Friday, 27 October 2017

How To Grow Great Garlic

Growing your own garlic could not be any easier, and you'll feel like the most accomplished gardener when you lift those great, big bulbs from the garden! You grew this! You totally rock at gardening! 

Plus... After you taste your own, homegrown garlic, you will never, ever want store bought again. 

Organically grown garlic from your own garden is plump, fresh, sticky with garlic juices, each clove so full of flavour! Store bought garlic has been bleached, is dry and stale tasting, and was grown in who-knows-what or how. Check into 'night soils', if you are brave enough. Ugh.          

Prep the soil... 
A few weeks before planting, ideally, amend your soil with manure or compost. Lightly scratch it into the surface. Do not dig it down deep, garlic is shallow rooted. This can also be done at the time of planting. 

Your soil should be loose and friable so that you can easily push the cloves straight into the soil, garlic will not grow as well in compacted soil.  

As a no-dig gardener, I generally just top dress my beds with compost in the fall , leave them be for the winter, so they are then ready for me to plant up again in spring.  

However, the soil in this bed was somewhat heavy and compacted after a summer of growing squash and corn, and I really, really want my garlic to thrive, so I gently lifted it up a bit with a garden fork, and added in the compost in at the same time. Do not ever rototill, as that destroys the soil texture and all those lovely micro-organisms and beneficial fungi threads... not to mention the earthworms.    

Garlic does not compete well for water and nutrients, so you need a weed free bed. 

Quickly run the Winged Weeder  over the bed before planting, to knock down anything that may be germinating or taking root. You can use any hoe that you like, of course, I just like this one as it slices through the soil like butter, and lifts the weeds right out of the bed without digging into the soil. A no-dig gardeners dream tool.   

My bed was already growing pansies, violas, and calendula, just a few weeks after amending it, but it took just a couple of minutes to weed the entire 40 foot long bed.

How to choose your garlic... 

Buy your bulbs from a reputable source or save your own for planting. Do not buy the stuff from the grocery store as it may have been sprayed with a growth inhibitor. Pick some up from an independent garden shop, a farmer's market, a farmer, a local grower... so many places to get fresh, organically grown garlic from. Do not plant if it has dried up or is mouldy. 

Plant your fattest and biggest cloves, leaving the small ones for cooking. It is the size of the clove that determines the size of next year's bulbs, smaller cloves maker smaller bulbs. 

Break your bulbs up into cloves.

Plant your garlic cloves anywhere from 4 to 8 inches apart. My garlic farmer guy plants his on a 7 inch spread, so I do the same. If it works for the professionals, it should work for me, too ; ) 

I also make each row 7 inches apart. So, each clove of garlic is 7 inches apart from the others on all sides.  

I gently press the handle of my rake or hoe into the soil to keep my rows straight. 

Push each clove of garlic into the soil to a depth of about 3 inches. Meaning that it should have 2 inches of soil above the tip of the clove. Plant with the pointy end of the garlic at the top, cap at the bottom. 

Don't forget to label your garlic if you are growing several types. You think you will remember who you planted, but probably won't ; ) 

I separate the types with these black garden trellises that get planted up with sweet peas in late October or early November. 

That is it, cover up the planting holes. If you need more manure or compost, this is a great time to add a top dressing. That's it, that's all, walk away. Your garlic needs no further care till you harvest scapes in spring. 

If you plant earlier in the fall and your ground is super duper dry, put the sprinkler or weeping hoses on it for a few hours to get them off to a good start. We have had some rain already this fall and will have more coming next week, so no need for me to water.  

Your garlic will start shooting up in late fall or sometime in the winter, depending on the weather. Do not worry, this is normal and they are tough as nails. All will be well. 

Some folks will cover their beds for the winter, with straw or leaves, and remove it again in spring. I do not bother with this extra step. Here on the island, even our toughest winters do not faze the garlic. 

If you are live in a colder gardening zone and are reading this, you will have planted your garlic already in September. Wait till the air is cold and the ground freezes just a bit, and then add a cover of leaves or straw, usually in mid to late October. Never mulch anything when the ground is still warm.  

