Drying Sunflower Seeds is an Airy Process

When the sunflower petals have fallen off and the back of the seed head has turned yellowish brown your sunflowers are ready to harvest!

Snip the heads off the stalks and put them inside a paper or cloth bag.  An old pillowcase works great. Never use plastic bags or Rubbermaid type tubs for storing sunflower heads as they won’t allow moisture to escape and you will end up with a mouldy mess.

Store the bagged heads in a warm, dry place checking every so often to see if the heads have thoroughly dried out and shrunken.

At this point you can rub the seeds off the heads and spread them out on a screen to dry further, or if you are saving the seeds for winter feed for the birds, you can simply set an entire seed head in the feeder at a time.

Of course, if the seed is for the birds, you can save a lot of trouble and simply let nature do its thing and leave the sunflower heads on the stalks as an all you can eat buffet, though this can lead to the greediest birds or squirrels gobbling up all the seed early on in the winter, with nothing left in the later months.

Save Wood Ash for Spring Bulbs

Bulbs love potassium and wood ash has it! If you have a wood burning stove, this winter save some of your wood ash to sprinkle on your bulbs in the spring. Your offering will make a perfect spring welcome gift for those beautiful bulbs.

Sure, it seems akin to giving someone a lump of coal, but when the someone is a bulb and the lump of coal is a generous dollop of wood ash, everyone will be happy!


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.


Planting Bulbs; Which Way Is Up and What to Do If You Can’t Tell

If you look closely at a bulb you will see that one end has “hairs” or roots while the other end has a dot or a small tip that come spring, will (hopefully) poke its way up through the ground.

Plant bulbs root or hairy end down at a depth that equals about three to four times the size of the bulb. A one inch bulb should be planted three or four inches deep. This ensures the bulb is both well protected over winter and also that it will be sufficiently anchored in the ground to support all that lush top growth come summer.

Sometimes it is difficult to tell which end is up, especially if you are new to the gardening game.

No worries! Simply place the bulb on its side and it will figure out the rest.


Bringing Herbs Indoors; A Shady Operation!

If frost is about to have its way with your garden but you’re not yet ready to relinquish those annual herbs to the compost heap, help is at hand!

Simply pot up the herbs and bring them indoors.

But wait! Not quite so fast say the experts.

To prepare your plants to move from a sunshine filled space to the lower light levels of most homes, ease your foliaged friends into their new digs by first potting them up and moving them into an area of the garden that gets partial shade for a couple of weeks and then set the pots in an area of full shade for another week or two.

After that the move into your house will be an easy and healthy transition.

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.