Friday, February 6, 2015

Garden advice

I was talking with a non-gardening friend last week and she asked me to give her some advice. More specifically, the best advice I could offer a new gardener. Well, that certainly got me thinking and here is what I told her:

Have fun!
Gardening isn’t about competing with the neighbours, rather it’s about creating a space that makes you happy. Whether its a single container of petunias, a personal veggie plot or a large ornamental garden, take pride in what you create and be sure to enjoy the process. 

Start small
It’s very easy to go overboard when making your first ornamental or vegetable garden, but remember to start small. If you find yourself running behind and don’t have time to care for your garden, it will become overgrown and weedy and feel like a chore. Your garden should help you relax, not be another item on a ‘to-do’ list. 

Feed the earth
Ok, this sounds cheesy, but it’s true. A healthy, low-maintenance garden begins with good soil. Yearly applications of compost or aged manure will feed the diverse populations of microorganisms who live in the soil, who in turn will release nutrients back to your plants. 

Work with Mother Nature
Do yourself a favour and grow plants that do well in our region. They will require less fertilizer, water and be more resistant to insect and disease problems. Not sure what they are? Ask at your local nursery, spy on your neighbours garden (not to compare, but just to see what they are growing) or join a garden club. 

It’s hard to go wrong with hardy perennials like daylilies, veronica, purple coneflower, yarrow and ornamental grasses. Top shrubs include hydrangea, weigela, azaleas, rhododendrons and rugosa roses. As for trees, I count magnolias, paperbark maple, Japanese maple, serviceberry and Kousa dogwood among my top picks. 

Eat (and grow) your veggies
It’s amazing how homegrown veggies and herbs taste so much better than store bought, so consider planting a small vegetable garden, adding herbs to a windowbox or even tucking some tomatoes or bush beans among your ornamental plants. If you have young children or grandchildren, it’s also a great way to introduce them to where their food comes from. Plus, they’ll have fun ‘helping’ tend and water the garden. 

My favourite veggies include ‘Sungold’ tomatoes, ‘Lemon’ cucumbers, pattypan zucchini, ‘Emerite’ pole beans and ‘Napoli’ carrots. 

What advice would you add?? 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Five ways to beat the winter blues!

Happy January!! I know, I know.. I've been neglectful.. full speed ahead on book #3 and a handful of magazine deadlines.. plus a bunch of upcoming lectures! But I'm also so excited to turn the corner on January and start thinking about seed starting.. Soon, I'll be sowing artichokes, onions, leeks and more.. have you started any yet?

Therefore I thought I'd share a few ideas of how to keep your green thumb in top shape throughout the 'deep-freeze' period:

1) Order seeds. Many gardeners prefer to wait and head directly to the garden centers in spring to buy their seeds, but others like to browse through seed catalogues and websites, selecting all or a portion of their seeds and waiting impatiently by the mailbox for them to arrive. Personally, I do both, ordering from my favourite seed catalogues, but also stopping at every single seed rack I encounter (farmer’s markets, supermarkets, garden centers, hardware stores - anywhere!) just to make sure I haven’t missed anything. 

The 2015 Halifax Seed catalogue is now
2) And since you’re ordering seeds, start some indoors - At this time of the year, slow growing seeds - like annual geraniums, leeks, onions, for example - can be planted indoors in a sunny windowsill or under grow-lights. I also like to start pansies indoors now, transplanting the cold-tolerant seedlings to my outdoor containers in mid-April for a breath of spring.
3) Pot up some herbs - When I first got serious about gardening, I began with herbs. It amazed me that those little glass bottles lined up on my mother’s spice rack were filled with bits of plants that I could actually grow. I started with the basics - parsley, basil, rosemary and thyme - and discovered that fresh plants tasted (and smelled) so much better than those bottles of dried green flakes. I never went back. Now, I grow a steady supply of aromatic herbs in our gardens, supplementing in winter with pots on our windowsill. Some herbs, like thyme and parsley are super hardy and can be overwintered in a cold frame for a non-stop bounty, but others like basil and rosemary are too tender and must be grown indoors. Also don’t shy away from unfamiliar herbs like lemon verbena which makes a delicious tea or lemony addition to fish and chicken dishes. Discover the range of herbs at the Canadian company, Richters Herbs which sells both seeds and mail order plants through their free catalogue.

