Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The longer days signify fast growth.

This week in the seed growth is wonderful.  The snow was falling until an hour ago when the sun finally came out and the greenhouse is drenched in the late afternoon rays.  

The cucumber seeds are fast sprouters in the extended daily light.  The ones planted weeks ago are upstairs and have already produced the tendrils.  these help to anchor the plants and soon, they will have to be staked to avoid attaching themselves to everything within reach!!!  The snow is still on the ground today and yes, it snowed all day!!!

The parsley from last year's garden, which was wintered in the garage has become very green and is growing fast.  To help to bush it up, it will need to be trimmed the next time I put on a pot of soup.

The tomato plants are growing and with the help of an overhead ceiling fan, are getting stronger by the day.  I will be digging them in as soon as the above ground beds are built.  First, we have to wait until the snow is off the lawn and the ground softens.

Marigolds - these are growing well, so well, that i have planted another flat.  These will be beneficial for the garden to keep out pests and the more the merrier.  They are also a great colour addition to the garden.  Do not deadhead these at the end of the season.  Allow the seeds to mature then pluck them to save the seeds for the following year.  These are prolific seeders and will often re-seed the garden.  If this happens, just thin out the seedlings to allow the plants room to grown.  They are beneficial in attracting butterflies and bees to pollinate your veggies.

Let's talk about composting.....

Composting is a science that when done properly, can provide your garden with nutrients from your kitchen scraps.  We compost so many things in our garden compost container.  Ours is one we purchased from the city years ago.  It is black and has air holes for circulation and a door on the bottom in order to remove the compost.  It is best installed in a sunny spot which is easy to access.  This winter, Max had to snowblow a path to our composter so we could reach it!!!  Despite the cold weather, the composter actually is quite warm in the middle.  The breakdown of organics produces heat as a by product.  This heat helps to break down the organics.  If you don't have a composter, you can build your own using chicken wire.  Loosen the earth for about 8 inches below the surface to allow you to turn some of your scraps into the ground to get the process going.  The worms will love helping you.

What goes in?

What does not?

Companion Planting

To improve and encourage plants to grow, companion planting is the way to go.  This takes careful planning in advance.  Know what your plants need and then provide the right space to grow these plants together.  My father-in-law loves Basil and Tomato sandwiches and no wonder, these two plants do well together.  Know what to plant and how to plant them together!!  Heeman's, a grower east of London has some great tips and charts:



Tomato film

I found this handy 3' by 25' tomatoe film to help grow my tomatoes while protecting them from the late summer blight that yellows the leaves and reduces production just as you are heading into the pickling season!!  This sheet is perforated to allow water to pass but prevents the earth from splashing up in heavy rainfalls.  You can cut X's into the sheet to allow the sheet to be placed over the plant and pulled down to the soil surface.  Planting the tomatoes sideways allows the tiny roots to form along the stem, making the plant healthier and stronger.

This sheet is 3' wide and the 6" around the perimeter of this sheet will be used to plant the marigolds.  I cannot emphasize enough the importance of growing these flowers or nasturtiums to reduce the amount of pests in your veggie garden.  You can stake the sheet down with pegs to prevent it from blowing around or by stapling it to the raised box edge.  If you need to overlap the sheet, do so using an overlap of 4-5". 

Planting Beneficial Marigolds

Photo courtesy of A.E McKenzie Co. 

The marigolds (Cracker Jack) should be spaced 12" apart.  This old variety will grow to 3' tall.  It is also great to shade roots of plants where soil is exposed and will provide lovely colours while doing so.  Dead head the flowers to promote more flower heads. At the end of the season, I will allow the last of the dead heads to mature the seeds, which I will store in the garage in a moisture proof packet once the seeds are dried.  You can also place the seeds in your garden to get an early start in the spring. Either way, you will not need to purchase any more packets. 

Making Garden Labels
All seed companies now have their seed packet photos available online.  I simply use a word program or Martha Stewart Craft Studio on my iPad to create labels using picture and text. I then use a clear sticky polymer sheet to cover both sides of the label. Cut out leaving a 1/8" boarder around the label in order to keep moisture from reaching the paper inside.  As you can see, I created many labels on one sheet to save paper.....how Eco friendly is that?

Photo courtesy of Martha Stewart Craft Studio and internet photos from A.E McKenzie Co.

New Garden Design
With all the many design elements we came up with, we knew the first design was more designer than friendly.  Max and I decided to change the design to maximize growing space and to increase curb appeal. There are many considerations for growing Urban gardens and these were the main design elements:
1.  Make it so that you maximize growing space.
2.  Above ground planters to increase growing time and allow for cold frame installation.
3.  Curb appeal.....while it is your property, others still have to live across the street and next door.
4.  Consider the heat/amount of daylight.  Is it morning or afternoon sun?  
5.  Do some plants need shade?
6.  Companion planting
7.  Pest control
8.  Watering?
9. Unwanted neighbor intrusion - make sure the garden is not easily accessible to the street.  Place a barrier garden or unique fence and plantings to be enjoyed by those walking by.  We do not have a sidewalk but many people walk their dogs on the edge....some leave gifts!!!
10. Be willing to network with curious and friendly neighbors.  We will have a sign with our blog link available so that our shyer neighbors or visitors to our neighborhood can see what we are doing.

Our new design will incorporate these elements......so here it is!!!

