Monday, June 23, 2014

Composting your garden waste

Composting your garden waste
We noticed over the past few weeks that there was an abundance of fruit flies in the compost.  You want to feed your garden and not encourage pests to thrive in your garden unless they are beneficial.  We pulled up our compost container, sifted through what was inorganic (yes, there were plant tags, bottle caps and an assortment of plastic) and what was a good organic to compost.  We dug down about 1 foot using the garden claw/shovel and then sat the composter on top of this.  We then anchored the composter down using the holes provided in the base with long plastic nails and used some of the composted earth around the edge to prevent animals from getting in.  We only want to encourage worms to break down the materials. We then put the composted soil back into the composter and mixed it with new compost.

Compost is beneficial to the gardens by providing it with minerals that have broken down and become earth.  We use this to top up our gardens throughout the summer.  Materials that can be used in the compost are covered in one of our earlier posts.  Remove the compost from the bottom access panel. Compost is ready when it is a rich black colour without the smell.  

Composter should be located in a sunny spot and one that is easily accessible to your garden and to the house.  Do not locate too close to the house because it will smell while breaking down organic materials and might attract vermin.  ( do not put any meat or dairy products in the compost).  You should mix your compost regularly.  We have a garden claw that works great!!

Do not compost any vegetable matter that has a living organism eating the leaves - these can be layed out on a hot surface such as the driveway and put into the garbage.  This will prevent a spread that will destroy your garden veggies.  This leaf miner shown on the Swiss Chard leaf is one example.  Remove any leaves with this immediately.  Be diligent and this physical form of pest control will pay off.  If left, these pests will return to the earth and be ever present for many years to come.

What's in season to eat??
This week, the spinach is coming to an end with the plants going to flower/seed.  I have clipped off these flowers throughout the preceding weeks but have decided that since I have lots of lettuce, Swiss Chard and Kale sprouting that I would let the spinach and Arugula go to seed for the fall planting.  In most cases, these seeds will be sprouting in the early spring when the frost is out of the ground.  No worries, I have already planted seeds that will produce more bounty in the fall.  If properly cold-framed, these cold loving plants will grow all winter in a protected garden.

I am just thinning these out and using the smaller beets for their leaves and the bulb to juice with.  I really adds a nice sweet flavour to my moring juice.  Beets are ready to harvest from now until mid-summer.  I have planted more beets to harvest in August when I begin to can for the winter.

This lovely Rhubarb plant is growing well and in time for the late June strawberries.  You will always find these ready to pick within the strawberry growing season.  Do not eat the leaves - these are poisonous!!!!!!  You can use the leaf juice as an additive to a soapy water pesticide.

What's coming soon.....
These are growing fast and the next two plantings will catch up soon.  I had planted seeds for two additional crops.  When the first one comes off, then it will be time to harvest the next one.  

I have clipped all the sucker stalks off of the tomato plants.  These are all the leaf branches that form from the base of the plant and all along the stem.  They draw water and nutrients away from the fruit, so you want to remove these with a sharp pair of scissors.  I have found that all the down facing branches can be removed a few centimeters from the stalk.  You will see a second stalk form that grows upwards - these produce the flowers that become the fruit.  Be diligent and remove as many suckers from the plant.  Leave the top leaves on which will draw the water and minerals to the top of the plant and these are closest to the life giving sun!!!

These lovely productive plants are really putting out the flowers now and small peppers have begun to form.  These plants will need to be watered at least 2 times a week and thoroughly as they need the water to produce big peppers.  The tomato ladders have been put into this bed to provide support for the plants and to keep them from swaying in the winds that often course across the garden.  Some suggestions are to plant a wind break to stop them from swaying.  These plants show maturity and a readiness to produce flowers when the branch stalks turn a dark black colour at the joints. 

This is coming along well and has turned a beautiful dark green.  No matter that it starts out as a seed or is a cutting from the grocery store, this plant grows well amongst the carrots.

What's coming later in the season?
Brussel Sprouts
These slow growers are putting out the buds for the sprouts and I am trimming the leaves beneath them as they begin to form.  Same idea as the tomatoes.  You want the energy to be put into the sprouts and not into the leaves other than the upper ones.  Once the plant gets to the ideal height... yes, they can get really really tall, you will remove the tip of the stalk.  This will keep the plant at the height you want.

I found a pupae still in its silk sack hanging under the cabbage leaves.  I removed this and destroyed it to prevent the insect from devouring the cabbage as it grows.  Physical removal works really well and should be done when these voracious eaters are found.  A garden requires constant care throughout the growing season to ensure a good crop. You can see the leaves beginning to fold in to create the head of the cabbage.

Carrots are still really small.  They tend to grow their leaves super tall and then the root beneathe grows.  These are slooooow growers like the Celery beside it.  You can see just a little frill of carrot tops beside the celery.

Squash and Cucumber vines
These are growing well and are now beginning to produce flowers.  We are training them up the trellises in the front urban garden.  I have melons like cantelope growing in the front flower bed for interest and of course, the lovely blooms.  The deer fencing will come in handy to protect these while they grow in the garden.....although, I never had any problems with them growing throughout the perennials in the back garden.  These will be ready in the late summer to late fall.

