06 July 2015

Belated Canada Day blooms

I generally start the growing season with some sort of plan for the front garden bed that I can see from the kitchen window, but they rarely work as I expect them to. I grew cosmos this year, but only two of the plants survived and they are currently very tiny and spindly.  I also planted some miniature sunflowers, which have come up and should be flowering soon.

Star of the show at the moment though are these poppies, which I am fairly sure I did not sow. I don't know where they came from, but they're very pretty, and with the cilantro blooming at the same time, they are looking very patriotic. Shame they came out just after Canada Day!


A lot of this bed is given over to perennial edibles: sage, lovage, borage and horseradish, so the annuals have to be squeezed in between those. The bees and wasps love the borage and lovage: at one point this week I counted eight blue mud dauber wasps enjoying the lovage flowers. These wasps aren't at all aggressive and they eat spiders, so if you're not of fan of spiders, these are the good guys!



02 July 2015

A greenhouse perambulation

There are six raised beds in our greenhouse and at this time of year they're all in use for various crops. I love going in there and checking on progress, tidying things up and pulling weeds or overgrown lettuces. There are a lot of the latter: I let some of last year's lettuce go to seed and lots of it came up in the spring, in addition to what I sowed myself. Luckily the chickens adore it, overgrown or not, so it doesn't go to waste.


Bed 1 is the first one we built. This year it is full of a range of heirloom tomato plants, with some basil and the inevitable lettuce plant (I'll save the seeds from the two dark red ones you can see in the front here). Most other years I've had problems with blossom end rot on the big tomatoes, but so far so good this year. I put a good layer of chicken manure in this bed before planting it, so maybe that has helped.


Bed 2, the next one along, houses a huge sage bush and some more basil and lettuce (out of shot here). There are three okra plants in this bed - they are only just getting growing properly now, after a cool start to the season. They really need the protection of the greenhouse to put on growth, but they should take off in the next few weeks. There is already one pod forming on the biggest plant - although I managed to miss seeing the flower open! Behind them are a few late tomato plants (sown after I lost the outside ones to the late May frost). The white flower is a cilantro/coriander plant. They are great for attracting pollinators.


Bed 3 was my brassica nursery bed and I left a couple of kale plants in there for an earlier crop - they're producing lots of leaves already, while the ones I transplanted outside are about half this size. Behind the kale are lentils - my first year of successfully growing these (the rabbits got them last year when I sowed them outside!). In the rest of this bed I replaced the transplanted brassicas with beets and some carrots. They are being bothered by a nest of ants, so I've transplanted some sage into the bed, because ants aren't supposed to like it. Doesn't seem to be having any effect so far, though!


Bed 4 was my pea, parsnip and lettuce bed. The peas (Green Arrow and Little Marvel, with Oregon Sugar Snap at the back) are going over now, but I'll keep some to save as seed. I'm slowly pulling up the lettuce for the chickens and in the centre of this bed are my eggplants. Like the okra, they've been slowed up by the cool weather we've been having, but this week they've started to put on more growth and I'm hopeful they'll produce a good crop. It'll help when I pull out the peas which have been shading them, too. I've got three eggplant varieties this year: Applegreen, Korean Early Long and Rosa Bianca. They are all from Baker Creek, although they don't seem to do the Korean Early Long variety any more. These were from a 2012 seed packet, mind you!


Bed 5 is mainly peppers, with some carrots, beets, chard, later-sown tomatoes and already-going-to-seed spinach (I'll save that, too). This bed was also full of self-sown dill and I've been steadily pulling that out to avoid having the same problem next year! Most of the peppers are doing fine - I've put tomato cages round them to give them a bit of extra support before the fruit start coming. I find tomato cages good for peas and cucumbers, too. Note that I use stakes for the actual tomatoes!


A few of the peppers are very pale and a bit small - I'm not sure if this is a defect of the variety (I have failed to label them, as usual!) or a defect of their soil. Since they are all growing in the same place, it would be odd if that were the case, but I'll have to wait for the fruit to form to see if it's the variety that's the problem.


