Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Walk The April Garden

 I took this photo to show you how comfortably nestled the Palla Rossa radicchio is, now that it's outside in the garden (as of yesterday), but all I can see is the horribly squished rocket to the left. I guess I didn't hear its indignant shrieks of displeasure as I lowered the wire cage over top. And yes, I do feel terrible about this.
Poor arugula. If it's any consolation you get to go first to the table.
 Our weather is warming up dramatically but we're still in the Silly Season (in that no one can guarantee what the weather will REALLY be like), so when I put out the Mizuna (a lettucey brassica) and Valmaine (a Romaine lettuce from Salt Spring Island Seeds) seedlings I made sure to build in some protection. This is a perfectly okay time to transplant cold weather starts (brassicas, hardy lettuce, peas, broad beans, carrot seedlings), but make sure you protect them against a few things: cold (ie: I use Reemay at night), slugs (I use ground up eggshells scattered LIBERALLY), and assorted digging animalia and rodentia (I use old wire racks til starts are about 6" tall).

 Not sure if you can see this very clearly, but here's a Sugar Daddy pea that got left behind - in the greenhouse - in early February, and looky there -  it's covered with pods. Pods of peas.

I'm the type who plants VERY densely, so it's a bit of a surprise to see one single pea grow so large and so bushy on its own.

Does this make me want to seed more sparsely?

Um. No. It makes me want to plant more peas.
 I'm doing an experiment with the radicchio. Some went out into the garden, protected with Reemay, and some is staying in the greenhouse, in modules. I want to see if there's any advantage in planting certain cold-hardy seedlings earlier. Every year I make a guess as to when they should all head out to the garden for good, which means that every year I ALSO worry about there being some sort of Once In A Lifetime Freak Late Spring Frost.
 This is why I water strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries with fish fertilizer from January to March.

(For those of you wondering what I mean by this statement: that is one fine set of strawberry plants sitting right there in front of your eyeballs. One FINE set.)

 Besides being one of my favourite gadgets, this item shows the highs and lows of the glass greenhouse.

This is what you can use to determine whether you keep the heat on at night or not.

My rule of thumb is this: when it's still going below 1ºC I keep the heat on; once nighttime temps are regularly over 6ºC I turn it off.

The Salad Garden (thank heaven it's labelled or I'd forget what it's there for sometimes) has a lot of plastic action right now, because it's a bit too early for outdoor carrots, spinach, and lettuce. Kept under nighttime cover, though, and it's not too early at all.

I took this shot to show off the rampant growth in the tomato seedlings but all I can see is the INCREDIBLY dirty glass behind it. My greenhouse glass cleaner nice window-cleaning husband worked hard on Sunday, cleaning the fir tree pollen off the roof, but neither of us saw the state of the back of the greenhouse. Ah well, focus on those seedlings instead.

Wondering what's blooming in the garden right now? Look no further than these charming little blue forget-me-nots.

Forget-me-not's glamorous doppleganger: a Jack Frost brunnera.
Old fashioned primulas.
More old-fashioned primulas.
Finally, my favourite: pulmonaria.

Lungwort. Dependable, multi-hued, and always cerulean.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why Wearing Protection Is Sometimes A Good Thing

  So...you've planted your seeds. What next?

This is a post about creating prime conditions for your soon-to-be-seedlings, and your tender-just-planted-in-the-cold-cold-garden seedlings. As you might have guessed, it involves a lot of plastic.  

There's really only one thing you have to remember for your soon-to-be-seedlings: You want a moist warm, environment, but not SO warm and moist that you can grow mushrooms or molds. And once those slightly sprouted seeds dry out that's it. Game over.

If you have a greenhouse or cold frame, this is much easier, because you already have a brightly lit, warm, outdoor place to leave all those trays. No frost worries. No rain deluges. You can use all sorts of light-weight items to cover your trays. Lots of people swear by windowsills but I'm not a huge fan, simply because one usually needs to add in all sorts of artificial conditions, like grow lights or a fan, and that can be a pain to maintain on one's windowsill for 2-3 months.

Yes, I DID say 2-3 months. Sometimes longer. I start tomatoes and peppers in early February; they get planted in the garden late May.

Here's a quick and easy method for seeds in a single pot: an old ziplock and sticks to weight it down. Leave this on until the seedlings break the surface of the soil, then remove. If overnight temperatures plummet you might want to pop it on before your plant goes to bed at night.

