Monday, May 30, 2011

When Evil Things Invade the Greenhouse

It pays to be diligent on 'slug patrol'!!

I don't know where they come from, but these banana slugs are the bane of 'wet' coast gardeners. Apparently, they are edible - maybe after some serious roasting over high flame & when the eater is near starving, but I'm not about to experiment!!

Green Things in the Greenhouse - Part 4

Ok - I'm starting to just wander aimlessly through the gardens, looking for things to do (other than pull weeds & grass & brambles). I'm stuck in that limbo time of where everything is planted - either seeds or seedlings - & I must now wait for something to happen.

Either things will start to grow, or I will have to start all over again.

At least the greenhouse has visible signs of progress. Well, to me it does - but if I keep making weekly reports, people are going to start to get tired of seeing the same close up shots of plants doing their green, leafy thing. But I can't help myself this week - I'm stuck in limbo & have not enough energy to tackle the next rock & soil sorting job. Besides, it's too wet & the bugs are thick. I also think I'm starting to develop allergies to something that pollinating like crazy - itchy, itchy, itchy!

So, here goes with the Green Things in the Greenhouse - again:

I love that I have a proper raised bed in here - sure it's small, but my 4 tomato plants love it & so does the lettuce. I'm not sure what the peas are going to do, I would have thought they'd be in full bloom at this height...

I've drowned a few slugs - the small ones, not the gigantic banana slugs most people see here on the wet coast. The small ones do lots of damage, but the greenhouse is pretty dry & I'm checking almost daily.

This is the first pea bloom - way up at the top of the plant. The peas in the garden are about the same size as the beans... Might not get much of a pea harvest this year. Will have to look into trying for some in the fall or early winter.

Now the tomatoes are starting to show lots of promise! The first flowers to open & nary a pollinator to be seen. I try to leave the door open for a few hours each day, but the weather just won't warm up! Will I really have to resort to using a q-tip to pollinate these??

The funny thing about veggies is what you find in your fridge that has been reduced to a state of mushy goo contained within plastic wrap. We've not been eating cucumbers of late & yet I have 8 plants on the go. Mind you - they are lemon cucumbers, so will be small & lovely, unlike the very boring Long English, which I've grown very tired of unless they are mixed with a bit of rice vinegar & Saki...

How many fruit does one pepper plant produce? I have no idea as I've never actually seen them being grown out here. I'm sure I have neighbours who do grow them & I'd surely like to know a whole lot more about them.

What would I do if all 9 plants were supremely prolific? Well, I've already decided I will roast them up & can them... mmm... but more than likely, I'll be lucky to get 1 or 2 fruit per plant.

And just the other day I finally transplanted the last of my basil into larger pots. I now have 15 pots of basil with 3 to 4 plants per pot. A little too much?? Well, considering I have 9 tomato plants, I hope not! Plus, basil olive oil is so lovely in the middle of winter.

Yes, the greenhouse smells heavenly when I head out there for a few moments each day to talk to the plants & see how they are doing. Now - what's up with the rest of the gardens??

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Let's Just Skip Spring...

In my heart & soul & the dirt under my nails, I've been living in Summer since May 1st. The birds wake me up earlier & earlier these days - 4:30 a.m. to be exact - and all I want to do is go outside to watch things grow!

So, instead of waiting for Spring to do something, I've decided to move on. It's late - much later than usual, but when the sun shines, you can feel that it's summer. Who cares that the lilacs are just starting to bloom (3 weeks behind schedule) or that the peas & beans are growing at the same rate or that I've still got a few daffodils showing pretty faces in unusual places - I'm moving on!

- pink lilac -
- rhodo -
The pink lilac blooms are pretty thin, but they are still on the shrub & starting to open up. Maybe the deer can't find them amongst all the other things I've planted around them!

I've been hesitant to purchase a rhododendron because I'm so picky about my colour scheme. Last year I broke down & bought what I thought would be a white bloomer. It came out pink.... barbie doll pink in it's initial flush, but it's starting to fade into white, so I might not shudder so much when I look at it...

- rhubarb -
- bachelor button -
Ahhh, rhubarb - a typical spring harvest-able fruit. I just picked a bunch more stalks off these plants today, which will make it the 3rd harvest this year. I think I might give them a break for the rest of the summer.

