Thursday, 8 January 2015

January Ramblings - The New Year 2015!

The start of a fresh new year and brand new gardening ideas, plans, aspirations, and dreams.

My daytimer with seeding dates, the planner for this years thoughts and ideas, 
plus last years planner (to check on my notes, thoughts and customer requests.)
Then hubby went out and bought me another one ....  

I am already making plans for this year's new and fresh summertime colour combinations.

This year I am drawn towards both crisp and muted lime/acid greens, mixed with loads of blue and purple, plus something bright to make them pop, like maybe orange and/or red.

Will be incorporating these fabulous hues everywhere in the yard, through potted roses, hanging begonia baskets, sunny moss baskets and mixed planters galore.

For retail, I build baskets and planters of all kinds and colours, though, so have no fear if this is not your colour scheme this year! I love best the special orders and requests, so bring me your ideas and I will run with them! : )   

 A collage of colour inspiration for my decks and baskets for Summer 2015!
... from Pinterest.

Besides dreaming this month, what else can one do? ...Here are some ideas...


Go through your seeds, inventory what you have, and make a list of what you need. Review your notes of what worked well and what didn't as you make that list, decide if you want to try the misses again one more time, or give them a pass.

Browse through seed catalogues, try some new seed suppliers to shake things up, you never know, you may find a new favourite.

Here are some of my favourite seed suppliers, in no particular order ...
- Renee's Garden Seeds (US)
- Baker's Creek Rare Seeds (US)
- Heritage Harvest Seeds  (Can)
- Two Wings Farm (Can)
- Cottage Gardener Seedhouse (Can)
- Hawthorn Farm Organic Seeds (Can)

Make your garden veggie plan. I generally make one and then change it as I plant ... but I love making them!

Order your seeds, and get ready to hit all the local Seedy Saturdays ... plus the Nitty Gritty Greenhouse, of course ; )

** Most importantly, store your seeds in the order that they will be sown, month by month, so that you are organized and do not miss out on a seeding date.
On each seed package write down the date that you are going to start them (don't forget the year!) and pop them standing upright into a box or tin. 
At the start of each month, have a look at the seeding you need to do, and pick up your supplies accordingly.
As you sow, move any leftover seeds to the back of the pile, so that they are ready to inventory and plant again next year. This is why the year is really important. Sometimes you have 30 seeds in each package but only plant 5! So, you can potentially sow those same seeds for the next 5 years.   
You can also make a chart of the dates, if you want, so that you have a list to refer to week by week.  


Prune your fruit trees and spray with  a Dormant Spray kit, a mix of horticultural oil and lime sulpher, to prevent pests and diseases.   

Pinch back your stretched out or going to seed pansies for fresh blooms in 6 to 8 weeks time.

At the end of the month, as days begin to get a wee bit longer, you can start to plant the following in your low tunnels, hoophouses or coldframes..

- Kale, spinach, lettuce, mustards, chard, arugula, Oriental greens
- Scallions and radishes
- Beets, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and cabbage  


Remove all bits of dead plant material, spent blooms, yellowing  leaves, etc... to prevent the growth of mould and rot.

Keep plants on the dry side as too much moisture will bring in more bugs and cause mould and root rot issues.
Take cuttings of your geraniums, fuchsias ....

Do NOT sow seeds too early! This newbie mistake causes stretched out plants and garden failures... here is a list of what you can start this month....

- Leeks, onions from seeds, shallots
- Hot peppers, at the end of the month
- Eggplants, at the end of the month
- Artichokes
- Flowers, most perennials and some of the early spring bloomers like Sweet Peas and Calendula.

Shallots are coming along nicely!

The garlic and shallots are up about 6 inches, thriving and doing well in this mild and easy winter that we have had far ; )

Tango mandarins in the greenhouse

The citrus fruits are ripening, look and taste amazing....

The Eureka Variegated Pink Lemons are being inspected by Ruby Tuesday. 
She says that they are nearly ready to go! 

The hyacinths are coming up nicely, 
as is the lemongrass.

In the garden, am running pretty low on carrots this year. Thought I had plenty, so we were generous with them in December ...
Am out of beets, running low on Brussels sprouts, but still okay on both lettuce and kale...

Leeks I have plenty of, oh dear!
I could eat potato and leek soup each week till spring and still likely have some left ; ) Nothing wrong with that though, as I love leeks!

Ruby Tuesday enjoys a carrot ... in a raised garden bed.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Common Gardening Mistakes Beginners Make!

Welcome to the exciting world of growing your own food.

There is nothing quite so gratifying as the sense of accomplishment that comes with harvesting food from the garden that you planted yourself, from seed to seedling to harvest...

