Monday, February 27, 2012

Vegetables for shade

Late summer 2011
It feels like spring out there and I can't help share my veggie plans for this coming season.

Now that I have more knowledge of what light conditions my garden has, I have made my list and developing plans for what vegetables and herbs I would like to plant.

I'm keeping in mind: "If you grow a plant for the fruit or the root, it needs full sun. If you grow it for the leaves, stems, or buds, a little shade will be just fine".

Vegetable plant list for 2012: *Photos from OSC Seeds
*Baby Leaf Blend Lettuce
  • leaf lettuce
  • mache (lamb's lettuce)
  • arugula              
  • swiss chard
  • spinach
  • kale
  • beets (for leaf too)
  • radishes
  • basil
  • parsley
  • cilantro 
  • *Cherry Belle Radish
  • cherry tomatoes
Leafy greens, radishes, beets and herbs are my choices. They are tolerant of some shade, not huge amounts, but certainly partial sun and dappled sun.  My containers will be ideal for more herbs, outside of my perennial chives, mint and hopefully my oregano will overwinter.

*Bright Light Swiss Chard
In regards to lettuce, arugula, kale, swiss chard; I will purchase seedlings from my local garden centre instead of sowing them myself. I find the organic selections are far better established than I could ever seed indoors with low light. I could wait to seed outdoors, but my harvest season will be delayed if I wait until May.  The lettuce, arugula, beets and spinach however, will require more than one crop. I have bought seed packs now, just so that I can sow in containers and transplant more mid to late summer, that way I can extend my crop harvest.

Last year I had success with lettuce, spinach, parsley, basil, oregano, thyme, chives and cherry tomatoes. I tried leeks, mini carrots, onions, garlic and although they weren't terrible, I would rather have better. I have spots with about 6 hours of sun - it just isn't enough.

One trick I learned to maximize sun, is to situate a large pot on wheels. I had an abundant crop of cherry tomatoes last year, allowing easy movement towards sunnier areas on my patio. The sun's intensity changes from spring to fall, this way I extended my yummy cherry tomatoes until October...they are my FAVOURITE!

With this years selections, at least I'll be getting enough greens!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Companion Planting - Vegetable Garden Planning

Companion planting is not complicated. It is so beneficial and should be a part of your vegetable garden planning.

When you group a lot of veggies and segregate them from other plants in your garden, you'll wind up making them an easy target for pests and you may deplete the soil if you replant the same vegetation year after year in the same place.  Planting them in smaller groups, among other companion plants, will introduce a whole variety of beneficial insects and or plant life that aid the growth of your veggies.

  • Some plants fixate nitrogen in the soil - legumes and certain clovers do that well.
  • Some exude chemicals from their root system that keep bugs away - Marigolds and Chrysanthemums are ideal.
  • Some repeat in bloom all summer, which bring bees and other pollinators to the garden.

Here are great resource lists of companion, and incompatible plants you should know about.

It works for berries too

In the past, I've used these plants together with success:
  • Nasturtium - with radish or lettuce
  • Marigolds - with herbs
  • Garlic or Campanula persicifolia - with roses
  • Borage - with spinach, lettuce, cabbage
  • Beebalm (Monarda) - with tomatoes
  • Chrysanthemum - with strawberries

Now that my garden is so small, I have limited space to plant all sorts of companion plants. However, I am planting my veggies in with perennials and shrubs and I noticed the benefit last year and will do it again.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lee Valley Garden Tools Catalog

Nothing motivates a gardener more than really useful gardening tools - especially when there's still snow on the ground. I love tools that make less work and promote less wear and tear on the body. I received my Lee Valley Garden Tools Catalog about two weeks ago and a few items caught my attention.

Soil Scoop:  How many times have I taken divisions and needed a sharp edge to cut portions in half, or remove root bound masses? This looks so useful!


U Bar Digger I've used one similar to this, and it's a back saver. What a great way to break up soil after foot traffic or heavy rains trample down soil.

