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Cherry Tomatoes With Pasta and Fresh Basil

 

1 ½ – 2 pounds fresh, ripe cherry tomatoes, halved (can squeeze out some of the juice if they are watery)

4 garlic cloves, minced

½ cup fresh French bread crumbs

½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup olive oil

penne pasta, or fusilli, or farfallini etc

½ cup finely chopped fresh basil

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put the tomato halves in a large baking dish that can be brought to the table.

In a small bowl, combine garlic, bread crumbs, cheese, and s&p.

Spoon evenly over the tomatoes. Spoon the olive oil evenly over the mixture.

Roast the tomatoes for 30-35 minutes, or until the mixture is bubbly, browned, and slightly thickened.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook pasta til al dente. Drain well.

Add the pasta to the tomato mixture in the baking dish.

Add the basil and toss to combine. Serve immediately, with more parmesan if desired.

 

Broccolini With Lemon and Garlic

Approximately 375 g broccolini

2 TB XV olive oil

2 cloves garlic, sliced

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp grated lemon rind

1 TB lemon juice

Trim tough ends from broccolini. In large skillet heat oil over medium heat. Saute garlic and salt lightly, until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add broccolini, ¼ cup water, and lemon rind. Cover and steam until tender and no water remains. Watch carefully. Stir in lemon juice and serve immediately.

BROCCOLINI IS ALSO DELICIOUS SIMPLY STEAMED, WITH A LITTLE BUTTER, SALT AND PEPPER.

fresh new beans in August 6 scaled

The Magical Bean

By Faye

Fortex beans in August

Fortex beans in August

For the snap and crunch of a perfect green bean, nothing comes close to the bean you grow yourself. Those hollow, stringy supermarket beans should be banned!

Beans are one of the easiest vegetables to grow; the perfect crop for a beginner. They even make their own fertilizer! Beans are legumes, and all legumes convert nitrogen found in the air to a usable form, evident by small white nodules on their roots.  Legumes have a relationship with Rhizobia bacteria in the soil, which enables the nitrogen-fixing process. All they ask is regular moisture, warm sunshine, and a moderate amount of organic material in the soil. Don’t add manure, and don’t over fertilize. Excessive nitrogen in the soil will produce a large plant with poor pod set and delayed maturity. A bean crop that has lots of flowers but few pods may have a zinc deficiency, which can be remedied by foliar feeding with liquid seaweed. Because beans have a relatively light nutrient demand on the soil, crop rotation for fertility needs is less important than for some other crops. They grow happily with other veggies except for onions, which they dislike.

Scarlet Runner Bean root after 1 week

Scarlet Runner Bean root after 1 week

PLANTING:  Warmth is essential for germination; cold soil will result in rot and sporadic germination, so wait until at least mid-May if direct-sowing.  For this reason, pre-sprouting in a warm room in damp vermiculite has been my habit for both peas and beans, using a well-draining tray and dense sowing of seeds. They root in less than a week, with 100% germination and no critter predation. Harden off, and plant outside when weather permits.

Talk about the magic of the bean; look at those roots!

The vision of a bean seed’s emerging root at one end, and a leaf at the other end, is surely one of gardening’s wonders, and reason enough to try the vermiculite.

BEANS FOR EVERY GARDEN

POLE BEANS:

*Indeterminate: Will need tall poles to climb around.
*Produce over a longer period, yielding more beans in a smaller area.
*Can be grown in a large container, but keeping soil adequately moist can be difficult. Smaller yield.
*If using a ‘teepee’ of poles, plant 5-6 beans at each pole base.
*Limited sun? ‘Purple Peacock’ is a variety suitable for cooler areas with less than full sun.
*Pick often, don’t let the pods get old, tough and lumpy. Eat while young and tender. Once pods get full and start to ripen off, the plant shuts down production to make seed.

BUSH BEANS:

*Determinate, usually about 2 ½ feet tall.
*Produce a large crop quickly, within a couple of weeks or so.
*Successive sowing from mid-May to late June, every 2-3 weeks, will provide a longer yield.

Runner Beans germinating in vermiculite

Runner Beans germinating in vermiculite

SCARLET RUNNER BEANS:

*Botanically distinct from Bush and Pole beans. While all beans are legumes, these belong to a different species.
*Pollinated by bees and hummingbirds, a bonus! Other beans are self-fertile.
*Prefer cool summer weather, needing more moisture and cool roots.

BROAD BEANS:

*Shelling bean.
*Plant in October for early spring eating, or in February/March for summer eating.
*Allow bean to fill out and harden in the pod, then shell when dry.

