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"

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Thoughts on Watering

Watering is a concern that comes up every year. Everywhere I stopped for plants this week the common complaint was lack of snowfall that translates into it is already too dry. I'm already preparing to deal with another hot dry summer. Last summer was so hot and dry that watering was almost a daily chore. The problem was we are under a watering restriction so can only water every other day. This seems rather funny since we live on the water and could easily cart water from there but unless we are desperate we don't. I physically can't cart the water myself anyway. One solution my neighbours have come up with is to pump water from where it is to the gardens. This is a round about way of getting around the water restrictions because they aren't using municipal treated water. I decided to do it a little bit different.

A rain barrel is the perfect solution and if done correctly eliminates the need for using any treated water on your gardens. I've found using two rain barrels and rotating them to be fairly effective. We added a hose attachment near the bottom so the barrels work passively. The threat of West Nile Virus is a concern and standing water attracts mosquitoes so we control the mosquitoes naturally in the barrels. Rosy red minnows or feeder gold fish are an inexpensive solution to the mosquito larva and they add nutrients to the water so it becomes a cycle. Instead of screening, add floating plants to the barrels. They will help keep the water clean and allow fresh rain water in creating a nice little ecosystem. Your garden will reward you with increased yields!

Watering restrictions are a pain yet watering naturally can be rather pleasant. Yet no type of watering system is going to be effective if you don't water properly.

First take a good look at your soil. The soil mixture should contain enough organic matter to hold water longer. If not, seriously look at ammending your soil. This is so important when growing in raised beds or containers! The soil must be light and fluffy for both raised beds and containers, in my experience. That means you may need to add one of more of the following: peat moss, compost, humus, wood ash and in some cases vermicullite or perlite. There is a relative new product out called a water gel. I've seen it under a couple of brand names. It's been available for years but only recently in bulk for larger gardens. This gel absorbs water then slowly releases it back to the soil. The nice thing about this gel is it is non-toxic and regenerates when watered however, it is expensive. The main problem I see with the gel is it gives nothing to the soil as far as nutrients so why use that when you can add something that will add nutrients. Once the water is on your gardens, you want to keep it there to some degree. You want a nice balance of enough water yet well drained soil. This is where mulch comes in.

Mulch helps keep the soil moisture while still allowing drainage. In general you will have to find the mulch that is right for your garden. Pine needles raise the acidity so using them as a mulch on plants that don't grow well in these conditions is not a good idea. Black plastic will work but will also raise the temperature of your bedsl. While this may be desirable in the spring, it will work against you during the summer months. Newspaper will work too just be careful not to use glossy paper. I tried straw and found it to be somewhat helpful but messy especially for planting. Personally, I don't use any mulch that will not give something back to the soil in terms of nutrition. The best solution I have found is a 1 - 2" layer of chopped of leaves replenished as needed. My husband uses a leaf vacuum in the fall that chops the leaves up into small bits. We store these in garbage bags over the winter allowing decomposition to begin. Then I add them to the raised beds as needed. The leaves add organic matter and bulk to the soil. I figure since nature put them there, I might as well use them.

When watering, use a soaker hose and water at the base of the plants. Don't waste water using a sprinkler. The water is wasted and the plant leaves get too wet opening up problems for fungus especially if you water too late in the day. Improper watering will just add more problems.

Extended periods away from your garden can really be a watering nightmare. An automated watering system or a very good neighbour can help with this situation. I prefer my neighbours because they garden themselves so will be on the lookout for any other problems. However, the wick method of watering works well for containers and lessens the imposition on the neighbours. The greenhouse watering would really be an imposition so when I know we will be away more than 24 hours, all the plants in the greenhouse are moved into the house where one of my kids keeps them watered.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Planning and Prepping Thoughts

It's that time of the year when the stores start getting in their new gardening stock and I'm just itching to buy it all! I'm drawn to the plants like a moth to a light bulb. Surrounded by all the wonderful plants, I just have to buy whether I have a spot for them or not. I'm totally mesmerized as one plant after another is crowded into the cart. The sights, the smell and sometimes hairbrained ideas that "this would be good" just kick into high gear. That explains why I have only one gooseberry bush even though we've never had gooseberries. It didn't get planted last year because I had nowhere for it. Somehow the plant survived the winter in the pot so it will be planted shortly. It also explains why I have two new raspberry bushes, rhubarb, and asperagus with no real spot for them but I had to have them. My husband is more of the "do you have a spot for it" type person. This raises the important issue of planning and prepping gardens long before you start seeds or buy plants.

