August is a Wrap

August is a wrap. Well, actually it’s a month. I make it sound like a burrito or something, which it most definitely is not. If August were a food it would be a fruit salad. Or maybe an ice cream cone. But I digress.

August leaves us at midnight and just like that, tomorrow we wake up in September.

If it weren’t for its brevity, and the winter that quickly follows, fall would be my favourite season.

I believe it was Albert Camus who said, “Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower.”

Here in northern Canada, our trees are predominately aspen which turn an incredible lemon yellow against the backdrop of our huge cobalt blue prairie skies. Skies that are never more blue than in the fall. It’s undeniably gorgeous, but perhaps lacking in the maple reds that provinces in the east enjoy.

Our reds come to us through shrub sized foliage; saskatoon, cranberry and wild rose bushes swirl around the aspen’s knees in brilliant shades of red, orange and burgundy. It’s enough.

If you slice through our city on the main street heading north, it will take you out of town and through what we call “the coulees” because, well, they’re coulees. The road snakes its way higher and higher until you reach the other side where you can turn around and be gobsmacked by the beauty. It is our favourite fall destination and it takes us all of ten minutes to get there.

Besides the visual beauty, I also love the crisp nip in the air and the pungent smell of ripe cranberries and rotting vegetation.

Autumn in the Peace Country is a sensory sensation.

Soon robins will start flocking up and geese will begin their practice V’s overhead, but right now, on this last day of August, summer is still in a holding pattern, the leaves are still green and frost is not yet on the pumpkin.

But yes, a killing frost will lay our annuals black any day, though there is always a chance it will overlook us all the way into October. A very slim chance, but a chance nonetheless. It has happened before, as we love to tell each other.

Nature will let us know soon enough.

The potatoes have died back, there’s mildew on the zucchini, the pitiful  trio of Brussel sprouts are looking decidedly peckish. Right now the cosmos are the only saving grace in the vegetable beds. They are also the first to faint at the slightest puff of frost. As you can see, I have already pulled out the annuals in the perennial border bed along the fence. Everything looks so naked now. Not a flattering photo, but this is the corner of the back garden on the last day of August. Already planning for next year while making the most of this one…

 

 

 

 

How Much Oxygen Does a Tree Produce? How Much Oxygen Do You Need?

A 20 inch diameter tree sucks up 157 pounds of carbon dioxide and then releases 115 pounds of oxygen back into the air every year.

The average human requires approximately 400 pounds of oxygen per year which means we need four trees for every human in order to more than meet our oxygen requirements.

Grow trees!

 

 

 

First Challenge in Creating a Potager Garden…Pronunciation

The first challenge I am facing in creating a potager garden is in the pronouncing of it.

Mispronouncing words has always been the bane of my existence.

Back in high school I remember diligently studying up for a test on the First Nation people only to have the teacher toss out a comment on a new group just before we were about to flip over our test papers and begin, sending me into a panic.

The Sue! Who were the Sues? I hadn’t studied anything about the Sues.

Fortunately the Sue people didn’t make the test paper, much to my relief.

I am mortified to report that it took me several years after graduating  before I realized the Sioux people (which I had been mispronouncing as Sigh-Ox) were, indeed, the “Sues” the teacher had referred to.

My biggest problem is that I am a shy introvert who reads and writes far more than I speak.

Words are silently read, pronounced incorrectly in my head, and there they reside until a humiliating verbal aha moment strikes.

And so it seemed to be with potager gardens.

I have been reading about potager gardens for years and cheerfully pronouncing it in my head as pot-a-jur.

Then I came across a you tube video where some person was calling it a pot-a-jay garden.

A bit more research found that unlike my Sioux confusion, the potager pronunciation commonly goes both ways, though the latter is probably the correct one. It is sort of like clem-atis vs clem-a-tis. Or, I suppose, toe-may-toe vs tah-mat-oe. Or kah-tone-ee-aster vs cotton-easter. Though with the latter, maybe it is never pronounced cotton easter.

This is probably why I love writing about gardening, but shrink from talking about it. Or maybe it is why I love writing period, but am not much for chitchat.

Then I came across a wonderful quote by that prolific genius Anonymous that went:

Never make fun of someone if they mispronounce a word. It means they learned it by reading.

The sun came out, the angels sang and, at long last, I stood tall.

Maybe mispronouncing a word simply outs you as a voracious reader and tells the world you are smarter than average.

Okay, maybe I went too far.

But I still love the quote and plan to mutter it to myself like a mantra the next time I say a word wrong in public.

And now back to planning my potager garden, however the world pronounces it.

 

 

Be the Tree

We brought our apple tree home yesterday (thank you Doris and Dale at Rhubarb to Roses for not only the tree, but a couple free zucchini and a guided garden tour of their ever expanding gorgeous gardens).

After much deliberation we had decided to plant the tree in the backyard where a young rogue mountain ash has taken up residence. The ash had planted itself between another ash and our mayday tree, both of which are looking a little aged and perhaps slightly diseased.

Our plan was to take out the young mountain ash, plant the apple tree in its place and then a few years down the road take out the old mountain ash and the may day tree leaving the entire space for the apple tree.

That was the plan.

When we set the apple tree down by the young ash, we paused. The young ash had transformed itself from a slender stick in the spring to a a gorgeously shaped tree over the summer. Its vibrant green leaves were offset by large healthy clusters of bright orange berries that would be turning red in a few weeks. Its bark positively glowed in the evening sun.

How could we even think of removing it?

True, its young branches were already tickling the sides of both the old mountain ash and the may day tree, but maybe there was room for the three after all. The trio made a pretty windbreak and offered both us and our neighbours some privacy. As time goes on there may not be room for them all, but in the end it will be the rogue mountain ash that remains and not our new apple tree.

So now where to plant the new apple tree?

The gas line runs right where I wanted the tree to go originally, but Darcy thought it could look just as good if we planted it a few feet to the left.

I wasn’t convinced.

While I watched from the porch, Darcy went out to the front lawn, stood on the chosen spot, raised his arms above his head and swayed like a tree.

“Picture it,” he said.

Before I could reply, our neighbour burst out of his garage and exclaimed, “Are we doing ballet now?” and ran over beside Darcy, threw his arms above his head did a surprisingly graceful pirouette.

We have the greatest neighbours.

Be the Tree

Apparently their daughter was up visiting, and as luck would have it, had looked out the window just in time to spot Darcy swaying around on our front lawn.

“I think your new neighbour might be a little crazy,” she suggested, pointing him out to her father.

Darcy assured him he could tell his daughter they didn’t have crazy neighbours.

He wasn’t doing ballet.

He was merely being a tree.

The multi-variety apple tree? Seventy-five dollars.

The tree and shrub fertilizer? Fifteen bucks.

The memory of an August evening when I stood on the front porch watching Darcy and the neighbour improvise their own rendition of the Tree Planters Ballet on our front lawn?

Priceless.

How could we not plant the tree there?

And besides, the spot is perfect.

And so is the tree.

Best of all nothing was sacrificed in the planting except, perhaps, a wee bit of dignity.

 

 

 

 

I always thought gas lines were three feet deep. I was wrong.

We still love our crab apple tree, but would like one that grows eating apples as well.

Finding a spot for something as big as an apple tree on such a tiny lot takes a lot of forethought.

I am torn between giving up precious ground and the idea of having our own apples stored up for winter.

The apple tree has won out, ground will be sacrificed, but we are still figuring out exactly where to plant it.

And that’s where the gas line comes in.

And the water line and the power lines and the phone lines (which are buried in our subdivision rather than overhead).

I always thought gas lines were buried at least three feet deep.

I was wrong.

Fortunately that little tidbit of information wasn’t discovered after scattering myself over the rooftops of nearby homes.

Instead, I chose to err on the side of caution.

Within an hour of calling Dial Before You Dig the gas company arrived with flags and spray paint in hand. I couldn’t believe how fast they showed up.

“I’m probably being overly cautious,” I told the gas woman. “The lines are at least three feet deep and I won’t be digging that far down anyway.”

And that was how I learned gas lines are actually more like 18 inches deep. On average.

AND the line runs right where we wanted to site the tree. Crisis averted!

Now the only crisis is to figure out where to put an apple tree.

 

The yellow circle below the flag isn’t a camera spot or reflection but spray paint. Yellow marks the spot. Now I am thinking about dogs. Yellow is really an unfortunate colour to have picked Gas Company. Red would have been better. Except that could be mistaken for blood…yellow is probably fine. Good job Gas Company.

 

As you can see the gas line misses the pumpkin patch but marches brazenly through the newer raised beds closer to the curb.

While I wouldn’t recommend radically raised beds for planting an apple tree in, raised beds do negate the worry of disturbing anything buried below as well as providing an instant, easy to work in, garden bed.

Those are the pros.

The cons are water retention.

I am finding my raised beds dry out really quickly.

Like, really quickly.

It hasn’t helped that we haven’t had any rain for almost three weeks.

Over winter the beds should settle a bit and once I figure out what I am planting where, a little mulch will go a long way in keeping things moist.

I hope.

Now back to finding a spot for the apple tree…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are Dandelions the Path to World Peace? A Sufi Parable.

I heard a wonderful story the other day attributed to a Sufi Islamic teaching.

The story goes that a gardener was trying to rid his garden of dandelions, but no matter how hard he tried the plant kept coming back.

After exhausting every weed extraction method known to horticulture, he decided to set out on a journey to ask a revered master what to do.

After days of travel, he finally found the master and explained his plight. The wise master went over the numerous ways the gardener could extract the bothersome weed from his garden, but the gardener countered that he had already tried them all.

They sat together in silence for a long time and then the master said, “Well, you are just going to have to learn to love dandelions.”

Sometimes it is in the simplest of messages that your whole view of the world shifts.

This story was a view shifter for me.

There is so much anger in the world today. People are feeling the pressure to step into groups – right, left, for or against and then rage at the other side from their chosen position.

I have often thought of what utopia would look like for me and I am ashamed to say it has crossed my mind if “they” could just think like me, the world could be such a beautiful, loving, peaceful place. If I could just eradicate the beliefs and thoughts that oppose my own, if I could just pull them all out like bothersome dandelions, our garden, our life, our world, would be perfect.

And like the gardener in the story, I have tried everything to get rid of the dandelions. I have argued, reasoned, pleaded with those who think differently than I do. I am always so sure if I just word things differently or present my case in a different light or talk louder, they will finally see the error of their thinking and come around to seeing things my way. They will change from dandelions to roses, just like that.

Of course, they are no doubt listening to me and viewing me as the dandelion in their life and secretly wishing I would climb into a compost heap and disappear already.

I tell myself I want the world to get along. I want us all to hold hands and just love.

I think I have a hippy heart.

I also have a vision for my garden, and it doesn’t always include dandelions.

But, and this is key, there will always be dandelions.

Literally, I have huge respect for dandelions. I even drink dandelion tea every day. I know there is no part of the dandelion that isn’t ridiculously good for you. I recognize the importance of dandelions as an early source of food for bees and other pollinators.

Metaphorically…it’s a tough one. Can I recognize that a person can have different beliefs from my own and not see them as a noxious weed? And if I can’t, if I am that judgmental, what does any of my preaching about love and inclusion even mean?

And if I dream of a world where people who think opposite of me don’t exist, if I do everything I can think of to weed them out, am I not crossing over from a Hippy mind to a Hitler mind?

The thinking that we need to eradicate anything is scary territory.

When I step into my garden it is the diversity I love, right down to the tenacious dandelions refusing to be taken out.

We could triumph in ridding the world of dandelions, only to wonder where all the bees and butterflies have gone.

Companion planting is all about mixing up plant matter and respecting the old adage that nature abhors a vacuum.

So that’s my soul lesson for this Sunday. To weed out the hate planted in my heart in all its clever guises and to learn how to love that which I can’t get rid of. To find a way to truly embrace diversity in all its forms.

I have nothing to lose except my judgmental mind.

Hello there baby pumpkins. Now off with your heads!

Gardening can be a violent affair.

There is no denying that our days are getting shorter and there is an unmistakable change in the air that we all pretend we don’t feel, but we do. It whispers, “Hurry, hurry, hurry” in our ear.

And that is why violence was wreaked in the pumpkin patch this evening.

Most of the pumpkins in my patch are marble sized but a few have gone from marble to tennis ball sized. This is great, but there are only two or three weeks of dependable heat left, and even then frost could nip its way into the garden anytime.

And so for the sake of the greater good, I nipped my way through the pumpkin patch this evening, removing all blossoms and any pumpkins that hadn’t yet achieved tennis ball status.

This beheading of fellow baby pumpkins works wonders on the bigger pumpkins. Suddenly the energy that was going into making as many pumpkins as possible is diverted into the remaining larger pumpkins and they grow crazy fast as a result. Or at least that’s the hope.

Nipping off the blossoms was extra freaky given that a picture I took of a blossom earlier and posted on Facebook  had a face in it. A friend pointed it out. At first I didn’t know what she was talking about but when I looked closer there it was, plain as anything.

See for yourself.

One friend said it looked like a smurf. Darcy thinks it looks like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. What do you think?

I didn’t take time to look at the blossoms I nipped off tonight. Who knows what the rest might have looked like. I didn’t want to know.

It helps to know those who were nipped in the bud went into my stock troughs where they will compost and provide nutrients for next year’s vegetables.

Nothing in a garden ever dies. It just becomes part of the cycle for next year.

It doesn’t seem quite so violent when you think of it as a beautiful circle of life rather than the beheading of baby pumpkins.

I think I think too much.

I think I’ve been gardening too much.

I think I need to call it a day.

Good night fellow gardeners.