Monday, January 31, 2011

200th Post!

Wow.. 200 posts.. where has the time gone? I'm sure I should say something profound and meaningful for my 200th post, but why start now?!? Instead, I'd like to celebrate with a few photos from the past year.. with a HUGE snowstorm on its way here (tomorrow night and 30+ cm of snow), I'd like to think happy garden thoughts!

As I went through my photo files.. I realized how many shots I have of me holding veggies in my hand - lemon cukes, carrots, tomatoes, etc.. pretty funny, but that's what happens when you take photos of veggies by yourself all the time! I think my 201st post will highlight some of my favourite photos of me holding vegetables! :) Until next time..

Happy Gardening!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fun New Seeds for 2011!

I think I could flip through seed catalogues all day.. every time I go to the mailbox, another one is there.. I'd love to order from them all, but my budget disagrees (darn budget!). Anyway, today, I just received the new 2011 seed listing from Renee's Garden ( I have long been a fan of this online seed company (no paper catalogue) as well as Renee Shepherd, the owner. Her company offers many gourmet veggies and herbs (heirloom and hybrid), as well as antique flowers like sweet peas, sunflowers and nasturtiums.

This year, there are some fun new offerings and here's a sneak peek of what I'm going to order (not that I need any more seed!):

Tricolor Carrots 'Circus Circus' - I love carrots and so do the kids. We are able to harvest them year round, thanks to the cold frames and tunnels, and what better way to encourage children to play in the garden with you than by planting a rainbow of carrots - orange, white and deep purple. Orange carrots are fine, but it's the dark purple and soft creamy white that really draws me in.. these should be fun to grow - and eat!

Leaf Lettuce 'Garden Ferns' - How fun is this? We love our lettuce, and I must admit that I'm partial to leaf lettuce varieties. This unusual heirloom bears very large rosettes that are packed full of ruffled, lacy leaves. According to Renee, the leaves are sweet and delicately flavoured.. I can't wait!

Baby Cabbage 'Pixie' - Cabbage is also a family favourite, but sometimes the plants take up too much space - especially in a backyard plot. Pixie is a good choice for urban or small spaces because the plants are compact, requiring less room than traditional varieties. The dense heads grow just 5 to 6 inches across - the ideal size for 2 people! These small-growing cabbages might even be ideal for the autumn cold frames.. the heads would hold in there for months.. hmmmm..

Signature Salads 'Wine Country Mesclun' - To be honest, it was the name that first lured me in.. Wine Country Mesclun.. doesn't that sound soooo gourmet? But I really don't need another lettuce this year - I've got too many packets in my seed boxes already.. Then, I read the listing of greens that are included in this mix - 8 coloured lettuces, arugula, spinach, 3 types of Asian greens and 2 chards - I was hooked.. Clear some garden space, I'm going to plant myself some Wine Country Mesclun!

White Corn 'Sugar Pearl' - Now that our four photo shoots for my upcoming book (The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, Dec 2011) are done, I told the kids they could have the run of the garden this summer.. What do they want to grow? Corn - and lot's of it! Thank you Renee for this gourmet treat. Sugar Pearl has meltingly tender kernels in a soft shade of cream. Top quality ears for a short season garden. Perfect!

Mounding Nasturtiums 'Buttercream' - A gorgeous heirloom nasturtium, Buttercream has semi-doubled soft creamy blooms that will attract both beneficial and pollinating insects. I love to plant a wide variety of nasturtiums and this will look lovely planted next to my deep burgundy 'black flowering' nasturtiums. Plus, the leaves, flowers and seeds of this favourite annual are edible!

Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Seed Starting in 12 Easy Steps!

Seed Starting in 12 Easy Steps

Spring is fast approaching (woo hoo!) and with it comes the season for seed starting. Growing your own plants from seed is easy, rewarding and economical. It is also a great way to take advantage of the diverse selection of seeds that are available through mail order catalogues (annapolis seeds, hope seeds, johnny's seeds, etc.) and in seed racks that are not often found as transplants at your local garden center.