SOYA BEAN:

*Edamame, the best known soya bean, has been cultivated in China and Korea since 5000 BC, and is now a staple in Japanese cuisine.
*Not suitable for containers.
*Never soak the seed before planting.
*Must be cooked, and pod not edible.

Whether eaten raw or cooked, the green bean has earned a place of honour at our summer table. For its high nutritional kick, beauty in the garden and ease of growing, this magical bean deserves a star.

 

arugula seeds 48

Microgreens are the New Kale

By Faye

Microgreens

Microgreens

For the past couple of years, we’ve been inundated with the wonders of kale as the latest superfood.  Recently however, while putting out trays of winter veggie starts, I have heard whispered confessions, “Actually, I don’t really like kale. “

Enter a new way to grow and eat the very freshest produce possible with a huge nutritional kick — microgreens.

Microgreens are simply any edible leaf, grown to either cotyledon (seed leaf) stage, or first/second set of true leaves, up to 2” tall.  They can be grown anytime, anywhere, and can be cut at whatever stage you find most pleasing, generally within 4 weeks of sowing, sometimes as early as 5 days, depending on the crop you have chosen.

While sprouts are usually grown in dark, moist conditions and eaten just after germination, microgreens are grown in sterile seed-starting mix, brightly lit after germination, and it’s the leaf that is eaten, not the root or seed.

These tiny greens are loaded with phytonutrients, from the Greek word ‘phyto’ meaning ‘plant’. When they are exposed to light, they develop chlorophyll, which is antiseptic and anti-inflammatory.  Many sources say that microgreens promote good health, fight disease and even cure illness. It is claimed that broccoli microgreens have 50 times the cancer-fighting benefits of mature broccoli!  Certainly do your own research, then enjoy the fresh taste of a variety of greens.

One of the two books we have on this subject, Microgreens; How to Grow Nature’s Own Superfood, by Fionna Hill is full of intriguing recipes, and much information on each individual crop, beautifully presented.

The other one is arguably the best instructional book I’ve ever read, in a very straightforward and clear format.  Microgreen Garden by Mark Mathew Braunstein.

Arugula seeds: 48 hrs

Arugula seeds: 48 hrs

What to Grow?

Any edible leaf makes a good microgreen, with the exception of spinach, as it has a very tough and prickly casing on the seed. To get started, just use up some of your leftover (untreated) veggie seeds, but to really get into it buy the larger bags especially packaged for microgreens. West Coast Seeds offers broccoli, chard, arugula, sunflower, as well as 2- and 3-week blends mixing seeds that all mature at about the same time.  We’ve found that plants that are normally eaten for their leaves when mature, eg arugula, chard, leaf mustards, kale etc, are good at all stages, whereas sunflower and broccoli not being leaf crops, are tastier at the cotyledon stage.

How, Where and When

All that’s needed is very good light, a shallow container with drainage holes, a tray to set this in, and sterile seed starting mix. We like the Garland line of plastic containers and trays as they are food grade and sturdy.  It’s important to follow Food Safe rules, as the microgreens are cut close to the soil line. Be sure your containers and starting mix are pristine, and use clean scissors to harvest your greens.

Moisten the soil in a clean bucket before putting it into the container. Fill to the top and pat down with your hands, then sprinkle the seed over the surface, not burying it.  Seeds are spread fairly densely, but not overlapping each other, as each one needs room to germinate, sprout a stem and grow a few leaves.  To ensure even humidity, many sources suggest covering with a clear plastic dome, (which are available with the containers and trays).  A cheaper option is to just cover loosely with a plastic bag. Remove any covering the instant the seeds germinate, then put them under bright light. A regular fluorescent tube works just fine, but for longer-term growth it’s better to use full spectrum tubes, Sun Blaster being the one we use. Sun Blaster also makes full spectrum screw-in bulbs, which work really well in an old goose-neck desk lamp, aimed at the trays of greens.

Microgreens: Four days

Microgreens: Four days

Within a very few days, you’ll see two miraculous tiny shoots emerging from the seed, one a root shoot and the other a leaf unfolding. Don’t be alarmed if you notice a tuft of white; it’s not mildew, just part of the root hairs starting to grow.

This is when it gets to be fun! As you can see from the photos, it doesn’t take long to really start looking like something. Keep the lights on about 14 hours a day; you are trying to mimic sunlight, and the period of darkness is as important to your tiny plants as it is to you. We found a timer to be a wonderful help in ensuring adequate hours of light and darkness.  During the summer of course, natural sunlight outside is totally sufficient, but with our low levels of light in winter it’s just not enough to make the seedlings green and strong. Growing microgreens in winter is even more satisfying, when there isn’t the summer glut of nutritious veggies.

