Saturday, 30 March 2013

Greenhouse Ramblings in March

Lots going on in the greenhouse...

This year, I was asked if I would carry seeds or seed potatoes, etc... at my little greenhouse. Hmm, the more I thought about the idea, the more I liked it!

If I am promoting growing your own groceries, your own kitchen garden, then I needed to be able to provide more of the products grown in a typical kitchen garden, things like small fruits (blueberries, currants, grapes, etc..) seed potatoes, of course! and seeds for all the things best planted directly into the soil ...

I checked out several seed companies as I wanted to do something different than the norm. Why carry the same thing as everyone else? I wanted something new, something not carried at your regular hardware stores and large garden centres.

Therefore, after checking out several companies that only sell to small mom and pop or IOG's (Independently Owned Garden Centres), decided to go with Renee's Garden Seeds.
I love Renee's. Have personally been shopping with them for a long time and like that no one else in town really carries them.
Renee's has taken the Safe Seed Pledge so is not affiliated with any companies that support GMO's, etc... they test and trial everything they sell, not just one season, but many seasons. They also trial them in various areas of North America, including here on the west coast of Canada.

I am also carrying seed potatoes for the first time ever...

Early seed potato varieties - These spuds bulk up quickly which makes them great for early picking as baby potatoes. They can also be left in longer (as mid-season potatoes) to get a good skin on them so that they will store well, and are a medium-large size.

-Red Sangre's ... smooth red skin and very white flesh. Gorgeous. Is a great boiler and a baker.
-Carlita's are organically grown, with yellow skin and yummy yellow flesh. Drought resistant. Is also a yummy boiler and a baker.
-Gold Rush is a Yukon Gold type, organically grown seed potato. Is a russet with lovely very white flesh. Fabulous baked, boiled or fried.

Mid-Season seed potatoes

-Buttery flavoured German Butterball is extremely popular with golden flesh and skin. Makes super hash browns, and is super steamed or baked. Stores well, too.
-all the Early spuds listed above also belong in this grouping, if you do not want to eat them as newbies.

Late season seed potatoes

-Banana's (the family fave!) are yummy, pale skinned fingerlings with light yellow flesh. They are delicious, waxy and hold together well, so are perfect for salads! We roast, grill or boil them... makes a great 'squished' spud ;)  
-Red French Fingerlings, also waxy and one of the most popular fingerling varieties. Buttery flavour makes them amazing for roasting or grilling, hold together well so great for soups and stews.
-Orchestra is an organically grown seed potato with pale skin and light yellow flesh. It has a creamy buttery flavour, is waxy so makes a super potato salad. Is also drought tolerant and does well in adverse conditions.
-Super tasty Russian Blue's. These guys have dark blue skin and light blue flesh.. and taste like a normal potato! Is drought tolerant, great baked, mashed, steamed, boiled, or made into french fries or chips.

- I have done up some mixed variety packages, so folks with smaller gardens can trial the various types without having to buy over a pound of each potato type!

I love to grow potatoes so am happy to be carrying them at the shop this year.
Memories - We started growing our own potatoes when we moved into our second potager, while the kidlets were pretty little, about 6 and 8 years of age.
In spring, we would head off to the local nursery to choose a wee variety of  spuds. This nursery, no longer in operation, was an old family farm that ran as an apple u-pick in fall, selling fruiting trees and shrubs in spring and summer.
The seed potatoes were piled high in big bushel baskets, laid out in tidy rows, inside an old, musty, dusty, earthy smelling barn. This barn was not used to house animals but was instead filled to the brim with heaps and mounds of soil everywhere. Sticking out of the sides and tops were bare root trees and shrubs, of all ages and sizes, nicely heeled into the mounds. What an exciting place to go!
As we only had a small urban plot with four raised beds for veggies in the back corner, we would delegate one of the 4x8 beds to grow our potatoes in. The kids and I would pick out two or three potatoes of three or four varieties to grow each year. They would be placed in brown paper bags, weighed on the scale to be paid for by the pound, and off we would go with our pick of colours and shapes. We tried all kinds of spuds, never knowing which one we would be lifting for supper that day. The obvious favourite for the kids was the Russian Blue, while hubby, still to this day, adores the bananas.

On to the grower news... and in the greenhouse this month, this is what has gone on....

