{ Archive for the ‘garden resources’ Category }

Will you be reading The Signature of All Things?

One of the reasons I love fall is that it gives me more time to read. There’s so much to do in the garden over the summer, I don’t think I relaxed in my lounger with a good book more than once! Don’t get me wrong, I still have a LOT to do to put my garden to bed for the winter, but I can now spare a couple of hours here and there to curl up under a blanket with a hot cup of tea and a good book. One of the new books I’ve been looking forward to reading is The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray Love) because the main character is a botanist. You can read a review of it on the Globe and Mail website (I started, but stopped because I felt it was giving too much away), and read a synopsis or purchase on the Indigo website. Does anyone want to read the book and then chat about it in a few weeks?

 

Gardening gizmos for the techy-types

As promised, I’ve been experimenting with a bunch of gardening apps on my iPad this week. Here’s the ones I tried, and what I thought of them. All available on the App Store; sorry Androidians, I can’t help you, but comment if you can help each other! Click on the images to see the details and screenshots for each app.

Toolkit HD, Applied Objects, $3.99

This is a slick, easy to use little package, an everything-in-one-place tool for to-do lists, your garden diary, and plant lists. Lots of nice features, like being able to tag your diary entries so you can go back and find your notes about the last time you pruned that apple tree, and making a plant list for your particular garden or gardens (up to four separate ones) with details such as when they were planted and when they will mature/bloom.  It gives advice based on your hardiness zone, but the plant lists (which I found on the limited side anyway) don’t adjust to your zone. You can add custom plants with pictures, along with all their sun/water/soil/temperature info, but they aren’t added to the main (search-able) plant list.  The Glossary is pretty good, a little simplistic maybe, but it links to Wikipedia if you want more info.  This strikes me as a great starting place for a beginning gardener who wants to be more organized, or the more advanced gardener if they’re looking more for record keeping.

 

Eden Garden Designer, Herbaceous Software, $1.99

This is a fun little app that is very visual, whereas Toolkit is very list-oriented. You can choose an imaginary background, or load a picture of your own landscape, and then fill it with plants, rearrange the plants, look at what would be blooming at certain times of year… you can even control the amount of wind and insects! It’s a great little gardening fix mid-winter or mid-city. That said, the plant lists are somewhat simplistic. There’s just “hosta”, no varieties or anything, and the plant choices are limited (you can buy additional groups of plants for $0.99). So as far as using this for designing, it’s great for generating ideas and getting a general idea for how things might look, but it won’t get you anywhere with detailed planning. Still, a fun little program.

 

LawnCAD, Nathan French, $4.99

This is a compact little Computer-Aided Drafting app that will likely appeal to the planners and math brains out there. I’ve never used a CAD program other than this, so I can’t really compare it or speak about its usefulness on a professional level, but as a layman I’m loving the interface, the preciseness, and the itty-bitty power trip that comes from building and erasing entire landscapes in one swipe. Warning: you must love nit-picky details to love this app.

 

Grow Planner, Growing Interactive, $9.99

A little more expensive than most, this app is really a case of you get what you pay for. Provided by the well-respected Mother Earth News, this app does everything but put the seeds in the ground. You draw the size and shape of the beds you want, choose the veggies, herbs, and flowers you want to grow (right down to the variety–it’s linked to all the best known seed catalogues) and it tracks how many plants should fit in that space, when they should be planted, when they should be harvested, and when the bed will be ready for succesion planting. You can choose traditional rows or square foot gardening. If you use it multiple seasons, it tracks what was where what year so you can ensure good crop rotation. Make notes, research varieties, tweak your frost dates, add custom plants. It will even email you planting reminders if you want. If you grow vegetables, you will love this app.

 

 

And now, just for fun:

Plants Vs. Zombies, PopCap, $0.99 (iPad version)

This is a ridiculously addicting game in which your garden plants defend your home from invading zombies. I know, ridiculous, right? But oh so fun.