All the rectangle beds are 4'x8' except for the two facing the front of the house. These two will be 4'x7'.  It is much easier to construct and section for plantings. With a 4' span and access from all sides, this will reduce the strain of stretching across.  The street side has the bowed shape allowing us to errect a taller climbing fence that blocks the view from the street and a showy garden of bedding plants and flowering bushes relocated from the back yard.  We will be taking a trip out to Elmira to a nursery to obtain any other fruit and berry bushes. 

We are also considering making a wattle fence to decorate and separate our front garden from the street.  It is a weaved fence using green wood that is still flexible enough to weave. It can be made into panels that can be removed before the winter to prevent damage from snow plows. It is a great way to recycle tree trimmings. Now we just have to find a good source of materials.  There are laws about moving wood from one location to another now that the forest city has been hit by the Ash Borer.

Hints and Tips

Repotting seedlings - we planted two seeds into each pot.  Once the first leaves are out and the plant is sporting a strong stalk, it is time to repot them into their own space.  I do this before the roots intertwine making it impossible to separate.  While most seed packets tell you to plant 2 or 3 seeds in each cell and then thin out, I will actually repot both seedlings into the newspaper pots. Use a proper potting soil or mix a potting soil with parts of compost and topsoil. I prefer potting soil because of the peat mixed in to hold the moisture.  Tomato plants and their seedings are water hogs and I find the potting soil helps with this. Once the seedlings have been repotted, I usually keep them out of the greenhouse to make way for more seeding as the room is limited.  They can then continue to grow bigger and then be planted directly into the ground without being shocked.  Plants will need to be hardier off before planting. We will talk about this next week. 

The marigolds will not be repotted because I have only planted one seed per cell (any seeds that did not start will have another seed placed in the cell).  I want to get these flower seedlings to become pot bound - a process by which the roots fill and crowd the cell or pot.  This will force the plant to produce flowers.  I want these to be flowering before I place them into the vegetable beds.  Once they flower, they will grow and flower non-stop (dead-heading encourages this by nipping off the dead flowers before they produce mature seeds). Flowers that are properly kept will grow quite large and fill out between each other. 

Seed sharing
This is a great way to introduce new produce into your garden and for someone to benefit from your seed cache.  Too many seedlings in your greenhouse?  Great way to meet your neighbors by either selling them at the end of your driveway or gifting them. 

Plan ahead for your produce for storage 
Knowing your luck, you will have a gazillion tomatoes and not know what to do with them all now that your neighbors and office mates have reaped the benefit.  You should have a game plan as to what you will be doing with your tomatoes.  Preserving your harvest will be an ongoing process as your harvest begins to mature.  I have a large chest freezer, which has been emptied and defrosted.  It is unplugged for now just waiting for the season to begin.  As the tomatoes ripen on the vine, what I cannot use will be placed on trays and put into the freezer until I have enough of them to make tomato sause or salsa.  Veggies, like green peppers can also be frozen fresh without cooking and can be used for salsa and sauce. 

If you will be canning your produce, you will need to purchase jars.  I am always looking for mason jars and will accept any jars gifted to me.  Glass tomato sauce jars from the grocery store are often mason jars disguised under a label.  I always buy tons of lids and seals when they are on sale for just this purpose.  I do not re-use seals.  For the money you save, it is not worth losing an entire batch of salsa or sauce when the seals give way a few weeks later.  I can't tell you how many I lost in the first season..... sigh!!  Garage sales are usually the perfect place for finding jars.  

I am growing pickling cucumbers and dill this year.  While dill is usually cheap in the market, it is easily grown in amongst your flower beds.  I love the aroma of fresh dill!!  This can also be dried upside down in a warm place and put into mason jars for storage in a dark pantry.  

The apple sauce I make from my quad apple tree is frozen after it is made, so jars are not required.  

I am growing bush beans, wax beans and green beans this year.... to get a good steady supply, you will need to plant seeds for new plants about every 2 weeks.  Once the plant slows in production, simply cut it down to about 3 inches above the ground.  Do it right and the plant may well give you another production.  Keep a diary on what works best and try to replicate what you do right for next year.  Beans can be frozen but only after blanching them (quick steam bath)... they can also be pickled... yum!!!

Water melon and cantaloupe can be 'balled' (a metal tool that scoops melon into ball shapes) and frozen for a sweet mid-winter treat. Simply place the freshly 'balled' or cut melon pieces on a cookie tray lined with parchment paper.  Freeze the fruit balls and then place in a freezer bag in portions that can be used for a snack or desert for your family.  I have a vaccume sealer but you can also just insert a straw and suck out the air in a resealable ziplock bag.  This prevents freezer burn.

Carrots, potatoes and squash can be stored in a cool place for many months in the dark.  My mother used to use a bushel container filled with sand and would push the carrots into the sand to keep them fresh.  My garage is always around 5-10 degrees C in the winter and is a great cold storage for my potted plants as well as for produce kept in paper leaf bags filled with newspaper or shavings.  Cooked squash can be frozen for future use.

So you see, once you know how you can store your harvest, you can have a plan in place for collecting jars, creating cold-storage space, and purchasing a chest freezer if you do not have one.  You may also consider purchasing a storage unit for your jarred goods.

We will begin the process of planning out the garden plots to maximize the sun exposure, companion planting and vertical growing.......

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