{ Archive for the ‘garden gear’ Category }

How to keep the bugs out, noise down, and people moving

Ah, the sounds of spring.

Birds chirping, rain on the rooftops, humming bees. But not so pleasant is the equally seasonal racket of lawnmowers chugging back to life, and, at least at my house, the slamming doors as everyone traipses in and out to enjoy the sunshine.

While there’s not much to be done about the lawnmowers (unless the whole neighbourhood switched to reel mowers), my mother-in-law has a genius idea for dealing with the door slamming. She has hung a bead curtain in her doorway, instead of a screen door. It’s dense enough to hold off most of the flying insects, but heavy enough that it doesn’t fly everywhere in the wind like a regular curtain or one made of ribbon. The dogs and/or kids can go back and forth from house to yard without fiddling with handles, wearing out tired hinges, or catching fingers. Also very handy when you’ve got your own hands full of food destined for the barbecue… but now we’re talking the smells of spring. We’ll leave that for later.

 

Bamboo is a common material for bead curtains. I really like this one. (amazon.com) I also found ones made with fibre optic lights in them!

Here's one made of recycled bottle tops. That sounds like a lot of work...

 

Kind of funky, but not so good in the bug department, I'd bet. shopwildthings.com has lots more; check local specialty shops, thrift stores, or even Walmart.

 

Lessons on worm composting

While visiting with my friend Elisabeth and her family, we helped make taco salad for supper. I chopped up some peppers, habitually making a little pile of the trimmings for the compost pile. I asked her where she was keeping her compost bucket and she answered, a little guiltily, that she didn’t compost in the winter: too much trouble.

I was surprised, as she and her husband are probably the thriftiest, low-impact kind of people I know, but I understood completely. Who wants to trudge outside through the snow? And really, who can call that frozen pile thawing to sogginess in spring a pleasure?

Coming home, I realized I should have told her about the worm composting I was trying out. Or, was supposed to be trying out but in reality was repeatedly forgetting about and then trying to repair the neglect. And then I remembered that I had promised you, dear reader, an update on my progress! Well, here you are. Here’s what I’ve learned.

I have two worm composters: a Worm Factory and a Worm Inn. My second Worm Factory went to my sister Jenni. In retrospect, I probably could have kept it to keep up with the volume of kitchen waste around here (assuming I could find a place for it). As it is, I am still taking some larger loads outside to my regular bin, especially during harvest and canning. But Jenni finds the Factory to be a good size for her household of 2.

My set up. Worm Inn above, Worm Factory on table, blue bin full of bedding, bucket of finished compost behind.

When I say I need to “repair the neglect,” there really is more guilt in my heart than travesty in the bin. My worms don’t mind being fed once a week, though I try to give them little bits, more often, rather than lots at once.  It definitely makes a difference if you chop up stuff into smaller pieces. This improves breakdown in regular composting, but it’s doubly true for the worms. They say you can feed worms anything as long as there’s no grease, but I’ve found a couple of exceptions in practice and reading: they don’t seem to eat seeds. I’ve had several sprout on me, including cantulope and pumpkin, and my otherwise finished compost is littered with them.  They leave tougher stuff like stems from squash alone, and they don’t like raw potatoes. Go figure. And no matter what you feed them, always bury it with some bedding to discourage flies and mould.

Speaking of, the “ick” factor is much lower than I thought it would be. There is no smell (unless I over feed and under bed), and the worms keep to themselves. I had some fruit fly trouble once, but a trap placed nearby took care of them within two days. My biggest mess factor: bits of shredded paper or coconut fiber always on the floor. It seems impossible for me to get a handful into either bin without scattering a bit.

I did break down and bring both units into my back entry for the winter. Once the temperature started to drop, they just weren’t eating in the garage.

As far as the bins themselves, I think I prefer the Worm Inn for design and ease of use. It’s easy to add material to the top, and harvesting is as simple as opening the bottom and draining it until you see bits of unfinished food or some worms. I also love the space-saving hanging design, and it holds way more than you would imagine. The major drawback for me is how good the airflow is, meaning, I actually have to remember to check the moisture level. Dry worms=dead worms.

This is the big plus for the Worm Factory. Moisture loss is not a problem; however, too much moisture can be. I leave the drainage spigot open with a bucket under it all the time to try to help the airflow, and I definitely use more bedding compared to the Inn to try to absorb the moisture. I have to be sure not to add too much food at once or it goes slimy before the worms get to it. (I should mention the Factory I have is an older model, and the newer ones look like they are designed for better aeration.) Also, the trays are pretty heavy when full of damp material, and the finished compost always seems to still have worms in it, so you have to sift them out or help them migrate by placing the tray in bright light.

