{ Author Archive - Tara Nolan }

Does this spider look dangerous?

spiderTo me it does. To me this is what nightmares are made of. I know, I seriously need to cure myself of my arachnophobia, especially if I’m going to continue gardening. This creepy thing has spun a web from a tree to my rain barrel and I have to look at it every time I get water. If he’s not going to send me to the hospital with paralysis should I somehow get close enough to be bitten, I will grant him squatter’s rights. If he’s dangerous he’ll need to pack up his web and move.

Urban activism: Greening Toronto one plant at a time

posterplantpotsHere’s another cool example of guerilla gardening. The creators of these ingenious little plant pots, Toronto residents Eric Cheung and Sean Martindale prefer it be called ‘urban activism.’ Either way, I love how they have set out to add a beautiful, living element to poster-plastered spaces. Read about their project and find out how to download their free templates on the green design blog Inhabitat.

Have you seen any in the city?

Photo courtesy of Michael Chrisman/Torontoist

How do I know when to pick things?

In the spring, when I first started planting my seedlings and sowing seeds, I pictured myself under a deluge fresh produce. I haven’t quite yielded the quantities I would have liked, but it’s still so fun when you can even eat that one fresh tomato. My problem currently is I don’t want to pick things too soon, but I ‘m not sure if a couple of things are ready or not. And I don’t want to waste the precious few specimens that I have!

Here are the veggies I’m unsure about:

onionsMy onions:
This is another tricky one. I have what look like green onions sprouting up, but I remember the tag had a small bulb at the end in the picture. I pulled one out a couple of weeks ago and it just looked like a green onion. I’m not quite sure when to go in and yank out the others.

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hot-pepper
My Hungarian hot peppers:
I’m glad I looked this up on The Cottage Gardener site. My peppers are currently a deep purple, but apparently they will be ripening to red.

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green-pepper


My green peppers:
I have three currently, that are about the size of a Delicious apple. I want to pick them before the squirrels catch on that they’re there, but I’m worried they still might have the potential to grow bigger.

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beets|


My beets: I have four. Some of the beets I’ve purchased at the farmer’s market or at the grocery store have these giant leaves. I’m sure mine won’t grow to be that big, but I’m not sure when to determine if they’re ready yet.
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Sure bets if they would just hurry up!

cucumber1* My tomatoes: Ready any time they decide to ripen!
* My cucumbers: Every time one gets to be the size of a really good dill pickle, the squirrels get it!
* My tomatillos: Still flowering! Maybe I should go out and give them a little shake!
* My eggplant (behind the onion): Still hasn’t flowered.

(p.s. I can’t get WordPress to co-operate, so I had to put those extra characters around the pictures to make them line up!)

Yin and yang bush beans — so pretty, but how do I eat them?

beansOne of my vegetable garden experiments was the Black Calypso Bush Bean from The Cottage Gardener. The seedlings that were not attacked by squirrels yielded a fair amount of seed pods, but I wasn't sure when to pick them. When they first started to develop, I ate them as I would a sugar snap pea and they were delicious, but they were green and did not resemble the black and white seeds I planted. Patiently I waited for them to mature even further and I finally got the beans pictured here. Unfortunately some were left on the vine a little too long. But at this stage, these ones were a little tougher to eat and I didn't know what to do with them.

I went to the Cottage Gardener site (which I should have done in the first place, duh!) and the description recommended using them for baking or soup making. Now I don't quite have enough for a hearty soup, but I may throw them in to one with other beans to see how they taste!

Treat your tomatoes to natural fertilizers

I was reading the summer issue of Reader’s Digest’s new mag, Fresh Home, and I came across an article about kitchen-scrap fertilizers for tomatoes. My tomato plants are doing surprisingly well this year, but they’re still shorter than my basil plant. Here’s what the article suggests:

  • Every week, for every foot of height of your tomato plant, add one tablespoon of Epsom salts to a gallon of water to add magnesium.
  • When you first plant your tomatoes, add fresh banana peels to the hole. They will act as a slow-release fertilizer, providing potassium and trace elements. I’d heard about doing this for your roses… will have to try next year with my tomatoes!
  • Every week or two, add about six crushed eggshells per quart of water and sprinkle on your plants. The calcium will help the growth of leaf tips and blossom ends and will prevent blossom-end rot.
  • When your tomatoes start to turn red, add a spoonful of sugar to your watering can to help make tomatoes sweeter and juicier.
  • Try planting your tomatoes around a compost bin. As nutrients break down in the surrounding soil, the tomatoes will benefit.

I might try the sugar trick… some of my tomatoes are just on the verge of turning. I’m excited because last year I barely had any and I was eating the few I did get in October and November!

Drop me a line below and tell me if you’ve used any of these tricks or others!

A few garden casualties

Sometime between Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon, something ate the base of my giant zucchini plant and it’s now dying a slow death. My guess is the squirrels got hungry, because I found a half-eaten cucumber nearby. I feel so defeated! It was still growing zucchinis for me, too. I’m glad I’m not depending on my garden to feed me!

