No Walk in the Park

We are finally getting some real rain. We had an inch yesterday and it is coming down steady again today. It’s a good thing. We need it. I am always amazed at how plants thrive after a rain in a way that never happens when you turn on a hose.

Maybe I need to stick my ankle out in the rain.

On Friday evening Darcy and I went for a walk through a park (or rather we attempted to take a walk through a park) when I stepped in a hole, twisted my ankle and dropped like a sack of potatoes.

What made it even worse, was on Monday I accidentally stepped off the side of the wheelbarrow ramp coming out of our garden shed and twisted the same ankle. However, with the first accident I experienced something of a miracle. After a painful day and evening of icing my bruised and swollen foot, I lurched my way to bed only to wake up pretty much fully healed. I have sprained my ankle several times in the past and have never recovered so quickly.

I was giddy with gratitude.

And then Friday evening we go for a walk, I step in the hole and well, this time there was no overnight miraculous healing to be had. My foot hurt so bad it took a few hours before I realized I had also pulled some chest and shoulder muscles.

THEN on Saturday I was slowly making my way back to the couch with a glass of water when I stubbed the toe of my swollen foot on an end table causing me to lurch across the living room in a flailing display of limbs, my eyes as big as dahlia blossoms. All I could think was I am NOT falling down again. To avoid falling I had to hobble way faster than I thought I could, water wildly splashing from my glass, before regaining my balance just in time to throw myself safely onto the couch. Sweet relief!

Things are never so bad they can’t be worse.

At this point I have no idea what the Universe is trying to tell me.

The good news is I don’t have to water the garden.

Vegetables in Stock Troughs

I have nine stock troughs that I am using for raised vegetable beds and so far it has been going fairly well. Last year I filled the bottom half of the troughs with tree prunings and called it hugelkultur.

Hugelkultur is the practice of planting in soil heaped onto rotting wood to take advantage of the whole composting system that results. I mostly did it to save money. Filling stock troughs with container soil would have been horrifically expensive without some free filler. The tree prunings provided that.

I topped the troughs with soil, making sure to fill all the nooks and crannies. Or so I thought. I found out I didn’t pack it down enough after I lost a few sprouted peas to a sinkhole. One day they were cheerfully checking out their new digs and the next there was just a hole where they had been.

I peered down the hole for the poor little fellows, hoping to somehow to fish them out, but there was no sign of them. I think they made their way to the bottom of the trough. Maybe later in the year they will resurface with a crazy long root system and produce mega peas. Maybe I will have stumbled on a new growing method that provides unbelievable produce and harvests. Maybe. But I doubt it.

The top bit of the troughs dry out fairly fast, so I have been watering pretty much daily. Especially after seeding the carrots. Those tiny seeds and wispy seedlings can dry out so fast, but so far so good.

I planted peas along the back of several troughs and then planted root vegetables in front of them, thinking it would be a clever use of both trough and vertical space. It seems to be working great in the pea and beet trough as well as in the pea and carrot trough shown above.

The two pea and potato troughs are another story.

The peas started off gangbusters but the potatoes soon caught up and are now surpassing them. The peas are flailing about behind the potatoes trying to make their way up the trellis and not looking happy about it. I may try trimming some potato leaves and see if that gives them the jump they need to rise above the spuds.

Some of the peas are making a race of it but others are getting lost behind the potato leaves. Planting them together seemed like a good idea. Time will tell.

I started some spaghetti squash from seed and transplanted some in a trough and some on a mound up bed on the ground and while all of them are craving more heat and looking stressed, the squash in the trough are doing better than the ones in the ground.

Here are four spaghetti squash planted in the ground. The pots are buried in the ground and I water the squash by filling them up and letting the water filter out underground. The pine cones are to deter cats from digging in the garden. Some seem to have gone missing. The cats probably buried them. 😀
The squash in the trough are way happier than the ones planted in the ground. All the squash were started from seed and planted out at the same time. I also planted a couple tomatoes at the back, a couple peppers and a zucchini on either end.

My eggplants, tomatoes, beans and peppers all seem to like life in the the trough as well. It makes sense for these heat lovers, since metal heats up and things are warmer higher off the ground. And if the hugelkultur is working, there should be some heat coming up off the decomposing tree branches below.

So far the cooler crops like cabbage, chard, lettuce, carrots, onions and peas (the peas not being smothered by potatoes or falling into sinkholes) all seem to be doing well, but no better than the ones in the ground. The real test will come as summer heats up.

I have six troughs on this end of the backyard and three along the fence on the other side. You can’t see the other three in this picture. Here I have cabbages inter cropped with onions in the first trough, beans and cucumbers in the middle trough, and celery, chard, lettuce, onions and kale in the third one. Along the back of the shed is the huge trough with the tomatoes, peppers, spaghetti squash and zucchini. Along the side of the shed are two troughs with peas and potatoes. The first one looks pretty puny because of all the shade from the May Day tree. Neither the potatoes or the peas are impressed by her size or shade casting ways. I might fill that one with shade loving flowers next year, or move it altogether.

I realize the look of the troughs aren’t for everyone, but they are long lasting, their height makes them easy to work in and they don’t require any carpentry skills to build, giving you pretty much an instant garden. So far they are working well. Touch wood. Or in this case, metal.

If any of you have been trough gardening for awhile and have some tips to share I’d love to hear them.

Need a Shade Loving Climber? Meet Willy.

I want to create a pocket garden in our backyard. A small oasis I can slip inside of like a green envelope. I want to walk through a narrow opening and enter a space where I can sit in a chair or lay on the grass and cloud gaze, while being completely hidden from view.

The area I have chosen is against the north side of the house, so I am attempting to grow tall things that love shade, grow fast and are hardy to zone 3. I know. It’s going to take a minute.

Last year I started a border on the east side of this future pocket garden. So far I have a goatsbeard (potential to reach 6 feet), a rodgersia (4 foot potential), a bleeding heart (3 feet) and an astilbe (3 feet). Of course none of them will reach anywhere near that height for awhile. These things take time.

On the other side of the future pocket garden are some Hostas and several Lily of the Valley which look (and smell) really nice but, at knee height, do little to screen the garden. There are some hostas, such as Empress Wu that grow to dizzying heights, but the ones I have top out at around two feet.

So to make my pocket garden work, I set up a trellis and went shopping for a shade loving climber.

Imagine my delight when I found a Willy Clematis at Dunvegan Gardens with the following tag around his neck…

Not part sun, not part shade but FULL SHADE. Or full sun. What an adaptable clematis! I rushed home and planted Willy straight away.

Here is Willy on his new trellis. As you can see things are far from private right now, but I have vision. Unfortunately, so do the neighbours.

Please ignore the dandelions. This obviously isn’t a magazine garden. Check out What are Dandelions Good For? Absolutely Everything! if you too sometimes feel a need to apologize for the yellow beauties dotting your lawn.

I have high hopes for Willy, but I am starting to wonder if some mislabelling occurred. None of my online searches for Willy Clematis have backed up the “full shade” claim. All the info I found recommend full sun. Oh well, he’s in the ground now, so we will just have to wait and see.

Grow Willy Grow! I’m rooting for you.

A Brush With Frost

I think (whisper) I have managed to nip through our final brush with frost unscathed. It was a chilly one last night, but fortunately there was also abundant cloud cover and a teeny bit of moisture to coax the plants through the night.

I manoeuvred several containers of tomatoes, nasturtiums and a couple fig trees into the garage, covered what I could and held my breath.

The first thing I did this morning was check out the cucumbers and beans in one of my trough gardens. Neither are at all frost friendly, so I figured if they were still standing the rest of the garden should be as well. To my relief they were still green and vertical on the outside, though no doubt shivering and cursing on the inside.

Speaking of surviving the cold, last year I trialed a Berried Treasure strawberry plant for Proven Winners that offers up deep red blooms instead of the usual white. It is labelled as hardy to zone 4 but it survived the winter in our Zone 2b/3a garden with flying colours. Here is how it looked this morning.

I see they are readily available all over town this year, so I thought I would mention it. I mulched it fairly heavy in the fall and it was in a spot that received a lot of snow that stayed late into the spring, so maybe that helped.

The blooms really are beautiful, making it a fun addition to a potager garden where you are trying to create both beauty and edibles. The only downside is the flavour is nowhere as good as my Seascape, Kent or Honeye berries, but the blossoms are indisputably beautiful.

And here’s a glimpse of the raised raspberry and strawberry beds through a small potato, lettuce and pea patch. I can’t wait to breakfast on fresh raspberries, strawberries or peas in a pod while standing in the garden or to cook up some new potatoes and toss a homegrown salad for supper.

Hopefully everyone escaped the final threat of frost and now we are summer bound for bountiful harvests!