Monday, April 30, 2012

Compost Tea - Organic Fertilizer

Just add enough water to cover;  mash it down with a stick
As I posted earlier in Organic Fertilizer, I decided to go "green" to feed my garden. Any information regarding compost tea I've read, suggests making compost tea with rain water (or chlorine free water). It's known that chlorinated water will kill off beneficial microbes that we want in the compost tea.

So far I've collected burdock and nettles and shredded their leaves with my hands (gloves) and cut up the roots. I placed all of it at the bottom of the pail and poured enough rain water over it until the burdock was covered. I mashed and bashed the leafy bits, as to bruise them. I stirred it around for a while and then placed a cover loosely over the top to keep the light out. Each day, I stir the compost tea with a stick, adding more water until the bucket is full.

Living in a condo-corp townhouse, I wish I could catch water with a rain barrel. It's a bummer that I can't, so I improvise. I have a corner of my backyard which gets quite a good soaking from heavier spring rains, plus my composter has a great empty space below and since the rain sheds off it, I decided to collect any drop I could.  I placed my garden tub underneath it and after one rainfall it was nearly full. Yet I know I can't rely on catching rain every time, this spring attests to that.

Alternately, if your only source of water is from the City, fill enough buckets or containers with water for all your needs and let them sit for a couple of days. Most of the chlorine that kills microbes will have evaporated away after 2 days. Just be sure to pour the water into another pail/container to get the air back into the water.

Prickly nettles added a day later...
Since my veggie containers have no sub-soil or worms below, I want the healthy bacteria from the tea to help kick start the growing season. Using it in my container planters will help suspend nutrients and microbes in the soil, allowing the plants to draw up necessary elements more readily before they leach through. Since it's non burning, it's great for establishing young plants. Plus it's organic and I don't have to worry about what gets on my veggies.

4 days into brewing
Nettles and Comfrey are starting to become sizable, and this week I will begin to pick some (with gloves for the nettles) and add it to this brewing batch.  I haven't added any compost or anything outside of the plant and already the tea is getting darker each day.

The brew takes a while longer in the spring with cooler temperatures. I aim to make a brew each week, so that in 2 weeks time, it will be ready. So far so good!

Next time I will show you how to strain and use.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Starting Compost...update

In March, I posted how I started compost with this Dual Batch Rolling Composter. It claimed on the directions that within 5-6 weeks, a batch would be ready. It's been a little over 6 weeks now and here are my results:

Given we had a rather warm March, it started out well. The cooler temperatures this April I think have hampered the progress. Yet, overall - I think in a another 2 weeks or so, I'll have workable compost.

The warmth that comes out of here is incredible. I stick my nose in the chamber hole just to smell any off or rotten fumes. I haven't yet smelled any of that, so I know the microbes are breaking it down!

This batch is a mix of kitchen scraps and pruning bits. Hopefully by June I'll have another batch.

Heidi = totally happy!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Cilantro (Coriander) from grocer....planted on.

Having had a craving for Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls today,  I stopped at my local supermarket on the way home to pick up some fresh cilantro. A fresh batch was just set out and I was delighted to see healthy, crisp roots still attached. Then my green fingers thought - these are perfect planting specimens!

Not only did I get the cilantro I needed for my dinner, but I now have an edge on getting a batch started for the summer.

I never start plants by seed, since I only have one full sunny window. Sniff, sniff, as I wish I could.

I just end up buying plant-lets at the garden centre which can be costly. Since this spring season has been so unusual temperature wise, I've been hastily waiting. I'm glad I didn't buy any cilantro. Instead, now I have plants and herb bliss in the making today!

First I took a good look at the bundle and separated the good bunches from the not so good ones. Then I rinsed them with cold water.

I then took each plant and took off the outer bulky stalks that are perfect for my recipe but too much bulk for my starter idea.  I left 2 to 3 stems of the new growth in the middle (having to remove the outer stalks sometimes by scissors, if the centre was thin).

I found one of my herb pots and filled it with 1 part compost and 1 part potting soil (leaving 2 inches from the rim). I poked holes with my finger and then gently wedged the cilantro roots down. 

Any leafy bits that looked wilted or that looked weak, I cut back.  This reduces stress on the planted roots. You've got to remember, this cilantro had a lengthy travel from the where it was grown to my kitchen. Many leaves and stems would of been bruised or damaged.

