Friday, May 23, 2014

Visitors to the Garden

May 22nd 2014
The city of London started a pilot program called 'Growing Naturally' this year.  A program to help teach homeowners how to be more ecologically aware in their own properties.  It was a pleasure meeting Megan after months of emails back and forth which started with a question about bylaws regarding urban gardens.  She was so thrilled to see all the things we were doing to support our urban garden using the rain barrels.  She really liked the wattle fence and the fact that we took a lot of effort to create an esthetically pleasing raised bed gardens.  I like how interested she was and understood how much effort and work it took to create.  We headed to the backyard and over to the original garden plot.  Looking in, we discovered a little chipmunk horribly tangled into the deer fence i had left hanging over the fence and draped over the remaining squash plants.  I excused myself to retrieve a pair of scissors and leather gloves.  I gently held the chipmunk still while Megan helped to pull the fence away as I gently cut the links binding its neck until I could free it.  About a dozen snips later, the chipmunk scattered off through the small spaces of the wire fence.  So that's how they have been getting in to that garden over the years.... chicken wire would have been better!!  

Megan knows gardens and we chatted some more about the different variety of trees and flowering plants.  She knows the Green Industry's teacher I substitute for in the high school a few blocks away and is pleased that the students will be coming for a visit tomorrow to prune my trees in the backyard. Great opportunity for them to learn techniques of pruning through experience as opposed to just reading about it.  I am still learning the nuances of pruning effectively.

What a great visit!!  I look forward to Megan coming back throughout the growing season to document the progress of our gardens.  She wants to use our garden as an example of urban gardens in our beautiful city.  We are standing in the middle of the road and she notes the beautiful trees lining the street.  They are beautiful in the deep purple pink leaves and flowers.  Megan passes me an envelope filled with great information and a print out of our water usage over the past year.  We are keeping within the average home owner.

May 23rd 2014

Today is overcast and cold!!  The winds have picked up and the Tech design class heads out in the last  half of the class to fly their hand made kite.  With winds around 40 Km/hr, it only takes a few tries to get airborn above the track at the back of the high school and a hundred meters from the water collection pool where we planted some indigenous grasses and irisis.  These young men have built an amazing kite that soars 60' up in the air and later had to be coaxed down with a resounding crack of a support stick that snaps upon impact. AWESOME job!!!!  We head into the school shivering from the cool drizzle.

The Green Industry's class meets up in the classroom and we head off to my house for a hand's on pruning exercise in my backyard.  The students rounded the corner of the house after drifting through the front urban garden and naming flowers and were pleasantly surprised by a lovely backyard.  It was fun seeing them go from tree to tree to see what they were.  I had developed 4 cards showcasing the bush to be trimmed and a 'how to' instruction.  With everyone wearing safety glasses and pruners, they got into groups of 3 and headed to their assigned task.  Time, of course, went far too fast and we had to walk quickly back to class!!  

May 24th - replacing the pavers
Today, Max begins the removal of the front walk paving stones and the partial removal of the basketball post concrete.  We mean partial removal because somehow this concrete is incredibly dense and difficult to remove.  A number of neighbors popped in to give a hand and they managed to remove 4" off the top.  Just enough to lay the concrete with a good margin of strength.  Right now the front walk looks like the face of the moon with craters and mounds.

This will be completed this week but in the meantime, we have put up a series of white flags to cordon off the work site.

How does the garden look?
The tomatoes are growing well.... except for the one in the right hand corner.  There appear to be a lot of ants in the garden.  I have sprinkled chili peppers and ground chilli on the plastic mulch.  I still have the top of this bed covered in deer fencing to keep the critters out.  Today I planted another tomato plant in the empty spot and planted some more in the back yard garden in tomato cages.  These were from the student's greenhouse seedling.

The Kale is growing well and soon, I will have to thin them out.

The Gladiolas are coming up but unfortunately, the squirrels have dug up some of the other bulbs that have not yet sprouted.  They are busy in the neighborhood as well as the bunnies who have helped themselves to the neighbor's lettuce.  The deer fence and skewer sticks seem to be working for the vegetable garden.  I have noticed the bees are coming to the garden but cannot see the deer fence to stop bumping into it.    