Bed 6 was only supposed to be melons and cucumbers, but the self-sown lettuce took over in here - even growing on the floor! There's still quite a lot of dill in this bed, too.


I haven't grown watermelons before and I didn't realise how huge the plants get. I pulled the cart up to support this one melon, but it's already grown through the end of the cart. I think it's going to take over the whole greenhouse!

16 June 2015

Family portrait


These chicks hatched on Friday and Saturday, but today was the first time I managed to get all five of them in shot (barely!). Their mama has been highly protective of them: I hear her making a warning call to the chicks every time I open the door at the back of the barn and up to now at least one or two of the chicks have always been hidden underneath her wings.They're getting a bit more adventurous now, though.

Three of the chicks were from Ameraucana eggs, and the other two were either Welsummer or Barnevelder eggs (I haven't been able to spot the difference between those). The father was most likely the younger Buff Orpington rooster who is currently Top Bird, but it's just possible that the browner chick had the Welsummer cockerel as its sire. That one hatched from a blue egg, not a brown one. Three of the chicks are almost identical at present, with a small brown mark on their heads and otherwise golden. The chick on the right of this shot is all golden and a bit paler than the others. It will be interesting to see what colours they turn into as they grow up.

13 June 2015

Extremes

May was very dry: our big water tanks in the barn never got properly full after the winter and by May 29th the well had run dry. Things were getting desparate! Luckily, the weather changed on May 30th and we got about 10mm/0.4 inches of rain that day. June has been providing some good downpours, too - so far this month the Trenton weather station is reporting 50mm/2 inches of rain, where in the whole of May it only received 30mm (just over an inch).

My Fling swag included a rain gauge - it recorded 0.8 inches (20mm) just yesterday.


The grass around the upper vegetable garden beds was looking very brown at the end of May and the beans I'd sown in the bed to the left of the centre of this shot had stubbornly refused to germinate, so I'd sown some more:


But yesterday it had turned a more respectable shade of green:


 and I've got beans popping up all over!



This morning I noticed some yellow patches in the grass. On closer inspection I could see hundreds of small yellow balls on the grass. I think this is the lawn rust fungus - not something I've ever seen before - these wet conditions must be just right for it.


And more unexpected fungi - these shaggy ink caps were growing out of the side of the chicken manure heap I excavated from the small barn in April.


Our barn water tanks are now full up - to the point of overflowing, in fact - and our basement cistern is also full. Such a relief!

09 June 2015

Garden Bloggers' Fling, 2015

I'd been aware of the annual Garden Bloggers' Fling since the first one, back in 2008 when it took place in Austin, Texas. I didn't think I'd ever get the chance to go to one, but when I realised that this year's was in Toronto, I jumped at the opportunity.

I wasn't disappointed. The event was superbly well organised and in total we visited 30 gardens and parks in the three days that I attended. Those doing the optional Niagara excursion on the fourth day would have seen even more. It was a real pleasure to spend time with so many passionate gardeners and designers. I feel like I have learnt a tremendous amount and have definitely made some new friends.

It's hard to know where to begin with describing the Fling: there was so much crammed in to the three days. I'll just pick out a few themes from the 563 (!) photos I took.

There was an interesting variation of scale, from the huge formal garden of the Aga Khan Museum


 to the intimate gardens of Cabbagetown, once home to Irish immigrants.


The Toronto skyline was ever-present throughout the Fling, either up close when we headed by ferry to the Toronto Island gardens on Friday,


or glimpsed from a distance as it was from the Aga Khan Museum


and from the Hugh Garner Co-op roof garden.


This coming weekend is the Peony Festival in Oshawa, and peonies were a noticeable feature in many of the gardens we visited. From the subtle and understated,


to the bold and beautiful,


and the downright outrageous.


