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"

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas 2013
Christmas blessings to each and everyone.  Merry Christmas!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The New Front and Side Garden Bed

When we moved into our home almost two years ago, the landscaping was in need of attention.  While it looked nice from the road, upon closer inspection the hodge podge of various plantings were ramped with weeds and over growth.  As per our normal method of dealing with ornamental gardens at any new house we waited to see exactly what we wanted to keep, what could be salvaged and what simply had to be removed. 

new side and front garden beds
The side bed runs from the front of the house to the fence enclosing the back yard.  For some reason, it was a stinging nettle mecca!  A rose bush with menacing thorns hid the fence.  It was a danger to ourselves and neighbours when cutting the grass.  A much neglected varigated euonymus grew up behind and in the rose bush then along side the house creating the perfect haven for mice.  The AC unit was camouflaged with stinging nettle that refused to budge even after digging!  Tall vegetation including more stinging nettle and a couple of volunteer straplings covered most of the view from the lower level windows.  The arch enemy though was the large, unkept umbrella tree at the front corner.  While it hid part of the downspout, it was damaging the siding so was one of the first rip outs we did.  In the end we decided to level the entire area to the ground, straighten out the curve in the front bed and start from scratch.

Pictured is the initial result.  We used a no dig edging secured in several spots.  This was an ideal solution for us since we were not planning on a lot of plantings.  We lined the top of the lightly tilled soil with garden cloth then covered with a heavy layer of stone (walnut nugget).  The entire project came in just under $1,000 including the small garden bordering the garage (lattice).  It took 6 T of the stone.  We had hoped to have enough stone to do the garden bed on the other side of the garage (not shown) so that will be another project. 

I'm currently working on the updating the entrance with no plans to add any plantings yet.  There are a few spots on the grass side of the edging that need to be filled and seeded but other than that, I'm pleased with the results so far.  I am planning on less plantings and definitely low maintenance to fit in with our lifestyle.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Snakes in Ontario

Regardless of where you live, you will encounter some type of wildlife.  Unless you garden on a roof top or balcony, there is a very good chance you may run into a snake.  Snakes are either venomous or non-venomous.  Some snakes are more aggressive than others but for the most part if they are left alone, they will not bother you.  In fact, some snakes like the black racer and garter snakes are quite beneficial in the garden and around the house because they prey on mice that would otherwise cause problems in your house. 

We live in beautiful Ontario, Canada which is home to 15 species of snakes.  They are the: Eastern fox, Eastern Massassauga, Northern ring neck, Northern red-bellied, Northern brown, Eastern garter, Eastern ribbon, smooth green, Eastern hognose, milk, Northern water, black rat, queen, Buttler's garter (threatened), and blue racer (found only on Peelee Island).   The only venomous snake is the Mississauga rattlesnake, a norther species we have encountered on several occasions when camping in the Bruce Peninsula area.   In our little corner of Ontario, the most common snakes a home garden would encounter is the garter and milk snake.  If near the water, Northern water snakes are fairly common.  Here is a short video of the snakes in Ontario.

I recently wrote about our encounter with a garter snake. A garter snake is rather harmless . While a garter snake is not usually aggressive, it can be temperamental. Garter snakes feed on mice, toads, insects, earth worms and other snakes. In our particular case, there is a small tract of farmland behind our property that has been a haven for mice so we have had that problem. Excessive rains causing flooding in May and June basically drove the mice closer to our house which is on higher ground. That meant their predator, the garter snake came with them.  The snake population has increased if the decreased sound of crickets is any indication.   A garter snake hanging out around the gardens is not a problem for us but I don't want it in the house.  Seeing where it fled to under the siding of course gave me immediate flashes of the snake getting into the attic or main part of the house.

Snakes can and do get into the house, generally through the very same gaps that let their prey (eg. mice) into the house.  Some snakes like the black rat snake are good climbers and have been known to get into attics via overhanging tree branches.  Snakes are legally protected in Ontario under the Species at Risk Act and Endangered Species Act so cannot be killed, harmed, harassed or captured (removed from the wild and that includes your yard).  They can be removed from your home or outbuildings and released back into the wild.  It is also illegal to destroy a snake's natural habitat but you can remove woodpiles and brush from your property to make it less favourable as a habitat for snakes.  Signs of snakes around or in the house are: actual sightings, scat (usually white), shedded skin and if indoors you may notice a reptile odour.  There are several things you can do to encourage a snake to stay out of your house.
  • Seal all cracks and crevices in your home.  Pay particular attention to points of entry for utility services.  Snakes are nocturnal so if possible seal any hole you suspect a snake is getting into the house at after dark when it is more likely to be out hunting.
  • Secure windows and doors.  Snakes, rodents and other pests can enter the house through opened screened doors and windows.  The snake in question was about 2 feet from our front screen door so had I opened it as it was scurrying away from my husband, it could easily have slipped right past me into the house!  Open patio doors are prime entry points for a variety of pests that can enter the house in a blink of an eye.  Keep screen doors and windows in good repair not only the screening material but also ensure there are no gaps where snakes or their prey could get in.   Replace the weatherstripping to be sure.
  • Deterrents - Powdered sulfur and mothballs have both been shown effective at deterring snakes.  Remove woodpiles or place them as far as possible from the house.  Remove heavy brush.  Keep grass cut and trimmed.  Remove or cut back heavy vegetation growth around the foundation of your house.  Trim tree branches overhanging your house especially if you live in an area with snakes prone to climbing.  Remove any standing water.  Birdbaths should be up off the ground so as to not encourage snakes.  Snakes like wood mulch.  Replace with stone or remove entirely. 
  • Barriers - Some barriers are effective against snakes.  In general, snakes can't climb stairs because of the 90 degree angle so it is less likely a snake will get onto your raised deck or in raised garden beds. Some fences (eg. solid, fine mesh) may keep snakes out. 
  • Introduce a predator - Cats and hawks are both snake predators.  If your neighbours have cats and you have snakes or mice, chances are very good their cats will be frequenting your yard providing they are mousers.  Don't discourage the cats.  They will soon drive away both snakes and mice!  If there are no neighbourhood cats, you can always get a cat.  I recommend a farm cat as there is a higher chance it will be a mouser but no guarantee.  With a bit of effort you can attract birds of prey like a Sharp Shinned Hawk that will frequent your yard if you feed the smaller song birds.  While they are after birds they also prey on mice, voles, baby rabbits and snakes without harming your gardens or becoming pests.  So they can be quite beneficial at pest control.
  • Eliminate it's prey.  Mice will attract snakes.  Discourage mice by removing their food source (eg. bird seed) and habitat (eg. wood piles, brush).  This will encourage mice to move onto greener pastures.  Get rid of mice by using a pest control service, trapping or scatter rodent bait around your property to kill them off. 

Friday, August 02, 2013

Our Urban Low Maintenance Landscaping Plans

One of the reasons we decided to move from our rural location back into an urban setting was the 2010 purchase of our vacation home in Florida.  The first year we spent 8 weeks divided between two trips there so we quickly realized the logistics of owning two properties and spending extended periods of time away from both.  Things like yard maintenance, snow removal, and home security still need to be attended.  Houseplants need to be watered and the house kept an eyes on for pests especially rodents getting in.  While rodents were a given in our rural setting we had hoped it would not be in our urban setting but quickly found out otherwise.  At any rate, our goal when we moved here in September of 2011 was to make our property as low maintenance as possible,  not an easy feat considering we have a pool, fruit trees and small garden area.  We also wanted to make it less attractive to certain pests known to be in the area (eg. rabbits, mice, snakes).

The entire back yard with the exception of about 200 square feet is scheduled to be fully decked, two levels.  A good portion of it is already decked.  We are working on removing the remaining side gardens as well as replacing the fence and building all new decking.  The 200 square feet space will be home to two 4' x 10' raised beds (edibles, herbs) and separating paths that will be either patio stones or cement which will dramatically cut down any possibility of weed issues on the paths.  We are planning on adding a couple of built in planters on the decks and I have a lot of creative container gardening ideas to extend garden possibilities on the decks.  Essentially, the entire backyard will have no grass and no in ground gardens so will be about a low maintenance as we can get.

The front and side yards have gardens along the house and an interweaving brick driveway and sidewalks.  We removed all vegetation from the front and side gardens then put down hard 'no did' edging, landscaping cloth and stone (walnut nugget).  We just finished the stone yesterday!  It really looks nice with no plantings at all.  I'll post pictures of our progress shortly.  We are planning on taking our time deciding whether or not to add any vegetation.  One alternative is a grouping of planted containers as a focal point.  A deciding factor will be how the house looks after the porch and front entry looks when we are finished.  I'm working on that now.  At the moment the only maintenance work in the front and side yards is grass cutting and trimming.  We use an Epic battery powered mower and a Yardworks cordless trimmer/edger for these chores.  Both are eco-friendly alternatives that lower our carbon footprint while eliminating our need for gasoline to fuel either.  An added plus is the mower is very quiet compared to other mowers.  So basically, the front and side yards are now very low maintenance.

That does not mean our yard is without personality or colour.  I have relied heavily on containers this year for adding splashes of colour.  I found this takes a bit more planning but offers a higher degree of flexibility.  This fall I am finally going to start my plan to naturalize crocuses in the front and side yards.  I've seen this done and it is gorgeous giving a blast of late winter, early spring colour with maintenance.  I'll post more on that method in the fall when I do it.  For now though, we are right on track with creating very low maintenance landscaping that is still very much a work in progress but will definitely meet our needs while giving us the edible growing space we want.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lawn Care

We have always lived in small urban settings but in the past ten years spent four years living first semi-rural followed by four years living rural before moving back into a small urban setting.  Even though our property is not in an urban subdivision it backs on to a very small tract of farm land.  It is surprising what a difference there is in lawn care in subdivisions!  Don't get me wrong as lawn care is part of rural living as well.  The amount of lawn to maintain is considerably larger than subdivision lawns.  However, the lawn maintenance companies likely don't make much off of rural properties.  We never worried about a few dandelions in the lawn that was simply cut when needed with a mulching lawnmower.  

Subdivisions are characterized by their pristine green carpets of grass.  These lawns are chemically dependent and will actually go through withdrawl if you don't keep dousing the chemicals on it.  Not only that, folks in subdivisions have a few weird ideas about lawn care.  Quite often lawns are watered on a schedule whether or not they need it.  The same holds true for cutting the lawn which is usually cut too short.  We have had an abundance of torrential downpours meaning there has been no real need to water the lawn yet some of our neighbours have their sprinklers going like clock work even when it is raining!  I honestly forgot how silly folks can be.  Honestly, a few days ago we had an all day rain with a couple of bouts of heavy down pour.  The same was predicted for the following day.  We woke to rain then it stopped. Our neighbour was out cutting his grass about 15 minutes later.  When he finished cutting the grass his sprinklers came on and remained on for the first half hour after it started raining again.  Really!  Talk about a complete waste of resources...

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Still Here...

No I have not dropped off the face of the earth or even given up gardening.  After an abnormally cold spring and spending the month of May at our vacation home in the sunny south, we made the decision to do a bit of major work on the outside of the house.  That meant a lot of ripping out some of which is still in progress.  We are now in the progress of working on the front and side garden beds that were taken down to the bare earth.  The line locates have just been completed so we are ready to start actual construction this weekend.

Our house is in an urban subdivision.  There is a small piece of land behind our road that is owned by the municipality.  It is slated for subdivision development but is currently being farmed so we have farmland behind our property.  It really isn't much as we could easily walk from the back of our property to the edge of the houses on the other side of the field in 5 minutes or less.  On the far edge just before the houses are the railroad tracks so even with development which at this point looks rather unlikely, so there would always be a strip of land conducive to wildlife.  In all likelihood, if this land were ever developed, the larger portion of it to the west would have housing but the portion right behind us and our neighbours to the east would likely be turned into parkland as it is too narrow for housing plus access. 

garter snake making its way behind our siding trim at the front of our house
At any rate, this farmland brings a few wild critters with it.  About a week ago we noticed a rather large piece of snake skin while cutting the grass.  This morning my husband spotted a large garter snake directly in front of our road facing, lower level window.  His movement scared the snake which retreated into the space between the siding trim and the front step.  We were not impressed!  A quick  online search revealed that moth balls repel snakes so he bought two boxes and we tossed them around the foundation as a temporary measure.  I don't like using moth balls because they are toxic and generally are only effective as a short term measure.  We are laying the weed barrier and rock in that area on Saturday so hopefully the snake will move along before then.

I called our pest control service who had dealt with our rodent problem.  Rodents will always be a problem on our property due to the field but we have taken all the necessary steps to prevent them from getting indoors.  Our recent work outdoors has disturbed pretty much most of our property and it is only going to get worse over the next few weeks with the construction.  That means any wildlife habitat in our yard is going to be disturbed so we will be seeing a few more critters.  According to our pest control service most snakes in Ontario are protected so you can't harm or kill them.  He said the moth balls and ammonia, another popular repellant won't work.  He said to just wait until the snake comes out then caulk where it went up into the siding.  Garter snakes are fairly harmless, non-aggressive snakes that may bite if provoked but in all reality, this snake will really help keep rodents in check.  I just don't want him making his home behind our siding or worse getting into our home.

I found a good site with advice on getting rid of garter snakes.  Under the remove what they like, we basically have been doing that as far as the thick growth and tall grass.  We don't have any bird feeders, wood piles or ground level water.  The small east garden bed is volunteer poppies while the rest (front and west side) has been leveled to the bare ground and will be covered with rock this weekend with likely no plantings until fall if then.  Along the back fence became a bit over grown the past couple of weeks so we cleared most of that this morning.  The entire backyard when finished will be decking and pool with the exception of the raised beds for herbs and vegetables.  Those beds will take up a total of about 10' x 20' and consist of the beds with rock paths.  As a raised bed garden goes this will end up being one of my smallest gardens yet.  I do have big plans for container gardening on the decks and have already started along those lines.  In short, upon completion the entire property will not be very attractive to the rabbits and snakes. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Horrid Spring So Far

Back in March, I posted about a sure sign of spring, the common housefly.  Aside of a couple of robins and spring bulbs braving the cold, wet spring that has been it.  We are still wearing winter jackets here and the furnace is still on.  We've had substantial rainfall with heavy rains warranting warnings from Environment Canada.  A couple of days ago, we woke to light snow on the roofs, yesterday it rained all day along with a wet snow and today, rain is threatening to start any moment.  It really hasn't been dry enough or nice enough to get much of anything done outside!  The sun has gone into permanent hiding with the days taken over by dull grey skies full of precipitation.  Even the transient nursery stands that set up each year are not out yet.  So it is definitely a slow start to the 2013 growing season.

My start is going to be delayed pretty much until the end of May then there are going to be a lot of disruptions as we begin work on the backyard decks.  I am not impressed with the PVC raised beds we installed last year.  The pressure from the soil freezing over the winter has pushed out a couple of the sides.  Basically, these beds while they looked nice will have to be dismantled despite their hefty price tag.  That means I will have to move the strawberries and asparagus.  Depending on how far we get on the decks, the beds would have to be moved anyway.  The nice thing is we did all of the front yard rip out last fall so this spring it is starting pretty much with a bare slate.  I have a few ideas for the front and side gardens landscaping so hope to have that all back in place during June.  Now, if only the weather would cooperate!

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Sure Sign of Spring

We live in beautiful Ontario, Canada where the winters have not been as bad in the past.  This one brought a bit more snow in our area but temperature wise it was a rather good winter.  We are now into March, the fickle weather month.  One day we get gorgeous sunshine the next snow flurries mixed with freezing rain.  Today, we have a rain warning as the ground is not thawed but we are getting a lot of heavy rainfall.  We went to Daylight Savings Time this past Sunday. 

A sure sign of spring here is houseflies.  Yesterday, I spotted two between the screens and window panes so not actually in the house but a good sign that winter will soon be loosing it's frosty grip.  So, I spent the day starting a few seeds, planting a pineapple and doing a bit of garden planning.  We have a lot of outdoor plans this year which will make a lot of changes to the appearance of the exterior of our house.  Landscaping is weighing heavily into that equation. 

I'm really looking forward to gardening in 2013.  There wasn't as much rip out as we have had at other houses so I think we are going to make a lot of progress this year!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

On the Backyard Chicken Front

Oh my gosh!  The bylaw has passed allowing us backyard chickens in our municipality!  I am beyond excited.  We were rural before so had no problems with backyard chickens but moving into an urban setting, there was this pesky bylaw nonsense.  So they have allowed it!  The ground is covered with snow but I've already been in touch with a friend who raises chickens.  I thought I would start with 5 chickens but our son`s fiancĂ©e said we would get an egg from each every 14 hours.  Five eggs almost twice a day would really add up!  I might have to rethink my plan.

Anyway, this is awesome news for our little corner of beautiful Ontario, Canada.  It allows us one more way to produce our own food using organic methods.  Up to now, we could have rabbits inside town limits but not chickens.  Chickens are a wonderful source of protein.  They are good producers that help control insects and grubs in the garden.  They are low maintenance, beneficial animals in the garden and they give you an egg every 14 hours!  So it really is a win:win that I intend to take advantage of.

Friday, January 11, 2013

SeedZoo Seed Packets Arrived

I recently wrote about Richters new SeedZoo program aimed at keeping rare and endangered food plants growing via home gardeners.  I ordered three packets - Armenian giant black bean, Hutterite bean and monkeyface pepper.  The seeds are GMO free and heirloom so the goal is home gardeners will keep some of the seeds from their harvest, perhaps share a few with family and friends and in this way keep these rare plants in production.

My seeds arrived a couple of days ago.  I was very anxious as to checking the mailbox daily so the seeds would not be sitting in freezing conditions.  The seeds are $6 per packet plus shipping and handling with only 10 seeds each in the bean packets and 30 seeds in the pepper packet. According to the website, the plant varieties have rarely if ever been grown in North American gardens, although I do know the Hutterite bean has been grown in Canada.  There's no indication of germination rate or even success growing these plants in home gardens in North America.  Price combined with uncertainty is definitely a deterrent for this project and given the low number of seeds, there is very little room for error.

These seeds cannot be simply planted and hope for the best.  Well, they could but if unsuccessful not only has money been wasted, the opportunity to keep these rare and endangered food plants in our crop diversity has also been wasted.  I devised a plan to start one bean plant from each packet to grow indoors, leaving me nine seeds per packet for later.  Beans will grow indoors so all I need is to get the plants to maturity enough to produce one or two pods.  If they produce more then great.  I will harvest any of those pods for seed collection only.

I once had a rabbit destroy all my bean plants shortly after emerging and only about 3 - inches tall.  Now that was a tick-off but I was able to replant, protect the area and still have a crop.  We have at least one rabbit here so these bean plants will be protected as soon as they are planted outdoors.  I also need to be careful the monkeyface peppers are not close enough to my other peppers to prevent unwanted cross-pollination.  If these seeds prove viable in our little corner of Ontario, saving them for the next year's crop and sharing should not be a problem.