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

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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

 

Borders, Boundaries and Butter Knives

Psssst. I have successfully infiltrated the senior duplex/strata side of our fence.

Shortly after buying our house we noted the backside of our fence had never been painted in 20 years and was surely considered a hideous eyesore for those residing in their newly built pristine duplexes.

How they must have cursed their neighbours!

Or maybe not.

Maybe they cursed their strata.

Whose responsibility IS the other side of a fence when a private residential lot backs onto a green space/parking lot owned by a strata?

I did a bit of gentle inquiring and then decided given it was our fence that was decaying before the duplex owners eyes and the remedy would take less than two gallons of stain and a couple hours of my time, it would be better to ask forgiveness than permission.

The aforementioned gate for the purpose of sneaking a garden in along the back fence was still just a thing percolating in my imagination, so I loaded up an empty railing planter with a gallon of paint, a stir stick, some disposable gloves and my trusty butter knife which serves the dual purpose of scraping off moss and lichen and opening paint cans.

That’s right.

We own a hardware store and my painting tool of choice is a kitchen butter knife.

It is what it is.

With my painting ingredients somewhat perilously balanced on the fence rail I quickly walked around the block and through the parking lot to the other side. It took me about five minutes just to get to the other side of the fence.

Again, can you think gate?

The neighbours didn’t take long to notice me but their reaction was enthusiastic. It soon became clear that everyone felt the fence-both sides-were indeed our responsibility and it was about time someone showed up with a paint can in hand. And a butter knife.

“I told the last owner the fence needed painting,” one neighbour shared. “He just said, Really? It looks good from my side!”

There was no malice in his words, just laughter. I have got the impression from all the neighbours that the former owner of our place was incredibly likeable and is missed.

People pleaser that I am, I intended to make up for my own lack of big personality in landscaping and paint.

Yes, I’m shy and quiet, but look at this freshly painted fence! And hey, whaddaya think of a flower border along the fence for your viewing pleasure? Seriously. What do you think of a flower border?

Of course, I said none of those things.

Because I am shy and quiet.

But still, if the other side of the fence has been accepted as being our responsibility than surely two or three feet of soil could be considered ours as well. I mean, a person needs at least that much room to stand on in order to properly wield a paintbrush. Makes perfect sense when you think about it.

In the meantime I have more than enough to plan in the front yard without worrying too much about the backside of the backyard.

And good thing too, as it turns out.

Yesterday I was chatting with another non-duplex neighbour and learned that he has only painted the backside of his fence (which still looks great) twice; once when it was first put up 20 years ago and again about 10 years ago when the duplexes were still figments of the developers imagination and he had to slog through a forest and underbrush to get to the back of the fence.

No wonder the previous owners of our home had never bothered!

And furthermore our neighbour was emphatic that the backside of the back fence was now the strata’s responsibility and not ours.

“I’d be going after them for the cost of your stain and time,” he said.

I won’t be doing that (see the bit about being shy and quiet) but I am hoping I haven’t set some sort of precedent for all the other people whose homes back onto the duplex/parking spaces.

I have decided to distance myself from the entire situation. I am shelving any idea of gates or back fence gardens. I am staying inside my borders and pretending none of this ever happened.

Who knew living in town could be so complicated?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planning a Potager Garden

I love to grow flowers but my real passion is the vegetable garden.

The taste of homegrown vegetables is incomparable to so much of what you get at the grocery store. I love being able to grow things that you can’t easily buy or if you can, costs an arm and a leg, but can be had by a gardener for a few dollars in seeds.

I love the way a vegetable garden looks, feels and tastes. It is sensory overload and it is wonderful. Whenever I get an opportunity to tour gardens, I appreciate the flowers but gravitate towards the vegetable garden.

I love the self sufficiency of growing ones own food.

It is one thing to protest or complain about the food industry, pesticides and GMO foods, but it’s another to take the power back into your own hands and simply decide to grow your own food. It’s empowering, satisfying and good for you, both mentally and physically, and for the world as a whole.

When we started looking for a house in town a big backyard that faced south-or at least west-was a no brainer for the enormous vegetable garden I planned to have.

After three years of searching it was still the one thing I refused to compromise on. After all, to have a garden again was the impetus for the move in the first place.

And yet, here we are in a house with a small front yard and an even smaller back yard that faces…north!

Turned out there were a lot of other things we wanted in a house as well.

This house had all of it; covered decks so I could sit outside in the rain (something I have always wanted to do but never have had before), an attached garage (another thing we have never had…attached or unattached), ground entry with an eye to aging and an annoying tendency of mine to fall down stairs at least once a year. I also wanted a main level master suite, laundry on the main floor, room for the boys when they came home to visit, a space to do art in the winter and a place that felt homey. All this and, of course, it had to fit into a strict budget and be in a quiet neighbourhood.

This house ticked all those boxes and felt like home from the moment we walked in. Which is the only explanation for how the number one most important thing on the list got compromised.

The yard.

We reasoned that the house-and those that surrounded it- were low enough that the backyard wouldn’t be that shady.

I recalled a lifelong resident of the Peace Country and an avid gardener telling my mother that the rules of directional planting for sun didn’t really apply up here because our summer days are so ridiculously long, all plants are bound to get the minimum requirement of six hours a day no matter where they are planted.

There is a pocket in our backyard that does get a lot of sun and that is where our two 4 x 16 foot raised vegetable beds are located. There is room for two or three smaller raised beds that should also get enough sun. And if we take out part of our wonky shaped deck, there should be enough space (and sun) for two more 4 x 16 vegetable beds.

Still, when your aim is food self sufficiency even that amount of growing space isn’t quite enough.

Plus it turns out there is no disputing that things grow better in the front yard than the back.

I went with a purple and orange colour scheme out front and put pretty vegetables in the front garden along with lots of flowers. I have egg plant, purple cabbage, a few potatoes (purple blossoms!), some Russian purple kale and for orange two pumpkin plants and some chard.

I also planted kale, potatoes, cabbage and chard in the back yard.

There is no comparison.

The cabbage in the backyard measures about eight inches across including leaves, while the three decorative ones out front have a spread of almost two feet!

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Front Yard Purple Cabbage

The potatoes in the back are already finishing up and dying back while the ones out front are a couple feet tall and still lush and green and (I assume) still producing more tubers. The Russian kale and chard out front are so gorgeous I can’t bring myself to start harvesting them, while we have been feasting on the backyard leaves of both for a few weeks now, so I can’t really make a fair comparison there.

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Pumpkin vine with Red Russian Kale in the background to the right.

Same with the pumpkins, since I don’t have any in the back, but my goodness! After stagnating and one almost flipping up its heels and expiring altogether, the two have almost taken over the entire front bed with their foliage in just the last two weeks.

pumpkin patch front yard potager

The pumpkin vine is already galloping towards the new front beds. They’ve gone rogue!

And so the expansion of garden beds continue, but now with an eye to growing more vegetables in the front yard next year.

Since it is the front yard, it is important to me that it has great curb appeal so no one has reason to complain. To many of us, any vegetable garden has curb appeal, but I know not everyone feels that way.

I am excited by the challenge of creating a potager garden out front that equals a straight-up flower garden for beauty while putting as much food on the table as possible.

On our evening walks around town I have seen some beautiful examples of others growing food and flowers in their front or side yards as well.

We will see how it goes!

 

Manure Happens…And it’s Wonderful!

So about 5 pm last evening a truck pulled into our culdesac and dumped a load of manure right on our front lawn!

I make it sound like a bad thing. Like an act of hate or vandalism or something. I assure you, no one was more delighted to watch that truck back up and dump 14 yards of manure than me!

Only six weeks ago I got half a load – seven yards – and regretted it as soon as it hit the lawn. Not because I changed my mind, but because I realized I needed more. Much more.

It is so hard to judge how far soil will go. Especially when you just can’t stop covering the lawn with flower and vegetable beds.

A few days ago I read a story to my three year old great-nephew about a fellow named Benjamin who was obsessed with buttons. Benjamin loved to collect buttons. When he had bought up all the buttons in town he started flying his plane to far away places so he could buy some more. Eventually he bought all the buttons in the world, but it still wasn’t enough. He needed more buttons. So he started snipping buttons off people’s clothes. He just couldn’t stop.

I feel a bit like Benjamin and his buttons, only with me it is the garden and an endless need for more soil. Maybe it is because I have four years of pent up gardening in me that has finally found its release.

new frontyard garden new bed  compost manure pile

I admit that even as I dive into the pile and start wheelbarrowing my bounty around the yard, I am already plotting where the next truck load could go. But that’s just between you and me.

Perhaps the biggest blessing of our house is that it is on a city lot, making its perimeters firmly marked. There is only so much space available for a garden and no more. This is my limit and I must plant within it.

Which doesn’t mean I can’t ask questions. Questions such as, “Is the attached garage really necessary or it could be torn down to make room for more garden space?”

The answer to that question, according to a certain spouse, is an emphatic, “Yes the garage is really necessary” followed by “Have you lost your mind?”

To which I have another question that goes something like this.

If a property owner’s back fence borders the parking lot of senior duplexes on strata land, would anyone in the strata really object if the owner of the adjoining property put a gate in their back fence and perhaps grew a garden border on the strata side of their fence? I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy looking at flowers? Who could possibly object?

These are interesting questions.

However, I think a certain spouse might have a little too interesting of an answer in return.

And it’s possible the entity that manages the strata might have some interesting questions of their own.

I think maybe these are questions that can wait until next year.

Or at least until I get this truckload of manure moved.

Maybe.

 

 

Morning Wildlife

I think I enjoy wildlife encounters as much as, if not more, than gardening. While working outside you never know what you are going to see; birds, butterflies, bees, frogs…our world is such a beautiful and amazing place and gardening puts you right in the thick of it all.

This morning I raised the blinds on the kitchen window and found this pair enjoying an early morning munch in my garden.

deer wildlife garden

The apple tree was a hit, but no plant was left unlicked as they carefully worked their way around the garden.

I wish I had captured the cabbage tasting. One of the young bucks bit off a sizeable chunk of cabbage leaf, only to rapidly spit it back out. I didn’t know it was possible for a deer to look so disgusted!

All the more for me.