Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Making Marmalade

I love marmalade.

There, I've said it! I make a lot of jams & jellies from local wild berries (thimble berry, elderberry, blackberry, salal, huckleberry) as well from the berries I grow on my property (raspberry, loganberry, blueberry, soon-to-grow black currant, red currant, gooseberry) & I enjoy doing so.

I don't really eat much of it though. I might make the occasional batch of wine from them, or eat them unprocessed, but jam on toast? Nope - not my thing.

But marmalade... That's a different story!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Return to Winter?

I won't take any photos today - it's snowing... Well, sort of rain & snow combined, but it's pretty cold outside, so it might stay snow over night. What a sense of humour Mother Nature has!

Just yesterday I was out raking the neighbour's yard, gathering leaf mold to use as mulch around the newly transplanted berry bushes. A little bit of bone meal, blood meal, lime & wood ash to feed them & they should be good for another month.

I also cut down the only 2 cedar trees on the property to make way for the white mulberry tree - which was planted - and a future glass greenhouse. I got the 3 dwarf rhodos in the ground too!

I've had a great weekend & I'm sort of thinking Mother Nature decided to give me a day off.

So, I'm making marmalade instead!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Spindly Sprouts

 Last Friday I couldn't hold out any longer & planted up some lettuce seedlings. I chose 4 varieties & 4 small pots each. There is wild Arugula, garden Purslane, Super Gourmet salad mix & Oriental Saladini mix. I'm craving fresh greens & just might resort to harvesting some weeds to get me through the next few weeks!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Yarden Additions

I'm still struggling with my 'yarden' design - really, it's so much easier to work with something already established - even if you have to rip everything out - than to start with a bare slate. The property doesn't have any shrubs or trees on it - other than a birch at the end of the lane way & 2 small cedars that will shortly be removed.

I'm slowly investing in shrubs - hydrangeas, rhodos, wigelia, African fuchsia, forsythia & many other cuttings that I jam into the ground in the hopes that they will take. Most are munched on by the deer, so they are stunted. I know it will take many more years for them to develop into what I can see the place will become.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Yarden Reorganization

Over the course of trying to design my landscape around the house these last 3 years, I've done lots - some successful & some not so successful. I've now come full circle - sort of - and have to do a bit of tweaking.

Hence: Yardening Reorganization!

That means a lot of transplanting...

Return of the Pollinators

February 13, 2012

I find that I am taking my camera with me everywhere these days. The spring weather is bringing out so much change in things that are sprouting & the light can change quicker than you can grab your camera from that 'safe' spot on the deck or even in the house!

I'm so relieved to see the return of the pollinators. Not just the bees, but other insects too. There are so many different varieties of flies - I'm sure they are beneficial in their own way too.

So, Happy Valentine's Day - may your blooming flowers be made love to by the pollinators!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Taking Time to Read

Now that I've entered into my 'Spring Fever' stage, Mother Nature comes along & forces me to take a break. Today is raining - just enough to make playing in the garden really messy & not really worth the effort of fully encasing ones-self in rubber gear.

I will confess that I did plant a few pea seeds... The ground is warm enough (about 5 degrees Celsius) & the pots I'm going to grow peas in are tucked up on the deck under the eaves & out of direct downpour water.

I have a lot of seeds left over from last year, so didn't purchase any new pea seeds. I didn't keep very good record of which of my peas did very well (I got the snap pea, the sugar pea & the shelling pea!! plus a soup pea from 2009...) but I know that all the peas I planted last year took a very long time to mature - I was just starting to eat them in July!!

I will start slowly - 4 pots on the deck with snap peas. I'll dig out my tomato cages & see if the peas will grow up the cages - even though the package says they don't need trellising. I'll move them around from the west side of the deck to the south side so that they can warm up - if the sun ever shines again!

Another great thing to do on a rainy day, especially when all your seeds have been ordered already, is to read a book on gardening. I got 2 this winter & have just remembered where I put them!