I use my laundry room as my seeding station; I have a 4’ Sun Blaster tube suspended from the ceiling, and also a screw-in bulb in an old desk lamp, and grow nice bright greens.

Care of your crop couldn’t be simpler. All they need is water, no fertilizing required. Water from the bottom only, reducing the chance of mildew forming on the soil. Simply pour some water into the tray under your container, and the water will soak up by osmosis. After half an hour, drain away any excess water still in the tray.

Harvesting is the best part, just tilt your container over a dish and cut off as many stems as you need right then. No need to harvest the whole crop at once; another wave of greens will grow in after the first cutting, as not all seeds germinate at the same time. Some stems will sprout new growth as well.  Often there are 2-3 waves of new growth, so don’t be in a hurry to toss your soil; just keep watering.

The latest in gourmet greens are fun to do, they will nourish both body and spirit.   Also remember that growing your kale outside is still an option!

harvest Aug 23 2014

Summer Veggies In Review 2014

By Faye
harvest-Aug-23-2014As the summer vegetable garden becomes a warm and happy memory, and the winter one settles in with hope and promise, it’s time to take a look back at how it all worked. Planning for next year has to start now, as we see what did well, what didn’t, and how can we make it even better?

General observations would have to include the fact that this was one incredible summer! The hot and dry conditions were just what summer crops love, in particular tomatoes! Have you ever seen so many?

What made you happiest in your summer veggie garden this year? Was there something that really worked for you? A new variety or technique perhaps? Did you use containers in a new way? We’d love to hear from you! Growing food is so rewarding, and sharing the knowledge as well as the produce makes it even better.

TOMATOES

Best lesson learned:  I was a little more vigilant with pruning, kept vining ones to a single stem, and found that I did get more tomatoes, and they were larger and ripened faster.  See previous paragraph, however!  I grew most in raised beds, but some were in 7 gallon pots, and 2’ square cedar planters. Brian used our Grow Bags and fertilized weekly with the Orgunique 15-3-11 and he had astounding results in a smaller space than I used.

I put a regular aspirin in each planting hole, which is supposed to give more flowers, and hence more tomatoes. I also fertilized more often this year with a variety of the Orgunique fertilizers; also seaweed, compost tea, and liquid fish. So was it the heat, the fert, or was it the aspirin? I had huge yields, as did most people this summer.  Sue did very little of the above and still had good results!

Tomato harvest in August

Tomato harvest in August

Favourite Varieties
We are fortunate to hear lots of feedback from our customers and fellow growers, who give us hints as to what to order for next year. Cherry tomatoes are always popular; they ripen well in our climate, they’re great for snacking, and there are so many good recipes for cherry tomatoes both raw and cooked.

Did you know that Sweet Million is an improved version of the old favourite Sweet One Hundred? Best orange cherry would be Sun Sugar or Sun Gold.

One red cherry that has surprised us with its popularity would be Tumbler.  This is hugely productive, on hanging stems; grow in a container well off the ground or in a hanging basket. Very delicious fruit.

We also grew Red Robin from seed, and it had good production of tasty tomatoes on a very small plant, but the leaves seemed to get ratty rather quickly.

Gold nugget would be our best determinate yellow cherry and Yellow Pear is a vining variety that many people ask for every year.

For a regular slicing tomato, there are many good ones, including Siletz, Early Girl Vining, Mortgage Lifter and several others. For a slightly smaller one, good for roasting, Juliet is often highly recommended. Best yellow slicing tomato was a new one for us this year; Lemon Boy was the first yellow tomato on the market, and it’s still one of the best. Large, round fruit with very complex flavor, they are a bit slow to ripen but well worth the wait. I will definitely order more of these for the nursery next year.

The whole concept of grafted vegetables is taking root, and there are more varieties available. This year, Indigo Rose was a star for us, and Helen Chesnut wrote glowingly about it as well. With copious quantities of dark purplish black fruit, on a determinate plant, which actually ripened in this hot summer; it’s known to be slow to ripen. The hard part is telling when they are ripe; don’t pick until the tomato bottoms turn red.

Black Krim was large and very very good tasting; an heirloom variety, with a somewhat smokey and salty flavor.

The grafted Beefsteak were underwhelming;not only were they not very big, but they became pitted all over after only one rain near the end of summer.

My greenhouse is very small, so all of my tomatoes but one were grown outside. Brian had a big crop in his larger greenhouse, grown vertically on single stems, and were very impressive indeed. We didn’t always agree on which were the best tasting, showing that each growing situation is different, and flavours will be affected by soil, warmth, water, and how nicely you talk to them.

CUCUMBERS

Best lesson learned: I’ve now figured out how to extend the cucumber season. I seed them in the house, under lights, on April 15, and when they were ready put some in the greenhouse and some outside in the raised bed, on a teepee of bamboo stakes. The greenhouse crop finished weeks ago, but it’s early October now and I’m still picking the outside crop!