 

 Happy Little Farmer, GiggleUp Kids Apps and Educational Games, $1.99

This is a gorgeous little game involving planting, caring for, and harvesting crops around the farm. My kids from 3 through 8 love it, and even my twelve year old can’t help watching. The motions are simple and the directions clear, and there are all kinds of cute little hidden surprises. An absolutely stellar game for little people.

The virtual garden

I have palm trees in my garden.
No, really.
I still live in Alberta, and there’s snow on the ground, but my garden is full of palm trees, and there are NO WEEDS.
Okay, so the garden happens to be on my iPad, but still.
Seeing as how the ground is freezing up and I’m transitioning from real gardening to the imagining of next year, I thought I’d spend a little time in the App Store digging for some gardening gizmos.
One of the first I fiddled with was LawnCAD, a landscape drawing program ($4.99), and along with the other trees and rectangles, you can place palm trees! And pines, and bushes, of course. I’m finding it kind of finicky to work with so far, but that may be because I’m a layman; maybe it’s great for professionals. Point is, I’m visualizing my house surrounded by palm trees. An innocent winter pleasure.

Next week I’ll tell you more about some of the apps I’ve found. In the meantime, tell me about your favourite virtual gardening gadgets. What works? What doesn’t?

Dirt: the book and the movie

At my local library last week I stumbled across a DVD brazenly titled “DIRT!” which I of course immediately picked up, being one of those people who knows I should use the term ‘soil’ but can’t resist the earthy real-ness of the d-word.
It’s a documentary about… well, dirt, and it’s role in farming, civilization, food stability, and the roots of life itself. Before you yawn, I must tell you that this is a funny, engaging movie, as well as being informative a thought-provoking.
There’s cute little animated dirt bits commenting on the scientific stuff, and astonishing news about microbial fuel cells (! I’d never heard of them before either). While it feels slightly soapboxy when it gets into mining and clear cutting, there are wonderful insights into traditional farming in India and digging up concrete playgrounds in NYC.
I found it well worth the watch (as did the people at Sundance) and am now hunting down the book on which it was based, Dirt: the Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, by William Bryant Logan.
Happy Digging!

Paying less than a pretty penny for a pretty garden

Looking back over the season, I’ve added up all I’ve spent on plants, tools, and soil, and it’s a lot more than I expected. I’m not giving you an exact number, because some of you will think it’s a drop in the bucket compared to yours, and the thrifty among you, well, I don’t want to risk any heart attacks.

The point is, it’s a lot for me. For us, our household. What’s a great buy for one person is frivilous for another, and one gardener’s money-saving measure is a time-wasting annoyance for his neighbor. Everyone has different priorities. But I want to be a little smarter about my garden budget in the coming year. Charmian Christie has some good ideas, and here’s a few of mine:

1. Never underestimate the power of a sale. Watch your stores for discounts throughout the season. Buy your mulch, stable fertilizers, etc. in the fall, when many stores would rather sell them off than ship them back to storage. Assuming you have somewhere to store it.

2. Many trees, shrubs, and perennials are happy to be planted in the fall, when many greenhouses and big box stores sell them off for as much as 50-80% off. Just watch out for stress and disease before you buy.

3. My favorite greenhouse has a customer appreciation day the first Thursday of every month. If I can time my visits for these days, I get 15% off.

4. Plan a plant and seed exchange in the spring or fall (or both!). Free plants! The selection might not be what you’d find in retail, but you might be surprised. Bonus: meet fellow gardeners you may not have crossed paths with yet. Or, if you’ve got some hutzpah, put on a sale.

5. This is something new I’m trying this year. Every time I get a little windfall of cash, I’m putting it into a seperate savings account (free from my bank). Fifty bucks here, five bucks there, but by spring, I’ll have a few hundred set aside for the new hoses I need, taking the pressure off our April/May household budget. Wage earners could do the same, transfering a set amount each pay cheque. We do it for retirement and insurance, why not this?