Crack Weeder I always try other methods to chemical controls when it comes to weeds growing between my patio stones. Since half the time I can't pull them out, I think I will add this to my tool collection.

Garden Tub:  I bought one of these last year. I used it all the time. I collapses and tucks away in my deck box, and is quite durable. I plan on buying the Shallow Garden Tub size, (6.5" high, 22.5" in diameter) which is only available at the stores (not online). I will use this shallow one to do small potting jobs, without getting soil every where.

Well that's enough for me this year.  Too tempting.  Check their Lee Valley Garden Tools Catalog  online.

*All photos from Lee Valley

Monday, February 20, 2012

Determining light conditions

It's hard to think about gardening when it's February. One can't help but plan.
My town-home garden gets quite a bit of shade at different parts of the day. Light levels change with seasons, and with the neighbouring complex units getting in the way, it's not as easy to situate plants as I would like.

I want to enjoy colour, texture, flower and foliage all in one - instead of sectioning off areas strictly for veggies and flowering plants. I wouldn't be able to grow a section for vegetables anyway, since the sun intensity is so sporadic. I enjoyed mixing the garden all about last year. It was quite colourful. It also provided my vegetables with beneficial insects, which attacked unwanted pests that usually invade veggies if they were situated alone.

Unfortunately, shade limits my choices in vegetable planting.

I'm not fretting for having too much shade. There's a fantastic rule to remember ; "If you grow a plant for the fruit or the root, it needs full sun. If you grow it for the leaves, stems, or buds, a little shade will be just fine". 
Dotted solar lights throughout
My main focus last summer was learning and watching where the sunniest spots were in my garden. The most efficient way was to use my solar garden lights. They helped me determine how much sun I have by their length and duration of  illumination during the night.  I couldn't watch the garden all day, so this was my only other option to get accurate info.  Last years positioning of them was a testing ground for determining where my sunniest spots are.

Those bright spots were marked in the fall and now I am just waiting until spring arrives!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Hunt for the Ultimate Urban Compost Bin

I wish I had more space, but since I can't do anything about it, I need to find a smaller compost bin. Last year I missed out. After moving-in, working the hectic spring season, and finally organizing the yard, all but one store was sold out. The remaining choice was far too large, and I knew it would take 2 years for me to get any compostable good stuff with a bin that size.  I pondered the idea to make one, but I need it to be small and usable each growing season. The option of buying just seemed more practical.

Since January I've been researching and looking for the right sized compost bin that will work for me.

There's a number to choose from:
Koolscapes 50Gal Decorative Composter: Lowes Canada

Algreen Terra Tubmbler 7.4 cu ft - Lowes Canada

Algreen Terra 50 Gal Chocolate Brown Composter - Lowes Canada

To make compost quickly, one needs water, good aeration, heat and darkness. You can always add compost accelerators, but I rather do it the hard-work way.

I've finally decided on this one:

Get it here
It rather looks toyish, but I have read several reviews and I am surprised at the turnover rate and how many folks have given it the thumbs up.  I can see that the black plastic absorbs the heat, and the rotation ability  would accelerate the mixing without me having to break my back. It has 2 compartments to work with. One to add fresh kitchen scraps and the other to leave and decompose.

I had a composter when I lived with at home with my parents. It was a medium sized, stationary one my father built. I loved it. I was able to fill all the container planters with what was inside each spring. I won't have as much to compost, nor do I have the room for one that size.

This Dual Batch Composter has two chambers that hold about 2.5 cubic feet of space in each - that's at least 2 good sized bushels full. The reviews said folks made compost in about 5-6 weeks. At least once one batch is done, another can be still decaying away.  
It comes with a year warranty and it's not that expensive, as some of the others above.

Sounds good to me. Beats having to drag bags through the townhouse to the backyard. I will update a post when it gets used.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lazy Gardener

This would be a more appropriate post for the fall, but I didn't have the blog up and running then. I guess you could call me a lazy gardener - hoping this lazy garden practice will benefit my spring season. Where I work, we have manicured gardens, and unless they are naturalized gardens, we don't leave organic mulch in the form of leaves.

