Armed & Ready

I have a confession to make.  I hate bugs.  I’m not against all bugs, mind you – ladybugs and butterflies are cool, and spiders are alright as long as they aren’t, you know, on me.  The kind of bugs I’m talking about are the hard bodied varieties – earwigs, June bugs, and (a new one for me) cucumber beetles.  Just the sound they make when you crunch them, (because let’s face it, killing these Creepies is not “squishy”), makes my skin crawl.  I will try anything to avoid having to actually make skin contact with them.  So there it is – I am a passionate gardener who hates bugs.  Mostly.

Cucumber beetles have become my challenge for this year.  They are everywhere!  They have nibbled on my cukes and my zukes.  I can usually handle picking them up if I’m wearing gardening gloves, but then they get squished by my shoe – the piece of clothing that offers the most possible amount of fabric between my skin and the beetle.  The only problem with this method is, I still have to touch the beetle.  Which not only creeps me out, but also usually results in the beetle flying away when I get close.  (Except when they’re mating – they must be REALLY focussed, because they just keep going while you kill them.)

So I’ve been using this.

This is my daughter's bug vacuum.  Yup, you read that right.  I use a children's toy to battle the cucumber beetles.

This is my daughter’s bug vacuum.  Yup, you read that right.  I use a children’s toy to battle the cucumber beetles.

 

It isn’t the first time I’ve used this to collect bugs, but I’ve never done it on such a large scale.  Over the last three days we have killed over 60 beetles that have been feasting on our 9 cucumbers and 4 zucchini plants.  And yet, they keep appearing.

The bug vacuum contains the bugs in a little observation compartment which is complete with a magnifying glass.

The bug vacuum contains the bugs in a little observation compartment which is complete with a magnifying glass.

I should be grateful that their yellow and black stripes are easy to spot on the plants.  I should also be grateful that they are mating, so they are easy to catch and kill.  And I am grateful.  I am grateful that someone thought to build a bug vacuum toy for kids, and that someone was thoughtful enough to give it to my kid, and most of all I’m grateful for the look on my kid’s face when we catch not only our targets, but some other interesting bugs too.  This thing is great!

Suburban Garden City Roadblocks

We hear about this happening more and more.  Someone wants to grow an edible garden in their front yard, and it usually ends in them being asked to remove it.

We hear about this, not because the city of Ottawa has a problem with edible front yard gardens (there is no actual bylaw against growing food in your front yard), but because usually, the gardens in this case are planted on the city portion of the front yard.  You don’t hear about the edible gardens that meet the city bylaws, because that isn’t news.

This couple in Kanata, a suburban community in Ottawa’s west end, found themselves in just this situation recently.  Their garden is housed in a raised bed at the edge of their front yard – which violates a bylaw because the city requires clear access to that piece of land for access to utilities, snow removal, etc.  Plus, the city actually owns that particular piece of land, so they unfortunately didn’t plant on their own property.

I see it happen again and again, and it makes me sad.  Sad, because perhaps they made a mistake.  Maybe they didn’t know where their property line was, or werent made aware that they weren’t allowed to built their beds there.  But most of all, it makes me sad because they put so much hard work into their beautiful little garden, only to have to tear it all down again.  All because of one little mistake.  If it was me, I would be devastated.

I encourage the cultivation of edible gardens in front or back yards.  I encourage creative use of small spaces.  It’s kind of what this blog is about.  But I urge anyone considering a front yard edible gardening, or front yard gardening of any kind in Ottawa, to consider reading this article released on justfood.ca, and make sure your structure meets all the necessary requirements.  I would love to see more successful edible gardening in urban and suburban spaces, front and back.  Growing food is a beautiful thing.

Big Little Garden Update

Well, you know I’ve been spending a lot of time outside when it’s been 3 weeks since my last post.  Here are a few pictures from our garden.  Things have finally started to flourish!

Sweet peppers basking in the morning sun.

Sweet peppers basking in the morning sun.

After receiving a trim a couple of weeks ago, our twelve little homegrown sweet peppers have really taken off .  They have doubled in height, and have quite a few flowers – and one little pepper on the California Wonder plant!  I staked them with bamboo skewers to give them a little extra support on windy days, but for the most part, these are pretty solid plants.  I can’t wait to start eating fresh peppers, they make such a great little snack.

8 tomato plants snuggled together.

8 tomato plants snuggled together.

Holy tomato plants, Batman!  So, this year I decided to try to see exactly how much I could squeeze into my small growing space.  I ended up planting 16 tomato plants.  I staked four plants to the corners of my square cages, and kept pulling the plugs whenever I noticed them.   I have to say, these are the nicest tomato plants I have ever grown.  They are really strong, tall, and so far producing quite a bit of fruit.  I’m looking forward to trying the yellow tomatoes – a new variety for us.

Its a race to the top!

Its a race to the top!