All roses, perennials and herbs have moved out to the hoop house to make room for tomatoes!
The roses are coming along very nicely and could potentially be ready to go ...  if you are able to harden them off yourself, in and out for several days. Also, knowing that if you plant them before the end of the month, you will likely get frost bite on some of the tender new foliage.
Otherwise, leave them with me to enjoy the hoop house, let me harden them off, water and feed them, get them to the bud and bloom stage, and then you pick them up at the end of April, when you no longer have to worry about them.

Oops, yes, that is a dog toy in the middle of the nursery...

Many plants from the hoop house were moved outdoors.

Tables were cleared and cleaned, in preparation for the tomatoes....

Yep, here we go! Lovely sight!
Over 50 varieties of heirloom tomatoes are on their way, getting ready for planting out in May or June.
Best to wait till May long weekend, or even longer if you can, for planting ... however, best to buy the tomato plants early or the selection will be much reduced : )

My tomatoes are grown and sold in Eco pots that are made of rice. The pots are very fragile and will crack if dropped or manhandled but I have had no issues with them and simply adore them. They grow great tomatoes.

I love these pots! You can either crack them abit and then plant them as is, pot and all, covering the entire pot with soil to prevent drying out .... or crack and remove the pot, tossing it into your compost bin, as I do. Will decompose in 9 months or less!

This disgusting brew is Alfalfa Tea!
In addition to the liquid seaweed, I am also using this lovely (?) brew once a week on the tomatoes and peppers.

Stuff you can be starting in your greenhouse...
-Sweet peppers, if you hurry!
-Cabbage, lettuce, greens
-Sweet peas, garden peas
-Canna lilies, calla lilies, eucomis, dahlias, gladioli, all kinds of summer flowering bulbs.

Happy Easter and happy gardening!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Planting Asparagus

Sweet Purple Asparagus emerges in spring!

How to plant up those lovely roots that you purchased in a mesh bag at the nursery this spring....

Asparagus roots can be planted up 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost, which means anytime after mid-March in our area.

1. Soak the roots for 2 to 3 hours in warm water. If you have any at home, add a few capfuls of liquid seaweed to the water bath.

This step is really important if those roots look very dry, as if you do not re-hydrate them they will die in the ground. Many greenhouses store the mesh bags of roots indoors in heated spaces for several months. The roots then dry out severely and may even die before you buy them and get them home.

* If you are unable to plant them in your bed yet ....  perhaps it is too wet, covered in snow, or maybe not yet built .... pop them into a large pot or planter after you have re-hydrated them. Use a regular potting mix, water as you would any other planter when it goes dry, and keep in an area that is bright, cool, yet does not freeze.

2. Dig up a bed to dedicate to the asparagus, remember that it is perennial, so it will be there for 20 years or more.

3. Loosen the soil and remove and weeds from the bed as asparagus does not compete well for water and nutrients. 

4. Asparagus is a heavy feeder and most especially requires lots of nitrogen and potassium. Add organic matter such as compost, chicken manure, banana peels .... you can also add bone meal and blood meal, if you use them. Top dress the bed annually with good organic matter and soil conditioners.

5. Dig a trench that is about 6 to 8 inches deep and wide...

6. Create a mound down the centre of your trench.

7. Place the asparagus in the trench, about 15 inches apart. Put the top, or crown, on top of that mound in the centre, spread out the roots all around the sides of the mounded trench, like the dangling legs of an octopus.

Picture of how to place your crowns ... from

8. Cover till the tops are under 2 inches of soil....

9. As the shoots emerge, keep adding soil, leaving about 3" of the shoot tops exposed to the light. Keep covering as it grows throughout the summer, until there is no longer a trench and the bed is level.

10. Water weekly.

Things to note....

You will not be harvesting any asparagus the first year, and just a bit the second year, but should have a decent crop in the third year.

Each year you will get more and more asparagus. Remember that it will be there for 20 years and will fill that entire bed.

In fall, your ferny asparagus tops will begin to yellow, then brown off. You can now cut them down.

 This ferny stuff is asparagus in early summer time.
These ferns will go brown and dry in fall,
and are then ready to be cut down.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Planting Potatoes In Raised Beds

1. Into the Trenches
Dig a trench 6″ deep, into good, rich garden garden soil. Do not add manure or sand as too much of either is apt to cause scabby spuds.

