Nearing the End of Summer

The last three weeks have been a big blog-posting FAIL, yet here I sit with still nothing to write.  The change of seasons does this to me, I think.  Posting about cleaning up the garden after an amazing summer would mean that I’m conceding to the fact that summer is indeed nearing its end.  There’s a part of me that’s ready for sweaters and cider and soup-making nights, but mostly I’d rather sit at the beach every weekend until December maintaining the fabulous tan I’ve been accumulating over the last few weeks.  Vancouver is truly an amazing place to be when the weather is just so.

Some highlights of this year have been successfully vernalizing and then enjoying heirloom artichokes, finally growing squash that doesn’t suffer from blossom end rot, discovering the deliciousness of home-grown potatoes, and successfully beating the pesky aphids with marigold around the borders.  This year has also been a lot of firsts for me:  It’s the first year I started *most* of my garden from seed; it’s my first time growing artichokes, onions, beans, squash, potatoes, sunflowers, cabbage and carrots; and, I think it’s the first year that my garden is in the black in ROI terms. 

As this season nears a close, I can’t help but feeling excited about all the things I want to grow next year.  I’ve been scouring seed catalogues dreaming of the heirloom tomato harvest that I plan to have and looking for new challenges in the forms of tiny seeds… I’m also working on convincing Kyle that a front yard vegetable garden is a beautiful thing, but that might take a while. 

Earlier this summer my mum sent me a beautiful care package with sunflower seeds.  I’d never grown them before, but was happy to plant a few in the back of the garden between the growing vegetables and the fence.  They’re finally coming up and I can’t imagine another year will ever go by without them in my yard.  They’re beautiful, cheerful and the bees absolutely love them. 

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Look What I Grew: The first squash blossoms and cherry tomatoes

I promised many people a post on how to fry squash blossoms as soon as possible, but Kyle and I were too anxious to eat them that we forgot to take photographs.  Next time.

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Propagating Plants

Building and maintaining a garden is an extremely rewarding experience but it can also be a wallet buster, especially when you’re starting from scratch.  All the little things you need can really add up:  seeds, plants, compost, soil amendments, lumber if you’re building raised beds, tools, etc… 

I’ve made a considerable effort this year to put my garden in the black by looking for free tools online, picking up compost at the city dump ($20 for 4 cubic feet) instead of purchasing it in bags ($200 for 4 cubic feet), finding free rocks for raised beds, making my own compost and potting mix, collecting as many leaves as possible for mulch, and starting most of my vegetables from seed.  So far I’m really happy with the outcome of the back yard and I expect to spend even less as the years pass and my soil gets better. 

However, Marian and I recently set out to tackle the front yard as well.  We’ve been pulling up roots, trees, and old lumber from the yard and I’m finding a pretty manageable, though sandy, soil underneath the mess.  Now that most of the old plants are out, there’s a lot of bare space threatening to break my bank account again.  However, I’m determined to save money by propagating plants from my existing garden in the back yard and growing most everything else from seed. 

Propagating plants has to be one of the easiest, and most cost-effective, ways of growing your garden.  All you really need is the parent plant to take stem cuttings from and some potting soil.

  1. Fill some pots with potting soil.  I use my homemade potting mix, but you can also use vermiculite or sand.  Add water until the mix is moist and poke some holes in the centre.
  2. Take some 5-6″ cuttings of the plant you want to propagate.  I find it easier to take cuttings from new growth. 
  3. Strip the leaves from the bottom 2-3″ of the cutting.  Try to ensure that you have a leaf node not more than 1″ from the bottom of the stem.  Roots will grow out of this node, so you want to ensure it has the rooting hormone on it and that it’s below the soil surface.
  4. Dip the end of the stem in the rooting hormone.
  5. Put the cutting in the prepared soil mix and gently firm the soil around the stem.
  6. Create a greenhouse-like environment for the cuttings by covering them with plastic – I used sandwich bags supported by wooden skewers so the plastic doesn’t collapse in and smother the cutting.
  7. Place the cuttings in a sheltered location away from direct sunlight and keep the soil moist.  Once new growth appears, treat the cuttings as you would seedlings – slowly introduce them to the elements before planting out.
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Look What I Grew: The First Rounds of Potatoes

I wasn’t completely sold on using valuable garden space to grow something as cheap and basic as potatoes, but I’m sure glad I didn’t listen to my gut on this one.  Potatoes fresh from the garden are naturally buttery, nutty and so much more sweet than those you get at the store.  Yummm.


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Harvesting Onions

This being my first year growing onions, I tried for months to grow my own transplants.  Having failed miserably at getting them to a size that would survive outdoors, I finally caved in May and bought some starts from a nursery.  I’m going to try starting a few seeds this week and will leave them in the garden to overwinter for harvest next June – I won’t waste my time trying to start them indoors again in the spring. 