We had a bit of trouble with our local neighbourhood bunnies.  They decided to nibble all the leaves off of our low bush bean plants.  It was our own fault, really – we mowed the lawn and they had nothing to eat.  Luckily we also planted Blue Lake pole beans, and since bunnies can’t climb or fly, those beans should be safe.  The beans have now gotten so tall that they fall over, then climb up themselves.  We have harvested about a handful so far, and they are just as tasty as they were last year.  One of the things I love so much about beans – they are incredibly easy to grow from seed, and easy to save the seed.  They are probably the cheapest, highest yielding vegetable I grow.  And they’re great for you, too!

Curly Kale, ready for harvest.

Curly Kale, ready for harvest.

The kale is usually our earliest producer, and this year was no exception.  We have already gotten three batches of kale from this patch, and it’s ready for another harvest.  The kale chips are delicious.  We are having fun experimenting with different flavours.

Zucchini climbing a tipi.

Zucchini climbing a tipi.

I have a confession to make.  I have never grown zucchini before.  I love eating it – fried, raw, steamed, on a kebab, on a burger… and I hear it is incredibly easy to grow and yields high, but I simply never got around to growing it.  With my focus this year being on high yielding plants, I decided to get a good climbing variety, and so far have produced very strong plants with beautiful flowers.  We’ve squashed a few cucumber beetles from a neighbouring cucumber plant, and are now ready to watch it deliver!

Nasturtiums invite bees and butterflies to the garden.

Nasturtiums invite bees and butterflies to the garden.

Nasturtiums, so delicious, so beautiful, so incredibly useful!  Not only do they provide shade and cover for good bugs, and attract bees and butterflies, but they are also completely, entirely edible.  We use the leaves and flower buds in our salads.  I hear you can use the root too, but I haven’t been that adventurous.

Thai basil flowers.

Thai basil flowers.

And now, on to the flowers and seeds!

Our Thai basil bolted, producing the most beautiful, delicate purple flowers.  This basil was grown from seed we collected from last year’s basil.

I love collecting seed – it’s minimal effort for free seeds – gardening is slowly getting cheaper for us.  We also have regular sweet basil, which looks as if it’s about to bolt as well.  We will be collecting seeds from both.

 

Leaf lettuce didnt stand a chance.

Leaf lettuce didnt stand a chance.

The poor leaf lettuce that we started in the early spring didn’t stand a chance.  We sowed it when it was cool, and a week after they sprouted, we received a surprise heat wave and they bolted immediately.  So, sadly, there is no fresh lettuce for us at the moment, but hey, at least we get more seeds!

 

 

 

And I’m just going to leave this picture of a fly on a yellow zinnia here.  Happy gardening, everyone!

A fly on a yellow zinnia.

A fly on a yellow zinnia.

Better Late Than Never

The green onions we pre-started indoors never came up.  I suspect it was an kssue of too much water.  Eventually I direct seeded a bunch more, and here they are, three weeks later!  Next year I plan to direct seed them early and cover them to avoid such a mishap.

A little row of late green onions.

A little row of late green onions.

Germination Rates

Every year I overplant, to ensure that I get enough plants.  And every year, I end up with way more plants than I can squeeze into the garden.  So this year I decided to keep track of how many seeds I planted, and how many actually germinated.

Some of my seeds were a few years old, others were brand new; some are organic and others aren’t.  Some were purchased from seed companies, some were from seed swaps, and some were collected by myself from last year’s harvest.  Unfortunately, this year I was unable to keep track of how old the seeds were, so my data does not account for that.

Below is my germination chart of all pre-starts.  I did not keep track of things I direct-seed, such as salad greens, because the seeds are so small that I will continue to plant rows of uncountable seeds in-ground.  But I will be using this data to decide how much seed to purchase for next year.

Seed Planted Germinated Failed Germination Rate
Peppers, Gypsy Red 5 4 1 80.00%
Peppers, Golden Cali Wonder 7 6 1 85.71%
Peppers, Habanero 8 2 6 25.00%
Peppers, Romanian Sweet 10 6 4 60.00%
Peppers, Sweet Chocolate 5 4 1 80.00%
Tomato, Black Cherry 10 9 1 90.00%
Tomato, Matt’s Wild Cherry 10 7 3 70.00%
Tomatoes, Roma 10 4 6 40.00%
Tomatoes, Yellow Large 10 7 3 70.00%
Tomatoes, Yellow Mini 6 6 0 100.00%
Green Onions 25 5 20 20.00%
Impatiens 11 0 11 0.00%
Begonias 15 15 0 100.00%
Snap Peas 25 3 22 12.00%
Nasturtiums 12 6 6 50.00%
Zucchini 20 4 16 20.00%
Cucumbers 23 9 14 39.13%
Sunflowers 15 10 5 66.67%
Zinnias 26 13 13 50.00%
Kale 27 22 5 81.48%
Beans 27 16 11 59.26%
Chickpeas 10 0 10 0.00%
Parsley 6 3 3 50.00%

Postage Stamp Backyard

My Postage-Stamp Backyard

My Postage-Stamp Backyard

I planted the pre-starts out a few weeks ago, but I wanted to give them some time to settle in to their beds before I took pictures. It’s amazing what you can fit into a postage-stamp backyard!

