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"

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas 2009 snow globe ornament

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Garden Visitor

Garden Visitor
November 7, 2009

This little guy visited us earlier in the month. He was a bit sluggish so I moved him off the path. Autumn has been rather mild and for the most part drier than the spring and summer. There isn't much left to do in the garden and yard other than the last minute tidying. We've cleaned the beds from debris and most of the leaves have been raked up from the yard. One tree is still dropping leaves so it will be awhile yet before we can clear up all the leaves. At any rate we are getting things ready for the cold weather that will hit any time now. It's time to get on the seed catalogue lists for 2010.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Garden Report - Winding Down

After a cool spring, cooler and wet summer Mother Nature hit us with a cooler start to the fall. I had hoped for a bit of nicer weather but it wasn't to be. The vegetable beds have been a bit neglected mainly because of the rain. We've already had our first hard frost too. Yesterday I spent a bit of time in the garden. It was one of the very rare days where the sun was actually out!

dead tomato vinesTomatoes

To the left the herb garden continues to do well. The Italian parsley has taken up it's square foot and then some. The plant is huge so it will be moved to another location in the spring. The Nasturtiums also became extremely large plants so I will have to find a more appropriate location for them in the spring.

Bed#1 is essentially done although there are a couple of hardy pepper plants I might bring indoors. The hard frost killed just about everything in the bed. I was pleasantly surprised to see a little Chinese mustard still going.

What I really missed not growing in this year's garden was zucchini. I also missed Kentucky Wonder beans and some of the herbs I didn't plant this year. I'm a bit disappointed in that I don't think my rhubarb survived and I didn't get the everbearing strawberries in the ground. They are happily growing indoors for the winter. So next year's garden is destined to be bigger and better!


Growing eggplant was a first for me this year. The plants went in late but I wanted to see how eggplants grow. Unfortunately the frost killed off the plants so imagine my surprise when I discovered one small eggplant about 6-inches long! It was still attached to the plant but laying on the ground where slugs could get at it so even though it looks pretty on this side it wasn't edible. Eggplant is definitely on my list of things to grow next year!

From my garden observations this year I am going to be dealing with more slug issues likely a direct result of putting vegetable beds over an area that was overgrown. There was obviously a healthy slug population already present. I manually remove slugs as I find them but will add copper tape to the raised beds in the spring to give better control. I'm also concerned over the tomato hornworm as I know they overwinter in the soil. This was my first year dealing with a larger infestation of them. They can be quite devastating in a short period of time so that is something I will be on the look-out for in the spring. Normally I don't turn the raised beds as part of winterizing but I think that might be a good way to curb the tomato hornworm so am planning on doing that this week as well.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Saving Seeds

During the home garden harvest most home gardeners save seeds for the following year's garden.  When saving seeds it is important to collect from heirloom plants rather than hybrids.  You can collect seeds from hybrids but they often will not breed true.  Seeds from herbs and flowering plants are best collect after the dew has dried on a clear, dry day.  Do not collect seeds from any plants that show signs of disease.  Collect in such a manner as to keep the seed types separate.  Once collected any plant material such as stems should be removed then the seeds left in open air for at least 24 to 72 hours.  This will ensure there is no moisture.  Place the dry seeds in an airtight container.  Label and store in a cool, dark location.

Some seeds require special preparations for storage.  Beans and peas should be shelled then left to dry fully before storing.  Tomato seeds are encased in a thick pulp.  Remove the seeds with pulp and place in a small bowl.  Cover with water.  Set in a warm location out of direct sunlight.  Skim off anything floating daily.  Let sit for 3 to 4 days.  Pour through a strainer and rinse the seeds well.  Dry the seeds on wax or parchment paper.  Don't dry them on paper towels as the paper will stick to the seeds.  Once dry place in an airtight container for storage.  Store in a cool, dark location.  

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Garden Report

The weather has turned quite cool here with frost threatening although I doubt we will see frost for a few days yet. The garden is winding down. Late blight has affected most of the tomato vines but not before I could get some nice clippings for growing indoors. It did affect some of the green tomatoes as well. We also had 3 days of heavy rain so a lot of tomato splitting. Yesterday I did as clean of a pick as possible of the tomatoes and peppers. I brought in a few pots of plants as well. I'll be harvesting the herbs for drying shortly so other than that there isn't a lot going on in the garden right now.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Little Marvel Peas (Pisum sativum var sativum)

Most home gardeners know certain varieties are consistently good performers for them. There are three ways to tell if a variety is a good performer for you general area. The first way is to pay close attention to the varieties being sold at local nurseries. Usually there will be one variety that is consistently sold at all of them. The second way is through word of mouth and the third is through trial and error. When you find a good performer you will likely plant that variety each year. So it is with Little Marvel Peas.

Little Marvel Peas (Pisum sativum  var sativum)Little Marvel Peas

Little Marvel Peas (Pisum sativum var sativum) are consistently good performers for me. They are frost hardy so should be planted early in the spring as soon as the ground can be worked for an early season harvest and in mid to late summer for a late harvest. They mature in 64 days on compact plants making them ideal for square foot gardening. I will be growing a couple of Little Marvel peas indoors this winter as part of my continuous harvest plan.

There are 7 to 8 nice sized, sweet, tender peas per pod. The firm pods are almost round in diameter when the peas are ready for picking. The pods snap open easily for shelling. Pictured is an average sized pod from this year's

pea harvestHarvest

Unless you grow a lot of pea plants it is difficult to get enough for more than fresh eating. My yield this year has been about a pint of shelled peas. That's not enough for preserving but they were quite tasty for fresh eating.

Pictured are a few of the shelled Little Marvel peas along various peppers from the garden. The Homesteader peas gave a very light yield of about 10 pods. The main problem was the peas were planted too late for a good harvest. Rather than try for fall planting I've decided to start both in pots indoors.

The peppers went into over drive so I've been picking a lot of those. They are such gorgeous colours! I can't help but smile when I see them peaking out through all the greenery.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Saturday, September 19, 2009


This is a wonderful time of year in the garden! The garden is blessing with it's abundance daily. I am dealing with a couple of problems and the ADFF (average day first frost) is quickly approaching. The days are getting shorter and cooler. The evenings have been fairly cool as well. After such a cool, wet summer it is hard to know whether we will have a nice autumn although that is the prediction. I'm not taking any chances in case we get frost earlier than expected.

vine ripe tomatoesVine Ripe Tomatoes

Pictured is yesterday's tomato harvest. There are Sweet Millions (cherry), beefsteak (upper right), Lemon Boy (bottom right) and Heinz 1429 (bottom left). By far my best producers are the Sweet Millions, beefsteak and Heinz 1429. The Sweet 100's have produced very little. The Lemon Boy has once again proved itself to be somewhat problematic, low performers.