Harvest scapes in May/June next year, and the bulbs in July. 

Happy gardening!   

Friday, 20 October 2017

October in the Greenhouse (Ramblings)

This month is a busy, busy time in the greenhouse. The garden beds have been cleaned out and winterised, so is time to move on to readying the greenhouse for winter. 

We do our annual, super duper thorough, clean up in October, after the water restrictions have been lifted, but while it is still warm enough to be spraying water ... and getting thoroughly soaked in the process.    

With the days getting shorter daily, sparkling clean walls, inside and out, help let in more of that weak winter sunshine. 

We start by emptying pretty much everything out of the greenhouse. All the plants, furniture, bits and bobs. Anything that you do not want power washed should be hauled out.

Then do a thorough sweep before adding water to the mix ; )

Wash up any unused pots, store away till they are needed again. I call this part 'doing the dishes' ; ) 

The tracks along the sides of the greenhouse, where the walls meet the foundation, always fill up with 'stuff' throughout the summer (bugs, soil, and who knows what else), and the concrete grows green in places where water lingers. 

I go along and fill up those tracks with a soapy bleach water mix to clean up and sanitise. The goal is to get rid of any possible lingering pests, diseases, or fungal issues.

Hubby then comes along behind me and power washes the entire interior of the greenhouse. Starting from the roof and working his way down, he washes off the grime, dust, and algae from the walls.

He then blasts out the all that 'stuff' from inside the tracks, plus the green ick off the concrete and floor. If possible, do this on a nice, sunny day so that the greenhouse dries nicely before you start to bring everything back in again.    

The shade cloth is taken down and stored safely till spring. Mine were made into 'roller shades' by the good folks at BC Greenhouse Builders so that I can raise or lower them throughout the summer, as needed. Super easy to use. In fall, we just rolled them up, un-clipped them from the top, and put them into the curing shed rafters for the winter.

*Make sure your shade cloth is fully dry before rolling or folding up.

Power wash the exterior of the greenhouse, or use a strong stream of water to blast away the film of grit and grime from the outside walls, as well as the green algae that tends to grow around the windows and foundation.

Before bringing pots, planters, and other stuff back in, I wash them all down, too, using soapy water with a titch of bleach in it.

Flowers and plants get repotted into fresh soil, as they have likely used up all the nutrients in the old soil by now.

They are also sprayed down with Safer's Soap to kill off any lingering pests. Spray to a drip, leave on for 15 minutes, wash off with a good strong jet of water to remove the soap and any pests that survived the soap spray.   

For more in-depth information about over-wintering hardy annuals, like when to prune, how much to water, taking cuttings, etc... please see this post HERE!

My citrus trees are only re-potted every third or fourth year, unless they need to be up-sized into a larger pot sooner. The larger trees are simply replanted into the same pot, but with fresh soil.

Remove tree from pot, dump out old soil, wash pot, and brush excess soil from the root ball. Add fresh soil to the pot, put your tree back in, and fill in the sides with fresh soil.

I add a slow release organic citrus food on top of the soil, bring back into the greenhouse, and water well. They will not get fed again until February.

*Always use a high porosity potting soil for citrus trees (and olives, too) as they hate wet feet. I use 5 parts HP Pro-Mix (the HP stands for high porosity) mixed with 2 parts bagged manure or compost.
For more information about over-wintering your citrus, please Click Here! It is very important that you do not bring your citrus trees into the house for the entire winter. A couple of days in a cold snap is fine, but it is too hot, too dry, and not bright enough in the house to keep it happy for a longer period of time.

The table and chairs are not yet finished with their new look ; ) 

This is a good time to insulate your greenhouse with bubble wrap or an extra layer of poly to help keep down the heating costs in winter. Do not cover up your vents though, to allow fresh air into the greenhouse, when needed. 

Do not be afraid to open up all windows and doors, and run the fan for a while, on sunny winter days. Condensation and humidity are so much worse for your plants than a wee bit of brisk fresh air. 

If your greenhouse is not a heated one, pull in an electrical cord that can be used to plug in a small heater when temps dip too low, or a fan to circulate the air when condensation builds up. 

