Friday, April 23, 2010

Tomatoes & Sea Stars, oh my!

*** This posting is closed to comments now *****

One of my Garden Challenges for the last few years has been to have my tomato plants actually set & ripen fruit. I will never give up growing tomatoes & I've done a lot of research over the last couple of years to try & learn what is going wrong.

Part of it was the tomato varieties (old seeds, too big a plant...) but I think it was mostly me. I'm a hit & miss gardener. Mostly, if I have to baby a plant along, it won't survive. I like the ones that do well without a whole lot of attention. That pertains to my shrubs, perennials, annuals, herbs (which LOVE that kind of attention) and unfortunately, my vegetables as well.

Not such a good thing for the veggies. But this year is going to be different for my tomatoes. It will - it will!!

I started off with new seeds, a variety called Ardwyna Paste Tomato (purchased from Salt Spring Seeds) which are supposed to be early tomatoes with meaty flesh. I put the seeds in soil on Valentine's Day (Feb 14) so that they could have a good head start & it was part of my 'planting by the moon' thing I was trying through information from the Farmer's Almanac - anything to help me succeed with my tomatoes this year!

I've been hardening them off this last week as I knew that the greenhouse raised bed was ready, the plants were ready & I was ready to get them in the ground proper.
Those are sea stars in the bottom of the planting hole. A neighbour told me she puts 2 in the bottom & the tomatoes love it. I've read that they love being planted on top of fish - but I'm not about to give up the last of my salmon for my tomatoes...

Here are my lovelies planted up. Added a little bone meal, watered them in & we shall see how they do!

Some one was asking me about companion planting - which can be tied in with crop rotation (kinda-sorta), but in my raised bed I'm focussing on the tomatoes. In the front are some lettuce seedlings & I did pop in a few calendula seeds at the edge (which might be in flower by Christmas...) & one of my favourite plants - borage - is along behind the tomatoes. Thinking about it now, I could have planted those 'maters closer to the lettuce as the borage tends to get really big...drat! I guess I'll be eating lots of borage leaves in my salads in a few weeks! I've got dill somewhere too that I want to put in the greenhouse, as it just does not like my herb bed.

Sounds like a lot crammed into that small space, but I think it will work out - as long as I learn some proper watering techniques (keep the water off the tomato leaves) or get a soaker hose...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Well, the sun is shining today, it's Earth Day & I'm headed out to the gardens for the first time in many days. I've got a rather long list of small projects to catch up on & hopefully I can also find the time to take some photos & write about it all. Seems like April is a very busy month for gardening out here...

To start, I planted some Heritage Beans yesterday now that the soil is warming up.
These came from Salt Spring Seeds and while they are meant to be harvested as a dried bean, I will try some of them fresh as I am craving something green & crunchy. There are 6 varieties here: Six Nations (red lines/blotches on tan), Nez Perce (golden yellow), Red Hawk Kidney, Black Turtle soup, Ruckle (white) and Tanya's Pink Pod (cream/tan).

They are out in my raised beds where I tried to grow bush beans last year & we shall see how these ones do. Last year's beans didn't do so hot, which may have been because they were new gardens & the soil didn't have what the beans needed, or the seeds were just too old. My beans looked like little piggie tails - short & curled over on themselves. I hope it's not some sort of soil virus...

Now, off to plant some shrubs in honour of Earth Day, poke in some garlic bulbs (a wee bit late), and transplant my yellow zucchini into large pots & later I'll go down to the shore line to pick a few sea stars to plant under my tomatoes in the greenhouse.

But I think I should dig out the sunscreen first....

Friday, April 9, 2010

So You Think You Can Garden Contest

I usually start my day off with a few moments of computer gardening. I have quite a few websites & blogs that are inspirational & educational & help me start my day off eager to get my hands dirty - even if it's blowing & raining outside. One of those sites is Canadian Gardening. You'll actually see some of my posts are based on articles that I've just read & modified to my particular garden climate.

They put on a contest: So You Think You Can Garden - which is essentially a contest that will be a garden blog for the summer. Sounded like a challenge to me!! Yes, I entered & what follows is my entry. (they closed the contest on April 6th & will be announcing the winner on April 15th - fingers are crossed!!)

My name is Michelle & I live out on Canada’s wild & wet West Coast in a zone 8 sun trap. I have been getting my fingers & toes dirty since the age of 2 ½ in my mother’s gardens, and now I’m attempting to do it on my own (with a lot of advice from my friends & neighbours). I would like to blog for to share with the rest of Canada a little piece of my part of the world – be it winter rains, spring rains, summer rains…ok, it rains a lot out here, but we also get sunshine! Then the fog rolls in for most of August... Gardening out here is a challenge & one that many people take on with great determination.

I always know when spring is on its way when the ladybugs start to hatch inside my south facing house & the yellow crocus start to bloom in my deck boxes the beginning of February. I have to tell you all that I’ve already gotten dirty up to my elbows preparing my veggie beds for early planting & I’ve begun some very serious landscaping in the hopes of salvaging some very drowned plants.