I got my first seed catalogue the first part of January. After browsing through it, I decided to limit myself to three or four new fruits or vegetables. Without a limit, I would seriously buy everything in sight. I knew I wanted rhubarb because it is seldom in the stores or fruit stands. I also wanted raspberries because when available they are aweful expensive. I knew I wanted to grow more herbs and basically turn raised bed #2 into herbs only. In the back of my mind, I had a vision of how I wanted the vegetable garden this year so I decided to do some research.

The first thing I came upon was Garden Manager 3.05 by Jonathan Maier. This is a slick little program based on Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. Other years I had simply drawn out each bed then penciled in the square with no attention to companion plantings. This year I was deterimined to do things in a more organized manner. My three large beds are 4' x 10' giving 40 squares. The two smaller beds are 4' by 8' giving 32 squares. After researching, I decided I wanted to use more companion planting and change my methods a bit to include fertilizer. Armed with what I wanted, it was time to start playing with Garden Manager. This program made things a lot easier. Each bed was laid out according to the square foot method then each square filled in so when planting time comes I know exactly what to plant in each square. I even specified the variety since I grow more than one variety of some vegetables. This is the general plan for my three largest beds:
Bed #1 - tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, onions, marigolds planted around the perimeter
Bed #2 - herbs, some lettuces if necessary
Bed #3 - peas, beans, carrots, lettuce, cucumber, spinach, marigolds, petunias
The two smaller beds:
Bed #4 - strawberries
Bed #5 - maple trees, beans, peas, ground cherries, cucumber, zucchini

With the main beds planned right down to when to plant certain vegetables based on the ALFD (average last frost date), I could tweak and turn my attention to what to start in the greenhouse as well as the rest of the yard. We have a very large, water front lot at about 250' deep. I couldn't keep it looking nice without some type of planning. The main problem was whether to add more raised beds or not along with an arbour for grapes. I still need a spot for the rhubarb, gooseberries and raspberries. This is an ongoing debate that hopefully will be settled by the end of next week.

Friday, April 28, 2006


If you have ever had rabbits in your garden, you will know where I'm coming from. Mind you they are cute but they can destroy a garden in almost no time with their grazing habbits. Aside of members of the onion family, I think they will eat just about anything! I've battled them ever since gardening but here they tend to be a little more numerous as the picture shows. However, being well trained in population genetics, I know the local rabbit population is cyclic. That is, some years you won't see any signs of them but other years they are everywhere. This year appears to be an abundant year for rabbits likely due to the very mild winter we had. At any rate, rabbit control is in order.

My neighbour tries to trap the rabbits but rabbits don't take well to going into the live traps. Our animal control suggests using a net if you can get close enough. Now anyone who has ever dealt with a wild rabbit will know that getting close is rather difficult and if you finally get the rabbit in a net it is going to hurt itself and likely you along with it. I don't think this is a really good option. In previous years, I have found a mixture of cayenne and powdered pepper to be effective but since I think this harms the animal, I only resort to this when all else fails. I really prefer to use measures to encourage the rabbits to move along and eat elsewhere without harming them. I have a motion sensor sprayer calle "the scarecrow" that does seem to be rather effective. It give a blast of water, about a cup, along with a funky noise to scare the animal away. I do know it is effective for racoons and squirrels. Given the rabbit population boom this year, my neighbour feels my sprayer while effective, will not be effective enough and I agree. So a little online search gave a few interesting results.

One bed has already been protected with chicken wire. All the beds are raised so the chicken wire was stapled around the entire bed. Aesthetically, I find this solution unappealing but if that is a last resort, so be it. The chicken wire rises about 2' above the bed. It makes working the bed more difficult but at least it doesn't hurt the animal.

Apparently, sprinkling mothballs around the perimeter of the garden will keep rabbits away. This is a cheap and easy method but I would not use it where kids visited the garden. These things look like mints so I would be very concerned a child would pick them up and eat them. I would not use them directly in the garden beds either since I wouldn't want the chemical getting into my produce. However, my neighbour and myself are trying out the moth balls along our pathways. I'm still concerned though so will try the experiment for one week the remove any remaining mothballs. I really am not comfortable with this idea. I'd prefer staying as chemical free as possible!

Rabbits also don't like bone meal so I picked up a box of that yesterday. At worst, the gardens get a little extra fertilizer and at best, it will keep the rabbits under control. Unlike the cayenne pepper treatment or mothballs it is chemical free and can help the gardens.

