Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Deer Diary

Just when I'm starting to understand & resolve myself to some of the difficulties of being a West Coast gardener, Mother Nature returns with new lessons. One of the lessons of 2010 has been instructed by 'The Deer'...

Last year it was such a wonder to know that a doe had survived the winter & had twins wandering around the penninsula. Most of us had not seen deer in Bamfield for many, many years (decades I've been told). What changed? Who knows - that's for a Naturalist to investigate. It might be fewer packs of dogs running around, fewer full-time residents, more gardeners & even fewer predators (cougars especially, although I just heard one was sighted in the townsite a few days ago!!)

Whatever the reason, this year we have any where from 5 to 7 deer populating the west side of Bamfield.

My instructor for the summer was the yearling buck. He would wander in at all times of the day & from many access points. Usually, he'd hit the raspberry bushes.

And for some reason, he choose to ignore my veggie gardens! In this shot, he was checking out the sorrel but after a nibble realized that it was a little too lemony & tangy for his palate - I think...

I would talk at him (yell, hoot, holler, wave my arms & growl) but that didn't seem to bother him too much. I thought about getting a sling shot, but knowing my abilities of aim, I'd probably hit the truck & break a window or puncture a hole in the greenhouse plastic...

Whether we were home or not, he'd calmly walk across our little plywood bridge to hit the other raspberry patch. When I saw him in this shot, sniffing around my purple lilac, I was actually hoping he would munch on it! It's been there for almost 4 years & has yet to flower... Maybe a good deer pruning is what it needs. But he showed little interest...

He is a rather pretty animal - it's hard to stay angry at something that moves around so quietly & delicately...

Even when people are walking down the road, barely 30 feet away, he pretends he's invisible...

But my wonderful husband knows that I pull my hair out each time I see evidence of his buffet-browsing, so will go down with either a broom or a rake in his hand (purely for personal protection in case the deer decides to go on the offensive - been known to happen!) & will chase him off.

For the most part, the deer doesn't go very far when we do convince him to move on. As you can see, he's not that big an animal! Thank goodness for that! I've seen the deer in Alberta at my sister's place & I would have a heart attack if something that large were being fed off my gardens.

 The latest to fall victim has been my weigela shrub - broke my heart. Today I will rig up some sort of net-protection & prune back the damage in the hopes that it will recover & grow up instead of down & out because of the improper pruning techniques of the deer. It's actually flowering again on the other side by the big rock. Thought the deer would have gone for the flowers, but I guess he's not interested in them.

So, I just don't know what to do. I'm not about to install fencing all around the property to keep them out - they jump quite high anyway. I'm not about to get a dog to keep them out - we aren't quite ready for the responsibilities of a dog. Using other deer deterents is more money & effort than I'm willing to spend on something that's supposed to be here (hanging bags of hair, or bars of soap, or using motion sensor water sprayers, or electric fencing to name just a few). I did have moderate, if only short-term success, with blood meal (meat meal was weird) & the Plant Skyyds worked on the veggie beds - I think because I sprayed that on the wooden boxes & the scent lingered longer than just sprayed on the actual plants.

I will write up a list of things that the deer seemed to like this year & the ones that were ignored. I enjoy the constant evolution of the gardens & will try to go in that direction - plant what the deer doesn't eat! 

I will, however, get proper netting & stakes for the raspberries & blueberries for next year - just the vertical ones as I don't like to see birds getting caught up in the netting that completely covers the bushes. 

So, deer - now that it's officially Autumn, what do you have in store for the winter?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Summer Blooms

I've been reflecting on my summer projects - successes & failures & thought I would just focus on how beautiful the flowers were - the ones that survived the dry weather & the grazing deer. It wasn't as bad a summer season as I tend to tell myself...

I have fallen back in love with marigolds & while they are still blooming, the cool weather & rain have made most of the blooms a bit soggy. Hopefully it will dry out for another couple of weeks.

The feverfew in the front flower bed were gargantuan in July, hiding most of the other plants, so after I enjoyed the scent & the sight, I cut them back hard, knowing that by mid-August they would start to bloom again.

I have a flower bed on the north-back side of the house that received handfuls of miscellaneous seeds over the last couple of years. This year I was pleased to see Sweet Williams in bloom. I have saved the seeds to distribute to other beds where I can enjoy them better.

