{ Archive for the ‘fruit and vegetable gardening’ Category }

Finding a home for the apple tree

One of my New Year’s resolutions, subcategory: gardening, is to finally put in my apple tree. I chose, quite a long while ago, the Prairie Sensation apple developed at the University of Saskatchewan as the best fit for my location and tastes. Now the big question: where to put it.

It may seem backwards, as many of you would consider a particular spot and then choose something to fit it. I use that approach frequently as well. But I am in that enviable position of having enough land that I can pick a tree first, and ask questions later. Not that I buy plants willy-nilly, or put no thought into their needs; I just have a property large enough that I have several options for any given plant I decide might enjoy my garden.

Any of you small-plot gardeners growing green with envy right now are welcome to come help me mow and weed this summer.

Now. If you would be so kind to offer some opinions, here is a rough drawing of our property, completely not to scale, to give you an idea of my options.

Existing trees in green, crabapple in yellow, fence lines etcetera in grey, you get the idea.

Location A: my original plan. Full sun; little bit of shade late in the day from the house. Well protected from prevailing west winds, somewhat from northerly. Snow collects here to protect the tree from freeze/thaw cycles. Frost tends to pool lower to the east, and there’s the crabapple nearby for cross pollination.  In view from the house and street for optimal blossom enjoyment. Down side: Really close to property line. What if whomever buys the neighbouring lot (it’s for sale now) does not want errant apples?

Location B: There’s lots of room in this back quarter of the property, but no wind protection–at least not until the evergreens and ash get a little more size on them. Full sun, all day, but kind of far from the crab, though if we go with one idea and build up a little orchard back here, that wouldn’t be a problem.

Location C: Another area that could become a little orchard. Kind of far away from the house, though. Again, the wind protection and pollination issues, potentially resolvable, but this is a low spot and I think it would turn out to be a frost pocket.

So really, it’s probably a choice between A: picturesque with the stone walkway, but some shade and potential neighbour nagging; or B: work towards the orchard and grow that windbreak.

Please, help me decide!

 

Who cares about soil temperature?

The snow is melting, the cows are calving, and the calendar looks right, but for me, I know it’s really spring because I can smell it. I hope you know what I mean: that earthy, damp scent that’s starting to waft around when the sun is bright. So exciting! Time to grow things! Whip out those seed packets and let’s start digging, right?
Unfortunately, no. At least not outside. Not yet.
I had to learn to curb my enthusiasm the hard way: losing more than a few seeds. Some years I was sure it was frost. Other years it was obvious they had been rotted out from too much rain. Or maybe I’d planted some old or bad seed to begin with. But the main culprit went unidentified until I started hanging out with farmers.
When growing things is not just a hobby but your livelihood, you pay extra attention to some details an average gardener may be clueless about. Such as soil temperature.
You may have heard people talking about the soil “warming up,” maybe referring to how raised beds warm up quicker, allowing earlier planting. They aren’t just talking about the dirt “thawing,” as any farmer can tell you: there are ideal temperatures for the germination of different crops, and if the soil is too cool, you end up with uneven growth or damaged seed, and those depressing blank spots in your rows.
When I learned this, I looked back and realized this was why some years I could get away with planting earlier–the mild spring had fast forwarded the soil warming–and some years even mid-May plantings were sluggish in the cool damp.
So as much as you’d like to dig in, don’t be in too much of a rush. This time of year, you’re probably just wasting your time. Better to use your enthusiasm indoors.

Gardener’s bookshelf: help with veggies

I love flowers as much as the next girl, but when it comes to gardening, I got into it for the food. Pretty didn’t matter. I’ve come to see the error of my ways, but no matter how many flowers I now grow, my green heart still really belongs to the edibles. As such, I am always on the look out for new insight on growing better vegetables. Read the rest of this entry »

2-second garden tip: Clever cloches

Halifax-based garden writer Niki Jabbour and I met at the annual Garden Writers Association luncheon at Canada Blooms two years ago. Since then, we’ve been corresponding, mostly via social media like Twitter and Facebook, and I’ve been a guest a couple of times on her radio show, The Weekend Gardener.