Recently the rain has been less resulting in less tomato splitting. By far the cherry tomatoes have been most affected by splitting. Tomato splitting occurs when the tomato roots take up too much water causing the fruit to plump quicker splitting the skin. The next problem is some tomatoes simply falling from the vines. This is primarily affecting the Heinz 1429 tomatoes although it has happened with the cherry tomatoes as well.

late blightLate Blight

Throughout the entire growing season there have been horror stories of late blight. Late blight is a fungal disease that rapidly spreads through tomato plants. This year it has been particularly bad. True to previous experience Lemon Boy was the first to be hit with blight. Late blight is controlled by removing damaged foliage and not composting it. Washing your hands well after working with an affected plant will also help control the spread.

I noticed the first signs of late blight a couple of days ago. At this late stage in the outdoor there is little point getting too stressed about it. I'm removing as much damaged foliage as possible while trying not to knock of immature fruit so there is a bit of a trade off. I also noticed a couple of tomatoes with blight damage so I removed those as well.

tomato clippingsTomato Clippings

At the same time I am taking a lot of clippings of the healthy growth for growing indoors. Pictured is the first grouping of clippings to come indoors. As you can see the foliage is quite healthy. It is important to ensure any foliage used as a clipping is healthy to prevent any disease from spreading through the indoor garden. I cut a clipping and put it into a water filled container then wash my hands and repeat for 4 clippings per container. Then I set the container on the patio well away from the main garden and other clippings for a week. As long as there are no signs of disease, I check for any insects and manually remove them then bring the clippings indoors. The clippings are checked daily for any signs of insects. Indoors I use manual removal combined with a homemade soap spray if necessary. Once roots form the clippings are either planted in soil or left as individual plants in water. I use an organic fertilizer for the plants. As the plants grow the process for rooting clippings is continuously repeated throughout the winter.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Continuous Harvest

Commercial Greenhouses
August 29, 2009

The idea of growing edible plants indoors is not a new one. Archaeological excavations of Pompeii (79 AD) uncovered the remains of early greenhouses so they have been in use since at least that time if not earlier. The ancient Romans ensured the survival of vegetables and grapes by using greenhouses to protect produce from in-climate weather. They were the early versions of the modern greenhouse. Modern greenhouses originated in Italy in the thirteenth century as a way to study, keep and propagate exotic plants brought back to Europe in early plant hunting expeditions. Greenhouses and conservatories were first used to grow plants indoors throughout inclement weather have been used in Europe for thousands of years.

Commercial greenhouses have been used for decades to grow both edible and not edible plants year round. During the winter months one of our favourite pass-times is to visit Colasanti's Tropical Gardens in Kingsville, Ontario. Strolling through their large greenhouses filled with beautiful plants on a snowy winter's day is simply delightful. Other large commercial greenhouse operations along the Talbot Trail running from Windsor, Ontario through the Niagara region ending in Fort Erie, Ontario grow hot house tomatoes, various peppers and cucumbers for a continuous supply of Ontario produce for consumers. In recent years more and more farmland in southern Ontario is being turned into large commercial greenhouse operations.

On a smaller scale many Canadian universities and schools have greenhouses and/or solariums or atriums. Many home gardeners have hobby greenhouses and/or solariums to help extend the growing season. Solariums have become a popular addition for many home owners because they provide free heat on sunny days as well as create perfect a growing space for growing plants. Home gardeners whether or not they have a greenhouse or solarium still bring in plants when frost threatens. Plants are over-wintered to be replanted in the garden the following spring. Typically these plants include ornamentals like geraniums and annual herbs. A growing trend to compliment over-wintering is to specifically plant fruits and vegetables in containers to be grown indoors.

Basically a modified garden is sown and grown indoors during the winter months. I recently showed how to root tomatoes (more here) for growing indoors. Most herbs, strawberries, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, lettuces, chards, radishes, beans and even zucchini can be grown indoors. Aside of providing fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs during the winter months there are other benefits to growing edible plants indoors.
  • Growing indoors eliminates many pest related problems. You don't have to worry about waking up to find deer stripped your garden or the rabbits got your beans. For the most part you should not have to worry about any insect problems if you are careful to quarantine any plants brought inside from the garden
  • Many environmental factors that affect gardening are eliminated when growing indoors. These include not having to worry about: damaging winds, drought, excessive heat, unexpected frost, torrential rains.
  • In most cases plant diseases should not be a problem when growing indoors.
Growing fruits and vegetables indoors presents a few extra considerations. Just like growing outdoors plants need suitable growing conditions. When growing indoors you need to mimic these conditions with respect to water and light. You may need to supplement natural light with grow lights and use self watering containers especially if you will be away for a few days. If you are going to be away for a few days you will not be able to turn the heat down to 10ºC (50ºF) for those heat loving plants like tomatoes. In addition to those conditions many homes that are heated during the winter months are drier so you may have to increase the humidity level in your home for healthy plant growth. Fruits and vegetables growing indoors are grown in containers so you will need to use an organic fertilizer for healthy growth. You will also have to manually pollinate your plants when growing indoors.

Although growing fruits and vegetables indoors presents few problems when the growing conditions are met, there can be a few secondary problems. All soils contain mould spores. Some individuals are sensitive or allergic to moulds so to lessen the impact use sterilized potting mixtures or soil-free potting mixtures. Hydroponics is an ideal solution to growing indoors without using soil. Any damaged or decaying plant material should be removed immediately. As with growing outdoors always do a clean pick removing all ripe fruit or vegetables daily.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Today in My Garden

I was anxious to get out and check the garden today after a day and half of rain. The garden weathered the rainy weather well with only a couple of the Sweet Millions tomatoes splitting. Given the amount of rain that fell I was quite surprised. There were a few tomatoes, peppers and peas ready for picking as well.

In recent years there has been a lot of talk about the decreased levels of bees, an important pollinator. I am pleased to report that both honey and bumble bees are visiting my vegetable beds. I would love to see a few parasitic wasps that would help control the tomato hornworms. While we have a generous population of yellow jackets and hornets I haven't spotted any parasitic wasps yet but when I do they will be quite welcomed in my garden.

little marvel peasLittle Marvel Peas

My Little Marvel peas are now growing nicely and producing well unlike the Lincoln (Homesteader) peas. Although I like both varieties of peas, I tend to favour the Little Marvel as they have been consistently good performers for me. Little Marvel peas have 7 to 8 very sweet, tender peas per pod that are ideal for freezing. Unfortunately I have seldom grown enough of them to put up but we enjoy them fresh during the growing season. They are lovely tossed into salads raw.

I added a second planting of both varieties of peas for another week along with snowpeas and Laxton's Progress. I may or may not get anything off the second plantings depending on how the fall weather is.

tomato hornwormsMore Hornworms

I didn't check the garden yesterday due to the steady rain so imagine my horror when I checked it this morning to find more tomato hornworms pictured here (more here)! I could not believe my eyes as one after another were spotted. I removed seven in total. The largest one was a good 4-inches long! Once you spot hornworms as mentioned in my previous post the only thing you can do is damage control. The first round of damage control comes from the manual removal of all tomato hornworms. The second round of damage control is using some form of tilling a couple of times in the fall to destroy the pupae to prevent re-infestation in the spring.

