{ Archive for the ‘seasons’ Category }

The pre-autumn slump

I came home from vacation to find more than a bit of a mess in my garden. Three weeks of heat and a temperamental irrigation system meant that things didn’t get watered consistently and all the annuals are dead or flat-lining. I thought I’d gotten the weeds under control, but they were back, seeding their fool heads off. The peas were overripe, the broccoli bolting, the onions flowering. Sigh.

Half of me wants to start a flurry of work and get things ship-shape again (or finally, depending on your perspective), and the other half of me wants (gasp) winter to show up early to hide all my sins, and just start again next spring. (If the “s” word starts falling in the next 48 hours, I guess you can blame it on me.) I’ve spent the week trying to catch back up. Some things have gotten done, but the list is getting longer instead of shorter thanks to the fall chores starting to arrive.

I thought I’d cheer myself up by planting some trees. A neighbor gave us some seedlings he cleaned out of his windbreak: three maples, two ash, and a random crab apple. I got four in the ground, watered and mulched, and then it started raining. While out there, I also realized that four trees at the very back of our property which we were told were baby Manitoba maples when we put them in 6 years ago, aren’t maples at all. They’re ash trees. I’d taken some one’s word and never looked closely again until now.

I feel like an idiot.

And my garden is a mess.

And it’s raining. Okay, that’s actually kind of good, just not what I was hoping for…

Maybe things aren’t that bad. It’s just days like this that make me think I’m a better writer than I am a gardener. At least, I hope I am.

Wow. I’m sure I’ll get out of this funk when fall sets in properly; it’s this in-between that’s getting to me. Anyone want to join me at the greenhouse tomorrow to look at the pretties? Maybe I’ll choose some fall bloomers to disguise the travesties in my front yard. That should get me through until it’s dry enough to work again.

And please forgive me for even mentioning the season coming next.

My case of the gardening blues

I’ve had a wee case of the gardening blues this past summer. You see, I sold my house at the very end of April and then thought for sure I’d be moving by the summer. Then we did buy a house with a summer closing, but had to make the heart-wrenching decision to walk away after our house inspection went awry. So then when we finally did find another house, it came with an October closing date. I never imagined it would take me six months to get into my new place. I had dreams of working in my new garden, seeing what came up and adding a few little gems before working on a bigger long-term plan.

This has made me feel somewhat disconnected from my own little garden. My summer has consisted of halfheartedly planting some late veggies, dutifully giving my pots and gardens the minimum water requirements to live, and woefully picking weeds out of our new front garden that we converted from lawn (hey, isn’t mulch supposed to suppress the weeds?). I admit it. I have had a really bad attitude about my garden (which is also why I’ve had a hard time blogging), but my heart just hasn’t been in it this summer.

October is still really far away and I don’t want to wish away the rest of this gorgeous summer. So I’ve decided to suck it up and start fresh. It occurred to me the other day that I could still have my fun with this garden while planning a little for the other. First of all, I’ve started taking a garden inventory of all the plants I hope to plant in my new garden. I’ll cover more of this in a future post. Secondly, BULBS! I can order bulbs for the new garden and still safely get them into the ground before the first frost (I hope). I’ve dug out a couple of catalogues to start taking a look.

First on my list, however, whether I like it or not is tackling those darned weeds…

Have you ever suffered from the gardening blues?

Summertime, and the livin’ is…

…easy, a little too easy.

It’s tough to get motivated on that weed pulling when there’s picnics and beaches calling. I’ve done more kayaking this week than lawn mowing, and hanging the hammock seems more appealing than hauling hoses. But it must be done, and there’s a part of me, buried deep under the sunscreen, that really does want to do it. So I made myself a ‘summer garden’ playlist to kick-start my work ethic. And being the generous person I am, I’m sharing it with you. Hope you enjoy. If it’s not your taste, make your own and share it.

Summer Gardening Mix

Things to do while it’s raining

Day 1

-Grumble about wishing I had more planted before the weather changed.

-Resolve to be productive anyway.

-Enjoy the smell of spring rain.

-Tidy up the shed.

-Read gardening magazine/books.

Day 2

-Grumble a bit; then think positive.

-Edge a flower bed, careful not to step in the bed.

-Clean some tools that got missed in the fall.

-Measure the rainfall.

-Watch birds.

-Read more.

Day 3

-Sigh.

-Do top-to-bottom organize of shed.

-Repair and prepare hoses (meant to get that done ages ago, three points for me!).

-Watch grass grow in front of my eyes.

-Inventory seeds that could have… I mean, will be planted.

Day 4

-Go to greenhouse for sympathy and support.
-Update garden scrapbook.

-Count worms.
-Tidy up houseplants.

Day 5

-Watch dandelions go to seed.

-Lose boot in mud after attempting to “check on things”.

