Neighbours talking over the garden gate has long been a tradition. They share gardening tips, complain about the weather and pests yet are ever eager to discuss their gardens. That is what I had in mind when creating this blog. So stop by my garden gate to find out the latest happenings in my garden.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome
"All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child." ~ Madame Marie Curie"

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Garden Planning

We had five raised beds and now have eight all planted in the square foot gardening method using companion planting. The beds are planted based on the ADLF. This means the cool weather crops are planted a month before the ADLF, some are planted on the ADLF and the frost sensitive plants are planted two weeks after the ADLF. For that reason garden planning is a must. This planning starts with the previous growing season. As the fruits, herbs and vegetables grow I make careful notes in my journal.

I think keeping a detailed journal is a very important part of gardening. It will help you troubleshoot and plan for the following growing season. It will help you determine which varieties do best in your hardiness zone. I record the weather conditions and how the plants are growing. Any problems such as pests or possible disease are recorded with as much detail as possible. More importantly I take pictures and include them in my journal. Quite often I will sit down in the evening, read over my notes and realize that there is a problem that needs attention. Without my notes and pictures it might easily have been overlooked. I can't stress the importance of a gardening journal enough.

Once the beds are prepared for the winter I review my garden journal and pictures then start planning for the new garden season. I make a list of what grew well then create a layout for each bed. Of the five original beds, one is dedicated to strawberries so needs no plan. The excitement grows when the first seed catalogue arrives. I like both OSC and Stokes for the ease of ordering online. Once the seeds have been ordered I start a more formal plan. I used to do this by drawing out each layout by hand but now I'm using Garden Manager Pro software. This software has the vegetable information and garden layout adapted from Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholmew and has greatly simplified the layout planning.

Using the recommended square foot gardening recommended densities for each plant along with companion planting recommendations, I came up with the layouts for the beds then printed them off. As you can see the working copy becomes rather cluttered. I use it for making quick changes and notes of when to plant. Like any plan some flexibility is needed. Each square has a number in brackets after the plant name. This indicates the planting density. For example in bed #2 that is home to the herbs, I decided to plant lettuce in a couple of squares. The number after the lettuce appears as (4) meaning four lettuce plants to that square. I also use colour coding for a quick visual for when to plant according to the ADLF. This is really just a simple scribble with a pencil crayon. I even use Xs or checkmarks to planting times or if the square was planted. While the working copy appears to be cluttered it holds a lot of valuable information.

Working Copy

Sometimes a quick change is necessary if a volunteer plant is discovered. In bed #5 two volunteer sunflowers came up. Since that bed wasn't fully planned, I left them where they were and just incoporated them into the final bed layout. A volunteer pea plant surprised me in bed#3. Since it was in the bed where the beans and peas were going to be planted I simply left it there and noted the change on the working copy sheet. There are times when I realize I made a mistake in the planning process as in the fennel planned for bed #2. Fennel doesn't get along well with other plants so I decided to plant it in a container. I have also realized that lemon balm is a member of the mint family so is very invasive. It is everywhere so will have to be moved out of the herb bed. Mistakes are a good thing if you learn from them.

The herb bed is the easiest to plan as the perennials are already there so planning is only needed for the annual herbs. Again quick changes were necessary. I had a problem with the germination of some herbs in the greenhouse so found myself with nothing to plant in those spaces. Unfortunately the local nuseries didn't have potted herbs that I wanted. That left me with spaces to fill. When using the square foot gardening method there is nothing wrong with leaving a space empty or filling it with a non-edible companion plant.

Herb Bed Plan

When using the square foot gardening method, the plan is only a guide. As the cold weather crops like lettuces, spinach, radishes and peas finish the squares are replanted with another crop keeping companion planting recommendations in mind. Some squares like the pole beans, tomatoes, perennial herbs, peppers and onions will remain constant without replanting throughout the entire growing season. These are the plants I use to plan the layouts. They are planned first and everything else worked around them. Even with very careful planning always expect surprises and be willing to be flexible. My peas thew me a curve ball this year. Other years they have been punny and almost non-productive. This year I tried a couple of different varieties. They are over five feet tall and we had to make emergency supports for them. I'm not complaining as they are loaded with pods but this was totally unexpected. You can bet I'll be growing these varieties next year!