I know this all seems like a crazy lot of work, and it is! But, cleanliness in a greenhouse, at all times of the year, is crucial in the prevention of pests and diseases.  

Fall clean up not only allows in more of the sun's weaker rays, so that your plants thrive, but also ensures that you are not introducing new pests into the greenhouse to multiply throughout the winter on those lovely geraniums, and then feast on your tender little seedlings in spring.   

Besides, when it's all done, it feels so great to walk into a clean and organised greenhouse. Your mind is free to wander, plan, and dream ... ready for the real work to begin again in January. 

Happy Greenhouse-ing! 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

October Garden Chores & Ramblings

Night time temperatures have dipped to single digits, mornings arrive heavy with dew, and the wind blows oh so cold ... October is here.

The veggie garden beds are all cleaned up, with nothing left standing except the fall and winter goodies, things like kale, celery, kohlrabi, carrots, parsnips, spinach, and some newly seeded lettuces. 

They have been top dressed with fish compost and manure, feeding the soil so that I am good to go with planting when spring arrives. 

For a how-to on winterising your garden beds, bug prevention, and weed control for next spring, please click here.  

The October to-do schedule 

Transplant/move/plant - This is a great time to transplant or plant new trees and shrubs, too. Anything from the shops, growing in pots, will need no additional pruning or care, just amend the planting hole, rough up the roots a bit, and pop in the hole. Water once. Likely you will not need to do much more to it this season, unless we have many weeks of dry weather, so that it needs another shot of water.

Transplants though, they need a bit of tlc and pruning before you lift and move them. We are moving a few of our rose bushes, raspberries, and lilacs from the back yard to the front.

To plant the raspberries, we will be cutting them back down to about 6 inches tall, so that they put all their energy into getting a strong root system rather than fruiting or maintaining top growth.

The same goes for any roses being moved, except they get cut back to about 18" high. Lilacs are pruned with the 3 D's in mind (dead, damaged or diseased), other than that, pretty straight forward to move them.

Strawberries - Your strawberries should be renewed and rejuvenated every third or fourth year. After that time, the berries begin to get smaller, misshapen, dry, and less tasty.

Lift and compost the 'mother' plant, clip off the runners, and plant these 'daughter' plants into new rows that have been well amended with manure or compost.

Pruning - Most rose pruning is not done at this time, rather in late winter. However, if you have some really tall branches, you will need to cut them back by about half to prevent wind rock, or breakage should we get snow. If your shrub roses have finished blooming and are very bushy, cut them back by a quarter.

Hybrid Tea tree form roses (standards) should also be pruned back in fall to prevent breakage, while weeping rose trees need very little done to them.

Do not cut back your fruit trees at this time, wait till late winter, usually done in February or early March.

Plant garlic - Anytime this month is a great time to plant your garlic. Make sure your soil is rich in nutrients, plus loose and friable to easily push the cloves into the soil. For more garlic planting information, please click here for last year's how-to.

Lift bulbs - Cannas, callas, glads, dahlias, etc.. all bulbs, corms, and tubers can be lifted now to store for winter. Some say to leave them till the first frost hits them so they wilt and begin to turn brown, however, this is not a necessity.

Lift your bulbs, clean them off, leave to cure in a warm, airy spot for a week or two. I use the greenhouse tables, but you can place them on newsprint in the furnace room or laundry room, too. Do not place directly on concrete or you may get rot. Wooden surface, cardboard or newsprint is best.

After curing, prune the tubers to get rid of any bruised or damaged bits, toss out the old tired mother tuber (it will not flower again), and separate the tubers for more plants next year. Large tubers can be cut in half, as long as each piece has an eye or two (just like with potatoes). Place in a box or bin with vermiculite, peat moss, or potting soil, label, store in a cool-ish (+5°C), dark spot till spring.

I toss mine into a cardboard box with some potting soil and stick it under one of the greenhouse tables for the winter. Real dahlia growers/sellers will be more particular ; ) Connie of Connie's Dahlias places hers into plastic bins with vermiculite and stores them stacked up in her storage room.

