{ Archive for the ‘maintenance and techniques’ Category }

Good neighbours make great gardens

I've probably spent at least an hour in the garden every day this summer. Most days more, some days less. My kids are pretty good about helping, and Chris does the mowing and his fair share of the heavy lifting. But life is busy, and it's summer! Some days we went to the lake, or the library reading program. Eventually I've had to clean the house and do some laundry. And you know that a certain percentage of my time in the garden I was teaching someone how to pull a dandelion, reminding someone else to keep their hat on, or getting dirt out of the baby's mouth. I should not be surprised when 1.4 acres gets ahead of me, but here we are. The weeds and the undone jobs are winning. By a pretty good margin.

Rhiannon's version of thinning carrots.

Rhiannon's version of thinning carrots.

Despite it all, I am feeling pretty good about my garden today. Not because of something that's blooming, or any veggies I'm harvesting, or because it's ready for a photo shoot (that's a laugh). I'm feeling good about my garden because we put a huge hole in the weed population today. When I say “we,” I mean me, my kids, and two wonderful neighbours. Ralph and Brenda, both retired school teachers, quite literally drove up and dug in. We worked and chatted in the mud for the better part of two hours (well, the kids didn`t, but we did). No judgements implied on the flowering sowthistle, no comments on the lawn in need of a haircut. Just helping hands and good company. Praise for the children's efforts. Enthusiasm for mine. We're not done, but I feel so much further ahead… and not just with my to-do list.

A friend of mine, a single mom stretched on many fronts, has trouble keeping up with her yard too. She complained to me a few weeks ago about feeling judged by her neat-as-a-pin neighbours. They seem so ready, she said, to point out all her shortcomings, and less ready to offer to babysit. I wish I could send Ralph and Brenda her way.

Weeds 1, Budding Gardener 0

And that’s all I’m going to say about that!

Learn about sustainable horticulture at the RBG

rbg-symposiumAs I mentioned in the newsletter I sent out this afternoon, winter is a great time to reflect on what you'd like to add or change in your garden come spring. It's also a great time to take a course or attend a seminar and learn more about your garden.

Canada Blooms is coming up in March, but in the meantime, the Royal Botanical Garden in Hamilton is hosting what I think sounds like a really interesting symposium of interactive discussions and workshops called Living Plants, Liveable Communities. From February 16 to 19, learn about what sustainable horticulture means to Canadians, take a workshop on plant identification, seed saving or cooking with local produce, and meet environmental experts who will hopefully inspire you to become more environmentally mindful in your garden and everyday life.

Click here for online registration.

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!

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.

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.

Eco-gardening lessons I’ve learned this week

ecologicalgardeningcoverI’ve been reading Ecological Gardening by Marjorie Harris on the subway. I love it because it’s trade paperback-sized–perfect for my purse–and it’s so conversational, you don’t even realize you’re reading non-fiction sometimes. The Globe and Mail wrote that “the facts come across as if from a helpful conversation with a good friend.” I need to remember to keep a pad of sticky notes in my purse to mark all the pages I want to come back to. I really want to strive to make my garden as healthy as possible and I’m so excited about what I’ve been learning.

Here are some of the facts I have learned from my new friend Marjorie:

  • Dandelions only grow in fertile, balanced soil. Their crazy long roots can actually bring nutrients from deep in the soil up to the surface. This is good news because I have a ton in my backyard and now I don’t feel so bad. They can also apparently help the growth of other flowers.
  • Watering thoroughly once a week is better for the plants than shallowly watering each day–except for containers which sometimes need to be watered twice a day.
  • Not all ants are bad. The other day some of the buds on one of my flowering perennials (I’m not sure what it is, but it has electric-blue frilly petals) had these little ants on them. I was a little alarmed at first, but according to Marjorie, they were sipping the sap from the buds, which isn’t harmful. Also, some of the other ugly beasties I’ve seen in my garden aren’t at all bad, so I need to make friends with them, too.
  • I think one of the best pieces of advice I have taken away this week from the book is to feed the soil, not the plant. If a plant is suffering and you’ve done all the things you’re supposed to–watering, given it adequate light, etc.–your problem likely lies in the soil and what it might be lacking. Marjorie provides lots of easy troubleshooting tips for amending your soil.

This weekend I hope to tackle my monster rose bush with the brand new rose gloves I got from my sister for my birthday.

Here are a couple of excerpts from Marjorie’s book on CanadianGardening.com:

What a difference a long weekend can make

Despite the rather chilly temperatures this past long weekend, I still managed to get out in the garden and cross a few tasks off my list. It's not very often I have two straight days in a row to get things done. So with a new pink pair of gardening gloves that I got for my birthday, I set out with my basket of tools to weed, plant, prune and dig.

