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

Happy Gardening!

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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Progress in the Vegetable Garden

If you have been following this blog you will know we've been busy establishing our new square foot garden. Pictures of our square foot garden at our previous house can be found here and throughout the archives up to late June 2007 when we moved here. This garden has been 2 years in the making as we focused on clearing out a lot of overgrowth. The planned design is 4 - 4' x 10' raised beds and 2 - 4' x 4' beds arranged in a rectangle. Total raised bed growing area will be 192 sq. feet a bit smaller than my 232 sq. foot previous garden. There is room for expansion if I decided to add another bed or two and there is ample room for planting various vegetables and herbs in the ground and in containers rather than in raised beds. I'm not planning on adding a greenhouse but that might change. In lieu of the greenhouse I will be topping one or more of the beds with a hoophouse. Even though the first two raised beds were constructed the first summer we were here they remained unplanted in 2007 and 2008. I grew vegetables in containers instead as we slowly made progress clearing the property.

The clearing has not been as simple as ripping out. Our first task was to remove 3 pick-up truck loads of various garden decorations, all broken in one way or another! Then we defined the property in terms of usage zones that helped us formulate a plan. In many cases it has been transplanting some vegetation to more appropriate locations and the judicial removal of some problematic vegetation. This also meant marking where spring bulbs were in some locations so they could be moved in the fall. So it's been a lot of work yet we are making progress.

tomato cageGlamos Wire Cage

The square foot garden method requires trellises and supports because in order to maximize the yield, sprawling plants are trained to grow vertically freeing ground space for more plants. We have learned over the years to be creative when it comes to plant supports. I come up with an idea for a support then my husband checks it for feasibility and constructs it for me.

Despite a late start for the garden beds the tomatoes ready for staking and two of the plants have fruit on them! Somehow my tomato cages were misplaced in the move so my husband said he would build a trellis support system for them. Yesterday he came home with 6 Glamos Wire Cages for me to test. These are 12" x 46" folding plant supports. When unfolded the one end piece hooks into the other end piece forming a 1' square support. This is ideal for square foot gardening and can be used not only for tomatoes but any other vining type vegetable. They definitely will be ideal for peas! My husband also pointed out that the cages could be used in a linear fashion linked together then covered with chicken wire for a temporary rabbit control fence. The pieces could also be used to support garden screen material to protect susceptible plants from too much sun. So I think this is a rather useful product for the garden.

tomatoes, peppers, mesclun mixTomatoes & Peppers

I use smaller round tomato cages in addition to the wood trellises my husband makes. Indeterminate tomato vines can get quite long and the beefsteak varieties get quite thick and heavy. Tomato cages provide extra support for the first couple of feet of the plant. They are of little use once the vine spills out of the cage.

Look how good my tomatoes and peppers look! I'm quite pleased. Yes there is still a long way to go and I still have to decide what I'm doing for the pathways yet but things look encouraging. We are making almost daily progress now. If the weather stays cooler we should be able to get those boxwoods moved and the stumps (not pictured) removed to get the other beds in within the next week.

I installed the 6 folding cages this morning in between bouts of rain. They definitely would have been easier to put in when the tomatoes were a bit smaller. Oh I really like these! I used twist ties to secure each cage to another to create a bit more rigidity in the support system. We may not need further support but time will tell.

An added bonus we discovered was a rather neat looking hose holder well hidden under a bush. We decided the bush had to go if we wanted to grow vegetables in that area. There it was! The holder as rusted and neglected but still quite serviceable. I cleaned it up then used 2 coats of Weathershield® Rust Coat spray paint to spruce it up. I'll post on that as well as herbs like red raspberry leaf in a
future post.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Friday, June 26, 2009

Iris verna

iris verna
Iris verna

Pictured is the Iris verna growing in one of our gardens. Iris verna is a beautiful, delicate looking wildflower that is hardy throughout Canada and the United States. It blooms in early spring. This clump forming iris is well behaved in the garden. Deer It reaches a maximum height of 12 inches at maturity making it an ideal border plant or as a statement plant. Iris verna grows best in light shade to dappled sunshine. Slugs can be a problem but rabbits and deer will leave them alone. Some nurseries are now carry these plants. You can bring rhizomes home from the wild or get some from other gardeners who have established clumps wanting to divide them.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Organic Gardening

