Gardening Blog

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.

 

An edible inventory and an unwelcome beetle

Last year I planted a few things in the small veggie patch that was already in the backyard when we bought the house – garlic, tomatoes, a few herbs. In the fall, my husband built a couple of raised vegetable boxes out of cedar, so after a soil delivery this spring, I was ready to plant a whole lot more. I planted so much I had to go elsewhere to find a spot for everything. It all fit eventually, but it will be interesting to see what thrives where. Because of the cool, wet spring we had, my tomatoes weren’t looking that great until the past couple of weeks. Now they’re finally taking off. I’m out there every night carefully inspecting everything. What’s that they say about a watched pot that never boils?

However it’s a good thing I’ve scrutinized my plants so closely or I wouldn’t have noticed the Colorado potato beetles (kindly ID’d by a social media follower) and their eggs and larvae attacking my tomatillos and potatoes. I’ve been hand-picking them off the leaves and drowning them in a water/dish soap mix. My fingers are crossed they won’t completely ruin my harvest.

Here is a mostly complete list of the edibles I’ve planted this year:

  • Tricolor Carrots Circus Circus (Renee’s Garden)
  • Golden Detroit Beet (Urban Harvest)
  • Radish Raxe – eaten about two weeks ago (William Dam Seeds)
  • Vates Blue Curled Kale (Urban Harvest)
  • Tomatillos (Richter’s Herbs)
  • Zucchini (unknown origins… I bought the plants on sale)
  • Bush beans from my neighbor (grown from seed)
  • Mammoth Melting Sugar Pea from Burpee’s Heirlooms collection
  • Fingerling potatoes (Urban Harvest)
  • A fig tree (from Steven Biggs)
  • A potted strawberry and blueberry plant (President’s Choice)

These radishes marked the beginning of my harvest season. They were delicious in salads. I'll be planting more in August!

My kale has already found its way into salads and the steamer!


I’ve also planted some interesting herbs:

And a bunch of tomatoes that I will list in an upcoming post!

I feel like I’m forgetting something…

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.

The war on weeds: goat’s beard

My dad was over this morning, helping Chris in the garage, and he asked me, “What is that pretty yellow flower you’ve got growing along the driveway? Can I pick some to take home to Mom?”

Much to my dismay, the plant in question will never win me any florist’s contracts, despite Dad’s favour.

It is Tragopogon dubius, otherwise known as goat’s beard (or sometimes yellow salsify or oysterplant) and it is a nasty, tap-rooted, fluffy-seeded nuisance.

Not to be confused with Aruncus dioicus, a tall, bushy perennial which bears the same moniker, the goat’s beard in question is not a garden desirable.

The plant also known as goat's beard.

A Eurasian import, goat’s beard has naturalized through much of North America thanks to a dandelionish habit: downy parachutes taking its seeds hither and yon. Apparently, as the dandelion, the roots can be eaten in various ways, but around here its only destiny is the garbage can. Except for the ones Dad did take home for mom.

I’ve got nothing against wildflowers here, I quite enjoy them. It’s just that it’s kind of depressing to be working hard babying the baptisia, lilies, and peonies, nurturing the young trees, keeping all (all, all) the grass mowed, and to have it go unacknowledged, unmentioned, while the attention goes to this runty little upstart.

My oldest scolds this naughty plant for stealing the spotlight.

 

 

 

The birds prove me wrong

My husband Chris is forever making stuff. He went on a streak a couple of years back making birdhouses out of re-purposed barn wood.

I warned him about getting too crazy with the size and shape of the openings, because I had read that different species of bird could be quite particular about that. He ignored me.

They were very popular and he’s sold most of them now; there are a few in our trees that he put up last year, but I didn’t think of them as anything but decorative because smartypants me knows that no bird would actually take a chance on these crazy things.

Particularly eyebrow raising was an old broken guitar he put up, minus the strings, for a laugh.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, all of these birdhouses have occupants.

Here are the starlings that have taken up residence in the guitar:

I realize these pictures will not have National Geographic ringing me up anytime soon... taken through the glass from the living room.

 

I should probably wash my windows

And there are some camera-shy little yellow finches hanging out in here:

Between these guys, the sparrows, doves, jays and the ubiquitous robins, our yard is downright noisy these days. I couldn’t have been more wrong. And I’m okay with that.