Many gardeners seem to find seed starting intimidating.. fear not! Growing your own plants from seed is very simple. Here are 12 steps to successful seed starting:

1) Plant fresh seed at the right time – It is important to sow seed that is fresh to ensure a high germination rate. Before planting, organize your seed packets by the calendar, allowing adequate time for seedlings to reach a good size before transplanting outdoors. The majority of vegetables require between three to 12 weeks of growth indoors.

2) Start with a soil ideal for seeds – Most garden plants will be happiest if started in a soil-less mix composed of peat moss, perlite, vermiculite and nutrients, such as Pro-Mix. These potting mixes are lightweight with excellent drainage and water retention. Be sure to thoroughly moisten the media before filling your pots or cell packs to avoid dry spots and uneven wetting.

3) Plant seeds in clean containers – I like to plant my seeds in plastic cell packs, which are then placed in seed trays, as it allows for an efficient use of space. Yet, almost any type of container may be used to start seeds – clean yogurt containers, egg cartons, milk cartons, etc. If re-using old plastic or clay containers, clean them first with warm soapy water. Rinse well!

4) Provide ample light – Lack of adequate light is perhaps the biggest challenge when growing plants indoors. If you don’t have a sunny window, use full spectrum fluorescent lights. These fixtures should be turned on for about 16 hours a day and may be hooked up to an inexpensive timer. Continually adjust the lights so that they are only 2 to 3-inches above the foliage.

5) Plant seeds at the right depth – As a general rule, seeds should be planted at a depth of one to two times their diameter. Refer to the seed pack for specifications, but if the seeds are extremely tiny, don't bury them. Simply sprinkle them over the surface of the soil and mist with water to encourage good soil-seed contact. Finally, label the flat to avoid confusion. (Trust me, you will NOT remember which packs are which veggie!)

6) Humidity – Once planted, a plastic dome or a sheet of plastic wrap should be placed over the seed tray to prevent moisture from evaporating and to maintain the humidity at an acceptable level for germination. When the seedlings emerge, remove the cover to allow air to circulate.

7) Water from below – It is important to keep the soil thoroughly moist, but not soaking wet. If using cell packs and trays, irrigate from the bottom with room temperature water to avoid crushing the delicate seedlings.

8) Maintain a warm temperature – Most annual, perennial and vegetable seeds will germinate best at standard room temperature. There are some types of plants that prefer cooler or warmer temperatures, but such specific instructions should be listed on the seed packet.

9) Provide good air circulation – Adequate air circulation can be a problem inside a house closed up for the winter, but an oscillating fan set on low will provide plenty of air circulation and help prevent fungal problems.

10) Feed your plants – An application of water-soluble fertilizer at ½ the recommended rate every week will ensure sufficient nutrition.

11) Harden off properly – Prepare your seedlings for the real world (sun, wind, rain) about a week before transplanting by gradually acclimating them to outdoor conditions. Begin by putting them outside for a few hours on a warm day in a shady spot. Bring them indoors again at night. Over the next few days gradually give them a bit more sunlight and leave them outside longer. By the end of the week, they should be ready to be planted in the garden.

12) Congratulate yourself – It is always great to be able to say, ‘I grew it myself’ to friends and neighbours admiring your gorgeous garden!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Winter Weather and Solar Collectors

I was going to trek up to the frames and tunnels to take a peek this morning.. but it's just too cold! With the windchill, the temp is -29C and I'm feeling a bit wimpy.. I'll give the frames a break for a day or two until the weather turns around.

Besides, when it's so cold, it's best to keep the tops down tight. In late afternoon, when the sun begins to tumble towards the horizon, I even like to toss an old blanket or carpet on top of the cold frame sashes to insulate the plants from the bitterly cold night. During the day, when the sun is shining, I'll leave the structures uncovered so that they can take advantage of the available solar energy.. but the nighttime blanket will help retain that energy and protect the plants.

Another idea is to use a solar collector. A solar collector will gather solar energy when the sun is shining and release it at night. You could use black painted water jugs (filled with water) which are placed at the back corners of the inside of the frame. These will collect heat during the day and then slowly release it at night. Some gardeners also use small water-filled metal barrels (again, painted black), concrete blocks and so on. If you're handy, you could even install a lightbulb or string some Christmas lights inside your frames or mini hoop tunnels, turning them on at sundown. I haven't tried the light trick, but I've heard that it will raise the temp inside the structures by at least several degrees.. perhaps this would be a good idea for gardeners in zones 2 to 4 to protect their frames.

