Tuesday, 10 April 2018

April Garden Ramblings

The cold and damp spring has kind of dampened this ole gardener's spirit.

Time to haul your citrus trees out from the greenhouse 

However, while I am less than impressed with Mother Nature, the cool weather veggies love these days of rain mixed with sunshine, so I keep slowly plugging along, prepping and planting!

Starting to think that we may have a super short spring and then go right into summer with a bang.... and cool weather crops do not like summer heat!

So plant them now, enjoy them fresh tasting, crisp and yummy, straight from the garden.          

Early spring veggies!

So, what to do in the garden this month? 

Pull out winter veggies going to seed. Harvest any leeks or winter broccoli that did not get eaten by the bunnies during the long, snowy winter.

Weed and top dress beds with manure or compost if this was not done in the fall. Add organic nutrients like blood meal, bone meal, kelp or seaweed, if needed, to feed your soil. Scratch these goodies lightly into the surface so that you are ready to plant right away.

Not sure what to add? Do a quick soil test to give you a basic idea of how your soil is for nutrients and pH.

Watch the garlic grow.... If it needs an extra boost of nutrients, side dress with a bit of manure or compost, plus blood meal for good strong tops and bone meal for bigger bulbs.

Plant a row or two of strawberries! June-bearing and Ever-bearing for berries from spring through fall.

This is a great time to plant new fruit trees of all sorts and berry shrubs as they require a whole lot less watering and tlc than if planted later in the season.

Use companion plants everywhere

With those beds all ready to go, what to plant in them now? All the yummy stuff that loves this cool, wet weather!

Plant in the garden now, from seed ....
Swiss chard

Plant now from transplants...
 Broccoli/broccolini/broccoli raab
Swiss Chard

Sow Zinnias from seed for a fabulous selection of colours!  

Companion plants... 
 Sweet alyssum
Nasturtiums from seed
Zinnias (toss in seeds closer to the end of the month... or from starter plants in May.)
Sweet Peas

The ones above are some of the very best companion plants for your veggie garden, but there are a great many flowers that can be planted or sown this month. The more diversity you have in the garden, the happier your plants and pollinators will be.

Herbs to plant now... 
Dill (seed or starter)
Cilantro (seed or starter)

Ama Rosa, Banana, and Purple Russian potatoes. So pretty! 

About potatoes. I usually plant during the first or second weekend of April. This year, with the gardens so wet and the soil still so cool, I am holding off for another week or two. They are currently sitting on the window sill chitting (sprouting). We can plant spuds anytime between now and mid-June, so no real hurry.

For how I plant potatoes in raised beds, see HERE! If you want to read even more about potatoes, I have blogged about them often over the years. Put the word 'potato' in the Search Bar and several great posts will pop up.

What starters NOT to buy yet?
Tomatoes! Plus peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, or squash. Is simply too early and too cold.... especially this year! These are all hot-weather (summer) crops.  

I see that some box stores and even some nurseries (for shame!) are selling tomato seedlings already. Please do not buy them! Tomatoes are heat lovers and cannot go out into the garden till the night air temps are +10°C (sometime in May or even June). 

Just waiting for a bit more sunshine so these tulips start to show off

What else to do? 

Transplant your tomato seedlings, and start  feeding all your starts every week or two with a weak organic tomato food or alfalfa tea. Find the tea recipes HERE!

Never fertilise on dry soil, water your plants first and then feed to prevent burning the roots.

No colour yet, but soon, very soon!  

Feed your over-wintered geraniums (pelargoniums), mini roses, and fuchsias bi-weekly.

Pot up your dahlias, canna lilies, calla lilies, and other bulbs for a head start. Transfer to the garden in a few weeks time.

This fabulous picture from Pinterest, no credits provided.

Plant some pots of pretty colour for spring and your Easter table.  

Happy Gardening! 

(Originally posted in April of 2017 but the weather is the same this year)

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Spring Sowing.... Seeds, Starter Plants, and Succession Sowing

Confused about whether to grow from seed or starter plants? Which way is the best way to go? Truth is, a lot of our cool season crops can be started either way... or both.

As we are all getting ready to plant out our spring crops, you may be wondering which route to take.