4) Force some branches - You know that forsythia shrub sitting in your front lawn - c’mon, we all have one - go outside with a pair of sharp pruners and judiciously clip some branches, choosing those that may have needed a haircut anyway. Any twigs that are damaged, crossing each other or sticking out in an odd way, can be pruned off and brought indoors to be forced into bloom. Look for branches covered in fat buds - flowerbuds - for the best show of colour. Also consider pruning twigs from your other spring flowering shrubs - crabapples, witch hazel, serviceberry, quince and willows. Pop those stems in a vase of water, changing it every few days and within a week or two, those flowerbuds will swell and burst into bloom. 

5) Think & dream. Right now, the garden is a blank slate, especially if you literally have no garden. If that’s the case, think about what type of garden you would like and what you’d like to grow - perennials, shrubs, vegetables, herbs? - and how you like it it to look - formal? natural? cottage garden? Get inspired by gardening books and magazines, or take some time and get lost in the countless garden photos found online at Pinterest. If you already have a garden, you may also want to re-evaluate and consider what works and what doesn’t, moving under-performing plants to new areas and making a list of new things you’d like to try. 

What are you up to in the garden?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The last hurrah of autumn

I found this forgotten Black Spanish radish in the garden.
I think I'm too scared to eat it though - it's almost 3 inches
across and will be VERY VERY spicy!
According to the weather forecast, we may get 5 to 10 cm of snow tomorrow.. NOOOOOOOO! Mother Nature has been so kind to us this autumn with wonderfully mild weather and few frosts.

I've been out working in the garden for the past few days, trying to tie up loose ends (and pull random weeds!) before the weather bomb. It looks like today is the last mild day, and I've still got plenty to do like deep mulch the root/stem crops and put up a few mini hoop tunnels in preparation for the (sniff, sniff) snow.

However, I thought I'd first share some photos I took yesterday - Nov 12 - when it was warm enough to work outside in a t-shirt!

Have you wrapped up your winter garden yet?

I've got about 20 celeriac ready for deep mulching.
Most about about 4 to 6 inches across.

Baby beets! Steamed these last night - like candy!

There are still some random blooms for the late bees. This
borage flower was pure perfection.

Plenty of calendula still in bloom. The nasturtiums
gave up last week, but these cheerful orange blooms
fill the gap nicely.


Can't forget about 'Peppermint Stick' swiss chard!
Seriously a knockout in the garden spring through winter!

I also still have  hedges of sweet alyssum. It
just keeps going and going - even under
mini hoop tunnels. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Free download from Horticulture magazine - Great Garden Plants!

One of the more fun jobs I've had in 2014 has been writing a regular column for Horticulture magazine.  I'm happy to say that my column will now continue in 2015! A nice bit of news after the unfortunate demise of Gardens East, Gardens West and Gardens Prairies magazines earlier this month.

Also, because 2014 is the 110th anniversary of Horticulture magazine (they first published on December 3, 1904), they are giving away their Guide to Great Garden Plants: Award-winning Selections for Shade, Sun and Everything In-Between for FREE! Click HERE for the link.

I'm off to plant more garlic.. wondering if 500 bulbs is too many?? Nah!! :)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The last autumn hurrah in my vegetable garden

This has been an utterly spectacular autumn.. My garden is still frost-free, but I think the party is coming to a quick end as the temperature is predicted to dip very low in just two more days.. ah well, I can't complain as we continue to harvest traditional summer crops like cucumbers, cucamelons, the odd cherry tomato, basil, and zucchini.

I've been a slack blogger lately - sorry! Tied up with book proposals (book #3!), magazine deadlines, and Savvy Gardening, the site I co-own with the wonderful Jessica Walliser, Tara Nolan and Amy Andrychowicz.

I'm especially excited for the launch of our new Savvy Gardening NEWSLETTER this coming Tuesday.. It's looking fabulous and anyone interested in receiving the free regular newsletter can sign up here.

I'm off to give a talk this afternoon in Middle Musquodoboit at 2 pm and then will wrap up my 2014 lecture season on November 1st in Bridgewater, NS. Details to follow.

