Saturday, February 20, 2010

Stop to Smell the Spring Flowers

Spring is almost here on the West Coast. I thought I'd share some photos of what is popping up & out around my neighbourhood!
- bumble bee in yellow crocus -

- plum blossoms -

- bumble bee in white crocus -

- daffodil -

- daphne -

- forsythia -

- early blooming rhododendron -

- bee on pussy willow blossom -
This last shot has Bamfield's boardwalk in the background as well as the Deer Group & the Broken Group Islands out the mouth of the harbour.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

2010 Plan - Part 2: When to Start (Veggies)

I have been trying to figure out when to actually start my seeds - either indoors or outdoors & which do better as a seedlings with a head start, or which would prefer to be planted straight in the ground as seeds. While doing some research on a rainy day, I stumbled across The Old Farmer's Almanac & found something called Planting by the Moon (this link shows it for Victoria, BC but can be altered for your area easily).

I love having this kind of information finally available!

What planting by the moon is essentially is a return to more a 'traditional' way of thinking. Seeds for plants with a long growing season should be started indoors (such as tomatoes) while others can be sown in the ground at dates much earlier than you may have thought. Above-ground crops are planted during the light of the Moon (new moon to full moon) and below-ground crops are planted during the dark of the Moon (from full moon to new moon) {it's all on the Almanac's website}

So, starting up in February, I can plant up some tomato & lettuce seeds for later transplanting. Later in the month, I can put out in the garden peas.

Early March will see me putting beets & carrots in the ground while potting up some zuchinni seeds indoors. Later in the month I'll pot up some Russian kale seeds & then I'll head back out to the garden to put my radish seeds in as well as lettuce seeds.

April is apprently a good month to put the corn seeds into the ground! I will try that this year (around the 3rd week of April) , but I think I'll put a cover over top to heat the soil up & keep the robins out. I will also do a second seeding of beets, possibly radish too & get some potatoes going. Now, I'm not growing potatoes in an actual veggie bed (as I don't want to be digging up potatoes for years to come - even if that is a bonus) but I've heard of people growing them in 5 gallon buckets. Sounds like a fun thing to try! April is also when I shall put my bean seeds in the ground - probably with some sort of cloche over them to help warm the soil up. I'm still playing around with the idea of starting corn seeds up in the house at the beginning of the month to see if that might help give them a head start so that I'm harvesting ripe cobs in August instead of September. We'll see what I have room for in the house!
February 7, 2010 - raised beds prepared for the year!!

Just a quick note on seed germination - a big part of success depends on soil temperature. Which is why many places recommend waiting til May 24th before starting anything. Here on the coast, I think we can bend the rules - it also helps if you have raised beds &/or covers for your beds.

Peas, beets, carrots, onions, radish & lettuce are cool season starters. They will germinate in soil temperatures from as low as 1 degree Celcius (onions). This is why we get them in the ground almost as soon as you are able to work the soil.

Beans, corn, tomatoes, melons & summer squash require much warmer soil temperatures to germinate properly, which is why they are started much later as seeds in the ground, or earlier as seeds indoors. A heating mat is practically essential if doing it indoors as tomatoes like a minimum temperature of 10 to 13 degrees Celcius to get going. I'm going to use the top of my fridge & see how that works!

Now that I've got my game plan all figured out - the who, what, where & when, it's almost time for me to get my hands dirty & have some fun!! (of course, this year, I decided to take gardening on a whole different note - from a more scientific point of view which has almost left me with a feeling that this really isn't as fun as I thought...)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Potting Shed Essentials

I love reading about gardening at this time of year. It gets me energized & organized & very anxious to get my hands dirty.

One of my daily check-in sites is Canadian Gardening. The site is full of helpful hints & tricks, loaded with photos & links to other sources of information. In the 2010 Special Issue I just received in the mail today, there was an article discussing gardening tools & equipment.

