Tag Archives: gardening

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.

 

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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.

Poor Man’s Jewels

My daughter got a freebie package of plant seeds from Honey Nuts Cheerios. They are on a campaign to save the bees. Bees in Manitoba seem to be doing very well. We have had some trouble with mites and colony collapse but there are vast areas of Manitoba woodland, especially in the central regions around The Pas where it seems like every farm has a bee keeper on it. Locally grown honey is readily available along every highway. We have had continuous bees visiting our home. They probably come from our neighbour’s place which is about 2 kms from us and I have been teasing him saying I deserve a cut of his honey for free. When my apple trees were in bloom the trees actually buzzed there were so many honey bees feeding.

I was uncertain exactly what to do with mixed packet of unspecified flower seeds that is somehow supposed to help bees. I think it is probably a gimmick given how many other wildflowers we have, not to mention fruit trees and flowering shrubs and my sunflowers you can see about to bloom as well as the abundant parsley and dill seeds. Still, the seeds were free and from my much loved daughter, so I put them in one row. I have been richly rewarded.

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I have a lovely row of mixed poppies. I love poppies. My Ukranian grandmother grew poppies from the old country for their medicinal purposes until one day the RCMP showed up and made her dig them up and promise never to grow them again. I’m not sure what kind of poppies these ones are but I suspect a mix of Icelandic and Californian. A seed catalogue I used to order from as a young woman had a slogan calling flowers “Poor Man’s Jewels”. If that is true I now have enough for a queen.

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51st Parallel Gardening Update

It’s been hard to read in other blogs where people have begun enjoying the fruits of their garden while, poor thing in the harsh cold north, I have not yet been able to plant but finally, finally, I can write another garden update.

I have to wait at least two more weeks before I can put tender bedding plants into the garden without fear of frost. Even so, while the weather is hot and lovely I have been putting all those plants I started in my house out in the sunshine. The winter squash have long since graduated into the biggest pots I could find (scrounged at the dump) and they doing very well. Many of my tomato plants are actually blooming! I will not give into the temptation to think summer is here and plant them as I did last May 21st only to lose them to an early June frost. So I have to carefully water them every day and tend and fuss but wait I will.

Last year’s planning has gone well. The raspberry bush came through the winter bigger than ever and is about to bloom. My careful tending of the rhubarb has resulted in two much more vigorous plants than last year. I planted chives and they survived and the plant is huge. Both my horse radish plants are up and doing well. Low spots in my drive which we filled with sandy gravel are covered with creeping charlie. Our monoculture lawn, something I hate, is now well polluted with creeping charlie. I love those little purple flowers and the bees do as well. My yard is full of honey and bumble bees. My wee little apple tree that had maybe five blossoms on it last year appears to be about to burst into bloom on every branch. I still have no idea if it will have edible apples or yet another type of “throwing apple” but it looks beautiful. I have decided I like dandelions even though I have bought one of those pointy things that let you get at the roots.

I love it when nature gives you a bonus and I got several this year. Normally our winters are far too cold to let many things most southern gardeners consider perennials survive but I was delighted to discover many green onion and garlic shoot popping up and wonder of wonder, my parsley and cilantro made it! I had to bring a salad to a senior dinner and I used purchased lettuces but spiked it with my own chives, onion and garlic greens, and lots of fresh cilantro and parsley. Yum! Just before we left one of our trees came down and we simply piled the branches on the garden until we could find a better place. The result was a heavy blanket of snow and I think that is why the parsley and cilantro were spared. I will try the same thing again this year. The other nice surprise was two local flowers among the grass, the Manitoba provincial flower, the Prairie crocus. Long past its blooming but lovely to see, I have marked both plants so we can keep the grass away and not mow them.

Gardening is not just about this year, but also next and the next after that. Late  last summer I made two boxes of cedar and piled them with grass clippings and compost and then covered them with black cloth and let them bake in the August heat. This spring I was delighted to find rich peaty soil. I ordered strawberry plants, ever bearing, June and a heritage hardy one and every plant took. I am not expecting to get many strawberries this first year but next year should be the beginning of many a crop. The second bed is going to be my bean bed and I am going to put in a trellis and try growing a variety of beans including red kidney beans which I have already started from seed.

I bought five Saskatoon trees. Saskatoons are a native plant in our area that produce abundant small blueberry like fruits although it is actually a small apple tree genetically speaking and not a berry. The wild bushes are exceptionally hardy, being native to our area, and grow rapidly. Saskatoons with their sweet deep purple taste (a cross between blueberry and sweet apple) make wonderful jams and jellies and are great to eat straight from the bush by the handful. They can also be dried and then dried berries beaten into flour that when mixed with dried meat and formed into pemmican results in a 100% nutritionally balanced food that was consumed in winter when first nations people and early pioneers had to get through our winters without outside help. Saskatoons are especially rich in vitamin C and folates. The ones I ordered and planted are a cultivar with larger than wild berries, many more berries per bush, and a richer taste. It will be a few years before they grow enough to produce fruit but I am an optimist. Until they do I can always gather the wild fruit.

