Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pixie Bob - A Bunny tale

Thanks to friend and fellow gardener, Dennis for this great article on rabbits in the garden.

We have a small rabbit living under our deck. In the morning my kids quietly watch it nibble contentedly on the clover in the backyard. I watch it with suspicion. Will it cut a destructive swath through the garden? What will it dine on first? Is anything safe from Pixie Bob’s (a bad sign – my kids have given it a name) unfettered appetite?  I need to neutralize the risk, but how?
 The most effective way to prevent rabbits from damaging your garden is a fence of chicken-wire or finer mesh about two to three feet high and buried six to eight inches or more under the ground (rabbits will dig). However, sometimes fencing your garden in isn’t a practical option and other approaches need to be considered. Rabbits are skittish animals so wind chimes or other noise maker devices hung near the garden can also be used to frighten rabbits away.

Dog or cat hair scattered around your garden beds will act as a reasonable deterrent until it loses its scent. Hot sauce, soap or garlic powder diluted with water and sprayed on your plants can dissuade rabbits from nibbling away at your garden. Be careful you don’t make the sprays too strong as you only want to discourage the rabbits not injure them and make sure to rinse the spray off your produce before you eat it. Selecting plants that rabbits don’t like to eat is another option for keeping them away from your garden. Garden centres can provide you with options distasteful to rabbits.

Pixie Bob, our rabbit, is an Eastern Cottontail – a variety that is found across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and throughout the continental United States. They like to nest in tall grass or locations that provide plenty of cover. Left to their own devices, a pair of Eastern Cottontail rabbits can be incredibly prolific, having the capacity to produce an estimate 350,000 offspring in five years! Although this is highly unlikely as most Eastern Cottontails only live about a year. Because they are born with their eyes closed, deaf and without fur newborn Eastern Cottontails are very vulnerable to predators. Mothers spend little time at the nest visiting once or twice a day to feed their young.

I have to admit I’ve now gotten attached to our resident rabbit and it has limited its foraging to grass and clover. It hasn’t worn out its welcome yet.

Written and submitted by Dennis a man of many talents - raised bed gardening, green roof gardening, composting, cooking, and bunny chasing!

Friday, July 22, 2011

First Zucchini

We've been at Camp for a couple of weeks now.  Just before we left, the zucchini were just starting.  I wonder how Darryl is keeping up!  We just planted one plant, instead of our usual 3 plants.  But one zucchini plant could keep one person very well stocked.

How's your zucchini?  Do you have any interesting zucchini recipes?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Monarch and Swallowtail Caterpillars Update

I still can't believe how many monarch and swallowtail caterpillars we ended up having.  There were way too many for the number of edible plants we had in their enclosure.  As a result we transferred most of them to their appropriate plants out in the open.  For the first time ever, I purposely put caterpillars on plants in our garden.  A bit bizarre, but the kids thought it was great fun and I'm OK with them eating milkweed, dill and parsley.
Swallowtail caterpillar
monarch caterpillars

monarch caterpillar
newly hatched monarch caterpillars

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Catterpillars on Our Cabbage

Just before we left for Camp Wasaga (world's best family camp, in case I forgot to mention that last time!), I decided to see how things were going underneath our row cover - designed to protect our cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower from caterpillars, flea beetles and root flies.  

You can imagine my dismay when I found these green cabbage moth caterpillars on nibbling on our red cabbage.  Errgh!  Does this mean the row cover doesn't work?  

I wouldn't go that far.  I think, we probably need to seal the edges more carefully and count our blessings.  After all, without the row cover there would probably be many, many more pests eating our crucifers.  I'm still happy with the row cover and expect to have a bounty of cabbage and broccoli this summer.

And, yes, we are two faced.  We love swallowtail and monarch caterpillars, but feel quite differently about things that eat our veggies.  

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Square foot gardening

When researching how to get the biggest bang for my buck with a small back yard garden, I came across many web-sites recommending square foot gardening. One of my favourites is . (Maybe that’s because the blogger really feels my pain about squirrels!!!) Square foot gardening was invented by Mel Bartholomew, a retired engineer, in the late 1970’s. I won’t go in to a lot of “how to” detail – if you’re interested, all you need to do is Google it. Bartholomew also has a couple of books on the subject – one fairly recent (I have not read them, but they are recommended on several websites).

Anyway, gridding out my beds wasn’t quite as easy as described, since this idea came after my beds were built, not before. Rectangles or squares would have been an advantage, but planning ahead is not always my strong suit. But, no big deal. When I completed the grid, I had 57 squares in one plot and 48 in the other!  Way more space than I had imagined. Some people put a permanent grid in place using wood, but I thought that would make cultivating the soil in the spring much more difficult, so I used twine, which I removed once all the squares were planted.