There were a lot of Alliums around, too,




The importance of pollinators was another theme of the Fling: we learnt about the Fairmont Royal York's rooftop garden and bee hives on Friday and at the Toronto Botanical Garden on Sunday we were told to plant up our containers to 'attract guests'  like this honey bee who was busy visiting the salvia 'May Night' at the TBG.


We saw some interesting human-made objects, too, in the course of the Fling. I completely fell in love with the reclamation work going on at the former Don Valley Brick Works, where an industrial site has been turned into a fascinating space for people and wildlife. The 'Watershed Consciousness' artwork on the site is amazing.


I also (inevitably!) loved the way that archival images have been used to tell the story of the site's past.


You don't need a lot of space to make effective use of objects. I'm not generally a huge fan of garden art (or of city skylines, now I think about it) but I did rather like this little elephant in a Cabbagetown garden.


All in all, this has to be one of the most exhausting three days I've had. It was packed full of sensory, social and learning experiences; I will be thinking about this event for days and months to come. A hearty thanks to the Toronto Fling Committee for all their hard work!

25 May 2015

Killing frost

The good news is that the 20 greenhouse tomatoes are still going strong


It's a different story out in the barnyard, however. The weather took an unpleasant dip below freezing on Saturday May 23rd, leaving all the tomato plants looking like this at 7.00am:


And by the time the sun had warmed them up, they all looked like this:


This, dear reader, is a dying tomato. Today, all that's left of it is a sad little pile of brown.



I still had a few of my excess plants left, which I've been selling from my mini farm stand at the front of the house. In fact, a woman bought 30 dollars-worth on Saturday afternoon. She's a regular customer, so I couldn't say no, but my heart was breaking a little bit as I saw her leave with 70% of my remaining plants. This left me with just eight to replace the 40-odd I had lost.

I have sown some more, in a spirit of optimism, and have also pinched out side-shoots of some of the greenhouse plants, in the hope that they will root and be useful to fill some of the gaps.


I also discovered a couple of volunteer tomato seedlings growing in the pepper bed, so I have recruited them to the cause as well.


Then I remembered noticing some other stray tomatoes in the front garden: they must have grown from the worm compost I spread there in the spring. Sure enough, there was a respectable crop of baby tomato plants growing in among the flowers there. I dug them up and potted them into a seed tray. At this rate I will soon be over-run with tomato plants again. ;-)


Of course I have no idea what variety these little plants are, but they will all be from last year's fruit, so should all be heirloom types. I can't think of a better argument for growing heirloom plants and for home composting than this!

The frost was forecast - in a rather last-minute way - but the night before was very windy, so putting any sort of protection in place wasn't easy. I managed to cover up the corn and squash plants with plastic, but even with that layer, most of those died, too. They were only sown a week or two ago, so won't be as difficult to replace as the tomato plants.

The brassica plants survived the frost, but even they have suffered some damage - I think the temperature was more like -2°C/28°F than the 0°C/32°F that was (eventually) forecast. Ah well, lesson learned: wait until June to be safe.

16 May 2015

Garden in!

The Victoria Day weekend is the traditional one for putting tender plants in the garden, but I was slightly nervous of doing so when I saw that the temperature was going to drop to 4°C/39°F in the coming week. I went ahead anyway, and the next time I looked at the weather forecast it had changed to 7°C/45°F - so with any luck all will be well.

It's been a madly busy week in the lower vegetable garden, which has only just dried out and warmed up after the cold Spring. There has been a lot of weeding and manuring leading up to the last two days when I've been putting in the tomato, corn, squash and brassica seedlings which had been growing on in the greenhouse. Last year I lost most of the cabbages to rabbits. so this year I'm experimenting with scattering some ground-up dried cayenne peppers around them as a deterrent. 

The tomatoes are all in the ground and surrounded by a mulch of grass-cuttings.


In the much drier upper vegetable garden I'm experimenting with some grain crops this year: barley, oats and wheat. The idea is to become a bit more self-sufficient in grain for the chickens in the future, but I imagine that this year we'll probably just keep any grain we gather as seed for next year.