I also picked up a canister of Critter Ridder. This is a repellant that helps with dogs, cats, raccoons, skunks, and groundhogs. While the label does not specify rabbits, I think it should work. One treatment is good for 30 days so will be more effective than the pepper treatment that has to be reapplied every time it rains. I intend to use this only if necessary and only around the perimeter of the garden. I really hope I don't have to use this treatment!

The final plan aside of shooting them (DH's idea and not one I would tolerate) is to install electric fencing. I think the cheapest out there is called Fido and is sold at pet stores for about $50. In the long run it might be the cheapest solution. It might be awkward climbing over the fence and aesthetically I'm not so sure about. I think you could do it nicely without being too intrusive.

The saga of the rabbits continue...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Garden Pests Part 1

I take a rather laid back approach to visitors to my garden. Here's a picture of a cute little fellow that took up residence in a piece of rug my husband was supposed to put on the patio. He stayed with us until the fall giving my husband the perfect excuse not to put the rug down.
Mr. Toad

Other visitors are not so welcomed. We've had a problem with wild rabbits. They are kept out of the garden by using a motion activated sprayer called "the scarecrow" and in the case of one bed, I used a short height of chicken wire surrounding the bed. In the early spring when the threat of a heavy frost was quite real, I used a mixture of cayenne and powdered pepper. I don't like using this solution if at all possible. We've had a problem with other pests as well.

The box elder bug is more annoying than damaging.
Box Elder Bug
They hang around the garden having sex all day creating more of the little critters. If they get in your house or greenhouse they leave nasty little marks over everything. A solution of 3 - 4 drops of liquid dish soap mixed with water then sprayed on them gives an almost instant kill. It is about the only way to control them and even then it will not rid your garden of box elder bugs once infested. Controlling is the only way to deal with these little pests.

Caterpillars can be quite damaging in the garden especially the cabbage worm. Since I try to avoid pesticides where possible, I control caterpillars manually by removal. I didn't get a picture of the cabbage worms that destroyed my broccoli crop. The tomato hornworm can be destructive if left unchecked. While tomatoes are the primary target, this caterpillar will feed on peppers and potatoes. A natural enemy of the tomato hornworm is the braconid wasp that lays eggs on the caterpillar. The larva feed on the tomato hornworm until they are ready pupate. If you see white projections on the tomato hornworm it means it has been infected by the wasps so it is best to leave it in the garden. If no white projections are apparent, manual removal will prevent further damage.
Tomato Hornworm

The swallowtail caterpillar can descimate parsley or any member of the carrot family in a relatively short period of time, eliminating your entire crop. While the caterpillar is rather pretty it had to go! I've heard that removing these caterpillars to anise will save the parsley but since I didn't have anise growing last year, the caterpillars were simply removed. The funny thing is I never noticed any swallowtail butterflies around the garden and I do tend to take notice of garden visitors. This year I plan to take a different approach. Any swallowtail caterpillars will be removed from the main herb bed and place on parsley grown in pots just for them. That way I will be able enjoy the caterpillar, butterflies, and my parsley!
Swallowtail Caterpillar

White grubs are really the bane of lawns. This grub will mature to become a June Beetle. Natural enemies of the grub are small mammals such as skunks and birds. Encouraging skunks in the garden might not be the most prudent thing to do so grub control is necessary. June Beetles are large chesnut brown beetles that look rather menacing. For the most part, I really don't get too hung up on them. Last year they showed up in the raised beds. Manual removal worked best without using any pesticides.

June Beetle

I'll post my further adventures on garden pests in part 2.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

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Why I Became Interested in Gardening

Someone asked me why I became interested in gardening. The simple answer is "why not"? Honestly, at some level I've always been interested in gardening. So here are some of my earliest memories.

My Mom had flower gardens and vaguely I remember her putting in a vegetable garden one year when I was very young. It must not have worked because the only edible thing I can really remember her growing was rhubarb. I loved the looks and smells of the rich earth mixed with the heavenly smell of flowers. I would sit for hours reading in the lilac tree. Willow trees were awesome once I learned how to swing out over the river but Mom quickly put a stop to that. I was surrounded by nature, animals and loved every minute of it. But this one front bed was different. The only thing I liked about it was the glass chunks. I can remember gazing into the glass chunks that decorated my Mom's small flower garden, imagining there were meramaids swimming in them. She always planted geraniums in that bed. I hated the smell of geraniums! They were worse when she brought them in for the winter resting spot on my bedroom window sill. I still hate the smell of geraniums but I have since learned to appreciate them. While Mom didn't really vegetable garden I learned a lot of canning skills from here, so maybe my childhood experiences set the path I was to follow. Fast forwarding a bit, is when I think vegetable gardening first became a real interest.