So, since, the cold has chased me inside, I'm sitting by the fireplace with a hot cup of tea and thinking about summer! What to grow this year.. so many choices.. so little space.. what are you going to plant this summer? I'm always on the hunt for something new.. and what are your favourite seed catalogues.. I'm hoping that my Annapolis Seeds, Hope Seeds and Kitchen Garden Seed catalogues will arrive this week (maybe today?!).. what a treat on a freezing day..

Until then.. here are a few summer shots to (hopefully) inspire and warm you up!

Happy Gardening!

Friday, January 21, 2011

GIANT leeks!

Ok.. I've always been pretty proud of my leeks, but I have nothing on the Welsh! Check out these amazing leeks at one of my favourite gardening blogs!

A Winter Garden Tour

Yesterday, I had the privilege of visiting two outstanding gardens in the Liverpool, Nova Scotia region (Donna and Faye - I bet you can guess whose gardens these are?!) I love visiting gardens - spring, summer, winter and autumn.. a well planted garden will offer interest throughout the year and these gardens were no exception! I thought I'd share a few of the photos with you for a bit of winter inspiration!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Seeds Organized!

Yah! Just finished organizing my seeds.. now, I know that I don't need any more soybeans (have 3 leftover packets of 'Envy' from last year - how did that happen?!).. Plus, I probably won't need more lettuce for at least a decade.. not that it'll stop me from ordering more (I think I have a slight seed addiction!).. but, I do need more pole beans (Hello, 'Emerite' and 'Fortex') and some tomatoes ('Cole' from Annapolis Seeds to start). I also need more kohlrabi - we just loved our purple and lime green varieties this past summer - so unique! And dinosaur kale (from Hope Seeds) - it's fantastic and still going strong in the hoop tunnels!

The green box in the photo is holding all my flower seed - I have plenty of sunflowers, as well as oodles of sweet peas - LOVE them! Plus, the poppies, cosmos, marigolds and nasturtiums that I've saved from my own garden. I also have all the herbs I need - basil (spicy globe and genovese), parsley (Italian and curly), coriander, dill and more.

It's nice to be organized so soon.. now, I know exactly what I need and what I don't need.. Tomorrow, the 'girls' come over to browse through the seed catalogues.. time to start dreaming of spring..

Happy Gardening!

The deep freeze!

It's now mid-late January and the winter 'deep-freeze' has officially set in! Baby, it's cold outside! But, I can't complain, as Carleen, my editor and Joe, my photographer were in town from last Thurs to Sunday for our final book photo shoot.. and we had spectacular weather! On Saturday, we were taking images for the cover and the garden was covered with a foot of snow, but the weather was sunny/cloudy and the temp was hovering around zero - gorgeous! When the sun came out, it was actually warm.. Joe, who is originally from Colorado, but in his own words, is currently "stuck in Alabama", actually took off his coat! Sunday also gave us great weather for the last day of the shoot and then the temperatures plunged yesterday! Brrrrr.. so glad we're not photographing the garden today! It's -19 C!

Yet, we took so many great images - the celeriac and carrots covered with leaves and a row cover.. all the cold frames stuffed with vibrant green (and red) veggies.. The kale and greens filled hoop tunnels, the hardy herbs and much more!

I just popped up to the garden to retrieve that celeriac we photographed on Sunday.. once we disturbed its blanket of leaves and snow cover, it started to freeze pretty fast.. So, I just re-dug it up and am going to add it to a big pot of leek soup today (FYI - the recipe is in a MUCH earlier post!) I still have about 6 more celeriac roots buried under the shredded leaves - they are so hardy! Next year, I think I'll plant at least 20. They're so useful - mashed with potatoes, added to soups, sauteed with butter (thanks to Barbara Pleasant - one of my favourite garden writers - for that tip!)

Each day, about 4 to 5 seed catalogues are arriving.. I've placed one order so far, but have plenty more I need (want!).. I'm so lucky to have a few neighbours who like to order with me, so we save on shipping and share packages of things like tomatoes (who needs 40 seeds of each variety?).. it's a great way to budget and still get to enjoy a wide variety of veggies.