Planning your garden can be a very rewarding part of gardening. A well thought out and planned garden is more likely to be successful. Start planning your next season's garden with this season.

Happy Gardening

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Constructing a Square Foot Garden Bed

Raised beds can be used for veggetables or flowers and can be planted using the square foot method. The square foot method of gardening is ideal for smaller spaces. Constructing a square foot garden bed is very easy. Since we just installed new beds, I thought I would share how I make my beds.

In the true fashion of square foot gardening, beds are constucted 4' x 4' but you can make them any length you want just don't go beyond 4' wide. That will give you 2' comfortable reach from both sides and the ends if you make your beds longer than 4'. The reason for this is you need to be able to reach all around the bed without walking on it. Do not use pressure treated lumber! I prefer 2" x 8" or 2" x 10" untreated spruce lumber but you could use cement blocks if you know you won't be moving the bed. While no bottom cover is necessary you can use garden cloth if you want. I don't use any bottom cover. The beds are set on the grass then filled. You can make your beds deeper than eight or ten inches as well. If you have mobility issues a 36" high raised bed will make it easier to garden. The bed is constructed in the same manner but with a bottom then raised on four posts to the desired height.

Beds should be layed out in such a design to allow a 3' pathway especially if you use a garden cart or wheelbarrow. You can go narrower but 3' makes the pathways wheelchair accessible. Choose your pathway material wisely based on durability, accessibility and ease of revamping. All have pros and cons. I prefer gravel but you can use other material for the pathways. I

My beds are constructed using a simple butt joint with no reinforcement. Three long galvanized nails at each joint does the trick. When I first constructed the larger beds I thought reinforcement would be needed but after almost 4 years they still look good. The spuce weathers nicely to grey that just seems to mellow the garden. You can add reinforcement at the joints if you want. This can either be 2" x 2" or L-brackets. My beds are not anchored to the ground either because at some point I may want to change my garden layout. While that is highly unlikely I don't see the need to anchor them into the ground.

Soil is the next concern and may need to be adjusted based on your zone or the plants you are growing. Adjust as necessary based on your climate and the plants you are growing. I started out using 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 top soil. I've since modified the original beds with soil ammendments such as manure, vermiculite and leaves. I recommend using an organic fertilizer after the first year simply because like containers nutrients leach out of the beds.

Bed constructed and filled

The actual contruction was simple so I've started the pictures at where the bed has been filled and was ready for the grid system. The grid is important as that is what forms the basis of the square foot gardening method.

Measuring Up

Once the bed is filled it is time to measure up the bed. Use a tape measure and run from end to end. Mark each side at 1' intervals around the perimeter of the bed. I now skip the step of marking and use push pins as I go.

Cotton Yarn

By far the most convenient, cheap way to secure the grid is push pins especially if you use cotton yarn as I do. The cotton yarn is biodegradable and birds will collect any left-overs for building their nests so it is a win-win situation. The push pins can be left in place to re-use the following growing season. However, you can construct your grid using left-over window blind slats and just nail them where needed for a more permanent grid. When constructing your grid consider that it should be removable for ease of turning the soil or adding ammendments in the spring.

Bed Ready to Plant

Once the grid is completed the bed is now ready to plant. There are some rules regarding the density. For example in 9 beans can be planted in one square. Density charts are available online. I use companion planting and observe those rules as well. Generally what goes together grows together. There is an earlier post on companion planting if you need to find out more.

Marigold Border

This bed is the last of three new vegetable beds so is destined to be an overflow bed for this year. Raised beds often need a year to become well established or at least that has been my experience. I don't expect the same results from new beds as the older beds. Once the raspberries are finished fruiting they will be moved to this bed so it will become a small raspberry patch. It will still be planted with companion plants to raspberries using the square foot method.

Well that is about it on construcing a square foot garden bed other than at some point depending on what you are growing you may need plant support. You can use trellises or even homemade designs. My beans are supported by a hockey goal post design using cotton yarn for them to climb on. Be creative!

Happy Gardening

Garden Gnome

Monday, June 19, 2006

Epsom Salt - A Gardener's Solution!

Epsom Salt

This 100% natural mineral is a gardener's solution! Epsom Salt is maganesium sulfate and it can be used to get great results in the garden as well as a soak for aching muscles after a day in the garden.