Dig around a little and you’ll find many other composter designs, including ones you can make yourself. But the basics are the same: Keep them aerated, keep them damp, keep them bedded and keep them fed. Is it more work than traditional composting? Maybe, but I don’t have to trudge through the snow, and I’ve got fresh compost all winter long. Whatdayathink, Liz?

 

Worms, worms, everywhere

So here’s my story.

Mid-summer, my brother-in-law Jared sent me a rather cryptic message to “watch the mailbox”. What with postal strikes and summer adventures, it was soon mostly forgotten.

At the beginning of August, my friend Teri also sent me a message, inquiring whether I had ever tried worm composting, and would I like to take some equipment off her hands?

I’m a big believer in composting, and have two healthy piles going in my yard, though I’d never gotten into vermicomposting — having little red wiggler worms help the work along — but I told Teri I’d take some stuff off her hands, if only to help her in her downsizing. I could try it out and always pass it on to someone else if I wasn’t into it, right? If nothing else, it was blog fodder…

The next day she showed up on my doorstep with two Worm Factories, one full, one empty, a big bin of coconut fiber (for bedding), and a binder of information on vermiculture and vermicomposting.

Original Worm Factory - 4 Tray

This is the one Teri gave me; click for the latest model.

“You put your food scraps in the top bin, here,” she said lifting the lid and exposing a melange of vegetable bits, newspaper, and itty-bitty red worms. “The worms migrate up and eat it. Then you harvest the bottom bin of compost and rotate it to the top. That’s basically it!” She seemed a little too excited to ditch this stuff and run. Hmmm… what was I getting into?

I was eager to try something new, not so eager at the thought of worms in the kitchen, Teri’s recommended location for the bin. And I knew Chris would not be into that at all. The timing also sucked: we were leaving on our three week camping trip in three days. Apparently they could eat half a pound of scraps a day: could I load them up before I left? Would they survive? Where would they survive? I debated ditching all the worms into my regular bin and re-purposing all that gorgeous coconut fiber elsewhere in the garden (it’s amazing stuff for soil additive, mulch, growing medium…), but felt I owed it to Teri to at least give it a go. Plus, those worms go for 50 to 75 bucks a pound.

So I cleaned up a little corner of the garage where the temperature should remain fairly even through the summer (winter will be a different story) and got the full bin all set up, thinking I’d tackle the empty one on my return.

That weekend, Jenni and Jared came for a visit, and I showed Jenni my newly acquired castoffs (get it?). Sudden inspiration: Jenni could take the empty Factory, and some of my worms for a starter! Yay! But Jenni got this funny look on her face… remember the cryptic mailbox notice? You guessed it. Jared, in one of his characteristic bouts of generosity, had ordered me a Worm Inn, which was, at that very moment, in the dawdling hands of Canada Post.

WORM INN

The Worm Inn. Hanging contraption not included. I've still got to figure that out.

So, in not so much as a week, I’d gone from zero to three vermicomposting bins. How… interesting.

I filled the bin with as much worm food as I dared, covered it up and left the spigot open so it wouldn’t get to slimy, crossed my fingers, and went on holiday.

We were back two days before I remembered to check on the poor little wigglers– but they were alive. Still some food scraps showing, and not moldy either. Hmmm. Maybe I can do this. The Worm Inn has arrived, and I’ve got Teri’s binder (which turns out to be a full-on manual from the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada). Looks like my kids aren’t the only ones in for learning some new things this fall. I’ll keep you posted.

One of my wigglers working on some beet greens.

Jenni’s tree chair

With my landscaping overhaul two years ago and various articles this spring, I’ve been thinking a lot about garden furniture this year. It’s a major element missing in my yard.

Being of humble means, and not into grabbing the cheapy trend-of-the-moment patio set from the big box store, (translation: picky, but not rich enough to be) I’ve been biding my time until the right pieces come along. This approach to shopping problems has always served me well. (Pair of black dress boots, my size, exactly the style I wanted but couldn’t find, mint condition, for free, at a garage sale. Oh yeah.)

I’ve thought a lot about the style I would like, and I’m leaning towards rustic without being too stereotypically “cottage” style. (See? Picky.)

I think my sister Jenni is right on the money. And this chair suits her, being an arborist. Custom made by her husband, I’m seriously debating commissioning a couple. With my riches, you know.

Footwear for serious gardening

During my epic search for a great pair of rain boots this spring, Tara suggested I might like to try some Blundstones: not a rain boot, more of an all-out work boot. The lovely people at Tin Shack offered to send a pair out, so why not, right? A pair of Blundstone CSA Greenpatch boots arrived a few weeks ago and I’ve been putting them through the paces ever since. I must say, they have passed every test I’ve invented.