Niki is the author of the upcoming book Groundbreaking Food Gardens, which will be released by Storey Publishing in March 2014. She also penned the award-winning book The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, which is a fantastic resource for those gardeners who don’t want to confine their edible gardening to our short, Canadian summers. It’s also the name of her blog.

It seemed logical that Niki provide our next 2-second garden tip, which speaks to extending the harvest. I know I’ll be on the lookout for unwanted punch bowls from now on!


Image courtesy of the Year Round Vegetable Gardener, Storey Publishing.

A short post about overwintering my fig tree

I was going to keep this post short and sweet, but I thought I should say a bit more about overwintering my fig than simply that I brought it into the garage.

Before getting my fig tree cosied up in its winter home, I first had to remove two small figs that appeared in September. I was so excited because my fig tree was a mere stick when Steven Biggs (aka The Fig Pig) gave it to me at the end of last winter. I tweeted Steven (@noguffsteve) to ask what I should do with my wee crop. He said that the figs probably formed a bit too late to ripen this year, so I should break them off by winter if they did not fall off themselves (check!).

Can you spot the wee fig?

By next July, Steven said I should get my first crop of breba figs. Breba is the name given to the crop that grows off the previous year’s shoot growth. There will be a second crop later in the summer that will grow off next year’s shoot growth.

I should add that I brought the fig tree into the garage after a couple of light frosts, but before our first hard frost. The leaves were starting to drop, indicating that the tree was going into dormancy. My garage is the perfect place for overwintering because it is fairly dark and cool, but above freezing.

Steven recently posted on his blog about overwintering figs outdoors using a “door” method. It’s worth a read if you can’t bring your fig trees inside!

The garlic has taken over my raised beds

Two years ago I planted garlic for the first time. I had just moved into a new home in mid-October, but I grabbed some organic Ontario garlic from the market in town and planted a few last-minute cloves. I think I got about twelve heads of garlic, but I was over the moon and quickly used it up in my cooking.

Part of my first-ever garlic harvest drying in the garage (hence the bad lighting)!

Last fall, I dropped the ball completely and was not happy about my garlic-less garden this summer. I vowed not to let it happen again. So when I saw a Facebook post by fellow garden writer Niki Jabbour (aka The Year-Round Veggie Gardener) recommending Eureka Garlic, I decided I should plan ahead and place an order.  I did a little Googling and discovered that the garlic Al Picketts grows for Eureka is chemical-free. I emailed Al for a list and was overwhelmed by the 79 varieties that arrived in my inbox.

My garlic order from Eureka Garlic

In the middle of my decision making, I happened to run into Liz Primeau, who wrote In Pursuit of Garlic a couple of years ago. Liz was anxious to get her hands on the rare Rose de Lautrec at the Stratford Garlic Festival in September. She recommended I speak to a couple of ladies who would be there for advice. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it, so I went back and read some of Liz’s book and after a bit more research, I settled on ‘Music’, ‘Persian Star’, ‘French Rocambole’ and ‘Polish Hardneck’. I felt nervous about putting all the garlic in one bed, so I divvied it up amongst my two raised beds (which took up about half the space in each), added a couple along the side of my house and plunked the last four or five cloves in a sunny perennial garden at the very front of my property.

Keeping track in my garden diary

To plant, I followed some of the tips in this step-by-step article by Katharine Fletcher. Is it too early to be excited for July?

Bringing in the tomatoes

The time has come, I’m afraid, to end the tomatoes.

We’ve had a few frost warnings already, and I’ve been dutifully covering and uncovering my plants accordingly. But this is not my reason for giving up.

Someone else has discovered that tomatoes will actually grow in my yard. Someone with teeth and very bad manners.

Very suspicious.

They’ve been stealing the nicest, biggest fruit–red or green–eating half of it, and leaving the rest strewn about. Raccoon? Fox? Young deer, possibly?  Anyway, I’ve decided that between the frost and the thief, I might as well bring what’s left inside.

Which leaves me with a bunch of green tomatoes to ripen. Some are too small to mature of course (time to look for some green tomato recipes) but most of them should be perfectly happy to turn red over the next few weeks: they have a little tinge of colour and aren’t rock hard. I’ve got them in a cardboard box in a quiet corner of the pantry. If I get impatient I might throw a banana in there–bananas are super-producers of ethylene gas, which encourages ripening.