2. Totally Spaced Out
Space the trenches 2′ to 3′ feet apart. The closer together the plants are, the smaller the potatoes will be. If you are after the new, baby spuds, go closer at 1′ to 1.5′ spacing instead.

3. Bring ’Em On
Choose potatoes with 2 or 3 eyes (sprouts) on them. The ones that have not chitted, or sprouted, will take a little bit longer but will still do just fine. When possible, purchase the potatoes 4 to 6 weeks early, place in a light, warm place to produce sprouts.

4. Pop ‘Em In
Place your potatoes into the trenches spaced 12″ apart. Once again, the closer you place them, the smaller the potatoes will be. If you are only after the new, baby potatoes, space them 6″ to 8″ apart instead of 12″.

5. Head for Cover
Cover the potatoes, so that they are 4″ to 6″ deep. Label them with some form of tag, even if you plant only one variety. After planting the entire potager, you will likely be overwhelmed trying to remember the type of pea, carrot, marigold, cucumber…that you planted. Also, if you plant several varieties, it may be challenging to remember which ones were the Russian Blues, the Red Chieftan salad spuds, or the beautiful French Fingerlings. If you are really diligent, you can get around tagging by making a beautiful garden map with all the varieties listed on there instead. Garden plans are things of beauty to be kept for years, both as art, and, as crop rotation reminders.

6. Reminder to Self
I often plant several varieties of anything and everything I grow. Taste testing being the most enjoyable part, but also want to see how they grow in my corner of the world. This year, I have 6 types of spuds on the go, therefore, I place a small reminder on the side or back of each plant label so I know whether they are early, mid or late season spuds.

7. Reverse Order
When first planted, my furrows and hills are opposite of what they will be later in the season. In the furrows are the spuds, planted 6 inches deep. As the foliage grows 6″ to 8″ high, I pull the soil from the mounds on the sides, onto the foliage. It is fine to cover some leaves, leaving about 2 inches of foliage showing.

8. Water and Watch ‘Em Grow
That’s it. Water once or twice a week, especially during flowering. After flowering, the vines begin to brown and wither, indicating that the potatoes are done. Lift and allow to develop a good skin before storing. I start to enjoy my potatoes as babies in the summer and keep eating them throughout the summer in salads, boiled, bbq’d…Yum.

March Ramblings

Walking out back in the potager with the pups, I am thoroughly enjoying getting my fingers in the dirt again.
However, we have had a fairly wet time of it lately here on the island and so, some days the soil is very wet.

Please note, that while the garden soil is wet and soggy, do not work it.
Do not walk on it, do not till it or turn it until it is dry and crumbly, and do not plant in it.
To do any of these things will be very detrimental to the soil, and will not hasten your spring chores.

It is, however, a good time to test your soil and add your amendments to the top of the soil, incorporating only once the soil is dry.

I try to remember to jot down notes in the journal all the time
Plans I made, seeds I started, when I started them...

Begin to journal you ideas and plans for the season ahead.
Make a drawing of your garden and plan out what goes where this year.
That way, you can begin to prepare the beds for cool season crops first, worrying about the warm season crops later on.

Veggies that you can plant this month ...
- peas
- carrots
- broad beans only, not green beans!
- mache, arugula, mustard greens, Oriental greens
- garlic
- parsnips
- radishes

Early spring peas....
The beds of garlic are coming up nicely. Can hardly wait till summer for scapes and fresh garlic. 
These beds were planted up last year at the end of beginning of October. We were, at the time, still in the midst of our drought season and it was hot enough to melt the candles inside the hurricane lanterns! I had to put a sprinkler on these beds for a good hour, to soak into the really dry soil. At a slow soak like that, the water was actually able to penetrate the super dry soil, instead of running off and going to waste.   

Yep. that is the rhubarb, beginning to pop it's way through.
Green Globe Artichoke popping through, as well.