General Use: Mix 1/2 c epsom salt per gallon of water for watering potted plants. Apply 1 tsp per foot of height for each plant once biweekly.

Tomatoes: Add 2-3 tbsp per hole before planting then twice a month, sprinkle 1 tbsp per foot of height per plant biweeklyy.

Roses & Flowers: Use 1/2 c in the soil at the base of the plant then uses a foliar spray of 1 tsp epsom salt to 1 gallon water or use 1 tsp per foot at base biweekly

Peppers & other fruits and vegetables: Miz 1 tbsp per gallon of water and water monthly or us one tsp per foot of height per plant biweekly.

Outdoor plants & shrubbery: Use 1-2 tbsp around base of plants every 2 - 4 weeks.

Gardener's Dream for Tired Muscles: Dissolve 2 c epsom salt in warm tub of water. Relax while pondering seed catalogues.

Happy Gardening

Garden Gnome

Thursday, June 15, 2006

June 15, 2006 - Take Pictures!

You never know what you are going to see in your garden. If you do a 15 minute walk about of your garden as I do twice daily, you might see just about anything from the critter that is eating your beans to a wide variety of critters just visiting your garden. Pictures tell more than words so if one of your plants is doing something odd take a picture for troubleshooting. If you find an undentified insect or plant and want to know whether it is friend or foe take a picture. Chances are very good someone else has encountered that problem or insect. However pictures are not just for troubleshooting. Get close-up of your plants. Add the pictures to your garden journal along with your comments. For that reason I make it a point to never go into my gardens without a camera!

Happy Gardening

Garden Gnome

Monday, June 12, 2006

June 12, 2006 - Garden Savings

There are so many ways to save on gardening but I thought it might be a good idea to highlight some of them. I think there are four main aspects: environment, cost, time, and effort. So I'll mention a few of the things I do to save in all aspects.

As gardeners I firmly believe we are stewards of the land. That means we should do nothing to harm the land and we should encourage as natural of an ecosystem as possible. In essence we should leave the land better than we found it. Since we are planting things that don't normally grow wild we still need to encourage birds, butterflies, beneficial insects and etc. At the same time we need to control the harmful invaders if we want a crop so we need to find a balance. My rule of thumb with any type of pest control is to use the least harmful method possible. In some cases this is fencing when dealing with the larger animals but it is environmentally friendly. My second rule of thumb is organic as near as I can get. Our lot backs onto farmland so I can't be sure his sprays don't get on my garden but I can be sure that I haven't put any sprays on the garden. But there are other ways to save environmentally.
Establish a compost whether it be bin or pile. Compost is just good all the way around. It gives nutrients to your plants, retains moisture in your beds, and get rid of garden and kitchen waste making it the perfect recycled ingredient. For the past few years I've used a very simple pile method. My municipality had a special on compost bins for $25 so I decided to pick one up. I'll still run the pile because the garden has expanded enough to need more compost. Composting is a must!

Water! It amazes me how we take water for granted even for our gardens. Then it boggles my mind that someone will tell me their garden is organic even though they are using municipal water. Hello! That water is treated and in many areas still has both floride and chlorine in it when it comes out of your tap. I've designed water barrels to collect rain water of which I will be posting a step by step method of constructing them. So check back here for those instructions. Those with ponds will know that pond water makes great fertilizer while watering your gardens. If you have fish in your ponds do not use the water for edible plants. Your flowers and lawn will love it. I maintain a water feature or two in my garden.

There are just so many ways to save on gardening. I think this might warrant a separate post. Get clippings or seeds from others which is why I'm trying to start a seed exchange on my yahoo group. Take clippings and save seeds from your own plants. I have heard others have had luck with bargain priced seeds. I can't comment on this. However check back here as I will make a post just on saving money.

Time & Effort:
Sometimes together and sometimes not but they always seem to fall together. You either have a lot of time and no effort or visa versa. I think one of the biggest bains of gardening is weeding. So here is my method. I do a complete walk through the garden morning and evening. It takes me about 10 minutes and as I go I pull any noticeable weeds. I might deadhead a plant or check for insects. The important thing is keeping a close eye for any problems. It also is a nice way to start the day and end the day. Now 10 minutes doesn't seem like a lot of time but it is more than enough to keep any weeds under control and check for any problems. Sometimes I'm in the garden several times a day. I always pinch, weed, deadhead, and observe because I know it saves me a lot of time and energy later.