I’ve heard you can actually pick your whole plant and hang it upside down, and the tomatoes will ripen nicely on the vine, but I don’t really have anywhere to hang mine that won’t bring me dirty looks from my husband or eye-rolling from my kids. So I went for the middle road: I’ve left pieces of vine attached to the tomatoes in my box, being sure to leave them enough space that nobody is getting poked.

Mostly I’m just relieved that my tomato curse has been lifted. Not sure why I’ve had so much trouble with what is supposed to be an easy plant, but at last, I can hold my head high.

This lovely mess of fruit was all crowded together on one vine, flopped over and unnoticed near the ground. All that red/orange is one tomato!

 

 

I think a garden exploded in my kitchen

Ah, the beautiful, bountiful, overwhelming grasp of harvest time.

It began, for us, when a neighbour begged us to come take the last of her ever-bearing strawberries (and some runners while we were at it). Then the squash arrived from another neighbour, along with some overgrown cucumbers, which I quickly dispatched into relish.

Then came the apples. And more cucumbers.

Pickles and applesauce waiting to happen.

Then I brought in beets, and more zucchini–which I thought I was staying on top off but apparently wasn’t– and look! Tomatoes, which I thought hated me, are growing for me this year in abundance.

 

Oh, did I forget to mention I have four cases of pears ripening slowly in the corner? Well, I do.

She loves 'em, but even she can't eat them all.

The canning jars are filling and the dehydrator is running.

Tomorrow, I’m picking chokecherries and my four cases of peaches arrive.

I need my head examined.

 

 

 

 

A proud potato moment

This past spring, I purchased a little bag of French fingerling seed potatoes from Urban Harvest at Canada Blooms. I couldn’t wait to get them in the ground. I didn’t plant the whole bag, because I don’t think I realized how much space each plant needs, so I plunked two potatoes in a wooden, rectangular container box and two in one of my raised beds. It didn’t take long for these wee little plants to poke through the soil. I mounded the plants when they got to the appropriate size, as per the package directions, but then the plants grew like crazy and I was never sure if I’d mounded them enough. The package didn’t tell me when my potatoes would be ready, so I Googled when to harvest and found this helpful video by Ken Salvail. Ken says he has always been told to wait a couple of weeks after the plants have started blooming. I waited a little longer because three out of the four plants never bloomed. Then I got impatient and once I dug up one plant, I dug up all the rest.

There were some rather big potatoes–way bigger than what I would call a fingerling–a few fingerling-sized ‘taters and babies that clearly had some more growing left to do. I’m wondering if maybe I should have left them in longer. I ate some of the bigger ones two nights in a row and then had to leave the rest behind to cure when I left on vacation.

I look forward to planting even more potatoes next year. I need more space for my edibles! My biggest tip is to use a fork, which any potato article will recommend. I only had my trusty spade, so that’s what I used, but I did slice a few potatoes in half. Those ones went into a soup broth that I made and froze for future meals.

Here are a couple of pics of my beauts!

Some of the potatoes were attached to the main root. But it was like a treasure hunt sifting through the soil for the rest of them!

 

My obligatory, proud "styled" shot of my potato harvest dirt and all!

 

Better late than never

I never got around to planting any kale this year. I intended to, but didn’t — I’m blaming the wet spring.

Thinking about my lack of kale today led my mind back to some of the things I’ve learned from Nikki Jabbour and Kevin Kossowan about using more of the year for growing. I realized there was nothing stopping me from planting a new crop other than an “August” state of mind. So I pretended it was March and got out my seeds.

In my stash: 'Winterbor', 'Dwarf Green Curled', and 'Red Winter'.

 

The ‘Red Winter’ kale indicates 50 days needed for maturity. Fifty days from now is September 25–just beyond our probable first frost date. And considering kale actually likes a little frost, this little idea is gaining traction in my mind. I need to consult Nikki’s book again, but regardless, I’m thinking I’m going to do it. Never know until you try! Plus, there’s always the cold frame.

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