Gardening Blog

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.

Gardeners beware of the black widow spider

The itsy bitsy spider crawled up the water spout

Down came the rain and washed the spider out.

Out came the sun and dried up all the rain

And the itsy bitsy spider crawled up the spout again.

We’re all familiar with the popular nursery ryhme, but nowhere in the original version does it mention anything about the spider biting an innocent gardener. Joan Brunet was weeding her garden in Oakville, Ontario when suddenly she was bitten on the finger by a black widow spider. She panicked and shock the spider off her hand, but by then the venom was already coursing through her veins. As she rushed into the house to call for help, she began to sweat and her vision blurred. By the time the ambulance arrived, Brunet says her body felt like ‘jelly’ and she’d lost control of her extremities. Doctors were stumped and they had to call in an entomologist to determine that it was indeed a black widow spider bite. After a two week hospital stay, Burnet is only just starting to recover feeling in her legs.

Now I’m a firm believer in coexisting peacefully with the creatures and insects in my garden. In fact, spiders are beneficial because they catch all sorts of annoying insects in their webs. But I never thought that a spider living in my backyard could be so dangerous. I had heard about a view black widow sightings in southern Ontario last year, but was shocked to learn of the effects of the venom.

So how do you protect yourself? Apparenetly wearing gloves will help. As well as being observant. The female black widow spider is the only one who bites. She has a small black body with long legs about 5 cm in length. She has red markings along the top of her abdomen and a red marking similar to an hour glass on her lower abdoment.

Grow a Virtual Garden

nintendodsFor all you hip gamers out there, I thought this might interest you. A media company recently announced they are releasing software that will function as a gardening guide for the Nintendo DS. The Royal Horticultural Society has given the ‘Gardening Guide – How to get green fingers’ their offical stamp of approval.

For those of you who don’t know what a Nintendo DS is, let me clairify. It’s the world’s bestselling portable game system. You’ve probably seen kids hanging around with their gaze glued to the small hand held device. The Gardening Guide is designed to be more of a guide then a game. You can plan an existing garden or design a virtual oasis. It has an encyclopedia of over 400 plants, information on pests and disease, as well as tips and advice on growing plants. The guide even comes with a virtual gardener named Paul, who will help you along your virtual gardening journey.

Unfortunately, the Gardening Guide has only just been released in the UK, but hopefully if it’s successful, they’ll soon bring it to North America.

Sucker for succulents

chicks-and-hens2Most people choose plants for their garden because of the showy and colourful flowers, but I love plants with unusual foliage, especially succulent plants with cool foliage. Hens and chicks are one of my personal favourite foliage plants in the garden. chicks-and-hens

One of the reasons why I love hens and chicks (Sempervivum) is because of their fleshy rosettes of leaves. Did you know that their botanical name Sempervivum means ‘always alive’. These hardy little perennials are drought tolerante and love full sun. In my rock garden, I have a dozen or so mature plants and two of them currently have flower spikes thrusting into the air. I’m always amazed at how sturdy they are. The top heavy spikes look like they could fall over at any moment. I love how unusual the flowers are. The cluster of starshaped flowers look like something out of a sci-fi movie.chicks-and-hens-close-up

If you’re looking for more information on how to grow your own hens and chicks in garden, check out some of these great articles at CanadianGardening.com.

What's the best way to pick a zucchini?

zucchiniMy President's Choice Gigantico zucchini plant is a monster! Part of me is glad that a few of my plants didn't work out because this thing is taking over! I picked my first two zucchinis this week. However both times, I broke off the tip of the vegetable. Does anyone have any advice on how to pick them so they end up whole?

Please answer in the comments section below. I also posted a question in the Fruit & Vegetable Gardening forum.

By the way, my zucchinis were delicious! I made both into raw `noodles` with my Joyce Chen spiral slicer last night, added some carrots and a sweet vegan ‘Pad Thai’ sauce I had made and ate it all with a piece of barbecued salmon. Yum!

Sustainable horticulture

In today’s fast paced society, do we ever stop to smell the roses anymore? We’re so busy working, shopping, driving – most of us have very muddy carbon footprints. Sustainable living is a phrase that’s been used a lot lately. Basically, it refers to a lifestyle choice that encourages people to live in harmony with nature.

A new initiative to promote sustainable living at the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) in Burlington, Ontario is the Canadian Institute for Sustainable Biodiversity (CISB).