Called 'Potting Shed Essentials', it includes:
  • pruner - I currently have 3 varieties of Friskars and am not fully happy with any of them. The new one I bought last year would be better if the handle wouldn't keep coming off while I used it. Might have to see if glue will keep it together this year...
  • gloves - last year I bought a really nice pair of steer hide work gloves in the hopes that they would last me the whole season. I guess my form of guerilla gardening isn't what the gloves were meant to be used for. They did last the season, but the first hole appeared only weeks into the spring season. Usually I go through 2 pair of heavy duty gloves & have many, many pair of the cheap thin ones for light duty chores. I like wearing gloves - keeps my hands better protected from not only brambles but sunshine. Do any of you remember to put sunscreen on your hands? 
  • lightweight rake - the one with the wide angle tines for collecting leaves, small rocks or piles of weeds. They can either be plastic or metal tines & are extremely useful for cleaning up after some heavy duty pruning & weeding. I broke mine last fall - don't ask - & I believe there is another one in my potting shed that just requires a screw to keep the tines attached to the handle.
  • garden spade - versus a garden shovel. The spade is the flat edge square 'shovel' that is used for getting into tight places between plants for dividing & transplanting while the shovel is the curved, rounder edge tool used for scooping dirt or digging holes.
  • garden hose - you can never have enough garden hose to reach all the corners in your yard. Never. 
  • lawn mower - we could have a discussion regarding all the different types; the pros & cons of each, but essentially they are: gas, electric, battery or reel. Or, you could invest in a goat or a few sheep to graze down the grass (and your flowers & veggies too) or even better - let your lawn go wild & turn it into a meadow!
  • hand trowel - I usually have this tucked into my back pocket. It's a wonderful tool for helping with transplanting & digging up deep rooted weeds. 
  • plant labels - for labeling newly planted rows of veggies or flowers. I usually go with popsicle sticks & by the end of the season they have rotted away or make their way into the composter. Since my gardens are always changing, plant markers never really stick with their plants & just end up being throw out. I can't stand the plastic tags that come with store bought seedlings/plants. Non-biodegradable & offensive to look at.
I'm sure there are more articles I could add to my essentials, but this is a good way to start the season off.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

2010 Plan - Part 1: Organize the Seeds

While gardening is supposed to be relaxing & a 'fun' hobby, I tend to fret about it each step of the way & would rather have greater success than I have so far. Hence "the Plan".

The first thing to do is inventory all my seeds to see if I need to purchase new ones this year, and to see what I managed to collect & save from last year.

My 'Left-Over' Seeds from 2009:
  • Veggies: carrots, beets, radish, yellow zuchinni, corn, soybeans, asparagus, kale
  • Herbs: parsley, cilantro, sage, dill, lavender, basil, summer savory, sorrel, borage, thyme, oregano & marjoram
This is a great start for my gardens! I had moderate success with quite a few of these so I will try them all again with a little more attention to when I plant them (either as seeds indoors or seeds in the ground {Planting by the Moon}), where I plant them (using crop rotation techniques), and how I take care of them.

Seeds Collected in 2009:
  • Herbs: cilantro, chives, borage, red flax
  • Flowers: bachelor button, yellow iris, poppies, nasturtium, sweet pea, calendula, evening primrose, hollyhock & begonia
It's the flowers that I'm interested in germinating & propagating by seed. Some of them are self-seeding & have come from neighbouring gardens. Once I can get them to start growing in my gardens, it shouldn't be too difficult to spread them around.

New for 2010:
I chose to purchase some new & interesting seeds from Salt Spring Seeds this year (instead of West Coast Seeds like I had intended) & have an interesting 'Garden Challenge' ahead of me.
  • Veggies: soup pea, heritage beans, Russian kale, chick peas, tomatoes, lettuces
  • Grains: rye, barley, oats, wheat, golden flax, quinoa & amaranth
  • Herbs: lemon bergamot, rue, valarian & yellow lavender
Other seeds purchased this year: red flax (which is really hard to find in stores) & datura (a climbing vine).

Now comes the fun part - figuring out where I'm going to put all of them! I know already that I will have to make some new planting sites for all the grains, but this just means removing some lawn & that in itself, is a bit of relief - the lawn mower is not a very friendly garden tool these days. I'll have to introduce you to our 'Frankin-mower' - at a later date...