If you did not top dress with manure in the fall, you can do so now.  All of these veggies will thrive in soil that is rich, full of organic matter (manure/compost), most prefer full sun, with once a week watering. 

The following can all be planted right now, late March or early April, about 3 weeks before the last frost date, from either seed or seedling. They all actually like rain and cool soil temps.

You will notice that carrots, parsnips, beets and beans are not on the list, is a bit early for them yet, hold off for a few more weeks. They will not do well, will just rot in the ground if planted into this cool soil.   

Tip #1. The best seedlings are the ones that are still young, about 3 or 4 inches tall and kinda flopsy. If they are root bound in the cell packs, do not buy them, they will not thrive and may just bolt right away without giving you any crops.  Plant all seedlings just slightly deeper than they were in the cell packs. 

Tip #2. I plant both seeds and starter plants now, at the same time. The seeded plants will mature about 2 weeks later than the seedlings. Easy peasy succession sowing without having to do a thing extra. No more trying to remember to go back to toss in more seeds. This gives me ample cool season veggies to harvest before they bolt and get yanked out of the garden, to make room for my warm weather goodies.

Tip #3. Seedlings will die if they dry out during the germination process. Keep the soil moist until you see growth popping through the soil. You need a spray wand or watering can for this surface watering. After germination, give them a thorough deep soak once a week, use drip tubes or weeping hoses for this, a wand will not water deeply enough to give you sturdy, thriving veggies.

Broccoli/broccolini - Cut the main head of broccoli when of good size and it will develop many smaller side shoots, thus lengthening your harvest.
Broccolini types will produce lots of smaller shoots with no primary head. I love this one.
Seed - Plant a couple of seeds every 6" to 12"  at about 1/2" deep. They will germinate quickly, in just 2 or 3 days. Pinch out the main stem of the broccolini/broccoli raab/rapini types about a month after sowing to promote bushiness and many more shoots.
Starter - Plant 12" apart and just slightly deeper than they were in the container.

Cauliflower - Does best from starter plant.
Starter - Plant into rich, well draining soil with 6 to 8 hours of sunlight. Needs regular moisture to thrive and produce well. Plant 12" to 18" apart in rich soil.
Cauliflower needs to be blanched or the curds will turn yellow and bitter. When the curds are still small, fold or tie the leaves over the curds, an elastic band works great for this. Not too tight as you still want the head of curds to grow.  
Seeds - pre-start in an unheated greenhouse or on windowsill.

Spinach - Easier to start from seed as does not like it's roots disturbed, but if you prefer starter plants, make sure to buy young seedlings that are not root bound in the cell packs.
Seed - Plant seeds 1/2" deep into a sunny or part shady bed, 1 inch apart or scatter sow in broad rows(like feeding chickens). Thin as they grow by harvesting every second plant.
Starter - Plant 8" to 12" apart.

Lettuce - Super easy to start by direct sowing seeds or from starter plants. Make sure you have well draining soil and a sunny to part shady area. I always grow both.
Seeds -  Sow 1/4" deep in rows or broadcast sown and thin out as they sprout. I like to let them get big enough to use as baby greens and pull out every second plant to 'thin' them out.
Leaf lettuce - 2"to 4" apart. Can be sown every 2 weeks for a continuous supply of fresh greens.
Loose head lettuce - 4" to 8" apart
Iceberg types/firm lettuce heads - 12" to 16" apart.

Greens like mustard, kale, arugula, mache and mesclun mixes - Plant as for the lettuce in well-draining soil, 1/4" deep into a sunny or part shady bed. Can be sown every 2 weeks for succession crops of continuous fresh greens.
Seeds - Scatter sow into broad rows or plant 2" apart in rows, if you prefer.
These are usually considered cut and come again types, meaning that you harvest the outer leaves but leave the centre part to grow. Before you know it, you will soon be harvesting greens again.
Starter - Plant 6" to 12" apart, read the label as spacing will differ between the different types of greens.