Attracting beneficial insects 
A garden needs bees, butterflies, lady bugs and birds to visit your garden.  The more attractive your garden to them, the better your crops will be pollinated and cared for.  Early this spring, just when the dandylions were sprouting, the neighbors were waging an all out war to rid their lawns of these pesky 'flowers'.  BEES love these 'flowers' and once they have come to visit your early blooms, they will be back later to visit your crop blooms.  The bees this year are HUGE and hungry!!  grow flowers like the marigolds in your veggie beds and other annuals to provide your perennial gardens with blooms all season long.

I love ladybugs when I see them in my garden and this year, there are plenty of the little red/black polka dotted wonders.  These are voracious eaters and are always on the lookout for aphids.  I did notice this year that their shells look a little elongated and not the typical round shape.... I wonder why....  from what I have researched, these are in fact elongated ladybugs... of which I will attempt to get a pic of.  In the meantime, remember, ladybugs start out as nymphs... so here is a pic of one so you do not confuse it as a pest.

Butterflies love cone flowers and many other blooms in the garden.  There are a number of great sites you can visit to learn more.

Birds of all kinds love to eat the seeds from the sunflower - especially the finches.  They also love the cone flower (echinacea) and any other flower, such as the thistle, that provide seeds.  I leave these in the garden all winter long to help our feathered friends and then remove them in the spring before the plants begin to grow again.  Grasses as well look amazing in the winter, provide cover and seeds for our feathered friends.  Just remember, birds also love berries and if you want to keep them to yourself, you will have to net the plants.  Drape the netting so that it is far enough above the fruit to prevent winged invaders and tight enough so as not to entangle them.  

Yesterday, we had a large winged visitor attempt to visit our fish pond in the back yard.  The Heron is an exceptionally big fish predator who can spot the flash of gold from way above in the skies.  We live in an area often frequented by these predator birds and they can easily remove all your fish in a flash.  I refurbished a wooden statue of a King Fisher and used an outdoor sealant on the wood to preserve it. The 'bird' sits beside the pond in clear view of other predatory birds.  This usually works to disuade invaders as both species of birds are territorial and lone fishers.  It also helps to provide plenty of hiding places for the fish such as these pond lilies and sentinel plants.  There are also dwarf bullrushes and iris along one bank of this small backyard pond.  

Pests in the garden
Most notable of these are the squirrels and rabbits!!!!!  We did put up the deer fencing all around the garden but what we neglected to do initially is secure the netting to the ground and so these critters were going under the fence.  Tent pegs cured this problem.  I also put bunched up deer fencing at the one entrance I use to enter the enclosed garden.... the animals seem to know that this is just plain dangerous and getting caught in the netting is not an option.  The rabbits do not fear us in the least.  I have let the clover grow next to the garden where they graze happily while leaving my garden alone.  Given an easier food source helps!!!!

As promised, here is a photo of our backyard taken from the deck....

We are always looking for ways to conserve and save energy.  We use a rainbarrel, composter,clothesline and a solar heater (pool).  

We are currently looking into 'Pure Energy' which is a government sponsored solar panel project for our home.  We just recently submitted photos of our interior roof and electrical service.  We will keep you updated on this.....

Try to reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible.  Save your nursery pots and either re-use them or bring them back to the nursery you purchased your plants from or put them into your curbside recycle bins.  Use mulch in the garden.... can't afford a large delivery?  Use grass clippings instead of mulch.

We use plantings and umbrellas (back deck) to reduce the sun shining on the house bricks by using ivies that do not damage the mortar or bricks (Endelman Ivy).  This Virginia creeper can grow at an astonishing 30 feet per year once established.  This creeper is 4 years old.  I have one on three sides of the house... the varigated is on the front wall and in the fall the lime green leaves will show as bright pink and the darker green show as red.  I keep the ivy off the siding and just train it along the brick.  If it gets to tall, we simply clip it off using a telescopic pruner.

Next week...... we begin planning the canning event hosted at my house.  There are a few of my friends who are interested in canning their veggies and making pickles.  A few weeks ago, I made Jam with the strawberries I purchased at Heeman's Greenhouses and Strawberry Farm (East end of London, Ontario).  Here is the recipe I used:

Strawberry Jam
4 cups of crushed strawberries
7 cups of sugar (I used organic unprocessed cane sugar from Costco)
1 package of Certo (used the liquid pectin)
1/4 teaspoon of butter (this is used when the rolling hot jam creates that pink foam - butter reduces it)

Directions are directly from the Kraft site:

BRING boiling-water canner, half-full with water, to simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot, soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain well before filling.

STEM and crush strawberries thoroughly, one layer at a time. Measure exactly 4 cups crushed strawberries into 6- or 8-quart saucepot.

ADD sugar; stir. Add butter to reduce foaming. Bring to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn't stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in pectin. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.

LADLE immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with 2-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add boiling water, if necessary.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil. Process 10 minutes. Remove jars and place upright on towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middle of lid with finger. (If lid springs back, lid is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)

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