Friday, February 5, 2010

Houseplants - Spring Cleaning

I generally start my spring-cleaning of houseplants in February. There are lots of bright, sunny days & the plants just seem to crave a bit of T.L.C. after my 3 months of neglect.

Their leaves will be dusty, so on a nice warm & moderately sunny day, I'll take them outside & lightly hose them down. If that isn't an option, I also gently wipe down their leaves - easy to do with succulents that have big, firm leaves. My aloes (pictured right) usually don't get dusted, but if it's really bad, I will use small paint brushes or even q-tips...

The soil in the pots could also do with a bit of topping up with sterile potting soil - there are some blends just for houseplants or use your seed starter soil. I like to fluff the soil a bit first with a fork or my fingers, especially around the edges of the pot, to encourage the older soil to blend in a bit with the new soil. After a few months of neglect, the soil sometimes doesn't absorb water like it should. When I bring back regular watering, I usually put my plants in the sink & let them soak for 10 to 15 minutes in a few inches of water to ensure that they are actually getting watered. If you notice your soil just won't soak up water, it may be time to repot the plant & start with new soil.

Speaking of repotting plants, February is also a great time to divide plants that have become root bound or are getting too large for your space. Or to pot up new ones from cuttings or off shoots (such as my spider plant babies on the left removed in late fall & let to grow roots in water over the winter). I don't have an outdoor work area dedicated to this chore, so I get to make a mess in my kitchen (which usually leads to spring-cleaning the kitchen afterwards...). If you find that you like small sized plants, but your's keep growing like monsters, divisions or extra houseplants are wonderful spring time gifts for friends & neighbours! They may not have had as much success as you over the winter with their plants...

I also give my plants a weak dose of fertilizer during the spring-cleaning time. If there are any leaves that aren't healthy or have brown tips, I cut them out & just spend a bit of time looking at how they are growing in their pots. The spider plant (pictured right) has already rewarded me with a couple of new flower shoots that will hang down, grow little white flowers (which make a mess) but then turn into baby spider plants. I can also see if I've forgotten to rotate the pots so that all sides get even sunlight during the summer months. Nothing like a lopsided plant that tips over!

Once I've gotten my hands dirty with my houseplants, I usually can't resist checking on plants that I've been trying to overwinter - outdoor plants such as geraniums, cuttings that need to be planted in the warmer spring months, herbs that have survived in pots on my deck (such as the flat leaf parsley pictured on the left) and flower gardens that are starting to stir. Now is the tough part of the year where spring is almost here, but it's still too early to get outside to play!!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Things to do in the February garden

'Even if I know that tomorrow
the world would go to pieces,
I would still plant my apple tree.'
- Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), American pastor and civil rights activist

  • Make INDOOR SEEDINGS of lettuce, celery, dusty miller, pinks, ornamental peppers, lobelia, geranium, gerbera, heliotrope, petunia, and compact tomatoes suited to growing in pots and baskets.
  • CLEAN THE GARDEN of dead plant parts and debris to help reduce the incidence of insect pests and diseases.
  • As soon as the worst of wet winter weather is over set lettuce transplants out into frames or under tunneling for harvestable lettuce in April.
  • PRUNE SUMMER-FLOWERING CLEMATIS such as Jackmanii, Ernest Markham, Pink Chiffon, Gypsy Queen, Clematis tangutica (golden clematis) and C. paniculata (sweet autumn clematis).
  • SEED HARDY VEGETABLES into frames or under the protective cover of plastic tunneling. Some good choices for early feasting are spinach, corn salad, green onion, early carrots, regular and oriental radishes, bok choy, and chop suey greens (shungiku, edible or garland chrysanthemum).
  • Enclose the area over one or two RHUBARB plants with a tub, box, or upright ring of clear plastic to have tender stalks earlier than usual.
  • Take cuttings from geranium and impatiens wintered indoors for an extended collection of plants to enjoy outdoors in the summer.
  • Clean and organize the garden shed, and clean, sharpen and oil the tools.
  • Cover a few STRAWBERRY plants with glass, clear plastic tunneling or cloches for early berries. Bring potted strawberries into a greenhouse or sun porch.