Radishes - Grow and mature quickly from seed. Sow 1/2' deep and 2" apart, tamp down. Keep moist till germination, harvest in  4 weeks time.
Cabbage-  Plant in rich, well-amended soil, is a heavy feeder.
Seed - 1/2" deep into well draining soil. Plant a couple of seeds every 8" to 12". Thin out to 12" to 18" apart as they grow.
These seedlings can easily be moved into a new location instead of being tossed out, they transplant well. Read the package for size at maturity as the size of heads tends to vary widely.
Starter - Plant 12" to 18" apart. The closer they are together the smaller the heads will be. Read the mature size on the label. Some varieties (like Red Rock) get huge!

Swiss Chard - Grow in well draining, rich, soil. Can be grown all spring and summer, does not bolt in the heat like lettuce and most other greens do.
Seeds - Plant 1/2" deep, 1" to 2" apart and thin to 4" to 6" apart as they grow.
Starter - Plant 4" to 8" apart.

Kohlrabi - Grow in well draining soil, is easy to grow. Kohlrabi sit on top of the soil, unlike the turnip which is mostly buried. Sweeter than the turnip, crunchy and mild.
Seed - Easy to start from seed. Plant 1/4" deep, an inch or two apart. Thin to 5 inches apart.
Starter- Plant in rows about 5" apart.  

Turnips - Grown from seeds, very undemanding to grow. Well-draining, loose soil, water once a week. Sow 1/4" deep, 1" to 2' apart.
Is often grown for both the greens and the roots. You can start to harvest the greens when young and tender, in just 3 or 4 weeks time and thin to 4" apart. Turnips are ready 5 or 6 weeks from sowing.

Peas - Super easy to grow from seed. Sugar peas, shelling peas, and snow peas are all grown the same way. (This also applies to the flowers, to Sweet Peas). Now is the time, seed or starters.
Seed - Soak seeds for 24 hours before planting to speed up germination. Sow on both side of the trellis, 2 inches apart, 1 inch deep. Keep soil moist till germination. Pinch out the tops of the pea shoots when about 4" to 6" tall, this will promote branching and thereby more peas.
Starter - Plant 2" to 3" apart. Soak well once a week.

Onions - Grow from seeds, sets, or starter plants. I am not a fan of sets, they rarely bulb up as well as seeds or seedlings. For best results, go with seeds or seedlings.
Seed - Sow 1/2" deep and about 4" apart. When the tops are about 3" tall, trim them to 1" tall to help form bigger bulbs.
Seedling - Plant 4" to 6" apart in a shallow trench, just the white part gets buried. Snip the tops of the seedling to 1" tall to help them root in faster and make bigger bulbs.
For how to plant and grow, See the link HERE!
Sets- Plant 2" deep and 4" to 6" apart.  

Both Dill and Cilantro can be sown now from seed or starter plants. I do both so that I have fresh herbs all season long.

Dill - I like to plant at least one dill plant to start with, as early as I can, for my early spuds, fish dishes, and salads, but I also toss in a few seeds here and there, throughout the spring season, for a constant supply all summer. These early sown dills will be finished well before pickling season, so start a few more seeds or plants in late spring to put up your cukes.

Cilantro will bolt and go to seed as soon as the heat sets in, so to enjoy it for as long as possible, go with both seeds and starter plants now. Sow fresh seeds every 2 weeks, keep well watered to slow down the bolting, and harvest regularly. Leave in one or two plants for the summer, as the flowers are a great food source for our pollinators and beneficial insects.

Basil is easiest grown from starter plants, as is parsley. Most perennial herbs, like oregano, rosemary, thyme, etc... are easiest to grow from starters as they take so long to germinate and size up.

Happy sowing and growing! 

Monday, 5 March 2018

March Garden Ramblings

Welcoming the month of March! Bringing us spring flowers, longer days, and (with any luck) warmer, drier weather.

February was a tough month here on the west coast, lots of cold snaps and snow falls... all the way to the very bitter end.  Then along comes March... in like a lovely lamb, with sunshine and much needed Vitamin D.

Of course, if you believe the nursery rhymes, in like lamb means we may be having some lion like weather by the end of the month ; )

What are we doing in the yard and garden this month?

Start with garden bed clean up, amending soil, fixing, and prepping for spring/summer planting.

Prune the last of your fruit trees now. Most of us started this task in mid February and then were rudely interrupted by Mother Nature.

When pruning, never remove more than 1/3 of the tree per year, no matter how over-grown or out of hand it may be. Pruning too much at one time will stress out the tree and may cause suckering and water sprouts.