The first pull-on was rather stiff–high arches strike again–and I was skeptical they would ever be comfortable. I thought I might have to take them to a cobbler for stretching (an option mentioned in the product insert). However, they have shaped to my foot very nicely in just a few weeks and go on and off easily. They do come with inserts so you can adjust the fit within your size, but I’m not using them. I’m generally a size 7, but I asked for a size 7 1/2 because I thought there could be nothing worse than a tight work boot. I’m finding when I put them on I think I could have gone with a 7, and by the time I take them off I’m glad I got the 7 1/2. They don’t rub or anything and my toes like the wiggle room.

I’ll be honest. I expected to get blisters and lead feet wearing these. I’m more into bare feet than army boots. So, after wearing them for a half hour to an hour a day for the first few days, I decided to consider them “broken in” and wore them all day. I’d be lying if I told you “I didn’t notice them at all,” but I really was impressed with how lightweight they are. Even this klutz didn’t get tripped up. And no blisters.

I think... I may... conquer the world with these boots.

I found myself on an extension ladder trimming tree branches in a downpour (long story). I’m not a heights person but I felt pretty solid climbing with these boots, and not solid in a clunky, bulky way, but in a safe, reliable way.

I stepped into my mudhole — I mean veggie garden — to check it. I maintained traction and dryness and escaped with my life. And my boots.

I edged all the flower beds and most of the veggie garden in one day and didn’t even feel it. Let me rephrase that– my feet didn’t feel it. My back didn’t like bending like that for that long, but my feet were oblivious, as were my legs. You know that achy shin and hip you can get when you do a lot of slamming your foot into a shovel’s tread? Nothing. Thank you, Kevlar shank. I don’t know the technical name for the phenomenon of impact vibrations resonating through the body. Go ask your chiropractor, then go get some Blundstones.

I was digging some overgrown clover out of a bed I’m prepping for plants and swung my fork a little wild as I straightened up. The prong landed square on my foot. Left an insignificant dent in my boot; would have left a significant dent in my toes if I’d been wearing my Crocs.

Knowing how some shoes split right down the middle of the sole, and thinking of all the digging/edging I’ve been doing, I also just checked the soles of my boots for signs of cracking or dents or… anything. So far, so good. Other than some gravel caught in the treads, they could be brand new.

Speaking of gravel in the treads, I found this dried bit of mud in my entry after a dirty battle with some dandelions.

Oh, sure, I thought. It’s all good now, with all the rain, and the air temperature barely flirting with the teens, but just wait till summer really arrives. So I waited. And waited.

And Tuesday it came! On the calendar and in reality! And I gotta say, these boots are very breathable. My feet did get warm (how could they not) but not sweaty, and not uncomfortable. Of course, I also ditched them for flip flops by four o’clock to have Dutch Oven at the neighbors… but I think they pass.

Here’s a weird little personal thing I have with footwear: I hate not being able to bend my ankle and my foot. I have kids, I crouch down, sit in the grass, crawl through play houses… and I garden the same way: kneeling, reaching. I need mobility. I thought a work boot would cramp my style, like a puddle boot can with its stiff upper. Or I feel like I’m going to crack the sole by crouching to much. Well, count another check mark for the Greenpatch. I’ve already mentioned the amazing durability of the soles, but get this: they bend too. And the elasticized sides allow more ankle movement than I would have expected while still maintaining support.

So in case you’re hazy on my opinion, I love these boots. I’ve planted trees and climbed them, forked soil and double dug it, checked the flooded crawl space and driven the kids to piano. My Blundstones have seen a lot in the last three weeks, and I am not a gear girl at all, but they are my new best friends.

Though you can still count on seeing me in my red crocs when the work is lighter.

The epic search for puddle boots

My footwear of choice for gardening is a pair of beat up Crocs, but I see rain boots as a stand-by piece of equipment for the dedicated gardener. When you’re digging a big planting hole or fishing something out of a pond, dealing with prickly brush or wrestling with ornery hoses, you want your feet good and protected. My old stand-by black rubber boots got a crack in the heel last fall, so I told Chris I wanted new, fun ones for Mother’s Day. He said, “Great, go ahead and find the ones you want.” Smart man, huh?

So the last couple of times I’ve been in town I’ve looked around a bit (translate: while dashing through the grocery list with the kids I’ve noticed a few), but never took the time to try anything on. But this week I found myself in Edmonton all by myself (!) with a few hours to kill (!!) and decided to find my new puddle boots. Fairly straightforward, right?

Well, let me tell you.

