Gardening Blog

Tree stumps and saltpeter

One of the great advantages of gardening out in the country is being able to do large scale projects.

One of the great drawbacks of gardening out in the country is finding professionals willing to travel to your residence to help you with large scale projects.

After having the power company remove three poplars from the front yard (due to their proximity to a power line), I spent some time trying to get a hold of an arbourist to come and grind the leftover stumps. No dice.

As much as my kids wouldn’t care if the stumps stayed (play value=very high), they’re a nuisance to mow and trim around and they’re constantly sprouting scraggly growth. And they’re just kind of ugly.

They are rotting away a bit, but not fast enough for me. I’ve decided it’s time to give up on the professionals and help Mother Nature along myself. I bought some stump remover and applied it several weeks ago.

Step 1: Using a wood boring bit, drill one inch holes in several places around the stump (the deeper the better). Drill similar holes at an angle into the side of the stump, creating vents for the main holes.

Step 2: Pour some of the stump remover into each hole (read the label for amounts). Pour hot water into the holes to dissolve the crystals.

It’s a pretty simple process. The stump remover basically just speeds up decomposition. You can help it by keeping the stump damp, even going so far as to cover it with plastic to hold in moisture. The label advises allowing at least 4-6 weeks for the process to work. This is what one of my stumps looked like after five weeks of intermittent rain and my total neglect.

Rotting nicely. When I pulled the grass away from the base of the stump I could see the wood crumbling quite a bit.

While doing some research on this whole process, I stumbled across an interesting fact: potassium nitrate, the active ingredient in this stump remover product, is also sometimes called saltpeter. If that word conjures visions of pirates and cannonballs, there’s a reason. It’s one of the main elements in gunpowder. That’s right, gunpowder. Which made the final step in the stump removal process seem suddenly much more exciting.

You can just let everything rot and then hack out the debris, but the manufacturer recommends starting a fire on the stump to burn out the remaining wood.

That’s right, fill your stump with saltpeter, then light it on fire.

Am I a pyromaniac, or does that not just sound fun?

The science behind it is the absorbed saltpeter allows the fire to burn right through to the roots of the stump, whereas a normal fire would burn only until it ran out of oxygen–pretty fast when you’re underground.

How can I not try this?

I got it started with a few leaves and some dry sawdust; some recommend a few charcoal briquettes or some kerosene (NOT gasoline). Be prepared though: it's a slow burn that must be watched for several hours or even a few days.

I was going to rake leaves today…

Ah! But what about…

I was gonna…

Now I can’t…

Sigh.

Today WAS the day to get going on mulching leaves. And I’ve barely made a dent in my long fall to-do list.

This morning I got a little wound up over this slap upside the head from the elements. A total loss of perspective, you could call it. As in, “That’s it, I’m done for the year. Cue the hibernation.”

As if I don’t live in Alberta and the forecast for the weekend is right back to perfect raking weather.

It makes me think of a turn of phrase oft employed by a friend of mine: “It’s not eternal.” As in, “This can be dealt with, passed through, and forgotten.” Her little phrase has helped me think differently about the daily annoyances of life: the spilt milk, the forgotten backpack, the overlooked phone message.

Frustrating? Yes. Insurmountable? No.

Snow melts. The leaves will be there when I get to them.

The flip side of this truth–and most deep truths do have a flip side–is that some things are eternal. Like the kid who forgot that backpack, and your relationship with him.

And that gardening to-do list. It’s eternal too, as in it will never be done. Kind of like laundry and dishes– but that’s just too depressing. Let’s stick with the garden.

I sometimes seem to operate on an unspoken assumption that one day I will complete everything I want to do with the garden, and that I’d better get on with getting it done. When I spell it out like that, it is obviously a delusion. A garden cycles, evolves, dies and is reborn, but it is never done. Not only that, doesn’t such an attitude suck all the joy out of the pursuit? And isn’t joy one of the main reasons I showed up to this party?

In the snow today, I’m letting go of the hurry and worry, and reminding myself that by participating in my garden’s eternity, I can experience some incarnation of this beauty every year. I can continually create something here as long as I breathe, even with the knowledge that breathing is not eternal.

Keeping retired garden hoses busy

One of my tasks for this week is draining and storing all the garden hoses. (Yes, ALL. An acre of land+no sprinkler system=lots of hoses.)

Often there’s one that I finally decide is beyond repair and needs to be put out to pasture. But what to do with these steel, plastic, and rubber aggregates? Many recyclers won’t take them, landfills hate them. The best thing I can think of is to repurpose them.

First option is to turn a leaky hose into a leakier hose: poke some more holes in it and use it as a soaker hose.