-Consider collecting stamps with flowers, trees, and vegetables on them.

-Retire to couch with scrapbook and magazines.

-Give up and actually get something done inside the house.

At least I am well prepared with my new boots!

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.

The wonder of it all

I’m going to stop for a moment from my usual narration of events to draw your attention to the affairs of nature we observe and encourage as gardeners.

Watching seeds sprout and perennial roots send out new shoots, I’ve been thinking – how does this happen? How is it that we take the growth of plants for granted as absolutely normal? Even with the understanding of biology, cell division, photosynthesis, isn’t the the whole process just this side of impossible?

Seeds turning into flower, or food, or tree is simply a part of our lives. We’re surrounded by it. But think for a minute. A tiny 1 millimeter seed. Add water, soil, light, and time, and you’ll end up with a 10 inch carrot. Isn’t that on par with pulling a rabbit out of a hat? Or Scotty beaming us up?

These little packets of cells know entirely what they are doing. They know how to make beautiful, useful somethings out of dang near nothing. And after exposure to cold that would end the life of most respectable living things, many of them come popping up cheerily as if nothing were ever wrong.

I invite you to mentally pack away your spring to do list, your gripes about mud or snow, everything you know about botany and cultivars and fertilizers and landscape design, and go find a crocus or a tree budding. Watch it for a bit. Marvel at the absolute ridiculousness of it all.

And remind yourself–this is reality. And this little bit of reality is a full-on miracle.

Building my cold frame

Well, it’s not built, but it’s ready to be built. Do I get an ‘A’ for effort?

After studying up on the basics again, I think I’m ready to begin.

When I revamped my front yard in 2009, I planned this spot (where you see my materials waiting) with a cold frame in mind. It’s a south facing wall, out of the worst wind, with full sun exposure. There’s gravel to walk on, as my yard is known to be a mud hole in the spring. Also, it’s about four feet from a tap for quenching thirsty seedlings.

We’ve had this old window sash hanging around since we bought our house (this is where it pays to have a pack rat around). It’s old and worn and absolutely gorgeous. The glass is all intact, but it does wobble just a wee bit. We will probably reinforce it some so it will stand up to being raised and lowered, not to mention kids trying to sit on it, and cats laying on it to bask…

For the box itself, I bought cedar fence board. It’s rougher than your nicely planed boards sold for decking, but I’m not going for any woodworking prizes here. With bottom line in mind, I paid $3.80 each for 6 six foot lengths, a total of 22.80. The 2″x2″ post for the corners I found with the decking stuff; one eight foot length was $4.28. All the hardware I’ll need is kicking around the garage, so all told I’ll pay just over $27 for this project (plus a little sweat and maybe a few splinters).

Next step: power tools!

So is it spring or isn’t it?

I woke up at 3 am this morning to a baby fussing. I rolled over, and thought, “Just a few more hours, little girl, it’s not time yet. If you wake up now, we’ll both be miserable for the rest of the day.”

She settled down on her own, and slept until 7:30, but I found myself repeating similiar words as I looked out my window at breakfast.

“Just a few more weeks, little tree, it’s not time yet. If you wake up now we’ll both be miserable, and you’ll end up dead.” The object of my mother-naturely concern: the European mountain ash I planted in my front garden last year.

The poor dear is so confused. Between the chinooks warming everything up and blowing away his nice chilly blanket of snow, he’s convinced it’s spring. We had a warm spell a few weeks back, and I had to bring snow from the drifts around the yard over to his base. I covered his toes while mumbling (yes, out loud), “Go back to sleep, you silly thing. It’s February.” No matter what the ground-hog may guarantee, I’m an Alberta girl. I’ve seen one too many April snowstorms. Around here, you don’t plant anything tender before the May long weekend any more than you’d give chewing gum to an infant. I’m not that worried about the big old poplars; they’ve seen more winters than I have and will hardly wilt at a late frost. A young tree budding in early March is doomed.

Or is it? Driving around on the highways today, the Canada geese are everywhere and the gophers are running around getting themselves run over. There was frost on the windshield this morning, but my tulips (and the shepherd’s purse) are showing growth. Maybe it is spring, and I’m being overprotective. Maybe I need to let my baby tree out on its own — sink or swim — just like a toddler learning to walk is going to get a few bruises. But I can’t help wanting to coddle him just a little this first year. I know spring and its fickle nature can have too many casualties.

On the top of my priority list for this year: start a shelterbelt to protect my little mountain ash and all his friends (as well as eliminating the snow drifts across the driveway. Hopefully.)

Counting my blessings

I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time this year griping about everything going wrong, mostly with the weather. I’m a little late for Thanksgiving, but I thought a list of “good things” would be a great way to end the season.

1. I have a great crew of dandelion pickers. Just imagine how many more would have gone to seed if the “flowers” on my countertop had been left in the lawn.