I have 4 different coloured astilbes that all bloom at slightly different times. Due to the dry conditions this summer, the white astilbe was the only one which actually flowered & the scent was quite powerful for such a small clump. I hope the other plants recover to bloom next year as I missed their added colours.

This spring I did a big plant rescue from a bed that drowned last winter & most of the plants were daylilies & Asiatic/Oriental lilies. To my surprise, I found I had purple daylilies in that bed! They are now relocated to 2 new beds & will hopefully survive this coming winter - we shall see if the soil stays in place (the new beds are sloped...)

I absolutely love the blue lace-cap hydrangea! I have 3 plants, grown from cuttings from a neighbour & last year, one bloomed pink - which I think was due to the soil in the pot it was living in. It has recovered, seems to enjoy it's new home & rewarded me with the proper blue blooms.

I received a 'free' packette of red flax seeds a few years ago & they somehow landed in one of my veggie beds. This year, they've magically appeared in the bed beside & are such a wonderful colour. I would like to try to save the seeds or find a source for more seeds & throw them into my wild flower bed.

Now this flax was actually called 'Golden flax', but that must relate to the seeds, which I've yet to harvest. They keep flowering! This patch of pretty blue flowers is so delicate & airy - the deer don't bother to munch on them either.

This is another hydrangea but in white & shaped more like an upside-down ice cream cone. It suffered a bit this spring because it was crowded with 8 foot foxgloves, but since I cleared out the foxglove, the hydrangea has recovered.

Another surprise daylily is this spider lily. It might not like the flower box I have it in right now, but will have to do for another year while I'm working on the landscaping projects. I like the combination of the red & yellow - 2 of my main flower colour choices (although pink seems to be more predominate at certain times...)

Yup - love the electric blue hydrangea!

My mom sent me poppy seeds about 6 years ago & each year they bloom, it is a surprise as to what colour, shape & height they will be. This I don't mind - the constant evolution of the shape of the gardens...

These are poppies & blue bachelor's buttons on the edge of my blue flax bed.

Ahh, finally some yellow - well, more creamy, but daylilies are so much fun!

Pearly everlasting is a great wild flower that does well as a dried plant too. They pop up in random spots & last in the garden til Christmas.

Another spirea variety I'm growing, given to me as a housewarming gift. At the time I planted them (found 2 plants in the pot when I went to put it in the ground) I didn't know what they were, so I'm glad the spots I chose are appropriate for this shrub.

Wild heather - wild in that I find it growing out in the lawn & rescue it. The ones I generally have (pink, purple & white) are the 'winter' (well, autumn) blooming ones & it's so nice to have a bit of colour in the yard (umm, flower beds) during the winter.

Gladiolas - such an old-fashioned type of plant. Don't see too many people growing them these days. I'm playing around with lifting the corms in the fall in some beds & leaving them for the winter in others. I'm getting 50-50 blooms with either way, but will probably pull them every other year regardless, just to check the corms out for health & to change up the flower beds.

A rescued Oriental lily - am so glad to see it recovered from the wet winter.

This is my 'purple herb bed' - one of the very first flower beds I put on the new property. I do very little with it other than weeding & a cover of fresh mulch each spring. The Oriental lilies do very well, as do the herbs (chives, lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage, lovage & others). The scent of the lilies is quite powerful - can smell them all around the property on a sunny day.

Now, here is a tender subject - ajuga (bungleweed). It's a great ground cover & is really invasive. I've seen it take over flower beds in as little as 2 years & I've heard aclamades about using it instead of grass on the lawn, especially for those who have a hard time with growing/keeping grass. I've got it in my front deck flower bed strictly for the purpose of holding the soil in place. I'm keeping my eye on it & should it start to take over, I'm quite willing & happy to rip it all out, but the flowers are quite showy & earn the plant a bit of forgiveness.

One of my favourite flowering plants is the calendula (pot marigold). My mom sent me seeds & I fell in love. If grown in just the right spot & dead-headed continually, they will bloom for me year-round. Imagine bright flowers up on the deck in the cold, sunny days of January!! They come in such a variety of shades of orange & yellow & with a few different shapes/number of petals. Again, a plant that is never the same twice if you save the seeds. Lots of fun.