I thought I'd take a quick second to snap a few photos of my garden before Jack Frost pays me a visit in the coming days.. Hope all is well in your gardens! What are you still harvesting?

So much celeriac - almost ready for winter mulching!

This was a red mustard planted last autumn.. we harvested during
last winter.. then spring.. then it bloomed.. and the
remaining stub came back again! It's now pushing out
lovely rosettes of leaves and blooms along its stem. 

I'm also still gathering seeds - calendula, cucumber, and
of course, nasturtiums!

I love the combo of Italian parsley and sweet alyssum. I
toss handfuls of the chopped parsley in steamed potatoes,
in grated carrot salads and in my morning eggs. Yum!
I've got to move a few clumps to the cold frames for winter.

The Pineapple alpine strawberries I grew from
Renees Garden seed are spectacular! They're still blooming and
producing the aromatic fruity flavoured elongated berries.

I get a nice handful every day from my 24 plants. Will be
interested to see how they overwinter.

Here's a seasonal friend - the wooly bear caterpillar. So

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

Frost is coming! Take cover (literally)

Frosted dinosaur kale
We've been lucky so far.. late Sept and still no frost.. there have been a handful of frost warnings, but tonight, it looks like a frost is imminent. So what's a veggie gardener to do? As I say in the title of this post, take cover! There are a few simple ways to cover your crops and stretch your harvest season by months.

Mind you, if you truly want to harvest into late autumn and winter, you'll need to make sure you pick the right crops. What are the right crops? You'll want to focus on the cool and cold season veggies. In The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, two-thirds of the book is dedicated to the many outstanding crops that can be enjoyed during the cold season with details on how to grow them and how to protect them. For example, kale is a classic cold season veggie, but there are many others - endive, spinach, chard, arugula, claytonia, mizuna and so on. Plus, there are roots crops, stem crops (leeks, scallions) and wonderful, aromatic herbs that can also be protected and harvested all winter.

Now that frost is in the forecast, here are the three ways that I will protect the veggies currently planted in my open garden beds.
A lightweight row cover over Italian parsley

  • Row covers - These are a very basic level of protection, but can extend an autumn harvest by weeks or even months, depending on the crop. A row cover is simply a piece of lightweight fabric that comes in a range of sizes and weights. A lightweight row cover can be used to insulate against a light frost, while medium and heavy-weight row covers are used for more serious cold protection. Keep in mind that heavier fabrics allow less light to pass through to your crops so if you still want your crops to grow, remove the covers in the morning, replacing them at night or if a frost warning is issued.
A frosted cloche in the autumn garden
  • Cloches - Cloches have been used for centuries to protect crops. They are an easy way to shelter a few newly planted tomato seedlings from inclement spring weather, but aren't practical for large gardens as venting them in labour intensive. In autumn, I use my stack of plastic cloches to protect late season lettuces, small pepper plants and spicy globe basil from frost. You can also use a milk jug, bucket, or large juice or soda container to make a DIY cloche. If you're only using it at night for frost protection, it doesn't have to be clear. Make a large cloche for autumn tomatoes, peppers, and other mature plants by surrounding a tall tomato cage with a clear piece of plastic. Fasten well at the bottom, but remove during sunny days. 
Hello winter mini hoop tunnels! Note the centre
support to help shed snow.
  • Mini Hoop Tunnels - This handy and easy-to-make structure can be used to shelter winter crops - especially tall veggies like kale, Italian parsley, collards and leeks. Or, overwinter crops for a super early harvest by seeding cold hardy salad greens and scallions in late September - October, and covering with a mini hoop tunnel in autumn. Harvesting of overwintered crops happens as early as March. These tunnels also great for autumn frost protection. I make mine from 1/2 inch PVC conduit that is bent in a U-shape over my 4-foot wide beds. I use 1-foot long rebar stakes to secure the conduit. For winter support, run a length of wood down the centre of the structure to shed snow. If you just wish to autumn harvest, no need for the centre support. Cover with a sturdy clear plastic cover. I use 6 mil greenhouse poly. A mini hoop tunnel will lengthen the harvest season of cool and cold season crops by months

What do you use for frost protection?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Last Week of Summer Garden Update

Oh Peppermint Swiss Chard, you are so
Anyone else want an extra 4 weeks of summer? I gotta say that it was rather chilly this morning and tonight we've got a frost warning. Not cool Mother Nature!