I write a gardening article (My Green Thumb) for our local community Quarterly magazine & am in awe of how many people in my very small community are turning towards gardening to supply much needed fresh produce. I also write a gardening blog (Bamfield Green Thumb) in which I delve deeper into the mysteries of green things, all the challenges involved with living on such a remote coast & my successes & failures, plus I get to show off some photos of the amazing things that grow out here.

It wasn’t until I found this quote: “If you’re not killing plants, you are not really stretching yourself as a gardener” by JC Raulston, that I finally felt better about what I was trying to do in my gardens. I kill lots of plants & learn something new about myself & green things during the process.

I’ve also learned there is a big difference between ‘landscaping’ & ‘gardening’ – I’m doing both on my recently purchased property & around the newly built house. In general, I call my outdoor activities ‘yardening’ as I have many projects on the go!

The challenge of 2009 was my ‘Great Wet Coast Corn Experiment’ & as seen in my photo, I grew some very tall corn stalks. Stalks, not cobs…Don’t ask. The challenge for 2010 is ‘How to Garden with a Deer Stalking Me’. I don’t have a dog nor a fence and the community is in awe that the deer has moved back into our area after so many years (decades?) of not having one. We are more accustomed to dealing with bears raiding the berry bushes…

So, while winter may still have most of Canada in it’s icy grip, those of us on the west coast of Vancouver Island have emerged for a brief spell from under our umbrellas to dig around in the soil & possibly get a few seeds put in before the spring rains come. I can’t wait to tell you what’s blooming next month!!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

My Green Thumb - Tales of a West Coast Gardener - Spring 2010 Article

This article is now published in the Barkley Sound Community Journal - The West Island Quarterly.
  - my photo made the cover of this edition of the Quarterly!! -
A little fun in the garden is good for your soil!

It's a typical rainy winter day today (January is when this was written) & I'm trying to predict what spring will be like this year. An almost impossible dream, but we have seen salmon berry blossoms arrive early this year (early January), so I would like to think that means we will have an early spring as well!

I've already received my seeds for this year's gardens & I've gone through & made notes of my left-over seeds from last year & all the seeds I managed to collect in the fall. I just need to make my plan for the actual gardens. I'm using crop rotation techniques this year in an effort to have better success with my vegetables. Even though I said I was going to use West Coast Seeds for my supplier this year, I went with Salt Spring Seeds instead. I'd love to hear about your success or failure with either company as I do believe quality of seed plays a bigger factor in gardening than the colour of one's thumb...

I just want to say 'THANK YOU' to our West Coast deer for being so small! These (in above picture) were sighted in my sister's green space in Okotoks, Alberta in January. Bamfield's gardens would not exist if these monsters roamed our back roads!!

I'm busy trying to organize my spring chores & am continually distracted by a plethora of seed & plant catalogues & gardening magazines that keep finding their way into my mail box. I am now creating a wish list/scrapbook of wonderful looking plants that might one day make an appearance in my gardens, but for now must reside inside a binder.

This is also a good time to organize or unearth gardening equipment into something called 'Potting Shed Essentials'. These include: pruners (I currently have 3 varieties of Fiskars & am not happy with any of them), gloves (I go through at least 2 heavy duty pair a year), lightweight rake for leaves, small rocks & piles of weeds (currently, mine is broken), garden spade (which is a square shape wish a sharp edge for getting into tight places when dividing plants versus a shovel which has a curved & pointed shape), garden hose (you can never have enough), lawn mower (gas-electric-battery-reel), hand trowel (for transplanting seedlings & bulbs), & plant markers (for labelling rows of veggies).

Spring (April, May & June) Gardening Checklist:
1) Spread finished compost on beds & start a new batch with kitchen scraps & yard trimmings.
2) Divide mature perennials such as sedum, bee balm, herbs & phlox.
3) Harden off seedlings & transplant to garden once danger of frost is over (see below).
4) Stake tall perennials: peonies, delphiniums, heleniums & daisies.
5) Plant out tomato & pepper plants once soil is warm (17 degrees Celsius - greenhouse preferred).
6) Tidy up spring-flowering perennials (phlox, pinks, thyme), pinch off seed heads from rhododendron & azaleas, prune spring-flowering shrubs (forsythias & lilacs).

All too soon we will be dusting off the hummingbird feeders, opening our windows & performing the yearly ritual of spring-cleaning. Make sure to include your houseplants in this: their leaves will be dusty, so on a nice warm & sunny day, take them outside & lightly hose them down. The soil could also do with a bit of topping up with sterile potting soil. This is also a good time to start fertilizing them again with half strength food. Trim off dead leaves, water well & rotate the pots for even growth. If necessary, divide pot-bound plants & share with your friends!

