Know Your Limits and Plant Within It

I have always liked the “limit” line of questioning…if you could only have three books for the rest of your life which three would you choose? If you were the kind of person who packed a BOB (bug out bag) what 10 items would you put in it? If you knew you were going to be shipwrecked on a deserted island what three things couldn’t you do without? You know, those kinds of questions.

If you could only have 128 square feet of garden space what would you put in it? That’s my real-life dilemma. What to plant in my four 4 X 8′ community garden beds.

fruits and vegetables

I am balancing things I love to eat fresh from the garden versus the return on the space investment. Eight feet of peas running down one side of a bed would likely translate to just a few cups of shelled peas. But is summer really summer without fresh peas? I love spaghetti squash, but three plants would fill one entire bed and probably give back just a dozen squashes in total. Is it worth it?

Decisions, decisions.

I had ruled out potatoes because of their space monster needs. The need for lots of space, not the need for actual space monsters. Which is good, because I don’t think there are any space monsters, though that would depend on what you call a monster. An asteroid hurtling towards earth could be called a space monster, but my potatoes wouldn’t want it. None of us would. Hence the term monster I suppose.

But I digress.

I had ruled out potatoes, but then I remembered that potatoes are my favorite vegetable. Yeah, yeah, yeah, they are starchy and I’ve heard them compared to consuming a chunk of sugar, but I say balderdash. I believe it isn’t the potato that causes our health problems but the things we put on it. Sour cream, butter, bacon bits, sugar-laden ketchup. If we didn’t consume so much starch and sugar in processed foods, the potato wouldn’t be an issue.

Scott Nearing, the grandfather of the back-to-the-land and grow-your-own-food movement, ate a plain baked potato pretty much every day of his life and lived to be 100.

Bring on the spuds.

the good life

And so I decided to sacrifice an entire bed to potatoes. I have been looking at the square foot method promoted by Mel Bartholomew in his book Square Foot Gardening. He makes a lot of sense, but I just don’t get the potato planting part. According to his method you can plant one potato in every square foot which works out to 32 potatoes in a 4 X 8 bed. Has anyone reading this actually done that? And if so, what were your results?

square foot gardener

How would you hill them if they were planted that close together? Or would you simply pile mulch on top to avoid green potatoes? I don’t know. It seems like waaaaay too many potatoes fighting for way too little space. Maybe you just get a bunch of baby potatoes but it works out to more pounds of spuds than you would get if you planted say, eight which is what I think would reasonably fit in a 4 X 8 space.

Eight is what I planted yesterday, but today I am going back to dig them up.

Sigh.

Our favourite spud is Yukon Gold. I like the yellow flesh and the taste and how early it matures. Yesterday I scouted about for some organic Yukon Gold seed potatoes but couldn’t find any. Instead I found a box of organic Gold Rush seed potatoes. I figured the gold meant they would be yellow fleshed and assumed they would be similar to Yukon Gold.

You know what they say about assume. It makes an ass out of u and me. Ass u me.

Turns out Gold Rush is a whiter than white fleshed potato that matures late. And no, it didn’t say any of that on the box. I had to Google it but I only did so after I had planted them.

So today I am heading back out to buy a bag of Yukon Gold to replace the Gold Rush. But I still don’t think I will plant 32 in a bed; though if I did, I could plant both kinds. And maybe some fingerlings too. Hmmm.

germinating potatoes

 

 

 

 

If a Worm is Cut in Half will it Turn into Two Worms?

Short answer? No. No it will not. I wanted to believe the myth after working in my garden yesterday and inadvertently slicing a poor, hardworking, earthworm in half. Fortunately, the news isn’t all bad. Read on.

Earthworms have a head on one end and a tail on the other, though it is difficult to tell which is which.

Cute worm cartoon

If you look close you will see a raised ring on the worm, called a clitellum. That’s the darker section in the cartoon worm shown above. The end closest to the clitellum is the head, the one furthest is the tail.

