Garden Stakes

July 8th, 2015

Every year we seem to get hotter here. And drier. Recently our area has been declared to be in a category four drought, which is the highest drought category we have. And, on this dry island, it’s evident when you look at the underbrush, at the blackberries : (, or the cedars. I notice even many of the fir trees in my neighbourhood are browning significantly. So I’ve been watering, not just the veggie garden, but the rhodos, japanese maples, fruit trees and perennials, even the lavenders and grasses need a bit of water because they can’t draw anything from this shallow soil. Nothing is thriving, but they are hanging in there. So, when I get tired of watering and of thinking of how I could be doing things differently, I retreat to my studio. One of my projects there is making fused glass herb stakes and after a few failed attempts, I think I am getting closer to something I am happy with. The herbs might all shrivel up, but at least I will still be able to identify them if they have a stake!

These bright fused glass herb stakes add some fun to a garden.

These bright fused glass herb stakes add some fun to a garden.

Where’s the dog?

July 8th, 2015

Lately, whenever I can’t find my dog, I go and look by the beans. He lays there looking at the beans hanging from the bush and is ever hopeful they will fall off. He also Knows that if I happen to walk by, there’s a good chance I will pick one for him.

Kappi by the beans.  You never know; they might fall off.

Kappi by the beans. You never know; they might fall off.

Lavender in Bloom #1

May 28th, 2015

L. stoechas Helmsdale is one of the darkest and its flowers contrasts beautifully with its mid green foliage.  Helmsdale seems to stand up to our winters ok,  whereas the Madrid White is not quite as hardy.

L. stoechas Helmsdale is one of the darkest and its flowers contrasts beautifully with its mid green foliage. Helmsdale seems to stand up to our winters ok, whereas the Madrid White is not quite as hardy.

Over the next month I am going to post pictures of what lavender is currently blooming. The important thing is not so much when it they are blooming because that is so weather dependent, but, instead the order in which they bloom. Even that is not a sure thing because areas within gardens or between gardens can differ in terms of sun, exposure, etc, but still, it’s a guide. Lavendula stoechas (often referred to as spanish lavender or butterfly lavender) is pretty much the first to bloom and they will continue to bloom although more lightly for a good part of the summer. There are many new varieties on the market but I propagate some older varieties that provide good contrast to one another and seem to survive most winters. The spanish lavenders are particularly robust when it comes to heat and limited watering which is a good thing here on Gabriola.

This is a big old lavender that i really should pull up, but it still puts on a good show and, once flush with new foliage, continues to look good.

This is a big, old lavender that I really should pull up, but it still puts on a good show and, once flush with new foliage, continues to look good.

Bed Envy

May 27th, 2015

Bed Envy

You might be thinking I am going to talk about the demands of work in the spring garden and the battle between getting enough sleep and getting enough work done. And it’s true, those days exist, but bed envy is not about sleeping, it’s about coveting larger gardens. Recently I visited some friends who are building a timber frame house. They still have another year to go on their house, but the garden is already in and fenced and starting its second year. So, of course, I had to check out their garden too. I looked at the 150 foot garden beds and thought of all the fruits and vegetables I could grow in this kind of space and it made me nostalgic for the five acres we gave up 10 years ago. We talked about the harvest and how storage was a bit tricky – the challenges of living in a wet winter climate where sometimes it can get very cold – relatively speaking – and I left thinking been there and don’t want to go back, but I was still a little jealous.

Left over seed potatoes were planted up in chicken feed bags in which i cut small drainage holes.  Growing great so far.

Left over seed potatoes were planted up in chicken feed bags in which i cut small drainage holes. Growing great so far.

A few days later I drove past a small permaculture farm where the early evening sun still filled the fields, I thought I had to stop and see if the owner – someone I knew – was there and would let me just walk among the beds. I love this farm with its organic shaped, mounded beds, where fruit trees, herbs and vegetables all jostled for space in the deep, rich soil. There are also ducks and a pond, chickens and a cob oven, creative structures and projects galore in an unfinished state. It’s a garden full of chaos & harmony and briefly I wished I had a garden like it. But the paths just rolled one into the other and it became apparent that even with the benefits of permaculture design, a lot of work was required to fill the csa boxes this farm supplied.

I returned home to my small, tidy garden beds where the strawberries and spinach and lettuce already filled their spaces. And the tomatoes and potatoes were growing strong. Every pocket of space was filled with something even if only a head of lettuce. I don’t need to grow 100 pounds of carrots because I can’t store that much. I grow 30 pounds and they keep until December and that’s ok. I want to grow 100 pounds of potatoes but don’t have the space, so I try to grow at least 50 (those six planted up feed bags might add another 10) and, if successful, they will last at least 8 months. And so it goes. Actually, I harvest alot from my modest garden and small allotment at the commons. And what I don’t grow, I can purchase from the many farmers on the island. What I do end up with is time to be creative in my garden and to keep it well planted. And then time to sit on the deck with a glass of wine and enjoy the sunset.

Sunset on Gabriola

Strawberry Beds

March 8th, 2015

For the last month I have been taking advantage of our mild winter weather here on the westcoast, and have reconstructed several garden beds. Uppermost in my mind, was which bed to designate as the new strawberry bed. Every third year I have two beds for strawberries-the new crop and the final year of the old crop. I am already challenged for space so having two strawberry beds puts a squeeze on the demand for beds.  Anyway, for months now I have been looking online at examples of alternative ways to grow strawberries. While I like the idea of growing strawberries in gutters or long narrow raised boxes, I just don’t see how the plant can grow vigorously that way without a lot of inputs and frequent watering. Also, how do you net them?  Not netting is not an option here. I was also quite drawn to the tiered style of growing strawberries. There are some great ideas out there but I struggled to think how I could fit a tiered bed into my garden.   I looked at the two remaining beds that were on my ‘reconstruct’ list. These beds are snugged up against a stone embankment and I thought,  maybe.

