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"

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Carbon Dioxide Trick

I picked up a rather neat trick for growing indoors back when I had my hobby greenhouse.  Plants and humans work opposite.  Humans breath in oxygen and respire carbon dioxide whereas plants use carbon dioxide and release oxygen which is why we need plants in our home for healthy indoor air quality.  In my quest to heat the greenhouse the first year, I came across a tip to use a propane heater that emitted carbon dioxide with the cheap fix of burning a few candles.  The plants loved it, rewarding me with beautiful growth.  So, I'm using that trick indoors.

Our home is a five bedroom, two bath executive home which really means it has a lot of square footage.  The problem is, there are only two of us most days so we don't produce the amount of carbon dioxide the plants need.  I have resorted to burning a tea light candle near the plants a couple of times a week.  So far, so good.  The plants seem to be enjoying it with nice, healthy growth.  It is an easy solution to keep plants breathing properly.  The nice thing is, this doesn't cost nor is it difficult to do.  The only thing is you should be in the room when the candles are burning.  Other than that, this trick works like a charm for all plants grown indoors.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Edible Plants Suitable for Indoor Gardening

A couple of days ago I wrote about the concept of a continuous harvest by growing an indoor garden.  A wide range of vegetables can be grown indoors year round.  The choice for fruits, on the other hand is a bit more limited.  Many herbs can be grown indoors as well.  Unlike growing outdoors, the indoor environment is a controlled one.  All the necessities for healthy plant growth are controlled so you don't have to worry about drought conditions, adverse temperatures, frost or damaging winds.  The limiting factor with growing indoors is space.  In fact space is a limiting factor when growing outdoors but many home gardeners ignore that especially when failing to consider that little bush they planted is going to become a huge bush at some point.  Indoors, the space becomes more of a consideration.  Unless you have a huge house with a lot of empty space, certain plants like fruit trees or bushes are not going to be possible.  Oh sure, I have three small lemon trees and a small avocado tree but logistically they will likely never produce fruit.  Certain edible plants simply are not suitable for growing indoors but there is no harm in trying.  Here are some of the edible plants I'm or will be growing indoors (successfully grown in the past).  The list does change especially after the holiday season as I start gearing up for the main gardening season and spend more time on my indoor garden.

  • herbs - parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary, chives, basil, mints, lemon balm
  • greens - leaf lettuces, mesclun mix, mustard, spinach
  • vegetables - Jawell mini cucumber, Tiny Tim tomatoes, Tom Thumb sweet peas, Blue Lake pole beans, potatoes, carrots, radish, zucchini, 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Growing a Continuous Garden Indoors

Growing edible plants indoors is really not much different that growing houseplants.  The concept is not a new one, dating back into Victorian times with atriums and greenhouses becoming popular in many homes.  Housewives have been growing herbs on sunny window sills for centuries.  Home gardeners have been starting plants indoors under lights for ages and now those systems have become even more popular.  Essentially, the basic requirements of growing medium, nutrients, light, water and temperature need to be met in order to successfully grow edible indoor plants year round.  Logistically, one of the biggest problems with growing an indoor garden is space as all the other growing conditions can be controlled.

There are table top soil based, hydroponics and aquaponics commercially produced growing systems are available but many home gardeners set up DIY systems that take advantage of natural light supplemented with artificial lighting.   It is even possible to have small ponds indoors made rather easily with preformed pond shells.  Think outside the box if using aquaponics or indoor ponds as the fish in the system can be used as food (eg. shrimp, bass) as well rather than decorative (eg. gold fish, rosy red minnows).

Houses are apartments can create growing restrictions based on their orientation and design.  This is our sixth owned permanent Canadian residence.  While we also own a vacation home in the US, we don't grow an indoor garden there.  Of the six homes here, only one was almost ideal for an indoor garden because it was open concept with massive expanses of windows (south and west exposure to a fault) for natural light so supplementing with artificial lighting wasn't really needed.  I am in the process of setting up my indoor gardens.  While it is partially set up, it is very much a work in progress at the moment.  This house has wonderful southern exposure, only one window facing west, a patio door facing east and the rest northern exposure.  So while it is light, bright and airy, actual indoor growing space is limited.  Ideally, I would like to take the other spare bedroom and turn it into a grow space but hubby already called dibbs on it as an extension of the games room.  Here are some of the things I am taking into consideration in establishing my indoor garden:

  • lighting - I'm taking advantage of two large windows with deep windowsills adjacent to each other on the lower level.  One faces south and the other west so there is a lot of natural light. The windowsills are about a foot deep giving plenty of room for lots of pots.   This area of the house is ideal for herbs, starting seeds, growing vegetables (eg. tomatoes, lettuces, peas) and overwintering geraniums.  At the same time the light spills into this portion of the games room making it the perfect spot for larger potted plants to get plenty of natural light. I am in the process of setting up a shelf unit that was initially a small patio greenhouse (4 shelves) as a growing station that will be mainly artificially lit.  Other than that, I take advantage of natural lighting by moving plants around as necessary.
  • heating -  Heating is a non-issue for the most part.  We keep the ambient temperature at 20°C during the winter months with the exception of the period of time we are at our vacation home when the temperature is lowered to 13°C.  The problem with indoor heating is it can be quite drying.  In our previous houses this was a problem that I solved by using humidity trays and misting.  This house has an air exchanger so the air does not get as dry.  I use vent deflectors to keep the heat from blowing directly on the plants.
  • watering - Fruits and vegetables grown indoors require more watering simply because there is not a natural source of water (eg. rain) but at the same time there is less water lost through evapouration due to winds, high temperatures and strong sun exposure.  Overall, plants grown indoors require less water and they should only be watered as needed.  Over watering of herbs, fruits and vegetables grown indoors will cause: mold to form on the soil surface, root rot that will result in the death of the plant, and promote fungal diseases.  Not only is this bad for the plants, mold spores can trigger allergic reactions and asthma. Watering is done by hand but I do take advantage of water globes and self-watering pots to lessen the amount of watering I have to do.  
  • humidity - Plants grown indoors require humidity especially during the heating and cooling seasons, both of which can be quite drying.  Humidity helps to keep the stomata on the leaves clean so the plant can respire properly.  Outdoors this task is done by humidity and rain.  Indoors, it can be achieved by occasionally giving plants a shower and routinely misting them to keep the leaves free of dust that will block the stomata.  I also set up humidity trays for some plants, especially those close to any heating vents.  A humidity tray consists of a shallow plastic tray with a layer of stones covering the bottom to which water is added then the potted plants sit on top of the stones.  
  • fertilizer - Any plant grown in containers whether indoors or outdoors requires fertilizer to replenish the limited supply of nutrients in the soil.  I work in compost, coffee grinds, and used tea leaves into all of my houseplants including the edible ones.  I also use an organic fertilizer.
  • pollination - Plants grown outdoors are usually pollinated by bees and other beneficial insects as well as the wind although the home gardener may also manually pollinate certain plants.  Indoors, there shouldn't be any pollinating insects and while there are air currents in the home, they likely are not strong enough to ensure pollination.  In most cases, manual pollination is required using a small artist brush (dollar store) or q-tips. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Over-wintering Outdoor Plants

Overwintering outdoor plants is as simple as bringing them indoors and potting if necessary.  This is an ideal method for having ready-to-use container plants for the following spring.  We spent the month of October at our vacation home in sunny Florida.  Before we left, I gathered up all the potted geraniums, annual herbs, the potted herbs and the hibiscus tree to bring indoors for the winter.  Normally, I bring in a couple of pepper plants and tomato clippings but this year decided not to.

Now, bringing in outdoor plants is not as easy as it sounds.  Logistically, I need to find suitable space for them among my houseplants and continuous garden.  At the same time I have to be very careful not to introduce disease or pests from the outdoor plants to the existing indoor plants.  Complicating the issue is some of the outdoor planters I bring in are rather large, not easily moved around indoors as required for sun exposure and watering.  Here's a few tips for what I did this year:

  • the prep - All plants intended for overwintering were brought onto the deck.  The pots were hosed down well then allowed to dry.  The plants were cleaned up (eg. dead foliage removed, trimmed if necessary) and checked for any insects.  Normally this isn't much of an issue with most herbs but I have found spiders like to spin webs over the openings of certain style self-watering pots.  Pill bugs and earwigs are also rather common in some potted plants.  Once I was sure there were no living bugs on the plants, I brought them indoors.
  • isolation - Even though there may be no signs of infestation on outdoor plants or any newly purchased plant for that matter, all plants new to the house must be put into isolation.  This gives me time to be sure there were no insect eggs or larvae that hatched to cause any kind of infestation.  I put the plants well away from the other plants, in one of the spare bedrooms.  After a two week period, I move the plants to where I think they will do well which means plenty of natural sunlight.
  • large planters - I put the large planters on wooden plant dollies that I get at the dollar store for $2.  They come un-assembled but all that is needed is to attach the caster wheels.  The wheels are a heavy plastic that doesn't mark up our hard flooring so for the price, a rather good deal.
  • watering - I water as the plants need it as well as use self-watering planters and water globe for some of the plants.
  • fertilizing - I wait to fertilize plants brought indoors until they have adjusted to the indoor environment, usually three to four weeks.  I fertilize monthly with an organic fertilizer from that point onwards. 

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Urban vs Rural

For the past four years we had rural, riverfront property and prior to that semi-rural riverfront property right on the edge of a very small community (about 200).  We got used to the peace and quiet.  Then we moved back into an urban setting and while the neighbourhood is upscale and quiet, I find it a lot noisier than our last house.  Folks here are attached to their power lawn mowers that are about three times as loud as our battery operated lawn mower.  They love their weed wackers and leaf blowers.  It's enough to give anyone a headache!

They are also addicted to using a certain lawn maintenance service to apply obnoxious chemicals on their lawns.  I swear they do the weeding and feeding for our whole street except us.  As a result, here it is into November and everyone's grass is looking quite green while ours is looking a bit anemic.  We will have to address this in the spring but for now I don't mind.  Our lawn was obviously used to being chemically treated, something we do not believe in doing so I will start with a spreading of compost within the next couple of days along with an organic fertilizer.  That should tide the yard over nicely until the spring.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Final Grass Cutting for 2012

It is cold out today, a typical grey and overcast November day here in beautiful Ontario, Canada.   The forecast is for clouds breaking for some sun but there hasn't been much in the way of sun for the past few days.  Our front yard and garden bed look so bare as we did a major rip out, getting rid of a couple of umbrella trees, a small maple tree and a foo foo tree.  I don't know the name of the foo foo tree but you cut it right back to where it looks like a giant bone sticking out of the ground during the winter.  The silver birch we planted is doing good although most of the leaves are off of it.  I didn't get around to starting my naturalized crocus idea yet but there might be time before the snow flies.

One of my neighbours is out cutting his grass.  In my opinion, many cut their grass too short for winter.  I think it is best to leave it a bit longer even if it looks scraggly as this helps the grass over winter better.  Our backyard does need cutting but I think the front yard is fine.  He also trimmed up his bushes.  I'm only going to do a raking over where the original front garden bed was then leave it until spring while we decide what to plant there.  If the weather turns nice enough, I'll pull the plants from the west side of the house garden bed.  We are ripping that out as well, starting from fresh in the spring.

Monday, November 05, 2012

A Look Back on Gardening in 2012

It is the first gardening season in our new home and to say the least, it has been a very odd year at best.  When we moved here last September, I was quite excited to discover we had two peach trees and a pear tree.  Needless to say, I had a lot of plans but the weather simply did not cooperate.  Within a very short period of time, my gardening plans turned into a comedy of errors!

Our new house is in an urban subdivision setting with the back of the property bordering on farmland.  A good portion of the backyard is taken up by a 27' above ground pool and decking so the gardens are restricted to the perimeter.  What we thought were mature perimeter beds when we first viewed the house turned out to be a hodge podge of plantings with a very liberal dose of weeds, especially thistle and stinging nettle.  We discovered a few small treasures like garlic, mint, chives and a gooseberry bush but immediately knew we would be in rip-out mode.

I carefully started seedlings ready to be planted in the new raised garden beds when we arrived home from our spring vacation the end of May.  We left on May 5 so the hardier seedlings had been out on the deck for over a week with the more tender seedlings left indoors.  One of our kids did the plant care while we were away for three weeks.  Well, the temperatures heated up and the sun hit that deck with full force so I ended up losing about half of my outdoor seedlings.  The sun turned the window I had several herbs and indoor seedlings into death ray so I lost all the seedings and a couple of the herbs.

When we arrived home we quickly put together two raised PVC beds for asparagus and strawberries along with the larger raised wood bed for vegetables.  Then the weather turned unbearably hot with drought conditions.  As a result of the unseasonably hot weather in March followed by a couple of hard frosts neither peach tree had fruit and the pear tree only had a couple of damaged fruit.  The gooseberry bush gave enough berries for me to make a batch of gooseberry jam.  The mint and chives were enough for garnishes and I dried a bit.  The raised beds were discouraging.  Only now can I see that some of the asparagus and strawberries survived but compared to what I planted, it is a bit discerning.  Surprisingly, the tomatoes did fairly well but definitely not what I'm used to.  The yield and size of the tomatoes was considerably lower than normal.  The peppers jalapeƱo, super chili, and habanero peppers put on a stunning performance which made up for the lack of performance in the Hungarian banana peppers and nothing from the sweet bell pepper plants.  The dill did not survive being attacked by what I suspect was a rabbit.  The weather was so hot that the lettuce bolted almost immediately upon emergence.  I did end up with four small heads of cabbage so that was a bit encouraging.

What was funny about this growing season was everything was a good two weeks early.  Cucumbers for pickling were still going when peaches started and I was canning peaches struggling to get the corn done that was early then tomatoes hit in mid-August.  I was just into canning tomatoes when my husband was hospitalized for five days so that took my time away from canning and the garden.  After that it was catch-up time until we left for our fall vacation on October 2 not returning until October 23.  The weather was mild except for the effects of Hurricane Sandy.  I managed to do a clean pick a couple of days ago as the forecast was lows of below freezing but aside of a bit of frost on the rooftops, the vegetable bed is still producing although I suspect that will end within the next day or two.

We've done a lot of ripping out this year so I am looking forward to the 2013 growing season here in beautiful Ontario, Canada.  In the meantime, I will enjoy the gardens at our vacation home in sunny Florida when we are there next for our winter vacation.