Today's read is written by Linda Gilkeson. I went to one of her Seedy Saturday talks last year, but was unable to attend this year's talk in Qualicum Beach. I did however buy her book from her & am about the brew a pot of tea & delve into the world of year round West Coast gardening.

I have one of her other books - Year Around Harvest: Winter Gardening on the Coast & if I recall, her writing style is very much like her speaking style: very down to earth, simple to understand & nothing too fancy. She has a great sense of humour & is able to make any novice gardener feel more at ease with the daunting task of starting something new.

I'm looking forward to this book - I'm sure it will spark something inside to give me a few 'ah-ha' moments this summer.

ps- if you go to garden talks, alway-always-always bring your own pen & paper, maybe a couple extras for others to use. I forgot last year & missed out on a lot of tips & tricks. I also promptly forgot some vital information that a grower gave me about the mulberry tree I purchased....

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Finishing a Story

 I thought I should conclude my 'Tomato Houseplant' story while it's raining outside & I want to wait for a nicer day to show updates of my 'spring 2012 chores'.

We 'went away' for 3 weeks in January & the tomato wouldn't be able to ripen on the plant, so I thought I would take it with me & see how long it would take to ripen on a window sill.

My husband was nervous about us bringing a vegetable through customs to the US, but I didn't receive any questionable looks.

The photo above is of the tomato on January 18th in the window sill in Cape Canaveral, Florida - yes, clear across the country!! But it still wasn't fully ripe, so I wrapped it back up & it went on another journey with us...

This time, we went back up to Canada to my sister's place, just west of Calgary, Alberta. From sunshine to snow! This 2nd photo was on January 23rd, most likely the day we decided to eat it. I honestly can't tell you much about the flavour - it was mixed up in a salad & I forgot to test it by itself. Must have been pretty unremarkable. I still don't know what variety it was; more than likely one of my 'cherry' tomatoes that grew too large & took too long to mature in the greenhouse.

We'll see what happens this year with the tomatoes. But it was kinda something special being able to eat a homegrown tomato in the middle of winter!!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Seed Geek

Seed Order 2012
I'm a bit of a 'Seed Geek', but I'm so excited about them right now, I can't help it! Not all my seeds arrived today - I hope the rest come with the potatoes when they are shipped out, but this will do very nicely for the rest of the week. I hope I can hold out til the weekend before grabbing a few trays & planting a few seeds...

Now, this is my 2nd year ordering from West Coast Seeds & I have a lot more than just these packages left from last year. Last year was a bit of a disappointment (disaster) for me, which I'm willing to mark down as part of 'figuring things out'. What did really well was all the different lettuce & greens. So I got lots more!

New Seeds 2012:
     * Venture Blue Lake bush beans
     * Scarlet Runner beans (Two Wings Farm - purchased as the Seedy Saturday in Qualicum Beach on the weekend)
     * Kabocha Buttercup squash
     * Sunburst Scallopini summer squash

Greens & Lettuces:
     * Tangy Mesclun blend (red & green lettuce, arugula, endive, green onions & upland cress)
     * Amish Deer Tongue
     * Red Leaf (Een Choi) Amaranth

Edible Herbs:
     * Rosemary (yes, I grow rosemary from seed...)

'Something Pretty for the Yard & for the Pollinators':
     * Yellow Achillea (Yarrow)
     * Bee Balm (Bergamot)
     * Osaka Pink flowering Kale

     * Free pack of sunflower seeds to promote pollinators (what WCS is promoting this year)

Doesn't seem like a lot - mostly greens, but I have a lot of seeds left over from last year - a lot... I'm going to make my '2012 Plan' in the next few weeks but honestly, it's taking a bit of a backseat in my priority list. I have a few large spring projects that I need to accomplish in the next week - cross your fingers for the continuance of the sunshine & I'll make sure to share with you some of my yard reorganization & new additions.