Potted plants can be left in the pots, brought into a garage, greenhouse or shed, kept cool but not cold, cut back, and left till spring.

Click here for a more information about lifting, curing, and storing tubers.

Rake - Rake up all those leaves to make fabulous leaf mould, one of the best things to feed your soil. Rake them up into piles and let them rot down, using them when they are fully or partially composted. Or, dig a trench in the garden, toss in the leaves, let them rot down in the bed. Or, shred the leaves and top dress around your garlic and winter veggies, they will slowly get incorporated into the soil by the worms, bugs, and microorganisms. 
All leaves can be used to make this garden gold, even thick, tough leaves like those of the arbutus tree. They just take longer to break down. You can also use the leaves of fruit trees, even if they had issues with scab, fungal spot, or rust. These will break down during the composting process and will not be carried on in the compost.

Feed The Birds - Cut back any soggy or icky looking perennials, but leave flowers with seeds standing. Plants like coneflowers, black-eye susans, grasses, zinnias, blanket flowers, sneezeweed, sedums, rose hips, all provide fabulous fall and winter foods for our feathered friends. 

Weeds - Remove all weeds now before they spread their seeds everywhere to multiply by spring.

Stash Those Potted Plants - If you have perennials, roses, shrubs or trees in pots, especially in fragile ceramic or clay pots, place them someplace safe from the winter rains to prevent freezing and thawing which makes pots crack or crumble. Pop into a bright shed or garage, an unheated greenhouse, under the carport, curing shed, or under the eaves.

Other Things to do... 

Citrus trees - It is getting close to the time one has to think about how to over-winter citrus trees. Do NOT bring it into the house, is too hot, too dry, and not nearly bright enough. 

If you have a heated greenhouse or sunroom, pop it in there and keep the temps set at 5 to 10 °C. No warmer!

If not, pop it under the eaves by your front door, or on your deck, so that it does not get water logged and you can easily bring it inside when frost threatens.

An unheated greenhouse is great for over-wintering citrus, as well, however, you will need to think about how to keep it above zero when a cold snap is coming. Either pop a small heater into the greenhouse, or a light stand with several 100 watt light bulbs turned on to keep it above zero. Trees can also be strung up with old-fashioned Christmas lights and wrapped with a frost blanket to help keep them warm. For more information about over-wintering your lemons, oranges, or limes, click here.

Plant bulbs - Pop them into the ground or into containers. I know it seems like yet another job to do when your plate is already full, and is yet another expense when you just got the wee ones kitted up for school, but you will be oh so glad when spring comes along. Those blooms bursting from the ground while all else is still asleep, will bring you such joy.

Happy Gardening! 

Monday, 2 October 2017

Putting Your Kitchen Garden To Bed In 5 Easy Steps

Next year's fantastic, healthy, organic, kitchen garden begins right here, right now. What you do now to winterise your beds, makes the difference between a great garden year ahead and a frustrating one.

Here are five easy steps you need to know to put your kitchen garden to bed for winter. How organic gardeners maintain healthy, happy beds that are 'almost' weed, disease, and pest free.

Ruby Tuesday helps with garden clean up...  'Hey mom, I found some nasturtium seedlings' ; )  

1. Post Harvest Clean Up!

After you have harvested your summer veggies, canned and stored them to enjoy throughout the winter, it is garden clean up time. This is the most important step you can take for a pest free garden next year.

Remove everything from the surface of your beds... spent tomato, squash and cucumber vines, all stems, leaves, seedlings and other plant debris lying around on top of the bed. Try to get all the leaf material and debris that you can, as they provide winter hiding spots for bugs and their eggs. Cabbage moths, stink bugs, aphids, leaf hoppers, crickets, grasshoppers, and so many more, may all be trying to overwinter their off-spring in your garden. The better your clean up now, the less bad bugs you will have next year.

The only green material left standing should be your winter veggies and perennials like rhubarb, strawberries, asparagus. Clean them all up really well, removing any dead or yellowing bits.

Compost your garden waste, layering browns and greens for faster cooking compost. Bring all diseased and super buggy plant material to the dump, or burn, do not compost.

Knock down those weeds and seedlings ...

2. Weed control!

This is the time to get those weeds under control. When the fall rains start, weed seeds on the surface of the soil suddenly all sprout to life.

Remove them by hand, or knock them over with a hoe. I gently pull out all large and/or tap rooted weeds but prefer to knock the wee ones down and rake them up. I never leave them on top of the beds to die at this time of year ... they may quickly take root again or harbour insect eggs.

My favourite tool for this is the Winged Weeder. It slices the weeds down from all sides, push or pull, without digging into or disturbing the soil. As it just skims right under the surface, is perfect for us no-dig gardener types. Regular hoes disturb the soil surface which just brings up more weed seeds to deal with. (Nope, no kick backs for telling you about this tool, just sharing)

If you are a companion planter, as I am, you will have lots and lots of volunteers at this time of year. Calendula, nasturtiums, marigolds, borage, lemon balm, all kinds of wee little sprouts springing up everywhere. I remove them all. More seedlings will sprout up again in spring, so I then pick and choose which ones are in the right place, and how many to keep.

Chicken manure ...

3. Top dress!

Top dressing is literally food for your soil! Feed your garden beds with 1 to 3 inches of compost or manure annually.

Top dressing feeds your soil, suppresses weeds, makes for great water penetration and retention, and keeps beneficial micro-organisms thriving in your garden. You will never need to use fertilisers again.

Layer the manure on top of your soil, rake to smooth out, and walk away. Nutrients will be carried through your soil by the elements, the earthworms, and the beneficials that live in your soil. Do not dig in, do not turn your soil, and do not ever roto-till. Roto-tilling destroys soil structure, not to mention what it does to the earthworms, beneficial insects, microbes, and fungi threads.

Investing in your soil, feeding it to make it rich, fertile, and friable, is the single best investment you can make towards a fantastic, healthy, productive kitchen garden.

Growing great carrots this year! 
4. Test and amend!

Test your soil to check for deficiencies and amend accordingly. Do not dig in, just layer on with your manure and you are done. The amendments will be carried through your soil by the winter rains and earthworms, ready for you to plant up again in spring. Organic amendments may be wood ashes, lime, alfalfa, bone meal, blood meal...

Amending now means that the nutrients have time to break down over the winter months, and are therefore available for your seedlings to uptake in spring. Some nutrients will take 4 months or more to become accessible in the soil.

Organic gardening is all about feeding the soil to feed the plants. The more time and effort that you put into it now, the less work you will have next summer. You will not have to feed your plants in summer, at all, if you have invested in creating great soil.

Insect Hotels aka Bug Houses

5. Beneficial insects!

So ... Now that you have removed all the leaves and bits of debris from your veggie garden, you may be wondering where the beneficial insects, like ladybugs, are supposed to over winter?

Easy answer ... anywhere and everywhere, except in your food garden! You want to make your yard into a wildlife haven so that the good guys are there, all around, thriving and more than happy to eat up your bad guys ... before they find your kitchen garden and attack your veggies ; )  

Make the rest of your yard a paradise for birds, bees, frogs, snakes, spiders, bats, and all kinds of other beneficial insects and critters by creating a wildlife friendly habitat. Leave your ornamental grasses and perennial flowers standing to offer seeds for birds and refuge for critters and insects. Make brush piles, and wood piles, or raked leaf piles. Mulch around your trees, shrubs and perennials with wood chips, or bark, for them to live in. They (ladybugs) also love to live in your wood lot!

Make a bug house, they are both super cute and fun to make with your kids. Sure, the bad insects may over-winter in them, too, but if you have a healthy organic garden with great diversity, the good guys will soon get rid of them

You want your yard to be a year round home for all small critters and insects, so provide places for them to hide, live, reproduce and be. You will have a fantastic, happy, healthy yard, and a super happy kitchen garden!    

The garden before harvest and clean up begins... 

The garden after being put to bed for winter...

Ruby Tuesday says 'Grow organic'

Happy fall gardening! 

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 ...