We lived in an apartment building just after marrying. A nice, elderly neighbour lady would lived on one side of the entrance to the apartment building had a cherry tree. It is from her I learned how to make cherry pies. It is also from this couple that I first really marvelled at having a vegetable garden. It was gorgeous! Neat little rows of vegetables ran the length of their garden. That year I tried growing tomatoes in a container. I wasn't suscessful but that didn't stop me from trying.

Over the next few years were were busy raising kids. I'd put flowers in yet it wasn't until our second house that I planted grapes and strawberries. The following year we planted a small patch of tomatoes and peppers. So it was for the rest of the time we lived there. We sold that house and moved to a smaller house with a huge front yard but almost non-existent backyard but by now my interest in vegetable gardening had really been sparked. I was limited to two small 2'x8' strips behind the garage for growing vegetables. I quickly learned that growing vegetables vertically gave a higher yield. The internet provided a wealth of information on small space gardening so I kept trying different things. Even though some were met with failure, the successes encouraged me to try again. Then we moved here.

Now I have as much room as I want for gardening. Yet I still love the raised beds and square foot gardening method. Both remove a lot of the work of gardening. This will be our fourth vegetable gardening season here. My methods have changed slightly and I continue to use container gardening for those spots we don't want permanent raised beds. Each year I try three or four new vegetables but some staple vegetables always remain.

I still love the smell of newly turned soil. Vegetables growing give me an undescribable pleasure. I've found that by using the square foot method, flowers can be incorporated into the vegetable gardens. My favourite glass chunk from childhood still graces my garden and the mermaids still swim when I gaze into the aqua glass.

Welcome to Garden Gnome Wanderings

Welcome to my blog. Here you will find my adventures in gardening, cooking and anything else that strikes my fancy.
I thought creating a blog of my gardening and cooking adventures would be fun so here I am. For us, these activities go hand in hand :) Now where do I begin? How about a bit of an introduction?

We live in Ontario Zone 6A. For the most part, I do all of the gardening but my husband helps with anything heavy or any construction as needed. Our vegetable garden consists of five raised beds planted in the square foot method and a small greenhouse. All beds take advantage of companion plantings. Vegetables are also grown in containers to help maximize our growing area. We have used this method for three years and while it is working well for us, we feel we can boost our yields by incorporating a few changes.

This year we are planning a few changes. We are adding three smaller 4' x 4' beds also planted in the square foot method. We may add two 2' x 8' beds in an area that needs to be escuvated anyway. In previous years we have relied on compost to ammend the soil in the raised beds. This year we will also be using fertilizer on a regular basis in the raised beds this year but will refrain from chemical pesticides and herbicides as in previous years. We ammended the beds with peat moss and manure. Although sawdust is recommended for the one small gardening method, we have had no luck finding any untreated sawdust. Another change for this year was starting the planting much earlier.

So far, we have planted peas, onions, radishes, spinach and lettuces outside directly in the beds. One bed has always been for strawberries and that will remain. Another bed is mainly for herbs, a change from last year. The greenhouse gets fuller each day awaiting the last frost date for planting. This week, beets, carrots, chard and potatoes will go in. We've had a few days of rain so I'm just waiting for a dry enough time to plant them.

Well, I think that sums things up in the garden. The activity in the kitchen is gearing towards this year's growing season. Much of the canning has focused on soups, stews, and beans. I canned up a lovely batch of bean and bacon soup on Saturday. This week's canning will be mushrooms. I buy mushrooms in bulk from a mushroom farm usually 20 lb at a time. While we prefer fresh mushrooms, a few jars of canned mushrooms are nice to have on hand. Asparagus will be starting soon. I haven't canned asparagus in the past and I'm not sure if I will try this year. It might be good to have a few jars on hand to make cream of asparagus soup. Frozen asparagus generally has a better flavour and texture though. So that's it in the kitchen.

I started two yahoo groups, garden_wanderings and lets_cook that allow discussion for those interested in these topics.
My yahoo blog will be similar to this one for some entries but in general will vary. You can find it at:

I'm off to discover this blogging adventure. Thanks for stopping by.