(hint: think decorative shrubs - already mentioned: rhodos & new additions: fruit trees & reorganization: transplanting ALL the berry shrubs)

ps - the plants in the photo are my scented geraniums that I have over-wintered inside. They have turned into giants, but when I need a pick-me-up, I just brush my hands through the leaves & the whole house smells wonderful! Will be taking some cuttings very shortly, now that I have some soil...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Seedy Saturday Purchases

- curry plant -
 I dashed from one side of Vancouver Island to the other yesterday to attend Seedy Saturday in Qualicum Beach. What a fun adventure at this time of year! I wish I had taken some photos while there - but there were hordes of people, barely room to maneuver from booth to booth in search of treasures or the perfect plant or even rare seeds.

What I did find was a couple of curry plants. They remind me of lavender or rosemary with the shape of their leaves, but the smell!! mmmm - exactly like curry!! Too bad these are NOT edible (despite what the tag says). I have to check them out some more in the Internet, as I have already forgotten what, if any, flowers this plant might produce. I do know that they grow quickly & I should be able to take lots of cuttings from them this fall to share with others next spring.

'Mary Flemming' & 'Blue Baron'
My next investment was 3 rhododendrons for $25. Yup - these 3 plants cost me only $25! I have been hesitant to purchase expensive shrubs for the property - even though I really need them to start filling in some of the bare spots - mainly because: 1) I'm really frugal and 2) the deer eat everything I plant, regardless if they aren't 'supposed' to.

We shall see what happens with these, although I'm taking strong pro-active 'anti-deer' steps & will put fencing or wire or something around each one!!

The 2 in the foreground (left) are 'Mary Flemming' rhodos. They both have buds & should bloom this year. I am expecting them to be yellow with salmon streaks. I might already have one similar to this that I received as a gift from a friend & planted last year. That one is still in recovery mode as it was not very well cared for & it still might 'not make it'... (fingers crossed).

The 3rd rhodo in the background (right) is a 'Blue Baron' which should produce blue flowers. Yeah... I'm doing more research on that one. I think it will be a compact rhodo while the other 2 should get quite large.

I like the small leaf rhodos - they look very similar to azaleas, but will have the larger rhodo flower. I'll wait a few more weeks before planting them.

Friday, February 3, 2012

My First Hit of Spring!

 Yes, the first day of February has come & I went on my 'crocus hunt' - knowing that there would be at least 1 yellow crocus in bloom.

I found it!! Ahhh, makes me feel like spring truly is here just to see this yellow jewel.
 Another hit of yellow I found in a patch of primroses. These are such hardy little plants & they will often bloom right through the winter.

I have reds & purples scattered around & really should invest a few more pennies into these. They multiply easily.
My rhubarb is starting to sprout now too. I will probably give it another good helping of compost before covering it up with a 5 gallon bucket to encourage the stalks to grow tall & much earlier.

I did that with a different patch last spring & was able to get 3 harvests off the plants.

Yesterday was such a nice sunny & warm day that I thought it would be a good idea to get a head start on some of my 'spring cleaning' chores outside.

As you can see - we don't have snow to worry about. Actually, we aren't even getting very much in the way of frosts right now (I know that will probably change...).

I like to cut out all the old/dead raspberry canes in February. In this picture, they are the gray canes. They were productive last year but are now dead. They sometimes just snap off, but I get in there with the pruners & also cut out any wimpy stalks or stalks that have grown on a leaning angle. You want to keep the plant healthy & only promote the strongest canes to grow & produce fruit.

While I busy doing that, I also tend to the weeds. Raspberries are what I call 'jealous' plants - they don't like to have their roots crowded, nor do they like to share their root space with other plants.

I pull out all the weeds & clear quite a bit around the row. I'll leave these (roots up) for mulching. Raspberries like that too.

Now is a good time to add some compost to the canes. The stuff I have - I removed it from the compost tumbler only a few months ago - is still not fully decomposed, so adding it now will allow for nutrients to be delivered at a different rate as it decomposes more.

