{ Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category }

National Sun Awareness Week

After what felt like an eternity of cold winter weather, the flowers are blooming, the sun is shining and we can all get back out into the garden.

Whether you’re building raised flowerbeds, mowing the lawn or simply enjoying afternoons on the patio, we can’t forget the importance of summer suncare – and what better way to remind us than the Canadian Dermatology Association’s annual, nationwide Sun Awareness Week.

Before heading outside to enjoy the warm weather, here are a few helpful tips you should remember.
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Tips for DIY garden-inspired flower arrangements

On a much sunnier afternoon, I happily attended a flower arranging workshop hosted by flower shop owner Alison Westlake of Coriander Girl and urban flower farmer Sarah Nixon of My Luscious Backyard. I’d like to share a few tricks of the trade for creating your own garden-inspired flower arrangements at home.

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The dog ate my blog work

So I was going to write this week about the awesome composting class I attended on Saturday, through the Calgary Horticultural Society.

I’ve also been thinking about a post on keeping houseplants happy through the winter, especially so I could show off Chris’ blooming Lipstick Vine (Aeschynanthus).

There was the bird watching report.

The cold frame update.

More books to spotlight.

But we got a puppy on Monday, and all bets are off.

I wasn’t necessarily against getting a dog, but I had a very clear idea of the work involved, having kept pet dogs as a child, and blithely leaving most of the work to my patient, patient mother. Which would now be coming back to haunt me.

I have, however, already taken a shining to our little as-yet-unnamed fur ball. He is incredibly smart and is training very quickly. But I can’t help cringing every time he does his business, because underneath his potty is my garden: the lawn (meh), the vegetable plots (please don’t), and the finally-happy rose patch (grrr!). I’m being patient, and working towards a designated area, but what if he turns out to be a digger? What if my newly planted trees look  to him more like sticks to chew?

I’ve been dealing with kitty consequences for years, but this is entirely different. Puppies are so much… busier. Louder.

It’s a whole new world for the family and the garden. (And the cat. But he’ll survive.)

 

 

Protect your plants from winter snow

We got our first big snow of the year this week–a good six inches of heavy, wet stuff. It is melting and blowing away as we speak, but it has already done some damage: my ninebarks are flattened.

These were four feet tall. If I had braved the storm, I could have shook them off as the snow came down and saved them. Unfortunately, I slept through most of it.

I’m not overly worried about most of my perennials; they don’t care about some broken end-of-season stems. Even the ninebarks will likely come through not much worse for the wear. My young Medora juniper, however, took a beating last year and kind of languished through the summer. It is getting a burlap teepee this year to protect it both from dumps of snow and the wind: conifers continue to transpire moisture throughout the year and so are particularly vulnerable to drying winter winds.

Poor thing is looking kind of rough, but I'm hoping a little protection might help him through the winter. Use stakes and weatherproof fabric and be sure to leave air space for the plant to breathe.

The other thing I’m looking at is installing some snow guards on our metal roof. Snow comes sliding off in huge hunks sometimes, and one of my cold frames got smashed pretty well to pieces by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A rail-style snow guard by Euramax Canada

 

Attention poinsettia keepers

I am embarking on a test of concentration and dedication.

I have kept my poinsettia going from last Christmas, and it is now time to help it “flower” again. This requires keeping it in the absolute, uninterrupted dark 14 hours a day, and bright sunlight at least six hours a day. As suspiciously as this sounds like a schedule, I, the queen of distraction and misplaced to-do lists, am going to attempt it.

I first learned the ins and outs of poinsettia keeping from a column Karen York did in the 2013 Annual edition of Canadian Gardening. It’s true, I may have neglected a few of her well-explained steps (such as monthly fertilizing and cutting it back in early spring), and I never did take it outside for the summer. But it’s stayed a happy houseplant in spite of me, and I figure it’s worth a shot to get those red bracts back.

Karen’s tips specify starting this controlled light regimen October 1, so I’m right on time! Yay me! I’ve put an alarm on my iPad for every morning so I’ll remember to get it out from under its cardboard box in the closet. I think I’ll remember to put it away at night if it’s smack in the middle of the kitchen counter…

On second thought, I’ll set an alarm for evenings too.