My big discovery this year has been just how hardy red salad bowl lettuce is. It's an oakleaf red lettuce and is also extremely cold tolerant. It's always done well for me, but this is the first year that I've played with it in the structures. Not only did it survive in the unprotected garden until early Jan, it's still looking fantastic in the cold frames - not a hint of smut! Amazing.. and a great choice for a year-round veggie garden. Winter Density lettuce is also doing extremely well - it's a cross between a butterhead and a romaine - pretty and delicious.

Well, it's time to organize my seed boxes.. wish me luck!

Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Great Ideas from the National Garden Bureau!

The National Garden Bureau has just released their 5 New Year's Resolutions for 2011. I thought I would share it with you (with their permission!).. I particularly love their ideas about sharing the harvest (or seeds or divided perennials), as well as resolving to stretch the harvest season by growing cool season veggies.. if I may be so bold, I would encourage you to go even further and plant some cold season veggies for winter - carrots, parsnips, kale, arugula, mache, claytonia and more!

2011 New Year's Resolutions for Gardeners!

1) I will explore new horizons and try some of the many new varieties and new gardening techniques presented in all those beautifully informative catalogs, books and advertisements I'm seeing. Maybe I'll try my hand at some more sustainable methods of gardening? Or try some organic products? Or buy some earthworm-produced fertilizer?


2) I will "pay it forward" and share some of the weath/excess of my garden. Possibly a local food pantry can accept fresh produce? Or my neighbors would appreciate some divisions when I divide my perennials? Or I could share my best gardening tips with neighbors?


3) I will show that gardening is more than a hobby to enjoy for just a few months in the summer. I will try some cool season veggies, like super-food spinach, in the spring. I will plant some (or some more!) cool season annuals in the fall. Many products are available to assist in those efforts so why not?


4) I will make time to enjoy my garden and share it with friends and family. All this beauty I've created should be shared with others. There's little more relaxing than sitting in a beautiful garden sharing a nice cold herbal lemonade, made with my homegrown herbs.


5) I will support the current fight against childhood obesity through the glory of gardening. Maybe I'll volunteer to teach school children the basics of vegetable gardening? Maybe I'll share some of my extra seeds with my relative's children? Or, use the intriguing uniquely colored vegetables to pique the interest and tastebuds of novice young edible gardeners?

Happy Gardening!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A few wintery photos..

It's snowing! There is about 5 inches down already and maybe another inch or two before the storm is finished.. We've made snow angels, went sledding and drank hot chocolate with s'mores before the fireplace.. Another winter activity? Picking salad greens of course! I just picked a bowl of rustic arugula for supper and also noticed a patch of unprotected tatsoi peeking out through the snow and ice.. it's crazy how hardy it is! I should really toss a row cover over top, but I want to see how much it will take before it succumbs to the cold!

This cold frame photo is from a few days ago - just before the storm.. it never ceases to amaze me how hardy certain veggies are.. I am really excited about the 'Winter Density' lettuce (far left in the frame).. it's still looking fantastic - the hardiest lettuce that we've ever grown. It's also very tasty! I think next year, it will get a bigger piece of the cold frame all to itself!

Happy snowy gardening!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Flowers for 2011 and Upcoming Garden Event!

At this time of the year, I tend to have my nose stuck in seed catalogues pretty much 24/7.. I love to check out the new selections, as well as choose from past favourites. Our garden is 2000 sq feet, which might sounds like a lot, but that space is at a premium and we only have room for our top crops..

I also like to grow herbs and veggies in containers on our back deck, which is extremely sunny and very hot - a few container tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and some pots of herbs. When I'm cooking and realize that I need a few sprigs of thyme (which happens daily!), it's very handy to have a pot just outside the back door! Yet, we use our back deck quite a bit for meals and relaxing and I therefore like to add colour too! We have big containers of flowering annuals, which do double duty - they're pretty and also attract beneficial insects and pollinators to the property.