Several websites had differing opinions about how many of which type of plant can go in one square.  I perused several lists by type of vegetable (e.g. how many beet seeds to plant in one square, versus how may carrot seeds (yeah, right) versus how many corn seeds, etc.). The most helpful tip I found was on  The tip: Ignore the row spacing completely, and just look at the plant spacing. If the package says to plant twelve inches apart, plant one seed per square; six inches apart, plant 4 seeds per square; four inches apart, plant nine seeds per square; three or fewer inches apart, plant sixteen seeds per square.  Some seeds I planted much more thickly (e.g. leaf lettuce and mesclun). And forget about trying to count carrot seeds! I just mixed them with sand and planted thickly. I think I will still have to thin them out, but not much. I decided to plant yellow pole beans and scarlet runner beans around both the inside and outside of a large round trellis we purchased. I wish I had planted the Swiss chard more thickly – in two squares I planted only four seeds (as per the tip above), but that didn’t look like much to me, so in a third square I planted six. Next year I will plant three squares with nine seeds each. So far, I think it’s looking pretty good.

Definitely, some of the tall bushy plants (tomatoes and broccoli) are shading some of the small stuff I planted late (e.g. parsley, green onions, peas). This year is an experiment, and I will learn what works better in time for next year.   

Written by Leanne, a happy backyard gardener in Winnipeg

Friday, July 15, 2011

Drying Basil

Lemon Basil, Sweet Basil, Purple Rubin Basil
Purple Rubin and Magical Michael Basil
Our basil has really taken off this summer.  They're just at the right size for the first harvest.  Usually, I pick off leaves as I need them, but we have a lot of basil and I'm away for a while, so it's time to save it.  Dill and cilantro work best frozen, basil, however, I like to dry.  I know it can be frozen and some of my friends do it quite successfully, but I like drying basil.

Basil actually likes to be "pruned" and will grow back even bushier when cut.  By cutting them back, you'll actually be able to have several good harvests throughout the summer, as long as conditions are ideal - water and sun.  Cut basil just above the bottom two sets of leaves.
cut just above bottom set of leaves
after pruning, now you can see the red leaf lettuce
sweet basil, purple rubin, magical michael, lemon basil
four bundles
drying in the garage - dry and dark
Would love to know your preferred method of preserving basil and of course any recipes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Raised Garden Beds

We made the move! For the past 4 years, our family had a community garden plot on the banks of the Red River, just like Getty (well, sort of… she’s a much more diligent gardener than us!). In fact, I will personally take credit for introducing Getty to the community garden, as her first year she shared our plot. But after 4 years of battling (and it was an epic battle) the quack grass, and perennial disappointment in yields, and late blight on the tomatoes the past two years… well, really, we finally concluded it was not fun for us. But, growing up in the country with a huge back yard garden, I was not ready to give up on my dream of amazing, cheap, beautiful, delicious fresh home-grown vegetables.

So, with the reward of not having to dig quack grass anymore, my husband agreed to build some raised garden beds in our back yard. Originally we were planning on 3 or 4 rectangles, 4 feet wide x 12 feet long. But, Trevor being the creative designer he is, of course they are not mere rectangles. One is roughly Z-shaped (an interesting, abstract sort of Z), and the other is a parallelogram. We’ve stopped at two for this year, as I got way more plants in to them than I ever expected would fit (more to come on small space gardening in a future post…). We’ll see – I might commission a third bed next year, along with an asparagus bed beside the house... Who knows where it might end!

The beds are 12 inches deep, with the sod peeled off (of course), framed with 1 x 6 inch untreated cedar boards. We had fresh healthy soil delivered by a local gardening company (and it’s not Red River gumbo!!! ). It has been a great move for me, as gardening is now the peaceful, relaxing, fun activity I was striving for. It’s wonderful to come home from work and putter for a few minutes each day, checking out what’s changed since the day before, leisurely pulling the few weeds that have sprung up, and anticipating the next new thing. If I need to water, I just water – no need to haul it any farther than from the outdoor tap (I do let it warm up and de-chlorinate).

It’s not without its challenges – I have a new nemesis. But in all honesty, I would choose squirrels over quack grass any day. Although I was not saying that the day they chewed up half my little corn seedlings – it’s not like I had any to spare with such a small corn plot!!! Sigh – maybe next year I will have better luck with corn.   

Written by: Leanne a happy backyard gardener in Winnipeg

Gone to Camp

I’m sitting at a picnic table overlooking the crystal clear blue waters of Clear Lake.  The sun is shining, the birds are chirping and my kids are running around getting dirty and making new friends.  Behind me is the much loved Dining Hall where our breakfast is being prepared.  We’re at Camp Wasaga, a family camp in Riding Mountain National Park that we’ve been attending as campers for nine years.  This year, we’re not just campers, we’re staff.  For the month of July, I’ll be the Camp Naturalist leading hikes and bike trips throughout the park and sharing information about the Park history, geography, animal and plant life.  The kids attend the programming offered by the counselors and also help as “junior naturalists” now and then.   It’s a great summer job for all of us.

