MIA

I apologize for being awol as of late.  I need some time to kick cancer’s ass and will be back in fighting form before too long.

Enjoy the rest of the summer!

S.

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A False Utopia

Now I do understand the complexity and necessity of the garden ecosystem.  I do.  But if I am being completely honest, a part of me was a little excited about the greenhouse possibly affording a somewhat more sanitized gardening experience.  The type where ants don’t crawl up the back of your pant leg when you bend down to harvest the lettuce.  The fantasy of being able to quickly run out to the garden and back again without both a spider and its web finding its way into my hair.   Well, the honeymoon is over, thanks in large part to the arrival of a copious amount of aphids now firmly attached to my tomato plants.

This was the first offender and was promptly ostracized in a well-intentioned but failed bid to save the others.  My hope was that in making it available to some natural predators like ladybugs, it could be quickly “cured” and rejoin the fold.  Unfortunately it was not to be, as within days the remaining plants also showed signs of aphids.

A full house:

And the North side:

Honestly, it’s the mixed blessing of a greenhouse-no natural predators for the pests that do breach the barricade.  You can purchase bags of ladybugs from many garden stores, which I will likely do.  But again, no birds have access to the greenhouse to keep those numbers in check, so around we go.

But for now let’s focus on the positive.  I have stuck with some old favourites and added some interesting new grafted varieties and hybrids such as Green Zebra, Sun Sugar, Black Cherry, and Cherokee Purple, so it should be an interesting harvest when the time comes.

Another quirk of greenhouses is that even with self pollinating (no bees required) tomato plants, a fan is needed so the breeze can disperse the pollen and get the fruit sprouting. Simply taping the flowers lightly can work as well.  For more tomato growing tips, please click here.

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Genius or Gimmick?

Like many of us, I have been curious about the recent upside-down gardening fad, but have been reluctant to jump in.  Until, that is, I realized a bought a greenhouse which had, until last week, several metres of unused space, just beyond my reach but begging for a purpose.

I’m still not completely sold on the idea; so far the plants have been curling upwards towards the sun, but hopefully the extra weight they gain as they grow will remedy that.  Also, it’s pretty important to keep water off the leaves and fruit of tomatoes, which of course is pretty hard to do when you water them from above.  Time will tell.

The carrots seem to be doing well.  I always plant them in containers so I can protect them from the nefarious rust fly.  Read more about that here.  There’s nothing better than fresh carrots straight from the garden but I always feel conflicted-they take such a long time to grow and are gone in two meals or less!

We’ll see if the raccoons and skunks are gracious enough to leave any for us!

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A Practical Elegance

Some of you will remember my aesthetically unpleasing yet wonderfully utilitarian apparatus from Lee Valley.  It was pressed into service again this year; for more information please click here.

Here we have the crowd pleasing sugar snap peas alongside some standard green and pole beans.  I’ll save my favourite Scarlet Runner for mid-season.

And just in case you wondered what they looked like below the soil:

These had just sprouted, yet some of the roots were already six inches long!

The greenhouse continues to be a blessing in overabundance.  Some of the lettuce is being harvested much earlier than I had anticipated!

It barely got any time at all to grow-but it tastes delicious!

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A Decent Start

With the beautiful spring weather lately many people have been asking about just when they can get started in their gardens-I managed to find some time this weekend and couldn’t resist getting my hands dirty.

This year I’ve planted:

  • Brussel sprouts
  • brocoli
  • buttercrunch lettuce
  • romaine
  • radicchio
  • spinach
And I still have the kale, rouge d’hiver and swiss chard which all held well over the winter.  The seedlings have enjoyed a phenomenal success rate-although being a little loose handed with the seeds has left me with some tough decisions to make.
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And the plum tree has come alive in recent weeks:

One final shot of spring:

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The Advantage of Selective Memory

I had forgotten what back-breaking work it is to plant seeds-especially the tiny lettuce seeds that haven’t been pelleted (covered in clay).  They’re hard to pick up and hold in your fingertips-mine seem to disappear under my nails every time!  And God help you if you get the least bit of moisture or damp soil on your fingers; you’ll quickly have a ball of tiny seeds impossible to separate!

I got some great advice from Cathy at West Coast Seeds.  She folds a glossy piece of paper in half, puts the seeds into the fold and then uses chopsticks to flick them out one at a time.  Brilliant.

So here’s a list of what I’m starting from seed this year:

Gandhi-Butterhead

Esmeralda-Butterhead

Anuenue-French Crisp

Buttercruch-Butterhead

Cimmaron-Romaine

Red Salad Bowl-Oakleaf

Coastal Star-Romaine

I put my favourite Seasoil in the bottom half and topped it up with Seed Starter from Dutch Treat-rumored to also be a favourite of gardening guru Thomas Hobbs.

Here is everything labeled and cozily wrapped up after enduring the enthusiastic water spritzing provided by my youngest.

And I just had to include this beautiful shot of some cherry blossoms in East Vancouver-a local favourite sign of spring.

Photo compliments of Darryl Dyck at the Globe & Mail.

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Hurry up and wait

Having this lovely, empty greenhouse in my backyard has been a mixed blessing these last couple of weeks.  We’ve been plagued by electrical problems and I still haven’t been able to get it wired properly.  A lesson in delayed gratification perhaps.