Organic Farming and Composting
cartoon courtesy of Seppo

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Friday, June 19, 2009

New Raised Beds Layout

Over the past weekend we worked on two new raised garden beds (more here). The beds are being created while we are continuing to rip out existing vegetation so the new beds were not planned using Garden Manager software mainly because the beds were going in late spring. I would have to reboot in Windows as well since this software is not Mac compatible. I've been using the combined with square foot gardening method combined with companion plantings in raised beds for 8 years now. Over the years I have learned a lot with respect as to what I can and can't do with this type of gardening. The grid is critical for square foot gardening. This year the beds are being laid out very similar to my former large square food garden as they are created because this layout has been tried and tested. However, the layouts are being designed for maximized planning for the 2010 growing season that will begin as soon as the first seed catalogues of the 2010 season arrive.

bed 1 garden planBed 1

I used MS Word for windows to create a template for the garden beds. If you have followed this blog you will know I number my beds usually in order of creation. This is simply for reference. At the top of the template I put the label 'bed _____' which is important not only for the working sheets but also the final layouts. Each bed is 4' x 10' so I created a table consisting of 4 columns and 10 rows. That gave me 40 cells representing the 40 squares I have to work with in each bed. I use a separate layout sheet for each bed. The beauty of planning using a computer is you can easily change the cells as desired until you get what you want then plant according to your plan when it is finished. I printed off a copy then set about working with the plant I had.

A square foot garden bed should not be planted willy nilly. It should be planted according to the grid. The location and sun exposure needs to be considered. I like to lay the beds in a north to south orientation with taller plants at the north end of the bed and shortest plants at the south end. This maximizes sun exposure for all the plants. I plant parsley and other plants that rabbits like to munch on, towards the centre of the bed and behind a barrier of marigolds. This technique worked well for my former garden but I will be adding a low fence around the entire perimeter of this garden. Each plant is then set in place and recorded on the working copy. For bed 1 where all of the plants are annuals there is no need to include the scientific names on either the working sheet or the computerized copy but they are indicated in my gardening journal along with notations as to their performance and any problems.

Pictured is the layout for Bed 1 consisting mainly of tomatoes, peppers and greens. Thirty-two of the 40 squares are currently planted. Over the following week I will be checking the local nurseries for any compatible plants I can pop in these squares. The nice thing about buying plants late in the season is their prices are greatly reduced. With a little TLC they will perform quite nicely as well.

herb garden planHerb Bed

Bed 2 is the herb garden consisting of perennials, biennials and annuals. The herb bed takes a bit more planning. Unlike an annual bed, only portions of this bed layout will change over the next several years. Over time the grid becomes non-existent unless it is constructed from a material that doesn't break down. Plant identification tags have a tendency to go missing as well. I like to use the computerized copy of the layout as later identification of the various herbs. I include the botanical names as well to avoid confusion as there are often more than one cultivar of the herb growing in the bed. Above the name of each herb I indicate in brackets whether the herb is perennial, biennial or annual. It really helps with the overall herb bed planning because at some point there won't be room for the annual herbs as the perennial and biennial herbs spread.

It is important if considering any invasive herb especially those in the mint family to contain them in pots dug into the space, plant them in their own small raised beds or confine them to areas where spreading is restricted. If this is not done they will quickly take over your herb bed choking out the other herbs. So choose your herbs wisely!

Twenty-six of the 40 available squares are planted. From experience sage and chives get quite large so over time will likely take up the end 8 square feet but for now they will only take up one square each. The squares around these two herbs will be planted with annuals for the time being with the exception of lavender started from seed. I have not had good luck starting lavender from seed but if successful I will move the plant to a more appropriate location. In the meantime I have a few herbs started indoors to be transplanted to the garden when they are ready and I will again be checking the nurseries.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dealing with the Unexpected in Gardening

Gardening is one of those activities that come with a lot of risk. You plant your seeds and seedlings then with a bit of tending you hope for the best. Many a gardener has woke to find their carefully planted garden destroyed by hungry rabbits or deer. Gardens are often raided by marauding four legged and two legged thieves. As if that is bad enough the gardener is faced with adverse weather conditions that can easily wipe out an entire productive garden in the matter of seconds through hail, pelting rain or high winds. Sadly for many a vegetable garden really does make the difference as to whether they can afford to eat or not. They depend on their gardens not only for fresh vegetables but also to put up food for the winter. Barring a catastrophic event (eg. tornado, flooding and etc.) there are a few things you can do to buffer these types of problems.