The onions and peppers are growing and establishing themselves.  I still have the top of this bed covered in deer fence to keep the squirrels out.

A pretty sunflower that has bloomed today!!  This was seeded by the class.

Our lovely bistro set gifted to us from a neighbor.  It looks so lovely and fits in beautifully with our garden design.  It is a nice place to sit to look at the garden.  You can just see the white rain barrell just around the side of the house.

How do we water our garden from the water barrels?
I purchased a pony pump - an external pump you can hook up to the barrel spout with a hose and run your watering hose to the output port.  This gives us enough water pressure to water our garden and run a sprinkler.  It is a low current draw costing just pennies to water the garden with good rain water.  Today I topped up the fish pond using the second rain barrel. All 220 litres of water were used to top up 5 inches in our fish pond.  I will post a You Tube video next week on how this mighty little pump works.

Next week in the Garden.....
We will be finishing the front walkway and placing decorative pots on the curves.  We will look at spraying our apple tree and removing the suckers on the interior branches now that the blooms are almost gone.  The pear tree has produced a number of blooms which when they begin to produce pears, only one will be allowed to produce until the tree becomes established for next year.  We are training the branches horozontally to produce a stronger and more productive tree.  

We will also look at more photos of the garden as the plants begin to take shape and flower.  The beans are slow to sprout so I have planted another row of beans along the uprights at the front of the bed.  The peas are growing well and fast now that the leaves have come up.

Check out 'Growing Naturally'.  The tips and information on conservation and growing indigenous SW Ontario plants, trees and bushes is invaluable.  Thank you Megan for the package. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Greenhouse and a Tree Farm visit

Heeman Greenhouses 
This gem is located in the east end of London and is by far one of the largest greenhouse operations I have ever seen.  I decided to like them on FB a few weeks ago and discovered that they offered courses.  For $5 I could go and get a class about basic gardening.  You might think, hey, don't you already know a lot about gardening?  You can never know enough about gardening!!!  I was certainly not disappointed when the topic of pruning came up.  I have been so accustomed to pruning my own shrubs, trees and plants that I hadn't really thought of specific techniques only experience with years of gardening.  Florence also spoke about the importance of using specific potting soil and of course plant food to keep those blooms coming.  I later chose to purchase granular fertilizer to mix with the potting soil before putting the plants in.  I will emphasize as she did - only use POTTING mix for planters.  For my vegetable gardens I have a tri mix - topsoil, sand and compost.  If you find that the earth dries too quickly, mix in some peat moss.  I also purchased tomatoe granular fertilizer, which I just put under the plastic mulch to feed the plants slowly.... caution:  too much fertilizer or too close to new roots can damage the plant.  A little goes a long way and keep it a few inches from the base of the plant.  

This greenhouse seemed endless with row upon row of plants.  I chose herbs, geraniums (my all time favorite annual which I overwinter in my garage and will plant the older ones in and around my garden), creeping petunias and wave petunias along with a number of other flowering plants.  It is so important when growing a veggie garden to also take into account the kinds of insects you want to draw into the garden and others you want to keep out of your garden.  I also picked up some pepper varieties and found some Canadian produced seed potatoes to put into our potato boxes.... that's right, bred to become seeds???  It helps to go to an established greenhouse for many varieties of plants you may not find at your local grocery parking lot.... although my favorite one is in the parking lot at our local Loblaw supermarket.

For as far as the eye could see.... there were plants hanging everywhere!!  Thousands of bedding plants.... this greenhouse actually pulled their impatiens out of the greenhouse due to a mildew that kills the plant and consequently infects the beds they are planted in.  They had a number of alternative relatives that are not bothered by this wind borne problem.

Overhead were trees!!!!  Held in place by clips and suspended into the ceiling of the Greenhouse.  Wow, this place is breathtaking!!!  Oh, about that $5... they offered me a $5 coupon off the purchases I knew I would be hauling out of there.  The prices were great and the staff - amazing!!!  I will be back.