Meanwhile, the cherry trees have flowered, my daffodils, tulip and irises are up, the shrubs are flowering and there are buds on my plum, cherry and magnolia trees.  But the first real sign of spring-visiting one of my all time favourite places, West Coast Seeds.  And nothing would be served by delaying that!

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One of my favourite places.

So not only have I been unable to get any seeds started,  I also haven’t had the time to get anything in the ground.   But the soil is still warming up and of course there is some merit to waiting and not risking losing everything to seed rot.  But those of us with window sills, cold frames or working greenhouses can take advantage of the increased hours of sunshine and get things started right away-or several weeks ago, if you’re more organized than I am!

Some tips I’ve learned on starting seeds:

-You can buy flats for seeds from the garden centre or make little seed pots out of newspaper, peat or coconut coir to place directly into the garden when the time comes.   As long as you choose something with a hole in the bottom to let out excess moisture you’re good to go; even egg cartons or yoghurt containers could work.

-Use specific seed starting mix.  It’s said to make all the difference…

-Moisten your soil before you plant the seeds.  If you put the seeds in first and then water, it could push them to the outer edges where they’ll have a harder time growing.

-plant at least two (but no more than three) seeds in each container.  You can then choose the healthiest of the three and cut the others down at soil level with some small sharp scissors-easier said then done, I know- I hate that part!

-Space the seeds apart evenly, planting them only three times as deep as their width.  This is where I’ve made some fatal errors by planting the seeds too deep.  Some seeds even require sunlight to germinate and so are best served being laid directly on top of the soil depending on the variety.

-putting some plastic wrap or cover over the seeds as they germinate will help keep them humid and encourage growth.  You can take it off once the green shoots start to show.

-water your seeds regularly, making sure they don’t sit in water, get too soggy and start to rot.  Probably the best option is to buy those flats that come with a tray underneath so the water is simply wicked up from below as required.

-You can sprinkle a little sphagnum moss, a natural fungicide, over top the seeds to protect them from damping-off, which is a fungal disease that rots seeds and seedlings.

-most seeds will germinate well in an air temperature of 18-22 degrees.  If your air temperature is cool than that, you can purchase special heating pads for the seeds to be placed on.

-at the first sign of sprouting, take them away from direct heat, remove the plastic covering and place in direct sunlight.

Now I’m going to see how they develop first without putting in special lighting.  Seedlings need more light than full-grown plants, at least 12-16 hours a day, and will grow tall, weak and spindly if they don’t get enough.  It wouldn’t surprise me if I end up needing to do this; time will tell.  If you have the time and patience to set up a lighting system, apparently most ordinary bulbs will do the trick.  They should be placed approximately two inches above the plants and raised as the plants grow.  And contrary to old wives tales that claim seedlings require some light-free down time every night to grow properly, apparently 24/7 light is preferable.

-if your seed starting medium is soil free and compost free, you will need to fertilize as soon as the first “true” leaves develop (they usually come second, after the first two little ones) and every two weeks thereafter.

-they will need to be repotted before they crowd one another or outgrow their containers.  As always, I recommend Seasoil.

-Having a fan running close by will ensure they grow strong and sturdy.  If you don’t have a fan that would work, simply ruffling them a couple of times a day by hand should do the trick.

-and of course hardening them off properly before they go into the garden is a necessity.

Well, I just didn’t have the heart to ask my husband if I could turn our dining room into a temporary seed farm, so until I can work out some kinks here I’ll have to live vicariously through all of you.  Keep me posted!




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My Very Own Happy Place

My husband is known for his all-or-nothing, go-hard-or-go-home approach to, well, pretty much everything.  When he set his mind putting up a greenhouse, only the best would do.  And we found it at BC Greenhouses.

Preparing for a good quality greenhouse to be installed was no small project.  At this point it almost looks like we could have gone more in the direction of an in-ground pool…

The greenhouse we chose was a tall, 10′ x 12′ all glass model with a high slopping roof. Clearly it needed a sturdy foundation to secure it from winds and keep it from sinking into the waterlogged sod.

We were most relieved they offered some help with installation; here Nathan Steegstra perseveres in the mud and rain.

All done but the glass…

We’re quite thrilled with the end result and dealing with BC Greenhouses has been nothing but a pleasure.  If you’re so inclined, I can highly recommend you speak with Christine; you can reach her at christine@bcgreenhouses.com or 1-888-391-4433.

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Sophie’s Choice

Well, the “World’s Best Husband” has planned to get me a greenhouse for our wedding anniversary!  And I found the perfect place for it-exactly where my present day garden sits (of course!).

So this has involved moving the garden several feet to the south, remembering not to repeat my previous mistakes and opting for a slight three-bed upgrade.  The only trouble is agonizing over who gets to come and who is left behind…

The survivors that made the cut.

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Don’t Mock Mother Nature

It was just a couple of weeks ago that I made a snarky remark about how we’re still waiting for the predicted “worst winter in 20 years”.  Well, my patience was rewarded; last week saw snow, record-breaking wind chills and arctic outflow warnings.

This miserable looking kale would probably have benefited from some row cover…

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