Call me obsessive but whenever I get a large plastic bag like this one I hoard it. These are perfect tray bags: lightweight and unusually clear. This means they won't block too much light once the seedlings emerge, so you can leave it on cold days. If you're worried about it smothering the seedlings, stick a few chopsticks or pruning sticks upright around the perimeter, a few in the centre, then lay the plastic on top.

A ziplock on a tiny 9-cell. These are thinned tomato starts, and I'm keeping a lid on them for 10 days or so until they've recovered from being transplanted.

This is my preferred method with large trays of seedlings because it's easy to manage. One thing to remember: on days when the greenhouse can go from 40ºF to 100ºF in an hour you want to make sure you're around to REMOVE those heat hats...

Okay, now let's look at how you can protect your newly transplanted seedlings:

For your teeny little just-planted-in-the-garden seedlings (in my March garden that would be: peas, broad beans, arugula, purple sprouting broccoli, turnips, mizuna, and spinach), you want to provide a few things: transplant shock protection for the first week, protection from night frosts, and protection from rodents or slugs. You want those little seedlings to survive until they're too big to interest chewing, digging animals, taller than a slug (and thus hard to chew to a miserable stalk of nothing), and tough enough for the cool nights. This requires some cheap but essential resources. My go-to's involve Reemay and plastic. Glass has its place but it has one major problem: it's round. Most of my pots are square.

I bought these - I think they're called Hot Hats - at Lee Valley, a very dangerous place to visit. It will convince you that you need all sorts of cool, high-tech AND low-priced, items for your yard and garden. Thanks to Lee Valley I now have lovely rubber covers on my broken taps, solid plastic handles on my old weed buckets, and these square plastic plant covers. Being in Lee Valley is like being a cast member in The Lego Movie: you walk around thinking EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!!!

These Hot Hats are useless in hot weather because everything cooks in them, but the cold, damp days of spring were MADE for these puppies.
 A Hot Hat is covering rocket transplants. I have a rock on the top because the Hats tend to blow away in windy weather. No stalwart of the storm, these Hats.

Just don't do what I did and leave your Hot Hats on the ground when your teenager is weed whacking.


I was given these wire hoop houses by a family friend, and they really are fabulous. I can drape plastic over them AND they keep the cat from digging them up in his never-ending quest to find the perfect toilet spot. Blech.

The only issue with these is that mice like to scamper around inside them, so when the seedlings first go in I cover them with a wire tray. Until the mice lose interest.

Gardening requires stealth, I tell you.

Reemay is another invaluable cover for tender seedlings. I most use it for tougher seedlings: broad beans and brassicas. Plants that like cold temperatures.

Here are some broad beans with a single-sided sheet of Reemay (tip: plant the seedlings on the lee side of the Reemay). I've used bamboo canes as a support for the Reemay, attaching it with clothes pegs.

Did you know that broad beans of Olde Tymes had purple flowers? When I heard this at our local Seedy Saturday I couldn't stop myself - I had to buy some seeds. If you live near me come visit and I will give you seeds so you can grow some too.

 More Reemay, this time attached to another miniature hoop house. Underneath are several unusually large white sprouting broccoli plants. I started them in November and now they are about 8" high.

You're probably thinking "yeah, RIGHT, Sheila" aren't you? Well, I'm just going to leave you hanging on that one.

Mostly because I forgot to take a photo of them so I can prove my point but gosh do I really want to appear that competitive? Oh heck, of course I do. We gardeners are nothing if not shameless showoffs.

Okay, here's a use for the glass some of you are probably itching to use. These are little rose cuttings I took about a month ago, back when it was still really cold out. I jammed an old mustard jar on top of them and it's stayed there the entire time. Haven't removed it once. The rose cuttings look as if they've taken, so next warm sunny day I will remove the jar and transplant these cuttings to a pot. This rose is called Tahitian Sunset. It's a diva of a rose (the dreaded hybrid tea) but the flowers are so large and highly scented I cut it some slack.

 Finally, let's look at forcing. Forcing is when you encourage something to grow or produce ever-so-slightly before it really should be producing.

Back in February I put this clay pot over one of my two rhubarb clumps.

The trick is to place it over the clump long before you even see the white bulb-lets peeking through the soil. Leave it on, rain or shine, until the leaves of the rhubarb are well out of the soil and looking in need of some sun.

Here's why this is a fun thing to do: see the clump at the top of the photo? That's the forced rhubarb. The tragic little clump at the bottom didn't get the benefit of the terracotta pot.

And because this photo was taken 3 weeks ago, the bigger clump is now so large that I was able to pick some stalks and make our first rhubarb crisp three nights ago.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Little Seed

 Here's a post about seed starting.