I just got home from a few fun-filled days at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA, where I gave 3 talks and did a book signing. It was my third time at this particular event and it's something that I look forward to attending each September. Everyone is so enthusiastic and knowledgeable and it's great to connect with both gardeners and fellow writers.

After being away from the garden for a few days, I was therefore anxious to check up on the veggies - and to make sure the deer didn't breach the electric fence while I was away. Thankfully, all was good and I snapped some photos to share as I harvested the slightly overripe zucchini and cucumbers.

What are you still harvesting?

One of the radicchio plants bolted in mid-summer and the sky
blue flowers are just lovely - this bee thinks so too! 

My first 'Pineapple' alpine strawberry - perfectly
ripe. So tasty! Can't wait for more of these. I got
the seed from Renee's Garden

Such a pretty little strawberry!

I like to plant cut flowers, like this dahlia,
in the veggie garden too!

A fun view of a pear-shaped cucamelon!
Can you see it? It's hiding behind the leaf - see
the shadow? 

And here it is after I lift up the leaf! A bit
of a funny shape for a cucamelon!

Some of the 'Buenos Aires Rojo' pole beans
are getting BIG. I've got to save some seeds
from these unusual and tasty beans.

I planted these Japanese turnips a few weeks ago - so
quick growing.. I probably should have thinned
them. Oops!

Hmm.. what are you doing on the turnips?
Where did those holes in the leaves come from?

Here's a BIG turnip! about 3 inches across. 

More cucamelons. I just can't get enough
of these crazy little cucumbers!

Lot's of 'Lemon' cucumbers still coming.. This
guy is only 1 1/2 inches across, but he
really took my eye with his pronounced spikes. 

Thinning more of the winter carrots.. these
thinnings were so big, I ate them! Yum!

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Late Summer Garden Tour & An Electric Fence Update

I can't believe it's late summer.. where has the time gone? I actually wore a sweater into the garden this morning to water! Brr..

Yesterdays promised rain turned into only about 1 mm of moisture and the soil is extremely dry. I just went up to water some of the new crops, but I was hoping for a good soaking yesterday so that I could sow more seeds - radishes, daikons, turnips, mache, kale, scallions, lettuce, spinach, chard, arugula, Asian greens and more. I may have to go ahead with the seeding, and forget about waiting for any rain. 

However, in spite of the lack of water, the garden is doing very well. The beans continue to produce prolifically, the large fruited tomatoes are finally coming in (darn snails seem to take a bite of each one!), and the cukes are just delightful - especially those miniature Mexican Sour Gherkins. Definitely a HUGE hit with the kids this summer. In fact, today is my niece's 10th birthday and when I asked her what she'd like for her big day (candy? toys? money?) she said 'cucamelons', another name for those tiny gherkins.. and her 12 year old sister, who also has a birthday next week, wants some Buenos Aires Rojo beans! Gotta love kids who love their veggies.

As for my new electric fence, so far so good. This past week, I've seen at least 6 deer in my front and side yard, as well as more on the neighbours property, so I know they are around. But.. they haven't breached the garden. How do I know? Easy! Nothing is eaten.. they typically go right for the beans and carrot greens, but all is well - KNOCK ON WOOD! I can't say an electric deer fence is 100% effective, but I am extremely satisfied this year. 

Lettuce ready to bloom!

I love these quick growing Japanese turnips!

These were seeded just 40 days ago.

Some of the daikon radishes have bolted!

Um, can I help you?? Crawling over the leaf
mulch towards the tomatoes.

I swear I picked all the cucumbers yesterday.
I don't know where this came from?

One of our 'Indian Doll' pumpkins. Such
a beautiful variety.

This mornings 'stuff'.. tea, hose, plant tags and
a trowel.

The biggest mouse melon I've ever picked vs
the 'forgotten' cucumber.

Let's not forget the 'Lemon' cucumbers.

A fun combo - 'Sungold' tomatoes and

And just as I wrap up my harvesting, the sun
comes out.. hello mr. bee!