-bearing. Last year we had about five strawberries. This year I am hoping for more. I am also hoping to create second box for more strawberry plants off runners.

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This is my herb box. It has oregano and sage from last year and lemon balm. I also tried an experiment. I started onions (light green top) and garlic (lower darker green single stalks) from seed produced in my garden last year. I collected the seed. I started it indoors in a couple of pots. Garlic and onions are tough and take the cold so I have already planted those into my herb box. The onions were far more prolific in coming up. I will thin those and use the thinned plants for greens as the season progresses. I have lots of large garlic that survived the winter so I will leave these tiny garlic for next year. I will also be planting some parsley and cilantro. Last year the parsley and cilantro survived the winter and I didn’t have to plant again. This year was not so lucky.

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My chives are from my first year and they are doing very well. I have one flower formed. In a couple of more weeks it will be covered in lovely blooms. We have already been enjoying fresh chives in salad.

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Rhubarb is another plant that does well in our northern garden. I use rhubarb for juice and pies and as fruit bits in muffins, sweet breads and cakes. It also freezes very well. Sliced and frozen on a cookie sheet and then loose packed in a bag, we can enjoy a taste of spring in winter. Rhubarb is extremely tart and so I typically blend it with other fruit. These plants were already in my garden when I moved in but they are small. The previous owner did not like rhubarb and mowed them every chance he got. Last year I got enough rhubarb for only one single pie. You can only harvest about half the stalks once they are fully out. I made Rhuberry (rhubarb and strawberry) pie with store bought strawberries. My husband declared it the best pie he had ever had. Maybe this year I will get enough strawberries and rhubarb to make one from entirely from my own produce. We shall see. Rhuberry jam is another special favourite of mine but these plants will have to grow a lot more before I can do that again.

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Horse radish is one of our northern treats. I planted two plants two years ago. One plant has taken off and is doing very well. The second plant is unhappy and I don’t know why. It barely puts its head up. I have not yet been able to use my own horse radish roots. Fortunately my neighbour has been very generous with hers which are well established and many years old. And of course dandelions are blooming everywhere now.

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Last year I planted Saskatoons. These are northern natives small trees/large bushes. They produce a small blueberry size dark purple fruit. They grow wild everywhere around here but each patch has a jealous guardian and it is considered the height of unneighbourly behaviour to pick from someone else’s patch, and unless you are a bear, you will be chased away. I purchased five little trees last year. The Saskatoon is a close relative of the apple tree and should grow into a hardy apple tree sized bush that will have white blossoms in spring and will produce abundant fruit about the end of June. The taste of the berries is halfway between apple and blue berry. These berries freeze and can beautifully, and make great jam, jellies and pies. They are also one of the reasons people were able to settle in the north. The berries are exceptionally high in vitamin C and when dried and pounded into powder, the powder retains much of its vitamin C. If you mix one part dried Saskatoons with two parts dried powdered lean game meat and stick it together in with some grease or fat, you have traditional pemmican. Pemmican is a perfect food for humans containing every nutrient we need to stay healthy and it will keep for years. Without pemmican, Canada would not have been settled. All five of my teeny Saskatoons survived the winter. It will be few years before I can look forward to harvesting my own. Until then I will have to beg to be permitted to go berry picking with a generous neighbour.

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Sorry about the fuzzy picture but this is tamarack. Again a native tree, this looks like an evergreen tree but in the fall turns golden and then drops its needle like leaves. I had a low wet spot in the yard where the preexisting evergreen had died from drowning. Last year I pulled it up and went hunting for a tamarack to put in its place. Tamaracks can grow in the nastiest wet marshy soggy soil. I found this little one in a ditch outside of town in an area that gets mowed for hay. I transplanted it before haying season and it is coming back. If I can avoid mowing it, the tamarack should one day be big enough to fill in the holes in my windbreak where the ground is so soggy.

I have the loveliest perennial garden. I can take no credit for it. It came with the house but I love it. The one daffodil I saw bloomed this year. Right now the violets are blooming. I will soon have tulips and columbine. After that come lilies of assorted types and colours and Canada anemones. Later into year it will have delphiniums and other late season flowers. If I can keep the grass out, I will enjoy blooms all season. The previous gardener was a clever lady and planted the perennial flower bed with both local native plants and hardy exotics.  I am trying my best to preserve her delightful legacy. Last fall I added a bunch of tulip blooms and they are coming up among the older tulips. I plan to add more daffodils this fall.

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The grass has needed its first mowing and it is full of this little lovely, creeping charlie. I know most gardeners abhor creeping charlie but I like it.It has lovely little purple blooms all summer, it grows in places the grass doesn’t like and it does not need mowing. It happily accepts trampling and traffic. If my entire lawn were taken over by creeping charlie I would be delighted. Right now it has a lot of strong reddish colour. Every spring we have high UV in May. The annual ozone northern hole means we get a lot of UV. The native plants adjust without a problem. Bedding plants need to be exposed gradually by a couple of hours a day or they get sunburnt.

My vegetable garden is not yet started beyond a few onions and some garlic. It is simply too soon to seed anything. The packages say you can plant as soon as the ground can be worked but it really isn’t so in the north. If you plant too soon, the plants come up scraggly and miserable and don’t produce much. So this time of year you just rototill every week or so to kill the native weeds and remind yourself you need to wait. At least this makes the robins happy. The know what a rototiller sounds like and congregate nearby eagerly awaiting my departure after which the dirt gets thoroughly inspected for bugs. I will plant cold hardy seeds that can take a freeze next weekend on the Victoria Day Weekend in Canada. Anything cold fragile will have to wait until that full moon in June.

Today the sunrise was at 5:49am and sunset and the sun will set at 9:40pm. We have very long days in spring and they will be even longer come June. This means that once the stuff is actually in the ground and growing, it will grow much faster than my southern neighbour’s can boast. By the end of July you would be hard pressed to tell my garden is so far north. It will be all caught up.

That is where my garden is today. Northern gardening requires rethinking and more planning but it can be just as bountiful and rewarding as southern gardening.

Where is your garden at these days?

Does Anyone Remember “In Season”? On making relish.

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When I was a little girl I recall wanting to have a fresh peach so badly the craving had me near tears. It was February and peaches were simply not to be had in Canada. I just had to do without. Peaches were only available in the late summer and early fall when big trucks came labeled with BC Fruits. The closest you could get to a fresh peach outside of their appointed season was to eat peaches in a can.

There is a Jewish tradition of each Sabbath and holiday finding something that is a treat to eat that has just come into season and to say a special blessing as you eat it for the first time in the year. I have noticed that it has become increasingly difficult to find something like that because with our globalized world there is very little that is no longer  available all year. I can always find peaches in the grocery store because peaches come from South America and cold storage has extended the harvest year. I don’t eat canned peaches anymore because I don’t want the sugar in the syrup they are canned in. Yet I find I don’t eat peaches very often anymore either.

Now that I am gardening again, the cycle of the gardening season is back in my life. I planted snow peas, edible pod peas and mid season peas which require shucking. The snow peas were ready first and we had three glorious meals of snow peas before they were all gone. The edible pod peas came next and we feasted on those and they were so delightful we didn’t miss snow peas. The midseason peas arrived and were so delicious we found ourselves eating them straight from the pod. It just didn’t seem worth cooking them. The midseason peas are nearly done but it doesn’t matter because the garden has begun producing green and yellow beans. The corn I planted has just sent up the pollination stems so I expect by the time the beans are finished, we will have fresh corn. And so, through the garden cycle we have a succession of wonderful food to eat but each one is only there a little time to enjoy and then it is done. It is a lot easier to find something for the Sabbath blessing when you have your own garden.

Have we lost or gained by the factory food that is available year round? I suppose in some ways it is always nice to be able to have a peach anytime you want. And yet this has made peaches common place and there is no longer the wonder of a fresh peach in season. And so I am left to wonder, is it that we are accustomed to having peaches all the time that has made them ho hum? Or is it that the factory farm methods that allow mass produced peaches year round have robbed us of taste? Are our palettes dulled or is the fruit itself dull? I suspect the latter. On our trip to BC in fall a few years ago, I happened to drive through a place selling peaches right off the tree. Eating a fresh peach in season directly from the orchard, makes you realize how bland and plain the store bought peaches, readily available year around, actually are. I just don’t like those peaches very much.

In the old days, everything was seasonal and there was always the long winter to fear when no airplane and ships could bring bounty from the southern hemisphere. Those long dark times of potential ever present hunger meant our forebears never took for granted anything grown in summer. You had to put food by for winter and no one would ever waste food by allowing it to rot. Mothers encouraged children to eat more than they should because that layer of fat acquired just before winter might mean making it through the winter when times were lean. If you had an excess of something you put it by anyway because you could always trade it or sell it to someone less fortunate in winter.

Relish is one of those foods invented to avoid wasting food and provide food in winter when food was otherwise scarce. There are at least as many forms of relish as there people who make it and I think perhaps even more because no two relishes made from your own garden produce are ever exactly the same. A traditional relish is put together with vinegar and sugar and salt to preserve it until winter. It is cooked to sterilize it when it is put by so moulds and bacteria don’t eat it in the meantime. A short boiling water bath fixes the seal. Very little else is constant about relish. I hate relish myself but my husband loves it.

Relish is designed to be made from the excess of the garden so it doesn’t go to waste. Too many cucumbers to eat now? Some green tomatoes the slugs munched on that will rot not ripen? Not a problem because these are the staple ingredients of a good relish. And why not throw in the leftover raw store bought corn from three cobs left in the fridge after the big feast, some zucchini tops from zucchinis where blossom rot has ruined the ends, onions accidentally pulled too soon while weeding can be chopped and added, raw cabbage from the end of the head, a bit of horseradish root the neighbour dropped off, and a few hot peppers just starting in the garden but knocked off while hunting peas. Some judicious cutting and soon the pot is full enough to make relish even if there is not enough of any one thing to do anything else.

My husband likes his relish spicey so I used a hot dog relish recipe that called for spice and included turmeric and red pepper and mustard. He tasted it while it bubbled in the pot and pronounced it perfect. And now what was potential garden waste is six jars of very fine hot dog relish. My husband laughed and said for him it is a two year supply. But that’s all right. At some point this winter he will open a jar of hot dog relish and memories of summer will come with the taste and smell and it will all be worth it. And because I made it exactly the way he likes it, instead of the way some large company designed it aimed at the lowest common denominator, chances are it will not last two years. I can’t help but think my great grandmother would be proud of me for growing my own food and using up garden snips and bits instead of just purchasing a jar of relish from the store.