The kale is putting on new leaves ... ymmers! Was munching on some today as I strolled with the pups.
No aphids to worry about at this time of year ; )
Chives and Tulips are coming up in the herb bed, while the Salad Burnett in front stayed green year round.
Salad Burnett has a lightly cucumber-ish flavour, great for topping salads or egg sandwiches.
Use the new tender leaves as the older ones may be bitter.
I like to grow it mostly for the pretty raspberry coloured flowers it has in summer.
 Salad Burnett in bloom
This Obelisk or Tuteur, is my favourite piece of garden art.
It is rusty and fabulous!
Each year, I plant sweet peas at the base of it, and by mid-summer you can no longer see the tuteur.
Truly  my fave piece, so much so that I decided to get a fellow to make up some 4' and 6' tall ones to sell at the greenhouse this spring. Hope you guys like it as much as I do! 
Daffs are well on their way, blooms very soon!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Amend Organically for Perfect Soil

So you've made your plans, built your beds, and either brought in some garden soil from the local bulk landscape supplier, or were lucky enough to till up your yard and have fairly decent soil under that lawn...

You then buy one of those inexpensive soil test kits to test your soil pH and the N-P-K.
Pop some soil into the container, some water, mix and wait. Results are quick and give you a fairly decent idea of whether your garden mix is okay or lacking in nutrients.

The N-P-K results...

A healthy Nitrogen (N) level is necessary for your plant to grow and thrive.
If your plants are stunted, lime-green or yellow-ish in colour, you likely have a low level of nitrogen and need to amend your soil.

What you can add...
Manure, especially chicken manure, well composted.
Grow peas and beans, which are nitrogen fixing, tilling them into the soil when they are finished.
Alfalfa meal
Alfalfa or legume hay
Blood meal
Fish meal
Feather meal
Coffee grounds

A healthy Phosphorous (P) level, the middle number on fertiliser boxes, is necessary for your plant to have healthy roots and to make fruits like cucumbers and tomatoes, peppers, etc...
A plant lacking in phosphorous will be stunted, may be limp and wilted looking, and will produce little to no flowers for veggie production.

What to add ...
Bone meal
Fish bone meal
Chicken manure
Rock phosphates

The third number on the box is Potassium or Potash (K).
A healthy potash level will give you a plant that flowers and fruits well, and great colour on the veggies.
A plant grown in soil deficient in potassium will be weak, fruit yields will be low, and they will taste kind of woody and lack luster. The foliage may begin to look dry and begin to curl, with yellowing between the veins.

What to add...
Alfalfa meal
Kelp meal
Sheep manure
Banana peels

vermi-compost from

Soil pH

Your soils pH level should be at 5.5 to 7.5 for most veggies to thrive and fruit well. If the levels are either too high or too low, the plant will not be able to absorb the nutrients from the soil and so will suffer.

It takes a good amount of time to raise or lower your pH as the amendments need to break down first to make the change. It is a good idea to test both spring and fall if you suspect an issue, checking for changes before amending again. Fall is a great time to add amendments as they have the entire winter and spring to begin to break down, set into action and begin working.

For a low pH, or soil that is too acidic, you will want to sweeten it....
Add wood ashes or dolomite limestone. Follow the amount as directed on the bag.
Dig this in to the level that your veggies grow down to, so about 10 to 12 inches deep.

To acidify sweet soil, if your pH is too high ...
You will want to add chopped pine needles, oak and maple leaves, and/or peat moss. Dig this in well.

Soil  Texture

This is pretty tricky and may be an ongoing thing to improve. You will want to have soil that is high in nutrients, friable (crumbly), with good drainage.

If you have very clay or very sandy soil in your garden, you will need to add much organic matter to your beds each and every year. Otherwise, the soils will seem to 'eat' up all the matter that you add, and revert back to super clay or super sandy in no time at all.
If you can, it is highly recommended that you build raised beds and start with brand new soil, that is kind of a sandy yet rich loam! That is the ideal!

Whether raised beds or gardens beds, you will want to add as much organic matter to your beds as possible, annually, in order to keep them producing really well for you through the years.
-grass clippings
-leaves or leaf mould
-peat moss (though as it is not really a renewable resource in that it takes decades upon decades to renew, so use sparingly, if at all)
-green crops and cover crops such as clover, vetch and rye that get incorporated into the soil.
Leaf mould, perfect amendment for gardens.
Add annually!

Moving Thyme

Sadly, the Nitty Gritty Potager blog is no more... but the good news is that I can now be found at my new blog called the Olde Thyme F...