6. Compost.

7. Reuse… all kinds of things. Egg cartons for starting seeds, milk jugs for drip irrigation, mason jars for cloches. Save your money for the tools and gear you really need or love.

8. Think outside the box on hiring help. A neighborhood work party, moving from house to house and spending an hour on each one, can get a lot of spring or fall cleanup done in one Saturday. Is there a landscape designer you know who you could barter services with?

That’s about all I’ve got… how do you keep your gardening passion from draining your pockets?

In with the new, with some help from the “Old”

I was waiting in line at the grocery store the other day, trying to avoid learning anything about Kim Kardashian, when I spotted it: the new edition of the Old Farmer’s Almanac: that little magazine everyone’s heard of, and lots of people refer to, but few, including me, had never actually read.

Well, no time like the present.

Who couldn’t use a few time-honored tips for the garden? I know I’m not the only one already thinking about next year…

$5.99 later, I flipped through household tips, moon phases, an article on hydroponics and one on a hockey hero… so much more than the weather forecast and planting calendars I was expecting. Granted, I’m still learning to interpret the charts, and I’m not convinced I’ll actually put into practice all the tidbits available to me in the Almanac, but I can tell you this: the full moon is on the 10th this month, will rise at 4:22 p.m. Ottawa time (local time available), and is known as the beaver moon because it was the time to set beaver traps, before the water froze. I can also tell you that this edition of the Almanac is the two hundred and twentieth, contains several macaroni and cheese recipes, and taught me the word halfalogue: half a cell phone conversation, heard involuntarily. I now have it on Facebook, and I’m sure my paper copy will be dog-eared by next fall.

“Useful, with a pleasant degree of humor,” the Almanac proves to be, to me. And for those who might think all this miscellanea silly, I quote William Van Horne, from the title page: “Nothing is too small to know, and nothing is too big to attempt.”

Why does harvest time coincide with the onset of flu season?

I had a very productive weekend getting the last of the veggies out of the ground. I intended a busy week of canning, freezing, and drying, but only got as far as the canning: pickled the beets Monday and crashed on the couch with the worst flu I remember ever having. I’m coming out of the haze today, only hoping the carrots and turnips are still happy, covered, in the garage. To think I was going to leave the carrots in the garden over the winter, harvesting as needed. That would have been the better choice, had my crystal ball been working.

If some of you are wondering what to do with the end-of-season veggies at your house, I came across the USDA National Center for Home Food Preservation website, which gives specific guidelines for canning, freezing, drying, fermenting, curing… almost any type of food.

If you are more a book type, the old hippie-written Keeping the Harvest is still my go-to reference. During the growing season it rarely leaves my kitchen counter.

It’s getting to be bulb planting time…

I’m not generally the type to pay a lot of attention to advertising, but I do have an admiration for a clever tagline or whimsical campaign. So when I first saw a Dig.Drop.Done magazine spot, it peaked my curiosity. A brightly colored home, with a vaugely Leave-it-to-Beaver mom at center, precariously icing a zillion-layer cake? And it’s for flower bulbs? I love bulbs. What is this?

I went and had a look at the website. It was started by a group of bulb companies to “promote the joy of bulb gardening and ensure its future in North America.” Much of it is aimed at the beginning gardener as opposed to the seasoned vetran, but some of the pop-up tips from the three “ladies” — mascots of bulb planting — were helpful to me though I’ve been planting bulbs for a good ten years.

Check out their “bulb-pedia” for planting and species info on a very respectable range of flowers; and the ladies’ videos if you’re up for a groan or two…

In search of local food

So I got an email last week about a shindig going on up in Edmonton (my old stomping grounds) this Friday — the Sturgeon County Bounty local food event. Local chefs will be presenting food sown and grown in the area. Sigh. Too bad I’m not in the area anymore.