Think VerticalWhen you have a small space to grow in, you must think vertically. We installed two towers made from plastic coated steel supports with jute twine wrapped around them. These will support our zucchini and cucumber plants. Between them we grow nasturtiums for our salads, and around the outside reside zinnias, sunflowers, and morning glories to attract pollinators.

Pole BeansOf course, there are plenty of vining plants to grow vertically in your garden. My absolute favourite are Blue Lake Pole Beans. Last year we grew 12 plants which produced enough beans to both eat and preserve (with hot peppers) through the summer. I was also able to collect about 300 seeds off the vines at the end of the harvest season. I have been growing these beans for three years now, and the yield is simply amazing!

The cedar hedge at the back of our property leaves us with a long, shady strip of garden, receiving approximately 3-4 hours of sun each day. It is sometimes difficult to decide what to put there. This year we settled on rainbow chard, kale, and green onions. Tasty!

Tomatoes / Hot PeppersLast year we planted only four tomato plants, each a different variety. This year I grew yellow, yellow mini, black cherry, Matt’s Wild cherry, and Roma. We had planned to only plant four again this year, but as usual, I started way too many plants, so we popped 16 of those suckers into the garden. This is going to require some maintenance throughout the summer, but the yield will be totally worth it when we’re eating homemade pasta sauce on cold winter days. Between the tomatoes I planted hot habanero peppers for pickling and marigolds for pest control.

Container GardensI never feel that there is enough space in-ground, so we do a little bit of container gardening as well. Our big bins contain our 12 sweet pepper plants and one box of carrots and radishes (interplanted). We also use window boxes for our salad greens – lettuce, chicory, spinach, and a mesclum mix.

GreensYou may be wondering about the strange blue things throughout my garden this year. We decided to try underground watering – we buried 2 litre apple juice containers with holes in them. So far they work great in the garden, but not so much in the bins. In the bins they release the water too fast and the excess just comes out of the overfill holes in the bottom. Next year we will try smaller bottles to release the water closer to the middle of the bins.

BasilsOh yes, and we can’t forget the herbs. We actually don’t use a lot of herbs in our house, but I do have chives and about 5 kinds of mint in my perennial garden out front, and some parsley in the garden with the tomatoes. Other than that, we grow basil and thai basil in containers which move around the yard.

I’m quite happy with how full our home garden is. We have a plot over at our local community garden which contains a large amount of carrots and beets for pickling as well. Now that all the work is done, we have time to relax and enjoy watching things grow!

Ottawa Frost Warning

There is a frost warning for Ottawa tonight.  Bring in any plants in pots, and cover anything that’s in-ground.  You can use anything to cover them – plant pots, garden cloches, even yard waste bags!  If you plant anything in bins, they may have come with lids you can pop back on for the night.

It’s also a good idea to water your plants before bedtime.  The water will keep the plants a slightly warmer temperature than the air around them.

Here are a few of the ways we covered our plants.  The window boxes at the bottom are next to the house to keep them warm. Good luck and stay warm tonight!

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GMO In Your Garden

I had been drafting an entry in regards to myths about GMO seeds.  One of the primary focuses of the article was about how people worry so much about where they can find non-GMO seeds for their garden.

Then I came across this article.  It covers everything I wanted to say and more.  So instead of reinventing the wheel, I will be adding this article to the sidebar of this blog for easy access.

From the article:

“Unfortunately, some seed companies are trying to take advantage of some gardeners’ concern by advertising that they do not sell GMO seeds.

No seed companies sell GMO seeds to home gardeners — whether the company publicly states it or not.”

Tomato Transplanting Tip

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I start all my seeds in little individual yogurt containers that I have washed out, removed the labels from, and poked holes in the bottom of.  I do this because of the space limitations of my little tabletop greenhouse.  The problem is, tomatoes tend to outgrow these containers very quickly, as their root base grows seemingly faster than the plant itself.

Usually by the time the tomatoes are big enough to transplant, the other plants are also big enough to move to a lower shelf (they don’t grow as quickly so they don’t need to be at the top near the lights to keep them short).

For the first phase of transplanting I use tall pots.  I transplant the tiny tomato cubes into tall plant pots – but near the bottom, not the top.  Then I only fill up half of the pots.

About 3 weeks later the plants are tall and well established, but the bottom leaves have usually fallen off.  This is where the awesomeness of tomato plants comes in.  When you bury more of the tomato stalk, the stalk grows more roots.  Yay science!  I fill the tomato pots to the top,  and a couple of weeks later they start to fill out and become bushier and healthier, and are ready to be transplanted in mid-May.

Oh hello, little Kale!

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Welcome to the world!  I am going to take very good care of you.  You will get lots of sun, rain, and will be surrounded by happiness.  And then, when the time is right, I will cut off your heads, put you in the oven, and turn you into tasty, tasty chips.  Yum!