The good news, and likely where the myth of making two worms out of one worm originates, is that a worm can survive if the clitellum is left fully intact. It can even grow a new tail. BUT (this would be the bad news) it cannot grow a new head. Cut a worm in half and the tail is toast.

worm

Here is another image of an actual earthworm. See the raised ring or clitellum? That means the worm’s head is at the top of this picture and the tail is at the bottom. If you accidentally hoe a worm in half below the clitellum it will live to burrow another day. Cut above it and the worm has lost its head and along with it, all chance to survive.

Now the next time I am hoeing in my garden and cut a worm in two at least I will be able to check to see just how bad I should feel.

 

She’s at it again…

I found some VERY deep saucers at Dunvegan a few weeks back and decided to give balcony gardening another go. This time I am reining it in at a dozen pots…give or take a few. And did I mention the deep saucers? They’re deep. Very deep.

 

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The deep saucers. They are even deeper than they look in this picture.

 

The other night I arranged the containers on the balcony and was busily filling them up with potting soil…not the disastrous potentially brown-leaking-smelly-sheep manure potting soil. Just the straight up sterilized kind. A bit of peat moss, a bit of vermiculite, some pearls of perlite and such.

I also got some coir blocks, threw them in a tub and added water. The transformation was amazing. You bring home this little cube of four large book sized slabs of coir, put each slab in a Rubbermaid tote (or what have you) add a couple gallons of water and whoosh. An hour later you have a tubful of peat mossy type product.

I don’t know environmentally which is better in the end. Shipping coir in cargo ships across the ocean or depleting our peat bogs…a practice the peat manufacturers once sent me a video about to prove that claims against them being environmentally irresponsible are entirely bogus. The truth lies somewhere in the middle I suppose. I don’t know.

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And all the plastic…oh my goodness. By the time I finished filling the containers I had a plastic bag full of more plastic bags all destined for recycling. Which is whole ‘nother mess of worms.

The best solution would be to get your own bag-free ship-free bog-free product from composting your garden refuse. No bags, no shipping, no bogs, no guilt.

Anywho’s, there I was happily (albeit a bit guiltily) filling my containers in their very deep saucers with plastic bagged products when a woman’s voice floated up to me from the sidewalk below.

“She’s at it again!”

I looked down and spotted a familiar looking couple on the sidewalk. They quickly turned away and kept walking.

Maybe they weren’t talking about me. Maybe they were discussing a family member who had started taking drugs again or something. I fought off the urge to shout after them, “But this time I have very deep saucers!”

After they disappeared from sight, paranoia seeped in and I thought I had better give the building manager a heads up. I carefully worded an email emphasising my very deep saucers and all the safe watering practices I planned to implement. I even invited her to come and see the saucers. The deep ones.

The reply came saying she would pass the information along to a higher up and let me know. It was friendly enough, but not the solid two thumbs up I had hoped for.

We’ll see…

 

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Most of the plants you see here are destined for the community garden…they’re just on the balcony getting some tough love. Hardening off on an April afternoon. No dripping. And the long tan colored container is a self waterer…no drainage at all except for a built in reservoir in the bottom. Good for the balcony, maybe not so good for the plants. 

 

 

 

 

Combustible Plants…Really, It’s a Thing!

The Gasplant Dictamnus albus is also known as Burning Bush or Dittany. Whatever you call it, here’s the interesting part…the blooms are naturally saturated with flammable oil. Hold a match to the base of their flower spike and they will flare up with a soft hiss and a pop. The whole thing happens pretty quickly and I have to warn you that it’s not as impressive as a pyrotechnic show, but it is still pretty amazing.

Hopefully this has ignited your interest in this pretty perennial. It is a worthwhile addition to anyone’s garden. The blooms vary in color from white to pink to purple and produce a lovely lemon scent. Even the leaves produce a fresh citrus scent when brushed or bruised.

Pink Dictamnus albus flowers

Gasplants are very hardy and maintenance free. They produce a tap-root and so should not be divided. While this does make them difficult to share with the neighbors, it also makes them a cinch to care for. Simply leave the plant alone to do its thing and it will return to your garden every season for 20 years or more.

