Friday, April 30, 2010
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
* Halifax Westmoor Garden Club's plant sale will be on May 8th from 9 am to noon. It takes place at St. John the Baptist Church Hall at 26 Purcell's Cover Road in Halifax.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Giant veggie growing is a competitive hobby - but a fun one! This is a photo of Pete from New Brunswick who sent me a few of his precious giant cabbage seeds. (Pete also grows giant pumpkins and onions!)
Friday, April 23, 2010
Just a stone's throw from my house (ok, perhaps a 5 minute walk), there is a gorgeous garden tucked behind a tall evergreen hedge. The property is about an acre in size and is filled with a lovely assortment of exotic and native perennials, bulbs, trees and shrubs - as well as a few veggie patches!
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Weeding is one of my least favourite activities and in terms of fun I would have to rate it somewhere between getting a root canal and beating my head repeatedly against a wall. That said, there is a certain amount of satisfaction derived from yanking on a stubborn dandelion and having the entire root slip easily from the soil. (You know what I'm talking about!)
After a rain I can often be found gleefully ripping weeds from the still damp soil of the veggie or perennial gardens. The ease with which the long taproots slip from the moist soil is a heady delight. When I’ve managed to pluck a particularly large weed in its entirety, I exuberantly wave it in the air to show my husband what a prize I’ve captured. He nods patiently knowing that I’m well on my way to complete insanity.
Weeding is a necessary evil in order to promote healthy plant growth and keep a garden looking its best. We all have certain weeds that we struggle with continuously year after year and my nemeses include Queen Anne’s lace and clover, although wild mustard is steadily climbing up the list.
Since the definition of a weed is ‘any unwanted plant’, I can easily categorize my very unwanted patch of curly mint as a weed. I did know better than to plant it betwixt the perennials, so I have no idea what I was thinking the day I nestled the harmless springs of mint beneath the vigorous leaves of my beloved delphiniums.
Although this particular garden was a contained raised bed, heavily lined with three layers of landscape fabric, two short years later the mint had spread not only across, but far beyond the containment of the garden assaulting the lawn, the gravel path meandering between the garden beds and into the distant rose garden. I comfort myself with the fact that if nothing else, the mint smells incredible when trod upon by wandering feet.
Not only do weeds make our gardens appear untidy, they also compete with our treasured plants for moisture, light and nutrients. As well, many weed species shelter insects and diseases, therefore eliminating weeds can increase the general health of your garden.
Have you ever noticed that when a weed is pulled from the garden, it seems as if two more grow in its place? Most weeds are not only extremely hardy and competitive, but they also produce profuse amounts of seed that sprout up year after year. Weed seeds may remain dormant in the soil for several seasons before germinating, and it is therefore vital to eliminate weeds before they are allowed to produce seeds.
Mulch is a great weed suppressor and is readily available from most garden centers in the form of wood chips, shredded bark, pea gravel or chopped leaves. Applied after weed removal (sorry, not before!), mulch will create a clean, attractive appearance and help repel encroaching weeds from your garden beds. It will also suppress further weed seed germination by blocking light from reaching the soil.
A two to three-inch layer of mulch is usually sufficient to suppress weed growth, but if you have particularly persistent weeds a four-inch thick layer may be required. Ensure that the mulch does not come in direct contact with the stems or trunks of your plants as slugs, moles and other small plant-eating creatures may lurk there.
In the veggie patch, planting intensively (see the photo above of some baby greens) is a great weed suppressor! In fact, in our 2000 sq foot kitchen garden, weeds are rarely a problem (knock on wood!) If I notice something sprouting up as I'm picking a salad for supper, I pluck it out immediately! Grassy weeds are my biggest problem in the veggies - but the fact that my hubby stands on the nearby lawn, tossing grass seed into the air to thicken up 'his lawn' might have something to do with it..
The best defense against persistent weeds in the garden or in the lawn is to keep your plants and grass healthy. Healthy plants will be able to outcompete weeds easier than those that have been weakened by drought, damage or disease. Be vigilant in the war against weeds by spending a few minutes each week removing any newly sprouted offenders. This will save you much future time and frustration and most importantly, your garden will thank you for it.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Friday, April 16, 2010
Spring may have arrived a whole month early this year, but that doesn't mean that Mother Nature doesn't still have a trick or two up her sleeve! Take this morning, for example. This is not what I expected to see when I looked out the window!
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Monday, April 12, 2010
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
You know they’re out there. Perhaps they’re hiding under the wide, sheltering leaves of your hosta, or perhaps beneath that damp pile of leaves placed casually to the side of your garden. They may even be biding their time under a stray piece of wood until night falls and they slither out of their hiding places to start dining on your garden!
Over the years, I’ve heard hundreds of slug-based horror stories where entire gardens were completely defoliated in one night by hordes of slimy slugs. Although these stories may be slightly exaggerated, it is true that slugs do prefer to feed at night and they are at their peak in damp, cool weather – gee, have I just described a Maritime summer?
It may still be early spring, but the slugs are out! After our Easter Egg Hunt in the backyard this past weekend, we found about a dozen baby slugs that had crawled inside the holes in the plastic eggs looking for a chocolate treat! Yuck! (And for the record, the plastic eggs had only been outside for about a 1/2 hour, so those tiny slugs moved pretty quickly!)
Slug eggs are laid in masses and are deposited under leaves, garden debris or in the soil. In about a month, the eggs hatch and the young slugs, resembling the adults in all ways except for size, begin feeding.
Slugs will feed during the day, but only in damp, shady locations, as their trek through your garden is dependent on moisture availability. They move by gliding on a trail of secreted slime, and it is this silvery slime that is often one of the first clues in identifying a slug infestation.
Over the years, I have spent countless summer evenings sinking beer filled containers into the soft soil between the tomatoes. Of course, soon after the traps were placed, it would invariably rain. The beer would be quickly diluted by the water and run over the sides of the containers, rendering the traps useless.
Why are slugs attracted to beer? It is actually the fermenting yeast in exposed beer that tempts them, so for best results, open the beer several days prior to baiting the traps to allow it to ferment. To save some money (and the beer for yourself!), you can also use a spoonful of yeast in a container of water to lure slugs to their untimely demise!
One way to prevent rainwater dilution is to use an empty plastic 2-liter pop bottle. Fill it with enough beer or yeast water so that there will be at least an inch of liquid when it is placed on its side in the garden. Put the trap in a shady, damp location or nestle it near your besieged hostas. The little suckers should be attracted to the fermented yeast, slither in and drown.
Besides plying slugs with alcohol, there are several other natural solutions that seem to harbour some effectiveness. Copper wire is said to give slugs an electrical shock when they come in contact with it. For best results, place one-inch wide bands of copper wire around your hostas, vegetables or even individual garden beds.
Other homemade traps include a moistened folded newspaper, wide boards and flat rocks that may be placed in the vegetable garden, near perennials or even beside your compost pile. Check each morning and discard any discovered slugs.
Gritty materials such as diatomaceous earth, sharp sand and crushed eggshells may also be sprinkled around plants to deter slugs. Regular tilling in the vegetable garden will destroy slug eggs, which are often deposited beneath the soil surface. They look like tiny crystal balls and can easily be crushed with a gloved hand.
The best defense is a combination of the natural controls mentioned above and practicing good garden sanitation. By removing piles of leaves and other garden debris you will be eliminating many hiding places and breeding sites. Perhaps the slugs will get so fed up, they’ll pack their bags and slither on over to your neighbours garden and her prizewinning peppers!
Friday, April 2, 2010
You can even grow a salad garden in bags! Simply lay several bags of garden soil in the desired area and cut out a rectangle in the top of each, leaving the sides of the bag intact to hold in the soil. Poke some holes through the bags with a long screwdriver for drainage. Plant the seeds or transplants of your favourite crops – salad greens, radishes, baby or round carrots, cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers, bush cucumbers and more – grow what you love to eat!
Many leafy vegetables may also be planted in the garden now. As soon as spring arrives I plant an early crop of leaf lettuce, swiss chard, mâche, arugula and baby spinach, assuming of course, that the garden isn’t covered with a thick layer of snow!
Lettuce has traditionally been the foundation of a salad and there is a vast array of vibrantly coloured and textured varieties of lettuce to add interest to your meals. There are four main types of lettuce – butterhead, crisphead, looseleaf and romaine. Certain types grow best in cool weather, while others are more heat tolerant and can be grown in the summer. Check your seed pack if you’re unsure what type you have.
Butterheads form loosely folded heads of tender leaves and are ideal for a fall or winter garden. Crisphead lettuce is the category that tasteless grocery store iceberg falls into, but don’t hold that against it, as there are types of crisphead, like Batavian varieties that are spectacular.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of looseleaf lettuce and grow at least a dozen different types throughout the year. I use them to edge my garden beds and pick the leaves when they’re still baby-sized, about 3 to 4 inches long. Romaine lettuce is another favourite and I also use them for baby green production.
Some interesting varieties of lettuces to try include Royal Oak Leaf which boasts deep green oak shaped leaves, Red Salad Bowl whose light red leaves deepen in colour with maturity, and the intensely curled bi-coloured Lollo Rossa. When combined, the rich colours and textures of these lettuces create a very attractive salad – almost too pretty to eat!
