Poinsettias Galore

If you’re looking for a poinsettia Dunvegan Gardens in Fort St John has you covered! Though you might want to wait for  a warmer day to take one home. It’s -28 out there right now! Brrrr. On the other hand, it’s a great day to be in a greenhouse.

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And no, in case you’re wondering, I don’t get anything from Dunvegan for writing this. The same can’t be said in reverse. Dunvegan gets a lot from me in the way of business, but often I just go out to browse and smell the roses so to speak. So I guess I do get something from them. On days when I am in a funk, a drive out to their gorgeous greenhouse always puts me in a better mood.

I was there a few weeks ago when they were decorating their Christmas trees (if you have never gone out there for Christmas you really are missing out) and I heard one of the workers tell a customer, “We have two seasons here, summer and Christmas.”

Of course, they’re open year round and there is always something beautiful to admire but for sure, summer and Christmas are when the place revs up into full, glorious gear.

Here’s a peek at just a few of their trees…

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It’s on my bucket list to see a cardinal…this doesn’t exactly cross it off my list but now I can say I saw a few this winter. One day I am going to see a live one. And fireflies. Though probably not at the same time.

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This tree is sort of decorated like the woodsy one we had for years.

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And here’s one that goes with my new modern theme.

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They even had a tree decorated like summer complete with a pansy inspired garland…their two seasons collide!

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And whaaat? A shelf shaped like a giraffe. Very cute, but I think my bird shaped shelf is enough for one apartment.

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And if poinsettias aren’t your thing they have quite a few Winterberry plants too. Though not as many.

Okay…enough eye candy and lollygagging about on the computer.

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I’ve Got Worms

I’ve had worms for just over a year now. Okay, that doesn’t sound right. What I mean to say is that a year ago my sister gave me worms. Wait, that doesn’t sound right neither.

The worms I have are red wigglers and they live in my coat closet.

There. That sounds much better.

I think.

When we first moved from the country into our apartment, friends joked about how I was going to keep goats, chickens and bees on our balcony. I laughed, but there was a small part of me that tried to work out the logistics in my head.

Okay, obviously goats were out of the question…though Strata rules do allow for one small pet. But keeping a goat in an apartment would just be cruel. And not just for the goat. Chickens wouldn’t be any kinder. Or less messy.

But bees…a hive of bees could be very happy on a balcony. For several weeks plans buzzed about in my head. Plans that would have given the Strata Council a collective stroke had they known about them. I figured I could conceal at least one hive in the corner of our balcony and no one would even notice. You see rooftop hives in cities all the time. A hive on a rooftop, a hive on a balcony…tomato tomahto, right?

After harvest, I would show up at a council meeting bearing a basket filled with jars of honey as a thank you for the bees no one even knew were there. With a jar of fresh honey in hand and perhaps a few candles, my future as an apartment dwelling beekeeper would be ensured. Or so the fantasy went.

In the end I settled on a hive of worms in our coat closet, otherwise known as a worm factory. Far less likelihood of controversy or lawsuits.

I comforted myself with the fact there are a lot of similarities between a worm factory and a beehive.

Here are some of the hives I had when we were in the country.

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And here is the worm compost “hive” aka Worm Factory that I have stowed in the closet.

See what I mean? Of course the harvest is used for different purposes and comes from opposite ends. Bees fill a little pouch inside with nectar and then cough up the golden, gooey product we know and love as honey. So yes, essentially honey is bee vomit. Sort of.

Worms, on the other hand, digest kitchen scraps and squeeze out a black, tarry, substance we know and love as worm compost. Which is just fancy speak for worm poop. No sort of. That is exactly what it is. Black poop.

Both are lovely products. Both are great for tea. Honey for sweetening and compost for growing a bumper crop of tea herbs. See? Same thing, only different.

As bees fill the frames in their hives you add on another super of frames as needed.

As worms fill each layer of their worm factory you add on another frame as needed.

Again, exactly the same, only different.

Both bees and worms are equally fascinating. I loved having the bees around as much for watching as for the honey they produced.

I feel the same fascination working with the worms.

Without a compost bin to take my table scraps out to, I appreciate being able to recycle table scraps into valuable soil for my houseplants and balcony garden rather than adding to the landfill. Watching the speed with which the worms consume a cantaloupe is amazing.  Last year I even got enough of a harvest to add a healthy scoop of their black gold to the transplanting holes at my Community Garden. A little goes a very long way.

You can buy a great looking worm factory from Veseys in PEI or on Amazon or you can take in a few YouTube videos and learn how to make your own out of plastic totes. The worms themselves can be a bit more difficult to source. I was lucky enough to get a small margarine tub of “starter worms” from my sister who has been keeping her own Worm Factory going for years. For a successful worm farm you want red wigglers that thrive in the top few inches of soil and have voracious appetites suitable for creating worm compost; not the earthworms that are native to the Peace.