My perennial bachelor buttons are starting to bloom & of course, they are in the wrong spot. But I've decided to let my flower beds 'do their thing' this year so that I can get a better feel for what works & what doesn't & just make notes for next year in regards to dividing & transplanting. Last fall, I went a little nuts with collecting plants from around the yard that were 'in the wrong spot' & this spring, have had a tough time finding spots for them all.

- lupin -
The lupin is doing very well in it's home - it's huge, of course & crowding out other plants & yes, it will be purple... I have a rather large selection of plants that are pink or purple, which is hard to bear when I purposely select plants that are white, yellow or red. Funny how Mother Nature will change things to suit Her sense of style.
- flower bed -

But the flower beds are starting to settle in & come along. I keep saying that I want to incorporate vegetables into my flower beds to add character, texture & to hide potential targets from insects, but my over-enthusiastic planting of herbs gets in the way & I need the space flower beds provide for all the herbs I grow!

- east flower bed -
So what do I do? I create new flower beds... This one on the east side of the house is relatively 'empty' & has become the depository for random seeds & transplants rescued from other areas of the yard. I just hope to keep on top of ripping out the brambles for the next few years to see what develops here! If the birds would let it alone...
- front flower bed -

I can already see that I will have an issue with my front deck flower bed. It's wonderfully lush right now - a much better sight than during the winter, but I've planted many 'invasive' type plants in here: foxglove & goldenrod along the deck to help disperse the water which drips down from the upper deck edge (causes soil to slip down the slope), lady's mantle & fever few mid-way down the slope (also to stop the movement of soil), ajuga & basket of gold along the front edge. Everything about this flower bed is to stop the movement of soil - but the plants are getting a little out of hand. Again - I'm not touching it this year - I really want to see how things handle themselves. Besides - I've got my invisible deer fence in place (re-bar & fishing twine) & moving it so I can get in is a pain.

- veggie bed #1 -
Things are just as eager to grow as I am to watch them grow. The veggie beds aren't doing too bad & I've tried to follow my Plan as best I can - which doesn't say much for my note-taking skills anymore. I write a Plan, bring it with me & then get carried away. I do know that I've not yet planted the carrots or parsnips...
- veggie bed #2 -

The hardier & more perennial plants in the veggie beds are taking over - the sorrel looks like it needs to be harvested - AGAIN! I can usually count on 3 good harvests, of which I make it all into sorrel pesto, but since I didn't eat all from last year & I've already got a good harvest in the freezer from earlier this month, I don't know if I should harvest & compost it, or let the plants go to seed. Oh wait... that would just lead to sorrel taking over the gardens & I've got enough of it already!

I seem to sense a theme in this post - gardener letting go & nature taking over... Isn't that how it's supposed to go? Would probably make for an easier time instead of constantly fighting with things... hmmmm....

- front veggie bed -
I've got a couple raised beds that have yet to be 'deer proofed' & I'm wondering if they eat potato leaves? If not, I hope they don't notice the butternut squash growing along side them.

- bean sprouts -
Bean sprouts are always a joy to see emerging, but why is it the robins love them too?? Not that they generally eat them, but they love to pull them up. I need to get my floating row cover out to protect them til they are a bit larger.

Robins - you chickens of my gardens - can come back later when the plants are a bit larger. I'm sure they are the ones who are keeping the slugs out of the beds!

So, most of the seeds are in, chaos is going to reign this year & I'm going to try to take better notes (or at least more photos) to figure things out. I'm learning that the K.I.S.S. formula is imperative for gardening out here on the coast [that's: Keep It Simple Sweetheart]

Summer - I'm ready for you! Bring it on!!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Water Collecting

Another idea we came up with late last year - especially once we saw our water bill - was to collect rain water in barrels to use during the summer months. Strangely, living along the Pacific Coast (the 'wet' coast), we have very dry summers & last year, it didn't rain for almost 6 weeks!!

So, over the winter, we started to collect large blue barrels - these can be found floating out in the ocean or stashed in some one's back yard looking for something better to do. We generally use only the blue barrels as they are known to have contained food products versus the black barrels which generally have oil products. We've got a few white ones, but I have no idea what they held.

This is one of our systems all set to go. My hubby built a platform of 6 x 6's so that they would sit up high enough for a bucket to be placed under the faucet.

It's conveniently close enough to the raised beds to make it less of a chore than hauling around a garden hose. I think I might have an idea for connecting up some tubing or drip line that could be used in July & August.