Cut back your roses by 1/3 to 1/2 in height. Remove and dead, broken, or criss-crossing branches now, too. This pruning will help them flush out beautifully this spring. 

Spray roses and fruit trees with the horticultural oil and lime sulphur mix if they have not yet started to leaf out.

Rake up the soggy messes last year's perennials left as they died down to the ground, toss into the compost.

Top dress with a couple of inches of manure or compost around your fruiting trees and shrubs, your perennials, ornamental trees, and roses, too. An organic feed that is super easy to do and slowly works itself down to the roost system with the help of the spring rains and earthworms.

Do a soil test and amend your soil accordingly with organic materials.

Top dress your beds. If you did not add organic material to your garden in fall, or if you feel like you need more nitrogen and organics, this is a good time to add it to your beds. Rake out 0.5 to 3 inches of compost or manure over the soil now, no need to feed your plants this summer.

If you are also adding blood meal, bone meal, alfalfa meal, kelp meal, etc...to the beds, mix it in a wheelbarrow or bucket with a bag or two of manure, rake that over your soil.

Do not dig in or you will bring weed seeds to the surface. Just top dress and let the elements and the beneficial organisms in the soil do all the work for you.  

When your soil is dry enough to be worked with, start seeding/transplanting cool weather crops. Never muck about in wet soil as that causes compaction.

This month you can plant these hardy cool weather plants ...
- Oriental greens
- All sorts of hardy greens, like mustards, arugula, spinach, radicchio, collards, kale
- Radishes
- Peas, of course!

Direct sow these flowers right into the beds now...  sweet peas, larkspur, poppies, calendula, ammi (Bishop's Lace), cosmos, lupins, rudbeckia, amaranths (Love Lies Bleeding), Bells of Ireland., chocolate daisies, sweet alyssum, cosmos.

Plant some lovely asparagus roots. They can be planted as soon as ground can be worked. Do not start from seed, unless you have the patience of a saint. It takes 5 years to go from seed to harvest.

The how-to instructions to grow a great and successful asparagus patch can be found HERE!

Spring is literally just around the corner!
We made it!  

Happy gardening! 

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

February Ramblings - Garden and Greenhouse

*This post was first published in February of 2016. 

I am so excited! It's the month of February already and spring is oh so close!

However, the weather lately has been less than spectacular for us gardeners, with January being very, very wet! Hoping for drier days this month!  

So then, what all is going on for us gardeners in February? A wee bit more than last month, but still not a whole bunch. If you did nothing gardening related this month, I bet no one would even notice ; )

First of all... in the yard and garden beds. What to do out there? 

- Prune your fruit trees and spray with dormant oil/lime sulpher to kill any over-wintering pests or fungal issues. Only spray if you had pests or fungal probs like scab, etc.. last year. Be sure to prune on a warm and sunny day (no wet weather) to avoid spreading or starting fungal/disease problems.

- While you are it, prune and spray your roses, too. This will help to reduce black spot in summer!

- Deadhead your pansies and violas, pinching them back if they are leggy. Spring bulbs are just beginning to poke their heads through the ground, so pinching back your pansies now will have them blooming at the same time as those bulbs.

- Want to get an early start on the season? Cover any garden beds that you want to plant up with plastic or landscape fabric to warm the soil. Building new raised beds or starting a lasagna bed? This is the time to do it! Get ready now so that when spring rolls around, you are good to go! 

- Did you sow peas or sweet peas in fall last year? If so, when they start to come up, cover with frost blankets or tree branches, etc.. to protect the tender, fresh, new, green growth from the birds and rabbits. They really, really enjoy the taste of those tasty new seedlings, trust me ;)

Hairy Bittercress seedlings popping up everywhere in my garlic bed. 

Jumping Jesus aka Hairy Bittercress. Ugh!

- Weed your pathways and beds now before the weeds get out of hand, especially that awful seed snapping one, the Hairy Bittercress! This stuff is dreadful and once you have it, you gotta stay on top of it or it soon takes over everything. How? It has exploding seeds! The plant looks harmless enough, small little rounded leaves, a slender stalk of teeny tiny little white flowers... and then POP! The seeds literally snap off the plant, scattering hundreds of weed seeds everywhere.