One of the drawbacks to country living — and I’ll admit, there are a few — is being far away from all the fun events like this one. And Home and Garden shows. And Canada Blooms. And Hort shows in general.

But I digress.

As I wallowed in my lack of County Bounty attendance, a pang of guilt struck my heart. I remembered that up the road a little out of my way is a market garden I have never visited. I’ve driven past the sign for Room 2 Grow lots of times; but usually on my way up to Edmonchuck so I’ve never justified a stop. Why am I worried about local food in Edmonton when I’ve got local food right here that I’m ignoring?

A cayenne pepper growing in the greenhouse. Also here are tomatoes, cucumbers, and sweet and hot peppers.

So I repented and made a trip up there today (a whole 20 km, my odometer tells me) and had a visit with Heather, who runs the place with her husband Norm. They have about 2 acres of berries, vegetables, and herbs with the rest of their 1/4 section dedicated to raising bulls. It’s a laid back, unassuming place, with gardens of strawberries hiding behind tree lines and potato patches snuggled up against pastureland. They sell eggs, chicken, and beef as well. Heather (who is also an award winning artist) seems preoccupied with all the weeds she hasn’t pulled, but says she would “rather have it messy than have it full of who knows what.” She hands me a strawberry right off the plant and I taste the result of their zero chemical approach: the unbelievable flavor locals, tourists, and three local restaurants keep coming back for.

One of the ladybugs Norman released in the greenhouse to snack on the aphids. The Dodds rely on biological approaches like these to tackle any gardening problems.

I left with a bag full of strawberries, a cucumber, and several of the tastiest, most gorgeous tomatoes I’ve ever had.

Heather also reminded me that I have two different weekly farmer’s markets within a half hour’s drive of my house.

Drawbacks to country living, my eye.

So your challenge this week is to discover what kind of food opportunities are hiding close to you. I’ll bet you a sweet little strawberry they’re closer than you think.

Here’s a sampling of local food resources from across the country. Try Googling “local food” and your city or province.

Alberta Farm Fresh Producers Association

Greenbelt Guide (Ontario resources)

Eat Local Manitoba

Select Nova Scotia

My seed addiction

Hi, my name is April, and I’m a seedoholic.

I came to face the brutal reality of my situation after a trip into town last week.

We are in the middle of a bathroom renovation, and I put “vent for bath fan” on my shopping list, not realizing the danger I was putting myself in. I walked innocently into the hardware store and instantly the paint/grout fog of recent weeks melted away and the proverbial sunshine shone down upon me: the seed displays were up. Even more, soil mix and peat pots were on sale. My heart quickened. Before I knew what I was doing I had detoured from “heating and ventilation” and had a mitt-full of little bounty-promising packets.

A sane voice somewhere inside reminded me not to try too many new things all in the same season. It mentioned the catalogues waiting patiently at home for careful, measured appraisal. The voice pointed out the total lack of sunny counter space to place the mini-greenhouse I was carrying to the checkout.

The voice was right! I had stacks of cell packs in the shed and an already bulging box of seeds tucked away. Was I medicating my cabin fever? The drawn-out-reno blues? Was I simply willing February to hurry on up?

Whatever the reason, I still came home with three bags of assorted growing medium, the aforementioned greenhouse, a pack of peat pots, and, ahem… several seed packets.

On the way home, I mentally constructed a make shift shelf on which to put all my potential babies. I resolved to organize those seeds and have a proper look at my catalogues.

I also realized I’d have to come back into town sometime and pick up that fan vent.

Some of the less common seed companies I like (when I can avoid the impulse buys and choose carefully):

Bedrock Seed Bank – seeds for Alberta native plants. I met them at Edmonton’s Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market.

Richter’s – best for herbs according to most people I know who know. Seeds, plugs, extracts. Other plants as well.

Prairie Seeds – out of Saskatchewan. Heirloom and open-pollinated varieties, stuff that actually lives on the prairies.

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