I didn't firmly pack down the soil, I watered it well until I found the soil settled nicely, making each stalk stand rigid.

I managed to get about 12 stalks in this 8 inch pot. Not bad for having paid $1.49 for the entire bundle. Hopefully in a few weeks, I can pick more fresh Cilantro!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happy Earth Day! (Canada)

Kuddos to Google Earth Day Logo
I'm pleased to see earth day events all throughout the GTA.  Google has even gotten into the spirit.

So please, go out - enjoy the day, pick up some garbage, plant some trees, prepare your garden, add a bird bath to your backyard, compost your kitchen scraps...whatever. It's time to give back more than just take from what God provides us with. We are called to be stewards of this earth, not just abusers.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Edible Flowers

I love salads and get a kick out of decorating them with edible flowers. Now that spring is here, I look forward to foraging for flowers. These edible flowers are great for cake-top decorating too.

These are the ones I have tried and will plant a few to harvest throughout the growing season:
Peony petals
Yucca filamentosa "Adam's Needle"
Petals of flowers only on Yucca
Rocket Arugula

  • Viola (not pansies, but the perennial, self seeding Viola)
  • Nasturtium
  • Hosta Flowers (without stamen and anthers)
  • Rocket Arugula (Eruca sativa)
  • Lavender
  • Basil flowers
  • Mint flowers
  • Pinks - Dianthus
  • Chive and Onion flowers
  • Squash and Zuchinni (Corchets)
  • Sugar Snap Sweet Pea
  • Yucca filamentosa (petals only)
  • Borage 
  • Peony petals

My favourites are underlined.

Here are other online sources of edible flowers .

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Homemade Organic Fertilizer

I'm quite blessed working for a municipality that bans the use of chemical treatments in horticultural practices. It's so comforting not to fret and worry about handling plant material that is covered with pesticide and herbicide residue.

To add fertility, we mulch, add chicken manure and compost in thick layers. However, at home, there is more creativity involved to aiding plant health.

Deciding to go completely organic with fertilizing is not simple.  Right now I am collecting certain plants which are known to fixate nutrients. My next post will be about making a compost tea to fertilize my containers and vegetables. If I had room in my garden, I would plant them directly at the source (near the compost bin) but since I don't, I will harvest along my garden route at work and use these plants at home.

Burdock has hairy, wavy leaves.
For now, I am collecting foliage from:

  • Burdock
  • Comfrey
  • Nettles

Young Burdock leaves are grey.
Long Burdock roots. These draw up nutrients deep down in subsoil levels.

The first on my list is Burdock (you know them, those common burs everyone hates when taking hikes and having little "hitch-hikers" stick to you like velcro). In the Greater Toronto Area, you can find them almost anywhere. They love disturbed soil and soils heavily mulched.

Wear gloves, you don't want to know what stingy Nettle feels like on your skin. 

No root is necessary for using nettle. The foliage is the key ingredient. With my gloves, I just mash them and bruise the foliage nicely before adding it to the tea.

Comfrey is more difficult to find at this time of year. I hope to find a patch to harvest from soon.

Happy Earth Day Canada (April 22)!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Inspiring Horticultural TV Programing

Rainy days and cold weather don't make me sad when I get to watch informative horticultural programing.

Unfortunately, I find a lot of North American garden shows have all taken the Reality TV direction, and I have little interest in seeing a garden transformed in one weekend. Unrealistic gardening is more like it.

My favs are mostly from the UK. (The BBC has fantastic programs.)
  • How To Be A Gardener (Alan Titchmarsh) - BBC (ITV)
  • Glebe Cottage with Carol Klein - BBC
  • The Victorian Flower Garden - BBC
  • The Victorian Kitchen Garden - BBC
  • The Edible Garden (Alys Fowler) - BBC
  • Gardeners World - BBC
  • River Cottage Series (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) 
Here are a few others not produced in the UK:
  • Gardening Australia
  • The Victory Garden - PBS
  • The Canadian Gardener (David Tarrant) - CBC
Yes, some are old, but the info is still relevant!

I've truly enjoyed Alan Titchmarsh's presentations - his humour and knowledge always inspire me.

