Thursday, May 24, 2012

Spring time planting

It's May 24, the official, first average frost free day.  The day when we're more likely not to get anymore frost, than we are likely to get frost.  In other words, we've got a greater than 50% chance that our bedding plants, especially tender ones like tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplants, etc aren't going to get frost damage.

It's also the rainy season.  We had rain at the beginning of the week and we're expecting more rain on the weekend.  What to do?

Having Mother Nature do the watering is always a good thing.  So, I'm taking my tray of plants and heading to the garden.

Hopefully, the ground won't be too wet from the previous rain and we'll get at least a few in before the rain that's threatening right now comes down.

Good luck to you too!

Edible Front Yard

We've added another patch to our edible front yard. Eventually, we hope to connect all the patches and take over the entire front lawn.  But, digging up sod takes time and figuring out what to plant and tending those young plants takes even more time. So, we're adopting a one step-at-a-time approach.
It'll be easy to take care of the newest addition - the newly planted dead tree root is super low maintenance!

We discovered this amazing piece of driftwood (sounds better than dead tree root, doesn't it) just after freeze up one Sunday afternoon as we were walking along the riverbank. My hubby and kids schlepped it home for me, knowing it would delight me to no end to have this token of the riverbank, our neighbourhood and our family walks incorporated into our garden.  I don't care what anyone else thinks - I love it!

As for the rest of the front yard edibles, they seem to becoming along nicely.  
The apple trees are looking great and had a few beautiful blossoms.  The herbs around the bottom, especially the chives have come in really well.  The leaf mulch that I used last fall has been fabulous at keeping the weeds out and the moisture in - I'm definitely going to to that again.

I learned last year that the bunnies really like beets, lettuce and beans, so this year I've limited the selection to herbs - sorrel, mint, oregano, garlic chives, chives, thyme, sage (several varieties), rosemary, and lime balm.  I'm thinking that I'll just let the perennials take over so that I don't have to worry about damaging any tree roots when planting annuals.

Around the driftwood, I planted some rhubarb and some dianthus (edible flower).  I also sprinkled a few annual flower seeds and some left over swiss chard.  We'll see what comes of it.

The cherry guild is also doing well.  The cherry didn't have any blossoms (the one I planted at the same time in the backyard did).  It may not be getting enough sunlight for fruiting purposes, but it looks healthy enough - that's the consequence of living in a neighbourhood lined with big beautiful elm trees that provide lovely shade.  The chamomile growing in the front doesn't seem to mind!

For the back story to our edible front yard and what we planted, see these two blog posts from 2011.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Calendula or Bachelor Button

Every year, it seems, I have an unexpected plant growing in my garden.  I'm always intrigued as to how it got there and what exactly it is.

This year our mystery plant (I should say plants, because there's dozens of them) look like this:
At first I thought they might be calendula, since we actually sowed some of them last year.  It would make sense that they would reseed themselves.

My gardening neighbours suggested they might be bachelor buttons. Apparently they're everywhere in the garden plots this spring.  They're also self-seeding so it wouldn't be a big surprise to see them being distributed from one garden plot to the other by the cultivator or by wind.

Whether they're calendula or bachelor buttons, as I now suspect, do I let them grow or do I treat them like a weed?  Are they sucking precious nutrients and water from the soil?  Are they attracting pests that will harm my precious veggies?  Are they an unpleasant nuisance hindering the growth of more "superior" plants?

No. In fact, they're pretty, attract beneficial insects to the garden, and make great cut flowers.  The main concentration is growing in my squash patch, which is bare right now and will be for some time until the squash takes over.  I'd rather have them growing there than more ferocious weeds like thistles or quack grass.

Looks like I'll have some lovely flowers growing in my garden this summer - whether they're orange calendula or blue bachelor buttons.  

Monday, May 21, 2012


Our strawberries are caged. It's for their own good, but they're trying to break free none the less.

The corn, sunflowers and peas I planted in our backyard have received similar treatment.  Moments after the seeds have been sowed, I drape them in netting.
Growing fruits and veggies in our backyard provides different challenges than the garden plots.  In the wide open span of the gardens, rabbits and squirrels are not an issue - probably because there are birds of prey watching and waiting in the trees next to the river.  In the backyard, they hop, jump and scurry from one tasty treat to the next, confident in their ability to find cover when necessary.  They, along with various birds, eat tender young shoots, steal seeds right out of the ground and feast on lovely strawberries.

You would think Mars, our dog who tears around the back yard, would be deterrent enough.  But no, he'd much rather chase a ball or stick than defend our yard from these vegetarian predators.  Hmph!

Looks like netting and chicken wire are my only line of defense.  Let's hope it works.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Spinach Flea Beetle

Thanks to the good folks at Manitoba Agriculture Food and Rural Initiatives, I found out who's been eating my spinach. It's the appropriately named Spinach Flea Beetle.

Here's what John Gavloski, Ph.D. Extension Entomologist with MAFRI has to say about these guys:

The insect in the photo is the spinach flea beetle, Disonycha xanthomelas. This is not a well researched species of flea beetle. A few of the other plants I can find reference to it feeding on are beets, Swiss chard, lamb’s quarters, and chickweed.  One reference I have states that on rare occasions they are known to damage cabbage, horseradish, lettuce and radish.

Both adults and larvae feed on leaves, which is interesting because larvae of most of our common flea beetles feed on roots.

The “Handbook of Vegetable Pests” states that “generally, these flea beetles are not considered serious pests”. 

Foliar insecticides can be effective, but if you are leaning towards not using insecticides row covers may be an option to prevent feeding, if that is practical.

Sounds to me like they've already done the worst damage.  Since I use row covers over my cabbage patch to control regular flea beetles, we should be safe from further damage.  I will keep an eye on my beets though, since I'm looking forward to a nice crop of them this summer.

Let's just hope they don't find the spinach I have growing in the garden space around my house.  So far, it looks very nice.

Thanks John, for sharing your knowledge with us gardeners.

Monday, May 7, 2012

There's a Beetle in My Spinach

At this time of year, I'm usually enjoying my first garden grown spinach salad.  In the fall, I sprinkle some spinach seed in the garden, confident that it will sprout and produce a wonderful crop before I've even gotten a chance to seed anything else.  It's worked in the past couple of years.

Here's a look at this year's salad fixin's:

Clearly, I'm not having spinach salad any time soon.  Somebody has been devouring my spinach and I know who did it!

It's this black beetle with a red, horizontal stripe and long antennae.  There were several of them on and around my plants.  They're "hoppers" that tried to make a quick get away.  Some of them were even trying to make more beetles - if you know what I mean.

Does anyone know who these guys are and what to do about them?  Anyone know what else they eat?  Do they have the same dietary preferences as flea beetles?  Will they eat my cabbage patch plants?  

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Digging for Roots

I finally managed to get a little garden time in yesterday.  While it wasn't quite the joyous planting frenzy I had hoped, it was great to be outside and chat with some of my gardening neighbours.

I spent most of my time digging for quack grass roots.  Can you believe it took me 2 hours just to dig up this little patch!?  I know that if I'm going to win back this little corner, I've got to get every bit of root.  When it comes to quack grass, there is no short cut.  To me, it's the worst of all garden chores.
Last year, I wrote a post describing a little more about what quack grass or crab grass is.  I described some other methods of trying to control quack grass.  I've been observing the results of these methods being used throughout the gardens - it seems to me that they're not nearly as effective as digging out ALL the roots in spring.

I even saw one person try to burn them off with a blow torch - yes, us wild and crazy gardeners will go to any lengths to destroy quack grass!  While it was quite an impressive sight, the results were no more effective than those mentioned in last year's post.

And so, I will take another two hours one day and finish digging for roots.

But, there are always good things that happen in the garden as well.  My friend, Ted, asked if I'd be interested in his garlic.  I thanked him and proudly boasted (we're allowed to do that amongst us gardeners) about how the garlic I planted last fall was already up and growing.  See...
He explained in an equally proud manner that  this wasn't just any garlic, this was super, special, amazingly huge garlic that he'd been planting for years.  Well, how could I refuse super garlic?!  When he passed several cloves to me, I was stunned.  Look at the size of these cloves!

And no, he was very clear that this was not "elephant garlic" - just a large type of garlic.  Either way, I was thrilled that he shared some with me and was excited to plant these babies.  OMG - can you imagine roasting a head of this garlic?  Call over some friends and have a party!

Even with a stubborn patch of quack grass to deal with - I love gardening!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Seeding Between the Rain

I am grateful for the rain.  Really, I am, the soil desperately needed some moisture.  But ideally, some of my seed would already be in the ground so that it could take advantage of these rains.  Perhaps this weekend, I'll be able to sneak in a few carrot seeds, onions and leeks between the rain.

It will depend on the soil.  The last thing the garden needs is for me to be compacting the soil. If I stomp and muck around when it's too wet, I'll be creating tight clumps of soil that will turn into adobe bricks when they dry.  Clay bricks are great for building houses - horrible for growing plants.  So, I'll just have to see what the weather does this weekend.

I will know to stay out of the garden if the soil clings to the bottom of my shoes or stays in a clump when I take a handful and squeeze.  If it doesn't, I can't wait to get digging.

Meanwhile, here's what's growing in my basement:
Warning: some of the following photos may be disturbing to some viewers.  There is no nudity or coarse language, but there are signs of neglect and abuse.
Oregano & Spearmint
Dried up oregano
Dead cilantro, chives, oregano
The basil, leeks, spearmint and some of my oregano is doing great.  Some of the other herbs - not so much.

Why are there dead herbs in my basement?  A combination of neglect and poor planning.

My time and energy has been consumed by fruit!  My poor veggies and herbs have taken a back seat as I've been working on Fruit Share and the Prairie Fruit Cookbook.  Sometimes, I just don't get down to the basement - sad, but true.

As for poor planning, it turns out I seeded things that I didn't really need or seeded way too much.  Take chives for example.  I have at least 10 different clumps of chives growing in my yard right now - I really didn't need to grow any more chives - not sure what I was thinking there.  I've even been giving away chive plants as presents - yes, I'm that cheap!

Same is true for oregano and cilantro.  They're both growing back from last year and both grow like weeds without any work at all.  And, the seed took so well, that if I do want some extra, I have plenty. So, because I wasn't really motivated to grow the best chives, oregano and cilantro ever and I've had very little time - I have dead plants in my basement.

Next time, I'll try to plan a little more carefully.