And suddenly… there was a shed

Chris and I have been talking about building a large shed, big enough to park our rider mower in. We have been known to wax poetic about all the fabulous things we will do with this building, going so far as to call it our “barn”, ever so romantically. It will have a green roof. It will house chickens. It will sport an arbour covered in hops and clematis.

It will be built, one day, and it will be fabulous.

Then, unexpectedly, a friend offered to give us a shed she wanted off her property.

Doesn't look like much, but it's really solid, insulated, and wired for electricity.

We’re all about the recycling, and after checking it over and finding it sound and suitable, we took her up on the offer. The only catch: we were in charge of moving it.

A few phone calls to neighbours and we had a couple of tractors lined up, along with a flatbed trailer.

Getting shed onto trailer: easy peasy.

Getting shed off of trailer: not so easy. (Insert your "how many guys does it take..." joke here.)

Pull, John, pull!

Ta-da! Just imagine it with siding, and an arbour off the peak of the roof!

It took some manoeuvring, but we got it right in the spot we wanted it. It may appear to the untrained eye like we just acquired an enourmous project. But to us dreamers, we just got a fast-forward on our good intentions.

Oh, the possibilities...

 

 

 

Strawberry season takes over my kitchen

We have either eaten or processed four flats of strawberries and one of blueberries in the last two days. As much as I wish I had grown all that myself, alas, it is not so; one day I will go there, but it is not today. I ordered them from a grower.

I picked them up Monday afternoon, and realized what I had done to myself. See, when I say ‘flat’ of berries, I’m not talking about the plastic tubs from the grocery store, I’m talking about the big cardboard trays that hold twelve dry pints. When I ordered them, it seemed like a very reasonable amount for what I wanted in my pantry and freezer for the year; when I actually saw them, all I could think was, That’s a lot of berries.

Monday night we froze most of the blueberries. That goes pretty fast: just sort, rinse, and bag.We saved a pint for Tuesday breakfast and ate about another while we worked.

Tuesday morning we tackled the strawberries. We washed, we topped, we sliced. We sliced some more.

The whole gang pitching in!

We picked the last of the rhubarb from the garden and chopped that up too to make strawberry rhubarb jam.

I like to use half strawberries/half rhubarb (my rhubarb is a sweeter variety) and use about 5 cups sugar to every 6-7 cups of fruit. After it's cooked down a little, I use an immersion blender to get even texture, then skim the foam. I then add a little box of strawberry gelatin, bottle and process.

Twelve pints later, we decided to freeze the rest (those that hadn’t already made it into the oatmeal, into Monday’s dessert, or into our mouths) before they could spoil.

Then…

We did dishes.

 

 

The verdict on solarizing weeds

My weed-solarizing experiment has been running for over six weeks now. It’s been quite wet and cool this spring, so it was a little slow to start, but we’ve had a few good hot days now and I am ready to call the winner:

Clear plastic after 40 days

Black plastic after 40 days

While initially I thought the clear plastic was working the best, the black plastic seems to have the best long term results. Probably the total light deprivation.

Things I would do differently next time:

1. Use bigger sheets of plastic. The garbage bags did the job, especially on an “experiment” basis, but finicky to use on the larger scale I intend to do. Also, I’m sure a heavier weight would change the effectiveness.

2. Cut everything back right down to the ground before laying the plastic. It would go down much smoother, and you wouldn’t have such a mess of dried up stuff to clean up afterwards.

3. Sealing out the air seems to make as much difference as sealing out the light. fix the edges really well as well as any seams.

4. If possible, I would try to leave the plastic in place for a full year, as different weeds manifest in different seasons.

 

Alberta flood aftermath

Enjoy your garden today, weeds and all: you’re not underwater.

Alberta is still reeling from the recent “unprecedented” flooding. (If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the word ‘unprecedented’ in the last week…) Much of High River is unlivable, Calgary’s C-Train rails are a mess, parts of Waterton Park are cut off because of washed out roads, and many other communities, including the Siksika Nation, have been ravaged.