Other casualties in my gardens include one of my cedars, a clematis and the cilantro I was so proud of at the beginning of the season. I’m not sure why my cilantro decided to call it a day, but my neighbour told me that clematis’ like a plant in front of them so that their roots are shaded, so maybe that’s why it didn’t continue to flourish. And my mulberry shaded my cedar maybe a little too much, so if I plant another, I’ll have to be sure to trim it back and give it more water. Luckily the other cedar still seems fine. Hopefully it will make it through its first winter!

Eating my way through a veggie tasting

I tried to post this Friday, but unfortunately our sites were down...

Today I had the pleasure of getting out of the office with Canadian Gardening magazine editor Erin McLaughlin and heading to St. Catharines for an event put on by Stokes Best and President's Choice (parents of my zucchini plant). The event was held at Stokes` Trial Farm where they scrupulously test all the different varieties that you may–or may not–see in stores in the next couple of years. Our important task was to provide our feedback on some of the vegetables they were testing for market under the Gigantico brand. We mostly ate tomatoes, but we also got to try some peppers, zucchini and cucumbers.

Erin, myself and Peter Cantley, head of Loblaws Lawn & Garden (photo take by Mark Disero of gardenwriters.ca)

Erin, myself and Peter Cantley, head of Loblaws Lawn & Garden (photo take by Mark Disero of gardenwriters.ca)

Now I'm a very picky tomato eater. The mushy, mealy tomatoes you often find in grocery stores and in restaurants are often left at the side of my plate. That's why I love this time of year! Everything is crisp and sweet and most importantly, fresh and not trucked from hundreds of miles away. I'm excited for my own tomatoes, but I might be eating them in November again at the rate they're going.

What I found funny was that some of the tomatoes I absolutely loved got a lower rating from the other garden writers and the ones I wasn't as excited about ranked as favourites for them. For example, Stokes has a new tomato called `Tumbler` that was bred for hanging baskets. The little tomatoes were crisp and sweet and one of my faves for sure. Some of the feedback was that it was a good tomato for a hanging basket. I guess that means if it was on the vine, it wouldn't measure up. Yet I thought it was one of the most delicious! Some of my other favourites included the `Pepolino` and `Golden Honeybunch.`

The one tomato that seemed to get a unanimous thumbs up was the `Red Candy` grape tomato. It was sweet, firm, juicy and perfect for my picky tomato tastebuds.

Besides the amazing produce, what was also a treat was seeing how both flowers and fruits and vegetables are tested before being deemed suitable for our nearest nursery. The gardens were absolutely beautiful, even despite the excessive rains we've had this summer. I was happy that Stokes got a nice day so they could showcase their gorgeous and tasty gardens.

Pooped on by a bird, doused by a zucchini

Will there be some good luck coming my way? Last night as I was out in the garden, minding my own business amid the plethora of weeds, I felt something fall on my back. As I stood up to look behind me, the giant zucchini leaves I had just cut sprayed water all over my capris from their tube-like stems. When I finally got around to peering at my back over my shoulder, I could see a couple of dark, mulberry-tinged splotches on my pristine white T-shirt. “Not again,” I sighed.

The last time I think I used my recliner, which was last summer, I fell asleep amid a pile of Martha Stewarts and Marie Claire Idees. When I awoke, that familiar-looking mulberry stain graced my shirt.

Since my white shirt was most definitely headed for the wash, I thought I might as well continue, so I stayed out outside weeding for another hour or so, wondering if the birds were up in the tree having a good old laugh at my expense.

What's the best way to pick a zucchini?

zucchiniMy President's Choice Gigantico zucchini plant is a monster! Part of me is glad that a few of my plants didn't work out because this thing is taking over! I picked my first two zucchinis this week. However both times, I broke off the tip of the vegetable. Does anyone have any advice on how to pick them so they end up whole?

Please answer in the comments section below. I also posted a question in the Fruit & Vegetable Gardening forum.

By the way, my zucchinis were delicious! I made both into raw `noodles` with my Joyce Chen spiral slicer last night, added some carrots and a sweet vegan ‘Pad Thai’ sauce I had made and ate it all with a piece of barbecued salmon. Yum!

Deadheading for more blooms

The first summer I lived in my house, my neighbour came over for a chat and said something along the lines of “your flowers need deadheading.” I think I politely muttered “oh yes, it’s on my to-do list” and later looked up what she meant on Google. Deadheading is a way to keep your flowers blooming longer by removing the old buds. It’s also nicer aesthetically and helps keep your garden looking well-groomed. While I had my yard bags out yesterday (I was pulling monster weeds that sprouted up after all the rain we’ve had), I deadheaded some daisies and my yellow flowers (not sure of their proper name, but they’re also daisy-ish), which will hopefully encourage some late-summer blooms. I do this to my black-eyed susans, as well, and they usually bloom until late fall.

For tips and techniques, check out Lorraine Flanigan’s helpful article about how to deadhead.

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