Tara’s tomato diaries: The Mighty ‘Mato

This year, when I attended the President’s Choice garden preview, I not only came home with plants to trial in my garden, I also came home with a little box. Inside the box were three grafted tomatoes. Luckily they spoke about this latest innovation for home veggie gardeners at the event, so I knew what to do with them.

Three Mighty 'Matos to try! I can't wait to see how they perform.

How does the whole grafting process work? In a nutshell, a cutting of a tomato plant is attached, or grafted, to hardy rootstock. Eventually the two fuse together into one plant. The resulting plant is pest- and disease-resistant, and more tolerant of temperature swings. You don’t even have to worry about crop rotation! The other bonus? You can double your crop. The plant I saw at the event was about six feet tall!

So, with all this information in mind, I took my Mighty ‘Matos home and planted two of them in my raised beds and one in a new veggie garden I created at the side of my house. I bought the extra-large tomato cages that will support them and I was sure to avoid burying the graft, which would cancel out all the benefits mentioned above. Luckily it was easy to see where the two plants were fused together – which in itself is pretty cool!

These cages looked ridiculous when I put them in the garden (that's my husband standing beside them), but apparently the plants will need them eventually.

I can’t wait to see how these plants turn out. I’ll be sure to report back over the summer.

The slap-dash planting of the raspberries

So I ordered some new Souris” raspberry canes this spring. Chris and I discussed where they might go, and we agreed to make them into a hedge in the mostly undeveloped back pasture of our property. He agreed to prepare the ground for me before the arrival of said canes, as they would likely already be sprouting and would need to go straight in.

Bless the dear man, he completely forgot, being busy rebuilding our back entry. How can I complain when I’m getting new lockers for all the kids?

But all the same, when they did arrive last week, I was faced with budding raspberry canes, inches of  imminent rain, and a grassy, decidedly un-ready plot.

So here’s what I did.

With my fingers crossed.

The ground being too wet to till, and about to get much wetter, I put the mower on its lowest setting and cut a strip where we had decided to put the hedge. Then I started digging a row of holes in the centre of the strip–just enough to loosen the soil about ten inches across and ten inches down. I pulled out any big clumps of grass or dandelion roots, threw down a bit of bone meal for some insurance, and tossed a cane in each hole.

The rain actually started to fall about halfway through the job, but I kept working.

And lastly, to keep down the grass and weeds around the fledglings, I laid down some carpeting scraps. You can buy fancy circles from the garden centre for this purpose, but the rain was falling and I live a good half-hour away from major shopping centres. Also, I’m cheap.

I cut slits for the canes to get the best coverage. this is how I always mulch baby trees. Mower goes right over top. You can also use cardboard, but you'd probably want to add some kind of mulch over top so the wind doesn't take it away.

I’ll leave the carpet in place until next spring, when I will remove it to allow new canes to emerge. By then most of the grass and weeds will be killed back, and I can decide whether to adjust the carpet for the new canes, or till, or mulch, or whatever. That’s next year. For now, I have raspberries in the ground, all in about a half hour, despite the rain and a forgetful husband.

(New lockers!)

 

 

 

A preview of Toronto Botanical Garden’s annual garden tour

Garden tours are such a wonderful way to a) gather ideas for your own garden and b) snoop around in some pretty amazing backyards. Last week, I had the opportunity to sneak a peek at five of the 19 gardens that will be open to those who purchase a ticket to Through The Garden Gate. (One- and two-day passes are available.) This is the 26th annual fundraiser for Toronto Botanical Garden’s popular tour, which takes place June 8 and 9. This year, you get to traipse around Forest Hill and South Hill – not a bad way to spend a weekend. And, new this year, a couple of food trucks will park themselves outside tour headquarters (at Bishop Strachan School, 298 Lonsdale Rd.) to feed hungry guests who need a break.

More details and ticket information can be found on the Toronto Botanical Garden website.

Here are some highlights from the gardens I previewed:

This was the first garden on our tour. It was such a private, tranquil yard. I loved the seating area on the other side of the pool, a perfect place to curl up with a book.

There were some beautiful gardens ringing this arts-and-crafts house, but the greenhouse was the star of the show!

This was probably my favourite garden. It was just so unique, filled with various art pieces, and with a really interesting planting style.

I love how the steel rods mimic a fence here. There is space between the "fence" and the real privacy fence that hides the yard from the street.