Almost everyone I asked said their favourite cuke this summer was Sweet Success.  This variety is parthenocarpic, meaning it doesn’t need pollination, so every flower will produce a cucumber. This is important if you are growing in a greenhouse, as there may not be many bees inside. Long, crisp, and delicious, each cuke measured up to 10”, and never bitter.  Tasty Green is almost all female flowers, and a heavy producer too.

Sue loves the spiral stakes for supporting these vigorous plants. (pic of Sue’s cukes on spiral stakes)

Lemon Cucumber is also a favourite of mine that I never want to be without. Round like a lemon, it’s always sweet and very juicy.  While I always grow my cucumbers vertically, the Lemon ones seem to be a bit of a blowsy crop, so next year I’ll use a grow bag or pot on the bench in the greenhouse and let them just flow along horizontally.

BEANS

Pole beans give more beans for a longer period, and growing vertically, they take up less space. This year, as always, my favourite was Fortex, followed by Purple Peacock. Sue found that the Purple Peacock sneaks up on you; if you turn your back it can grow too large in about 30 minutes, so plan accordingly. I gave mine regular doses of compost tea, and would have produced a fall crop, were it not for Mr. Rabbit who chewed the stems off at 8” high, thereby killing off the entire crop. I’m feeling like Peter Rabbit’s Farmer McGregor!!

Best lesson learned with beans? Net them from the rabbit, and feed regularly.

For the first time I also grew some bush beans, from a friend’s heirloom Italian seed. I had no room left in the beds so used a very large pot, and they were surprisingly successful, although somewhat crowded.

POTATOES are my other surprising container crop, I’ve done this for 3 years now; layered compost and straw in the pots and planted Banana potatoes, a small gourmet type.  Just dump out onto a tarp at the end of summer, and enjoy. The compost and straw have by then broken down, so I have marvelous new soil to use for other things, such as planting the winter crops in raised beds.

PEAS

Again this year, I started all my peas and beans inside, in vermiculite on March 13, and will never again direct sow. Starting in vermiculite gives 100% germination, and no critters steal the show. For further info on starting in vermiculite see Peas in Particular. My default varieties for peas are Tall Telephone and Sugar Snap Pole. I had peas 7’ tall by May 29, and they were loaded with pods.

BEETS

Oh how we love beets, roasted in foil in the oven.

Direct seeded into the ground on May 2, this year I grew Early Wonder Tall Top, and Touchstone Gold.

I generally do well with beets in my raised beds, but the Touchstone Gold have been a disappointment; poor germination and small beets. I seeded Cylindra for winter, after hearing Brian’s glowing reports in the summer.  The EWTT variety produced excellent beets, but this year has been a terrible year for leaf miners, so the leaves are badly damaged. I should have netted them with ProTecNet, and will certainly do this next year.

ZUCCHINI

Once again, Partenon is the star zucchini, as it doesn’t require pollination and therefore each flower becomes a fruit (yes, zuke is a fruit, as the part that we eat comes from the flower). No need to hope that a male flower and a female flower appear on the same day, and a bee happens along. I grew them (2 plants only!) in large pots, and mulched the soil to keep it warm and moist.

CARROTS

I thought I could sneak past the carrot rust fly, by planting in a lower area of the garden, with the beets. Leaf miners got the beet leaves, and only a couple of carrots were damaged by the rust fly, but even those two have reminded me of the importance of prevention when it comes to pests. Favourite carrot? Purple Haze, although Brian found them prone to splitting.

Disappointment? Nantes. These are short and stubby, and perhaps if your soil isn’t deep and friable this is the only carrot you can grow, but for me I’d rather have a long tapered style.

LEEKS are the first crop to start the season and the last one harvested; we get the starts in March, and they grow all spring and summer, and those that are hardy, such as Bandit, will continue on through the following winter. These are well worth the space in your garden, always a winner. I started mine from seed on March 6, getting them going on a heat mat. I moved them to the unheated greenhouse on March 30, then into the ground in April.  Very few pests, I’ve even grown them in the front yard in Deer Country, but your own herd of deer may be hungrier than mine.  Be careful about growing them with garlic; last year garlic rust descended upon me, and infected my leeks as well. We have noticed that some of our leeks are going to seed and wonder if it might be caused by drought stress??

It seems that more and more of us are growing our own food these days; what a lovely way to while away the hours in the summer sunshine, and enjoy all that healthy food as a reward.

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.

FAYE’S TOP FIVE LESSONS LEARNED THIS YEAR IN THE GARDEN 

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.