2013 North Peace Garden Tour 5 of 8 Continued

Finally, as promised, here are some more pictures from the Greenwood garden…I snagged them off Darcy’s camera since my own camera battery up and died just as I got to the backyard…

Darcy is a far more creative photographer than I am...love how he captured both the mirror on the fence and the window boxes.

Darcy is a far more creative photographer than I am…love how he captured both the mirror on the fence and the gorgeous window boxes.

A view of the backyard

A view of the backyard

and another...

and another…

Love how the top floor of the house resembles the bow of a ship...and the window boxes are pretty magnificent too.

Love how the top floor of the house resembles the bow of a ship…and the window boxes are pretty magnificent too.

Beautifully landscaped. Note the use of stones and the brass headboard.

Beautifully landscaped. Note the use of stones and the brass headboard.

A clematis clamors up the side of a generous bird feeder

A clematis clamors up the side of a generous bird feeder

The back deck offers shade, shelter from the elements and a cozy place to view the gardens and the lake.

The back deck offers shade, shelter from the elements and a cozy place to view the gardens and the lake.

A cable spool artistically splashed with rustic stain and outfitted with castors makes a perfect table.

A cable spool artistically splashed with rustic stain and outfitted with castors makes a perfect table.

The sign says it all!

The sign says it all!

Next year…

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Many famous gardens are referred to by name, starting with the Garden of Eden. Some are named for their location such as Sissinghurst, others simply for the gardener as in Monet’s gardens while still more are named because the description fits such as Sage Mountain, Rosemary Gladstar’s famous herbal retreat in Vermont.

I always smile when I see names posted like Growing Concern, Garden of Eaten’ or the oft used Garden Of Weeden. Serenity, Green Tangle or Fairy Lane are nice names too. However, if I were brazen enough to give my own garden a title the letters on the sign would probably read “Next Year.” Lord knows, I say those words often enough while tending the plants and soil.

In an area that gets—on average—85 frost free days, this year we were granted 120. Us! The ones in a frost pocket! The ones who always get both a late frost in the spring and an early one come fall. Some years we have only made 45 days between frosts. I don’t ever remember getting four straight months without the temperature dipping below zero before and I have lived here for half a century. Of course, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, just that I don’t remember if it ever did. If I wasn’t worried it was the result of global warming, I’d be delighted. Of course, this was also the year I gave up on wasting space on winter squash, sweet potatoes and other long-season heat-lovers that always get slapped down with frost before producing anything worth eating. Ah well. Next year.

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There is nothing like garden fresh kale tossed into a salad just seconds after picking…and it just gets sweeter with frost.

Even with the long season, there were the usual hits and misses. I had a bumper crop of potatoes, beans, lettuce and kale and a decent amount of beets, carrots and strawberries. The deer ate most of the peas so next year they are going back down in the orchard with its eight foot fence. The onions were terrible and I only got a few measly garlic and shallot bulbs for my year-long effort. The raspberries grew lush with all the rain but only produced a smattering of berries. There were so few we only had enough for eating straight off the bush, and even those didn’t taste very good. The new growth of canes look very lush and promising though, so I’m hoping for better results next year.

Tomatoes in my dehydrator...French tarragon waiting its turn on top!

Tomatoes in my dehydrator…French tarragon waiting its turn on top!

Things in the greenhouse did pretty well. I still have tomatoes ripening, though it’s long past the time to do the final harvest and bring them in, green or otherwise. I dried a few jars worth in my dehydrator. It’s an Excalibur and works wonderful. My only regret is that I cheaped out and bought the economy version instead of springing for one with a timer. It takes a long time to dehydrate things like tomatoes and it would be nice to be able to wander off and not worry about wrecking a batch. If you’re interested in getting one of these dehydrators just click on the picture and you can price them out. They’re expensive, but worth it. Dehydrated produce retains more nutrients than any other method of preservation and you don’t have to slave over a hot stove or worry about your freezer if the power goes out. You can also try going directly to Excalibur’s site and see if you can find a better deal there. But really, any dehydrator will do and there are small ones that work just fine and are far more affordable  if you’re only interested in doing a few small batches a year. If you’re real handy, you could even build a solar dehydrator!

My Sweet Success cucumber lived up to its name. A single plant produced so many cucumbers we couldn’t eat them all and had to give some away. There are still a couple dangling from the vine even now and here we are in the month of October! And of course the zucchini kept its prolific reputation intact. Just like the cucumber, one lone plant gave us more zucchini than we could eat. My peppers, however, are just starting to blossom so it’s a wash for them. Next year.