2. The sparrows who were trying to nest in my dryer vent were ousted in time to set up housekeeping in a poplar.

3. I planted a dwarf Alberta spruce, a golden flowering current, a Medora juniper, a bunch of ninebarks, some baptista, and a European Mountain ash, all last fall in my big overhaul. They had a really good start, as well as the yarrow, blue flax, yellow flax, moss phlox, and mugo pine I put in this spring. They’ve had nice damp soil all year to get established and I haven’t had to worry about anybody getting scorched or dried out. And we got a crash course on how the new flower beds drain, so we got that sorted out before it got planted right up.

4. The weeds pulled out really easy out of the damp soil. Of course, they also grew really well…

5. Along with #3 and #4, and despite my complaining, I hardly had to haul hoses at all this year. One huge chore less. Who can complain about that?

6. The tomato plants that almost bit it in an early wind storm thrived once I moved them into my enclosed porch. I’ve used it as a “greenhouse” to start stuff in the spring, but I’ve never kept anything in there the whole season. The little sun we got this year was multiplied by the glass and we got quite a few tomatoes when I was expecting none. (Had to move them outside on good days for pollinators to do their business.)

This Echeveria bloomed on stalks about six inches tall.

7. I’ve never seen hens and chicks bloom before.

8. I forgot to plant marigolds around my broccoli and kale. I always plant marigolds! Guess what? Major bug infestation. Why is this a blessing? I now know that marigolds really do help deter pests (make sure they’re the smelly kind though!). It also led me to learn of Btk, a safe bacterium I can try next year to save myself some grief on the cabbage worm front.

9. Ralph and Brenda.

10. Berries.

11. I finally went to Nikka Yuko.

12. I started some yellow flax from seed I bought from the Bedrock Seed Bank. It is the first time I have messed around with anything requiring “moist stratification” (or anything more than your basic sprinkle and cover) and it lived. And is quite happy.

13. We just picked the last of the lettuce to have with supper last night. November 5. Those of you reading in Victoria are probably just blinking at the screen, unimpressed, but you prarie people know what I mean.

14. Our tacky, broken down shed got a new door, a paint job, and improved shelves. Just waiting for a latch, and the kids to quit dumping all their toys and tools right in the doorway.

15. We only lost one major limb off our twenty-odd poplars in this year’s spring storms. Evidence that arborists are worth their bucket trucks in gold. It did come down on the roof of the house though, but that’s also a blessing because Chris is now convinced that we really should be looking at gradually replacing the poplars with some younger, different trees.

16. These last several weeks have been dry and warm. The farmers actually got their hay off, and I got a bonus deadline extension on all my fall tasks.

17. The steps Jenni built me got through their first year in decent shape. I only had to fine tune two stones (by planting thyme and echeveria in the cracks around it–the root systems stabilize the stones, I ‘ve been told. So far so good.) As for the rest of the mess around them… there’s always spring.

18. My eight year old casually named about ten of the plants growing in our yard the other day. And I’m not talking “beans”, “carrots”, and “potatoes”, either. It’s rubbing off!

19. While the giant pumpkin never got to Cinderella’s carriage size, we actually got corn this year! Not bushels, but edible corn, nonetheless! And we were not buried in zucchini!

20. My Rudebeckia is no longer a John Doe.

Final blessing of the year: the chance to share all of my adventures with you.

Water plants, winter style

It’s bedtime. Autumn has pretty much wrapped up; there’s just a few odd jobs to putter at if your gloves can keep out the frosty air. Many gardeners now turn their minds to houseplants or windowsill herb gardens to get their green thumb fix until the seed catalogues start arriving. I’m usually one of them, but houseplants seem kind of ho-hum right now. My hoya and peace lily have both stopped blooming and my norfolk island pine is wasting away (too much watery love from the small people, I think).

But never fear! Inspiration has ousted the winter doldrums before they could even set in!

I was in Lethbridge today doing some early Christmas shopping (yes, I know) at the pet store. Our (Chris’) big plan this year is to get the kids (Chris) a fish tank. We picked one out and I was assigned to pick it up and get it hid before anybody was the wiser. Well, we picked the right pet store. I wasn’t in there five minutes before I had the ear of Alan, gardener and fish lover. He gets his gardening kicks in the snowy season by growing water plants in his – wait for it – 175 gallon aquarium. He taught me pH, fertilizer, growing medium, and even offered to share with me a cutting off his sagittaria plant (lawn for the underwater set).

I’ll admit, I was lukewarm about the whole fish tank thing. But I’ve warmed up to it with the realization that I can have the “pond” I can’t handle in the backyard, right in my living room. And in the winter, too!

Not to mention a whole new array of flora to investigate. Things are looking up.

And if you’re wondering how we plan to get this thing set up and keep it a surprise… well, so am I.

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