What a great day to be playing with this lovely sweet smelling stuff!! (well, the juices as the bottom weren't so sweet, but that's all part of getting dirty!)

I've now put the compost around each plant.

 I would have preferred to put more leaves or even grass clippings around the plants, but all I have on hand for now are the left-over Christmas cedar bough decorations. They will keep some of the heavy rains off & hopefully deter the birds from digging around too much.

That's one of the difficulties of applying mulch - the birds will dig through it looking for bugs & they will push it all off the bed or from around some of the 'tender' plants you are trying to protect! ~sigh~

 My other raspberry patch on the 'far side' of the property needed some TLC too. This patch is a mess - the black currant bush is growing too close & it's too large. It's not really productive, but I love it so much I don't know what to do with it!

Do I hack it back each year or let it do it's thing & maybe in another few years, it will give me more than just a handful of berries. I need to plant more of them...

 So, this patch is now cleaned up & ready for compost, but I've run out & will have to wait a few more weeks before I can get either some manure, or whip up a quick batch with the composter.

Since it was such a nice day & I was having so much fun, I thought I'd take a look at the raised beds.

I know it's too soon to think about planting, but I thought the leaves would have been more decomposed than this by now.

Do worm hibernate??

February 2nd - soil temperature is 5 degrees!!!
Well, since the soil temperature is considerably warmer than it was last year (March 1st, 2011 - soil temp was only 1 degree) - I thought I should try some cool weather crops: peas & lettuces.

But first, rig up the plastic cover - which needs to be rebuilt, rethought & redesigned - it will last maybe this season, depends on the severity of the spring storms. But at least one bed should be enough for early veggies!!

I amended the soil with compost, the left-over soil from all the pots I cleaned out last fall & some coir. The plastic should help warm things up & keep the heavy rains out. I managed to find some compost to throw in under all this & in a week or 2, I'll stab some peas in the ground & see what happens.

The lettuce I'll start indoors & transplant out when they are large enough. I just wish those seeds would arrive in the mail!!!

Today was another glorious spring day & the crocus have now opened. I kept straining my ears to catch the sounds of either bees or hummingbirds, but I know I'm a few weeks early in hoping for their return. They need more things to bloom. I'm sure I'll be seeing dandelions shortly too!!

Looks like tomorrow is going to be another fabulous day too! Perfect for the first Seedy Saturday event here on the island. I'm blasting out to Qualicum Beach & wonder what sort of treats await me there!! (my wish list includes: crab apple trees, hazelnut shrubs, pear trees, maybe a couple of rhododendrons - scented ones would make my spring!) But maybe I should plant the white mulberry tree I bought there last year before getting any more things in pots!!! I'll have to let you know what I find...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Is is a Science Experiement? Part 2

Just an update on my pear wine.

I managed to siphon out most of the mystery mold, but left this large chunk in a pickle jar - just to see what will happen.

I put most of the wine into a sterilized 3 gallon carboy - filled to the top with only 1 inch of head-space. There was extra liquid that I put into 1 litre pop bottles (3 of them) with saran wrap on the top. The smaller bottles are living under the island counter beside the dishwasher, so will be warmer than the carboy, which is living back in the office.

The 'science experiement' (as the husband calls it) just lives either on the stove or the counter.

I will probably re-rack the carboy at the end of the week as there is a lot of sediment falling to the bottom. It's still active with small bubbles forming along the top.

When I inadvertently tasted the wine, it did not taste like vinegar! Yay!! But it was a bit bitter. I shall just have to keep an eye on it for the next 6 months, racking it more often than I do with other wines.

Learned my lesson - 1) pay greater attention to sterilization of tools,
                                2) wash fruit (especially larger fruit, such as pears & apples) before freezing,
                                3) top up the carboy so there is very little head-space (use white grape juice for light wines & red grape juice for dark wines).