Once upon a time, long long ago, my seed starting methods were kind of haphazard. I'd go around the yard and collect a bunch of nursery pots, the 4" kind, fill them with garden dirt, then empty my seed packets into each one. The more the merrier, was my adage.

I'd watch as the seedlings germinated - a tangled, leggy mess. Some would die from damp, most just lay there, struggling. Eventually I'd toss the lot in the compost and buy ready-grown starts 3 months later. It was mildly stressful, now that I stop to think about it.

As the years wore on I had more success, but I didn't much enjoy seed starting season. It always seemed such a high-maintenance process. So fraught with disaster. Then I happened upon the BBC Gardener's World magazine. All the gardeners used tidy, sectioned, black trays, special seed starting soil, and special heat mats. Their seedlings were strong and mesmerizingly green. Accordingly, because I am nothing if not highly impressionable, I bought some black trays, some seed starting mix, and a heat mat. All of a sudden I had organized trays of healthy seedlings. No damp anywhere. There was still the minor issue of emptying the entire packet in each module, but that was solved with some early but judicious thinning.

The spring I had 129 tomato seedlings jockeying for room in a small, plastic greenhouse AND on every available south-facing windowsill in the house, I had to admit that my More! More! More! seeding habit needed curbing. I live in a city lot - it's roomy but it's no farm. So I tried the One Seed/One Square method although if I 'm being perfectly honest I mostly did the Two Seeds/One Square method because it's hard to break old habits. It worked amazingly. So that's what I do now.

Sheila's Seed Starting Pictorial:

First, seed trays. Good for the city lot gardener. Cheap, durable if handled politely, and two can fit easily onto one large heat mat. Yes, you can use any old pot you have kicking around but these compact modules don't require a lot of soil, they won't tip over when you move the tray, AND they will hold one largish tomato/pepper until you transplant it out into the garden. Plus, they are easy to store.

Next, proper soil. I use a product called Sunshine Mix #4. Whatever you use should be well-draining or specially formulated for seed starting. Fill each module 3/4 full of soil and water well. Then add your SEED. Cover with a little soil. Water again, but only slightly.

Heat hats. I like these. Yes, they are an absolute pain to store the rest of the year but they add Instant Atmosphere to the process. They keep the soil moist, warm, and slightly humid. This is important if you are keeping your seeds in an otherwise unheated place, like this greenhouse. Yes, this IS the high-tech version of a plastic bag, but it holds its shape better than a plastic bag.
Heat Mats. I like these too. You can cut the germination time by at least 1/2, if not more, by using heat mats. They will also keep any tomato or pepper perfectly happy through the worst spring imaginable, until it's time to go out into the garden. Shop around: our local agricultural store charges 30% less than the local garden centre.
 Adequate storage. This photo isn't particularly brilliant but there are two double heat mats here, one under the bench and one in front of the bench. The trays under the bench stay until they're about 1/2" high, then get moved to a brighter, sunnier location. Lack of light will produce spindly, leggy seedlings.

Label. Label all your seedlings, even if you think your memory is stupendously amazing. My method is this: (plant name) Black Krim, (date) March 1st.

I always place the tags in the same place on each tray: middle centre. This way the tag won't catch the heat hat if you're like me and you like to constantly see how your little seedlings are doing.


Thin. Once the seedlings are about this high I thin them out and move them around a bit, so they aren't always on a heat mat. Tomatoes and peppers get most heat mat time. Some seeds, like annual flowers or quick sprouters like lettuce, don't get ANY heat mat time.

Rotate For Light. When the seedlings are up and growing, rotate the trays each day or two, so the light is evenly distributed. Switch sides on the heat mats, turn them around, and so on, so the seedlings have the opportunity to grow straight.

Growing up out of the nursery. If you're like me and you've got way too many seedlings, turf some of them out to the cold frame.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Hand In Glove

I don't know about you, but I am an injudicious gardening-glove picker-outer. I'm also cheap. Not the most fortuitous of combinations. Instead of acquiring sturdy finger protection, I often end up with flimsy, weak-walled sweat-havens that are only too happy to spend all their time impregnated with dirt, giving me pruney fingers.