I have two lovely Shademaster Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos " Shademaster ") trees that are situated between my townhouse backyard and the neighbouring units. The dappled shade they provide is welcomed during the heat of the summer. In the fall they become a pain.  Honey Locust leaves are tiny and get everywhere. At first, I was diligently cleaning up after all the mess and composting them. Trying to rake them out of the garden was useless since they are too small.

Here came the lazy part: I gave up and left them in the garden.

I had to add a lot of amendment to the soil last year, since it was grass the year before. Thinking ahead for this year, I actually swept all of the remaining leaves from November onwards back into my garden and slightly worked them in.  This is a natural form of mulch and since November, much of it is decomposing already. And there I was mid-October - getting rid of them!

Hopefully I've done right and that my soil will have large organic bits of matter that will deter slugs, will be porous to retain water and will decay well enough so I don't need to add any organic manure or store bought amendments. It's a bit messy, not the greatest view, but hopefully my perennials, bulbs and veggies will be happy. We will see!

NOTE: I caution doing this if you have leaves that are infected with powdery mildew, blight and other fungal infections. These leaves had NO evidence of disease. If you do have leaves that are not healthy, dispose of them. Allowing them to compost in your garden may re-infest the host. It's not worth bringing more trouble to your garden.

Leaves are already breaking down

It great to see that they're already composting - it's only February!

Black and Decker LeafHog

If you have larger leaves from trees in your garden, you can still employ this idea. I've used great blower/mulchers like this one. It has a vacuum which sucks up the leaves, grinding up several bags worth into one bag of mulch.

Another method is to gather a small pile of leaves over your lawn. With a mulching lawn mower, mow over the pile (just not a pile mounded too high). Cris-cross, mowing more than once over the pile and you'll get a great source of mulch for perennial beds, under shrubs or material ready for the composter.

Try it next fall!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Looking back at 2011...Planning for 2012

Last year I had a blank canvas.

Realtor photo

The previous owners had 2 perennials and one rose bush in the corners of the backyard, with grass and patio stones.

They had a dog which tore up most of the grass and yellowed other areas..if you know what I mean.

Since I have limited space, I decided to do away with all the grass, which was easy to do and great to compost.

Added small stepping stones; to walk through garden.
I decided to move some of the patio stones, remove all the grass and develop a garden with limited knowledge of light conditions, soil, roots from trees...etc.

Thankfully, the week I took possession, I was able to divide certain favourite perennials from my previous garden and use them here.

Sorry, I washed and hung the air conditioner cover over my chair. At least the perennials were starting to come in nicely.

Because my light conditions were sporadic - I had to dot my veggies in areas where they received more sun.

As the season progressed, I added more containers, filled in areas with some annuals and harvested my herbs and veggies, when ready and thoroughly enjoyed my little garden.

Can't avoid the distortion from the screen, aerial shots from my second story window.
It's been such a stark contrast gardening here from my other ravine lot garden, but I am SO grateful!  No rabbits, no dear, no racoons that come dig up my planted friends. I have freedom (outside of limited light conditions and a few squirrels) to plant whatever I like.

Don't let little spaces burst your bubble of creativity. I can't wait until this years planting season!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Winter has arrived!

Yay, finally snow that isn't just a dusting!

I am hoping this will last and give the ground a good layer of protection and some more moisture.

Global warming....nah - I don't think so!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Aged Terra-cotta

One of the blessings to having a new home, are the house warming gifts.

I received this wonderful Hoya  (Hoya carnosa ' variegata ' ) plant, potted up in the most unusual container. 

It came with directions. Mind you, not for the plant itself, but for the pot.

Campo de' Fiori Terra-cotta is the brand name of this pot and unlike any other I've seen, it's a "living" pot.

Simply by watering the Hoya contained inside, with good moisture conditions and in time...a coating of green moss will develop. As this pot is porous, those who gave it to me were kind enough to include a pot saucer, to avoid any moisture staining furniture. But if I want, I can easily use this outdoors during the summer as well.