If it’s not up to that task, you can cut it into lengths for all kinds of applications:

For cutting through the tough layers of hose, I like to use an old serrated knife.

A simple guard for the blade of our bow saw.

The old rubber handles went the way of the earth long ago; now we use these for grips on the wheelbarrow. Also try slipping them over the wire handles of buckets.

Or if you’re feeling crafty:

Mark Kintzel's old hose repurposed as a doormat (click the pic for how-to)

Jill Fritz's fresh invention (click for the how-to)

And if you just can’t get enough hose-related goodness, have no fear, Pinterest is here.

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.

Bringing in the tomatoes

The time has come, I’m afraid, to end the tomatoes.

We’ve had a few frost warnings already, and I’ve been dutifully covering and uncovering my plants accordingly. But this is not my reason for giving up.

Someone else has discovered that tomatoes will actually grow in my yard. Someone with teeth and very bad manners.

Very suspicious.

They’ve been stealing the nicest, biggest fruit–red or green–eating half of it, and leaving the rest strewn about. Raccoon? Fox? Young deer, possibly?  Anyway, I’ve decided that between the frost and the thief, I might as well bring what’s left inside.

Which leaves me with a bunch of green tomatoes to ripen. Some are too small to mature of course (time to look for some green tomato recipes) but most of them should be perfectly happy to turn red over the next few weeks: they have a little tinge of colour and aren’t rock hard. I’ve got them in a cardboard box in a quiet corner of the pantry. If I get impatient I might throw a banana in there–bananas are super-producers of ethylene gas, which encourages ripening.

I’ve heard you can actually pick your whole plant and hang it upside down, and the tomatoes will ripen nicely on the vine, but I don’t really have anywhere to hang mine that won’t bring me dirty looks from my husband or eye-rolling from my kids. So I went for the middle road: I’ve left pieces of vine attached to the tomatoes in my box, being sure to leave them enough space that nobody is getting poked.

Mostly I’m just relieved that my tomato curse has been lifted. Not sure why I’ve had so much trouble with what is supposed to be an easy plant, but at last, I can hold my head high.

This lovely mess of fruit was all crowded together on one vine, flopped over and unnoticed near the ground. All that red/orange is one tomato!

 

 

I think a garden exploded in my kitchen

Ah, the beautiful, bountiful, overwhelming grasp of harvest time.

It began, for us, when a neighbour begged us to come take the last of her ever-bearing strawberries (and some runners while we were at it). Then the squash arrived from another neighbour, along with some overgrown cucumbers, which I quickly dispatched into relish.

Then came the apples. And more cucumbers.

Pickles and applesauce waiting to happen.

Then I brought in beets, and more zucchini–which I thought I was staying on top off but apparently wasn’t– and look! Tomatoes, which I thought hated me, are growing for me this year in abundance.

 

Oh, did I forget to mention I have four cases of pears ripening slowly in the corner? Well, I do.

She loves 'em, but even she can't eat them all.

The canning jars are filling and the dehydrator is running.

Tomorrow, I’m picking chokecherries and my four cases of peaches arrive.

I need my head examined.

 

 

 

 

Moody hues in my fall container

This past weekend, I cleaned out my summer containers, sending half-dead annuals to the compost (I felt a bit guilty about this since there were still a couple of tenacious blooms). I wasn’t ready to sacrifice my lemongrass, so I stuck it in the vegetable garden to use in my fall curries. Then, I headed to the nursery–or rather, a couple of nurseries–to buy some plants for my fall-themed containers. I wavered between the traditional, warm colours of autumn–reds, oranges and yellows–and what I’ve started calling the moody hues–deep purples, blues and cool greens. I went for the moody palette. When I got home and started putting things together, I had a couple of spaces to fill, so I dug one of my Vates blue kale from my vegetable garden to pair with the purple ornamental one, and dug up some stubborn ajuga that had found its way into a random patch of grass.

Here is my first container. It’s the main focal point of my front entrance. Starting clockwise from the purple and “blue” kale, you will see I included some hot pink mums. They’re not particularly moody, but I like that they’re an unexpected colour for fall. And they went with the rest of my palette. That brownish-purple-tinged foliage you can kind of see underneath everything in the middle is the errant ajuga. Then, an ornamental black pepper plant. At least I think they’re ornamental. I won’t be tasting them. But I saw these funky, almost-black plants used as an accent in some gardens in Quebec and thought they’d be perfect for fall. To the left of that is a heuchera. I love love love the veiny purple and green pattern on the leaves, but check out the underside of the one leaf. It’s a rich purple that complements the mums really well.

