This is Why I Garden

A Peace Country bumblebee on an allium head this morning.

Bumblebees. And earthworms, birds, butterflies, ants, hover flies, ladybugs, bats, rabbits, squirrels, snakes and so much more, including even the deer. These are the reasons I garden.

I pretend my reason for gardening is simply to grow as much of our own groceries as possible, but that’s just my cover story. The real reason I garden is to have an adult excuse to to hang out with nature like a child.

While a huge upsize from our 160 square foot apartment balcony, our 7000 square foot city lot is still a drastic downsize from a life spent mostly in the country. Even so, it boggles my mind how much life there is in this small space.

Whenever I kneel down on the pretence of weeding, all kinds of wonders appear. A small ant packing a seed on its back, a bold chickadee chasing off a crow, a crazy big flock of ladybugs scaling the trunk of the Mayday tree. The exquisite detail of insects are amazing. I always imagine the steady hand of an artist’s brush trying to replicate the dots, stripes, intricate designs and colours of the insects I come across.

Every time I head out to work in the garden, I never know what I will encounter, but I know I will see something worthwhile. At a time when the world feels increasingly fragile, there is huge solace in just watching a bumblebee sipping nectar from an allium blossom. The new potatoes and peas fresh from the pod are just an added bonus for getting to spend time in nature. I suspect a lot of gardeners feel the same.

This is Mr. Bugsy. I made him yesterday using a metal bowl. The same bowl I bought while we were still living in the apartment. I wrote about it before. It was on the discount cart at Winners and I loved the quirkiness of it, even though I had no clue what to do with it.

The bowl was too big to set on a table, the holes were too large to successfully hold anything and it wouldn’t even fit on top of a cupboard for decor. I didn’t know what to do with it. No one did. Which is probably why it was on the discount cart. One Christmas I filled it with ornamental balls and hung it on the wall.

I had to slap it onto the nail lightening fast to avoid losing the balls. When I took it down I was less successful. Balls went flying and rolling all over the floor. The poor neighbours below us!

Since moving to the house, the bowl has been in storage. I loved it too much to get rid of it, but still didn’t know what to do with it. At one point I spray painted the silver brown for a project that didn’t pan out.

And then the idea for a bug hotel against the fence came along. I stuffed the bowl with twigs, pine cones, old wooden plant stakes, tree trimmings etc. and hung it on the fence.

Later I found the “face” I had bought years ago, thinking it would look cute on a tree (which is what it is meant for) but then the idea of hammering nails into a tree to hang the eyes, nose and mouth from, seemed like a very bad idea for the tree. I kept them anyway, thinking I would find a use for them and so they were relegated to the “going to use some day but not sure for what” corner, along with the metal bowl. And that is how Mr. Bugsy was born. A cedar shake on top of his head serves to divert rain from falling inside the ball. It will be fun to see what sort of insects take up residence in Mr. Bugsy’s head.

Okay, time to get back to work. And by work I mean gardening. And by gardening I mean weeding, watering and checking out Mr. Bugsy’s head for new arrivals.

Never Dump Your Fishing Worms in the Forest. Here’s Why

When I was about seven years old we were staying at a campground that sold red wigglers for fishing. Being a rather strange and oversensitive child (who grew into a strange and sensitive adult) I spent the money my parents gave me for chips and a pop on a Styrofoam packet of worms instead. I took the worms to the nearby forest and released them. I had always felt good about saving the worms from the fate of the hook and lure.

That is until now.

I just learned that releasing red wigglers into a forest is a terrible thing to do. For the forest, not the worms.

Red Wigglers can eat an amazing amount of forest litter…leaves, pine cones, bark etc. In fact, they eat so much that the plants that rely on the forest litter to provide them with the shelter, moisture and nutrients they need no longer grow in areas with a high amount of these worms.

You can usually tell there are too many worms simply by noting how little natural forest debris is on the forest floor.

Taking your worms home from your fishing expedition and releasing them in your garden or compost pile is the best option. Unless your garden is actually in the forest, then you might want to consider setting up a worm farm in a closet or basement. For more on that click right here.

 

Cute worm cartoon

 

 

Guerrilla Grafting

A lot of people are familiar with Guerrilla Gardening. The act of planting an unsightly lot or space with beautiful plants without permission from the city or owner. It’s been growing on for decades.

Guerilla grafting, on the other hand, is something fairly new.

Guerrilla gardening sign

The idea took root in San Francisco where city planners had lined the streets with beautiful fruit trees. Intentionally sterile beautiful fruit trees. They were concerned about the mess of ripening fruit and feared the wildlife it might attract.

A group of California citizens said Piffle! Well, I don’t really know what they said, but I do know it wasn’t a remark of approval.

And then they went one step further. They started grafting branches of productive fruit trees onto the sterile ones. Without permission.

Yup, meet the Guerilla Grafters. The brain child of Tara Hui who started grafting onto the sterile fruit trees in the Bay area a few years ago. A news article about the movement can be read here.

The idea behind the rebellious action is to help feed the hungry and the homeless. Imagine a world where hungry people could simply roam the streets and byways to forage for food. An apple here, a pear there, a hatful of berries along a ravine. Sounds an awful lot like the world we were originally born to, before money madness took over. It’s intriguing to say the least.

Grafting apricot tree branches. Grafting fruit trees step by step

The art of grafting is pretty simple. Basically you sharpen a live branch and then drill a hole in the host tree and stick the adopted branch inside. You can then wrap the branch with a moisture retentive material until it takes hold, but even holding it in place with electrical tape will work.

This is how we come to have trees that will grow several kinds of different fruit on one tree. A great idea when you are shy on space but crave diversity. While it does involve some human intervention, the fruit you end up with is the same as the fruit you would find on the tree it originally came from. No messing with genetics as such.

Grafting is also commonly used in the rose industry where tender roses are grafted onto hardy root stock allowing them to grow in colder climates.

 

Six Uses for Eggs in the Garden

If Easter has left you walking on eggshells and you don’t know what to do with all those leftover cartons of cackle berries and shells here are half a dozen uses for eggs in the garden!

4B Eggshell Pots

Use shells for starting seedlings in. They will appreciate the boost of calcium they receive from the shell. This is especially a good idea for those seedlings that don’t like being transplanted because they can’t stand having their roots disturbed. You can also easily write on the shell so you know what you’ve planted. Be sure to poke a hole in the bottom with a pin or a thumbtack so excess water can escape. When it is time to plant your seedling outside gently crack the bottom of the “egg pot” so roots can escape and plant the seedling shell and all. The transplants won’t even know what happened.

 

hands planting tomato seedling

2. Add crushed eggshells to the hole before planting your tomatoes. Tomatoes thrive on the extra calcium the shells provide. If you have a crazy amount of eggs here is a fantastic recipe for a  concoction your tomatoes will love.

  • 3.78 Litres (1 gallon) of sun warmed water (rainwater if you have it)
  • 30 ml (2 tbsp.) of Epsom salts
  • 2 banana peels
  • 2 dozen eggshells

Mix the above ingredients in a blender and feed to your tomatoes once a week.

Crushed egg shell on white background flushed left

 

3. Crush up eggshells and pile them about a centimeter (half inch) thick on the soil surface in a ring around susceptible plants to deter slugs and cutworms. These little critters have soft bodies that do not appreciate sharp edges.

 

4. Add crushed eggshells to your potted plants for a boost of calcium. Every time you water calcium will be washed down to the roots.

 

African violet, Saintpaulia flower on window sill

5. Put 125 ml (1/2 cup) of eggshells in a 1 litre (4 cup) mason jar with a lid. Use for watering your houseplants. African Violets are extremely appreciative of eggshell water rewarding your efforts with beautiful robust blooms. Top off the jar up to half a dozen times before adding new eggshells.

 

Composting examples.

6. Simply add eggshells to your compost to enrich that magic mixture!

 

Hungry, Hungry, Red Wiggler Worms

So just how hungry ARE red wigglers? Hungry enough to consume half their weight in kitchen waste (vegetable scraps, fruit, coffee grounds, oatmeal, egg shells etc.) every single day!

Composting examples.

After consuming the waste the worms produce wonderful, rich, castings that make an awesome organic fertilizer. What are castings? Polite speak for worm poop.

Many urban dwellers are closet worm farmers. A fancy arrangement like the one shown below looks great and produces nutrient rich worm castings for your potted plants or balcony garden. This one is dubbed The Worm Factory and manufactured by Nature’s Footprint. It’s the one I keep in my apartment closet.

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How many worms do you need? Weigh out your daily kitchen waste to get an idea of how much you produce, divide by two and you have your answer. You don’t need to get them all at once, however. Start with a couple pounds of worms and they will rapidly increase (or decrease) their population to match the available food and space.

How many worm castings can one worm farm produce? A tower-type like the one shown above should produce at least one tray-worth of finished compost and castings known as “vermicompost” every three months.

If you want to save money and don’t care about fancy looks, a search on YouTube will show you lots of videos on how to make your own worm farms using Rubbermaid totes.

Fotolia_7662486_XS.jpg

How do you use your compost and castings? As a fertilizer vermicompost can replace commercial products for adding nutrients to your potted plants. Worm castings are rich but will not burn your plants. You can work a few tablespoons into your soil before potting up a plant or add a few tablespoons as a top dressing around your existing plants. When you water the nutrients will be released into the soil and make its way down to the roots. You can also add a few tablespoons to your water to make a liquid fertilizer.

Gardening

Not only do the castings provide nutrients they act as a fantastic soil conditioner. The castings increase the good microbes and stop any toxins from spreading. They also bind with any heavy metals and prevent them from being released too quickly. Worm castings act like a sponge, retaining excess water and releasing it as the plant needs it. Many pests and diseases can be prevented by the consistent application of vermicompost to your pots and garden.

Planting sage

Do you have to use red wigglers? Yes, yes you do! Dew worms and other earthworms found in many gardens will not thrive in the conditions offered by a worm farm or eat as much or produce as many castings.

Group of earthworms

It’s all about the red wiggler.

A Penny for Your Lily

lily

When I was at Canada Blooms (a horticulture trade show in Toronto, Ontario Canada) a few years ago a propieter of lilies gave me this bit of trivia…

Drop a penny in your planting hole when you plant your lily bulbs and deer will no longer eat your lilies! Apparently the copper in the penny taints the taste and keeps deer moving instead of munching.

Very easy and cool idea…the only problem is Canada stopped using pennies on February 4th, 2013. If you live in Canada and are penniless, try dropping other sources of copper in the hole instead. Pieces of pipe or wire should work just as well.

Deer in a cage

And if copper in the hole doesn’t work a tightly woven eight foot fence will!