Tag Archives: gardening

End of the Season

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Frost warnings are up tonight and the forecast for a few days from now keeps alternating between snow and rain. It has been a poor year due to the summer drought but a bit of rain and the last season frost holding off longer than usual gave the garden a teeny boost at the end.

In preparation for the possibility of frost, I picked my tomato plants clean of all tomatoes and moved them into the basement to finish ripening. I also pulled up the last of the onions, beets, carrots, and cucumbers. I dug up the potatoes and cleaned off the pepper plants. I cut the last of the herbs. The house is full of the smell of rosemary and thyme coming from the dehydrator.  We are eating sauces and salsa’s from fresh tomatoes. We are still enjoying the sweet pleasure of popping whole cherry tomatoes like candies.

The end of the garden season is always a combined relief and a time for sadness and reflection. The garden is a lot of work and while it is mostly pleasurable work, it is still work. It’s nice to have a break from it. I have made my notes for next spring and I collected and dried seeds for next year. Now is the time to get to those indoor chores that have been neglected. There are still plenty of preparations before the deep cold. After last of the produce was safe from the frost, I finally fixed a light switch that has been broken since July.

Life runs in cycles and seasons. Life is a cycle of blessings.

Thank you, Master of the Universe for allowing me to enjoy another full summer of gardening and the opportunity to enjoy food from my own garden, grown and prepared with my own hands.

My Answer to Uncertainty

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While we are on our doctor trip we paused at a store display of spring bulbs. I asked Hubby Dearest to pick a couple of bags to add to our garden. No surprise he picked daffodils. They are his favourite flower not least because he is a bit colour blind but yellow and orange are among the colours he sees well. They also bring back memories of his youth in Oregon where these daffodils bloom in the wild each spring. On one of our trips we drove slowly north up the coast from California to British Columbia and because of the pace we went at, we had weeks and weeks of enjoying wild daffodils.

His second pick was a bit of surprise. He’s never expressed a liking for crocuses. We did make a special point more than once to go find the wild Manitoba variety, a rare but gorgeous treat and the provincial flower.

“They are first through the snow in spring,” he replied. “I like that.”

It is supposed to rain tomorrow. You are supposed to give bulbs a good soaking after planting. The day was lovely, still, warm enough to work in a T shirt. I took great pleasure in planting the bulbs for us both. It was a great stress reliever. Maybe one of us won’t be around in spring to enjoy them but I am assuming we will be. And if one of us isn’t, it will be a nice reminder of the many wonderful things we did get to enjoy together. Everything else is out of our hands and beyond our control so there is no point worrying about it. The Master of the Universe has our back.

Rain, Rain, Sweet Rain – Garden Update

It’s been a very bad summer for gardening. Although we have had a few thunderstorms with down pours we have not had even one of those three day drizzling rains considered normal where we live. I have been watering but as any gardener will tell you, nothing works like rainwater and a heavy down pour of 15mm (6/10s”) in twenty minutes may fill a rain barrel but it won’t properly water anything. We also suffered a late frost in June that wiped out or damaged many of my bedding plants. The consequences for my garden have been profound.

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Misty likes the rain and was playing in it until she spotted me with the camera.

My zucchini were nearly destroyed by the late frost and lack of rain. The result has been hardly any lovely garden zucchinis have come in but only stunted and thick skinned ones. The pepper plants have produced but they are stunted and super hot and have brown spots. Beans, usually I have so many I get sick of them, but this year we only got a few supplements for our dinner vegetables. I didn’t get any to freeze for later in the year. I had two plantings of corn and one has produced only a half dozen scrawny half cobs. I have already given up on the second planting and pulled up the stunted little plants that barely got tall enough to brush my hips as I pass. Some of them even developed corn smut and that was part of why I just gave up. Better to get rid of the diseased plants than hope they might make a cob or two before freeze up. Cucumbers? I had to replant them all after that late frost and so the possibility of pickling cukes was already set back. Add to that how even with daily watering they were often wilting, I have gotten exactly three and only three small jars put by. Potatoes don’t seem as dependent on rain as opposed to watering with well water and they are doing very well and have made nice big potatoes. My carrots and beets are tiny jokes compared to previous years. Tomatoes, my glory of the garden and our favourite thing to eat are down to less than one quarter of what I usually get. I have not done any canning of tomatoes and we are eating them as fast as they ripen.

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This pathetic looking zucchini is among the best I have gotten this year.