For my main container, I focused on filling it as full as possible, adding soil into the empty holes.

My next container is in a smaller pot, so I kept things simple:

Clockwise from the top, is another black pepper, an ajuga (I actually paid for this one, though it's prettier than the "weeds" I dug up), an ornamental cabbage and way to the left, ajuga weeds.

And my last pot, which I placed between two Muskoka chairs I have out front, is even simpler.

One big ornamental cabbage hogging the pot.

Here’s a shot where you can see two of my pots in the same frame. I think it will look nice if I can find some of those cool grey pumpkins to perhaps place around them and complete the look!

Waiting to be accessorized!

Propagating rosemary… and Christmas cheer

I love rosemary. It’s an easy plant to love: fragrant, edible, medicinal, good looking. It is not, however, easy to keep alive in our neck of the woods. While it might be evergreen at a lower latitude, mine has to come inside and struggle through the winter as a houseplant–often unsuccessfully. It gets woody and lethargic and I often end up buying a new pot from the greenhouse in the spring.

I tried growing it from seed once; I got tired of waiting for it to sprout and gave up thinking I’d done something wrong. Then, a passing comment from a friend several weeks ago turned a light on in my head: why was I not propagating rosemary by cuttings?

I started to do a little research, and guess what that little packet of rosemary seed forgot to mention? It can take up to three months to germinate! Also, the best way to propagate rosemary is from cuttings.

When all else fails, April, read the instructions.

Anyhow, I’ve rooted lots of things in water (and you can root rosemary in water too), but I bought myself a little bottle of rooting hormone to try putting the cuttings right into the soil.

Start with a 3-4 inch length of stem. Use a sharp blade -not scissors- to avoid crushing the stem, and make an angled cut. Take the soft bits at the tips rather than the older, woodier stems; they will root much more easily.

Strip the leaves off the stem. The little nodules where they grew are the primary rooting points, so make sure there are lots. You only need a few leaves left on top. Quick, go take something out of the freezer that you can use all those stripped leaves with for dinner.

Dip the stem in the rooting powder and shake off any excess. I've heard you can use honey, but I've never tried it. You can skip this step, but rooting will take longer.

Poke a hole in your potting soil, place the stem in it, and firm the soil gently. Ta da! Now, keep it moist and be patient.

As I was gathering my supplies to do this, I remembered seeing a little rosemary topiary of a Christmas tree once. Then it hit me: why not do lots of cuttings (especially if my current plants are destined for their end pretty soon anyway) and give away tiny rosemary ‘trees’ to neighbours and friends this Christmas? Way better than circulating more sugar.

Maybe I’ll do some lavender as well.

I can’t believe I thought of this soon enough to actually (possibly) pull it off! I should get a prize…

My baby rosemary forest!

 

 

 

A rose of Sharon cautionary tale

I inherited four rose of Sharon trees with my current house. They had all been meticulously pruned by the previous owner, when we moved in a couple of years ago, so I really didn’t need to do anything to them for awhile—or so I thought.

The first fall, I’m guessing the owner snipped all the seed pods before we moved in in mid October. But last fall, these lovely little pods appeared. With the branches still looking all neat and compact, I figured no pruning required and forgot about them altogether. Big mistake. This past spring, hundreds of mini rose of Sharons sprouted up around each tree like eager little weeds. If I had a greenhouse, I could start a rose of Sharon nursery and make money. Instead, I’ve tried to painstakingly pull each one out. But I’ve got a long way to go until they’re gone completely.

So, this fall, any seed pod that I happen to see will immediately be snipped into a yard bag and disposed of.

They're quite pretty and innocent-looking when they're in bloom...

...but watch out! If you don't nip those seed pods in the bud, this will happen!

Quick seed-saving tip

I’m really, really trying to get into saving my own seeds but with all there is to do in the garden (let alone life!) my timing is sometimes off. Either I’m over eager and lop off the seed heads before they have fully matured, or find them too late, after their seeds have already dropped.

I don’t remember who taught me this little trick to avoid disappointment, but it’s a good one.

Get your hands on a bunch of little mesh gift or favour bags. Dollar stores are a good bet, or attend a lot of fancy weddings and beg them from everyone who has finished their candy. When you notice the seeds forming on plants, pop a bag over the head and tighten the ties snuggly around the stem. The bag will keep the seeds contained until you get around to harvesting them, and allow air and light to circulate in the meantime. They also dry very quickly if they get wet.

I got my parsley all bundled up. Works great for many types of flowers and vegetables.

Pages: Prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ...47 48 49 Next

Follow Style At Home Online

Facebook Activity

Contests

Latest Contests

more contests