We connected the 2 barrels together & as they fill, they will level each other out. Saves a bit on hardware. I'll have to become creative when it comes time to cover the tops - don't want to start increasing the mosquito population by having open, standing water available for larvae!

These barrels are in the front yard & are also all connected.

We have a system in the works at the back of the house that reclaims the washing machine water & you would be amazed at how much water is used for just 1 load of laundry!! We ran a hose down to these from the 3 barrels at the back of the house to fill these ones.

Right now, it looks a bit damp outside, so I won't have to use the rain barrel water for a bit. I hope not until the end of June at least!

I have yet another barrel at the side of the greenhouse - it collects a lot of water off the roof of the greenhouse & I've been using that water for over a month now to keep the greenhouse growing. It's also pretty interesting to note how much water you use when watering plants in pots. I bought a watering can & went through three 5-gallon pails of water in just one session!! Then I went back to using a yogurt container to direct water each plant & was amazed that I used considerably less water - but each plant was watered appropriately. Hmmm.

Will be interesting to see how much water I will require this summer for my gardens. I'll have to let you know.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Green Things in the Greenhouse - Part 3

I just love heading to the greenhouse first thing in the morning for a quick check of what's going on. The spring season is still cool, but the plants don't seem to know that & they continue on their merry way to quickly out-growing their pots.

Yesterday I was fortunate to have a bit of time to take care of a few things.

I'm going to try lemon cucumbers this year in pots on the deck. I know I should be a little more savage with my seedlings & only take the strongest, but when all of them are strong, I can't cut them out!

So I've got 2 large pots with 4 plants in each, plus some nasturtium seedlings for colour. I'm going to have to figure out a system to allow the plants to grow up - tomato cages probably won't work with how I've got them planted.

But we are becoming creative this year...

The Siam basil is coming along nicely. I've taken a few cuttings for salads over the last couple of weeks & they've started to bunch nicely. Last year they grew tall & spindley, so it looks like I'll get more of a harvest this year.

The peppers are coming along nicely too! I'm not sure when they are supposed to flower & my original idea of making a greenhouse-within-a-greenhouse may not be necessary as I've put the pots on the top shelves & they get a lot more sun & heat than I thought.

With all the seeds & seedlings I had going on, I almost forgot I had decided to try tomatillos this year. This time, I did manage to select only the strongest plants & I actually had to almost fold the plants in half in order to plant them deep enough in the pots. I really do need to do more research into these plants & I hope I have enough room in the greenhouse for them if they decide to grow into monsters.

One of my tomato plants in the greenhouse bed have flowers! Of course, I neglected to double check to see what variety this plant is, but it's a positive sign that it wants to flower already. I might be eating tomatoes by mid June!!

These are more tomatoes that I'm going to keep up on my deck. They've been in pots for a week or more & enjoying some time outside during the day. Yesterday I brought them up to the deck & slipped on the plastic bags (large fish bags) & they spent their first night outside. So far, so good!!

Am starting to feel good about where I'm at with my gardens even though I've held off til now to put seeds in the beds & the weather is cool & cloudy.

Green Monsters in my Garden

- This post should have gone up May 9th or 10th but computer programs can sometimes be screwy... -

I have been watching my floating row covers on my veggie beds slowly grow bigger & bigger over the last few weeks. It's the French sorrel - fully recovered from being munched on a few months ago by the deer.

That means it's time for my first harvest of sorrel!

A little outrageous, I think. Way too many plants for just one household. I recall planting just a few seeds a few years ago & then found that the bed they were growing in was too shallow - these plants have monster tap roots! So I dug them all up & actually spread them out through-out all my beds, hoping that others in town would want to have some too.

Most people don't know what to do with sorrel as it's got a rather interesting flavour - not something you'd want to sit down on a nice sunny day to munch on while taking a break from garden chores. It's very lemony & will make your mouth pucker. The funny thing is there are a few little kids in town who LOVE the stuff - straight up. It's good for the soul to see kids who will eat something straight out of the garden.

I make sorrel pesto. I cut all this stuff down - ended up with two 5 gallon buckets of leaves!! I blend it all up with garlic, salt & pepper, olive oil & yes - a bit more lemon juice. Then it goes into the smallest jars I can find - baby food jars work best, but I had to use some small jam jars this year. I keep it in the freezer til I remember to use it but it can live in the fridge for a week or 2, not that you'll have much left after finding all the amazing ways to use it.

