How to Spot the Best Onion Sets for your Garden

A perfect marble sized onion set...the smaller the better!

A perfect marble sized onion set…the smaller the better!

When choosing onion sets always look for small marble sized ones. These will grow into large, firm, onions with oodles of storage life. The big sets will end up going to seed and producing an onion that never firms up and rots in storage.

Onion sets are simply onions started from seed and then harvested before the bulbs fully mature. They are then carefully stored and replanted the following year for a quicker harvest of onions.

Onion sets are simply onions started from seed and then harvested before the bulbs fully mature. They are then carefully stored and replanted the following year for a quicker harvest of onions.

Unscrupulous sellers will pack those mesh bags with big onion sets to make up the weight with fewer bulbs. Unsuspecting buyers will see the big sets and think they’re better because they’re bigger. Instead those are onions that will really make you cry!

The bigger the onion bulb the quicker it will set seed

The bigger the onion bulb the quicker it will set seed

 

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How to Store Carrots (and any other edible) for 25 Years! Whaaat?

When it comes to storing fruits and vegetables there are seven basic methods.

  1. Keep it on the Counter. Tomatoes (especially Mystery Keeper types), sweet potatoes and butternut squash can last for weeks on the kitchen counter.
  2. Fresh in the Fridge.  Depending on the fruit or vegetable they can be stored in the fridge for as short as a week or two (lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini) or for several months (beets, carrots and apples).
  3. Resting in the Root Cellar. If you have a root cellar or cold room in your basement you can store apples, beets, cabbage, carrots, leeks, parsnips, potatoes, rutabagas, turnips, potatoes and more for up to a year.
  4. Frozen in the Freezer. Food properly prepared and stored in the freezer can last for up to two years.
  5. Canned in the Kitchen. A more apt term for today’s canning should be “Jarred” since we usually use glass jars, not tin cans for home preserving. This method is simple but time-consuming, and in the case of non-acidic vegetables, such as green beans or meats, you need to be very careful to follow instructions to avoid botulism. Even when the food looks, smells and tastes fine it can still be harboring this deadly germ. The toxin can affect your nerves causing paralysis or death. Just a small taste of food contaminated with botulism can be fatal. For this reason always use a pressure cooker for canning low-acid foods and follow instructions. Canned food should have a shelf life of up to three years.
  6. Done in the Dehydrator. While canning retains 40 percent of the food nutrients, dehydrating locks in 60 percent of the nutritional value and better yet, rehydrated food will taste fresh for up to four years and you don’t have to worry about botulism. I own a basic economy Excalibur which I love except for the day it brought me to tears. Warning! Do NOT dehydrate onions. Oh my goodness! I kid you not, the smell was so bad when my husband got home from work he could smell onions wafting about the yard as soon as he stepped out of his vehicle! Inside things were worse. Much worse. We opened all the windows, turned on the fan, closed doors, but still suffered through a hellish night and woke up with red, burning, eyes. However, once done and stored, the onions were delicious. Drying herbs, on the other hand, makes the house smell heavenly. I highly recommend drying lemon balm!
  7. Frozen in the Freeze Dryer. Last, but certainly not least, is freezing your food in a freeze dryer. Once the freeze-dried food is sealed in bags it will keep for up to 25 years. Storage is simple, doesn’t require electricity (except during the actual freeze drying part), lightweight and unbelievably lengthy. What’s more the food retains a whopping 97 percent of its original nutritional value. While other methods can have limitations when it comes to what sort of food can be processed, freeze drying does not. Your freeze-dried packets can contain contents as varied as lasagna, eggs and ice cream as well as your basic fruits, vegetables and meats.

 

A plump pension, a paid off mortgage and rocking those investment funds are all great ways to plan for ones future, but at the end of the day you can’t eat money. And let’s face it, plump pensions, paid off mortgages and investments that keep up with inflation are getting harder and harder to bank on.

What doesn’t have to be hard is growing your own food and keeping it fresh for up to a quarter of a century. It’s like money in the bank, only better because you can eat it. And you have no worries about inflation and rising food prices. Who wants to grow old and be faced with not being able to garden or afford quality food anymore?

