One for the Mouse, One for the Crow…

Peruse a how-to book on gardening or visit some online discussions and a garden can sound more like a war zone. Words like enemies, combat, traps, chemical warfare and more can seem aimed at creating some sort of sterile Eden. I get it. I mean, who wants to go to all that work just to have your plants ravaged by insects, deer, disease or what have you?

On the other hand there is something very alluring (not to mention stress reducing) about just trying to get along. The birds and the bugs have to eat too.

There is an old farmer’s saying that goes “One for the mouse, one for the crow, one to rot and one to grow.”

The take away message is that Nature can take back three out of four of the seeds you plant, leaving you with a quarter of your crop to keep. It’s not much different than wages and taxes when you think about it.

If you count on that formula, you will certainly never be disappointed. It could even change your whole outlook. No one likes to pay taxes, but we learn to accept it, however grudgingly. The same acceptance can go a long way in a garden. Maybe you might even start to feel like a philanthropist, out there doing your part and helping to feed Nature.

Personally I count on at least a fifty percent return on my crop and I aim for a complete reversal of the Farmer’s Formula by allowing one plant out of four to return to Nature, while hoping to have three for me. Which put like that, makes me sound rather greedy. I prefer to call it optimistic.

I try to keep on top of things, but my efforts are fairly benign. I am not capable of pouring hot water on ant hills or shooting rabbits. Have your nibble, build your hill. Nor do I see the point in putting in all that effort to grow your own food, only to resort to pesticides.

I inspect the leaves of brassicas frequently and if I find some cabbage worms, I pick them off and carry them far away from the garden. I plant nasturtiums to attract aphids and sacrifice them so the aphids can feast to their tiny hearts content…but if it gets out of hand and they spread to the vegetables I do take action.

In the past this has pretty much just meant removing any yellowing leaves covered with aphids. I also find planting onions, leeks or garlic among the vegetables helps confuse the insects bent on devouring crops. This year an aphid outbreak occurred on my Chinese Cabbage. I had planted way too many, way too close together in one of my stock troughs.

I took the time to carefully wipe down every single leaf with a damp cloth. Since I only had 24 plants (a dozen in the trough and another dozen in an alley bed) it didn’t take that long and it worked. It’s been two weeks and the aphid population is still next to nil. Never have I ever spent that kind of time doing something like that, but when you have a small garden, you have the time to spend.

This year I painted some rocks red and put them in the strawberry patch just as the plants have come into blossom. The theory is birds will notice the red rocks, peck them, discover they are inedible and then later they will ignore the red strawberries thinking they are rocks. Or something like that.

I also keep the bird feeders full, hoping they will choose the seed they are used to over the garden. But if not, I will simply have to share. I haven’t seen a single bird checking out the rocks, so I am starting to have my doubts as to whether or not the ruse will work. They are likely a lot smarter than we think.

I have tried netting on berries to keep out the birds and fabric covers over brassicas to keep the cabbage moths at bay. However, I find keeping the nets and cloth in place while getting at the plants to weed, water or harvest, exasperating and not worth the bother. Plus I get as much enjoyment out of watching my garden grow as I do eating it, so I can’t bear to cover it up. I’d rather share if I have to.

So mostly I simply grow and let go. I figure nature knows what she’s doing and if I plant enough, surely there will be something left for me at the end of the season.

I have, however, pulled out all the stops in a determined attempt to grow rutabaga. I have never managed to do so successfully. Some people set goals to run a marathon, climb a mountain or start a successful business. I just want to grow a rutabaga to harvest. Is that so much to ask?

I have tried direct sowing them at different times. I have even tried transplanting them from starts. It always ends the same. The transplants never quite recover from the shock, and fail to develop any sort of meaningful root. The direct sown seeds barely germinate before flea beetles pepper their leaves with tiny holes. The few that valiantly carry on are wiped out by cutworms or simply fail to thrive.

This year I have tried so many things that even if it works, I won’t know which method to repeat. I’ll have to repeat them all! I seeded some of the rutabagas in toilet paper tubes cut into thirds and then when they were still at the infant stage, I set them into their rows with the gentle precision of a surgeon. I wiped off their under leaves every couple days. I sprinkled crushed eggshells around each stem. Later, I tucked small squares of tinfoil around them and when the flea beetles still showed up, I quickly resorted to a mix of one quart water, one teaspoon olive oil and two drops of dish soap which I sprinkled lightly on the leaves. I also dripped some onto the tinfoil after making tiny depressions to hold the mix in place. I also snipped some fresh peppermint and got some dried lemon verbena and sprinkled both over the plants. Then I snipped some garlic tops and tucked them between the leaves as well, for good measure.

At that point I wasn’t even sure what I had read and what I was simply making up on the spot. So far (whisper) so good. Today I am going out to insert toothpicks on either side of each stem. According to research this will prevent cutworms from wrapping themselves around the base.

One of my rows of rutabagas planted in the beet bed. So far so good. Fingers crossed. And toes.

All of this extra care is feasible when you only have a couple dozen plants. On the farm I devoted entire 60 foot rows to rutabagas, often not even getting the “one to grow” that the Farmer’s Formula promised in return. Instead, more often than not, I would have a hundred percent loss. One for the mouse, one for the crow, one to rot and one God only knows.

What really rankles me is that I grew up listening to my parents and grandparents talk about living on “saskatoons, potatoes, turnips and moose meat”. The turnips they referred to were rutabagas. It all implied these were safe crops guaranteed a harvest in The Peace. I am sure they didn’t go to any of the lengths I am going to. Maybe the soil wasn’t infested with flea beetles or cutworms back then. Or maybe there is just something about the way I tend a garden that rutabagas hate. But not this year baby!

I hope.

If you have any tips to offer on growing rutabagas I would appreciate hearing them. Hope your garden is growing well.

Bears on the Balcony?

In all the years we lived on the farm we only had a bear problem after I did three stupid things; well four I guess, but whose counting?

The first stupid thing was making homemade apple juice and burying the pulp in a trench in the garden. I thought I was experimenting with “composting in place” but turned out I was actually experimenting with “what will a black bear do when he smells apple pulp in my garden?”

Answer – the bear will drop everything he is doing and come to the garden to dig up the apple pulp. When the human shows up in the garden only one of them will scream and act startled (hint: not the bear).

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The second stupid thing I did was move our compost bin from its moose-fenced lower garden enclosure to up by the house for “convenience”. The first few times I found vegetable scraps strewn about and the lid to the bin tossed open I blamed the wind. Or rodents. It was neither. Yup, it was a bear.

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Two hives with greenhouse in background

 

The third stupid thing was storing honey supers in an unlocked shed, though in my defence I had no idea a bear could figure out how to open the door. Though I guess thinking that way just adds up to more stupid.

The fourth thing was not replacing our dog friends when they eventually got old and passed away.

A quiet yard filled with tasty treats is a bear friendly yard. Or as the saying goes, there are no problem bears, just problem humans.

teddy bears picnic

One evening I looked outside and there was the bear carefully peeling the coroplast off our greenhouse. He had his head and most of his shoulders inside before my clapping and yelling scared him off. If you can call slowly pulling his head out of the greenhouse, studying me for several irritated seconds and then sighing and finally ambling towards the woods “scaring off.”

I was so freaked out I made Darcy stand guard while I pulled up all the tomato plants, harvesting what I could and getting rid of the rest. In the days that followed I harvested everything outside the fence. I was a vegetable plucking madwoman. I didn’t see the bear again, so I don’t know if he finally gave up on us after having all his dining choices struck from the menu or if his lack of fear got him into trouble with a gun toting neighbour.

At least living in a Condo means I can grow tomatoes on the balcony without worrying about attracting bears…right? Right? Wrong.

Check out this link to a CBC video about a black bear scaling an apartment building in Whistler in search of tomatoes.

 

A co-worker spotted a black bear crossing the highway a couple weeks ago near Baldonnel, so these critters are already venturing out in the Peace. Keep your garbage and compost contained and your tomatoes…well, I guess we have a few months before we need to worry about those.

Today’s View From Our Bedroom Window!

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Bauble Head (baubles and a head)

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Awww…did I leave a smooch mark on your fresh spring cleaned windows? THIS is what I think of THAT bwaaahaaahaaa!

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Oh, and your moose proof fencing? Close up bums to that!!!

Heh, heh, heh, you tell her Bullwinkle!

Fencing the garden…but not for racoons!

raccon drins from daisy surrounded birdbath

Did you know there are racoons in most of Saskatchewan and a large portion of Alberta? It begs the question why we don’t have any here. Despite the cute factor, I know as a gardener that’s a good thing, but it makes me curious why they have never infiltrated the Peace. If they can live in Alberta and Saskatchewan you would think they could survive here as well. While we’re at it, I am also grateful we don’t have any poisonous snakes or spiders or skunks. You see? There is always something to be grateful for, you just have to think about it long enough. As for the big black bear spotted just a mile from our place, well, we don’t need to think about that.

I just finished setting up some moose and deer fencing around my four favourite trees in the upper garden; a maple, a Thunderchild crab apple, a Kurt apple and a plum tree. I fenced them individually using four t-posts and four eight foot sections of lightweight stock panels. The panels are just under five feet high but the idea is that the moose and deer won’t jump into such a small enclosure nor can they quite reach over to nibble on the trees. That’s the plan anyway. We will see how it actually works. As you can see in the picture below, by corralling the trees individually I have inadvertently created a garden maze. I think this could be a really easy and effective way of keeping moose out of the entire garden without the expense or inconvenience of a year round fence.

by corralling the trees individually I have inadvertently created a garden maze. I think this could be a really easy and effective way of keeping moose out of the garden without the expense or inconvenience of a year round fence.

Last year I basically built a moose and deer obstacle course in the garden. I used everything from mirrors to benches to trellises and then surrounded the whole mess with two fences each made out of electric fencing tape and step in posts. I spaced the two fences three feet apart. According to a book I was reading deer (or moose) do not like having to jump between two fences, so despite the fences only being four feet high, the plan was supposed to work. To make sure I even used a solar powered electric fence charger. We were only a week into winter when a moose and her overgrown twins waded through the fence like it was made out of crepe paper. The only thing about the fence and all those strategically placed obstacles that worked was me in the spring cleaning the whole mess up. Hopefully this year will be different. We will have to wait and see. The moose and deer rarely come through in the summer (except the deer to eat the peas). Oddly enough I have sort of missed them. A part of me is actually looking forward to seeing them in the yard again on a regular basis. But I really hope my fence panels do the trick. It would have been a whole lot easier (and smarter) to just plant the trees down in the fenced orchard with the others but that isn’t where I wanted them. Such is gardening!

Some deer passing through the side garden last winter...

Some deer passing through the fire pit area last winter…

Hummingbirds Also Love the Colour Blue

Had a great time at the garden tours this year, taking in both the North Peace and the South Peace gardens. I got a new camera which gave me some grief (such as when the battery said it was fully charged and then unexpectedly went dead) and some glory (a hummingbird photo I will share below).

So you can learn from my goofs, here are some tips for taking pictures on tours:

If you have a new camera and a big picture day is coming up take it out on a few test runs beforehand.

Charge your battery the night before and bring along an extra one (also charged) just in case.

Bring along an extra (empty) scan disc.

Make sure the “date stamp” that puts the date on the image is turned off. Unless, of course, you want it on the images.

At the start of each garden take a picture of the Garden Tour sign and the address on the gate or house so you know which place each batch of pictures were taken.

When taking photos shade is your best friend. People are always surprised to learn that their garden pictures will look brighter when taken on a cloudy day. Some (including me) initially refuse to believe it. But the proof is in the pictures. Professional photographers will go so far as to show up at dawn or dusk to take pictures, to ensure the pictures aren’t washed out by the sun. On a tour, however, you take whatever nature gives you. Using your body (or that of a friend or partner) to shade a particular blossom works good. If its not too intrusive (and on a tour it would likely be waaaay too intrusive) use an umbrella to shade your shots.

And speaking of being intrusive, be respectful. If there are lots of people don’t make them wait while you line up the perfect shot. Hang around until the crowd thins. And it goes without saying that you shouldn’t step into the garden beds or anywhere else that might cause damage, pull weeds or tweak with garden ornaments.

If you spot a plant you love and it has a marker take a picture of the marker and then the plant to help you remember what it was. OR if you have to ask what the name is, write it down on a notepad, snap a picture of your note and then the plant.

My new camera takes a picture every time you touch the screen as well as the button, which meant I ended up with some pretty interesting shots. When a hummingbird showed up in Doris and Dale Brocke’s garden just outside of Dawson Creek, BC I got so excited I took pictures of the sky

my head

head

and my feet

before finally capturing the perfect shot…though I did have to crop it to get the darn date stamp off!

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People always think red when they’re trying to attract these little hummers, but there are lots of other colours they like too including this blue delphinium…