I mix it up with a bit of mayo or cream cheese (mostly to thicken it) & it's great with veggie sticks or on fresh salmon or on top of burgers or as a base for pasta sauce or anything you can think of. I keep finding new ways to add it to the meal & in the spring, this stuff will wake you up & make you want to eat more fresh greens.

With all this rain we are getting, I'm sure the plants will recover & start growing again in no time. Hopefully I'll find some local gardeners who want to try this in their yards, so I can free up some space in mine!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

- basket of gold & ajuga -
- chives -
- black currants -
- fingerling potatoes -
- bronze fennel & feverfew -
- Lady's Mantle -
- monk's hood -
- rhododendron -
- rue -
- sage -
- french sorrel -
- sweet cicely -
- kale -

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tarragon Harvest

Even though the weather is still too cold & wet to do much planting, my greenhouse is pretty active. I love growing my own herbs & have managed to keep French Tarragon for the last 3 years in pots in the greenhouse. I usually divide them every other year, so this year they will remain as they are & I believe I'm up to 6 pots now.

My favourite way to use tarragon - other than a few sprigs in my salads - is to make tarragon oil. Today I cut them all back & brought them in for processing.

It's a pretty simple process. I make sure they are bug & dirt free, but not wet. I generally don't wash them because then I would need to dry them quite thoroughly - you don't want water mixed in with the plant material when making oil or it will ruin the batch (been there, done that).

I chop up the herbs - stems & all - and cram them into a jar. I have a rather large collection of snap-lid jars that work very well. If I were to use screw lid type jars, I would put a layer of plastic wrap under the lid as I wouldn't want any possible reaction to happen with the metal & the oil & the plant matter.

Then I pour in the oil - in this case, I'm using straight up virgin olive oil - stir it around gently to remove any air bubbles & to make sure all the plant matter is under the oil. If the plant matter isn't under the oil, there is risk that the plant will start to break down & mold - which will ruin a batch of herbal oil (been there, done that).

Next, I label the jar (type & date) & put it somewhere out of the way, but where I will hopefully remember it, as it will need to be stirred up every few days. I will leave this for 3 or 4 weeks & then strain out the plant matter & bottle up the oil.

Voila! Herbal oil which is great for adding to salad dressings or to use while cooking!

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Savage Garden

We purchased some dwarf Alberta spruce this fall to use as our Christmas trees. There were quite small & we had them indoors & decorated for only the week of Christmas. Our aim is to grow them on the deck for a few years before finding homes for them in the yard.

I transplanted them into larger pots this spring & they put out a new flush of needles. But then I noticed something on the pots. Aphids!! I sprayed them off in the hopes they would just go away, but a week later they had returned.

Something I learned earlier this spring was that prey insects such as aphids, will require a few generations of presence in the garden to lure in the predator - so, in order to get rid of the aphids 'naturally' I would need to leave them be & hope ladybugs & other predator insects would somehow just find them.

Low & behold:
The Predator

Predatory ladybugs are usually found on plants where aphids or scale insects are, and they lay their eggs near their prey, to increase the likelihood the larvae will find the prey easily. Ladybugs are cosmopolitan in distribution, as are their prey. Ladybugs also require a source of pollen for food and are attracted to specific types of plants. The most popular ones are any type of mustard plant, as well as other early blooming nectar and pollen sources, like buckwheat, coriander, red or crimson clover, and legumes like vetches, and also early aphid sources, such as bronze fennel, dill, coriander, caraway, angelica, tansy, yarrow, of the wild carrot family. Other plants that also attract ladybugs include coreopsis, cosmos (especially the white ones), dandelions and scented geraniums.
The Prey:

They were circling the pot along the rim & then I noticed them all over the spruce itself & it is starting to drop needles!!

Plants exhibiting aphid damage can have a variety of symptoms, such as decreased growth rates, mottled leaves, yellowing, stunted growth, curled leaves, browning, wilting, low yields and death. The removal of sap creates a lack of vigour in the plant, and aphid saliva is toxic to plants. Aphids frequently transmit disease-causing organisms like plant viruses to their hosts.

I have isolated it from other plants in the hopes that the aphids won't jump ship & infest the rest up on the deck.