Over the past few years, my favourite container plant - by far - has been Supertunia 'Pretty Much Picasso' from Proven Winners (top photo).. the large flowers are an intense purple-pink edged in glowing lime green - stunning! They're also vigorous, densely flowered and perfect for pots, hanging baskets or window boxes.

Proven Winner also has some great new releases for 2011.. including Absolutely Amethyst™ Iberis (photo courtesy of Proven Winners). This hardy perennial (zone 4 to 9), also known as candytuft, has soft lavender flowers that carpet the ground in late spring. I love candytuft in a rock garden, but it also looks lovely in front of (or amongst!) spring flowering bulbs like tulips and daffodils or other early perennials. Don't forget to tuck a few plants into spring containers and then move them into the garden once the flowers have finished. They'll come back year after year after year..

Last summer, I was lucky enough to have a sneak peek of Superbells® Blackberry Punch (photo courtesy of Proven Winners), a new container plant for 2011. When I first saw the photo on the plant tag, I scoffed, knowing that more often than not, the actual blooms rarely resembled the plant tags.
Well, I'm happy to say that I was wrong! The velvety flowers really are that intensely purple-black with bright magenta edges. The anxiously awaited blooms opened in late spring and continued flowering until mid-October. I paired it with Lobularia Snow Princess for an eye-catching colour contrast.

I also loved GoldDust™ Mecardonia (photo from Proven Winners). I stuck three plants in my huge deck planter and they literally created a low growing mat of colour. The flowers are small, but because the plants produce so many blooms, the impact is huge!
The children loved to pick the tiny flowers and called them 'fairy flowers', making miniature bouquets with them.
Because my back deck is so hot, many annuals succumb by mid-summer, but GoldDust kept going until frost.

Finally, one last standout container plant for 2011 is Superbena® Royale Chambray (Photo from Proven Winners). I love verbena and this is verbena on steroids! I tucked two plants in my big planter among the GoldDust and the rich purple-blue flowers of the Superbena were a knockout against the gold of GoldDust! I love purple and yellow together anyway, so this is a combo I'll be repeating this coming summer.
The compact plants (about 8-inches) bloomed their heads off until frost and also took the heat well. Plus, they attracted butterflies! What more could you ask for?!

Ah.. summer isn't that far away.. just 166 days, as someone kindly pointed out to me today..

Thanks to Proven Winners for supplying the photos!

On a side note, there is an upcoming garden event in Toronto - ideal if you need a little early spring getaway! On Friday, April 15th, Proven Winners will be hosting a day of retreat-styled spring seminars. There will be a lunch, snacks, gift bags, raffles and more!

For more information, check out . The cost to attend the event is $80 per person, and registration is now available online or by calling the main office at 1-877-865-5818. Seating is limited, so those interested will be best served by reserving a space early.

Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Poppy Power!

As a teenager who was just discovering a love of gardening, I recall planting several packets of annual poppies in my grandmother's backyard. Her veggie patch was no longer used, so I sprinkled a mixture of poppies - red, mauve, pink, white, double, single flowering and more - in that abandoned plot. By early summer, it was ablaze in colour and we were all transfixed by the silky petals and quirky pods of the poppies.

Since then, I've always made room for poppies in my own gardens. From the huge fiery blossoms of the Oriental poppies to the sky-blue petals of Himalayan poppies, I've tried them all - with varying degrees of success (blue poppies, how they mock me!). The above photo of blue poppies is from my next-door neighbour's garden.. she has the perfect conditions - dabbled shade, peaty soil, moisture.. sigh..

Yet, the perennial flowers of Oriental poppies or the fussiness of blue poppies aren't quite right for a kitchen garden. Instead, within the confines of our edible paradise, I concentrate on annual and breadbox poppies. Of course, they have the side benefits of attracting beneficial and pollinating insects to my veggies, but it's the flowers that I crave.. smooth petals, feathered edges, doubled blooms, splotches.. all in a rainbow of colours and sizes. I even love the wayward hairy stems that twist and turn in every direction..

In those first few springs, I sprinkled the seed early - in late March - on the bare earth. Now, those poppies come back each year. After the flower show is over, I leave the pods to mature and keep spreading their seed. I do give them a hand though, by picking some of the dried, brittle pods and shaking the seed in other areas of the garden. I also save some of our breadbox poppy seed for muffins and loaves. Plus, there is always enough to share with other poppy lovers.. here are a few more from this past summer..