One good thing has been our grass has gone brown and dormant and crunches when you walk on it. You don’t need to mow crunchy grass. The native wildflowers, so much better adapted to take prairie drought, have been popping up above the crunchiness and since they aren’t being mowed, we are being treated to bright yellow and deep lavenders and fire engine reds. Our little garden pond has become a sanctuary for the birds and frogs in the area whose usual watering spots have dried up.

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The cat hates the rain. After our drought he is the only one complaining.

I can be philosophical about the poor garden showing for a couple of reasons. When it comes to my homemade pickles, they keep for at least two years and 2018 and 2017 were good years with lots of fine pickles. We have barely finished with 2017 pickles and not started on 2018. We will be fine as long as next summer is a normal one even though I only made three jars of dills. The second reason is that we are not pioneers living miles from any other source of food. I can go to the grocery store and buy the produce my garden failed to produce this year. How awful a garden year like this must have been back in the days when one did not have a grocery store nearby and the means to buy from it. Without that grocery store this would be a hard winter of eating mostly potatoes.

The hardest thing about this drought has been the effect on the trees. My poor poor trees have been yellowing and dropping wilted curled up green leaves and generally looking miserable. Many younger trees have just given up and died. I have been faithfully watering my own trees but trees generally don’t like well water loaded with iron. A little iron is good, too much iron can be worse than none. One little weeping birch on public land was planted a couple of years ago. I happen to love weeping birch and the sapling’s distress was painful to see. It was going yellow and what leaves were still green were curling. I poured many buckets of well water on the poor little thing each day for weeks and the green leaves uncurled and lost their brittleness but the yellowing leaves dropped and fell off anyway. Other trees from that planting just died.

Finally, finally, finally we are having a proper rain. It began with thunderstorms Friday night and it has been raining off and on since then. We’ve had heavy down pours that filled my rain barrels and soaked everything. We are approaching three inches. Today is a long slow drizzle day, the most perfect kind of rain for a garden. The trees are so happy with the rain. They have greened up and lost their drooping look. The grass has lost its crunchiness and we have enough water now that there is even a trickle running in the ditch indicating the soil is becoming saturated at last. Maybe the drought is over. It didn’t end in time for my corn but my trees are safe. I might even get a few more pickles.

Thank you Master of the Universe when you send us rain in the proper amount in the proper season. Thank you for sending enough rain to save the poor trees this August.

 

Gopher Wars – The Solution

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Early Girl

It has been several days since we have seen any fresh northern pocket gopher activity. We tried live trapping. Failed. We tried the other kind of trap. The gophers jammed the device with a perfect sized rock and after we moved the trap to a new location and reset it, they moved the rock to the new location and recycled their tool. I have not seen northern pocket gophers on the list of animals that use tools but it is now clear to me that the list needs revision. Since we undertook our more recent biological warfare attack, I have not found a single fresh mound in the yard. I think we have finally found our solution. I thought I would share it with you since it is easy, cheap, environmentally safe, and apparently highly effective. I’m not sure about using our solution on large commercial scales but it is definitely something the average small gardener can do.

The gopher wars had been on going for weeks and the most recent mounds appeared in our tomatoes plants. In order to understand the ferocity of my husband’s response, you must understand he loves fresh garden tomatoes the way hobbits love mushrooms. Therefore, the threat to his beloved tomato plants required stern, harsh and immediate retaliation.

There were articles on line about using male coyote and fox urine crystals and spreading them around gopher holes. This apparently convinces the gophers that there are foxes or coyotes present and they leave and go elsewhere. If you have ever cleaned a bathroom shared with a man, you understand why they advertise male coyote or fox urine as particularly effective. The male urine crystals were available on Amazon for about $70 with shipping costs. I told my husband about the idea.

“There is no way I am paying $70 for male urine when I am on all these diuretics and producing vast quantities for free!” he emphatically replied.

Shortly thereafter, a jar appeared in the bathroom. He had apparently decided direct application might disturb the neighbours. He then began making trips out to the tomatoes plants with the full jar on a regular basis.

After the first hole got an application the gopher responded by not just plugging the hole, but also filling it with rocks. After the second application the response was to create a new hole and cover the previous hole with a six inch mound. I am guessing it took six inches to cover the smell. After the third application, carefully  poured into each apparent hole and over all mounds, all further gopher activity ceased. (This third application required more than one jar.) It’s been days now and we don’t see a sign of any gophers doing anything anywhere nearby. Hubby dearest applied a few more treatments just to be certain they were gone. He’s now back to flushing. Like most tough problems you need to find the right tool for the job. Apparently I just had to find the right kind of hose.

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So there it is. Male urine doesn’t have to be restricted to coyotes and foxes to drive off northern pocket gophers. Happy 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

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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