This is what left me with a sense of accomplishment:

  1. We planted two five to six-foot cedars: I bought these about a month ago and have been waiting for a chance to dig them in. Fingers crossed that they make it. They still look lovely and green.
  2. I dug out a ton of dandelions and other annoying weeds that magically appeared after all that rain we got these last couple of weeks. Talk about eco-friendly pest control, it was also a workout!
  3. Give my boyfriend a pair of loppers or pruning shears and I come back to a twig with a root, so I kindly pointed out what I wanted pruned and how. Lorraine Flanigan`s article on how to prune spring-flowering shrubs, was helpful for my forsythias.
  4. I spread around some compost in a couple of my beds to prepare them for the lovely plants I have in store for them.
  5. I'm not sure if it was the fungus gnats or the fact that they'd outgrown the little peat pellets, but all of a sudden, my seedlings were looking sad and limp–and they didn't need water. So I transplanted my seedlings into bigger pots until I'll be able to plant them right into the garden.
  6. I have always felt bad about tossing away those wooden mandarin orange containers, so this winter I kept them because I knew they'd come in handy for something. And in one of them I planted salad greens. Yesterday the squirrels made a couple of holes in it, but if things start to grow, I’ll take a picture.
  7. I had some herb plants I was trying to protect from frost, but I just couldn't wait any longer, so I planted them.
  8. I dug out a ton of lily of the valley and their network of roots–they are so pretty and smell so nice, but they're a pain in the butt every spring when they're in the middle of my garden and I'm wanting to plant things. So I had to be ruthless.

And that sums up my list. A few tasks down, a few hundred to go!

10 ways to celebrate Earth Day in the garden

Today the media will be focused on Earth Day and the multitude of events happening across the country to bring awareness to environmental issues. Check out the Earth Day Canada site for a list of events happening in your community.

Now when it comes to your garden, I think every day should be Earth Day. I'm definitely trying to think green throughout my yard. My rain barrel collects lots of useful water, my seeds this year are all heirloom, organic varieties and I don't use toxic chemicals to eliminate pests or weeds.

I know this sounds so cliché, but even small steps can make a big difference. Here are some ways you can go “green” in your yard.

1. Support the ban on cosmetic pesticides. Just in time for Earth Day, Ontario will be the second province to ban more than 250 chemical pesticide products (Quebec was the first). Encourage the decision makers in your province to follow suit!

2. Hook up a rain barrel. This is such an easy way to conserve water and there are lots of nice-looking barrels on the market these days.

3. Explore organic ways to fertilize your garden. Learn how to nurture your garden naturally with this excerpt from Marjorie Harris’ new book, Ecological Gardening.

4. Learn how to make your own compost. This is so cool–you can literally make your own dirt. This is one of my resolutions as my composter currently has nothing but old sod in it.

5. Attract bees to your yard. Bees are essential to the very survival of our plants. Lure them in with bee-friendly flowers and this neat little home.

6. Determine how eco-friendly your garden is. See you're your garden and gardening practices rate on an enviro-friendly scale.

7. Return plastic plant pots. Sadly, most Blue Box programs do not recycle your plant pots. However if you purchase your flowers from a President’s Choice garden centre, they will take back your pots to recycle them. Plus, if you return 25 pots or flats, you will receive a coupon for $5 off a garden purchase of $50 or more.

8. Wean your lawn off chemicals. There are plenty of options on the market now to replace all those lawn chemicals of yore. But wouldn’t it be nice to stop worrying about that elusive, immaculate square of land and fill it with something fun instead?

9. Experiment with native plants. Choose plants that are native to your area that can easily adapt to the conditions of your garden.

10. Replace old garden gear with new eco options. If you’re in the market for some new tools and garden paraphernalia, test drive one of these “green” toys.

Eco-friendly resolutions

Happy New Year!

Besides giving my thirsty indoor plants lots to drink in this cold, dry weather, I haven't done much thinking personally about my own garden — that will change in the coming weeks as I'm really excited for spring.
However I have been busy editing and uploading content to go with the new special issue that is being mailed to subscribers probably as I write this! The theme is “Fantastic eco-wise Gardens.” With municipalities banning the use of pesticides and enviro-minded garden gurus reminding gardeners everywhere about the benefits of “green” gardening, this will be a fantastic resource to get you in the eco-friendly spirit for spring.
We also have lots of great eco-friendly content online…
For the new year, Jennifer Murray, my fabulous web producer, put together a helpful list of realistic eco-gardening resolutions.
If you're looking to add some earth-friendly titles to your gardening library this year, consulting editor Lorraine Flanigan has compiled an extensive list of resources.
Plus, you can determine how green you are with Stephen Westcott-Gratton's “Determining your green thumbprint” quiz. It might inspire you to adopt at least one of the eco-gardening resolutions — even small steps can make a great difference.
My eco resolutions include:

  1. Setting up my composter to actually produce compost! Currently it is just full of grass clippings. All the good stuff goes out in my green bin each week.
  2. Trying to find an effective, “green” way to get rid of the army of ants who call my property home.
  3. Plant a couple of trees in my yard. This will be win win as my neighbours behind me plan to build a second story on their bungalow – I’ll need privacy! Plus it will be good for the environment.

What are your eco-gardening resolutions?

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