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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Hugelkultur in My Stock Trough Garden

I have used hugelkutur in my garden for years with great results.

Full disclosure; I had never even heard of hugelkultur until a couple weeks ago when I stumbled across an article about the german method of basically covering wood with organic matter to create raised beds for planting.

I just did it to be thrifty.

When you have large containers to fill it can take a lot of soil. Even if you buy that soil by the truckload instead of the bagful, it still adds up in a hurry dollar-wise.

Consider that a stock trough is two feet deep and most vegetable roots will only go down one foot and you have a whole foot of soil that is basically just unused space.

I tried using styrofoam peanuts as filler once. And only once. Oh my goodness what a horrific mistake that was!

The idea was that the styrofoam when add filler while keeping the containers lightweight. Which sounded good. In theory.

The reality was that when I eventually emptied my container to add new soil I had packing peanuts EVERYWHERE. A couple years later I was still picking them out of the compost bin.

Putting the peanuts in a bag at the bottom of a container would have at least kept them from spreading around or I could have been more careful when replacing the soil, but at the end of the day they were still styrofoam. Not organic. And I hated that.

After that I started filling the bottoms of big containers with straw, tree prunings and even pieces of firewood. Problem solved.

Turns out others have also been doing the same thing for years but calling it hugelkultur.

Whatever you call it this is what it looks like in my new stock trough garden.

 

 

hugelkultur branches in stock trough straw

 

 

As you can see I used old trimmings, new trimmings, straw and even some oats. It is kind of like making a layer cake. As long as everything is organic it is going to be good.

I fill the troughs about two thirds full of organic stuff, counting on the heavier soil to squish everything down, leaving a foot of organic matter and another foot of growing soil on top.

After that, nothing left to do but sow some seeds!

Though in my case, that won’t happen until spring giving the troughs all winter to settle in.

 

 

Fire and Frost

Gardening in Canada is challenging enough, what with the ever-present threat of frost.

Here in the Peace River Country we have experienced not only frost, but snow, every month of the year. Not every year (thank goodness) but over the years snow has fallen on at least one occasion every single month.

This year-same as last-frost fears are wildly overshadowed by the threat of fire.

BC has just issued a state of emergency as wildfires continue to wreak havoc in our province.

The garden takes a backseat when you’re simply worried about getting your family and animals out alive and hoping you have a roof over your head to return to.

People are always grateful their family got out safely, but once a fire has gone through your property there will be years of residual grief over the loss of a mature landscape. Trees that took decades to not only beautify the landscape, but slow the winter winds and cast shade on hot summer afternoons are not easily replaced. You don’t realize how they have become like old friends you can count on until they are gone.

You might think that at least the vegetable garden will go on the same. However, with the burning of buildings come all sorts of toxins that leach into the garden soil. It is a lot to recover from for both the garden and the gardener.

For those with orchards, vineyards, market gardens or farms, the threat to their livelihood is terrifying. For them “the garden” doesn’t take a backseat. It rides shotgun.

People are tough. People are resilient. People will go on. But it isn’t easy.

This year BC has experienced 1,841 fires.

So far over 388,000 hectares have burned, which equals almost a million acres and every hour that number grows.

It is even worse than last year and last year was the worst on record.

Most of the fires are a long way from our home in northeast BC, but of course all that can change with a single lightning strike, an ATV exhaust pipe igniting dry grass or a carelessly tossed cigarette.

We have had several smoke-filled days that bring home how we are all in this together.

Last year we had several fires burning around our city, so I know how it feels to be on edge, not sure of what is going to happen next.

We are all hoping for rain wherever it is most needed. At this point we would even welcome snow in August.

My heart goes out to everyone impacted by the wildfires and, as always, so much gratitude to the firefighters and everyone involved in dealing with this difficult situation.

Stay strong.

Stay safe.

 

On Being More Like My Garden

Video

I just realized I can’t wait for spring.

And it is August.

So much of this year has been about laying out new beds and getting a feel for our new space. I find myself impatient for a vegetable garden with the kind of harvest that fills jars, bins and the freezer. I want an established, bountiful garden and I want it right now.

Of course, that is just another lesson the garden teaches.

Patience grasshopper.

Unlike me, the sparrows are rejoicing in my barren newly built vegetable beds. They are dust bathing up a storm. In their frenzy they have also took over the lone birdbath until it was wing tip to wing tip, forcing me to buy a second much bigger one. That bath too is now full of birds from morning to night as they fly back and forth between bathing in the soil and then bathing in the water. Or perhaps the reverse. It is hard to tell.

It is crazy to think that the hundreds of house sparrows in our backyard way up here in northern BC, all descended from a handful that were released in New York’s Central Park in 1850.

Unlike my bouncing grasshopper mind, the garden is always in the present moment. It doesn’t care where the seeds or birds or soil came from, it just works its magic with what it has. Nothing more, nothing less.

When it is August, it is all about August. The garden doesn’t waste time wishing it were April. It isn’t trying to get anything done, it just is.

The garden gives itself to every season and each situation with ease and enthusiasm.

A barren vegetable bed? Bring on the summer birds!

I need to be more like my garden.

Stock Trough Gardens

It is a bit weird the things I chose to save after moving to the apartment. Like the stock troughs that had been used for watering our horses and sheep.

I had thought I might commandeer a corner of the lumber yard at our store and grow things in the troughs, but space being what it is, that never happened.

I have the troughs in our backyard now, and (ahem) have bought a few more.

They make great instant raised beds.

A lot of people drill holes in the bottom for drainage but I just took the cap off the one big drainage hole that it comes with and that seems to be adequate for our northern semi-dry climate.

I can’t quite decide if I like the way they look or not.

I originally thought I might paint them but galvanized metal is notoriously difficult to paint-though it can be done, you just have to make sure you get the right kind of paint. It’s more that I kind of like them just as they are, though I have seen a few with garden related words stenciled on the side that looked pretty classy.

stock trough pinterest

 

 

Once I paint them there is no going back to the original silver look, so for now my troughs remain au naturel. Though if I do paint them I would go with something like this one…

stock trough lily pad

Classy seems an odd word to pair with stock troughs, but there are several images on Pinterest of chef’s gardens in the back of restaurants made entirely of stock troughs that look very posh. It’s interesting what the setting and the presence of a person in white chef garb can do for things!

stock trough pinterest

 

Yesterday over lunch with my husband, I came up with an ingenious idea.

Motorized self propelled stock troughs.

I sketched the idea out on a napkin, but given my lack of artistic talent, I will just rely on words to tell you what I came up with instead.

Somehow (I’m not a mechanic so don’t get too hung up on the particulars) a motor would be attached to the trough and one of those steel tractor seats with the big holes would be fixed in the air at one end of the trough with some levers for steering. Obviously there would be tires as well.

The gardener would simply climb up into the tractor seat, start the engine and drive the stock trough around the yard to follow the sun. Or in our case (and the reason the whole idea took form) it could be driven out into the street and parallel parked beside the curb for the day. At sundown, back out you go to drive your trough garden into the backyard for the night.

I know, I know. Sometimes the most genius ideas come from the least likely places, right?

I would have to do some measuring, but I think I could fit at least four motorized troughs along the south frontage of our property. Maybe six depending how good I get at parallel parking.

A more doable scenario would be to put the troughs on pallets and use a pallet jack to take them out to the curb every morning, but that wouldn’t be near as much fun as climbing up into the tractor seat of your own motorized garden trough.

Just think about it.

Awesomeness.

In the meantime I might have to settle for something like this…

2011 august 13 032 yellow wheelbarrow container vegetable

Poor Man’s Version…Patent Pending