A few weeks ago I ceased all this silliness. I decided to look for The Perfect Glove. I would still practice thrift, perhaps not quite so stringently, but even more critically, I would work on my injudiciousness. With those two thoughts in mind I made a list of everything I required in a glove:

1. Finger protection: thorns, biting bugs, glass, rusty nails, the odd attacking snake/squirrel/chicken.
2. I want my fingers to stay clean. My heart sinks when I peel off my gloves and my fingers are ingrained with hours of dirt. I wear gloves to AVOID this scenario, not encourage it.
3. Warmth. Who wants to dig around in the winter garden with numb digits? Not I.
4. Breathability: they should never, under any circumstances, turn my hand into a gross white prune.
5. They must be easy to remove and put on. Bonus points if I can put them on with one hand.

With that criteria in hand, I assessed my current gardening gloves. I had two types.

First, the bulk buy glove. 

Pro: Comfortable, breathable, with a useful grippy feature about them. Lightweight fabric makes them cosy to wear. Washable. Reinforced fabric across the knuckles. Leathery-like substance over the fingers. And I can put these babies on with my nose.

Con: They have irritating lumpy seams at the end of the fingers that continually irk me. And forget wearing them in the rain. Your hands will get wet, muddy, sweaty, AND they'll turn into prunes.

Rating: B (B+ if you only wear them in sunny weather)
Price: $

The Atlas GRIP.

I have, over the years, purchased many many pairs of these gloves.  Sold everywhere. Often on sale. At the moment I have five pairs kicking around, in varying stages of decrepitude.

Pro: These are great gloves if cheap and cheerful are your main criteria. The palm side is rubberized while the back is usefully elasticized. The rubber is thick enough to endure many a hearty rose pruning. The rubber is molded so that it WANTS to slide onto your hand, which gives them an edge in the Easy To Get On category.

Con: Theoretically the rubber/elasticized fabric combination seems a sound plan, but in execution it doesn't quite work. The rubber on the back of the finger tips extends only to the first joint - just enough to ensure that you'll be tempted to imagine them Dunk-Proof. But they aren't. And once that elastic gets a whiff of moisture these gloves become Graspy Cold Gloves of Hell. No protective coating over the knuckles, an omission I've rued more than once.

Rating: C+
Price: $ (I'd give them half a $ if I knew how to do it on the keyboard)


I needed more in the waterproofing category, with a little less cracking of rubber. A clerk at a garden centre told me I needed leather. It was an intriguing thought, so I went with this pair:

 The Gardening Store Specialty Glove.

Pro: Shockingly comfortable. My frugal soul is pained to admit that sometimes you DO get what you pay for. Leather knuckle cover. Sturdy leather finger tips. Highly breathable, with a clever hint of elastic around the back of the wrists (prevents dirt from tumbling into the finger stalls).

Con: We were inseparable until it started raining, whereupon I discovered that my lovely leather is useless when wet. They inhaled the water, the (non-leather) portions grew sodden, and they looked like giant, deformed mitts of mud. So not attractive. We had to part ways.

Rating: A (as long as it's not raining, but you could always just wear them around the house)
Price: $$$

With the knowledge that the rain wasn't going to be letting up any time soon, I went back to the garden centre and bought another pair. A waterproof pair. At the till I was told that these were really excellent gloves. That buoyed me considerably.

The Atlas "Best Damn Gardening Glove Ever" (or something to that effect)

Pro: Again, shockingly comfortable gloves. Your hand positively slides in (the word sinuously wouldn't go amiss here). The rubber extends well up the arm, which allows all sorts of watery scenarios, from rescuing bees in watering cans to working in the rain or wet. The rubber appears more durable than that of the Atlas Grip, which perhaps explains why they stamped Vinylove next to the size. It's how I felt, wearing these.

Con: Haven't found any yet, but perhaps working in hot sun would be one of them. Think hot pruney fingers. Fevered brow. Low comfort levels. That sort of thing.

Rating: A+
Price: $$

So there you have it: my life in gloves. What should I try next? What sort of gloves do you use? I know some say that comparisons are odious, but in this case I feel it's warranted.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Walk Through My Greenhouse

 Come along for the ride - all 14 minutes of it - of my greenhouse. The video had to be compressed and adapted so it might not be as clear as I intended! Feel free to ask questions.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Jake, Bly, and Astroman Go To The Beach

"Lucky there aren't any dogs around to sniff us."

"My Beiber hair is getting in the way of my eyes."

"I'm having trouble breathing in this environment."

"Keep the helmet on, Astroman."

"Let's climb up this wood face."

"Look at me - I can hold on to the wood AND smile for the camera!"

"Astroman is having trouble....trouble...help Astroman hold on..."

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Head Shots

I don't normally take photographs in malls, but I made an exception for this particular display. I think shots like these need to be spread far and wide for all to see.

Now where do I get myself one of those headdresses?

Or do I have to make it myself?