A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

It’s 6:18 pm and I just finished closing all the blinds to fend off the fishbowl effect. I can’t believe it’s already this dark outside. In the summer there were nights we didn’t even close all the blinds because we went to bed before the sun did. Except, of course, for the bedroom, where we closed the blinds to keep the sun from shining down on us at 10 pm.

And so it begins, this shortening of days.

This afternoon I went out for a neighbourhood walk before the sun went down. I love doing this. The city is always so friendly and busy. People lament how children don’t play outside anymore, but try telling that to the kids in my hometown.

In my short walk I came across a group of kids playing an intense game of soccer in the street, yelling “Car!” whenever a vehicle approached, car or otherwise. They scattered to the lawns on either side of the street and then reconvened as soon as the vehicle passed.

Another group were busy colouring up the sidewalk, selecting big fat pastel pieces of chalk from a bucket. They smiled and said hey, as I skirted my way into the street to avoid trampling their artwork.

What appeared to be a father and son were bicycling around the neighbourhood.

“Want to do the loop one more time?” I heard the father ask as they went by.

”Sure!” said the son.

I came across them again about seven blocks to the east. Big loop!

A mother was out with her two toddlers, sans stroller or wagon. The three were just walking along the sidewalk, hand in hand, taking their time and enjoying their stroll.

Some might say people were outside today because we are having an amazing extended summer at a time of year when it isn’t unusual to already have snow on the ground. You know, making play while the sun shines. That could be part of it, but I have found this same bustling, happy, outdoor crowd, every time I venture out for a walk. Even in the winter. And I don’t believe our city can be that unique.

But hey, if we are, yeah us!

I realize this doesn’t have a lot to do with gardening, except, as always, I was busy doing the gawk and walk as I passed by any houses with gardens. Though what slows my step these days are the yards filled with an enviable bounty of leaves. I have become a tad leaf obsessed.

Speaking of which, I asked NEAT about where to source some more leaves and apparently there is a Yard Waste Drop Off happening on November 03rd and I am welcome to show up and take all the leaves I can cram in my car.

I love this town.

Life is good.


Got Worms? I Know Where You Can Get Some!

Did you know that red wiggler worms for using as compost producing machines in your indoor vermicompost systems are available from NEAT (Northern Environmental Action Team) right here in Fort St. John?

You get a generous amount for a minimum twenty-dollar donation.

This is the kind of vermicompost system I have. It is called The Worm Factory. There are lots of homemade versions you can find ideas for that just use Rubbermaid tubs and such.

Whatever you use, vermicomposting is a great way to dispose of kitchen scraps indoors over the winter when the outdoor compost bins are frozen solid.

Over the course of an average winter my Worm Factory will produce approximately eight gallons of vermicompost aka worm poop. I am sure results vary widely, but you are guaranteed to get a fair amount.

As far as nutrients go, vermicompost is crazy concentrated. Adding just half a cupful to a planting hole during spring transplanting will give you noticeable results and best of all it is organic, recycled, fertilizer at its finest!

At 16 cups per gallon, eight gallons of vermicompost will fertilize roughly 256 transplanting holes come spring!

Plus I find keeping worms fun and entertaining, especially in the winter months.

Part of what I love about gardening is observing all the insects, birds and other wildlife that make their home in the garden. When you do indoor vermicomposting, it is sort of like having a mini garden over the winter.

Even if you’re not interested in getting worms, you should drop by Neat’s new digs at 10003-95th Avenue in Fort St. John, BC. Their thrift store and office are now under one roof making things much more convenient.

With winter lurking around the corner, their thrift store is always a fun place to spend an hour or so on a winter’s afternoon. You can find a lot of great gently worn sweaters for cheap, not to mention limitless ideas for creating art objects for your garden out of all kinds of used, affordably priced, household objects.



Ruth Stout Would Approve Anyway

So the leaves did not all blow away in the wild and windy night, and I think I may have even inherited some more from the neighbour, for which I am very grateful.

The bounty, however, wasn’t as much as I would have liked. I am considering lurking around some parks to see what there is to be gathered in the way of leaves there.

Gone are the days when people would leave bags of leaves on the curb on garbage day. Now we have black garbage cans to wheel out one week and blue recycling cans the next and a few days scattered through the year where you can take yard waste to a gathering place. I have seen the dates advertised but am not sure how it works, since I hoard all my yard waste like Gollum clutching his precious ring. I wonder if they let you take yard waste instead of bringing it?

In Calgary they now have green recycling cans for kitchen scraps and yard waste, but even if Fort St. John follows suit, I would never have the nerve to actually lift lids to peek inside other people’s bins. It is one thing to nab a few exposed bags of leaves off the curb, but quite another to open someone else’s bin to have a look-see at what treasures there may be inside.

I was going to start a new compost pile behind the shed, layering in my freshly harvested leaves, when I suddenly channeled Ruth Stout, The Queen of Mulch and inventor of the No Dig, Permanent Hay Mulch method.

Stop making so much work for yourself! I imagined Ruth saying. Just put the leaves directly on the beds the same way Nature does it. This isn’t rocket science. If it works for Nature, it will work for you.

And so I spread my bounty of leaves on my two raised 4 x 16 vegetable beds and put what was leftover on the perennial beds, and then watered them down so they won’t blow away. When I finished I still needed about three times as many leaves to finish the job.

Which means I need about eight more trees.

Or the neighbour does.




A Bottomless Pit. The Stock Trough Garden Revisited.

Up until now all of the stock trough gardens I’ve seen utilize full on stock troughs like these…

The ones used are no different than the ones sold at stores that sell livestock products…for which they were originally intended. A BIG difference between purchasing a trough at an agricultural supply store and a garden centre is price. You will pay a lot more for your trough at a garden centre.

All that changed when I came across these “troughs” at a garden centre.

I’m not sure if these are new to the market or not. They were certainly new to me.

As you can see in the label shown below, these bottomless wonders are designed by Behlen Country, the same folks who make the bulk of stock troughs you find at feed stores (as you can tell by the note beneath their name on the mass produced label that reads “tighten plug before filling” despite these particular versions having no bottom in them. Or plug!), Obvioulsly, these are specifically designed for the botanical crowd and the growing trend towards using troughs for planters.

I’m not sure what to make of it. They weren’t much – if any – cheaper than their full bottomed versions. Or at least not at the centre I was at. In full disclosure the centre was very targeted towards the upscale garden crowd, so I am sure a person could still approach an ag centre about bringing them in on special order and get them much cheaper.

Having been raised in the country, I could never bring myself to “ruin” a perfectly good water trough by drilling drainage holes in the bottom. Who knows when I might decide to get a couple horses for they backyard instead of a garden, right?  So instead I just remove the plug and add some drainage material to the bottom before topping up with soil.

Our summers are dry, so this has never been a problem for me, but for folks in places that get a lot of summer rain, forgoing the drilling for drainage would be a very bad idea. They would need to drill those holes in the bottom and the more the better.

If you’re going to “ruin” a perfectly good trough, you might as well buy one of these new fangled bottomless ones. The only drawback I can think of is they won’t stop weeds from coming up through the bottom as well as the full bottomed troughs.

That said, they would still be excellent for containing invasive perennials in flower beds and for making raised beds.

The Last Harvest of the Year

The wind is blowing hard, filling the yard both front and back with the final harvest of the year.

The leaf harvest.

For many, leaves are the downside of having deciduous trees. For me, looking to become compost self-sufficient, leaves are nutrient-rich manna from heaven.

When leaves from the neighbours’ trees choose to migrate to our side of the fence, I am all but pumping my fist skyward in joy at my bonus bounty.

Let them fall, let them fall, let them fall.

Did you know that pound for pound, leaves contain twice as many nutrients as manure? Once composted, leaf mould can hold 300 to 500 percent of its weight in water, providing valuable moisture to the garden soil. Compare that to topsoil, where even the blackest, richest, soil will only hold 60 percent of its weight in water.

A good harvest of leaves in the fall can ensure a good harvest of everything else you hope to grow in the future.

The forecast for next week looks fabulous, despite the grey skies and howling bluster happening outside today. I am hoping to spend the next few sunshine filled days raking leaves into a compost pile of mountainous proportions, while dreaming of other harvests to come.

I just hope I don’t wake up to find all my precious leaves have flown over the fence onto the neighbours’ side in the gusty night…and since I don’t see any evidence of compost piles in our neighbours backyards, I’m betting they’re hoping the same!





Buckets of Bulbs

I just finished planting 241 assorted allium, narcissus, tulip, garlic and crocus bulbs. Counting the 50-plus bulbs I planted a week or so ago I have invested almost 300 bulbs into the “winter garden bank” and am hoping for a spectacular rate of return in the spring.

I started off meticulously filling out plant markers with the variety and number of bulbs planted and then, as always, I quickly grew bored, abandoned the markers and started stashing the bulbs willy nilly wherever creativity struck. I went from librarian to squirrel in about 90 seconds.

I told myself I would remember what I had put where, but when I finished I realized I had already forgotten, and it had only been mere minutes, not months.

There was no hope of recalling what I had put where by the time spring rolled around.

I have no idea how the squirrels do it.

Ever the optimist, I decided it would be like planning my own Easter egg hunt months in advance. Forgetting just made it all the more magical.

What fun it would be in the spring to search the garden and find all these gorgeous surprises emerging!

This is why I love bulbs and perennials! If there is a more exciting sight than the first spears of growth pushing their way through last fall’s leaves I haven’t seen it.


When I finished planting all those bulbs I was pretty proud of myself-and a little bit cringey and embarrassed over how much money I had spent. Then I came across some bulb planting counts on a gardening forum I follow.

You think 300 bulbs is noteworthy or extravagant?


Turns out my effort was mere child’s play. Just a hiccough in the botanical world.

One hardy gardener was preparing to head out after a stiff cup of coffee to plant 800 bulbs. Another stated they had just finished planting a thousand. The game of one upmanship came to a screeching halt when a third gardener weighed in and said he was half way through planting 8,000 bulbs.

Eight thousand!!!

Good heavens

I briefly contemplated bolstering my own apparently pathetic bulb inventory but decided instead to settle for telling Darcy what a thrifty wife he had.

Comparatively speaking.

What I lacked in bulb volume, I made up for in enthusiasm.

In fact, I was so enthusiastic, I knowingly planned to risk my life for the sake of some brief botanical beauty.

Sort of.

About three years ago I was planting some hyacinth bulbs in a pot for an Easter  display when I started to feel a tad tingly. Planting the bulbs was exciting, I can’t deny it, but the tingling far outweighed the usual happy-to-be-planting sensations.

By the time I finished my sowing, my neck and chest were crazy itchy. When I went to the washroom to wash my hands, I was greeted by a spotted version of myself in the mirror. Hives spread across my chest, up my neck and into my face.

Even my legs and feet were tingly.

I took a couple antihistamines and tried to stay calm. I had read somewhere that if you are having an allergic reaction, panicking is only going to pump the allergen into your bloodstream more quickly, speeding up your demise.

Of course, being told to stay calm so you can thwart death, or at least die more slowly, is sort of like telling someone who is getting on a horse for the first time not to be nervous because a horse will sense their fear and it won’t end well. And you don’t mean for the horse.

Fortunately (and obviously since I am here to write this) the reaction did not worsen. Or at least not enough to kill me.

Before this happened, I had no idea that a reaction to hyacinth bulbs was even possible.

Despite this encounter gone wrong, I still ordered a bag of hyacinth bulbs. I loved how they paired with the cream and orange daffodils I wanted.

I told myself I’d be careful. It wasn’t as if I was going to lick the bulbs or anything. So long as I wore gloves this time, everything would be fine.

And of course I’d remember where I planted them, so I wouldn’t accidentally touch one while digging around in the soil with bare hands next year.

No you won’t, said a wiser version of me. You will absolutely, most definitely, forget.

And hadn’t I read that allergies worsen with every exposure? What might cause a mere case of the hives and tingles this time, might kill the next. Was it really worth taking the chance?

I looked at the picture of the daffodils and hyacinths.

My answer was yes. And then maybe. The more I thought about it, the more the garden became a game of Russian roulette instead of the peaceful sanctuary I craved.

I didn’t plant the hyacinths. Albeit reluctantly, common sense prevailed. The cream and orange daffodils will just have to bloom next spring without the beautiful blue hyacinths, but (hopefully) with me still standing. Or kneeling, as is my most common garden pose.

If anyone out there wants a small bag of ‘The Sky is Blue’ hyacinth bulbs, let me know!

So long as you’re not allergic to them of course.