Towards the end of August, the Helenium (sneezeweed) started to bloom. I need to make a note to put a cage over them in the spring when they start to grow as they fall over when the winds & rains come at this time of year. The stakes & string I use to keep them upright just don't add much to flower display.

Yes, Goldenrod is a weed, but I love this plant & have purposely moved it around to add structure & fall colour. It's also an important food source for the insects in the autumn (especially the bees that are still around).

Well, this is a rather long post & doesn't cover all the blooming plants in the gardens this year, but I'm impressed with how plants will grow & survive with minimal care, water & pampering. I just don't have time for all that come July & August, so Mother Nature is continually teaching me what I can & cannot do. Thanks for a great summer!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Shocking New View(s)

It happens about every 3 years - the roadside mower comes along the backroads of West Bamfield to cut down the wild shrubbery along the road allowance. Sometimes she (& it is a 'she' that drives this lovely beast of a machine) comes in the spring; us berry pickers absolutely despair because then our harvest of thimbleberries & others is drastically reduced, and other times she comes in the fall, which sometimes causes us concern if she comes right at peak berry season because then the bear(s) might move in closer to our homes in search of food before winter sets in. Either way, we don't like it - for the most part...

This is what welcomed me when I came up the hill today:

What an absolute shock!

I almost cried - I have zero privacy now as you can see almost every square inch of my gardens...

I found out quite quickly once we moved into the house just how much I value my privacy & while it's nice to have people compliment the gardens, I just don't like that people feel they can talk at me every time I step outside to work! I can't even sit up on the upper deck without someone yelling up at me from the road...

This is the view from my deck:

Big, bald road...

The great thing about this is that I had planned on taking LOTS of cuttings this fall/winter to plant along the edge where the logs are (front property line) because I know that this road allowance clearing is done about every 3 years. Now I can finish clearing along the property line, move the logs out a bit more, get those cuttings in & have at least 3 years to get them growing strong.

I learned a trick for ensuring fast growth on cuttings - forsythia, escalonia, butterfly bush being my top choices for this year - take tall cuttings - 6 feet if you can get it & use a piece of re-bar to poke a hole down into the ground as far as you can - preferrably 3 feet & then jam the cutting in. With the rain & rather warm winters we have, they should take with very few problems. Those that don't survive the first few months can be replaced in the spring.

That's the game plan & I'm hoping for a few days with little rain so that I can get that area cleared up, remove bramble roots & debris & go on a scavenger hunt. Hope my neighbours won't mind me pruning a few branches...

Mother Nature Has a Sense of Humour

You cannot take gardening too seriously. 
This is something I'm trying to learn & the lessons are endless & diverse. It's almost a daily ritual for me & gets easier the closer winter comes.

The rains have returned & with that comes many interesting changes in the gardens. One greeted me the other day while out for my walk...

Ok - the rains have caused my yellow zukers to split. Time to harvest...

But a smiley face on my zuker??!! 

I blamed my husband at first for adding the 'eyes' to Mr. Smiley, but I think I've found the culprits...

The Stellar Jays are back in town & these guys are misbehaved, noisy, nosey & mischevious jokers. They taunt us every morning on the deck - digging in my deck boxes I'm sure & hopefully finding those flying termites I saw out the other day...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

From the Diary of a Berry Hound (or Jam Junkie if you prefer)

It's foggy this morning. It's also really quiet in Bamfield now - the summer season has ended, the sports fishermen have all gone, the wandering tourists have all found their way back home & it's now time for the locals to re-emerge & re-engage with one another.

I emerged from the berry bushes a little early this year. I had to - there was no more room in my berry freezer & with the meat freezer packed to the top with tuna & salmon & the fridge freezer on the fritz, I had no where to store what I consider to be a rather great year for berries. Right now, the bears are agreeing with me, so it's actually rather a smart idea to have stopped so soon - walking through a bramble patch with a bucket full of berries strapped to your butt is a sure-fire way to get a bear's attention. Been there - done that - ain't happening again!

Anyway - the maniac berry-picker that I am, decided the first week of September would be a great time to start emptying the berry freezer & make my 'yearly' supply of jams & jellies. What an event...