After dismantling one of the raised beds and part of the adjoining one, I built the main level of the new strawberry bed with stones, which I am increasingly using for my beds as we have an abundance of them. Then I constructed two additional levels made out of 2 x 8 lumber. I love it! I think the bed is going to work just great. There’s tons of soil and compost in the bed and it’s not too high so hopefully won’t dry out too quickly. I do only grow june bearing strawberries because the spring rains are generally reliable and when the rains stop, the strawberries’ water needs are also greatly reduced. Admittedly, this bed will probably only hold 40 plants which is not quite enough to put 25 pounds of berries into the freezer,  so in the fall I will take one of my smaller beds, tier it as well and plant it up then.  So off to the nursery now to get some strawberry starts.tiered strawberry bed1, gabriola

tiered strawberry bed2, gabriola

tiered strawberry bed3, gabriola

Rainy days

February 13th, 2015

January has come and gone and we are left thinking, is that it for winter? It has been so mild and continues, unfortunately, to be very wet. I am battling grey mold right now.  The plants in the greenhouse aren’t too bad but other stuff-not plants-that has overwintered in my greenhouse for ten years, has mold growing on it this year!

On the few dry days we had in january I started working on the garden. The result is that most of the herbs have been moved out of the main garden and planted in the stone beds on the outside perimeter of the garden.

I give peppermint lots of space and, because this bed is on stone, i am not afraid of the peppermint getting out of control.

Peppermint gets lots of space and, because this bed is on stone, i am not afraid of the peppermint getting out of control.

I want to make my watering easier and, as those beds are on stone, they do not hold water, so I will not plant veggies in them again. Herbs should do well because at least half of them will be cut and dried by the end of june so their watering needs during the driest part of the summer will be lessened.

It is so mild, they have already begun growing.

It is so mild, the newly transplanted oregano has already begun growing.

I knew I was taking a bit of a chance moving the herbs because they do not have the stamina of shrubs and trees but I think they will be ok now as we are into february and there is still no indication of cold coming. I also couldn’t help but plant some cold hardy lettuce and some spinach, but under cloches and I noticed today that they are both sprouting!  We’ll see how they progress.

If you look hard you can see the new green sprouts of spinach.

If you look hard you can see the new green shoots of spinach growing under the shelter of a barn cloche.

 

Laying Low

December 12th, 2014

After a cold November & early December and then torrential rain & winds, it looks like the sun might shine for a couple of days with tolerable temperatures. This means I will be heading out to the garden. I admit that I am pretty unmotivated in December, but the greenhouse is a mess as i just threw everything in there when the cold hit. I still have stuff like stakes & ties lying around so I will poke around picking up this and that and reorganizing the plants in the greenhouse. I will probably be thinking and mentally making a vague list for the new year’s projects, but mostly right now I am like my garden, just laying low.

However in the studio I am busy and still having fun making things to fire in my new glass kiln.

fused glass suncatchers

Fused glass suncatchers.

 

 

Almost every garden is given short shift when it comes to harvesting. Even solely flower gardens offer riches in terms of edibles or raw material for teas & medicinals. (Of course, flower gardens also have some very poisonous plants as well, so knowledge is necessary before using anything.) In September I was looking around my garden and noticed that with the cooler weather and some precipitation, the self-seeding flowers were making up for their absence this summer. Calendula petals in olive oil. In particular the cheery yellow-orange flowers of the calendulas were putting on a nice show. So I filled a jar half full with olive oil and start picking off the petals and putting them in the olive oil. After a few days of harvesting the fresh flowers, i let the jar sit in a sunny spot for a week before straining the petals from the oil. Once done, I had the base for a healing balm or hand cream.

I was also admiring the couple of rouge vif d’estampes pumpkins just cut from the vine and curing in the sun and I wondered if I could use pumpkin in soap making. I know soapers use avocados, so why not pumpkin. I jumped on-line and sure enough, it’s not a new idea. So, with cooked, mashed pumpkin in hand, I made a batch of Pumpkin Pie soap. It looks and smells great! Pumkin Pie soap & Rouge Vif d'estampes pumpkin.

A couple of weeks later my daughter was over and feeling a little under the weather, so we brewed her Peppermint & Pine handmade soapsome tea from peppermint that was harvested and dried earlier in the summer. Later, she & I were making one of her favourite soaps-Peppermint & Pine- and we crumbled up a small handful of dried peppermint to add to the soap. It doesn’t do anything for scent of course, but it’s nice visual touch.

These are just a few of the many ways we can make the most of what we grow. So go into your garden, even if it’s October. If you live on the west coast, there’s probably something still growing that’s good to harvest.

Late Summer Garden

September 14th, 2014

It may have been a hot, dry summer with limited watering, but there is still a lot to appreciate in the garden.

It’s Hot!

July 13th, 2014

shaded garden

And I have enlisted any object that can shade. Here I have a patio umbrella, a good swathe of burlap and a scrap of shadecloth. My garden is tucked into a warm corner of my property and gets intense west sun so when it heats up like this, my thin, loose soil just doesn’t do it. I constantly amend the soil with organic matter, but it seems I cannot make it more moisture retentive. For the most part, the soil works for what I like to grow, but right now, after a very dry spring and now this heat wave, it’s a struggle keeping some plants alive. I’ve abandoned the peas and lettuce but I am not giving up on the potatoes, beans and potted tomatoes.