Today I checked tomato vines several times. Aside of the initial removal of the 7 hornworms I did not spot any more. Now from experience I know that certain critters are more active at certain times of the day. Every hornworm I spotted was on the upper most stems of the tomato vines and it was late morning. So I'm now checking hourly for tomorrow, several times on Saturday then at least 4 times on Sunday to establish a pattern of when the hornworms are most active for easy removal.

fresh garden produceToday's Bounty

Today's bounty included 8 Heinz 1439 tomatoes (more here), about a half pint of Sweet Millions tomatoes, a handful of Little Marvel peas and both sweet banana and Hungarian wax peppers. Not shown is the lettuce and herbs picked for fresh use for dinner. I really like to pick both lettuce and herbs within minutes of using. At the moment it is not a huge daily harvest but it is still a harvest so I'm quite pleased.

The Habanero peppers are doing great with lots of still green peppers. The low tomato producers so far this year look to be the Lemon Boy and Sweet 100's even though the vine growth looks wonderful. All of the herbs are exceeding expectation with the exception of dill which really only produced a few heads that quickly went to seed but at least I got the dill seed from them. Other than that the garden appears to be on course for this time of year.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Heinz 1439 Tomato

Tomatoes are likely the first choice of any vegetable grown in home gardens and for good reason. Homegrown tomatoes are the best tasting tomatoes you can ever eat! They are simply the best fresh picked from the vine, still warm with the sun's kiss and moments away from a sandwich or salad. Most home gardeners will grow more than one variety of tomatoes usually chosen for a particular use. This year I'm growing 5 varieties which is well under my normal 25+ varieties but if you recall my new beds went in late this spring. Next year I will be back up to my normal numbers.


Tomato vines are classified as determinant or indeterminant depending on their growth patterns. An inderterminant tomato vine will keep growing and growing whereas a determinant vine will only grow to a certain size and that's it. Indeterminat vines generally require staking or some type of support in home gardens whereas determinant vines do not. Indeterminant tomatoes are preferred when using the square foot gardening method simply because they can be trained to grow upwards on supports. They also have a higher yield than determinant tomatoes.

The Heinz 1439 tomato pictured is an indeterminant with fruit about the size of a tennis ball. It is a deep orangy red with a rich semi-sweet flavour when ripe. Despite the size this is a beautiful slicing tomato for sandwiches or salads. The inside is thick and meaty making this a fairly good sauce tomato as well. Of course near the end of tomato season when frost is threatening any tomato can be used for sauce!

tomato splitting due to excessive waterTomato Splitting

Any home gardener who had grown tomatoes will have at least once per season encountered split tomatoes. Pictured is a Heinz 1439 tomato that split. Tomatoes split due to too much moisture. This can be due to excessive rainfall or improper watering. Unless you protect your tomatoes with some type of canopy to prevent excessive rainfall from hitting your tomatoes chances are very good at least one heavy downfall of rain will cause splitting in tomatoes that are almost ready for picking. This will not affect green tomatoes but will affect those with a good blush. If this happens pick the tomato and wash well. Providing there are no signs of moulding around the split usually quite obvious by white fungal growth the go ahead and use the tomato. For aesthetics cut away the split portion.

If you find splitting happening and you are watering by hand or hose you are watering incorrectly. Tomatoes do not like wet feet aka roots. Water only when the tomatoes need watering and then at the base of the plant not on the foliage. Water thoroughly but do not over water and let them dry a bit before watering again! Do not water if there are any indications that rain may fall the day you are planning to water. Do not water in the evening as this will encourage fungus problems.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tomato Hornworm

There have been several reports of late blight hitting tomato plants in the northeastern US states. Some home gardeners have reported late blight within 100 km of us as well so I have been on high alert watching for any signs. I am be especially careful to remove any damaged vegetation from both the plants and soil level. While I have had minor damage due to the storms that went through so far there have been no signs of late blight.

tomato hornwormTomato Hornworm

This morning as I did my regular tomato vine inspection I noticed what at first appeared to be leaf damage. On closer inspection it turned out to be a tomato hornworm Manduca quinquemaculata (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae). Another check through the vines found another one. This pest is common the the northern US states and southern portions of Canadian provinces. Despite it's rather menacing appearance, the hornworm will not bite you. It feeds only on solanaceous plants, usually the tomato. However the larvae will also feed on eggplant, pepper and potato plants so be sure to check these plants as well.

The adult moth is sometimes referred to as a "sphinx", "hawk", or "hummingbird" moth. This is a large, heavy-bodied moth with narrow front wings and a wing spread of 4 to 5 inches . The moth is a mottled gray-brown color with yellow spots on the sides of the abdomen . The eggs of the tomato hornworm are deposited singly on both the lower and upper surface of leaves in late spring. They oval, smooth, light green to yellow in color measuring 0.10 cm in diameter. They hatch in six to eight days.

Tomato hornworm larvae are pale green with white and black markings. They undergo 5-6 instars. The first instar is yellow to white in color with no markings while other instars develop eight white, lateral V-shaped marks. A black projection or "horn" on the last abdominal segment furthest from the mouth gives the caterpillar the name hornworm. The caterpillar reaches the final instar in 3-4 weeks. It is about 4 inches long when fully mature. The fully-grown larvae then drop off of the plants and burrow into the soil to pupate. During the summer months, moths will emerge from pupae in about 2 weeks. When the moths emerge from the soil they mate, and deposit the eggs of the next generation on tomato plants. By early fall, the pupae remain in the soil where the overwinter emerge as a moth the following spring.

tomato hornworm damageTomato Hornworm Damage

Tomato plants should be checked for hornworms from early July to late August. Unless you see the tomato hornworm you will likely blame missing leaves and stems on tomato plants on rabbits or possibly the wind. On closer inspection you will note that the damage is likely well out of reach of rabbits and lacks the sharp angled cut. The leaves will have been completely eaten away leaving only the secondary stem (red arrow). If you look even closer below the damage on other branches you will see dark green or black droppings and in fact you will likely see these before you see the actual hornworm. Carefully look above the area where you see the droppings. It may take a bit of looking as the hornworm blends in nicely with the tomato foliage. Once you find the hornworm the best way to remove it is to hold a bucket under it then clip the stem of the leaf it is on so damaged leaf, stem and hornworm falls into the bucket. If you find a hornworm that appears to have a lot of white elongated eggs on it, leave it alone. Do not remove it! These are the cocoons of a small braconid wasp, Cotesia congregatus. These parasitic wasps will kill off that hornworm then seek out other hornworms to parasitize. Another important natural enemy is the wasp, Polistes spp. (Hymenoptera: Vespidae) that kills and feeds upon a large proportion of the tomato hornworm larvae. It will also attack cabbage looper and other garden caterpillars. Attracting both wasps to your garden is is a good form of natural pest control that should be enouraged.

Check your plants daily for any further signs of infestation. Controlling the larvae by manual removal before they burrow into the ground will lessen or prevent re-infestation in the spring. In traditional row gardens roto-tilling after harvest will destroy any larvae attempting to pupate. If you are using the square foot gardening method in raised bed, once the tomato vines have been harvested remove your grid and work up the soil with a hand held cultivator. If you are concerned work the soil up again in about a week's time. If you buy tomato plants in the spring check them well for any signs of infestation prior to planting them in your garden.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Garden Bounty

This blog focuses on what grows in my garden so it isn't often that you get to see how I use some of my garden goodies. Today I thought I would share a couple of ways we use garden goodies. If you would like to see more ways we use the garden produce, please visit my cooking blog.

garden saladSummer Garden Salad

We eat some type of salad almost daily year round so really look forward to fresh, home grown salad greens and vegetables. I usually grow a total of 8 square feet of salad greens. This year I only put in 4 square feet because of the new beds and trying to maximize what I could grow until the additional beds go in this fall. With the below average temperatures this summer the lettuces have been abundant! We are enjoying Grand Rapid leaf lettuce, mesclun mix and Chinese mustard.

This colourful salad was made just as the tomatoes started ripening. It included the first ripe Lemon Boy tomato, red tomato (farm market), red onion, nasturtium, basil and mint with a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan cheese. A couple of days later I was picking the first of the cherry tomatoes and yesterday picked three nice size Heinz 1439 tomatoes so the days of buying tomatoes are over until well after first frost. When frost threatens I'll strip the vines of any green tomatoes and allow those to ripen indoors so we will have a rather steady supply of tomatoes for quite some time.

Creole Sauce & Salsa

In addition to fresh eating I preserve as much as I can from the garden. Pictured are two of the tomato based products I made last year (more here). I make a lot of tomato based products, approximately 25 different products which means I don't grow all the tomatoes I use. Those tomatoes that I don't grow are grown by a relative in a cash crop operation. I usually go through 10 hampers of these tomatoes each fall. However, my home grown tomatoes especially the cherry tomatoes find their way into canning jars.

Hot and sweet peppers are made into jellies and used in a variety of sauces. They are also froze and dried for later use. Fresh herbs are used into a variety of sauces, used in flavoured vinegars, made into jellies and dried. Beans are canned by themselves or in soups. So the garden provides a fair amount of food for later use as well.

I'm still planting in the garden which helps to maintain a continuous supply of fresh produce until first frost. This is one aspect of using the square foot gardening method that I really like. My neighbours' vegetable gardens are planted in traditional row fashion. As the rows are harvested they are left empty which makes no sense to me. In my vegetable beds the squares are replanted as soon as they are harvested so even though the growing space is smaller my yields are considerably higher.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Friday, August 21, 2009

Crabapple Tree

It can be both frustrating and fascinating when you move into a home where you haven't planted the vegetation. In some cases recognizing the vegetation is quite easy but in other cases you may not know what is planted where until you do careful observation beginning in the spring. This is the situation we found ourselves in since moving here in 2007.

crabapple blossomsCrabapple Blossoms

We have three gorgeous flowering trees on our property. One is still unidentified, one is what we think is a flowering dogwood and one is a crabapple (Malus). Malus is a genus of about 35 small deciduous trees in the Rosaceae family. In most cases crabapple trees are grown for ornamental purposes. They put on a very pretty spring display of delicate blossom colour. Crabapples range in blossom colours from white to a deep almost fuschia pink. The flowers are 5 petals appearing in late April or early May.

Our crabapple tree is about 6 foot tall and spans about an 8' diameter. In the spring it puts on a showy display of white blooms with pale pink tinges. Once the blossoms are gone the tree is rather non-descript until the crabapples appear. These miniature, very sour apples are edible for both humans and birds.


The fruit of the crabapple tree ranges from bright red to redish yellow to yellow depending on the variety. It is quite small depending on the variety ranging about the size of a marble perhaps a bit bigger. The fruit should be harvested when it becomes red or ripe looking if it is a yellow variety. Signs of ripening are fallen fruit on the ground. However, if you leave the fruit to ripen to this point it is quite often infested with small worms making it useless for human consumption. So pick the fruit when there is a blush on the fruit but it is not fully red.

Our crabapples are pretty much ready for picking. I will pick enough to make a couple of batches of crabapple jelly then leave the rest for the birds. At the same time I'm a bit concerned that there appears to be a bit of yellowing on the leaves. I think it may be fungal but am fully not certain as it could be a side effect of our inclimate weather this year. At any rate, I will be picking the fruit and spraying with a foliar chamomile solution just in case.

crabapple detailsUp Close

The crabapples themselves are extremely sour although some have been known to enjoy eating them raw. When cut in half, crabapples look very much like miniature apples. The seeds resemble apple seeds as well. The leaves are a deeper green, elongated oval shape with opposing veins, smooth on the underside. They fall from the tree in early autumn.

One of the best uses for crabapples is crabapple jelly. If you are not making crabapple jelly clean up any fallen fruits from the ground and leave the rest on the tree for the birds. Fruit left on the tree will last though a good portion of the winter if the birds don't get it first. Small animals such as rodents and squirrels will enjoy any fallen fruit.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Let's Talk Tomatoes

Heinz 1439
August 19, 2009

I think everyone growing a vegetable garden grows at least one tomato plant! Home grown tomatoes freshly picked and still warm from the sun's kisses are really a gardener's delight. They make wonderful summer sandwiches and salads as well as a wide variety of sauces. The best part is one tomato plant can easily gift you with upwards of 40 mouthwatering tomatoes! Our tomato season is just starting with lots of lovely looking fruit that will be ripening soon. I've been picking about a half pint of cherry tomatoes daily but that will soon change as the plants are heavy with fruit.

In general tomatoes are either heirloom or hybrids. Heirloom tomatoes are those that have been cultivated from seeds passed from one generation to the next so will breed true. If you save the seeds from an heirloom tomato and plant them the following year that is the variety of tomato you will get. Hybrids tomatoes are a cross between two different varieties in the attempt to gain a more desirable characteristic. If you save the seeds from hybrids you will more than likely get a tomato plant resembling more of one of the parental types that went into creating the hybrid than you will the hybrid itself. Tomatoes are further divided into slicing (eg. Beefsteak, Heinz 1439, Lemon Boys), plum or roma, pear and grape (bite sized elongated shape) and cherry (small round shape). Tomatoes are available in a wide range of colours from a dark purplish to pinky red to orangy red and all shades in between including green. Yellow and orange varieties have a higher sugar concentration so taste less acidic.

To keep your tomato plants happy be sure to use 2 tbsp epsom salt per plant when planting then sprinkle some around the base of the plant 1 tsp per food of vine biweekly. An epsom salt foliar spray will help keep your vines healthy as well. A weekly foliar spray of chamomile tea will help prevent fungus problems like early and late blight. There is a late blight that is damaging many tomato plants in the northeastern US. Blight can be recognized by small black or brown dots forming on the lower leaves of the plant. As the blight spreads the leaves will yellow. As the fungus moves up the stem more leaves will be damaged. Any damaged foliage should be removed immediately to prevent spread of the blight to other plants. Be sure to discard these damaged leaves well away from your garden. Wash your hands well to prevent spreading blight to other tomato plants. You should also avoid working on tomato vines when they are wet as this will spread any diseases present.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Garden Resident

Albino Toad Close-Up
August 15, 2009

I posted earlier on my albino toad garden visitor (more here). At that time he really liked hanging out by the garden gnomes and he still does likely because they are in the shade most of the day. For the past few days he has been hanging out in the garden as well. I think he has learned I will do him no harm as he will sit posing for pictures and he no longer hastens to jump into hiding. I talk to him as a bit of assuring him I won't hurt him so perhaps he recognizes the sound of my footsteps or voice. I think he is just adorable!

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

City Chickens

We live in rural area on waterfront property on a small, dead-end road with about 20 other families which basically forms a very small, tight-knit community. We have neighbours on both sides but none to the front or back. Most here have vegetable gardens but there are a few that don't. This spring one of the families set up things to raise chickens. Now if you were to see the location and the houses, chickens are definitely not something you would expect. Yes it is rural and I can easily walk to a cattle farm, this road is not that kind of rural if you know what I mean. So I have been watching to see how their experiment would work. It has been such a success others are talking of getting chickens and I'm considering it myself.

The city of Toronto, Ontario also considering allowing residents to keep chickens in their backyards. This is growing trend in many urban areas with several larger centres in Ontario already allowing this. Why? Community leaders are viewing raising chickens in the backyard as a way for people to help themselves. The chickens are generally for egg laying purposes only depending on the gardener. The eggs are an inexpensive protein that stretches food resources in trying times. They also reason that those keeping chickens will also keep small gardens to further help themselves promoting self-sufficiency that reduces the reliance on city food banks. The chickens are viewed as pets. They are quite quiet and definitely a lot less obnoxious than a dog that incessantly barks. They don't smell either. Sue raises 9 chickens for egg laying purposes in the suburbs of a large mid-Western city.

When Sue's chickens are laying she can expect anywhere from 9 to 18 eggs per day. On the low end that works out to 5¼ dozen eggs per week. Our eggs are averaging $2.50 per dozen so that is a savings for her family of $13 less any chicken feed per week assuming she uses that many eggs. What this will enable her to do is generate a small income from her chickens if she so desires or share her eggs with family and friends. So essentially growing your own eggs makes good economic sense but it gets better. Chickens are ideal for insect control and their droppings are great for adding nutrients to your garden so they are a gardeners dream in that respect. However, they will literally destroy your garden digging and scratching in their quest for insects so it is best to keep the chickens in chicken runs or portable chicken tractors. Chicken runs will also protect your chickens from any predators that may be in the area such as neighbourhood cats or dogs. When the garden is fallow the chickens can be allowed to free range but should still be protected from predators.

I plan to do a bit of research on raising chickens over the winter then start with 4 possibly 5 chickens in the spring. This should be a fun adventure!

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Monday, August 17, 2009

Urban Farming Detroit, Michigan Edgeton Community Garden

In many intercity communities there is vacant land from buildings being torn down. Some enterprising individuals have taken it upon themselves to establish community gardens as a way to help themselves and others in the community. W.D.Gardner (alias) of eastside Detroit, Michigan is one such individual. He is trying to establish gardens in his community in the hopes of providing food for his neighbours and the possibility of creating local jobs for the youth in his community. This video is a bit long but well worth watching. In the video he refers to his crib. Crib means home. It shows what one person with what he freely admits little knowledge of garden but a desire to help his community can achieve. The garden was started in March of 2009 with the video shot on June 25, 2009. I think it is remarkable!

Now that you have watched the video you can see just how impressive his efforts are. He is growing organically using natural pest/weed control and crop rotation. I noticed he is also using good garden management by continuously planting to increase yield. What is even more amazing about this garden is he appears to be doing the majority of the work himself with minimal tools and help. He does mention some of the seeds and plants were donated. He will likely collect seeds for the following year's garden as most gardeners do.

Using vacant land for a community garden is not quite as easy as it sounds. If you are not buying the land and can't afford to rent it you will need to seek permission to use the land from whomever owns the land. That in itself can take a fair amount of effort just tracking down the owner(s). Next you have to clear your plans with the municipality. Some vacant lots are zoned in such a manner that they cannot be used for a community garden. There may be an environmental issue such as soil contamination as well depending on what the land was previously used forThen there is the issue of water which you will need but there likely won't be any source other than rainwater on vacant land. Finally the sad reality is not everyone appreciates community gardens so vandalism can be a real concern. Despite all these possible set backs determined folks like W.D. Gardener are proving it can be done!

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Truck Farm - Episode 2

Episode 1 of the Truck Farm showed a novel idea of growing a garden in the back of an old pick-up truck. This episode dealt with the issues of drainage and soil mixture. Episode 2 shows how much produce can actually be grown in a small space. I love the idea of using solar power to power a camera to take pictures of the hourly changes in the garden!

Assuming an older Dodge truck bed is about the same size as our older GM truck bed (about 5' x 8') he is working with 40 square feet of growing space less the widths of the wheel wells. Essentially this is close to the square footage of one of my raised beds (4' x 10'). I noticed the Truck Farm was planted pretty much in the traditional row method. The yield would have been much higher had he used the square foot gardening method.

Two problems I see with driving the truck are the weight at an estimated 800 lb for the garden and wind damage. However, this would be an ideal project to take to local schools to get children interested in gardening. It would also be an ideal promotional project for intercity gardening. What the Truck Farm experiment really shows is if you really want to grow your own food there is always a way to do so if you get a bit creative.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Truck Farm - Episode 1

One of the most common complaints for many who want to garden is they don't have the space. That is where you have to get creative. Think outside the box. I have seen some very unique small space gardens but this has to be one of the most ingenious ideas yet. This enterprising young man decided to turn his old truck into a truck farm. Here is Episode 1 of Truck Farm.

In this episode he tackles both drainage and soil issues. The plastic pellets in the soil mixture is likely perlite. While this does not add anything to the soil mixture in terms of nutrients, it keeps the soil light and airy so is an ideal mixture for container gardening. Add perlite to the soil mixture any time weight is an issue such as container gardening on balconies or roof tops. The moisture gel added to the soil mixture can be used in any type of gardening but is particularly beneficial to prevent container gardens from drying out. Any container garden will quickly dry out on hot sunny days so may need water several times a day. Adding the moisture gel to the soil prevents this from happening allowing a bit of extra time between waterings something that is important for those times you cannot be in your garden.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Friday, August 14, 2009



Most gardeners will come across pigweed (white arrow) fairly early in their gardening efforts. Pigweed gets its name because the weeds are widely used as pig fodder. In southern Ontario there are three main varieties of pigweed - red, green and smooth. They are all quite similar in appearance until they bloom. Redroot pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus L.) is the most common pigweed in Ontario but since 1940's green pigweed (Amaranthus powellii S. Wats.) has spread into southern Ontario from the western United States and smooth pigweed (Amaranthus hybridus L.) has spread into Ontario southwestern Ontario from the eastern United States since the 1970's. So essentially we see all three varieties of pigweed in Ontario. The bloom for all varieties is a spike that may be oddly shaped.

In commercial gardening operations pigweed can have a considerable impact on yield because this yield because it competes for light, water and nutrition. At the commercial level a broad-leaf soil emergent and postemergent herbicide is used. In the home garden where pigweed can easily take over a garden in little time the best control is hand pulling or using a hoe. BUT before you consider eradicating pigweed from your garden you should know it is an edible weed that is more nutritious than spinach!

True you do not want pigweed taking over your whole garden however you may want to consider leaving a 1' x 1' or 2' x 2' patch of nothing but pigweed. Basically it is free food! There are a lot of recipes available online for cooking pigweed but it can be used raw as a salad green too. I purposely leave one or two pigweed plants in with my peppers as companion plants. What this does attract the insects that would damage the pepper plants. They end up damaging the pigweed and leave the pepper plants alone so it is a win/win situation for me. It is also a good companion plant for beans, peas and most lettuces. At the same time pollinators are attracted to the garden when pigweed is in bloom. If you are using pigweed as a companion plant it is important to not let the plant go to seed! As a weed goes, pigweed is more of a friend than a foe.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Daylilies in My Garden

I have several clumps of daylilies in my garden. They have quickly become one of my favourite flowers. They are low maintenance with beautiful showy flowers and the best part is the rabbits don't like them! I've identified some of them but a couple have not been identified yet. If you know the names of the ones unidentified please leave a comment. Thanks so much and I hope you enjoy the pictures of my daylilies.

Frans Hals

Purple d'Ore

Stella d'Ore (plain yellow) and Burlesque (two tone)

Chicago Cardinal Red

Unidentified Lily

I think this is a Road Lily

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

In the Garden Progress Report

It has been a couple of weeks since I did a garden update so you will notice quite a few changes in the garden. Everything appears to be quite healthy and happy. The only casualty to date is the Kentucky Wonder pole beans I planted. It would appear the adolescent rabbit chose those for a snack. I've planted more in a manner the rabbit can't get to so hopefully will have a small crop. I am continuing to plant anything that I think might give a crop as well starting plantings for the fall garden. The new beds are still not constructed but should be by the first week of September.

tomato rootsTomato Roots

I mentioned in an earlier post that one way to increase your tomato plants is to remove the suckers then put the suckers in a container of water where they will form roots. The benefits to doing this is you end up with the same variety as the mother plant and the plants are considerably larger so you will get fruit quicker. This is an ideal method for starting tomato plants for growing indoors during the winter months. With careful management tomato plants grown indoors can be used to create new plants for your spring garden as well as provide fresh eating tomatoes.

Pictured is one of the suckers I started in water. The roots are now at the point where the tomato needs to be planted either in a pot or in one of the garden beds. Do try this method with your tomatoes. It is so easy to propagate tomatoes this way!

tomato, lettuce and pepper bedBed 1

Bed 1 is 4' X 10' and is home to 13 tomato plants (4 varieties), 16 peppers (4 varieties), Chinese mustard, Grand Rapids leaf lettuce, mesclun mix and Perfection yellow marigolds. The tomatoes so far are growing well with no signs of the dreaded blight that seems to be making its rounds. They are well above their 4' tall box cages so I have had to start using additional supports and stringing them up. I'm now getting a couple of small ripe tomatoes almost daily and they are setting fruit well so it won't be long now.

The peppers are doing remarkably well so it is going to be a bumper year for them. Here I learned a rather valuable lesson. I had planted 4 Habanero plants in this bed. When I was shopping the nursery sales I picked up a 4 pack of Habanero thinking I had planted Jalapenos instead. So I now have 8 Habanero plants and no Jalapenos! I have decided carry a list of the plants I have might be a good idea. At any rate there will be a lot of peppers for this year's salsas, pickles, jelly and freezing.

The salad greens are abundant with the cooler temperatures. We had a brief couple of days of quite hot temperatures which has resulted in a bit of bolting but not much yet. We've been using salad greens from the garden daily. Not pictured is Bed 2 home to several herbs and serving as a vegetable overflow until the new beds are put in. It too is doing will so I will include it in the next update.

yellow wax Hungarian PeppersYellow Hungarian Wax Peppers

Yellow Hungarian Wax peppers are almost ready for picking. Each plant is laden with several beautiful peppers. This is a medium hot pepper ranging from 5,000 to 15,000 Scoville heat units. They will be used in salads, fresh and canned salsas, pickles and hot pepper jelly as well as a variety of side dishes. I love the beautiful pastel yellow colour!

The Sweet Banana peppers are almost ready for picking as well. They too are laden with a lot peppers. Some of these will be roasted and put up as well as being used in various home canned products and for fresh eating (roasted, stuffed, raw). The Sweet Banana peppers look almost identical to the Hungarian Wax so I will be sure to put them into different baskets while picking.

hanging tomato basketHanging Tomatoes

Growing tomatoes upside down in hangers has caught on to the point there are now commercially made hangers for them as pictured. The homemade version uses a 5 gal plastic pail. Growing tomatoes in this fashion really lends itself best to the cherry type of tomatoes. The container itself is surprisingly quite heavy so be warned you need a very strong, secured hook or branch. I would think the homemade version would be even heavier but then it would be a lot cheaper. It is a novel way of growing tomatoes well suited for small spaces. Aside of being space saving making this method of growing ideal for small spaces it virtually eliminates any problems with slugs or snails! At first I was rather skeptical but now I rather like the idea so will grow more containers this way next year.

Pictured is a Sweet 100's tomato plant. Considering this container was not planted until well into June I am quite pleased with it's performance. This picture was taken towards the end of last week. We had a small heat wave with lots of rain since then so there has been considerable growth since then. The plant is setting fruit and I noticed one tomato almost ripe enough to pick.

hanging strawberry basketHanging Strawberries

I love home grown strawberries picked while still warm from the sun's kiss! I've always grown the June bearing strawberries but this year I picked up a hanging basket of everbearing strawberries. True to their name I am picking a couple of strawberries a day. This is a nice little treat!

The hanging basket is a nice idea so I will likely replant the basket next year. This basket is destined to be planted it its own raised bed. I'm not sure of the bed size yet but was thinking either 4' X 4' or 4' X 10'. From experience strawberries are rather prolific easily spreading through runners that will root not only in soil but spill over the sides of raised beds and root in the paths as well. Another raised bed likely 4' X 4' will be planted with June bearing strawberries. Between the two varieties I should have plenty of strawberries for preserving and fresh eating in next year's garden.

In general I am quite pleased with how the two new beds are performing and can't wait to get the garden extended with the newest raised beds. Watch for next week's progress but in the meantime I should be posting about some of what I've been able to pick.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Another Garden Visitor

Well Hello!
July 25, 2009

Last week we had a unique visitor to the garden. Now we are used to having a lot of visitors to the garden but this is a first. Pictured is the albino toad that visited. He particularly liked hanging out with the gnomes near the side entrance. Albino toads do not survive well in nature simply because they lack the natural pigmentation that provides camouflage thus making them easy prey. This one has likely survived because not only is he nocturnal he is inhabiting our gardens that aren't lit at night. The only outdoor lighting we use is solar garden lighting so the gardens aren't brightly lit giving this little guy lots of hiding spots.

Toads should be actively encouraged in your gardens. They are ideal for controlling a vast array of insects and they don't cause any problems. Toads breath through their skin so are very susceptible to insecticides especially slug bait. If you are gardening organically which you should be your toads will be safe and enjoy their garden stay. Part of the Hippocratic Oath in medicine states "do no harm". This idealogy should be extended to gardening as well. Gardeners are stewards of the land so should seek to control pests in the least damaging method possible.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Friday, July 24, 2009

Garden Report

baby sparrow
Baby Sparrow
July 19, 2009

We continue to see below average temperatures with above average rainfall. On rainy days garden planning continues indoors where I'm working on the final design for the vegetable garden. I've been doing a bit of research on fruit trees, grapes and chickens all of which we hope to have incorporated into the garden by next spring. Over the next few months there will be a lot of changes in that zone.

Outside we continue to enjoy a wide variety of garden visitors including this baby sparrow that still can't fly too well. If we ever get a couple of days of warm, sunny weather I should have a lot of tomatoes. Still given the rain, I don't mind waiting as long as the tomatoes don't split. The salad greens are doing remarkably well. The peas are up as well. The herbs are also growing nicely. All in all despite a late start I am quite pleased with the progress in the two raised garden beds.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Small Garden Tools

Every gardener has small garden tools but when it comes to small garden spaces and square foot gardening you really need handheld gardening tools. They outperform the forks and dessert spoons I've been known to use on occasion. Besides they make you feel more like the gardener you know you are!

trowel and cultivatorTrowel & Cultivator

I actually have 3 hand held trowels with the most recently purchased one due to not being able to find the other 2 after our move. I also have a new cultivator for the same reason. My new ones are hanging safely on a hook in the garage where they will be joined by my old ones as soon as I find them.

Handheld garden tools usually cost under $10 each but recently the dollar stores are carrying them for considerably lower prices. I picked up this handheld trowel and cultivator at Dollarama for $1.25 CDN each. Surprisingly they are quite heavy and if looked after properly will continue to give durable service in the garden.

The enemy of most garden tools is rust. If you want to get the most out of your garden tools then rust prevention is a must! After each use I rinse off the handheld tool then hang in the sun to dry completely. Some gardeners recommend using an oil on garden tools but this is not something I recommend. Simply keeping these tools clean and dry is enough to retard rust for quite some time. Scratches from use will eventually wear down the painted finish leaving unprotected metal. When this gets bad enough to cause rusting I take fine steel wool to clean up the tool well then apply a new spray paint finish.

sprinkler headSprinkler Head

The vast majority of manual watering I do in the raised garden beds involves using a sprayer attachment on the hose. We are very lucky that even this is seldom needed. When we get the rain barrels set up I will return to using a drip watering system. Containers have already been set up to use collected rain water. I like to water close to the roots to avoid getting the foliage wet. Wet foliage is one of the quickest ways to spread diseases amongst plants in your garden!

On the very rare occasion that we need to use a sprinkler attachment to totally soak through the beds I use the one pictured. A sprinkler comes in handy after a dry, hot spell because it not only waters the beds deeply it cleans dust and dirt from the foliage much the same as a good rainfall does. The best time to use a sprinkler is just after any dew has burned off and well before the sun hits the plants. Water droplets left on the plants act as magnifiers for the sun so can cause sun damage in susceptible plants.

My sprinkler gets used about twice a season depending on the season. This year unless August changes dramatically from July it will see no use. At any rate, my sprinkler was showing signs of rust. I decided it was time to clean the sprinkler up to keep it in good condition for later use. I used stainless steel to remove the rust then washed the sprinkler well and set in the sun to dry well. Once the sprinkler was dried I plugged the input and output holes then set the sprinkler on an plastic food container then on a sheet of cardboard. I sprayed the sprinkler with 2 coats of Kylon® spray paint. When the top was entirely dry I turned the sprinkler over and repeated with the bottom. When the sprinkler was completely dried I replaced the washer and it was ready for use. This simple bit of maintenance will give me several more years of life for the sprinkler.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Friday, July 17, 2009

Update 2 - Peas & Greens

Things are progressing nicely in the garden despite the below average temperatures. We've had a lot of rain and a couple of sporadic days of warmer weather which has helped. The tomatoes that were first planted are now setting fruit and are over the tops of their cages. Everything is looking quite healthy except for the Kentucky Wonder pole beans and brussel sprouts! Something has decided the beans are good munching but I haven't seen what yet. The brussel sprouts were almost destroyed by slugs but I took care of that problem by removing the slugs and putting the pots where slugs can't get them. Once in the ground I will protect them with a bit of copper wiring. I planted three more Sweet 100's as well. So all in all things in the garden are progressing nicely.

salad greensSalad Greens

Just look at my beautiful salad greens! In the top left corner there is Chinese mustard. This is a wonderful green that adds a peppery zip to sandwiches and salads. The lightest green square is Grand Rapids leaf lettuce. This is one of my favourite leaf lettuces for growing. It is relatively problem free and like most lettuces likes cooler weather. The two bottom squares filling most of the bottom of the picture are mesclun mix. Mesclun mix is mixture of spring leaves like Chinese mustard, curly endive, dandelion, red chicory, romaine lettuce, arugula, cresses and red oak leaf lettuce but others may be included. You can buy a package of Mesclun mix with the mixture varying from one grower to the next or you can create your own seed mix to suit your palate. It usually is is balance between sweet and bitter greens. If you find you really enjoy one particular element of the mixture, let it go to seed and collect the seeds for the following year's garden. That is what I did for the Chinese mustard.

Little Marvel PeasLittle Marvel Peas

My peas were planted late this year. By rights they should have been planted four weeks before the average day of last frost (ADLF) however peas can be sowed up to the hot summer days to give a continuous supply of peas during the summer months. Once the days begin to cool start sowing again for your fall garden.

Little Marvel peas are one of my favourite cultivars because they are a heritage cultivar. The deep green pods are almost round tightly packed with 7 to 8 nice sized, sweet and tender peas. They are good performers in my zone (Canada 6A). I did experience a bit of powdery mildew in my former garden but I really do think that was more of a location issue with a bit too much shade. This garden is in a better location with a lot less shade so hopefully there won't be any problems!

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Dirt on Worms

July 13, 2009

Worms whether it be earthworms or red wigglers are an excellent indicator of your soil condition. Ideally you will have both since earthworms burrow deeper turning and feeding the soil at the same time. If you are gardening in raised beds or tradition beds and don't see any worms when you are working the soil, you have a problem! If your soil cannot support a healthy population of worms then it certainly cannot grow vegetables. That is because there is an absence of organic matter in the soil, absence of moisture or it is sandy or too acidic. Worms do not like sandy or acidic soil and they consume the organic matter and in return leave rich worm castings. So not only are they helping to break down organic matter they also give back nutrients to the soil. At the same time they continuously aerate the soil helping to keep the light.

Our two new beds were set on the existing cleared ground then filled with a top soil mixture. I am pleased to say that very little soil disturbance reveals red wigglers! Had I not seen these worms within a week of putting in the beds I would have added a bit more organic matter and a tub of red wigglers to each bed. Red wigglers and earthworms can be found at any bait shop or ordered online.