This yard was another treat. The owner led me into the back garden and explained how she's been at it for about 19 years. The garden has evolved and now includes a small patch of grass for her grandchild.

My patience pays off

Several years ago I fell in love with Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) when I read a magazine article about it. It was just the sort of sunny-plot, mid-height perennial I was looking for. When I redesigned my front garden four years ago, I put some in.

And waited.

Every year I watched it, to see if it would bloom. The foliage is similar to its cousin peas, and many times I was fooled into thinking the folding out leaves were flowers emerging.

But no, it has remained a non-descript bushy greenness though each growing season. One of my kids almost pulled it up, thinking it was an overgrown alfalfa.

I was beginning to think I had dreamt the images I had in my mind of what this plant was to become. I was this close to giving up on it, but thought I would email an expert at the Calgary Horticultural Society first. After all, maybe I was unknowingly undermining its success somehow:

Hi,
I bought a couple of False Indigo (Baptisia Australis) four years ago.
Every year they come up nicely, seem happy and vigorous, but they have yet
to flower, and don’t seem to be gaining any size. Looking over the plant
tag I saved, it indicates a height of 3-4 feet and mine have never been
more than 18 inches-2 ft tall. They are in full sun (some late afternoon
shade), and well protected from wind.
I have never fertilized them, but spread sheep manure and home compost
twice a year.
Any ideas for improving their performance?
Thanks
April Demes

 

I got this lovely reply this morning:

Hi, April,Thank you for your question!

Baptisia australis is extremely slow growing. It makes up for this by the
fact that it can live several decades if undisturbed.  (It has a long tap
root that makes transplanting and division difficult to do without harming
the plant).  It rarely blooms until 2 or 3 years after planting, and it
doesn’t typically reach its mature height until it is at least 3 years
old.  It sounds as if you’re doing all the right cultural things and that
you’ve planted it in the perfect spot.  If it is happy and healthy there,
then just wait it out – I’m sure you’ll be rewarded soon!  They are
definitely beautiful plants!

I hope this helps!  Happy gardening!

Sheryl
Editorial Team, Calgary Gardening
Calgary, Alberta
Calgary Horticultural Society - www.calhort.org
Find my blog Flowery Prose at www.floweryprose.com

 

The irony is, I went to check on my Baptisia just this morning, and look what I found:

See those little guys, almost looking like stalks of grain? Never seen those before. I think we’re in for some flowers this year!

Finally!

 

Gettin’ figgy with it at the RBG

Last year, as my husband and I were exploring our new area on a Sunday drive (we had moved the previous fall), we drove by a non-descript house that had a cardboard sign out front that read: Fig Trees for Sale. “That’s interesting,” I said. “I didn’t think you could grow figs in Ontario.”

Shortly thereafter, I ran into a fellow garden writer, Steven Biggs, who told me he had written a book called Grow Figs Where You Think You Can’t. A copy of the book showed up on my desk one day when I was at the office (thanks, Steven!). I looked through it right away, excited at the prospect of growing such a seemingly exotic edible.

Fast forward to this spring when Steven mentioned he was going to be giving a talk on growing figs at the Royal Botanical Garden. My husband and I registered and showed up, notebooks in hand. It turns out we weren’t the only ones intrigued by fig trees. Steven spoke to a captivated and engaged audience who asked him questions throughout. Steven is very knowledgeable and passionate about his topic, so we really enjoyed ourselves. After the class, we stuck around so I could tell him so, and he gave me one of the fig cuttings he’d brought along to show the class. It’s a Verte, also sold under the name Green Ischia. My husband decided to name it Wilbur.

When we first brought a dormant Wilbur home, it was still pretty cold out, so we kept him in the garage. At that point he looked like a twig (see below).

Here's a pic my husband took of Wilbur. It doesn't look very exciting, but we were tickled that we got to bring a fig tree home.

Then when the weather finally started warming up, he grew a couple of leaves. This past weekend we repotted him in a nice container that we’ll display out front of our house where there’s lots of sun. You see, fig trees also make really nice ornamental plants. Steven says he plants his all around his patio.

Wilbur looking happy in his new pot. We've staked him to a dowl to straighten him out. But don't worry, it doesn't hurt!

If you’re looking to grow a fig tree, there are a couple of places where you can buy them. Steven recommended a nursery in the Niagara area called Grimo Nut Nursery. President’s Choice is also offering a hardy Chicago fig tree at their garden centres this season.

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