I thought with the old “April showers” saw it would be easy to check a hand full of retailers and be able to peruse a reasonable selection of rain boots for somewhere between $15-$40, depending on the quality. Not so much. Walmart, Old Navy, and Payless had all gotten rid of theirs already: either sold or sent back to the company because the “season is over.”

Excuse me? The runways and window dressers may be switching gears to flip flops, but there’s still plenty of mud at my house. Are we expecting NO rain ALL summer? A lovely lady at the Shoe Company in Calgary sympathized with me: “How come they don’t realize it’s not just about fashion around here, but also nessecity?” She had a great pair of green ones, but they had a fuzzy, winter-minded lining. Pass. The few I did see were either no fun, ill-fitting, or not my size.

I’m kind of picky about my footwear because I have widish feet with high arches (thanks, mom) and fit is tricky, especially with a fairly rigid item like rubber boots. I was against getting anything online for this reason, but since the on-the-shelf retail life for rain boots appears to be 9.3 days, I decided to see what I could find in the web world.

Kamik Janis Plum Rain Boots

Love these, but they're kind of tall and kind of more than I wanted to spend. Also they seem awfully narrow through the ankle = impossible for me to get on.

Gum Drops has a pretty impressive range of choices, but the prices are mostly higher. Sears carries a few, there’s some American retailers, Walmart’s website has nothing but Spiderman…

Sperry Top-Sider® Women's Waterproof 'Nellie' 8'' Fashion Rainboots

These are available from Sears, but I'm not crazy about the colors.

Then I found RainCo — a Ladner, B.C. company that makes their own funky rain boots (and umbrellas!). They have several styles, including a shorter-topped one that seems like it would be more comfy for me, and they have a big tab in the back to help pull them on over my beautiful arches. And they come in my favorite color! After checking the return policy, I think I’m going to splurge on these. I love them, so I’m willing to go a little higher in the price range… anybody want to clue me in on other options?

I think these are the winners.

Gardening gift of the day: Botanical art


Instead of making crackers or drying fruit to eat, artist Diane de Roo has used her dehydrator to create works of art. I first saw her work at last year’s One of a Kind Show in Toronto and fell in love. Diane captures all the intricate details of various fruits and vegetables and freezes them in time. They are then hand-painted and framed. Choose from larger frames or smaller shadow boxes. These are great gift ideas for both avid cooks and green thumbs and would look amazing hung in a kitchen.

Price: from $55
Available at: Order information is on the website, Botanical Art by Diane de Roo.

Gardening gift of the day: Botanical tea towels

These colourful botanical tea towels recently caught my eye and I made sure to add them to my list of gifts for gardeners. Based out of Vancouver, Creative Tea Towels takes the work of Canadian artists and prints it onto 100 per cent cotton tea towels. The design shown above, Shirley Poppies, was painted by botanical watercolourist and avid organic gardener Lyn Noble. There are some other lovely designs to choose from, as well.

Wrap them up for the gardener on your list or use them as eco-friendly wrapping paper to envelope a small gardening gift.

Price: $14.99 to $17.99
Available at: Online and at boutique shops across Canada. See the website (linked above) for details.

Gardening gift of the day: An art nest

This little gem caught my eye at the One of a Kind Show (if you’re in Toronto before Sunday, it’s at booth P4). It’s an art nest that can serve double duty as a suet feeder and as a building supply shop for the birds – the wool is enticing for nest building. According to Tracey Martin, half of Martin House Garden Art with her husband Derek, it’s always been a best seller and by the end of day 3, they had almost run out. Derek apparently made more last weekend. I believe it was Derek I spoke to at the booth and he said they would ship the nest if you call or email to place an order.

Price: $48
Available at: Martin House Art in Barrie, Ont. or by special order.

Gardening gift of the day: The Thoughtful Gardener

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Thoughtful Gardener Watering Can, $39.99

Sometimes it’s really hard to find garden gear at this time of the year – a lot of stores have packed it all away for the season. With that in mind, Chapters Indigo has come out with these charming tools and accessories featuring whimsical quotes just in time for the holiday season.

The secateurs have rubber-coated handles and a non-stick, coated blade. The tool set features a trowel and fork made of stainless steel with weatherproofed ash handles. If your green thumb is already all geared up, the watering can is not only functional, it deserves a spot on a shelf – indoors or out. And I bet your favourite gardener doesn’t have a twine tin. Family, if you’re reading this, the twine tin is on my list!

Price: as per photos
Available at: Chapters and Indigo stores across Canada and online

* Check back every weekday until December 23 for more great gift ideas!

Thoughtful Gardener Tin of Twine, $9.99

Thoughtful Gardener Secateurs, $24.99

Thoughtful Gardener Tool Set, $29.99

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