Just as there is nothing quite so disappointing as a garden that fails to thrive. 

Occasionally, you end up with a crop of tomatoes, or cukes, or squash, with less than stellar results for reasons that are totally out of your control. This may be due to inclement weather (think hail, winds, heavy rains, late frosts), or bugs, or sometimes disease (which is also often caused by weather ; ) ....

However, more often than not, successful growing and gardening is actually not out of our hands, we are the masters of our own universe.. or our garden, in this case. 

Here are the 5 most common reasons that gardens fail to thrive and how to avoid these mistakes for a bountiful harvest each and every year.

Garden soil and compost.

 1. Soil - The number one reason for a garden failing to thrive is poor/infertile soil.
Not investing in ones soil is the number one reason that seeds do not germinate, plants are spindly and weak, riddled with bugs or disease, and generally fail to thrive. This is when and why most new gardeners give up on growing, convinced that they have black thumbs, that there must be some knack to gardening that they do not have. Balderdash.

If you think about it, each seed you put in that bed, each transplant you put in that bed, is getting all it's nutrients, all it's growing power from that very soil. Trying to grow fruits and veggies in poor, cheap soil is like expecting children to thrive and grow on bread and water. They may survive, but will certainly not thrive.

How to remedy this situation? 

To start with, invest in the very best soil that you can afford to buy. Pick up a great garden blend of loam and manure/compost. Yes, you will probably say 'gulp' very loudly as you pay for it, but the spectacular results will make it all worth while.

If you have already bought your soil and went cheap, you need to add amendments like crazy to it. This is why I always say that cheap soil is going to cost you! Add lots of manure, compost and organic material. I like chicken manure the best, rabbit is also awesome. The other manures are also great, is just that some will be weedier than others. Organic materials added to your beds is like the fibre that gets things moving. Then, take a soil test to see what else is lacking so that you can get your growing on track. Rock phosphates, blood meal, bone meal, alfalfa meal, are all great organic amendments to get your garden growing.     

Then, to keep things thriving, add amendments annually to keep your beds producing happily year after year. Top dress or work in compost and/or manure. Add tons of organic material like grass clippings, leaves, leaf mould, shredded newsprint, etc. .. as a mulch or top dressing. Take a soil test every year or two to see how things are stacking up and amend as needed with organic materials. Great soil makes for great success in the gardens, and no additional feed is required through the growing season. Organic gardening is all about feeding the soil to feed the plants.

Mel Bartholomew says... "trying to grow crops in any kind of soil without constantly adding organic matter is sheer folly and a waste of time, no matter how much fertilizer you add to it.  On the other hand, to garden in soil that is rich in organic matter but contains no added fertilizer is not only possible but also very practical."

Carrots and lettuce in the early spring garden

2. Planting too early - This one is a biggie, too, and is very common with newbie gardeners, and even seasoned gardeners will occasionally get tricked by a spell of nice weather. After a long, cold winter, everyone is so anxious to get started that they often sow seeds or plant their seedlings much too early, causing them to either rot, die, or go into a dormant state.

Seeds planted into soil that is too cold will simply rot in the ground, never to be seen again. Seedlings transplanted into cold soil will be unable to access the nutrients so they will either die a slow death or go into a semi-dormant type state. These plants tend to take a long time to recover and rarely ever produce well.

How to remedy this situation? 
Sit on your hands! Do not plant yet! Do not fall for that surprise warm spell!
Check your seed packages for the right time to sow the seeds and know when your average last frost date is. Here in Nanaimo the average last frost date is April 28th.

Learn the difference between warm season and cold season crops.
Peas, onions, radishes, cabbage, lettuce, boccoli, etc... are cool weather crops and can be planted out when day time air temps are around the 10 C mark. They can handle an occasional frost and actually bolt (go to seed) or get tough and not so tasty when temps rise. They can be grown in early spring, late fall, and in some cases, even in winter.
Warm season crops are tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplants, squash, corn, etc.. They need the night time air temperature to be +10 C in order to thrive and cannot tolerate any frost.

If you planted too early, pop in a new pack of seeds as the soil warms up and watch them take off in no time at all. Rip out those tomato plants that are turning purple in the cold and head for the garden centre. The money you spend on a second pack of seeds or a new batch of plants will still be less expensive and so much healthier for you, than anything you buy at the grocers.    

Truth of the matter is, with most transplants and seeds it is better to wait till the ground is good and warm to plant. They will root in/take off much faster, thrive immediately, and set fruit sooner than plants that were planted too early.