There are many ways to increase organic matter in your soil which will keep your worms happy which in turn will keep your soil in tip top shape for your vegetables. The obvious solution is adding compost from your compost bin. You can also add well rotted manure and well rotted leaves. Some home gardeners using the square foot gardening method use one or two of the squares to put small amounts of pureed kitchen scraps then cover with a light topping of soil. The worms will eat through this within a week much the same as vermicomposting. Another easy way to add a bit of compostable material is when you weed. Young, tender weeds that have not gone to seed can simply be tilled under the soil where the worms will take care of them for you. Apply regular dressings of organic matter to your garden to keep your worms happy. Do not work in any clippings from vegetable plants that appear to have signs of disease such as blight or powdery mildew. Do not work in any weeds that have gone to seed. It is always better to remove the majority of gardening debris to be composted if possible or destroyed if necessary. This practice keeps diseases from spreading in the garden or remaining in the soil.

Worms are one of the most beneficial critters you can invite into your garden. They eat harmful bacteria, nematodes and fungi while producing a top grade fertilizer. They produce nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium carbonate and other micro nutrients in forms the plants can easily use. Their castings also help reduce the acidity of the soil over times because the castings contain calcium carbonate. A healthy worm population will not only help with your soil conditions they will encourage beneficial birds to frequent your garden helping with pest control. For the fishermen amongst the gardeners, a healthy worm population provides excellent bait as well.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Weeding the Beds

Last weekend was an extremely busy one following a rather cool, rainy week. This gave me little chance to get out into the garden. It's never a good idea to work in the garden when the foliage is wet as this will cause any existing plant disease to spread rapidly. Yet checking the gardens daily is important to catch any potential problems before they become problems. Saturday morning I decided to spend a little quality time in the garden before we left for a family gathering.

weedy garden bedLots of Weeds

The few spells of warmer daytime temperatures combined with lots of water has been very good for the garden beds. Unfortunately these conditions have also been ideal for the weeds. As you can see it was getting to the point of being difficult to see the pepper plants!

Weeds in and of themselves are not always a bad thing. In fact you can use them to your advantage to help protect seedlings from certain pests until they become established then pull the weeds to allow the desired plants to continue growing. Other weeds such as pig weed and dandelions are edible plants so may even be desirable to leave a few in your garden. I decided to do a fairly good weeding to get the beds under control and keep weeds to a minimum. Notice the minimum as I am not a fanatic at keeping a completely weed free garden. A few weeds will continue to offer a bit of insect protection but too many weeds will take up too many nutrients so a bit of balance is good.

weeded bedPartly Weeded

Weeding raised beds planted in the square foot gardening method is rather easy. I sit on a small stool then using my handheld cultivator I break the soil then move the cultivator back and forth in a zig zag manner. This loosens the soil while doing the weeding. Then I simply pick up the weeds roots and all and put them in my weed bucket. It is simple yet effective. I weeded 24 of the 40 squares of the first garden in about 20 minutes using this method combined with some basic pulling through the lettuces.

One thing that I find rather interesting is the squares with marigolds in them had very little in the way of weeds. The herb garden looked almost bare in the unplanted squares in comparison to the tomato, pepper and lettuces bed. I finished up the weeding of this bed and the herb bed Sunday morning spending a half hour before leaving for an afternoon of boating. Now the beds have been fully weeded, keeping the weeds in check is as easy a pulling any as they appear. I usually pull a few weeds each day when I check the beds so a longer weeding session is seldom needed.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Progresss in My Garden

Despite a late start to planting in the new raised garden beds the plants are doing quite well. I've added more herbs as I find them focusing on getting the perennial and biennial herbs established. The weather has been quite wet and below average temperatures so both the mesclun mix and leaf lettuce is growing nicely. The ever bearing strawberries are growing well in their hanging basket however they have not produced any fruit. I will be planting them in one of the additional beds once built. The rhubarb is in the ground and off to a slow start but should do well. The beefsteak tomatoes are now almost to the top of the large, square cages. They have a good amount of blossoms but no fruit yet. The Lemon Boy tomato plant has a couple of fruit so they should be ready soon.

Sweet Million TomatoesSweet Million Tomatoes

The Sweet Millions are the first to have almost ripe fruit. I can hardly wait! Last year I grew Sweet Millions in large containers. One of the containers had accidentally not been emptied at the end of the season. I was surprised to see a few volunteer plants in the pot so I left them. They are still rather small so I plan to repot them into fresh soil then bring the plants indoors when frost threatens.

Tomatoes especially the cherry varieties grow nicely indoors with adequate lighting. The Sweet Millions are ideal for indoor growing indoors because the plants are a bit more compact. When grown in pots both indoor and outdoors you will need to use an organic fertilizer and Epsom salt (method here).

Upside Down Tomato PlanterUpside Down Tomato Planter

A few days ago on one of our road trips I found a Handy Trends® Tomato Planter™. I had heard about the technique of growing plants upside down and have seen several homemade methods of making an upside down planter using a 5 gal food grade plastic pail. Well, I just had to have one of these planters!

The planter cost me $14.99 purchased from Canadian Tire. I also picked up a 6 - pack of Sweet 100's to use for this experiment. The kit came with the planter, lid, foam disc and attached hanger. To plant, you have to push the tomato plug up through the bottom then turn upright and fill with potting soil and water well. Now this definitely is not as easy as it sounds! The opening on the bottom doesn't have a lot of give so my fingers were rather scratched up. The plug root ball was also broke up considerably. When inverted to fill with potting soil the planter is just more than a bit wiggly and filling will cause it to fall over if not supported. The filled planter is heavy so it does need a sturdy branch or well secured hook. A light weight metal hanger will not work for this planter as we quickly found out. The biggest problem though is the length the planter hangs down. You need it high enough that the tomato vine can grow without touching the ground yet low enough that you can water it.

Pictured is the planter in its temporary location. I need to find a more appropriate location for it. I will report back on this planter and how well the tomatoes grow. My first thoughts is this would be a great way to grow tomatoes indoors suspended from the ceiling as it eliminates the need for supporting the vines. It is still to early to tell whether I like growing this way or not. The Sweet 100's planted in the planter is so far growing nicely.

tomato suckerTomato Sucker

A tomato sucker is the small branch of the vine growing in the middle of two branches that form a "Y" as indicated by the red arrow. There are two schools of thought when it comes to dealing with suckers, then there is mine.

Some will leave the suckers on the vine which will result in a lot of tomatoes that are smaller in size. Others will remove the suckers which will result in fewer tomatoes that are larger in size. So who is right? My answer is it depends on the tomato variety, the gardener and what their goals are.

I remove suckers off of slicing tomato vines because this is where I want larger fruit. However, the suckers are not simply discarded. They are placed in a container of water to form roots then they are potted up for growing indoors. This is a great way to propagate tomatoes without collecting seeds! I don't remove suckers from cherry tomato varieties because they are great produces and you can never get enough of the fruit. I also don't remove the suckers from sauce tomatoes for the same reason. The exception is as the weather cools I will remove a few suckers from both the cherry and sauce tomato plants to root for indoor growing through the winter.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome