kale leaf with aphids

Tending Your Winter Vegetables In October

Mid October has finally brought the first rains of the season, as we say goodbye to the lovely, long late summer.  Has there ever been a fall as gorgeous as this one?

The extended fall has unfortunately enabled those evil white cabbage moths to produce yet another generation of their voracious offspring.  Even today, I found several of the green hairless caterpillars munching on the leaves of my Lacinato Kale. Oddly enough, the Red Russian Kale seems unscathed.

Kale leaf with aphids

I was away for 10 days!

Aphids as well have had another chance in this warmth. Their veggie of choice appears to be the Purple Kale.  If it’s not possible to blast them off with the hose, a good squishing does the job.

Kale leaf with aphids

Keep inspecting both sides of the young leaves; while insects aren’t generally a problem for winter gardening, the young plants in a warm fall will fall prey to these very hungry munchers if you aren’t vigilant.

At this time of year, there is no point adding compost or granular organic fertilizer, as the microorganisms that convert these organics into usable food for the plants are dormant. It’s a better idea to feed frequently with liquid organics, alternating weekly with fish and seaweed dilutions while the plants are still small.

The whole point is to get your winter vegetables off to a good strong start before the cold weather really sets in; ideally they should be almost full size by Halloween.  Don’t worry if yours are smaller than this, they’ll just produce a little later in the spring

Any of the taller winter vegetables, such as Purple Sprouting Broccoli or Brussels Sprouts will benefit from staking; these are quite top heavy and subject to wind lash.

Gather up fall leaves and mulch the veggies well, covering the soil with about 4” of loosely piled organic matter. When the storms of November toss piles of seaweed onto the beach, I like to bring some of this nutrient-laden bounty home, and add to the leaf mulch on my vegetable beds.

By the way, next time you are at the nursery, stop by our working greenhouse by the driveway, and see the staff veggie garden all tucked in for the winter, and enjoy seeing it mature over the coming months.  Swiss Chard, Kale, Spinach, Green Onions, Mache and Purple Sprouting Broccoli—what a feast!

purple sprouting broccoli

Harvesting In Early Spring

Growing our own vegetables has become a passion. Who knew that the third millennium AD would find city people going back to the earth in droves, growing food in back yards? Way back in the olden days we thought it would bring only high tech, and cars that flew.  Well, it did bring much of this, but for a variety of reasons people are searching for safer, more nutritious food and the best place to start is in our own gardens.

One of the best ways to do this is to make your garden work all year long, not just in the summer. This past winter has seen more nutrition grown in my back yard than ever before. Winter? Yes, winter.

I’ve had chard, spinach, kale and purple sprouting broccoli to pick for months now. We finished the leeks in January. I showed you pictures of my winter crops during the snowfall in January, and harvest time is now at its peak. This is what my chard plants looked like just before the warmer days arrived.

Chard before spring burst of growth

Chard is almost a full year delicacy, as it can be planted now, eaten all summer, then go through the winter and give one final burst of growth before starting all over again next year with fresh plants. It’s now bigger and lush; I just keep cutting leaves off the outside, allowing the central new growth to put on size.

Kale was enjoyed all winter, and with the coming of spring it started forming flowers, leading of course to seed. The flowers are incredibly attractive to beneficial insects, so I’ll let some of them open up, but most are being harvested and given a light steaming……delicious!

Kale starting to flower

I usually grow Lacinato Kale, the black crinkly leaves being very nutritious and yummy as well. Did you know that Lacinato Kale is the original precursor to all of the cabbages? I have found many excellent recipes using kale, and this year I’ll grow other varieties as well.

I sowed spinach seed in September in a large plastic pot, and put the pot in my greenhouse just to see how they did there. I do keep the greenhouse just above freezing, since I store my Aeoniums in there for the winter, and they cannot tolerate frost. The spinach seeds kind of languished, as they were planted too late to show any growth before winter set in. However, as soon as the days started lengthening in February I noticed that the spinach was putting forth luscious growth of tender succulent leaves, and now I pick it weekly. This year I’ll start earlier and have a proper crop. One thing to know about spinach is that it sets seed according to day length, so no matter what you do it will bolt to seed in June.  This is another reason to grow it in the fall and winter.

Purple sprouting broccoli is an amazing plant. It’s a biennial, meaning that it starts growing one year, overwinters, then produces and goes to seed in the second year. We plant this in August, ensuring that it’s pretty much full size by Halloween; then it quietly overwinters. Some time in March it starts producing small purple broccoli heads along the sides of its main stem and all along side branches, and continues abundantly until about June, by which time you have had more than your fill of this health-giving vegetable. Like peas, it’s really good eaten raw, standing in the garden with a bit of mud on your boots!

Purple sprouting broccoli

But try steaming it like you do with regular broccoli; a little butter, salt and pepper, or lemon…..personally, I love it with a bit of Japanese seaweed paste…….divine. Yes, you do pick the sprouts when small; as with most garden veggies, small is good. Size matters.

While my picture, taken in March, is rather puny, apparently this wonderful crop will be waist-high by the time it’s finished. Wow!

Now that I have enjoyed the delightful and delicious crops grown during the winter months, I will never ever be without them.  I don’t have a lot of sunny real estate in my garden for veggie growing, so I have to make the most of what I have. One of the best ways is to make the garden produce crops all year, not just in the summer. Try it, and I promise you that you’ll never regret it, and never go back to summer-only harvests.

Note: for more complete information on growing winter vegetables, or any vegetables any time, check out Linda Gilkeson’s book Back Yard Bounty.

veggies in winter

Mason Bees And Veggies In January

With our gardens under a beautiful white blanket at the moment, it’s a pleasure to think ahead of warmer months outside.  While the nursery is now closed until February, we have been busy planning, ordering, and generally looking forward to a wonderful new season ahead.

Veggies In Winter

Are you poring over seed catalogues? That always feels to me like the first step in the wonderful cycle of life that is gardening, and one of the best parts of winter.  With seeds coming in to the nursery in early February, it’s not too early to be drawing up plans for what you want to grow, and where to plant, being careful to rotate crops when you can.

Are you enjoying winter harvests?  The leeks that we just finished were plant starts in April, and the delicious kale and chard that we are eating now were mere seeds in August.  Here they are now in the great Canadian refrigerator!

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

This is my first time growing Purple Sprouting Broccoli, but I’m expecting a bountiful crop of nutritious, crunchy side shoots that will keep on giving……and giving…….and apparently giving until we’ve had more than our fill!

Even under the snow, the plants are impressive.

Have you washed your Mason Bee cocoons?  This morning, mid-January, I washed my cocoons. Previous article.

While my earlier blogs describe the method I use, Brian has a New and Improved Method, which he’ll be writing about in a coming post. As long as you get the cocoons washed, dried and put into plastic bags in the fridge before the weather warms up, you’ll be fine.

I have some good news and some bad news on the bee front.  The good news is that my bees were very active last year in spite of the poor spring.  The condo obviously had been filled very well, but as you can see in the pictures, whole chambers were plundered and the cocoons themselves eaten.  I discovered THREE wasps, fat and still sleepy but alive, sheltered inside, where there had once been happily maturing mason bees.

Plundered Bee Condo

The chambers with only yellow dots are filled with mites, which devoured the cocoons.

It’s a cruel world out there if you are a Mason Bee, all the more reason why we must encourage these little creatures who do so much for us. Their life cycle is entwined with our own; let’s help them thrive as we embark on another year in our own journey with the garden.

We all wish you Happy Growing for another year and may 2012 bring you the best of health and happiness.

linda yard mulch2 web fmt

Amending Your Soil For Winter

We are all used to a blanket making us cozy and warm in the cold days of winter, but feeding us too? Well that’s what winter mulch can do for your garden; nourish the soil and protect it from rain and freezing temperatures.

It may seem mysterious, but really all you need to do is provide lots of organic matter to feed the millions of microorganisms that will convert nutrients to usable food for the plants.  These little organisms will slow down for the winter, but by putting the mulch down in the fall, it’s already broken down by spring when the warmth wakes the little critters up and they can get to work right away. Usually we also have to correct the pH here, as our winter rains tend to make the soil more acid. With the exception of strawberries and potatoes, most veggies need a higher pH so the addition of dolomite lime in the fall is a good thing to do.  Of course the ericaceous plants (acid-loving) such as rhododendrons, camellias, heathers, pieris, and conifers are happier without the lime.

The easiest, cheapest, and most effective form of organic amendment is right there in your yard already; falling leaves need only be raked and layered in the beds; ideally, mow them on the lawn and dump onto the garden beds, both ornamental and veggie, but even just dumping them on in a 6” layer is fine, as long as they are nice and fluffy and not likely to pack down. Oak leaves are especially wonderful for the acid-lovers.  The practice in our culture of placing autumn leaves in a pile or plastic bag for the municipality to gather and sell back to us as compost is bizarre. Do you ever see forests needing fertilizing? Of course not, the leaves fall, they decompose, and return their nutrients to the soil, which feeds the trees and the cycle is repeated.  While you’re at it with the leaves, bag some up and save for spring and summer, when the “brown” part of composting is in short supply. You’ll be happy to have these crispy crunchies to add to your mostly-green compost, and the microorganisms in your soil will thank you.

By leaving the leaves in your garden beds, not only do you feed the soil and suppress weeds, you provide a haven for beneficial insects.  The lovely bumble bee nests in fallen leaf litter in garden beds.  One of the many pleasures of spring is seeing the groggy bumbles stumbling around when first awakening from their winter naps, going from crocus and heather to sarcococca, feasting on nectar and pollen

Leaf Mulch On Vegetable Beds

Here is a photo of Linda Gilkeson’s veggie garden, freshly topped with autumn leaves. As the queen of vegetable gardening on the coast, Linda offers her wisdom and practical experience in her book Backyard Bounty.  I really don’t think there is a better Christmas gift for anyone on your list who wants to grow food; talk about a gift that will keep on giving!

Another form of organic wealth I like to feed my garden is seaweed. As I live near several beaches, I am able to visit the local shoreline after a big November storm, and gather the seaweed that has washed up on the beach, detached from any living ocean plants. I don’t bother to rinse the seaweed as we have a lot of rain, nor do I even chop it up, I just pile it onto the garden beds to decompose, it seems to melt right into the soil, providing many important benefits; increased hardiness, resistance to disease, and better fruit production for many favourite crops. (Local biologists recommend rinsing the seaweed at the beach to make sure you are leaving all living creatures behind. If you are using a lot of seaweed it is probably worth freshwater rinsing, the salt in the seaweed will deter slugs but also the beneficial earthworms .) You will never find a more valuable resource for your garden! In the absence of a nearby beach, or if you aren’t comfortable hauling buckets and buckets of slimy kelp in your car, we do sell bags of kelp meal, as well as a powdered form of seaweed that can be diluted and makes an almost endless supply of seaweed elixir to foliar feed or root drench.

If you’ve been following my blogs at all, you will know that I’m a strong believer in the wonders of straw as mulch too. Straw improves the tilth of the soil, and as it breaks down, it provides carbon for the nitrogen-carbon ratio that we seek for our composts.  Its texture keeps the soil open, allowing the rains to drain through but not pummel the soil throughout winter.  Make sure it’s straw that you buy, not hay which is inclined to be full of weed seeds.

The ultimate treat for gardens is of course compost, but the recommendation is to leave the compost covered and in the bin for winter, staying relatively dry and warm.  Save it for spring mulching, preserving the nutrients that would be washed away by the winter rains.  The same is true for fertilizers; wait until spring, whether you choose organic blends or synthetic additives.

Such a combination will ensure a happy and well-fed soil, awaiting the warmth of spring. Bring on the seed catalogues!

fall gold rspb in sept

The Vegetable Garden In October

A Harvest In Fall

October is a bittersweet time in the garden; while the beauty and generosity of the earth is upon us, we know that the dark days of winter are soon to follow, and we say goodbye to the daily picking of ripe produce from our beloved garden plots. I’ve learned so much this summer, and writing this blog has made me more aware of the lessons learned.


1. Mulch  If I had to say the single most gratifying thing I’ve done this summer, it would have to be the straw mulch over the soil in the veggie beds. My soil hasn’t dried out as it usually does, the weeds have been manageable, and best of all, my strawberries and lower tomatoes don’t have evidence of slug lips, mold, or rot on them.

Tristar Strawberries

Here is a picture of my Tristar strawberries, taken on October 1st.  Not a slug bite in sight.

2. Cutting Canes  Raspberries used to be a mystery to me, but now I’m getting it. For summer bearing rasps, e.g. Tulameen, cut down all the old fruiting canes, leaving the new canes to produce next year. Right now they will be long and need support; tie them as horizontally as possible for the most prolific fruiting next summer.

Fall Gold In Summer

My revelation was with fall bearing raspberries. Cut the fruiting canes down only half way, so there will be a summer crop on those canes, and then a larger fall crop on the new canes. I have Fall Gold, and here is a rather poor picture of my canes in summer, with the peach coloured fruit hiding under the leaves; my main fall crop is still fruiting now, in October.

3. Size matters  This is more a lesson on what NOT to do.  I have often forgotten how big plants will become, and thought “I’ll plant this right beside the peas, because the peas are over early, and then this crop can thrive later.” Wrong in many cases; the peas get bigger, and last longer, than I ever remember, and the result this year was my parsley bolting to seed early because it spent its formative months in the shadow of towering vines of (delicious) snap peas. Space your plants appropriately for their full size, to allow air circulation and room to produce a good crop.

Fall Gold in Fall

4. Variety Matters Too Different varieties of vegetable plants are unique.  A tomato isn’t just a tomato, a leek not just a leek.  Some are winter hardy and some aren’t, important to know if you want to grow a winter crop. Some produce in less than ideal conditions, and some are prima donnas.  Check the ‘days til maturity’ in seed catalogue; we often have a short season, so choose varieties that mature quickly. Some varieties are resistant to certain plant diseases; so it’s important to know which problems are likely to arise, and choose a resistant variety. Do your homework; ask us, ask your friends, read LOCAL gardening news or magazine reports.

5. Beware Bolting Spinach  Spinach is sensitive to hours in the day, and will inevitably bolt to seed in the summer, when days are long.  Plant spinach in September as a fall crop to overwinter, or as an early crop in March, but expect it to bolt as June days start lengthening.

Kale In The Tomato Bed

LAST OF THE HARVEST, FOR NOW  Today, October 6, is a sunny and beautifully crisp fall day, a fitting time to take out my tomato plants. The increasing chance of rain has made me nervous, running out to put the plastic cover back on, and the risk of late blight increases as days go by.  Most were ripening anyway, but the greenish ones will finish up in the kitchen window, where I seem to have the best luck. Ripening in a box wrapped in newspaper is an old favourite method for many, but for me this always ends dismally with rotting fruit forgotten in the garage.What is thrilling to note in the picture is the winter kale in the tomato bed. The red flags were placed beside tiny kale starts, planted when the tomatoes loomed over them in August. Not visible in the picture are the crops of purple sprouting broccoli, chard and beets, being stored in the Great Canadian Refrigerator outdoors. Growing vegetables this summer has been a thrill and delight as the new skills have taken root, grown, and produced many delicious crops and meals. Next blog will be Amending the Veggie Garden for Winter. Stay tuned.

Banana Potato

Tomatoes, Potatoes and Blight

I know, you aren’t ready to hear about end-of-season gardening yet; the summer has only recently started, hasn’t it? However, the calendar says otherwise; September is here, and we actually had a little sprinkling of wet stuff the other day. ‘Tis the season to worry about late blight in the tomato garden, and if you grow potatoes now is the time to be concerned about next year’s crop as well.  Sigh.

 Yes, potatoes can be a source of late blight for tomatoes, and any innocent potato left in the ground after harvest can be the source of doom for next year.  Potatoes are closely related to tomatoes, and they actually can be carriers of the blight so feared by tomato growers here on the wet west coast, as they are even more susceptible than tomatoes.  The official name for this fatal disease is Phytophthera infestans, a fancy name to describe a rapid collapse and rot of the entire plant, so fast that the first blotches on the stems and leaves precede the demise of fruit so fast that no tomatoes can be saved. The risk is in leaving any potatoes not dug; the blight survives in living tissue, so if you find volunteer potatoes growing in the spring, remove and garbage just in case. I know, this is hard to do; any volunteer vegetable feels like a freebie.

Wrapped For Warmth

The very best way to prevent late blight from attacking your tomatoes is to keep the foliage dry at all times.  My tomatoes are grown in a raised bed, so it was easy to build a shelter around the tomato bed to keep warmth in, using a plastic ground sheet from the paint store.  For these dewy nights, I cover the top as well, removing the roof in the morning, unless rain is threatening.  Ventilation is critical; don’t create a steamy sauna in there! If the top is covered, open up some of the sides when you can.

All Covered Up For The Rain

This time of year it’s all about ripening the tomatoes that have already formed; by now you should have cut off any flowers and excess leaves, and topped the vining plants.  Withholding water helps the fruit ripen as well, as the plant gets a little stressed at the idea of not reproducing its seed, and ripens to ensure the continuity of its species.  Don’t tell the plants that their seed may not be used for this purpose!

Enough about the worries, and more about what worked! This was my first year of growing potatoes, and I’ll never again be without them.  As sunny, well-drained sites are in short supply in my garden, I planted potatoes in huge pots or bins, whatever I had on hand.  Harvest time was simple; just dump out the pots and add the soil to any beds where there won’t be potatoes or tomatoes for 4 years. I’ll write more about growing these marvelous little nuggets next spring when the seed potatoes are at the nursery.

Here is Harvest Day in Faye’s Potato Patch:

Bucket Growing Potatoes Dumped Out

So what worked in your tomato garden this year? What ripened, and what didn’t?

My first blog was all about what to grow in case we had a cold and wet spring and summer. Well, was I prescient or what?  Following my own advice, I grew only tomatoes that ripen quickly, and have been relatively successful. My Siletz are ripening, although the very best for early ripening and excellent flavour have been Enchantment.  These seeds aren’t widely available here, but worthy of a search when you are poring over seed catalogues in the coming winter. Sun Gold is another one that has ripened well.  I’d love to hear about your successes, and failures too.

Harvest Of ‘Banana’ Potatoes

As you enjoy the bounty of autumn, make notes on what has worked for you; varieties, conditions, placement for crop rotation, and important dates of planting and harvest. If you don’t have a garden journal, there is no better time to start one than today.  OK, remembering to write in it is another matter, maybe I’ll do a blog on that subject!

swiss chard seedling

Planting The Winter Vegetables In August Or “Stocking The Great Canadian Refrigerator”

It’s a warm summer evening, August 3, and I just planted some vegetables that I won’t be eating until the cold days of winter and early spring 2012. 

What I’m planting now will overwinter, and although some of it can be eaten in the fall and all through the winter while young and tender, such as the spinach, kale and chard, the purple sprouting broccoli won’t be ready until early next spring. 

 I discussed the Great Canadian Refrigerator in my blog of May 16.  It feels like a drum roll has been beating, leading up to the final available planting time, which is now.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli With ‘Collar’

I seeded this on June 10, grew them on in trays, and now they are ready for planting in the garden.   We have starts at the nursery, if you didn’t get yours going in June.

As soon as they are in the ground, it’s a good idea to put a physical barrier around them to protect against the Cabbage Maggot, a scourge which attacks the root of any member of the cabbage family.  Cut a square of barrier fabric such as heavy cloth, butcher paper, woven plastic fabric like that used in feed bags etc. Cut a slit to the center from one side, and place tightly up against and around the stem. Place a rock on it to hold in place, and leave on.

The sprouting broccoli will head up around February and you’ll be eating and enjoying this healthy vegetable until late spring, when you will have had so much you’ll be sick of it!

KALE  This is one tough plant, and can still be sown this week at the latest, although many prefer to buy starts.  It can actually remain in the soil for one year, if sown in the spring.

I’ve noticed the Imported Cabbage Worm lurking around my little kale babies in the pots I’ve started at the nursery. This evil pest is the innocent looking white butterfly that flutters and hovers in the garden, until it finds a member of the cabbage family, and lays tiny white/yellow eggs on the back of the leaves.  A smart mom, she lays her eggs where her larvae will find an immediate food source, ie your precious cabbage, kale, or broccoli. I just rub the eggs off as I find them. It really needs to be a daily task, as some have hatched already, producing tiny green worms which are perfectly camouflaged against the leaf. They are ravenous little critters and need to be squished immediately!   If your crop is too large or the infestation too great, spray with BTK when the caterpillars hatch, as BTK is harmless to any of the beneficial insects and kills ONLY caterpillars.

Kale becomes milder and sweeter in cold weather, so is the perfect winter crop here.

Swiss Chard Seedling

Chard is one of those leafy greens that make succession planting a joy. Plant it  densely with your kale and broccoli, and eat it when small and young, raw in salads. As the plants grow, cut some off at root level and make room for the others to get bigger. Before winter sets in you should have just enough full grown plants left to last you over the season.

Sowing spinach seeds is so easy, and up until the end of this week it can still be started from seed outside.  After that, starts from the nursery can be planted until the end of August, early September. 
By this time there is no danger of plants bolting to seed. They will continue to grow new leaves until the cold weather really sets in. Leave in the ground no matter how beat up they look after winter, as they’ll sprout new leaves as soon as the soil warms again, and have a long season of fresh growth.

MACHE (corn salad) can be seeded right under the sprawling vines of cucumber and squash, which will shade them from the summer sun until they are established, at which time the squash are ready to be cut down anyway. This is succession gardening at its best. Mache is a delicious and nutritious small-leafed green to add to salads; it will grow all winter. It is not bothered by slugs, and no matter how cold it gets it seems to just thrive in our climate. Winter grown mache is far more tasty than a spring crop, so if this is the one winter crop you try, at least get your feet wet (or muddy) with this tender little green.

(I’ll say more about succession planting in a further blog, on Winter Veggies in Containers)

 Remember, for plants to survive the winter, they should be almost full size by Halloween, as they don’t actually put on much growth during the cold season, but are kept alive in our gardens (The Great Canadian Refrigerator) to harvest and eat at their freshest and most delicious.

Crop rotation is very important in winter gardening, so please don’t plant your winter cabbage family in the same bed where you grew your summer cabbage or broccoli. Foil the varmints!

I have to repeat that so much of my information has come from the Year Round Harvest Class I’m taking at Glendale, and from the book written by my teacher Linda Gilkeson, Backyard Bounty.  Do have a look at this if you are serious about vegetable growing, or want information on the many other winter food crops.

We now have seedlings of all the most popular winter crops at the nursery, if you didn’t get around to seeding your own.

female zucchini flower

The Birds, The Bees And Summer Squash

Does your zucchini look like this?

Unpollinated Zucchini Flower

Well, the birds and the bees don’t always do…….what they are meant to, and sometimes we just need to get up close and personal with our vegetables.

This is what a male flower on a zucchini or squash plant looks like:

Male Zucchini Flower

Notice that it is just a flower at the end of a stem, no fruit.

This is what a female zucchini flower looks like:

Female Zucchini Flower

Notice that behind the flower are rudimentary fruits starting. If the flower isn’t pollinated, then these wither and die off as the first picture shows.

Now, for the sensitive part: What you have to do is make these flowers come together in a mating ritual that is normally assisted by the insects and small birds, but sometimes goes awry in wet or cool weather. The secret is to peel back the petals of the male flower, and dab some of the pollen onto the center parts of the female flower. The trick seems to be that sometimes there aren’t both sexes of flower on the plant at the same time, so it helps if you have more than one plant. I have successfully pollinated more than one female flower from one male. Enough said about that!!

The flowers are only open for one day, and morning seems to be the best time. You can pollinate any flower from the same species, but not between different species.

 Does this feel weird? Absolutely. But is it worth it? Absolutely yes! I have been enjoying fruitful success in the summer squash department.  My zucchini are delicious, and will continue to produce until later in the fall, helped perhaps by Mother Nature, and me.

compost tea operation

Some Compost Tea, A Bale Of Straw, And Thou

With profound apologies to Omar Khayyam; we’ve come a long way since the 11th Century.

Compost tea and straw are elixirs for the modern gardener.  Better than that “jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thou”?  Uh, maybe not, but much appreciated by your happy plants.

Compost tea is just about the easiest thing to make; it can be as simple or as complicated as you wish to make it.  Sure, if you Google ‘compost tea’ you’ll find places to buy it, sources for expensive bubblers and aerators, and these are all wonderful no doubt.

Compost tea operation.

However, my version is just like the bag-in-a-cup way of making real tea; a shovelful of good compost in a 5 gallon bucket, fill with water (ideally rainwater, but second best is to allow the water to sit for a day or two to dissipate the chlorine, but I’ve never had the patience for that), and allow to steep for 3-5 days, stirring daily to incorporate oxygen into the brew. Any longer than that, without an aerator, there can be too many anaerobic organisms and a never-ending supply of mosquito larvae!
When ready to use, stir vigorously, muttering incantations to the moon of course, allow the solids to settle, and scoop. I keep a yogurt container handy, scoop some into my watering can, and fill the can with water.

Depending on what I’m watering, i.e. seedlings or my established perennials, I’ll dilute or not. Full strength is a real treat for shrubs and all other plants, but it can be diluted up to 1:5 ratio with water, and still be an energizing fix for the hungry plants.

To make the tea even more deluxe, you can add a few cups of alfalfa pellets, or a good slosh of liquid seaweed. The alfalfa adds nitrogen, and the seaweed contains about 60 micronutrients, beneficial fungal foods, and plant growth hormones.

Used as a foliar feed or soil drench, the tea feeds a very nutritious tonic to the plants, inoculates the soil with beneficial bacteria and fungi, and helps control plant diseases. Add the remaining sludge back to your compost to return an active community of microorganisms to the pile.  Recycling at its best.

Needless to say, there are hundreds of sources for more information, but I like this one:


He claims that there are enough aerobic bacteria and fungi in a good 5 gallon batch of compost tea to equal the benefit of 10 tons, or 40 cubic yards of good compost. Well, I can’t prove him right or wrong, but it sounds good to me.


Every Spring, I buy myself a bale of straw. The local supplier of animal feeds and farm supplies sells bales in two sizes, and I always get a good-sized bale as I find it has many uses in the garden.

In these days of water conservation, a mulch of straw in the vegetable beds keeps the soil nicely moist and warm, and as it breaks down it provides wonderful humus and porosity to the soil.  Mulches in general protect the soil from driving rain (or sprinklers), prevent a crusting-over in the sun, and keep it from blowing away in the wind. Straw is inexpensive, widely available, and will break down over the year. Some people prefer to buy it in the fall and open it to the rain, to start the breaking down process. Certainly when it’s nicely wet it is much easier to control when spreading. In fact, even if you buy it in the spring, wet it thoroughly to facilitate spreading; it’s not possible to control the dry stuff on a windy day!

Straw mulch for the ground and containers.

By the way, don’t buy hay instead of straw, it’s full of seeds.

Many avid vegetable growers use straw as a covering for pathways between rows, blocking the sun from the nasty weed seeds, and as part of a winter mulch program along with seaweed, organic fertilizers, and lime.

By putting a generous layer of straw around my strawberry plants, the slugs seem to be discouraged, and the berries remain clean, all the better to eat while standing in the garden.

Another wonderful use of straw is in the making of Lasagna Gardens; another topic for another day…

For now, I’m off to enjoy that jug of wine and loaf of bread………some good cheese……….strawberries and raspberries from my straw-mulched beds………..

spinach bolting to seed

Are We There Yet, Is It Summer? Tomatoes Lying Down, Beans Climbing Up, And Spinach Bolting.

Wow, this sounds like a lot of action in my little corner of the garden. The last time I wrote was three weeks ago; yes we have made progress in the slow creep into summer, and finally the tomatoes and cucumbers are actually, officially planted out into the garden.

Surprisingly, the tomato plant will right itself almost before your eyes, at least by the next day, standing straight and enjoying the chance to flex its little roots into diverse territory.  Of course, before planting you had soaked the root ball and the waiting soil, right?

It’s not too late to get more tomatoes into the ground, especially all those juicy little cherries that ripen quickly.  Run out of space in your garden? Growing veggies in containers is the new black, you know, so get out those big plastic pots and fill with soil, compost, and healthy amendments such as seaweed elixir, and watch those little nuggets of flavour grow.

Remember my magnificent bean roots straight out of vermiculite? Well, look at how happy they are once planted into the soil, reaching ever skyward, twining around the poles of the teepee. (well, not quite twining yet) I put 4-6 seeds at the base of each pole, and you can see how they are already putting on good growth, just two weeks later.

Ahh, spinach, that easy crop we all love to grow from seed.  Plant in early spring before it gets too hot, right? Well, not quite that easy. Spinach (just like we do) looks forward to the lengthening hours in the day, leading up to June 21, the year’s longest day.  As the hours lengthen however, the spinach panics—“yikes, I better make my seed now, so I can reproduce my kind”. So the spinach plant does the only thing it knows how, and that is to bolt— yes, to bolt to seed. Does your spinach look like mine does?

Picking off the flowers does nothing to halt the inexorable march to the preservation of its species, so just use the crop as quickly as you can, put a tomato plant in its place, and remember to plant a fall crop of Spinach in mid-August.  How many recipes for spinach do YOU have?

Hard to believe, but once you get these crops of summer well on their way, it will be time to start seedlings for winter harvest. Check the recent blog on The Great Canadian Refrigerator, and stay tuned.