  1. shelter your garden - Tuck your vegetable garden up into an area where it is sheltered from the wind by buildings, fences or vegetation windbreaks. If the only spot you can plant a traditional row garden is in the open create a windbreak with taller plants or temporary windbreak fencing. Raised beds and container gardening need a bit more protection.
  2. barriers - A barrier is a great deterrent for garden raiders. The type you choose will be very dependent on the pests you want to keep out. A low close knit fence protected also along the bottom with chicken wiring is effective for keeping rabbits, mice and rats out of your garden. If raccoons are raiding your garden run a line of low voltage electric fence around the perimeter of your garden about 9" from your low fence. Deer and humans present a special case. Most recommend at least a 6' high fence although a determined human or hungry deer can likely still get in.
  3. motion deterrents - One of the most effective pest deterrent I've used is a motion activated sprayer that makes a lot of noise while spraying a jet of water in the direction of the motion. For the best protection move the sprayer to different locations in your garden so pests do not become acclimatized.
  4. plant disease and/or drought resistant varieties - This will minimize any losses due to certain diseases and dry conditions.
  5. plant extra - This sounds like a given but always plant extras to guard against loss from disease or insect infestation. One easy way to get extras through the season is to take clipping and root them. Pinch tomato suckers and root them in water. Many herbs will root in water as well. Start extra plants from seeds. Keep a good variety of your extras indoors, in a screened in sun porch or balcony as a bit of insurance. If disaster strikes harden off your indoor plants then replant your garden. You will lose a little as far as yield but not a lot. Essentially what you are doing is creating a small container garden as a back-up.
  6. replace the plants - If your garden has been stripped an alternative is to replant using slight older plants from the nurseries. This approach will work well for many plants and is one trick to establish a garden if you get a late start planting. In late spring and early summer practically every store that sells plants greatly reduces the prices. This is a good time to pick up replace plants at bargain prices.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

First of the New Square Foot Gardening Beds

square foot garden beds
New SFG Beds
June 16, 2009

Little did we know when we moved here 2 years ago we would be spending a good portion of our gardening time ripping out vegetation overgrowth. Our property had been over planted in a willy nilly fashion without regards as to growing conditions in certain parts or how the plants would mature or what problems some plants would create. It was so over grown we could not see the water from the house nor could we get onto the dock. Low sprawling evergreens made going from the house to the water a mosquito nightmare. English boxwoods planted near the house provided a perfect haven for some of the largest spiders I've seen locally. English ivy covered a good part of the middle yard, one side yard and the slop of one hill creating the perfect habitat for both mice and voles. Within the first week here we were ripping out and while I enjoyed watching the progress I mourned the loss of my former gorgeous garden. I resorted to growing vegetables in containers which was quite productive and will still be a part of the new gardens. In the meantime we also resorted to using an insecticide with residual effects to know down the spider, centipede and millipede population and out of desperation we put rodent bait through-out the ivy. However both of these tactics did not sit well with us and we knew they were simply a band-aid cure to get us to a better solution.

We had a few goals in mind when we started ripping out vegetation. First we wanted to drive things like the huge spiders, mice and voles back from the house. That meant removing their habitats. At the same time we needed to go slowly so we could preserve and/or transplant what we wanted to keep. We also wanted to create four main outdoor spaces for four different purposes. The first zone is our welcoming zone consisting of a long English boxwood lined, paved lane with a majestic ancient Weeping Willow ending at the start of the middle yard. The middle yard which is what we are working on now would become the work zone. There are two side yards connecting the middle and back yards. These are the transition zones. The final portion is the recreational zone that runs from the back of our house to the edge of the water and includes our dock. Once we determined what each zone would be used for we got to work.