The RBG recently announced a multidisciplinary symposium scheduled for February 2010 on sustainability and horticulture, entitled ‘Living Plants, Liveable Communities: Exploring Sustainable Horticulture for the 21st Century.’ This symposium is being designed to teach Canadians how to live with the environment in a sustainable way.

Here are a sustainable living tips that you can use at home in your garden:

  • check your outdoor taps for leaks
  • recycle your garden pots
  • mulch your garden beds to help reduce the amount you need to water
  • if you have to water your lawn, give it a deep soak to allow the roots to absorb the water
  • grow a veggie garden and enjoy home grown produce
  • compost all your organic kitchen waste
  • try xeriscaping in your garden with drought-tolerant plants

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.

Tip to help tomato flowers turn into tomatoes

I was reading advice in our forums the other day and one of the posts piqued my interest. A reader was having trouble with her tomato flowers dying before they turned into little tomatoes. “Beeman” came to the rescue and recommended vibrating the flower stem or spritzing the open flowers with a small hand sprayer filled with warm water to encourage pollination. Ten days later, “Crazy4Columbine” reported that the spraying worked! I thought I’d pass along this helpful tip and I might see if it works on my zucchini plant. Some of the flowers have been dying before I get a mini zucchini!

Good riddance to a soggy July

For those of you gardening in British Columbia−congratulations! You`ve been enjoying a lovely warm summer, but the rest of Canada, well, we're still waiting for summer to arrive. So far, Ontario's summer has been cool and wet. I recently read an article in the Globe and Mail, and it said that this has been the coldest July in 17 years in southern Ontario. The average temperature has been three degrees below normal and the average rainfall; well let's just say my gardens are still soaked! The only good thing about this rainy July is that my grass is lush and green. Of course, I have to mow it every week, but normally at this time of year it's already become a crunchy brown carpet.

Because of the rain, some of the plants in my garden are suffering from a serious case of powdery mildew. Powdery mildew is caused by Sphaerotheca fuliginea. The leaves on my phlox, roses, cucumbers and even the Manitoba maple tree are covered with grayish-white, powdery spots. Although powdery mildew isn't pretty, it is rarely fatal, so I'm not that concerned. To combat this pesky fungicide, I prune the infected plant parts and get rid of them. This helps improve the air circulation around the plant. Since powdery mildew likes a moist, humid environment, this helps combat the infection. You could apply fungicide, but there is also a home remedy using baking soda, which helps reduces the plants risk of becoming infected in the first place.

Homemade Powdery Mildew Fungicide

  • 3 ½ litters of water
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoons liquid soap

A few days prior to applying the mixture, water your plants well. Avoid treating the plant in direct sunlight. Apply the homemade fungicide with a spray bottle, ensuring you get full coverage.

I've also heard spraying a concoction of milk (1 part milk to 9 parts water) that helps reduce a powdery mildew infection, but I've never tried this remedy myself.

My neverending squirrel dilemma

I've had a terrible problem with squirrels this past season. They carried off several of my veggie plants, and a few summer bulbs, and dug up some of my seeds. A lady up the street feeds them peanuts, so I find peanut shells all over my yard as well as random holes from their relentless digging.

harvestmoongardenEarlier this season I would sprinkle cayenne pepper all over my gardens and chase squirrels out of my garden like a crazy person. A few folks here at the office were horrified about the cayenne as they had heard that if the squirrels get the spice on their paws, they'll rub it in their eyes and scratch at their eyeballs. A Canadian Gardening colleague did a little digging and found some information from the Humane Society, which recommends cayenne pepper in the garden and I found a page online that I figure makes it OK if it’s coming from a society that protects animals. The only problem with cayenne is you have to constantly reapply after giving your garden a good soak or after it rains.

In the recent issue of Toronto Life, I read Brent Preston's memoir about becoming a farmer. Brent's battle was with groundhogs and insects. To control the destructive flea beetle from ravaging his crops, he covered his plants with row cover, a finely woven fabric that allows sun and water to pass through but keeps insects out. I'm wondering if this would help deter the squirrels from my plants and seeds–at least until they're strong and sturdy. I think I saw an example of row cover last week when I was in the Bruce Peninsula. We came across Harvest Moon Organic Bakery and Sculpture Gardens while looking for a mountain biking trail. At the end of a long driveway we came across this lovely little bakery with the most delicious treats. Part of their vegetable garden was covered in a light cloth, which appears to be row cover. I think I might try it next year.

How do you deter squirrels in your garden?

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