In recent years, mesclun mixes have become very popular items in seed catalogues, fancy restaurants and home gardens. Originating from the French-Italian border, mesclun is a mixture of different salad greens such as endive, chervil, arugula, lettuce, purslane, dandelion, mustard, cress and so on. Some mesclun mixes are tart and tangy, while others offer a milder flavour.
If you are short on available space or have no room for a big veggie garden, plant in containers or interplant in existing flowerbeds. Lettuce makes a very attractive, as well as edible, display when placed in front of a flowerbed as an edging or when interplanted with flowers as an accent. Easter Egg radishes, Rainbow carrots, and colourful Bright Light’s swiss chard can also be planted in a flower garden to add style and flavour.
Happy Gardening - and Happy Easter!
Thursday, April 1, 2010
A dog is one of the more effective ways to deter deer from your property, but if you're dog-less like me, you'll need to come up with a few more tricks to keep deer away from your garden! I like to divide my anti-deer tactics into three categories - scare tactics, scent and taste tactics, and physical barriers.
Since deer are basically big cowards, scare tactics are quite effective in the short term (yup, i said short term). Their nervousness can work in favor of the gardener, but deer are very adaptable to their environment, especially the bold, urban deer (darn them!), so scare tactics don't often remain effective for long.
Common scare tactics include using sound, water or floodlights. Loud sounds, such as those from a radio will often scare deer temporarily, but I personally (and I expect my neighbours do too!) find it a bit annoying - especially at night! There are devices, that may be less offensive than a blaring radio, which emit a high pitched warning sound when activated by a motion sensor. I haven't personally tried this, but it does have potential.
Old fashioned scare tactics include tin cans hung on ropes, plastic shopping bags strung up around the garden or deer tape - a product that produces a loud vibrating noise in the wind. Yet, if deer are hungry enough, they will eventually brave such tactics for your precious pole beans!
A few other scare tactics include bright motion sensor floodlights or sprinklers. I have tested a common sprinkler called the Scarecrow and found it worked quite well to scare off the deer within reach of its hard jet of water.. Ideal for small gardens, but not as effective in large plantings.
Scent and Taste Tactics
These two strategies use products that manipulate the smell and taste of your garden. Some garden centers even stock such glamorous products as 'predator urine'. Yep, I'm serious, you can actually buy the urine of coyotes, wolves or bobcats! Apparently, if a deer gets a whiff of a predator in the vicinity - courtesy of its urine - they should take off in search of a safer food source. Although I'm sure these can be effective in an ornamental garden, I don't feel so good about spraying coyote urine around my salad greens..
Other, perhaps less noxious scent and taste tactics include using strong aromas such as sheets of fabric softener, human hair (apparently male hair is best!), bloodmeal (an organic nitrogen fertilizer), mothballs (not so organic), fragrant soap (Irish Spring has worked for me when shredded and hung in pantyhose - not pretty, but temporarily effective), or garlic oil. You must place these fragrant items close to the plants so that the deer get a whiff when they go in for a bite.
For taste tactics, many gardeners create their own anti-deer brew - often a concoction of rotten eggs, garlic, hot pepper sauce, cayenne powder and so on. I'd agree that it would taste foul and repel deer from hosta, but I don't want it anywhere near my lettuce! You could possible spray it around the perimeter of your veggie garden, but I'd be worried about drift from the spray landing on my veggies, as well as the nasty scent anytime I wanted to work in or enjoy the garden!
Ok, here we go, these are the MOST EFFECTIVE methods for protecting your plants from deer. In his wonderful book, The Truth About Organic Garden Remedies by Jeff Gillman (again, a brilliant book!) he compares all the different types of deer repelling tactics and found that the physical barriers are best - even a single 4-foot tall strand of electric wire around the perimeter of the garden was extremely effective.
For me, I've found that by using a 7-foot by 100-foot deer netting as a garden fence, it keeps the deer out (most of the time - they've gotten over twice, but that was my bad planning - see below). It's stapled to 8 foot long, 2-inch x 2-inch posts that are spaced about 6 to 8-feet apart all around the garden. At the entrance, the netting is looped over two screws to keep the door secure, but allow me easy access.
In the past, I have taken advantage of the vertical support of the fence and have allowed some of my large gourds to climb the fence.. bad idea! As they matured into huge Speckled Swan gourds, the netting was progressively pulled lower and lower.. until the deer could jump the now 5 1/2 foot height of the fence! Oops!
The most effective fence is at least 8 feet high, as deer can sometimes jump 7 feet.. Some fences are also angled away from the garden, creating a wide and tall barrier that deer will not attempt to jump. As mentioned above, some gardeners add an electric wire, but I haven't done this as it's just too tempting for curious hands of the kids..
I'd love to hear any of your suggestions, so please comment if you have found other easy ways to keep deer out!