During our first and second summer here the majority of our attention was spent on the recreation zone just to get it to the point we could use it for that purpose. We or at least the guys spent a lot of time removing stone and bark mulch from around the perimeter of the house that attracts insects like centipedes. At the same time we also focused on sealing the house to prevent critters from getting in. The sealing is an ongoing process but we are making excellent progress. This summer we removed some of the boxwoods lining the lower patio forcing the huge spiders to move elsewhere. We are planning on removing the rest near the house before the end of June, not the best timing but they should be fine given the cool spring. This spring we started on the middle yard even though we still have a lot of plans for the recreation zone. I just couldn't wait any longer for real vegetable beds and my husband was going through rhubarb withdrawal!

We have had a very wet, cold spring so that put a damper on getting the vegetable and herb raised beds in their new positions and planted. The work zone is sheltered with good sun exposure. The two pictured beds were actually built last year but not put into position until now. The three boxwoods will be removed. To get the new vegetable and herb garden to this point a lot of ivy, Vinca major, several shrubs and stumps had to be removed. It has been and continues to be a slow process as the guys clear this area. I'm in charge of laying out the grid on the new beds and planting them as well as making the area aesthetically pleasing. This area will have a total of 4 possibly 5 - 4' x 10' raised beds planted in the square foot gardening method using companion planting. There will be an additional 2 - 4' x 4' raised beds giving me a total 192 - 232 square feet growing space in the raised beds. The beds will be protected by low fencing with some type of flowering vine or perhaps climbing mini roses on it to protect the beds from the local wild rabbits. I haven't decided what to do with the paths yet but so far gravel is not getting high votes.

In the corner not shown is the starts of our traditional in the ground rhubarb patch planted with Canada Red Rhubarb. Also not pictured are a couple of hanging baskets of tomatoes. The first bed is partially planted with 4 beefsteak tomatoes, 4 Heinz tomatoes 1 sweet millions tomatoes, 1 lemon boy tomatoes, 4 Hungarian sweet peppers, 4 sweet banana peppers, 4 long red cayenne peppers and 4 habanero peppers. Several potted herbs are awaiting their place in the second bed that will be dedicated to herbs only. We are hoping to get the rest of the area cleared and new beds in this weekend depending on weather. At the moment the next few days appear they are going to be quite wet so we won't be able to get much planting or clearing done.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Monday, June 15, 2009

Dealing With Rabbits

The Rabbit
June 5, 2009

Wild rabbits are the bane of many gardens. In a very short period of time they can strip your seedlings down to nothing forcing you to replant if there is time. This is my third garden dealing with rabbits and while I have written about them before on this blog (here) I am taking a bit more of a natural and laid back approach to dealing with them here. We are on waterfront rural property. That means we are dealing with a wide variety of wildlife and quite frankly we like it that way!

Most gardeners view the rabbits that raid their gardens with disdain and I will admit to being one of those when I first started dealing with rabbits. The problem with this viewpoint is it immediately puts you at war with the rabbits and trust me the rabbits are going to win this one. What I quickly realized is aside from munching on tender vegetable seedlings, rabbits love to munch on certain weeds. Their droppings provide natural, organic fertilizer to the lawn and gardens as well. Well the logical solution for this garden is to use a barrier to keep the rabbits out of the vegetable garden and protect any tender trees then give them free range of the yard. At the same time I have been judiciously moving them back from the vegetable garden area by removing their habitat. This is an effective tactic but does not prevent them from finding the garden as they like to graze often a kilometer or more from their nest. Baby rabbits are much like baby humans so will chew just about everything until they find out what is edible and what isn't. So if you want to take advantage of wild rabbits for their weed control yet still enjoy your vegetable garden here are a few suggestions.

  1. use a barrier - Use chicken wire to protect susceptible plants or the entire garden. It only needs to be 2' high. This can be temporary or permanent depending on your garden design. An alternative measure is to simply fence off your garden. Soften the look of the fence using a vining plant that rabbits do not like munching on.