 

And last but certainly not least I inherited a neglected perennial garden and put a lot of effort into weeding it. The battle is far from over, as you can see, but I am proud to report more perennials than crab grass and weeds. I have tulips, Johnny Jump Ups, violets, both native Western and blue violets, already in bloom and the first Columbine opened today. This flower bed gave me so much pleasure last year bearing flowers for me all summer long. It is nice to see them back like old friends.

And finally the robins, my dear friends who vigilantly patrolled my garden ever on the alert for cutworms and beetles and slugs, have set up housekeeping once again. Every time I cultivate or weed or plant they watch me carefully and rush right in to check for edibles as soon as my back is turned. Every garden needs a robin family.

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Up here at the 51st parallel summer is short but intense. The sun rises about 4:30am and sets after 10:00pm and the plants grow by leaps and bounds racing to cram in as much growth as they can on those long days before August frosts. I know my northern garden will catch up with my southern neighbours. Two more weeks and the tomatoes can be planted. I have already put in seed for that which is frost tolerant. Soon soon I too can eat from my garden like my southern neighbours.

Garden Plans and Other Winter Dreams

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Oh winter, when things are cold, the ground is frozen and one can only dream of summer. (I am spending my winter in Florida so I really can’t complain too much!) And I am dreaming! Oh how I am dreaming. Since my garden last summer was such a great success and produced so much lovely food I am full of dreams of this year’s harvest. Things never come out as perfectly as the retouched garden pictures in the seed catalogues. I don’t care. I enjoy dreaming over them anyway. I made many notes for my failures and successes of last year and my plans are in full swing.  The Canadian dollar has dropped to .69 on the American with the result being all foods in our grocery stores that are imported have skyrocketed in price. And so my Canadian dollar invested in garden seed has the potential to produce food worth a lot more if it comes from the garden making a pay off even more likely.

I purchased a small greenhouse and a plant starting light. If I get even half the plants I normally buy at the nursery that investment will have paid for itself this first year. I have tried starting things from seeds before but they always got spindly and sickly and never amounted to any size worth the fuss. Maybe with lights and a mini greenhouse they will this time.

Last year I had some weed issues. We had a fellow come in with a big tractor at the beginning of the year and he did a fine job working the garden up. I could have used a second tilling before planting but I was too impatient. The garden is only as good as the soil so this year I have done two things. First I made a great big note to till twice before planting anything. I also bought myself a small tiller. I will have the man with the great big one come in to do the first till and then I will my small tiller to do a second tilling as I plant and I will have the new tiller to do the rows in between as well. That should make my life easier and the weeds less trouble.

Worms got my turnip crop last year so this year I will be putting them in a different location, sprinkling the area with diatomaceous earth after each rainfall and picking a lot earlier. I will also try the trick of planting some marigolds in among the turnips. Hopefully I won’t have maggots this year.

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I have on my list saskatoons and strawberries. Getting fruit to grow in our climate is problematic but these grow wild in our area and we love eating them. So it should be possible to have two cultivars that give big abundant fruit planted. We won’t get much this year but the future looks bright. I may have to destroy some of the bushes the previous owner planted that do nothing but look pretty before I can find room but I will. I’ll take a tree/plant that gives me something to eat over one that looks pretty anytime. I may make an exception for marigolds if they keep the root maggots away.

Last year I got sloppy about labelling rows and ended up with rows I knew were beets, turnips and kale but I couldn’t tell which was which. We ate a lot of really great green salad from when I was thinning the plants but this year rows will be properly marked. Plus I am adding some cooking greens that can be preserved in addition to spinach, collard and mustard. If I succeed I will have a little of the south in the north this summer.

Some other notes were to grow cucumbers on tomato cages like my neighbour did with hers to make picking easier, plant smaller amounts but more varieties of herbs and plant more varieties of beans. I have always had bad luck with peas but I think I will try them this year as well. If anyone has a foolproof way to avoid having them turn white and fungus filled peas, I am all ears.

My garden seed list is now at almost $250 the largest part of the seed expense being Saskatoon and strawberry plants, seed potatoes, and other larger “stuff”. Last year I kept careful track of my seed and plant costs and the garden more than paid for itself. In fact, I still have one last lonely container of frozen tomato sauce and some beet/horseradish spread. It makes me wince to think of hitting the send button on that order but spring will come, a gardener’s hope springs eternal, and the winter does end. Those cans of tomatoes look like I preserved the sunshine and warmth of summer.

I would love to hear if anyone else is planning their summer garden and what they are planning.

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