I've only had it 2 weeks and it's already starting to show some green hints of moss.

I'll update the way it changes. Fun! Thanks Andrea and Lori!
Some other samples here

Monday, February 06, 2012

Winter...what winter?

My tiny townhouse garden - Feb 2012
I am certainly not complaining. I can't get over it. It's February and a mild 4°C out there - hey, even the grass is slightly green. Although looking out my window to my tiny garden, I can't wait until I see some life emerge from below. I planted several bulbs in the fall, since this is my second growing season here.

Folks have been commenting on the mild weather, saying it's due to global warming. I don't side with that thought. To me it's just a gift of mild temperatures to our region - which considering last year, averages out some. Look at our friends in Europe (France, Italy and Poland) and Eastern Europe (Ukraine, Siberia). If global warming is happening, well, our friends over the ocean aren't feeling any of it. They have been bearing down for one of the worst winters on record. That essentially could be us next round.

For what it's worth, I am thankful and will accept whatever comes. You know the saying: March rolls in like a lion and out like a lamb.  We don't know what tomorrow will bring. Those of us in Southern Ontario should be enjoying it for what it's worth.

I will say, I miss the exercise of shoveling snow and the sharp cold on my cheeks. Let's hope we've had cold enough temperatures to kill off unwanted molds/diseases and other pesky insect colonies. I hope our friends in Europe and Eastern Europe will have a milder March - rolling in like a lamb.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Evergreen or Ever-bagged All Winter Long?

Going for long walks this winter, I've developed a pet peeve, basically a design irritation when it comes to wrapped evergreens and broadleaved evergreens. Seems to me that an evergreen is an EVERgreen and should be seen and enjoyed all year long.
I see burlap, boxed contraptions, bags, just about anything someone could use to wrap their plants. In most cases this is unnecessary if we examine alternatives and proper placement of plant material. It's unsightly to see your front yard draped in burlap each winter. Especially when there could be wonderful evergreen foliage - the only green colour available to us at this time of year!

These are roses.
I would first like to say, I am not trying to put folks down who do this: some are doing it as an effort to sustain the plant during our harsh winters, or others do it to insure a delicate shrub/evergreen establishes well enough for the first few years. It is a great practice and rule of thumb to protect when establishing new plants. However, the bulk of these photos are examples of wrapped evergreens and shrubs that have been wrapped every winter since they were planted.

I merely want to suggest and to make people aware - there are other alternatives to evergreen selections for the front of the garden. There are ways to avoid bagging plants that are meant to be enjoyed all year long. Your front garden doesn't need bagged or boxed eyesores.
Euonymus Broadleaved evergreens

Much of the evergreens I see wrapped are Dwarf Alberta Spruce; Picea glauca ' conica ', Rhododendron;  Rhododendron catawbiense (large flower and leafed variety), Boxwood varieties; Buxus x and bonsai topiaries. They are wonderful plants to add to the front yard, but if you have to wrap them each winter for the rest of their days, I believe they are in the wrong situation.

Dwarf Alberta Spruce. Most front yards have them. They're compact, look like a perfect little pudgy Christmas tree. They don't require sheering and they stay dwarf and don't take over the garden. Let's examine what they need and see if your front yard is right for it's longevity without wrapping.
  • They prefer full sun and a slightly protected spot (away from North/West strong winds). 
  • They can tolerate part shade, or dappled shade. However, too much shade and their tight branching and needle foliage habit will begin to lose shape. 
  • Slow growing, but still requires adequate spacing away from other shrubs, walls and walkways. 
  • Will struggle with root competition, so plant in rich, deep soils.
Dwarf Alberta Spruce
Most are planted too close along walkways, driveways and entrance points when the spruce is small - not taking account a mature growth rate. Front gardens are usually exposed, they have walkways and driveways which are either sprinkled with salt or heaped full of snow along the pathway. Salt damage will brown the needles. A common reason why folks wrap their evergreen.