The Covered Urban Garden
I contemplated how this was going to look and debated on how I should go about putting this together the best way I could without creating an eyesore.  The seeds I planted on the 27th of April had not yet popped through the ground.  I planted a few seedling marigolds to see if they would take to their new environment.  Wind whipped and cold... the marigolds did not survive.  These guys are a hardy plant so now I had to decide to put up the reemay cloth and see what response I would get after it was installed.  I purchased 5 dollar store green posts (see pic below) and sunk one in each corner and one in the middle of each raised bed.  With the tomatoes, I installed the black mesh deer fencing by looping the mesh through the top and pulling it tight to the next post until all 4 posts had fencing.  I then stapled the fence to the box using staples from a heavy duty staple gun.  I then installed the reemay cloth and pinned down using clothes pins.  

I did trim off the excess cloth which can be used to cover the pots after placing them next to a wall and out of the wind.  This front yard has no wind break to stop the cold winds from blowing constantly across the beds.  I have pegged each corner at least twice and to prevent the covers from being ripped off and slung into someone's tree... I have also weighted down each cloth with at least one paving stone.

The front view shows the tomato cages we purchased to tie up the beans and peas in order to keep them off the ground and make them easier to pick.... also, it allows us to maximize the box by planting other veggies in there such as carrots and cucumbers.  Always remember to note which plants are companions and which ones are not.

Thursday May 8th
This was indeed a very busy day that got started when my best friend came out to help with the garden.  There was a lot of work to be done and we got down to business!!  Today is incredibly warm and later I would find a nice farmer's burn on both arms.... I did wear a big rimmed hat but should have considered a cotton long sleeve.  Deer netting was put up to surround the beds.  The stakes that were put in were ideal for hooking the deer netting into them and then pulling them tight to the wood and stapled.  To create a more rigid fence, we simply weaved green garden cording along the top and pulled tight between the stakes.  This was back breaking work for sure and we took a number of breaks along the way.  Once the fencing was placed, it was time to plant the marigolds around the beds.  They are almost ready to bloom and so will provide the garden with colour while keeping at bay some of the less desireable garden visitors such as the hundreds of rabbits and squirrels running rampant in the neighborhood.  I also snuck in a couple of veggies that I had grown into their proper beds such as the Kale and Lettuce.  The weather indicates some really good weather over the next week.  When temperatures drop again, as they usually do in the spring, we will put the cloths back over the beds to keep them protected from the wind and the temperatures.  This cloth will also be used in the extreme heat of the summer when the plants will need some shade from the scorching weather.

Max is in the process of installing two identical trellises that will face each other and to which we will be planting our squash plants and pumpkins.  He will install a construction quality mesh to join the two on the top to allow the plants to climb across and create some interest to the garden.  We will also be planting the vertical herb garden over the next few weeks.  After all, there are only so many hours in a day.

The warm winds and high 20 Celsius temperatures have brought out the mating toads!!!  Their songs welcome the warm glow of the evening and we find ourselves pumping off the water from the cover of the pool.  The toads in previous years have laid their eggs in the pool thinking it is a pond....which is just mere feet away and just off the lower backyard deck.  The fish will feast well this year now that the only water source is in their environment.  We love watching the tadpoles grow.  There are plans to grow strawberries hydroponically above the fish pond and have the water diverted to the strawberries after the filter and back into the pond.  We have a UV/filter unit to keep algie and bacteria under control and it works amazingly well.  It was one of those word-of-mouth finds and it has been a real time saver.

Many neighbors have dropped by to chat over the past few weeks and ask about the garden.  Yes, it is unconventional.  Thank you, we really try hard to make it look as nice as possible.  Yes, I should have shares in the local nursuries.  Yes, this is to be used as a teaching tool as well as feed our family.  Yes, I  have been canning for years and yes, the tomatoes are already spoken for.  Yes, I weaved the fence and yes those are flowers and soon to be growing bulbs.  Yes, we do have a lot of wildlife in the neighborhood.  No, I don't think anyone will try to damage the garden or take what is not theirs.... but then, as I told a student last week when she asked the same question.... that is the risk we are willing to take but generally speaking - most neighbors have been watching the progress and have seen the amount of effort taken to create the garden in the first place.  We have an incredible amount of support from our friends and neighbors and most understand that my family's health depends on a productive and healthy garden.

The clematis trellis is looking amazing!!  It is growing well after splitting it from the main plant and ensuring the root base was shaded by the wattle weave around the base of the trellis.  Florence from Heeman's did mention that there are three different clematis genus which require very special attention when it comes to pruning these beautiful climbers.  Make sure you know which one you have or you will be learning through experimentation.  There are three classifications A, B and C or 1,2 and 3.

Friday May 9th
Today my friend Mary and I are doing a road trip!!!!  We will meet at Heeman's nurseries and greenhouses and then travel to meet Steve, the Tree Wrangler in Elmira, Ontario.  He heads up a tree farm and nursery and they have the dwarf fruit trees I am interested in and the berries we want to grow on our deck for fresh desserts and freezing.  It will be a full day with my friend and we are both looking forward to hitting the open road.  I will need to also pick up some organic apple tree spray - Max wants to eat the apples from our quad apple tree - this tree has 4 different apples that grow on it.  We will have to come up with a creative way to keep the squirrels out of it as they are notorious for taking sample bites out of as many apples as they can... so perhaps the remaining deer fencing will come in handy after all!!!

Mary and I arrived at 3 pm at Wiffletree Farm and nursery and were met by a young man who took care of us since Steve was unable to arrive in time from a road trip.  I was impressed with his knowledge and how he answered all of our questions.  I purchased an Asian Pear tree which he picked out of a walk in freezer.  The tree had exposed roots clean of earth and because it was asleep, it did not matter.  The young man offered to top the tree and handed over some tree training elastics after explaining to me how to use them and why they should be used.  I had never come across this way of training and with some practice and a few broken elastics.... and one snapped branch... I got the hang of it.  I have been advised to remove the blooms when they come for the exception of one... just to see what the fruit is like.  This way, the energy is diverted to growing and strengthening the tree in order to help it to support a harvest the following year.  This tree is 3 years old and I had to dig a hole that was 2 1/2 feet in order to bury it to the earth line.  We also picked up two raspberry canes... one that will produce a black raspberry with the advantage of not spreading out of control and of course a red raspberry cane.
Raspberry Canes

While I was on our road trip, Max and Mitchel created a new focal area in our front garden.  It really looks amazing.

Saturday May 10th
Picking up the water barrels from the local Optimist Club.  They get support from the community while passing on some significant savings on to us.  A barrel with a downspout adapter will cost us $65 and a second barrel to tie into the first one will cost us an additional $55.  Basically I am getting two for the price of one.  We will install these on the side of the house that is completely shaded on stands so that we can use gravity to feed the veggie gardens.  Eventually I hope to install a drip system on a timer connected to the rain barrels.  I am working on motion lighting and an old watering trick to disuade unwanted nightly visitors.  

These rainbarrels are large and came with a downspout adapter.  I was able to purchase them from a local fundraiser (South-West Optimist Club).  Later in the afternoon, I built a stone pad for each barrel on the side of the house with the interlocking blocks from our front walk which will be replaced with poured cement in the coming weeks.

Max installed two identical upright trellises in the boxes closest to the front of the house.  To make it stronger, he used metal tie down strapping and screwed them into the inside of the boxes.  The gap from the lower bar of the trellis was filled with a block of wood the exact dimensions of the gap.  This allows the trellises to support the weight of the growing squash vines.  Max will, over the next few weeks shape a construction grade mesh to fit the top of each trellis to connect each other to afford it more strength.

Sunday May 11th
Mother's Day!  I was served with a breakfast in bed and then an hour later.... the entire family started to clean up and prepare for our parents to arrive.  Many hands made light work and of course a lot of great conversation while we worked.  Our children love the garden for so many reasons and we love working together and spending time with each other.  

My Garden Flower beds and pots this week....
Helleborus - this beautiful early spring perennial grows exceptionally well just beneath our Japanese red maple.  It's flowers are long lasting and eventually as they age, will turn green and in late summer produce seed pods.  The older leaves are broad and look semi-tropical.  This has to be one of my all-time favourites!!!

Peony - This beauty grows fantastically fast in the warm sunshine.  It's rose-like fragrance is heavenly and well anticipated in June/July each year.

What to plant in pots??
Pots will always need to be blooming for the duration of the summer so find flowers to fill the pot that will such as geraniums, an ivy or other 'spillers' like wave petunias that flow out of the pot and a grass or other plant that gives height and interest.  Use a good potting soil and add some slow release fertilizer specific to flowering plants and add a teaspoon more in July.

How the garden is doing and what is planted together to encourage maximum growth.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Protecting your garden

This growing season is getting off to a slow start and with that slow start, there are blustery cold winds and rapidly changing temperatures.  I found a surprise at our local DollarRama.  I found a frost cover that looks remarkably like the TM Reemay cloth.  These sheets of cloth work amazingly well at keeping the plants covered but still allowing the sun and rain to filter through.  Warmer soil means better seed propagation and extended growing seasons. One cloth covered my 16' flower bed in front of the raised beds.

I purchased enough packages to cover each of the beds (our beds are 4' x 8') If the weather continues to be cool, I might have to cover each of the beds until the seedlings and weather are compatible!!  I am also thinking of soaking them in Tea so they do not look like snowbanks after the long winter we had or I might draw the ire of the neighborhood!!  The reason why they are white is so they are not roasted with a darker color.  They can be used in the heat of the summer when plants are baking in the really hot summer sun.

Grocery Store finds and seed cups???

I purchased inexpensive dollar store plastic dishes to house my recycled finds - yes, those are the used keurig cups from my coffee maker.  I simply removed the foil, allowed the coffee grounds to dry before tapping it into my compost container.  These cups have a paper filter with a convenient drain hole already punctured into the bottom when it is used.  I have Kale growing in these cups from cuttings.  They will be put into the garden in a few weeks once they have established roots.  Simply pull the edge of the paper filter and remove it from the cup or lift the plant out gently if the roots are not attached to the filter.  Its great to start a garden with grocery store finds especially when the plant begins life at a more mature stage.

Taking advantage of the sunshine
The front of my house in the early morning is bathed in sunshine until mid afternoon so it is time to take advantage of the sun away from the wind.  The small greenhouse houses the seeds that are just sprouting.  The flats fit nicely on the steps but would look much nicer in the garden!!  The front door is really starting to look welcoming.  

The glass in the door and the sidelight will be replaced to give it a more modern look.  

The bricks from the walkway were removed to accomodate the clematis that I split from the one growing on the other side of the garage.  The walkway will be rebuilt with a more modern update and to frame the new flower bed a few feet away. The clematis did well in the transplant and is sprouting some leaves.

It is a lot of work and a labour of love to pull all the over-wintered pots of Geraniums and bulbs out of the garage each morning, only to return them at the end of the day.  It is still too cool to leave them out overnight.  Seeding and watching everything grow is all worth the effort and really.... I love being in the garden.  Today I was substitute teaching in our local high school where the students were so excited about transplanting the seedlings and just being involved in the greenhouse.  Teaching our kids about gardening and sustainable living is actually interesting to them.  Surrounded by all these young people who were involved, engaged and solving an infestation of the arugula like pros!!  One young man spoke to me of a plant he has taken great pride to grow at home in his room.  He did not realize how much he would ultimately enjoy taking the course and now he is hooked. 
My own children have become involved and interested in the urban garden and the seedlings.  My son is keen to get involved in any project that we are involved in and has become adept at using the power tools to create the above ground boxes.  He is quick to help take the plants in and out of the garage with me and is now getting up earlier on the weekends when he knows that he is needed for another project.  Our daughter loves the greenery and in the summer, she will begin her home gardening business in the neighborhood.

This week....
On Tuesday, I am heading out to Heeman's for a quick class in planting.  I am always keen to learn techniques from others.

I am heading to Whiffletree Farm on Friday with my friend Mary.  We are looking forward to meeting Steve.  He is the quintessential Tree Hustler.  You can find him on FB