Unlike bees that hibernate over winter, an indoor worm farm will keep you entertained all year round. Depending, of course, on your idea of entertainment.

Cute worm cartoon

 

October Diamonds

Ah, the Peace Country. Its gorgeous skies, unfurling fields and rolling forests. Its crazy eruption of green-everything come spring, its practically perfect summers and those dazzling lemon leaves in the fall.

And then there’s snow. You just never know about the snow. Some years it doesn’t settle in until December. Seriously. I can remember combining taking place in that month because…well, because snow had hit earlier in the year but it had melted. The point is we were combining. In December. We even have pictures of family on a greenish lawn Christmas day taken just northwest of Dawson Creek.

We also have pictures of us building a snowman in August.

Last year there were petunias still blooming in planters around town as we neared the final week of October. This year snow fell on October first and the rooftops have been white in our city ever since. We got another blast of the white rain the other night with more in the forecast.

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Usually the first autumn snow melts as rapidly as it appears. It merely serves as a wake-up call to get the lawn furniture in, the woodshed filled and the garden put to bed. Others years…this happens. The snow falls early and doesn’t leave until spring; whenever that might be. Could be March, might be April, often it’s in May. Nature is caught in all its stages right now. There are still green leaves on some trees, others have turned colour and still more are winter barren. It’s a bit of a mind trip driving down our highways and back roads.

As Mark Twain once said, everyone complains about the weather but no one ever does anything about it.

What can you do?

Well…you can always move. And a lot of people from the Peace Country do just that. Few can say they haven’t thought about it at least once. Some move and wonder why they didn’t do it sooner. Others return, grateful for things they had taken for granted the first time around. Many are just here for the jobs and can’t wait to see this place in their rear view mirror.

As for me I…I…I (whisper) kind of like winter.

There. I said it. I probably won’t still be saying it come March, but I’m saying it now. And what’s more is I know I’m not alone. A lot of people up here quietly appreciate the north in all its expressions. Even its frosty ones.

I’m looking out over rooftops slathered in white this morning. Overhead our rolling skies and bright sunshine make the snow sparkle like diamonds.

October diamonds.

What more could you ask for?

Don’t answer that.

 

 

 

The Best Kind of Weeping

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Snapped this picture of a weeping willow in the town centre of Salmon Arm, BC last fall. These trees are jaw dropping gorgeous. They never fail to send a thrill through me every time I spot one. There are something like 400 species that apparently cross with each other and breed like bunnies, giving birth to new willow trees all the time. You would think that somewhere in all that copulating a weeping willow hardy enough for the Peace Country would pop up. Maybe it has. I hope so.

As we worked our way back home we spotted weeping willows as far north as Quesnel BC and then they stopped. Not to make light of global warming, but our frost free days have definitely been extended over the past few years and it rarely drops past -30 Celsius anymore. Who knows? Perhaps this tree will start showing up closer to home.

Weeping willows are fast growers, putting on as much as 10 feet of growth per year and reaching heights and spreads of 50 feet. In other words they take up a lot of real estate so that’s something to consider if they do migrate north.

I love how the branches sweep the ground. They just make you want to part the canopy and climb underneath. I am sure children in the south have grown up doing just that.

I would love to see one in the green space by our apartment. What a delight it would be to look out at it every morning. Or climb beneath it every afternoon!

 

Fall, Food and Fodder for the Future

There is a tinge of lemon on the poplar leaves and that all too familiar bite in the air. Summers are crazy when you live as far north as we do…just over 1200 kilometers (760 miles) north of Vancouver, BC.

When spring arrives summer is hot on its heels, licking up all the ice and snow and churning out so much fast growing greenery it takes your breath away. My father loved to tell us to be careful not to stand in one spot in the field too long because the grass was growing so fast it would knock you off your feet. As a kid you almost believed it.

Then along comes a string of days like the ones we are having now, with that undeniable shift in the air. Yesterday a flock of Canada geese winged past our apartment window. They weren’t forming their practice V’s like they will be in a few weeks, but they were starting to gather together, sharing gossip, showing off their babies and discussing flight plans.

As for me, I am trying to find a direction for the surge of energy that always comes with this time of year. In my old life I would be elbow deep in the vegetable harvest, busy taking any surplus honey from the bee hives and stacking enough hay to see the horses through to spring grass. Instead I drive down to the community garden and take stock of my tiny plantdom. Someone snapped off the tops of my onions and threw them beside one of my raised beds. I’m not sure what the motivation would have been. Maybe they were trying to pull them up, but the stalks broke and they threw them down in disgust. But why give up so easily? Why not root up the bulbs? Or at least take the stalks and chop them up in a soup or stew or something.

And then it occurs to me that I am annoyed with the vandals for their laziness in not taking my produce. But still. Others report beets pulled prematurely and tossed to the side and  a few immature ears of corn snapped off the stalk and tossed on the grass. The metal hose bracket has been broken off the side of the shed.

It’s the nonsensical waste that irks. If someone just took the produce we would tell ourselves they needed it more than we did, but to pull up plants and toss them about or destroy things like the hose holder is crazy making. We also have lots of “share beds” painted green and clearly marked. We tend these beds communally for public consumption. Why not just harvest from them?

Ah, but what use is anger? It’s simply swallowing rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. Everyone cleans up their plots and carries on.

I still have some beans, onions, garlic, beets, kale and some sad looking tomatoes, carrots and zucchini. I tap my watch, look pointedly at the skies and tell the latter three, Get it together will you? We’re almost out of time. We have ate most of the potatoes already since there is nowhere to store them in the apartment. I have a few plants left and might try keeping some potatoes in the storage locker in the basement, but it isn’t very cool even down there. At best they’d likely only keep for a month…two at most.

I realize now that a large part of the reason I loved gardening was the sense of security I felt every fall when our little log house groaned at the seams with the year’s harvest. I would look in the cold room at the rows of canning jars, dried herbs and baskets of root vegetables and then note our wood cook stove and know that we would be okay no matter what happened. I liked the illusion of being in control of my future.

In our apartment I feel at the mercy of the masses. I feel vulnerable. I am pretty sure I have a few teensy control issues, though preppers would say I was just being smart. Or stupid, depending on how you look at it.

 

Speaking of prepping, I had a strange series of experiences one day last week.

First I walked downtown to meet up with my husband for lunch and across the street from the restaurant the local food bank had set up a display of over 600 pairs of shoes depicting the number of residents who had to access the food bank in a single week. It was a pretty dramatic, sobering display that certainly was effective in making its point.

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Secondly, Shaw’s system had crashed earlier that morning leaving half the city without internet access and no way to accept debit or visa payments. We were lucky enough to have a little cash on us-both to donate and for our meal-but many others arrived at the restaurant and found they were unable to pay for the meal they wanted to order and had to go elsewhere. Some no doubt had lightened their wallets of cash at the food bank booth, only to cross the street and find they couldn’t buy a meal for themselves. The irony!

Thirdly, after lunch I walked home and discovered I had lost my “secret” horseradish patch I told you about in the last post. I am no longer your go-to gal for horseradish should a disaster strike the city. According to a plastic sign and the distressed look to the once healthy green leaves, the city had came along and sprayed the patch of “noxious weeds”  into oblivion.

Here’s what they looked like when I passed them on my way home. Sad enough, but now all the lovely horseradish plants are absolute goners. Just dried up husks right down to their spicy roots. I know they are invasive, but it still makes me sad. I’ll miss walking by and wondering how they came to be there.

I don’t pretend to have the answers for our future food security, but I still harbor hope for a kind of utopia where no one goes hungry and our urban centers become self sustaining. You do hear stories about it happening more and more. Instead of ornamental trees, the cities plant edible fruit trees-which ours already have done here and there. In San Francisco there is a Guerilla Grafting movement grafting fruit tree branches onto sterile ornamental trees in public spaces.

Personally, I would love to see more multi-density housing with rooftop gardens that supply all the produce needed for the residents that tend them, complete with root cellars in the building’s basement for keeping produce through the winter in colder climates such as ours. I like that idea far more than every man for himself bugging out to the bush, armed to the teeth to protect his potatoes. Or their onion stalks and immature corn for that matter.

We live in interesting times to be sure, which means we need some interesting solutions.  I believe we will find them. In the meantime if you have a few dollars, cans of food or garden produce to spare, I know the food banks would sure appreciate whatever you can give them.

Lady vegetable gardener

Inside Scoop on Horseradish and Other Vegetable Matters

Our city is riddled with chutes, which I take great delight in going through. I am not sure where the pleasure comes from. Maybe it’s because they feel like a secret passage transporting you to some hidden oasis, even though they merely take you to another part of a subdivision or launch you onto the walking trail. But I like them, just the same.

The one below takes you from a busy street into a new subdivision that only three years ago was nothing but a field.

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This is perhaps my favorite chute, because of the horseradish that grows rampantly beside it. I like to walk past it and wonder how it got there. It is evidence that the field-turned-subdivision wasn’t always just a field. Perhaps there was an old homestead here long ago and these are the horseradish plants from that long-forgotten garden.

Lord knows these plants are tough. And tenacious. Just like the homesteaders who planted them. If, indeed that is how they got here. All I know for sure is that once you have horseradish you always have horseradish.

I have a bit of a pioneer/prepper/self sufficiency mentality so I also take pleasure in knowing of a public source for horseradish. This could be important when the SHTF (a prepper acronym that stands for Shit Hits The Fan and encompasses all manner of mayhem from banks collapsing to city-wide riots to weather catastrophes).

Should the SHTF I can stand up and say, “Everyone calm down. I know where I can get some horseradish.”

Because we all know what a life saver horseradish can be.

And because I use horseradish…well, I never use horseradish. That stuff is crazy spicy. But if the SHTF and you find yourself in dire need of some horseradish, I’m your go-to-gal.

Did you know that even harvesting horseradish is spicy? I read somewhere once that you should wear goggles and hold the root underwater when you peel it just to keep the fumes from overpowering you. See? I know stuff. Prepper stuff. I’m prepared. Sort of.

Speaking of growing food, my community garden is ripening off. Here is what it looked like about a month ago…

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But things have gone a bit downhill since then. My zucchini and spaghetti squash have been struck down with powdery mildew and almost everything else is going decidedly yellow. My green pea harvest was nothing to write home about and most of my onions went to seed before producing much of a bulb, but the dragon tongue beans, potatoes and kale are all doing pretty good.

One bed of beets up and died while another patch in an adjoining bed are doing fantastic. Go figure. I should get a few decent carrots, but they should have been thinned better.

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And look…I even got one lonely vine ripened tomato! I love these dragon tongue beans as much for their name and purple streaked appearance as their taste. Once you cook them they turn green though, which is unfortunate. These potatoes are Yukon Gold.

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My favourite variety is this Red Russian kale. I should just eat it in salads and green smoothies but I like it best tossed in salt and olive oil and then baked for about half an hour in a hot oven until crispy. Kale chips! Delicious. But probably not super healthy.

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Here’s my garden as it sits right now. It’s not looking super healthy neither. The dead yellow vines are purple mist peas that I am letting ripen for soup peas. I should get all of two cups by the looks of things : ) The deep purple plant is a Kalette that I wrote about awhile back. It’s a cross between kale and brussel sprouts. It takes a long time to mature so we’ll see if the frost gods are kind. And the sad little vine to the right is a wanna-be spaghetti squash that has no hope of producing anything in time to beat the frost but I just can’t pull it up. At least not yet.

 

 

 

Holy Huge Hairy Spiders Batman!

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Spotted this critter hanging out in her web on our balcony this morning, just soaking up the morning sun. And waiting for breakfast to arrive. I also spotted a wayward grasshopper on the deck. Fortunately for the grasshopper, he didn’t bounce into the web. At least not yet.

While I expect to encounter the odd flying insect such as bees, flies and mosquitoes, I am always surprised to see the more earthy type critters on our balcony. We’re only on the fourth floor, but still that’s a long climb for a spider.

And I know grasshoppers can fly, but I think of them more as an earthy insect. A very bouncy earthy insect, but earthy. Though the way they bounce is ridiculous. I was coming into our apartment building a couple days ago and one launched itself from the step and ricocheted off my left eyebrow. I know my mouth was hanging open, as I was that surprised, so it was only the luck of the bounce that prevented me from having an impromptu snack.

I had just come back from a walk and was feeling a little peckish, so maybe it wouldn’t have been all bad. They do eat grasshoppers in some regions of the world. I’ve even heard of chocolate dipped hoppers, but let’s be real. Anything dipped in chocolate is going to be edible. Well…almost anything. This grasshopper was not coated in chocolate. Just naked and very, very bouncy.

Speaking of insects, I have noticed that even though I have all these containers of flowers on our deck the hoverflies and bees only hang out on a select few.

They shun the petunias, despite their beauty. You’d think there would be at least some nectar of interest in these bold blooms.

Instead the pollinators buzz the lesser blooms like the purple straggly spikes of this blazing star and the tiny fuzzy borage blossoms.

Next year I am going to add more insect friendly blooms I think. And some for hummingbirds too. We’re not allowed to feed birds on our balcony, which is reasonable enough. I understand the concept of what goes in must come out, and bird crap all over the building would be a bit disconcerting. However, I have never heard of anyone complaining about hummingbird poop. It has to be the size of a pin head, after all. I mean look at how tiny their bums are.

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Well, I think that’s all I’ve got floating around in my head this morning…hairy spiders, naked grasshoppers and tiny hummingbird bums.

And all of this before 9 am.

I just know it’s going to be an interesting day.