Many Dwarf Alberta Spruce are planted along the brick wall of the house. You may think this is be a protected spot for them, but during the summer, especially if they are planted too close to a south facing wall, their situation may be compromised. Brick walls exposed to the sun will absorb heat and hot temperatures will essentially bounce back and bake the Dwarf Alberta Spruce. The heat becoming intolerable over time. Month after month of this can lead to needles drying out at the back of the spruce, nearest the wall. This stresses the little conifer, making it struggle going into the winter. It may be warmer during the winter but the damage throughout the summer compromises the evergreen.

Other alternatives to Dwarf Alberta Spruce: 
  • Clipped Pyramidal Yew; Taxus cuspidata
  • Blue Arrow Juniper; Juniperus scopulorum ' Blue Arrow '
  • Fairview Juniper; Juniperus chinensis ' Fairview '
  • Conical Boxwood; Buxus koreana or x species clipped
  • Emerald Cedar; Thuja occidentalis ' smaragd '

Rhododendrons are usually placed as a focal piece, tucked in a dark corner where their blooms want to energize a gloomy shaded spot.  However, Rhodo's require more sun than most realize. Dappled shade and or part shade is best to optimize bloom. What they mainly require to become robust, is a deep, loose, rich low (acid) pH soil. This enables their fibrous, lateral roots to retain moisture so that their buds and broad leaved foliage remain hydrated over the winter. Here's what Rhododendrons like:
  • They love rich loamy soil, with added peat moss and leafy matter (compost, pine/evergreen needles, or mulch) on top for a cushion of protection. 
  • Deep watering before the main freeze up in November and a good pile of snow underneath should be plenty if the Rhodo is situated away from sweeping winds and a sharp north west exposure.
  • Other shrubs and taller evergreens or a fence close by to act as exposure protector, buffering the prevailing winds.

Other alternatives to Rhododendrons:
  • PJM Rhododendrons (hardier variety than the large leaf Catawbiense; Rhododendron x ' PJM '
  • Dwarf Korean Lilac (sunny spot); Syringa meyeri ' palibin '
  • Annabelle Hydrangea (shadier spot); Hydrangea arborescens ' Annabelle '
  • Azalea (deciduous Girard species), Azalea hybrida x girard series

Topiary and small Rhododendron

If you have a well established evergreen that would be hard to transplant, and if you must wrap for fear of losing it - try burlap that is dyed green!

Here are ways to avoid using burlap or coverings:

1) Avoid using sensitive evergreens and salt intolerant plant material near:
  • walkways
  • driveways
  • or up against brick walls
  • tree trunks with heavy root system

    2) Summer to late fall prevention and preparation:
    • water and soak your evergreens and sensitive plant material before main freeze up (just before you turn the outside water source off)
    • wrap conical conifers with twine, so that the branches are held tightly together. This gives them a sturdy shape and avoids weight damage from heavy snow and provides less wind from passing through branches
    • give them a good sheer and cut in late summer, allowing any following growth of foliage to be tight in habit and yet fully hardened off before the winter
    • add organic matter and mulch (sustains moisture levels, helps prevent drying out from freeze to thaw and adds decomposing materials, enriching the soil over time) 
    •  for roses, cut back long straggly canes to halfway - preventing them from drying out. Mulch and or use a rose collar at the base of the rose crown to help winterize the grafted point near the soil
      3) Research your plant material. Look for hardiness zones that are much lower than your geographical zoning. The hardier the plant, the more apt it is to handle our tough winters.

      4) Examine your area for sweeping winds and strong exposures, avoid planting near them and or find ways to shield them with other tolerant plants.

      Using stakes and wrapping only the sides for salt protection.

      Finally, if you must wrap your plants near walkways, shield them rather than fully wrap them from top to bottom. Stake on each corner and wrap material around the plant tightly. That way snow, moisture and sun can reach the top of the plants. This helps to sustain them and allow good air circulation when temperatures fluctuate. For smaller establishing evergreens (like boxwood) try these NuVue's: plant covers . Much easier and less of an eyesore.
      Many sizes to buy here

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