Many are posted on YouTube:

Any programs you like that I haven't mentioned?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Plant Reversions - Brunnera macrophylla 'variegata'

New plant cultivars are being introduced every season.  Once plants bear "sports" (which means the parent plant will have a portion grow in slight variations from the original), nursery growers pounce on them, multiplying their numbers.  After a test run of  propagation success, they allow them to grow to true form and introduce them as new varieties..

But what happens when a strain or sport starts to revert back to the parent form?

This is happening to my Brunnera macrophylla 'variegata' (Siberian Bugloss). It's happened before at my old house, but I was surprised to see it happening again, since it doubled in size from last year.

You have to be careful and pay close attention to this reversion. The original parent plant is always stronger, more vigorous in nature and can choke out the sport. I don't want to lose its variegated leaves. It's one of the main reasons I bought it.

How to get rid of the reversion:  2 ways:

1. You can simply remove any reverted leaves whenever they emerge. This will eventually weaken its presence and will stunt its attempts to take over.

2. Dig up the entire reverting section, so that you don't sever too many feeder roots of the remaining plant, or gently wedge out the portion of the crown that is reverting. I waited a few weeks to pin-point the segment reverting. Here I teased it away (almost as though you are dividing it) from the variegata portion.

I generally replant the reverted section if roots remain - it's another plant (as I did years before) and quite lovely as plain green.
Planting in pot.

Removing the sport is best in early spring. This way the plant has time to recover and not be stressed during the heat of the summer.

Ways to insure it won't reoccur is hard to say. However, when a plant is under stress it has this tendency - greater risk of reverting back. I will be giving it a little more TLC in the future and keeping a close eye on it.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Dry Spring - Water, water!

Working in the garden, I am amazed how dry the soil is. At this time of the year, usually my boots are all covered in muck. Cleaning up around my front yard today, I noticed how incredibly dry the soil is under my cedar. This is rather unusual for April. The old saying: "April showers bring May flowers" usually holds true. So when the April showers don't last and only spot showers providing 1-2mm's of rain, none of it is going to reach the base of evergreens, and none of it will penetrate to the roots. It's best to get the watering can and or hose/sprinkler out. I plant annuals under this cedar so I can't add mulch - today it's going to get watered. 

Deep watering is essential, even though you may not notice plants suffering. We didn't get much snow coverage this winter (GTA), this means moisture reserves will be low. Plants are breaking dormancy and need water to initiate bud break, and that turgid new growth. Roots will deplete moisture levels below 4 inches, while the sun will dry out anything above 4 inches. Give your trees, shrubs, perennials and lawn a good drink. If you can, add a good layer of some mulch or compost to keep moisture levels from evaporating in the sun.

Here, I have just left the hose on a low trickle and that way, the water won't run off and will benefit the roots down below. I'll move it around after a while and I'll leave it on for an hour or so.

Hopefully the skies will open up soon and give a good heavy rain. Until then, I'm supplementing the garden with thorough watering.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Stepping Stones - Avoid Trampling

April 4th 2012
I really didn't want my garden to have stepping stones at first. They take up valuable space and right now look like typical concrete squares.  Yet, seeing my garden soil today, I am --SO GLAD-- I decided to do it anyway.  They actually have become a great help.  I have noticed with all the organic material I left overwinter, the soil is fluffy and totally happy. If I didn't have the stepping stones, the soil would not be as workable and I would have trampled over my perennials and overwintering herbs by now.

Garlic chives
Trampling is the gardeners worst enemy and since I have edibles dotted about, plants not yet showing where they reside, I avoid it at much as possible. I've invested in a lot of compost and a good litter layer over winter, my foot traffic would counteract all that effort.

I've planted many herbs, ground covers and perennials that need attention close enough to each stone to help soften their stark concrete edges. I trim herbs and what-not throughout the growing season, at least giving gaps big enough for my foot to touch down.
Soil around my Lysimachia nummularia is so fluffy!

I wish I had more patience and came up with other fun choices of stepping material, like:
  • used bricks
  • bamboo mats
  • pre-cast slabs and stones
  • mosaic stepping stone kits
  • flagstone

Another benefit of using stepping stones: you can place pots in their spots, when the garden becomes full and less foot traffic is necessary.

I'll take comparative photos in late summer to see how little the stones are visible.
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