But, what about the garden?!

No worries, between Darryl (poor guy has to stay in the City to work) and our friends, our garden will be just fine. 

And, what about the blog?!

No need to worry about that either, you’re still going to get great gardening information all summer long, thanks to two great friends.   Leanne and Dennis share my passion and love for gardening and fresh food.  I know you’re going to enjoy and appreciate reading their blog entries as they share their backyard gardening experiences, thoughts and ideas.

In fact, Leanne’s first post is coming right up.  Enjoy!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Freezing Dill

The dill has sprouted up all over the garden.  Time to save some of that dilliciousness for the winter.  My preferred method is freezing. Last year, I tried drying dill , but I found the flavour just doesn't come through the same as when I freeze it.  So this year, I'll skip drying it all together.

Freezing is simple and we use it for up to 10 months in sauces, dips and other recipes calling for dill.
pile of dill ready for washing
air drying on a towel
removing large stems
chopping to desired size
in a freezer container, sprinkle out as needed
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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Freezing Cilantro

Cilantro patch
Cilantro is one of those foods people seem to either love or hate. For the longest time, I did not like cilantro and anything that had this powerful herb in it. But now, I love it. I can't remember exactly what caused my change of heart, but now I crave that unique flavor. Fresh tomato salsa just isn't the same without it.

As a result, I planted some cilantro last year. Because it looks a little like parsley, I assumed it grows like parsley and the plant would be a nice bushy plant that I could take from as needed all summer. Not so! I was also hoping to harvest fresh cilantro at the same time as my tomatoes and peppers. My plan failed. The cilantro had flowered and produced seeds (aka coriander seeds) by the time the peppers and tomatoes were ready. 
I learned my lesson - harvest cilantro early, just before flowering. If you want fresh cilantro when the tomatoes are ripe, seed your cilantro accordingly (mid to end of July). You might even consider seeding several crops of cilantro since it has a relatively short growing cycle.

The good thing about letting cilantro go to seed is that it reseeds itself. This year it came up all over my little herb garden. And now, it is ready to harvest.
Since my tomatoes are far from ripe, I like to freeze it for later use.  I simply wash it, remove any tough stems and then lay it on a towel to air dry.  Once dry, I chop it and put it in a freezer bag.  That's it.
washed and drying
How do you feel about cilantro?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mystery Plant

Here's a plant growing in our garden that we're not familiar with.  Do you know what this is and most importantly, is it edible? 

There have been a few sprouting up at the garden and around the house. I've been pulling out most of them, but despite Aidan's recommendation to "yank it" I thought we'd let this one mature to see what it looks like.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Butterfly Effect

Sadly, both Wings and Plum are gone.  One morning, Plum was no longer in her enclosure; we're not exactly sure what happened.  The next morning,  Melanie found Wings lifeless at the base of her home.  Melanie was quite sad.  No matter how much we understand that their passing is a natural and inevitable part of life, it's still hard to see it happen, especially when you're 7.

And, when you're a 7 year old girl overflowing with emotion and creativity, a good-bye tribute is a must.  Melanie took her time to prepare a farewell picture and message for Wings.  Today, we created an envelope out of the paper and placed Wings inside.  This precious envelope was buried in the garden.  A far cry from how we did things on the farm when I was growing up, but hey, why not.  Who knows what Melanie will take away from this moment.  It may not be the original "butterfly effect", but it is a butterfly effect none the less.

Good bye Wings!
On a more positive note, several of Wings' eggs have already hatched!  We have found three tiny black swallowtail instar caterpillars. Black swallowtail caterpillars go through 5 instar (developmental, molting) stages.  Their appearance and size changes quite significantly between most stages.  Right now, they're black, spiny, 2mm long with just a tiny bit of white around the middle.   These guys are extremely small ; luckily Aidan has a good eye.
Wings' eggs with some brown markings indicating the caterpillar inside is almost ready to come out.

Two tiny instar caterpillars.
We also adopted a stage 2 or 3 instar caterpillar from our neighbours' parsley plant.   It was bigger (1-2cm), black with orange spikes and a bigger white middle section. It has grown very rapidly and seems to be in the final caterpillar stage.

"Courtney Junior" the adopted caterpillar

If all those eggs hatch, we're going to need more dill and parsley to feed them all!

Over at the monarch enclosure, we just discovered they're hatching too!

And the caterpillars in our open space milkweed patch have been growing like crazy.

monarch eggs hatching and about to hatch
How many monarch caterpillars can you find?

"Mom, I think they're ready to hold now."
 What fun.