Mind you, I sell most of my product to the community & tourists, but this year, we didn't have an art gallery in town, so my stock has piled up & is now waiting for the Christmas Craft Fair in November.

What did I make this year?

Some of the first berries available are thimbleberries - a local, wild shrub that grows along the roadsides.

The jam is almost like raspberry jam, but with a sweeter flavour & a bit of tang. There are lots of little seeds, but they are much smaller than those found in raspberries & are hardly noticeable.

The 'red berries' are the first to ripen up around here: salmon berry (not worth picking because of the watery flavour & I let the birds eat those ones in the hopes they'll ignore the others...yeah, right...), thimbleberries, red currants, & red elderberries (which the birds ate before they ripened this year because there are so many birds that have returned to the area - nice to see & I'm glad I picked so many last year that were buried in the bottom of the berry freezer). The red huckleberries, raspberries & loganberries take a while longer to ripen up & are considered a mid-summer fruit (late summer & into fall if the weather is nice).

I made rose hip jelly last year - at the request of a few people for sentimental reasons, but the stuff never set, so I was left with a few boxes of rose hip syrup. I'm not picking them this year - well, maybe a bag or two as I like to dry the hips for tea... Anyway, the syrup is amazing on pancakes - tangy & sweet & loaded with vitamin C. It's also great in sauces for pork dishes. Wish more people would experiment with this item as I do like it so.

The red elderberry jelly has finally set after a couple of weeks - I almost freaked out the day after I made it all - almost 3 dozen jars - because it hadn't set. I have run into the problem of some of my jellies being rock-hard - an issue when you try to spread it on toast. So I've been playing around with the amount of water I use to cook the fruit in at the juicing stage (I don't use juicers - cooking the elderberries is a necessary step in order to make them edible) & then again at the jelly making stage. I was concerned when they didn't set up right away that I had added too much water, but am glad to see that it can now be labelled 'jelly' - this flavour is also one I quite enjoy.

The loganberry patch - I finally got cuttings planted last year so I didn't have to mooch off the neighbours - provided enough for a couple of batches & the raspberries - thankfully everbearing ones that allow me to pick into the late days of October - survived the grazing of the deer to provide me with a few batches. There is a difference in flavour between the 2 - subtle, mind you with the loganberry having a bit more of (what I call) a floral flavour. It really depends on what variety of loganberry you have growing. Some taste more like blackberries (& turn an almost black colour when fully ripe), others are more like raspberries & the ones I have are nothing like that. I tend to pick them a day or 2 before they are fully ripe - more for convenience than anything & if it's not too hot in the house, will let then sit on the counter overnight to fully ripen. Just a few more for me than for the birds.

Next come the 'black berries' - or darker coloured berries - my favourite. Black currants, salal berries, blackberries (all types out here: thornless, thorny, very thorny & the wild trailing blackberry), blueberries (wild & domestic varieties) & evergreen huckleberries.

Salal berries are such an interesting wild shrub-like plant - many consider it to be invasive & battle with it's creeping growth on a constant basis. The leaves are tough, leathery & stay green year-round. You will actually see the leaves in floral arrangements & there is a large salal leaf harvest all along the coast specficially for the floral industry. The berries take their time ripening up - the harvest takes place over the last half of August & into September - again, depending on the weather & how hungry the birds & bears are. I snap the berry stalk off the plant & freeze them in grocery bags. When I'm ready to juice them up (I recommend jelly instead of jam because they are quite mealy with large seeds & the jelly is like silk - as long as the recipe doesn't result in rock-hard jelly. Again - been there, done that.) - so to juice them up, I take the bag out of the freezer & hit it with a rolling pin to snap the berries off the stalks. This way, the stalks can be picked out of the bag by the handful & then the berries are thrown into a large pot, just barely covered with water & cooked til they change colour. I have a great jelly bag system that I then throw the mush into & let it sit on the counter while I gather the supplies for a session of jelly making.

Here I've made 'some' salal jelly (and I have more juice waiting in the freezer for a free day to finish it all off...) & I've also made up some strawberry-rhubarb-red elderberry jam. Now this stuff is tangy & tart & a special treat as the rhubarb harvest some years is low & I refuse to grow my own strawberries (due to them taking over my garden & not giving me any fruit...)