Happy planning this year's veggie plots! Eat local - grow food!
 - Johnny Jump Up -

"If you breathe, you will get a kick out of gardening.
If you can hear, you will get a lift from the songs of the birds in your garden.
If you can feel, you will sleep better having nurtured & grown clean air machines that we call plants in your own yard.
If you can see, you will pause during your 'work' in the garden & become temporarily breathless as you observe a hummingbird sucking nectar from a flower.
If you still don't get it, go back to the top & re-read."
Mark Cullen
Author & host of Gardening Tips on CTV's Canada AM

According to the Canadian Zone Map, we (in Bamfield) are located in Zone 8a. After a bit of searching, I found some excellent information on HGTV's website (plant zones) which shows that our average winter minimum temperatures range from -6 to as low as -12 degrees Celcius. Our growing season is about 7 months (or 215 days) with the first frost free date of April 6th & the last frost free date on November 9th.
The website also provides information on plants, flowers, shrubs, vines & trees that will do well in our climate. Take some time this spring to explore this website (I know I will!) to gain useful 'professional' tips & ideas for your gardens.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Things to do in the April Garden

'Man must feel the earth to know himself
And recognize his values.'
- Charles A. Lindbergh (1902-1974), American aviator, author & inventor
 - Bleeding Hearts -
  • Plant gladiolus corms and dahlia roots this month, and consider expanding your garden's display of summer flowerbulbs with fragrant Abyssinian sword lily (Acidanthera) and tiger flower (Mexican shell flower, Tigridia). {As I left most of my gladiola in the ground in the fall, I shall start watching for them to emerge, if they haven't yet...The corms I pulled up in the fall will have to find homes somewhere that will support them}
  • Weed and clean the garden. Clip dead growth from ground covers and perennials. {I got out in February when the weather was nice - good thing too! As March was a step back into winter weather}
  • Remove faded flowers from winter heathers.
  • When the ground is dry enough, rake lawns thoroughly, aerate if the soil is compacted, and fertilize.
  • Continue pinching back fuchsia stems immediately above pairs of leaves for full, bushy, flower-filled plants this summer.
  • Plant spring bulbs that have finished flowering in pots into the garden.
  • Deadhead bulbs: (daffodils, hyacinths and tulips) after the flowers fade. Remove the spent bloom at its base, leaving the stem. Do NOT tie the stem & leaves up around each other to keep them 'tidy' as this interrupts their ability to turn sunshine into energy for the bulbs.
  • As you work in the garden this month, watch for suitable empty spots where spring bulbs could be planted in the fall. Note the sites in a garden diary or on a calendar. {Better yet - take pictures of your beds through each month for visual reminders of colours, heights & foliage}
  • Root cuttings taken from new growth on house plants such as spider plants, geraniums or whatever you have.
  • Move tomato transplants to deeper pots as roots fill current containers.
  • Prior to planting vegetables and annual flowers dig up to 10 cm (four inches) of compost or composted manure into the plots, along with a balanced natural-source, slow-release fertilizer -- a generous handful scattered over every square yard (metre).
  • Plant potatoes this month. {I'm going to try potatoes in a bucket this year & can't wait to get them going!}
  • Transplant onions early. A long period of strong green growth in spring will translate into the development of large bulbs in summer.
  • Complete outdoor spring seedings of root vegetables, peas, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Seed nasturtium, clarkia, alyssum, nigella (love-in-a-mist), cornflower, borage, candytuft, godetia and sunflower outdoors.
  • Sow indoors in peat or plastic pots: marigold, zinnia and basil early in the month, and melons, cucumbers and squash after mid-April, for transplanting in May when the weather and soil are warm.
  • Lettuce, carnations, sweet peas, calendula and stocks can be transplanted into the garden this month. But wait until the warmth of late May to transplant cold-shy plants such as zonal or garden geranium (Pelargonium hortorum), petunia, impatiens, zinnia, marigold, and heat-loving edibles such as eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes except cold-tolerant varieties like Oregon Spring.
  • Save space by tucking lettuce transplants next to net-supported pea rows. If slugs are a problem, lay a line of crushed egg shells around the lettuce transplants. {Out on the coast, egg shells do nothing for the giant banana slugs but do add some calcium to the soil. Try copper mesh like that found at Lee Valley, go hunting just after dark or get some slug bait}
  • Set up stakes or cages for perennials such as delphinium and peony that will require some support as they develop.
  • Plastic or glass enclosures over blooming strawberries should be removed during the day to allow entry to pollinating insects.
  • Dig and divide clumps of primrose when flowering has finished. Pull the clumps apart into individual crowns, and replant in a site that is protected from hot direct sun and where the soil is moist and humusy.
  • As soon as flowering has finished, prune forsythia, flowering currant and other deciduous shrubs that bloom early in the spring.
  • Plant baskets with cold-tender flowers if you have a place to keep them sheltered until the warm weather.
  • When preparing wire hanging baskets this month, boost their moisture retention capacity by setting a plastic saucer inside the base.
  • Remove about a third of the old soil in large containers and replace it with fresh. Mix a little slow- release fertilizer into the top soil layers. {A good soil blend uses perlite instead of vermiculite, which floats to the surface of the soil giving it the white layer, coir or coconut husk instead of peat moss, which makes the soil more acidic & there are questions regarding sustainable harvesting of peat & finally a good dose of manure & sterile soil} 
- Skunk Cabbage flower -