  2. use companion plantings - Protect the plants you know rabbits like with companion plantings they don't like. Rabbits love tulips and will strip them to the ground but if you plant your tulips in with clumps of daylilies the rabbits will leave them alone. Surround your vegetable beds with marigolds to help keep the rabbits out.

  3. plant in hanging containers and window boxes - Some plants that rabbits enjoy chomping on do quite nicely in hanging containers so take advantage of that. Lettuces and other greens grow nicely in window boxes out of the reach of rabbits.

  4. pay attention to what the rabbits are going after - This sounds a bit obvious but you might be surprised at what they prefer. For example I have not had them bother with my basil or mints both of which are soft stem herbs yet they will go after my parsley. That means you may only have to focus on what they are eating and ignore the rest. They also don't go after zucchini, tomatoes or peppers so take advantage of that.
Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ribbit Day

If you have not heard the term ribbit it refers to ripping out mistakes in knitting. Today we are doing a major ribbit in preparation for the permanent vegetable beds. Yes we are a bit late but it's been a cold, rainy spring here. So stay tuned for our progress.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome

Friday, June 05, 2009

Weed Control

May 29, 2009

If you haven't seen a dandelion in your yard then you either don't have a yard or your yard is chemically treated. The Ontario Pesticide Ban is now in effect so some consumers are now concerned they will not be able to control weeds in the yards. Round-up® a chemical herbicide that some relied on heavily can now only be used to control poison ivy and you have to sign a waiver to that effect. The reality is these heavy-handed chemical herbicides are simply not necessary for most home applications. In the very rare case perhaps but weeds can be effectively controlled in most cases without resorting to chemicals. Here's a few effective ways to control weeds in your yard:

  1. identify the edible weeds - Keeping chemicals out of your yard will allow you to harvest the edible weeds. This is an eco-friendly way to extend your food dollars.
  2. wild rabbits - If you have wild rabbits in your area, protect your vegetable garden and tulips but otherwise allow them free reign in your yard. The rabbits like to eat the weeds but not the grass so they will help keep your weeds in check. They are especially fond of clover!
  3. manual removal - Manually digging, pulling or cutting weeds is about as effective as you can get. Try to remove them before they go to seed. If you remove a few weeds each time you are in your yard, it won't be long before you have them under control.
  4. choke weeds out - Each time you manually dig a weed from your yard, add a little soil to the spot and spread grass seed assuming you want grass as a ground cover. Seed in the spring and the fall. If the weather calls for a wet spell seed before it hits. What this does is form a dense grass bed that essentially chokes out weeds. If you are using other ground cover such as snow in summer or Irish moss, keep it dense. The denser the better to prevent weeds.
  5. boiling water - Heat your kettle to boiling the pour a little boiling water on the weed you want to kill. The effects are pretty much immediate! This is particularly effective for weeds growing in pavement cracks and between patio pavers.
  6. black plastic - If you have a patch of weeds you want to destroy wait for a warm, sunny, dry day. Lay black plastic garbage bags in a single layer over the patch. Anchor with a couple of stones to hold the plastic down. Leave on until evening letting the heat of the sun on the plastic kill off the weeds. Remove the dead weeds.
  7. salt - Salt can be an effective weed control but should be used sparingly and in confined areas as it can also kill other plants. Residual salt will spread to other areas with rain as well. Do not use for weed control in vegetable or flower beds. Use it in solution.
  8. vinegar - Plain white vinegar is an effective herbicide. Pour or spray undiluted vinegar directly on the weeds you want to destroy. Do not use in vegetable or flower beds.
  9. blow torch - A blow torch can be used to quickly and effectively kill weeds. Do not use it for weeds growing through cracks in asphalt or for destroying poison ivy.
  10. leaf blower - Companies that seal asphalt driveways use a high powered leaf blower to blow weeds out of cracks in the pavement. This is surprisingly very effective.
  11. prevention - Preventing weed problems goes a long way for weed control. Before putting down mulch or garden paths, cover with a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard. Both will break down into the soil while providing weed control. Don't compost weeds that have gone to seed. Apply your weed control measures before the weeds to to seed.
Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome