In the garden: pleasant surprises.

I finally finished my garden clean up this past weekend.  I don’t have perennial beds at our new home; my new garden space is a combination of containers on the balcony and a plot at the nearby community garden. Clean up was easy: I had no issues with diseases with my container plants so all the soil was dumped into a large covered tote and left on the balcony for use next season, and the pots were all scrubbed and put into indoor storage so they don’t freeze and crack.  Clean up at the community garden was also a cinch: our garden committee encourages members to leave plants in place and chop and drop them in the spring.  (I am a huge fan of this! Keeping the dried plants in place over winter helps prevent a bit of soil crusting, as the garden is fully exposed during chinook winds and freeze and thaw cycles. The plants may also provide a safe haven for beneficial insects such as ladybugs, and the sunflowers in some of the other plots may be useful for hungry birds).  I did pull the pumpkin and zucchini plants, as they were beset with a vicious case of powdery mildew.

My garlic is planted at the community garden and mulched and hopefully snug for the winter, and I sunk a large container of alpine strawberries into the raised bed there in the hopes that they might survive. (I don’t have any in-ground spaces like I used to).  I’ll winter sow some more strawberry seeds outside in early March as insurance.

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I haven’t had a lot of time to review this year’s gardening season.  It was a challenging one, as far as the weather was concerned. Spring wasn’t gradual and wet; instead, we were blasted out of the gate with mid-summer-like heat and no rain.  Some direct-sown seeds refused to germinate, even with supplemental irrigation. Our summer was hot and filled with forest fire smoke, and we had a couple of severe hailstorms that handily trashed plants in mere seconds.  Many gardeners I talked to fought multiple insect infestations, but aside from the cutworms early in the season, I was fortunate in that regard. And then, just as everyone was still hoping their pumpkins would ripen on the vine and they would get some tomatoes that were a colour other than green, we were hit with two weeks of snowfall and bitter cold in September.

One pleasant surprise in my garden (besides these) were the ‘Le Puy’ lentils I grew for the first time.  The plants are pretty, resembling some of our common vetches so much that I thought perhaps I’d get in trouble for harbouring weeds.  The deer find them attractive, as well, which definitely reduced the quantity I was able to harvest.  Compared to some of my other plants, the lentils didn’t seem to require much care – a regular watering schedule was the most important thing, and they made it through the heat better than my sweet peas and sugar peas.

I quickly realized that the timing of harvest is critical with lentils.   The pods must be picked when they are dry, but if you wait too long (a scant few minutes, it seems!), they shatter, blasting the seeds across the soil or the entire garden or into the parking lot in the street adjacent.  I swear I could hear them pinging off the streetlights before I got to them.  😉  I still managed to collect enough to enjoy a decent snack (this recipe is easy to prepare and delicious!).

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Were there any pleasant surprises in your garden this growing season? What about any old favourites that were once again reliable?

Planting Garlic: Pre-treatments and crop rotation.

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Do you grow garlic?  A co-worker and I were discussing our plans to plant it this year and we got on the subject of soaking the cloves before putting them in the ground:  yay or nay, and in what media?  Soaking garlic is supposed to deter fungal infections and insect infestations, and presumably because the cloves are healthier, the subsequent plants will be as well (which translates as better yield and quality).  Soaking garlic is standard procedure for many growers – is it something you do?

It seems there isn’t a consensus about what to soak it in, however – or even how many steps you should take to accomplish the task.  My co-worker just puts the cloves in rubbing alcohol for three or four minutes and then sows as usual, but I’ve read that some gardeners use a pre-treatment of either an overnight soak in plain H²O or a combination of liquid seaweed, baking soda and water, followed by the alcohol rinse.   Alternatively, you can leave out the rubbing alcohol (or vodka or hydrogen peroxide or ?) and just go with the seaweed mix.  Commercial growers appear to have their own brews, including guidelines for the optimum temperature of the soaking media.  What is your go-to concoction?

Or…you can do what I did last year and not soak your garlic at all.  I didn’t have any problems, but would that have been a risk you would have taken?  How seriously do you consider the source of your seed stock in determining if you soak the cloves or not?

And then we started talking about rotating allium crops…she doesn’t, I do.

Garlic growers, what are your thoughts?

Gold in the hills.

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

-Anne, Anne of Green Gables (Lucy Maud Montgomery)

 

I may be as delighted as Anne about the vibrant colours of fall, but I woke up this morning and realized it was October 3 and I still have a million things to do yet in the garden.  I was a little…um…ENTHUSIASTIC during recent trips to the garden centre and while perusing the mail order catalogues and so there are quite a few packages of snowdrops and muscari and a pound of garlic (am I crazy?) yet to plant.  I also bought some tarda tulips, which I’ve never grown before.  I have really high expectations for these little beauties, and I’m already eager for spring to see how they do!  Unfortunately, time doesn’t seem to be on my side…we’ve had some pretty serious frosts here and the soil is already hardening.  I have to get moving!

While I dally, autumn speedily rolls along….

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Photos taken at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, Cochrane, Alberta – 24 September 2014

Tomorrow is our fall clean up day for members of the community garden – it feels like we collectively blinked and summer was over, but apparently, we had enough time to have a fairly productive season (early snowstorms notwithstanding).  If you’re interested in seeing what we’ve been up to over the summer, you can check out the garden’s blog here; I’ve posted a bunch of photos I took over the growing season.  The diversity of crops is amazing to see: gardeners grew everything from asparagus peas to zucchini!

What garden successes have you recently celebrated?

Do you plant spring-flowering bulbs?  What are your favourites?

New windows, garlic greens, and other things.

Sooooo…I’m waiting patiently (okay, maybe not so patiently – who am I kidding, really?) for the snow to melt here and in the meantime things are happening on my windowsill.

I mean, REALLY happening.  A couple of weeks ago, maintenance staff arrived with new windows for our apartment building.  It was definitely cause for celebration, as our previous windows were at least two decades old – probably more like three –  and we were having issues with ice building up between the panes (especially as one of them had a small hole in it).  The hardware wasn’t working smoothly anymore, either.  Of course, once the new windows were installed, I couldn’t bear the sight of the chipped windowsill, and we had some imperfections on the wall from when we had blinds put up a few years ago, so out came the filler and the paint.  I’m extremely pleased with the results – but now I think the whole place needs new paint!  UGH.

The African violets are certainly happy with the new windows and the sunshine.  These two bloom frequently, every 2 to 3 months or so.  I have a couple of others as well, but the one looks to be on its last legs and the other hasn’t bloomed in about a year.

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African violet - 11 March 2014

And there’s a leaf cutting I started a couple of months ago.  I wish I could say it is from the plant that is dying, but it’s not – I didn’t have the forethought to take a cutting and now the mother plant is so far gone I don’t think it would be useful to try.  It’s too bad – the pale pink flowers were so pretty and delicate, almost sugary-looking.

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African violet pink

I keep buying cacti – with my watering habits (“when I remember to, which is often nearly too late”), they seem to thrive.  I was all excited when I brought this Mammillaria spinosissima home, thinking I had a new-to-me species until my hubby reminded me I already had one. (My excuse is that the “red head” on my established one has long grown out).  I don’t know how he remembered this and I didn’t – I honestly thought he wasn’t paying attention.  Good thing I don’t buy designer shoes or handbags – he’d call me on them every time.  😉

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And I’ve been growing garlic greens!  I planted a LOT of garlic in my community garden bed last fall, both bulbils and bulbs, but I still had some bulbils left and I really wanted to use them up, so I popped them into a pot and voila!  Fresh greens in less than two weeks. It’s been so nice to use them in cooking.

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I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend!  What home and garden projects have you been working on lately?

 

Great scapes.

I’ll freely admit that I had no idea what on earth garlic scapes were until two weeks ago, when a bag of them in a local grocery store caught my eye.  I’ve never grown garlic and, although unsurprised, I wasn’t aware that you can actually eat the stalks of the hard-necked varieties at a certain point in their growth.  Scapes are the stalks that emerge from the bulbs (the heads, not the individual cloves) of garlic and as they age, they curl into loops.  You can harvest them when they get one or two loops, or if you’re really, really adventurous and have an incredible amount of patience, you can actually propagate more garlic bulbs from the bulbils that will eventually form on the tips of the scapes.  To get a decent sized garlic bulb, it takes…oh…two to three years.  There are substantial benefits to growing garlic this way – it’s pretty much disease-free, and it is also a way to preserve important strains of varieties, but most home gardeners are not likely to give it a go.  It’s much easier to stuff some garlic sets in the dirt in the spring and harvest in the summer of the same year.

But, back to the scapes.  Don’t pass these up if you can find them (or, better yet, grow them yourself)!  They are so delicious and versatile in recipes – I’ve done them up in everything from stir fry to scrambled eggs.  They’re a little milder than garlic cloves, and they cook up beautifully, as long as you don’t let them stand in the heat for too long.  (They’ll get a little tough and woody if you do).  You can put them in a fresh green salad and apparently they can even be pickled, which I wish I had thought of earlier.  Scapes are only available for a short time and I’ve missed out on the opportunity to get another bag.  Oh well, there’s always next year….

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http://claresholm.openroads.ca/new-oxley/ – This is the farm that grew the scapes I bought.  There are some great tips for storage and usage of scapes, also some wonderful photos.

www.garlicfarm.ca/growing-garlic.htm

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