 Powdery mildew

3. Watering -   Over-watering, under watering, watering at the wrong time, watering in the wrong manner, or watering the foliage are all common reasons for dismal results in the garden.
- Over-watering is the most common and the most problematic of all the watering issues. It is the cause of weak plants, root rot, damping off, most diseases and also water run-off/waste of water. It also causes shallow root systems which can be disastrous if drought comes along, or you take a week's holiday.
- Under-watering will cause wilting, spindly plants, pest problems and little to no flowers and thus no fruits. It will also cause seeds not to germinate. Carrots and dill, for example ...  if they are not watered daily when first seeded, till you see the little green tops, the seeds will simply die in the soil.
- Watering at the wrong time generally means too late in the evening, causing disease and rot. Wet soil or foliage combined with cooler night time temps will cause fungal spores (powdery mildew and blight) to grow and flourish.
- Watering in the wrong manner most often means sprinklers. Sprinklers are best left to lawns only and never for veggie or flower beds. They do not deep soak the roots, will only get the top inch of the soil, and they always wet the foliage, leaving you with weak plants, shallow roots and the breeding ground for disease issues.
- Watering the foliage will give you powdery mildew, blight and other fungal issues that will quickly decimate your garden. Please water the soil only.

How to remedy this situation?

Water less often, but go deep.
Water deeply once or twice a week so that you get good strong, deep roots. The only time that you should ever water daily is with newly planted seeds. If they dry out during the germination period, they will simply wither and die in the garden and you will not see any growth at all. Once you see the greens, you can stop watering daily, cutting back to once or twice a week only.

Mulch your veggies with landscape fabric, shredded newsprint, leaves, leaf mould, compost or manure to keep in the moisture and you will be able to get along with even less water.

Water early in the day so that your soil and foliage does not go into the cooler night temps wet. This prevents powdery mildew and fungal issues from damaging or destroying your garden.

Water at soil level only, never soak the foliage unless you are blasting off aphids! Soaker hoses and burblers are great for gardens. Simply turn them on, they deep soak into the ground with no waste and no water on the foliage, let run for 20 to 30 minutes and all is well for the week. If you are hand watering, take time to make sure that you give the root systems a really good, deep soak. 

4. Planting too close together/not thinning - Seeds are so small when planted that it is really easy to plant them too closely together. As we lose some seeds to birds, bugs or no germination, over seeding is actually a really great idea... just so long as one is prepared to thin them out as they begin to grow.

Some gardeners also find it really, really difficult to pull out those extra seedlings and toss them away, but veggies grown too closely together will either never size up properly or will be all misshapen, perhaps so much so that they are actually inedible. They are also more prone to bugs and diseases, as they do not have good air circulation or sufficient sunlight to pierce the thicket. 

Transplants like tomatoes are generally so small when one pops them in the ground that one does not take in to consideration how much space they will occupy as they mature. However, if not spaced out properly, they will have poor air circulation and be very prone to disease and blight. Blight is a huge problem in many parts of the world, especially here on the PNW coastline.   

How to remedy this situation? 

Space your seeds according to the directions on the package, and be prepared to thin out the extras. These thinnings need not go to waste however, as most all baby veggies are very tasty to eat. I plant my carrots fairly closely together and let them grow on until they are baby carrot size. I then begin to harvest every second one for my salads, creating room for the other carrots to grow to full size. Baby lettuce and spinach is so tasty to eat, dare I say, perhaps even better than the mature leaves are? So no fear if you over-seed.
Alternately, thinnings can also be left on the ground as organic matter and will add nutrients to the garden as they break down.

Space your transplants out with room to grow and room for air to circulate when they are fully grown and mature. With tomatoes, space them 18 to 24 inches apart in rows that are 3 to 4' apart! Space seed potatoes 8" apart for good sized spuds, garlic cloves 7" apart ... the closer together they are grown, the smaller they will be at harvest.  

5. Planting too much - Planting too many different varieties of veggies to be able to grow them effectively is a common case of eyes too big for ones garden. Vegetable gardens do not wait till you have time to tend to them or to harvest; the veggies will go to seed or rot if one does not harvest as they ripen.

Also, tending to the needs of many varied veggies can be taxing until one figures out which ones grow well together, enjoy the same conditions, like the same water amounts, share harvest times.

Planting too much of any one veggie can also be an issue. Think of too many pumpkin vines taking over your entire plot, tomatoes all ripening at the same time, needing to be harvested, or more zucchini than one can ever eat, grate or share in a lifetime. Thank goodness for food banks ; )   

How to remedy this situation?

Start small. Start with a smaller plot and consider what you want to eat and how much of it. Plant only one zucchini, one row of carrots, beets, etc... You will soon know what you want a larger harvest of and what you can drop. 

Start with just a few plants of your favourite veggies so that you have time to tend to them, time to harvest them and enjoy eating what you are growing.

Happy Growing!

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...