Next on my list came the blackberries - finally a year in which they were prolific & not hard little bullets. With so many varieties to choose from, it's not difficult finding enough for jam & then reserving some for syrups or to add to red wine vinegar for a winter berry vinegar to use in salad dressings. Earlier this summer, I made the decision NOT to make any berry wines this year - take a year off & clean out the pantry of all the wine making supplies. Feels a bit like spring cleaning!

I also made a 'black & blue' jam - didn't actually have enough blueberries to make a separate batch & with the addition of a smidge of Mexican vanilla, it's quite devine!

This has been the year of self-discovery as well. One of those revelations came during that week of turning into a Mad Jammer - I actually do not eat very much of my own jam & jellies. Why then do I feel compelled to pick so much?? I have a twisted opinion that it's wasting food when I see people's berry bushes loaded down with ripe fruit that isn't being picked. Sure, the birds are eating a fair amount & sooner or later, the bear will come along & sit on the bush to eat the rest (& thus destroy a productive plant), but if you plant something, you should be responsible to tending to it & harvesting it. Out here, there are so many wild fruits available, that's it not really necessary to cultivate too much in your own gardens & I almost hyper-ventilate when I see people missing out on such bounty growing right on their doorsteps.

Obsessive-compulsive - I think so. The other thing is that I prefer tart-tangy-savory fruit spreads, which I rarely make in large quantity. Yes, I'm a marmalade girl... One of the best jams (actually called sauce because it didn't set fully) was a cherry-sage blend I made last fall. I think I've managed to hide one or 2 jars away somewhere which will be converted into the most amazing pork tenderloin sauce during the gray days of winter.

Monday, September 6, 2010

'A Woman of a Certain Age'

The following post has nothing to do about gardening, but because it's my birthday & it's raining, I thought I'd post something that I stumbled across, mostly re-wrote to make my own & I find the concept intriguing... Hope you enjoy!
The poet Byron, in 1817, wrote;
"She was not old, nor young, nor at the years
Which certain people call a certain age,
Which yet the most uncertain age appears."

People say age is a state of mind but if that's the case then I've been of a certain age since I was 20. When all of my friends were out partying and having fun, I was home worrying about my future. If I have a best-before date I passed it a while ago. Not that I mind. What's wrong with being 'old/older'? Other than it's no fun. But why does life have to be fun all the time?

I have decided to christen this year as ‘The Year I Become a Woman of a Certain Age’. It sounds delectably obscure – there’s no real definition of what age you have to be to be ‘a certain age’ & for most, it doesn’t matter. ‘A Certain Age’ might be 27, 43 or 96 - but for me, it’s 36.

How do you know when you’re old enough to be a woman of a certain age?
I knew when I started referring to men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five as young men. Sometimes the word ‘kid’ gets slipped in there by accident…

How do you know if you have the panache?
You don’t feel you have to wear higher necklines and longer skirts. Conversely, you  have also figured out your own ‘Difference’ & your own ‘Beauty’, and know how to rock it without feeling the need for a push-up bra, a miniskirt or stilettos.

You have officially and forevermore given up the vanity goal of ‘looking as beautiful as possible’, opting instead to spend the same amount of ridiculous, dogged attention you spent all those previous years to a new & different vanity goal; 'feeling as healthy as possible’.  Because you’ve finally figured out that you weren’t put on this Earth to work toward some weird goal of attaining some commercial definition of ‘pretty’; but rather, you were put here to live your life.

No, no, no!
A woman of a certain age has earned certain privileges - besides a man occasionally giving her his seat. You have earned the privilege & self-confidence to say ‘no’ when you know that saying ‘yes’ will make you feel like a tiny bit of your soul is dying. ‘No, I don’t care to do that, go there or try that’. No explanation required. No excuse given. You don’t do it because you don’t want to. You know that saying ‘no’ in these situations isn't impolite, it's honest.

Being myself
When I write, I overuse hyphens; but I don’t care. I no longer feel confined by rules of capitalization or punctuation. I don’t have one particular style of clothing – I can look like a farmer covered in dirt one moment & then sexy-glam-doll the next. I don’t care what’s in style, as long as it’s clean, it fits & allows me to enjoy my time. When someone says I don’t look my age, I smile because I don’t know what my age is meant to look like.