As for us: we are damp but our sump pump has remained idle. However, I only have to go one or two degrees of separation (in several directions) to find someone airlifted out of their flooded yard, or unable to get to work, or dealing with a death, or facing a completely destroyed home. It will take years (up to ten, and a billion bucks, according to Alberta Premier Allison Redford) to “fully recover,” whatever that means.

Much is being done to help displaced people with food, shelter, hygiene, and even a little entertainment (yay, Nenshi!). I’m glad to say I have two cousins in government in the area who are spearheading relief efforts for the worst-hit communities.

Through all this, I have thought a couple of times about the unlucky gardeners wading through this mess.  It’s with a little guilt that I even mention it, because I don’t mean to minimize the bigger losses some have and will experience. Still, my heart goes out to those dealing with horticultural devastation too. A lot of passion and work can go into a garden, and it’s got to be hard to have that washed away. The Calgary Zoo, for instance, has a wonderful botanical garden and I’m curious and a little worried to see if it makes it through, not just the giraffes.

I went digging to see what might be done for the plant kingdom under these circumstances, and found this informative article for those ready to turn attention to their gardens.  Also, the Calgary Horticultural Society is planning to organize donations of time, tools, and plants to re-green flooded areas.

While not nearly as important as food, shelter, safety and power, I’m kind of glad this concern is being addressed. I don’t know about “fully recovering” from the emotional losses so many have suffered, but burdens can be eased in many ways, one of which is enjoying the beauty nature has to offer.

All in all, I’m proud of how Albertans are pulling together to get through this, and I’m thankful for all the support coming from near and far. I think we’ll be back to working, playing –and planting– before we know it.

Why thinning?

That time has arrived for my earliest crops: they need thinning. I sigh, as I am wont to do over this task, and mumble once again, “Isn’t there some way to avoid this fiddly, tedious, extra task?”

Come on, admit it, doesn’t it seem like a make-work project to plant a bunch of seeds, and then, after a few weeks, take a bunch of them back out?

Why not just plant them all at the right spacing to begin with and be done with it, right?

Every year I think this, and every year I talk myself back into doing it the long way. Here’s some of the reasons why.

1. Bad germination. Sometimes only some of what you plant will actually sprout. I hate to break it to you, but there’s a lot that can go wrong before those little plants are even born.Could be heavy spring rains washing out or rotting seeds, dry weather frying them, critters stealing them, less than ideal soil temperature, or just plain bad seed. So you over-plant, improving the odds that you will have enough germinate for your needs, and insuring yourself against empty gaps in your rows or squares (along with the resulting urge to re-seed).

2. Plant strength. Not every seed is absolutely, one-hundred-percent identical. Each might respond differently to the exact micro-climate you place it in. By planting thickly, you can choose those plants that seem the strongest to focus your resources on, discarding those that are weaker– and you do this when they are quite young to give the survivors the best chance and the most room.

3. Nature of the beast. No matter how far apart you plant some seeds, you will always need to thin because the “seed” is actually a seed pod, containing a group of seeds. Beets are a good example. In these cases, just resign yourself to the necessity.

My biggest problem with thinning is this horrid feeling that I am killing tiny bits of life. All that potential! How can I toss it at the compost heap? But the truth is, by sacrificing those little guys, you really are improving the production of the rest. I had two big squares of carrots last year. One I thinned early, the other got pushed to the bottom of the list until well into July. You would not believe the difference in the harvest in those two squares (both seeded and germinated evenly): the first gave me pounds of medium to large sized carrots, the second had lots of tiny ones, the kind that are just annoying to try to clean and prepare.

‘Nuf said.

So away I go, with some good sharp scissors, and weigh my little seedlings in the balance. Those found wanting get a snip right at the soil line (yanking them up is more likely to disturb roots on the keepers).

There is the odd time you might find three really strong, healthy looking specimens grouped too close together. I have been known to dig some up and move them to a more suitable spot, but be warned: only try this on plants that don’t mind root disturbance.

Though I haven’t quit my grumbling about one of my least favourite garden chores, I try to keep as my mantra a little piece of wisdom I heard someone say somewhere, sometime: “I would rather grow a few plants really well, than an acre-full badly.”

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