My leaf harvest for the compost—which you would think would be a sure thing—has come to an abrupt end before it scarcely began. Rains came and made the falling leaves a sodden mess. There are still some leaves on the trees so I haven’t lost all hope of playing with my new leaf vacuum, but it doesn’t look good. Oh, well. Next year.

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Not exactly appetizing but once it has been composted and worked into the garden the produce will be!

At least the horse manure for the compost is a crop I can count on. I’ve hauled over 20 wheelbarrow loads out of the pasture in the last week alone. Despite the fact that the average horse produces 7.5 tons of manure a year giving me a typical yield of 15 tons annually, I have collected most of the good stuff. I don’t want the dried out sawdust textured piles that have had all the nutrients leached out of them. Instead I go for the fresh piles, the steamier the better. Okay, that sounds disturbing even to me. But it’s true. It’s got to the point where I am practically rolling the wheelbarrow right up under the horses’ tails and tapping my foot.

Of course, the key to safe compost is time and heat. You want the pile to heat up sufficiently to kill off any pathogens or weed seeds in the manure and then you want the worms to move in and do their thing before transferring the rich, brown, gold to the garden. Next year.

How about you? What were your hits and misses this garden season? Plans for next year? Green tips for extending the season etc. ? Let us know…the more we share the more we grow!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone…

Compost Happens

“My whole life has been spent waiting for an epiphany, a manifestation of God’s presence, the kind of transcendent, magical experience that lets you see your place in the big picture. And that is what I had with my first compost heap. I love compost and I believe that composting can save not the entire world, but a good portion of it.” –Bette Midler, in a Los Angeles Times interview

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I have been busy filling my compost bins for winter. I have one of those three bin structures where the idea is to always have one finished, one cooking and one being filled. Unfortunately, the bins were situated far from the house and neglected. In the fall I would fill them with garden waste and in the spring I would lift the lid and discover…dried up garden waste. To make matters worse, the bins faced west and the wicked winter winds were forever blowing the lids open with such force it was wrecking the hinges. This despite using three concrete blocks—the kind people often couple with planks to make shelving—plunked one on top of each bin. One of the bins wasn’t used for compost at all, but a pseudo garden shed. Plant pots, buckets and stakes and all manner of garden paraphernalia were routinely shoved inside. All in all, it was a very sorry and unproductive state of affairs.

This fall we hauled the bin up to the new garden closer to the house and almost overnight I became a compost queen. Instead of tossing potato tops and pea vines into the bins willy-nilly, I actually followed instructions. I carefully built my layers of browns and greens. I scurried back and forth collecting straw, manure, sheep bedding, leaves, old grain and anything else that came to mind. I buzzed about with my loaded wheelbarrow like a worker bee, muttering fascinating things such as “Aha! Some greens! More browns, I need more browns.”

Creating compost is often likened to making a cake. If you were baking a cake you wouldn’t dump in a cup of flour, wait a month before adding an egg, and then leave the bowl on the counter for another few weeks before pouring in some milk and expect to get something edible. It’s the same thing with cooking compost. If you want the compost to “cook” so it will kill off any pathogens or weed seed you need to gather your ingredients together and layer them all at once being sure to sprinkle each layer with water as you go. When you’re done you close the lid and leave it to cook. I walked away from the pile in the same way I walk away from a cake in the oven; with a dollop of doubt that it will actually turn out.

Three days after filling the first bin the magic began. The mixture actually began to heat up. Lifting the lid one cool morning I was greeted by drops of moisture raining down from the inside of the lid and a faceful of rising steam. I shoved my hand into the mix and felt the building heat with the kind of giddy excitement most women reserve for a shoe sale.

When Darcy arrived home from work I pounced on him and said, “I don’t suppose you want to come out to the garden with me and feel my compost pile?”

As the long suffering husband of a rabid gardener, Darcy is used to being dragged out to the garden to look at freshly hatched flowers, unique seed heads or a loaded berry bush. This, however, was the first time he had been asked to share my enthusiasm over manure and apple cores. To his credit, Darcy set down his lunch kit, postponed supper and the ball game on TV and followed me out to the compost bin. He bravely plunged his hand through the layers into the depths and agreed that things were definitely heating up. A few days later he even bought me a leaf sucker for my birthday. What a guy!

Now my bins are full and steaming and I have moved on to open piles. The whole idea of bins is to disguise what would otherwise be viewed as an ugly sight. With no neighbours nearby I have gone a different route. I have carefully positioned my compost pile so I can see it from the house. The idea of sipping my morning tea while watching steam rising off the compost thrills me. That’s weird, I know. Last week I even bought a compost thermometer and a moisture meter. I am now officially a garden geek. The thermometer is just like one you use for testing a turkey only longer. As I check my compost, prepare more batches and vacuum the forest for leaves it’s as if I am nature’s housewife getting ready for a banquet. And in a way I am. A banquet of plants that will arrive with hungry roots come spring. I can’t wait. In the meantime I really should be vacuuming the house and doing some cooking for Thanksgiving and the human company it brings. Just one more bag of leaves…

Side note…

I picked up a copy of Composting for Canada by Suzanne Lewis at Dunvegan Gardens in Grande Prairie and it has quickly become my compost bible. It covers everything from hot and cold composting to vermicomposting, bokashi buckets and more with simple easy instructions and lots of pictures. Jam packed with great ideas for making your own compost and fertilizers over winter in your own home. It even convinced me to start a worm bin (vermicomposting) of my own…but I’ll save that story for another post!

Here’s what the compost book looks like in case you’re interested in grabbing a copy of your own…

http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/155105843X/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=15121&creative=330641&creativeASIN=155105843X&linkCode=as2&tag=wwwshannonm0e-20

2013 North Peace Garden Tour 6 of 8 : )

I will be adding some more images to the Greenwood garden (5 of 8) as soon as I can remember to grab them from Darcy’s camera. In the meantime here are some glimpses of Ellen and Dan Bridge’s garden. This one has been on the tour before and it’s easy to see why! This massive garden has everything it takes to turn visitors as green as Ellen’s thumb. Just beautiful.

Have a look…

Growing Pumpkins in the Peace

“I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

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These pumpkin pics were taken at Veseys in Prince Edward Island on a trip several years ago. On average, the island gets their last frost on May 17 and their first on October 09th. Here in the Peace we usually get our last frost on June 05th and our first fall frost on August 29th. Considering that most pumpkins take upwards of 100 days to mature it’s a miracle anyone grows them at all up here, but many do and with great success. This was a banner year as far as lack of frost goes. Of course, it would also be the year I decided to forgo the usual attempt to grow pumpkins in my garden!

A neighbour of ours grows amazing pumpkins every year. She starts them indoors, then transplants them into “tents” built out of curved rebar and plastic sheets. She then uses a paintbrush to  carefully pollinate the plants as soon as both the male and female blooms appear. The whole operation is carefully monitored throughout the growing season to ensure the plants don’t get too hot or too cold. Now that’s dedication!

Do you manage to grow pumpkins here in zone 2b? If so, what are your secrets for success? If you have pictures of your pumpkin harvest you’d like to share please feel free to send them to me and I’ll post them along with any green thumb tips you might have.

It’s fall…time to plant the vegetable garden!

Fall planting...a golden idea?

Fall planting…a golden idea?

The leaves are falling, snow is in the forecast and I am digging out my winter coat and boots. You know what that means…time to plant peas! It is an experiment I have always wanted to try but have never been organized enough to have pea seed on hand in October.

Every year–due to my love of sheet mulching with garden waste in the fall–I get volunteer vegetables in the spring. These volunteers always outperform the seeds I sow in the spring. This year–as I munched on some garden peas that had come up in the onion bed and matured a full three weeks before the ones I planted on purpose!–I decided to finally try my hand at planting the vegetable garden in the fall.

It’s certainly not an original idea. In my well-thumbed book titled Vegetable Favorites by Lois Hole published 20 years  ago, she suggests trying a fall planting of vegetables including carrots, lettuce, onions, parsnips, spinach and Swiss chard. Planting a little more thickly and deeply to compensate for reduced germination, she talks about harvesting fall planted crops two to four weeks before those planted in the spring.

Besides peas I also have some lettuce, Swiss chard, spinach and beet seed left over that I am going to try. I even created a couple new beds specifically for the experiment.

Planting seeds

It was kind of nice dropping the fat pea seeds along the row while the leaves rained down around me and geese ganged up overhead. There are few things more hopeful than dropping a handful of seeds into the soil. Especially mere weeks before winter is due to arrive.

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I also planted the usual fall garlic bulbs. Music is a my usual go-to garlic, but this year I planted a new variety (to me) that I bought from Veseys called Siberian. The description says they are “Hot, spicy and full of flavour, grows milder in storage.  Larger bulbs with a stunning rich burgundy-purple skin, each containing about 6 easy to peel cloves. Thrives in cold climates and is a great choice for those in cold winter areas.”

And sow…we’ll see.