The only downside to freeze drying is the initial expense of the dryer, but it soon pays for itself over time. And if things should go apocalyptic a person’s greatest asset and bargaining chip, next to fresh water, will be food. Who knows? Being able to trade packets of freeze-dried meals could carry more currency than gold.

What appeals to me the most-apocalyptic scenarios aside-is the self-sufficiency that can be attained even for those living in an apartment. You can easily buy bulk in season and freeze dry your bounty for the months and years to come. I love the idea of being able to put by all the food I will need for retirement, ensuring I will always have access to organic, nutritional, favorite foods long after I may have stopped growing a garden.

I also love the idea of gifting boxes filled with packets of home-grown, home-made, nutritional freeze-dried foods to my loved ones. It’s the best kind of legacy a gardener could leave. And who knows, I might even throw in a packet or two of ice cream.

With freeze drying it is possible for these children to serve this harvest to their own children!

 

 

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Grow Your Own Fish Fertilizer!

Who needs a farm with a horse or a cow to supply you with manure when you can make your own fish fertilizer right in your own apartment?

If you’re like most people who have fresh water aquariums, when you clean it out you pour the old water down the drain. That’s just a waste of good waste! Instead use the nutrient-rich (aka fish poop laden) water to fertilize your houseplants instead. The contents can be used as-is or poured into a bucket and diluted with clean water depending on just how “rich” (dirty) your waste water is. Usually a ratio of 50:50; half fresh water and half aquarium water works well. Some people simply scoop water out of the tank to water their plants without diluting it at all. They then replace what they removed with fresh water to keep the level in the aquarium at the top.

 

FRIENDLY WARNING to keep on the safe side only use your aquarium water on your non-edibles such as houseplants or flower beds. Do not use water from salt water aquariums as the salt content will kill your plants. 

 

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Bergenia…A Tropical Look for Cold Climates

Bergenia cordifolia is one of those plants you can scarcely believe could be hardy down to Zone 2. Everything about it looks tropical. Even its common name ‘elephant-ears’ is more reminiscent of the African plains than the Canadian north.

Bergenia also goes by the name ‘pig squeak’. Rub the leaves and it squeaks like a baby pig. The entertainment value alone makes this heirloom plant worth the price. It’s a great way to interest children in the garden. Where else can they pet an elephant’s ear to hear the sound of a happy little piglet?

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Bergenia dislikes hot, dry, conditions but has a cheerful, forgiving spirit. While it prefers to be tucked into a sheltered partly shaded spot with well drained soil, it will soldier on in clay or full sun. After flowering is finished snip off the spent spikes but be sure to leave the foliage alone. Known as a four season perennial, bergenia will provide a lush, tropical touch to the summer garden.

bergenia

In warm climates the leaves remain evergreen right through the winter but in colder regions gardeners are in for a colorful treat. Bergenia foliage heats up the fall garden by turning vibrant shades of pink, red and purple.

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In the spring you can trim off any damaged leaves but other than that this is pretty much a maintenance free perennial. It grows to a height of 12 inches (30 cm) with a spread of 12- 18 inches (30 – 46 cm) making it an ideal candidate for edging woodland gardens or for tucking into corners where nothing else wants to grow. Roots spread slowly by rhizomes and are easily divided in the spring after they have finished blooming or in the early fall.

 

New plant introductions are being hatched every year and the bergenia is no exception. Here are just a few variations of this hardy heirloom you might want to try.

Bergenia cordifolia ‘Purperea’ – recipient of the 1993 Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit this one features dark pink blooms on red stems in the spring giving way to deep purple leaves in the fall.

Bergenia cordifolia ‘Bressingham White’ – kicks off the season with white blooms that slowly change to pink. The deep green leaves change to bronze in the fall.

Bergenia cordifolia ‘Lunar Glow’ – an unusual bergenia with buttery yellow leaves veined with green in the spring providing a dramatic backdrop to the magenta-pink early blossoms. In the summer the leaves change to dark green and then to a rich red in the fall. Never a dull moment with this chameleon in your garden!

Bergenia cordifolia ‘Solar Flare’ – another unique offering with buttery yellow stripes on the edges of dark green leaves through spring and summer making it similar to Hostas in appearance. Very dramatic in shaded spaces. The variegated leaves change to red in the fall.

Bergenia cordifolia ‘Eroica’ – An extremely tough long lasting bergenia. Sleeps right through winter temperatures down to -46 C (-50 F) and wakes up in the spring refreshed and ready to roll. Deep purple blooms last longer than the blossoms of most other bergenias. Gorgeous green leathery leaves turn rich shades of red and burgundy in the fall. A great pick for container plants.

Bergenia cordifolia ‘Morning Red’ – an old time favorite and for good reason! Very showy with its deep purplish-red blossoms and large green leaves. In the fall the leaves turn a beautiful bronze. Very hardy.

Get Cracking With Hot Water

Anyone who has spent a hot summer afternoon trying to wiggle weeds out of sidewalk cracks will love this great garden hack. Simply pour boiling water from a tea kettle over the sidewalk cracks to kill the weeds, being careful not to splash nearby plants or your own pants.

When you’re done put the tea kettle on again to make yourself a cup of your favorite herbal blend and spend your afternoon reading instead of weeding.

Another great method is to use a garden torch attached to a propane tank to simply burn the weeds away. Just make sure there is no dry grass around that might ignite. You want no weeds, not no garden or house!

If neither of these methods appeal to you, using a stiff barbecue brush or a knife works pretty good too, though these methods are much more time-consuming than hot water or flames.

Many people put down landscape fabric, layers of newspapers or even old towels or bed sheets before adding sand and cobblestones, sidewalk blocks or pavers, only to be confused and frustrated when weeds rear their persistent heads anyway. After all, if you have blocked plants from being able to push their way up from below, how are they still managing to get through?

The short answer is they’re not. Seeds are being blown in and then settling on the surface and taking root from above. This just proves no matter how clever we think we are being, we can never control nature. And maybe that’s a good thing.

 

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Play Me That Street Cleaning Music!

This morning I was woken by the sound of scrubbing. Serious scrubbing. Could it be? I leapt to my feet, heart all aflutter, threw open the sash and what to my wondering eyes should appear? No reindeer, no Santa, no snow and not one but two street cleaners!

One on either of side of the street, they moved towards each other with tortoise-like speed. It reminded of a race of the Zambonis. Slowly, steadily, their brushes swirled sucking up a winter’s worth of salt, gravel and winter weary unmentionables, leaving nothing but wet, shiny pavement in their paths.

spring street sweeper cleaner

Whoo hoo! It felt like Christmas, but better. Like all Peace Country dwellers, I am so ready for spring. It has been almost seven full months of snow. I know that the mere sight of street cleaners doesn’t mean we won’t (whisper) wake up to a foot of snow before spring finally shows up, but it is still an encouraging sign. After seven months of winter, we need all the signs we can get.

I also spotted some ducks on the open pond in the park. This was a much better sight than what I witnessed on my drive down to Dawson on Saturday. As I approached the North Taylor Hill a duck dropped down right in front of me, lining itself up for a landing on the highway. I slammed on my brakes just as the duck realized its mistake and pulled up like a 747 aborting its landing. The highway was glossy with snow melting as it hit the surface. Looking at its winding surface from a duck’s perspective the Alaska Highway must have looked like a river. Poor thing.

But today, it is street cleaners, open water and sunshine. We’ll be in ankle deep in dandelions before you know it!

Today’s Columbine Born From a Cross Continent Love Affair

A Titillating Tale of our Beloved Columbine…

Gather around my fellow gardeners, for I have a tale to tell.  It’s a story of Kings and wild passion, of centuries gone by, a titillating tale that includes the birds and the bees.  It’s the story of one of our most beloved cottage garden perennials – the columbine.

Allow me to whisk you back in time to the 17th century. If you were a gardener in Europe over 400 years ago you could have any color of columbine your heart desired – so long as the color was blue.  Meanwhile, across the rollicking Atlantic seas deep in the wilds of North America the most common columbine was the Aquilegia Canadensis in the east and the almost identical, though more compact, Aquilegia Formosa in the west.  Both produced red blooms with yellow centers.  And so it was that the blue columbine was commonplace in Europe, while the gaudy red and yellow columbine was a yawner in North America.

Ah, but my dear readers, all that was about to change in ways that would soon set hearts aflutter.  In the early 1600’s a kinsmen to the gardener of King Charles the First was living in the state of Virginia when he decided to gift his relative with some seeds from our native columbine.  When these seeds from the New World gave birth to their red and yellow blooms they created a sensation in the King’s garden of near panic proportions.  North America’s common wildflower was embraced by Europeans as a flower so exquisite, so extraordinary, as to be practically priceless.

Happily, the Europeans weren’t the only ones to fall madly in love with the brash red and yellow columbine.  Their refined blue columbine took one look at this exotic red and yellow stranger and soon the two were breeding like bunnies.  Today’s colorful columbines are all descendants of that ancient and earthy love affair.

Columbines easy embrace of each other makes raising them either fun or frustrating depending on your goals.  They readily self seed but if you have more than one kind the offspring will no doubt carry traits of a combination of nearby columbines.  Often the result will be an inferior disappointment, but other times it can be quite remarkable.  Anyone who has ever dreamt of producing their own botanical species might enjoy starting with columbines to see what they can come up with.  Who knows?  Maybe one day there will be a columbine bearing your name!

I know what you’re thinking.  When are we ever going to get to the part about the birds and the bees?  Well, hold your trowels, for the moment is at hand!  Botanists believe the reason columbines were such different colors on the different continents was in direct correlation to the local pollinators the flowers hoped to attract.  Blue was beloved by Europe’s native bees, while in North America it was the native hummingbird the columbine sought to attract. That said, hummingbirds will happily feast on blue flowers and bees buzz in on blooms that are red, so who knows for sure.

What cannot be disputed is how today’s columbines are available in a dazzling array of colors ranging from almost burgundy to lemon yellow, as well as almost black and some that are snow-white.  They come in solids as well as lots of two tones in all shades of blue, pink, red and yellow.

Most columbines range in heights from 20 – 70 cm (8 – 27 inches) and are hardy right down to Zone 2.  They do well in a myriad of growing conditions from full sun to part shade and will put down roots in almost any type of soil.  Bloom time is from spring to early summer.

Aquilegia canadensis

North America’s original wild columbine that helped seed the whole shebang is still widely available through many ethical and sustainable sources today. Aquilegia Canadensis is the very same native that caused such a sensation in Europe 400 years ago.  Best of all, these red and yellow columbines look just as beak smacking to hummingbirds today as they did all those centuries ago!

If you’re looking for an assortment of colors or impressive sized blooms then the McKana Giant Mix is a great choice.  This tried and true standby is readily available through most catalogs and nurseries.  Or maybe you already have a particular color palette in mind that you would enjoy playing mad scientist with.  Pair a couple of favorites and see what these promiscuous plants produce for you!

Propagation:  Columbines are easily started from seed and will happily self sow in the garden.  To start seed indoors press the seeds firmly into the soil but do not cover since they require light to germinate.  Be sure to keep the seeds moist, but not too saturated.  Covering the seed tray with plastic wrap or a clear fitted lid is a great way to help keep the seeds from drying out while still letting in the light.  Germination is bolstered by popping the seeds into a plastic bag with a few tablespoons of damp potting soil and then putting them in the fridge for a couple of weeks prior to seeding.  This brief stratification period mimics winter’s natural effect on the seeds and makes them more likely to sprout.  Most freshly hatched columbines won’t bloom until the following year, but some hybrids such as the Swan Series or the Origami Mix will bloom the same year provided you start them early indoors.

Buying one year old roots from your local nursery is also a great option for dependably coloured blooms produced the same year.  If you want to reproduce more columbines from an established plant in your own garden or if you should fall in love with a particular columbine in someone else’s flower patch you can easily propagate columbines by division.  Simply dig down and slice off a healthy chunk of the root in early spring or fall – with permission of course!

As beloved as columbines are by the birds and the bees and even by European royalty, deer usually steer clear of them like a kid flees from spinach – so if deer are a problem you now have one more reason to fall in love with columbines.

As if you needed one…

 

 

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