The starts from the nursery have worked really well and have required practically no attention.  My only gripe is that they are a little small and aren’t as uniform as I’d like.  This could be due to both the terrible summer we’ve been having and Sparky-The Bug-Hunter knocking the tops over while using the onion patch for cover.  This last week their tops started falling over and the outer skins are turning brown, so I decided to harvest the first round.  

After gently pulling the onions out of the ground I shook them free of extra dirt and have them hanging in the garage to cure for a few days.  Once the outer layer of the onion is brown and paper-like they’ll be braided and hung in a dry, dark place for the winter

I have a feeling that these won’t get us through the weekend!  Note to self:  Grow more onions!

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Growing Strawberries from Seed

One of the most frequent hits this blog gets from search engines is something relating to strawberries.  People seem to want to know about strawberry germination, growth and propagation.  Since I started Alpine Strawberries from seed this year, it’s easy enough to explain their growth process through photos. 

It took more than a month for the tiny seeds to germinate, but here they are. 

After getting their third set of true leaves, I transplanted each seedling into larger flats.  5-6 seedlings per square.  They stayed there until the beginning of June when they were large enough to transplant into the garden.

Since strawberries are perennial, it is best to allow the plants to get established in their first year of growth.  This means pinching off the first round of flower buds so the energy goes into root growth rather than fruit growth.  I did as suggested but allowed the flowers to grow after mid-July and have now enjoyed a few sweet fruits while weeding in the garden.

Growing both white and red alpine strawberries has been fun – they are smaller and sweeter than the regular ones you get at the grocery store.  But they also don’t send out runners, so I won’t need to worry about them taking over the garden and can use them as boarders around the rocks.   They’ve turned out to be beautiful, lush plants that are about a foot square.

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Look What I Grew: First Beans, Artichoke and Egg Plant

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Look What I Grew – Root Vegetables with a Nod to Lammastide

I learned from a few fellow bloggers that August 1st (this past Monday) marks a very special day for gardeners and farmers alike, Lammastide.  This is the traditional celebration of the first harvest, celebrated for generations in Pagan and Christian cultures in the Northern Hemisphere.  In centuries past, it was proper to bring a loaf of bread made from the new crop to church.  While I’m neither religious nor a grower of grain, the first harvests are certainly something to take note of. 

I’ve been picking and eating lettuces for months now, but the real excitement comes from pulling a carrot or a beet out of the ground, picking a fully ripe tomato, and watching the peppers drop their flowers to reveal beautiful little fruits forming underneath.  I’ve learned so much about food in these last few years – from when certain foods are in season to what a fresh strawberry really tastes like.  It no longer feels like I’m buying ‘fresh food’ when I purchase a tomato from the market in February or a leek in June.  It took growing my own food to realize just how out of touch I was with the earth’s cycle.

A quick note on the cabbage in the photo above – this has to be the most tenacious little vegetable in my garden this year.  I planted it in a miserable attempt at a fall garden last September.  It sprouted and survived two snows, more than a hundred days of rain, and three transplantings and still grew this beautiful little head of awesomeness.  I’m pretty proud to have such a stubborn garden.

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Look What I Grew: Root Vegetables

There is something so spectacular about pulling a vegetable out of the ground.  I hope I never get over that.

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How to Manually Pollinate Squash Plants

Squash plants are some of my favorites – not only do they produce an abundant amount of fruit, smell like peanut butter, and have beautifully full leaves – they are also edible in a couple of different ways.  Last year there were a lot of blossoms on our squash plants but very few squash.  I didn’t really mind because fried squash blossoms are truly amazing, but this year I’d like to have a least a few of the fruits for dinner – so I’ve been pollinating them myself.

All squash plants produce both male and female flowers.  The male blossom (in the photo below on the right) has a long, thin stem while the female (on the left) has a shorter stem with a small squash growing at the base of the flower.

The squash plant always starts out with only male flowers.  In order to produce fruit the male flowers need to pollinate the female flowers, which appear slightly later.  Usually bees do this for us, but with a declining population in recent years, manual pollination is sometimes necessary.  

In order to do this, carefully pull a male blossom with the stem and pull back or remove all the petals. 

The stamen is now fully exposed.  The tip of the stamen (called the anther) contains pollen needed to pollinate.  Find a female flower and notice the bumps inside the petals – called stigmas. 

Pollen needs to be transferred from the male stamen to the female stigmas.  To do this, gently dust the anther over the tips of the stigmas and the pollen will adhere.  You’ll need one male flower for every two or three female flowers.

That’s it.  Sexy times.

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