Happy Gardening!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Boom of 'Growing your Own'

Over the course of a year, I usually give about 20 to 25 lectures on a wide variety of gardening topics.. In the past, the vast majority - ok, all - of the lectures on my list dealt with the ornamental side of gardening - bulbs, perennials, ornamental grasses, etc. Veggie gardening has always been my passion, but it certainly wasn't a topic that garden clubs or trade shows wanted to hear me natter on about for 45 minutes.

Then, a few years ago - thanks to some unfortunate events including the economic crunch, alarming headlines about worldwide food shortages and questionable pesticides and the surge in interest for local organic food - I started to get some requests to speak about creating an edible paradise. For the past 3 years, my talks on veggie gardening have topped my list of lectures and at this point, 80% of my upcoming talks and seminars for the spring of 2011 deal exclusively with growing veggies!! Yah!

Of course, if you're reading this, you probably already have an interest in 'growing your own'. Maybe you're thinking of starting a new veggie patch (your first?) or expanding your existing plantings. What better New Year's resolution could one possibly have? You certainly can't get more local than your own backyard.. and organic? There's just no better way to grow veggies. Plus, if you have kids, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or even neighbourhood children, teaching them where their food comes from and how it grows is a gift that will stay with them for life.

The photos are from a few years ago when we doubled the size of our garden. Photo one shows the brand new garden in May and the second photo is just 6 weeks later in late June.. The posts that surround the garden hold the deer fencing.

Here are a few tips to get you started on your own veggie gardening adventure!
  • Think ahead - Good planning will enable you to think sensibly about how much ideal space you have and how much time you can devote to your garden. Ask questions - How many people will be eating from the garden? How much time can we devote to the garden? These questions will help you decide how big you should make the plot.
  • What do you want to grow? - Thinking about what you like to eat (or what you've always wanted to try - tatsoi, claytonia, dinosaur kale?) will help you decide what you'd like to grow. Tip - When we had a smaller space, we concentrated on expensive or hard-to-find things like arugula, leeks and heirloom tomatoes. Salad greens are quick and very easy to grow.. but organic greens are expensive to buy from the supermarket. This would be the best bang for your buck in a very small space!
  • The most important piece of advice that I can offer, especially to novice gardeners is to start small. A 4 by 8-foot or 10 by 18-foot garden is large enough for an initial planting. Once you’re spent a season tending and harvesting, you’ll know if you want a larger space.
  • Sketch it out - I do recommend sketching out a garden design before you ever put shovel to dirt. It allows you to play with the size and shape of the garden and helps show what you can realistically grow in that area. Rectangles and squares are the easiest bed shapes to work with, but I’ve even seen kitchen gardens arranged in spirals, circles and triangular beds. It’s your garden, so have fun with it! (Don't forget to add a chair, bench or stump so you have a spot to sit and enjoy the view - our veggie gardens are as pretty as they are practical!)
  • Rows versus Beds - Vegetables are usually grown in rows or beds. I prefer raised beds as it allows me to grow the plants closer together, which offers a larger harvest from a smaller space and helps shade out any weeds. Raised beds also warm up quicker in spring, are better drained and create a very attractive garden. Make your beds no larger than 4 to 5-feet across so that you can easily access the center from either side without actually walking on the garden soil. Tip - I edge my beds in a variety of plants to get the most out of my space. Spicy Globe Basil or baby lettuces make a pretty and flavourful edge, but dwarf flowers such as nasturtiums, marigolds, sweet alyssum or calendula can also be used. Plus, they increase diversity - an essential element in any garden!
Sample Design - A 10 by 18-foot space can be divided up into four main beds that measure 4 by 8-feet, with 2-foot wide paths. Dress it up by making a circle in the middle of the garden (stealing a bit of space from the inside corners of the beds) for a pole bean teepee or a large pot filled with colourful annual flowers (to attract beneficial and pollinating insects) or a large tomato plant. Include favourite veggies, herbs and flowers, and leave room for a cold frame for winter harvesting..

Happy New Year!