Plants should be purchased from a nursery, as they can take three to four years to bloom from seed starts. When buying potted gasplants, be forewarned that in the first year all of the plant’s energy will go into establishing its roots, so it might appear to be doing poorly. Don’t worry! In the years to follow it will make up for its seemingly slow start with robust above surface growth.

The blooms show up in early summer and are short-lived (as is their flammability). However, the blossoms turn into bronze colored, star-shaped seed heads that remain eye-catching all season long…even if you can’t turn them into a torch. They look amazing in dried arrangements.

 

Specs

Height      3 to 4 feet (90-120 cm)

Spread      3 feet (90 cm)

Bloom Period     Early Summer

Growing Conditions     Prefers sun to light shade. Will do well in hot, dry areas.

Hardiness     Hardy down to Zone 3

Dividable     No

Perennial     Yes. Will live 20 years or more.

 

Guerrilla Grafting

A lot of people are familiar with Guerrilla Gardening. The act of planting an unsightly lot or space with beautiful plants without permission from the city or owner. It’s been growing on for decades.

Guerilla grafting, on the other hand, is something fairly new.

Guerrilla gardening sign

The idea took root in San Francisco where city planners had lined the streets with beautiful fruit trees. Intentionally sterile beautiful fruit trees. They were concerned about the mess of ripening fruit and feared the wildlife it might attract.

A group of California citizens said Piffle! Well, I don’t really know what they said, but I do know it wasn’t a remark of approval.

And then they went one step further. They started grafting branches of productive fruit trees onto the sterile ones. Without permission.

Yup, meet the Guerilla Grafters. The brain child of Tara Hui who started grafting onto the sterile fruit trees in the Bay area a few years ago. A news article about the movement can be read here.

The idea behind the rebellious action is to help feed the hungry and the homeless. Imagine a world where hungry people could simply roam the streets and byways to forage for food. An apple here, a pear there, a hatful of berries along a ravine. Sounds an awful lot like the world we were originally born to, before money madness took over. It’s intriguing to say the least.

Grafting apricot tree branches. Grafting fruit trees step by step

The art of grafting is pretty simple. Basically you sharpen a live branch and then drill a hole in the host tree and stick the adopted branch inside. You can then wrap the branch with a moisture retentive material until it takes hold, but even holding it in place with electrical tape will work.

This is how we come to have trees that will grow several kinds of different fruit on one tree. A great idea when you are shy on space but crave diversity. While it does involve some human intervention, the fruit you end up with is the same as the fruit you would find on the tree it originally came from. No messing with genetics as such.

Grafting is also commonly used in the rose industry where tender roses are grafted onto hardy root stock allowing them to grow in colder climates.

 

12 Orange Flowers and Plants That Will Grow On You

Spring has only just begun where I live, but I recently made a trip south where I saw orange in almost every flower bed and planter. It was the new pink, purple, blue…well, it was the new everything.

Here is a video I took of just one of the “hedges of orange” I spotted on my travels.

 

 

One thing is for certain; if use orange in your spring containers they will make a seamless transition into fall. Or maybe the above display will be replaced with soft pink and purple for fall, just to mess with our minds. I like it. Change is good. And the color is surprisingly stunning. I say surprising because I have always leaned more towards the pink and purple spectrum when it comes to flowers, but this year, sheep that I am, I will probably be adding the color orange to at least some of my containers.

The planting in the video was built around the orange tulips and offset by primroses, pansies and coral bells with a dab of silver dusty miller. Having a color theme can simplify your shopping, but it can also make things a bit of a challenge. Especially if you try to go with all perennials.

When I was first starting out I planned an entire perennial bed in yellows and blues using a dozen different plants. It was gorgeous. In my head. The reality was less than breathtaking. It wasn’t even gasp worthy. Maybe sneeze worthy. But a very small one.  Just choo without the ah preceding it. You get the idea. What happened-or didn’t happen-was that I hadn’t taken the blooming periods of each perennial into consideration. I ended up with a few yellow blooms launching themselves in May, a couple blue ones opening in July and a few more yellow ones blossoming in August and so forth. None were long lasting. Each one seemed to die out before the next one began and none of them amounted to much on their own, let alone a dazzling color scheme. It can be done (visit any botanical garden) but it takes careful planning and a bit of cooperation from Mother Nature. Heavy handed use of dependable annuals for filler is always a good idea.

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In this mixture, only the tulip blooms are fleeting. The coral bells are perennial but the orange color comes from its foliage not its blooms. What a stroke of genius! Orange color without waiting or worrying for the bloom. The pansies and primroses will bloom all season long.

When the tulips finish it will be interesting to see what happens next with the display. I might have to fly back just to see!

 

12 Flowers and Foliage Picks that Come in Shades of Orange

candyman calendula veseys

1.      Calendula Candyman Calendula officinalis double orange blooms on sturdy stems with edible orange petals you can sprinkle in summer salads or use to make homemade beauty products. What more can you ask for? An annual that blooms all summer long atop 12 inch (30 cm) stems. Seeds can be purchased through Veseys.

cropped coral bell

2.     Coral bells Heuchera ‘Marmalade’ Grown for its orange hued foliage this variety of Coral bells also produces spikes of reddish brown flowers in the summer. A hardy, long lasting perennial, it can grow to a height of one foot (30 cm) with a spread (width) of 3 feet (1 meter). Does well in either full sun or part shade.

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3.     Crocosmia Prince of Orange is a fairly tender bulb that I believe is only available in North America from Veseys  If you are looking for a dash of different this could be the orange that does it for you. Very upright and flashy, it attracts hummingbirds by the dozens. Hardy from Zone 5. Blooms mid to late summer and achieves heights of 2 – 3 feet (61 cm – 1 meter).

maverick orange geranium veseys

4.     Geranium Maverick Orange Pelargonium hortorum is a stunning annual geranium that sets gorgeous orange blooms atop deep green foliage. Grows to approximately 18 inches (46 cm) tall and blooms all season long. Seeds are available from Veseys.

Marigold flowers in a pot seedling spring

5.     Marigold Tagetes You can’t talk about orange flowers without mentioning the marigold. There are more marigolds sold as bedding plants in North America than any other flower. It wouldn’t be summer without their dependable long lasting cheerful annual blossoms. They are beloved in flower beds but also appreciated in vegetable gardens where they both attract and deter the right sort of insects and nematodes. While they also come in yellow and white, orange is the most popular and widely available. For tall varieties choose African marigolds Tagetes erecta or for shorter displays look for French marigolds Tagetes patula that will provide a small but very full compact display for edging the fronts of beds and containers. If you want marigold blossoms that taste as good as they look plant a few Tagetes tenuifolia for adding to salads and sandwiches.

mexican torch wcs

6.     Mexican Torch also called Mexican Sunflower Tithonia rotundifolia is a robust annual that soars to heights of 6 feet (2 meters) with a 2 foot (61 cm) spread (width) and is covered with brilliant orange flowers all summer long. Plant this heat loving plant outside when soil is warm or start indoors then transplant once all danger of frost has passed. Available from West Coast Seeds

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7.     Milkweed or Butterfly Bush Ascleipas tuberosa  A perennial with a long bloom period lasting from June to August. This is the only plant the monarch butterfly will lay its eggs on so is essential to their survival. Hardy to Zone 3. Will bloom in second year and thereafter. Reaches heights of 3 feet (one meter) with a 2 foot (61 cm) spread (width).

nasturtium

8.     Nasturtium Another edible flower this annual will bloom all summer long. Seeds and plants are widely available in shades of red, yellow and, of course, orange! Two or three seeds popped in a pot will absolutely fill it before season’s end. A very economical and stunning addition to containers and gardens. And salads.

cropped pansy

9.     Pansies Some pansy seed packets are marketed as orange but come out more yellow or red. Your safest bet is to visit a nursery and choose a shade of orange you like from the pansies being sold as bedding plants.

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10.     African Sunset Multiflora Petunia is the first orange petunia available from seed. Always a dependable annual just one petunia fills and spills a medium sized container. Available from Veseys.

fantasia swiss chard

11.     Swiss Chard Fantasia This is actually a vegetable not a flower but that just makes it better. The brilliant orange stalks will lend color to your containers all season long and you can eat them…leaves, stalks and all for a nutrition packed boost. Available from Veseys

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12.     Irene Parrot Tulip If you are smitten with the tulips you saw in the border you will be interested in Irene Parrot Tulips available from West Coast Seeds You will need to plan ahead and plant them in the fall and be prepared to put up with some unsightly foliage for the summer and fall, or try hiding them behind a robust clump of petunias or such. Some gardeners go so far as to lift the bulbs and transfer to a pot where they can while away the summer days in an obscure corner of the yard, while storing up nutrients in for next spring. In the fall plant the bulbs back in the bed and the whole show can start again!

These are just a few of a vast array of orange blossoming or foliage plants available. A wander through your local nursery will unearth lots and lots of choices. And, of course, Swiss Chard isn’t the only vegetable available in orange. Try adding some orange peppers or if you have lots of room even a pumpkin!

Ten Ways Gardening Cultivates Mental Health

Studies now suggest what gardeners have always known; gardening is good for you! Not just eating the vegetables, but the digging of the soil, planting the seeds, pulling weeds and collecting the harvest. It’s good for the waistline, it’s good for your heart and it’s exceptionally good for your mental well-being.

Most of us know a contented person who has become synonymous with their garden. Those perennial sifters of soil that can be found happily working in their garden year after year. Maybe it’s a grandparent, a neighbor or perhaps it’s you!

Years ago one such contented-perennial-gardener-type person paused in his hoeing to give me his colorful opinion on people who paid for gym memberships and visits to a therapist, “Grow a bleeping carrot!” he said. Only he didn’t say bleeping.

While all our physical and mental health issues probably won’t be solved by growing carrots, having a garden might help more than we think. In fact, studies are sprouting up like weeds to suggest that gardeners are healthier than non-gardeners in both body and soul. On average those who grow potatoes live 14 years longer than couch potatoes. And they’re happier too.

A study done in Sweden found that those who did gardening type activities were just as healthy as those who got the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous activity through other means such as jogging, bicycling or working out at the gym.

Look at her go! Look at her hoe! Not only is she getting an awesome upper body workout, but she is also gaining the mental satisfaction of a weed free row of vegetables.

Those who got upwards of 30 minutes of vigorous exercise three times a week or more fared slightly better, but it should be noted that some activities such as jogging on hard pavement can wreak havoc with your joints, even while improving your cardiovascular health.

And when you’re finished you don’t get garden fresh carrots.

Gardening involves a wide range of activity without the mind numbing boredom of doing reps in a sterile setting. And the earthy smell of soil and the fragrant flowers are far preferable to being surrounded by sweaty humans.

But can a garden really make us happier? Let’s take a look.

 

Ten Ways Gardening Contributes to our Mental Health

1.      Something to Look Forward to. Turns out spending those dark days of winter looking over seed catalogues and planning out our garden is good for us. Humans need goals, things to aspire to, something to wake up for in the morning.

2.     The Nature Connection.  People who make time to connect with nature are happier, more content, have fewer heart attacks and are less stressed. Gardening is a fabulous way to connect with nature. Not only are you knee-deep in vegetation, time in a garden will provide you with all kinds of opportunities to observe bees, butterflies, birds and more.

Woman digging in garden

3.     Exercise.  Few things improve our mood like exercise. Gardening involves a wide range of motion and levels of exertion. It can be the perfect varied workout. A typical day in the garden can involve pushing a loaded wheelbarrow up a hill, packing heavy objects, hoeing, digging, bending and balancing. Best of all, you won’t get bored as all of these “exercises” are a means to an end. Instead of counting reps you are counting days to harvest or seasons to having the garden of your dreams.

Senior Man Relaxing In Garden With Cup Of Coffee

4.     Brain Boosting. As we age we can become less social and more housebound. A garden gives us a reason to get out of the house. Chatting with plants or birds might make you look a little senile, but it actually makes you less likely to get dementia. An independent pair of studies observed seniors in their 60s and 70s for 16 years and found that those who gardened regularly had a 36% to 47% lower risk of dementia than those who didn’t garden at all.

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5.     Depression Deterrent. Is it possible that a bacteria in our soil could actually cure depression? Sounds a bit far-fetched, but there could be something to it. Christopher Lowry, Ph.D., an assistant professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, conducted a study where he gave mice Mycobacterium vaccae, a harmless bacteria found in soil. He discovered that the bacteria increased serotonin levels in much the same way that antidepressant drugs are designed to do.

Is the increased stress that is so prevalent today the result from no longer getting our hands in the soil and gaining access to this natural bacteria? Something to consider.

Lady vegetable gardener

6.      Altruism. Gardeners are givers by nature. Extra produce finds its way onto neighbours doorsteps or through the doors of the local food bank. Pieces of perennials are cheerfully divided with a sharp shovel and sent on their way to new homes. Giving is linked to happiness and mental well-being hence the adage “happiness is best kept when it is given away”. People who think of others are happier and healthier than those who only consider their own well-being.

Two elderly ladies chatting in the garden.

7.     Socializing. Studies show that having an active social network can be important to mental health. If you are a bit shy or new to a community, a garden can be the perfect vehicle for cultivating friendships. Join a local garden club, help out a cause such as “grow a row” for your local food bank or simply prepare to meet your neighbors as you work in your front yard.

Cute little boy weeding the vegetable garden

8.      Family. Like socializing, having close bonds with your family contributes to overall mental health for both adults and children. A garden is a great place to bond with family. Who doesn’t like to play in the dirt? Almost any life lesson can be taught while observing the natural processes of nature and children will grow up with the confidence of knowing how to provide for themselves and just how delicious vegetables can really be.

Earth connected

9.      Spiritual Practice. No matter what your beliefs are, spending time in a garden can provide you with much clarity and joy. The simple faith of planting a seed, the grace of harvest, the beauty of a flower, the complex interaction of insects and plants and the never-ending circle of life from seed to plant to compost and back again can provide us with the peace, connection and understanding our seeking minds crave.

Close-up of hands holding the basket with yellow, red apples and

10.      The Harvest. Last but not least, is the harvest. Yes there will be years the cabbage worms infest your Brassica crop and all your tomatoes are lost to frost, but there will always be something for your basket. Organic produce, flowers for your vase and moving on from your failures will all help to make you healthy, happy and wise. Except with gardening there are no failures since all so-called “failures” end up in the compost bin where they turn back into the rich soil our garden needs.

Man watered garden and talking on the phone

However, if your garden is so big it requires more time than you have to spend, it will simply become one more thing to be stressed about, and that won’t help you at all. Especially if you end up meeting the neighbors while watering the flowers minus your pants.

How much time does your garden need? An overly simplistic rule of thumb is to allow one hour a week per 32 square feet (a 4 x 8 foot garden space). Some might need more time and others will need less. So much depends on what you plant, how particular you are and how fast you move.

Things like access to water should be considered. A garden with drip irrigation built-in will obviously require less time than one that needs to be hand watered, but then again, it won’t offer the fitness benefits of carrying heavy cans of water. A heavily mulched garden will have fewer weeds and need less water than one that isn’t…and so on.

Only you can decide on the size and type of garden that suits you and the sort of time and energy you want to spend in it. The best advice is to grow slow and take time to smell the roses. Literally.

And here’s a final mental health tip. Remember that gardening, like life, is a journey not a destination. May yours provide you with a harvest of many joyous moments along the way!

my garden doctor

This book, originally penned by Frances Duncan in 1913 and then republished by Patricia Lanza author of Lasagna Gardening , is a case in point of the healing powers of a garden. Titled My Garden Doctor it is well worth a read.

As is the book and method Patricia Lanza is famous for…Lasagna Gardening.

lasagna garden