Happy Gardening

Garden Gnome

Monday, June 05, 2006

Baby Birds & Bunnies

One of my first blog posts was about bunnies. We have a healthy and abundant jackrabbit population. From experience, the jackrabbit population is cyclic. Last year they never bothered with my vegetable garden or if they did, I never noticed. This year they like the garden and have quickly become a problem. Not so much "they" just one very persistant young one. Young rabbits are like teenagers - no fear and very defiant!


I left the greenhouse light on, left a radio playing and turned the motion activated spray to very sensitive. This little guy danced to the oldies while taking his shower and munching on salad! So I added bone/blood meal to the garden beds as apparently they don't like the smell. I can't really blame them! I also added a large plastic owl to the bed the rabbit seems to prefer.

Plastic Owl

So far so good in the vegetable garden. But yesterday I looked out and what did I see - the young one and either a friend or family member! They were "in" the window box planter on the ground planted with Martha Stewart geraniums.

Rabbit in Windowbox

Apparently they like safflower seed even though they aren't supposed to like it and they thought the window box was a perfect stool for them to sit on. I liberally applied cayenne/powdered pepper mix to which they thanked me and asked for more. My luck they will make friends with the owl and get him dancing to the oldies as well. Heaven help me if they discover the slugs' beer. I give up!

We are fencing the vegetable gardens keep the rabbits out. The original vegetable bed has a gravelled holding path and area for hardening off plants. The greenhouse is in the corner of this area followed by three raised beds perpendicular to the greenhouse and two raised beds perpendicular to the three beds forming a large rounded on one corner gardening area. I really like the design and flow of the garden. We decided to add three 4' x 4' beds that originally were going to sit along the side of the garage. Now, my husband thinks it would be best to align them along the holding path creating a regular path there and adding a new holding bed so the greenhouse will be sitting about a third of the way into the garden with raised beds on both sides. He thinks it will be easier to fence. The boxes have been constructed for awhile so it is only a matter of adding soil later today. We'll remove the border rocks then extend the paths to the west. I intend to put in a small gated arbour then 3'rabbit proof fencing along with a 8" wide raised bed running along the entire perimeter to be planted with marigolds. So another year of gardening additions begins!

During the spring I watched a pair of robbins build a nest in our maple tree so I wasn't surprised to see part of a robbin eggshell under the tree.

Robbin's egg

My husband had been planning to trim the tree but agreed to leave it be until the babies left the nest. I had the advantage of being able to view the nest from one of our front windows. Both parents were very agressive towards other birds to the point I had to stop feeding the bluejays peanuts.

Robbin on Nest

They even went after the squirrels! For some reason they didn't attack the sparrows likely because they didn't see them as threat. The male robbin likes to follow me around when I water the garden and he will let me get quite close to him. It is a rather funny sight so I've been told. He stays about four feet behind me the entire time I'm watering. Both robbin parents really appreciate the garden bird bath. They are regular visitors in the garden and despite other reports that robbins can do tomato damage, I have yet a problem with robbins.

Robbin in Birdbath

We have swallows on our dock. When they are nesting they create a real problem by swooping low towards your head usually three or four at a time. This basically makes the dock unusable for about a month so a lot of people use plastic owls to prevent them from building a nest in the first place. These staunch little birds stand guard allowing no one onto the dock or even near it. They will immediately take flight and swoop at your head as soon as you try to go onto the dock.


I tried to ward them off this year by putting that same plastic owl on the deck for a morning. The swallows were so distressed I just couldn't leave it out there as there were likely babies in the nest. A couple of days later I managed to get on the dock to see that there were a couple of babies. I'm so glad I removed the owl! My neighbour says a swallow's nest brings good luck and I can use all the good luck possible.

Yesterday, I noticed the robbin's nest was very quiet. By now it is apparent the babies have flown the coop. While I'm glad they are old enough to fly I was saddened that the nest was empty. Then this morning I noticed the swallows are no longer standing guard. Their offspring must have flown the coop too.

Happy Gardening

Garden Gnome