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, 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
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! 

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Buying Your Dream Greenhouse

My greenhouse is from BC Greenhouse Builders

Thinking of buying a greenhouse? Wondering what you need to know to make sure you get the greenhouse of your dreams?

1. Questions to ask yourself
To build yourself or to buy a kit? Do your research as there are pros and cons to both. Check out the greenhouse kits that are on the market, what they have and why. Consider how you would implement these accessories into your home made version. Looking cute and charming is not enough, you need it to function well, also.

What materials to build your greenhouse from? This depends on your budget, your climate, and what you want to do in the greenhouse. Will an unheated coldframe or hoophouse work for your purposes, or do you need a heated greenhouse?

Do you tend to get lots of snow? heavy wet snow? high winds? extreme cold? extreme heat? Do you need it to be sturdy? What kind of a frame will you require to hold up to the conditions? Pvc, aluminum, steel, or wood? The pitch of the roof is a consideration, too. If you tend to get snow, you want it to slide right off. Curved ones let in more light, steep ones allow for gutters.
Realistically, please do not go with pvc, it just does not hold up. Note that those inexpensive greenhouse kits from box stores often do not stand up well to high winds or heavy snow loads, have been known to blow away. If you choose one of those, please anchor it to the foundation really, really well.

What are you planning to grow in the greenhouse? 
Is it for spring and summer use, starting seedlings and extending the season? Year round vegetable growing? Over-wintering tender plants in winter, like citrus trees, fuchsias, and pelargoniums? Growing orchids and other hot house plants? The warmer you want your greenhouse to be, the better insulation value you want it to have.

The insulation value and the amount of light that gets into the greenhouse is determined by the covering that you use for the greenhouse. This is your most important decision. Will your walls and roof be glass, poly sheeting, polycarbonate, or fiberglass.
- Glass is very pretty, lasts the longest, but is not insulating and does not diffuse light (so one has to worry about sunburnt plants). It breaks the easiest out of all the options.
- Poly sheeting is the least expensive, diffuses light, and insulates quite well, but has a short life span and needs replacing every 3 to 5 years, and can tear/rip.
- Fibreglass retains heat well, diffuses light, and is fairly inexpensive, but is hard to seal as it undulates. The coating will begin to wear off in about 6 years, then yellows and looks dirty.
- Polycarbonate insulates the best, diffuses the light, and lasts a long time, but it does not look as pretty as glass does.     

I use my greenhouse year round. 
In spring, I start seedlings and maintain a temperature of 8°C to 10°C. 
In summer I grow tomatoes, peppers, melons, etc.. and try to keep the temp below 30°C. 
In winter, I maintain a cool greenhouse, meaning that I keep it above freezing to happily house my citrus trees, tender perennials, and hardy annuals (5°C to 7°C), but not hot enough to actively grow tropicals (13°C and up). 
Therefore, it was practical for me to go with poly-carbonate rather than glass. It retains heat better in winter and diffuses the sun's rays in summer, so saves me money on both heating and cooling. Also, is safer as I have a lot of large trees around.  

Both my hoophouse and greenhouse (in the picture above) have steel frames to withstand the weight of the heavy, wet snow we get here on the coast. They both also have sloping sides so that the snow slides right off, mostly with no help from me. 

Long side of greenhouse faces south to capture as much sunlight, as possible
2. Location, Location, Location
When considering the placement of the greenhouse on your property, think about how much light it will get both in winter and in summer.

You want a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight in the winter, when the sun is low in the sky. So, right about now, mid-winter, is when you want to be watching your yard to find that best spot. Is it shaded by the house? Tall cedar trees? Leafy deciduous trees may or may not be a problem.

In summer, you want 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight on the greenhouse.
At my last house, I had tall cedars on the east and alders on the west. Therefore, in winter, I had 7 to 8 hours of sunlight as the leafy trees lost their foliage, thus giving me a longer day when I needed it most. In summer, I had 6 hours of good sun right on the greenhouse, with spotty sun afterwards, as the sun went behind the alders. Perfect!

If possible, keep the longest side of the greenhouse facing south, to best take advantage of the sunlight.

Propane heater on the left and exhaust fan on the right hand side
 at the back of my greenhouse.  
3. Ventilation & Air Flow
Good air flow is critical for a healthy greenhouse, not only to let out the excess heat, but also to prevent humidity and condensation build up in winter. High humidity can cause fungal issues and plant diseases.

Pretty much all greenhouse kits will all have some vents on the roof, this is a good start. They let out the excess heat in summer to keep the greenhouse from becoming an oven. You will want these to be the kind that automatically open as the heat builds up inside.

In addition to these vents, you also want through ventilation. Having a window or vent at the back of the greenhouse, opposite the door, helps draw fresh air into the greenhouse. To do it again, I would put a door on both ends of my greenhouse and leave them both open all day long, as most commercial greenhouses do. It is an economical and easy way to move the air around.

An exhaust fan is optional, but such a lifesaver. It moves the air around, maintains an even temperature in the greenhouse, and refreshes the air in just minutes. In winter, manually turn on the fan to suck out the stagnant, humid air and draw in fresh air through the louvered vents in front. In summer, have it set to automatically go off at a certain temperature, forcing out excess heat. You can go away for the weekend and not worry about the greenhouse cooking your plants.

Additionally, a small circulating fan inside the greenhouse is really important. It moves the air around in the greenhouse, and when pointed at your seedlings, makes them stronger, sturdier, stockier, and prevents them from succumbing to damping off disease. 

If you choose not to install an exhaust fan, a circulating fan (or two or three) is critical to keep your greenhouse healthy. You will use it/them in both winter and summer to move that air around. Keeps your plants from cooking in summer and getting mildew/diseased in winter. Place the circulating fan by the open front door to pull in the fresh air and force out the humid/hot/stale air through the back window/vent/door. 

Sometimes you want to work in the greenhouse after hours... 

4. Power Source
From the above, you can see that a power source to the greenhouse is pretty helpful. Especially in our humid climate. What else, besides air circulation, would you use power for?

You will need it to heat the greenhouse now and againeven if you're not doing so year round. If you have power, you can plug in a temporary heat source, a small fan heater or a space heater, when needed. We may have a cold snap in spring while you have your tender seedlings in there. You may wish to over-winter some tender perennials, hardy annuals, citrus trees, or other plants which do not require heat all winter long (in our temperate climate), but do need to stay above 0°C degrees.

You also need power to start seeds. Bottom heat to get them germinating and grow lights for the grey days. What is the point of the greenhouse if you are still mucking about in the house?

You may want a light or two so that you can play in the greenhouse after it gets dark outside. Maybe you want to do some seeding after the kidlets go to bed? Or perhaps some twinkle lights to make it pretty :)

 The water from our first greenhouse was collected from the roof of the greenhouse, 
into a huge cistern that was set into the wood, out of sight.  

5. Water
This seems pretty obvious. One needs water to grow anything. Consider adding a hose bib inside the greenhouse. But... maybe you prefer to collect water from gutters into rain barrels instead? That is an awesome idea. However, in the middle of summer when drought season hits and we have no rain, you still want easy access to water, a water bib close enough that you can fill up those water barrels. Nothing gets old faster than running back and forth with a gazillion watering cans.
I chose to go with cement steppers for the floor of my greenhouse. 
They soak up the heat during the day and release it at night. 
They also look good and are easy to keep clean, disease and weed free. 

Other things to consider... 

Gutters. Add gutters to your greenhouse to capture water into a cistern or water barrels.

Flooring. This depends largely on your budget and the look that you want. You will want a floor that is easy to keep clean, weed, disease and pest free. Cleanliness is crucial for a healthy greenhouse.

-Concrete is easy to sweep, keep clean and weed free, quite practical. It is hard on the legs and feet, and has no drainage, unless you add a drainage pipe or gutter. It retains heat, which you may or may not want.
- Stepping stones, like mine in the picture above, or bricks. Easy to keep clean and weed free, very practical, looks good, and has drainage built in between each stone. However, it is also hard on the legs/feet, and retains heat.
- Gravel. Great drainage and a fairly inexpensive option. Looks tidy, easy to keep weed free, as long as you add several inches of gravel, not just a skim coat.
- Gravel with a stepping stone or brick pathway. Looks great, is relatively inexpensive, has great drainage, is easy to keep clean of weeds, pests, and diseases.
- Sand or soil. I highly recommend not to do this. Is really hard to keep clean, and very prone to growing weeds. The conditions are optimum for weeds to grow quickly, and pests may be living and multiplying in those weeds.
- Heavy duty landscape fabric. Inexpensive, has great drainage, softer under your feet, is easy to keep clean and weed-free. It comes in wide sheets so that you may not require any over-lapping of seams, depending on the width of your greenhouse. See picture below.

Heavy duty landscape fabric floor. 

The Greenhouse Interior.... The Accoutrements.
Once you have the shell of a greenhouse, you'll need to think about what kind of accessories to add to get you going.

Potting table, or work table of some kind. Ideally place this on the north side of the greenhouse, so as not to create shade.

Benches or shelves for smaller plant pots. Large pots are great on the floor, but if you have plants in all stages of growth, you will want to get them up off of the ground.

Built in beds or in ground beds. This may be a practical solution for you, depending on what you are growing in the greenhouse.

Hooks to hang things from, accessories and baskets, either flowers or tomatoes.

The rest will come about as you grow along. You will figure out how you want to store your soil, what tools you need, how to organize things, what you need from day to day ... bins, pails, boxes, watering cans, etc...     

If your days are long and hot in summer, you may want to look into getting some shade cloth. 
Shade cloth will save you loads of money on cooling the greenhouse. 

Building a greenhouse is a big investment, 
but one that you will enjoy every day as an avid gardener. 
Worth every penny. 

Happy Growing! 

Monday, 8 January 2018

January Gardening Ramblings

January... the month of planning and dreaming... 

I spend most of my days in the office this time of year... ordering seeds, setting up spring workshops, garden planning, filing, organising....

Listening to gardening podcasts and audio books sure helps make office cleaning more interesting.

What do we gardeners do this month? 

Go through seed catalogues, make lists of old favourites and add a couple of new things to try this year ... a different carrot, a coloured cauliflower, an heirloom that you have never grown before. You just never know, it may become a new must-have in your garden.

Go through your seed stash, make notes of what you have and what you need. Take the list with you to the Seedy Saturdays and Sundays. I go in armed with a list and a budget to limit impulse purchases. It is super easy to get carried away at the 'Seedy Days', picking up way more seeds than one actually has room for in the garden, or time enough to sow and grow.

Do up your garden plan. Order seeds on line, if not going to the Seedy Days. I quite like at-home catalogue and on-line shopping ; )

Have fun and learn something new... 

Sign up for a workshop, listen to inspirational podcasts, read a new gardening book or two, peruse gardening magazine articles and ooh over the pictures, pin pictures on Pinterest, follow a new garden blogger....

If you want to play around outside, there are some chores that can be done now ...

Rake up fallen leaves.

Rake up/compost soggy perennials and winter veggies (like celery) that did not like the snow.

Top dress around roses and perennials with compost or manure. Top dress garden beds, too, if they did not get done in fall. Feed those worms : )

Pruning... I usually leave my pruning till February, but if you wanted to do it now, you can. Winter prune your apple and pear trees (not stone fruits), fruiting shrubs, and roses.

Feed the birds. 
See the birdseed wreath recipe see HERE! 

Don't forget the Annas hummingbirds. 
If you feed them in the summer, you should consider feeding them in the winter, too.

 Soak up some Vitamin D : )

Happy dreaming! 

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 ...