Ready? You bet!
Besides, a woman of a certain age is ready to explore life – ready to reach out to learn & experience new things. You know how to make at least one beverage or main course or dessert or salad dressing or meat sauce without the need for a written recipe - the taste of which will make a grown adult weep in ecstasy. When called on for emergency karaoke, you know all the words to an entire throw-down song.  The cheesier the better – probably something from ABBA…

Do it now!
A woman of a certain age is self-assured. You’ve been there and done that. You’re ready to take your experience of the world into the world. What you thought you’d like to do some day, you can do today. It’s your time - if you take the time to make it your time.

Choose quality over quantity every time.
Although being a woman of a certain age has to grow on you, it’s time for quality over quantity. It’s time to upgrade your life. After all, there’s still lots of time to make time payments.

You know the difference between (pick one):
A good wine & a bad one;
A good whiskey/scotch & a bad one;
A good chocolate & a bad one;
A good recipe & a bad one.
(extra points if you can tell the differences between all of the above)

Now, to be clear:  I don't have all of these down yet, but I'm working on it.  In fact, this will be the year that I do it.

 ~ This is me at 7:30 this morning, waiting for my coffee & loving the huge bouquet of flowers a dear friend had given me. A woman of 'a certain age' should most definitely wake up to flowers on her birthday! ~

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Things to do in the September garden

'Whatever you can do, or dream you can do,
begin it,
boldness has genius, power & magic in it.'
- Johann Wolfgang van Goethe

  • Plant spring flower bulbs, starting with daffodils, crocus, Siberian squills, glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa), dwarf irises, hyacinths, Anemone blanda and species tulips.
  • Continue deadheading flowers, and weeding. Unless the rains come early the garden will need long, slow waterings to supply plants with adequate moisture at their deepest roots.
  • As the weather cools, dig & divide congested or overgrown perennials, or reposition perennial plants while their appearance and dimensions are clear. Plant new perennials this month.
  • September is an ideal lawn seeding month. The ground remains warm for rapid germination of the grass seed, while cooling weather allows for easier maintenance of an evenly moist soil surface.
  • Bring house plants that have summered outdoors back into the house. Clean them well first, and make sure they are free of pests. Do not add manure of any sort to house plants as a source of fertilizer as you will have a fruit fly infestation!
  • Earth up leeks and celery.
  • Pot up spring flower bulbs in the greenhouse for indoor bloom during the winter. Store the pots in a dark place, ideally at temperatures around 9 C.
  • Plant pansies, wallflowers, primulas, flowering kale and cabbage, Brompton stocks and forget-me-not into garden beds and containers.
  • Keep hanging basket and planter flowers groomed by clipping off dead flowers and plant parts.
  • Lift onion bulbs once the tops have withered. Dry the bulbs well in a warm, dry, sunny location for about 10 days, and store in a cool, dark, dry place.
  • Lift and compost annual flower and vegetable plants that have finished producing.
  • Start saving seeds from healthy, productive plants such as calendula, nasturtiums, wild flowers (foxglove, daisies, lupins, poppies & others), & veggies. Dry well & store in cool, dry conditions. Make sure to label the packages! 
  • Save leaves & other garden debris for winter mulch - when deadheading & trimming, cut the waste into smaller pieces & apply right back on the beds (as long as there is no diseased leaves)
  • Clean up & tidy the greenhouse for sowing of winter greens. Mulch the indoor beds well, scrub out pots & store, clean the inside glass or plastic with a mild detergent.
September (& October) are my favourite months of the year & usually very busy times for me in the gardens. It's the end of the busy summer season & I have a chance to finish up on spring projects before the winter rains begin, pick blackberries & salal berries for jam/jelly making & see where the garden has taken me over the last few months. Because I live on the coast where the growing season is pretty much 11 months of the year, I have to prune back the invasive plants again.  There is enough time for me to divide & transplant & take cuttings of perennials & shrubs to fill in the holes, sow seeds from wild flowers (foxglove need the winter to sprout), move soil & rocks around & finally to just sit & relax in the sunshine with my arsenal of seed & bulb catalogues & garden magazines for planning of next year's gardens.