- Tuck a few lovely sprouting spring bulbs into your winter planters. I usually plant pot and all in to the planter, so is easy to switch them out as often as I like.

What to do indoors...  

- Seed inventory. Check out what seeds you have, make a list of what you need and want. Take that list with you when you shop! Is very easy to get carried away at the Seedy Saturdays ; )

- Put in any of your seed and bulb orders on line. Time to think dahlias, lilies, gladioli, canna and calla lilies, pineapples lilies, and more...

 Journal entry by catherinestudio.blogspot.com
How I wish that I could paint! 

- While out running errands last week, I saw the most gorgeous journals! Absolutely stunning and very inspirational. So nice that I really, really wanted to pick one up... despite that fact that I already have a journal on the go for the year... nearly half full ; )

- I personally have been keeping a garden journal for many years, a brand new book each year, with my thoughts and plans for both gardens and greenhouse. My drawings, however, are not nearly as pretty as the painting above... though this does inspire me to add more drawings, more colour and even some texture... it also makes me wish that I were artsier! 

- Now is a terrific time to pick up a new journal for the gardening season ahead. Jot down all your great ideas, recipes, favourite tomatoes to check out this year, new veggies to trial ... More thoughts on journaling in the next blog post.  

The big, funny looking plant in front is an over-wintered artichoke! 

What to do in the greenhouse...

Clean up the greenhouse
- Dump last year's flower pots into the compost, spray surfaces with a 10% bleach solution to kill bacteria and fungal spores, wash and sterilise pots and seed trays to get ready for the season ahead, clean up your tools, oil or replace parts, as needed.

- Start fertilising your over-wintered plants in the greenhouse and indoor plants, as well.

To everything there is a season! Turn, turn, turn.
- Please, please do not start your seeds too early. Lanky and tall plants become bug magnets, they draw the pests like crazy. They will also not produce as well, and may well snap from the weight of the fruits. You want stocky, sturdy plants, dark green in colour.

- Even if you plan to grow them in the greenhouse all summer, rather than out in the garden, our days are simply not long enough or warm enough yet, so it will cost you extra in both lighting and heating to keep them from being lanky. Hardly worth it to spend that extra money for a few weeks lead time.
 Take cuttings ...
Remove all but the top couple of leaves and plant deep into the pot, right up to those top leaves. 
- Take cuttings of pelargoniums, fuchsias, rosemary, bay, etc..

Artichokes can be started from seed now
They often come back year after year, with no additional care required!

So ...  What seeds do you start indoors this month?

If you are not sure whether you should be starting your seeds yet, check the back of the package. If it says to start the seeds 8 to 12 weeks before the last frost date, go for it! Anything less, you need to wait a few more weeks yet.  If it says 8 weeks, wait till the end of the month to start.

- lettuce, greens, mustards
- Oriental greens like Boy Choi
- peas
- alliums - leeks and onions
- artichokes

- most all of the hardy, perennial ones ... oregano, parsley, mint, thyme, marjoram, sage.
- start rosemary and tarragon from cuttings
- sweet peas
- snapdragons
- pansies and violas
- petunias
- many, many more

In actuality, the flowers that you can start now, from seed, are much too numerous to mention. Check the back of your packages for start dates. If it says to start them 8 to 12 weeks before the last frost date, you are good to go.

In the garden
- broad/fava beans (need no cover, pop them in the ground now)
- radishes, spinach, winter lettuces, Oriental greens (start under cover, either low frames or row covers)

Happy Gardening!

Monday, 12 February 2018

February Greenhouse Ramblings

While it is still a titch early to be doing much out in the yard, in the greenhouse everything is slowly starting to come alive. Days are longer, warmer, and brighter, encouraging plants to put on new growth.

The February to-do list is not yet very long, mainly preparation for the busy times ahead. Just enough to do to keep your green thumb from itching.

Clean up...
Never the most interesting nor exciting part of growing, a clean greenhouse is a necessity for a healthy start to the new growing season. Best to remove all pests and diseases before you fill the greenhouse with tender new seedlings.

If you did not do it in the fall, maybe you were too pooped out, or maybe you were stuffing it full of plants to over winter, this month is a great time to get everything spic and span. Wash the walls inside and out to allow in more sunshine, clean up tracks, corners, anywhere bugs may be hiding.

Start with clean, sterile plant pots and equipment. Wash with soapy water and rinse in a 10% bleach solution. Inventory your stash to make sure you have what you need when the seeds and plants start rolling in.

Wash tables, racks, and shelves, as well as, floors.

Check for bugs, aphids will begin to show up any time now. Yellow sticky strips are very helpful, they monitor pest levels and help you see exactly what pests you are dealing with; aphids, white flies, and fungus gnats are the most common greenhouse pests.

If you find evidence of pests, spray down all plants to a drip with Safer's Soap or Trounce. Be sure to get the under sides of leaves and stems, too. Spray once a week, for three weeks in a row, to catch them all as they mature from egg or larva to flying pest.

Geraniums have all been pinched back hard 

Plant Care... 
Remove all spent blossoms, yellowing leaves, and any plant debris on top of the soil or they will start to grow fuzzy with mould.

Pinch back/cut back your hardy annuals. Take the geraniums down really low now for bushy plants with lots of blooms in summer. Cut back begonias, fuchsias, geraniums, lantana, scented-geraniums, etc.. Give topiaries a good haircut now, too. Remove and dead branches from lantana, citrus trees, roses.... Cut back mini roses by a third.

If you did not re-pot in the fall, give them fresh new potting soil now. If they are in super large pots, like some roses, hibiscus standards, citrus trees, etc... they will not need to be repotted annually, just top dress with manure or compost. 

All of these plants are going to slowly come back to life this month, putting on new leaves and branches. Begin watering more often now, still keeping them on the dry side, but as the days get brighter and longer, the plants will gradually use more water.

More growth and foliage means it is time to start feeding them with a mild fertiliser solution. I use Reindeer Liquid Seaweed to both water in foliar feed, but you can use any fertiliser that you have on hand. Dilute chemical fertilisers to half strength and water in. Foliar feed only if using an organic product, like manure tea, seaweed, fish fert, or kelp. Spray all over the foliage every 2 weeks. 

Do not use a high nitrogen fertiliser at this time, or you will have too much soft growth before they go outside. All those soft new shoots bring on more pests and you will soon have a huge battle on your hands. Nitrogen is the first number on the fertiliser bottle, stick to an all purpose one (like a 10-10-10) at this time.

Seed Starting...
It is truly too early to be starting most anything until March or April. Our days are still so short, gloomy and grey, so starting plants now just makes for stretched-out, unhappy plants well before they can actually go outside. 

To know when to start your seeds, you first need to know when the last frost date is in your region. Here in the Nanaimo area is April 28th. Some of the newer sources will say April 10th, but I have found our past several springs to be really cold and always use the later date.

On the back of each seed package, they give you all sorts of seeding information ... how deep to sow, spacing, and when to sow. These peppers are to be started 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost, so count back from your last frost date to know when to get started. Going from our date of April 28th, we need to sow between mid February and early March.

What veggies to start indoors in February... the list is still quite small, most are started in March.
- Arugula, Mustards, Greens, Kale, Spinach, Lettuces
- Broad Beans
- Brassica family, towards end of the month
- Leeks, Onions, Chives
- Peas/Sweet Peas
- Peppers, mostly the hots. Sweets can easily be left for a few more weeks yet.

Flowers to start now... many can be started indoors now or the seeds simply tossed into the garden beds.
Listed  here are a few of the common ones to start now, the companion flowers for your organic veggie beds..  
- Ammi (looks like Queen Anne's Lace)
- Alyssum
- Calendula
- Cosmos
- Marigolds
- Snapdragons

Citrus fruits are in their prime at this time of year, flowering and fruiting like mad. 

Feed your lemons and other citrus fruit trees at this time. I use an organic granular kind that is scattered on top of the soil every 6 to 8 weeks, starting in February and finishing in October. 

Check for scale on the under side of the leaves, and check blossoms for aphids. 

 Baby olives on my Spanish Olive tree

Happy greenhouse-ing! 

April Garden Ramblings

The cold and damp spring has kind of dampened this ole gardener's spirit. Time to haul your citrus trees out from the greenhouse  ...