Category Archives: Seasonal Musings

A Late Look Back at 2015

This should have been written a month ago, at least, however, I have been insanely busy with work, my other YouTube channel, and life in general. None of which are usually the case, but I’ve got some time now, so let’s talk about last year.

What I Accomplished

  1. With the help of my best friend, I got the greenhouse leveled, and put down cardboard to smother any grass that would try to grow through, landscape plastic, to do pretty much more of the same, and wood chips to make a nice looking floor. It worked out really well for a floor, I’ve only had to pick a couple of grass shoots out of it since we did the work in the early spring.
  2. I also put down some cardboard and wood chips underneath the espaliered pear shortly after I made a new trellis for it. So now we don’t have to mow under the branches, hoping not to burn them with a hot lawn mower engine, and it’s on a sturdy trellis, so I don’t worry every time a strong southern wind blows through.
  3. The work with the wood chips and the cardboard didn’t stop there either, I made a small strawberry planter out of an old pallet and placed it east of the greenhouse, where we surrounded it with – surprise, surprise – wood chips and cardboard. I think that we also put down the last of the landscape plastic there just to make sure that the grass didn’t get up through. It mostly worked, I had to pluck some out of the planter every now and then, but, for the most part, it worked well.
  4. I put a raised bed into the greenhouse. This is by far the best thing that I did all season long, as it gave me a lot more space to plant then did the containers the year before. My greenhouse productivity exploded this year because of it.
  5. I planted a tub full of herbs. It was delightful, but more on it later.

What I Learned

  1. Beans LOVE greenhouses. Or so it would seem, I planted nine Kentucky Wonder beans in my greenhouse in the spring and soon they took over enough that they actually started shading my cucumbers. They also ended up going up and over the roof of the greenhouse and touching the other side. We ate a lot of beans, but I still can’t help think we could have eaten more!
  2. This one is pretty embarrassing if I’m being honest. As it turns out, green beans can just be immature beans of other varieties. This is probably common knowledge to most gardeners, but I didn’t have a clue until probably around July. It’s lucky that it’s like this too, because as it turns out, I don’t really like the flavor of the Kentucky Wonder beans once they mature, but I love them as a green bean. I saved a lot of seed from them for this year because of it.
  3. Lemon Balm makes great tea. I started a lemon balm plant because I heard that it would add a zest of lemon to your food without having to buy lemons, which can get pretty pricey in my area sometimes. What I learned, later on, is that a couple of leaves in some hot water makes for a great cup of tea, it not only started me drinking lemon balm tea, but also more tea in general. This year I will make sure to dry and save some leaves for later use, though, as I ran out as soon as the plant died back.
  4. If you’re lucky, a rhubarb plant will live through a zone 3 winter in a small pot on your deck. Blueberries, however, will not. In 2014, I bought three blueberry plants and a rhubarb plant from the local Home Hardware store sometime in June, but I never got around to planting them because I just couldn’t decide where they should go. Well, come to the end of July, the blueberries were doing fine in their pots, but the rhubarb died off. I never threw out the planter that the rhubarb was in, just incase I wanted to reuse the soil (which I normally don’t do, but, this time, I thought I might).

    Well, winter went by, and spring came, and all of a sudden I had a tiny rhubarb plant sticking out of the soil, so I started taking care of it and planted it in the yard. It grew to about five times the size it was when I bought it before the year was done and I can’t wait to see how big it gets this year. The blueberries were replaced by four more, which were also planted in the ground as well since they never sprouted leaves from their winter deck vacation.

  5. There is no better defense against cabbage moths and their devil-babies then some good netting. I had huge broccoli plants and the healthiest cabbage plants I’ve ever grown this year simply because I covered them with a frame and a net early in the spring. I’ll be doing that again this year for sure, I just have to keep those bloody raspberries from popping up inside the cabbage bed.
  6. A chair is a great addition to a greenhouse if you have room. I went to a garage sale last spring looking to find a good deal on something that I could use, or sell on eBay. I ended up at a place with nothing that I wanted for some people who were moving, and when they saw I was leaving empty handed, the nice couple offered me a leather chair that was in fine shape, save for a rip on the seat for free. Wanting to help them out, but not really having anything to do with it, I took it, while I was driving away, I thought I’d put it in the greenhouse, and it became a great little place to read, or plant, or just listen to the bubbling of the fountain that I got at another garage sale the same day.
  7. The dark foam that I used to cover the sharp edges on my cattle panel for the greenhouse will destroy plastic because it heats up so much. I bought plastic for the greenhouse that should have lasted for four years, and here I am going to have to replace it after two because the foam pipe insulation that I used to keep the cattle panel edges from tearing it heat up so much in the sun that it makes the plastic brittle. I will find a solution for that this year, though, I have a few ideas floating around for it.
  8. If you’re air pruning a plant (growing in grow bags) you need to have a constant water source. I tried a Roma tomato in an old cloth grocery bag this summer, it started out great when it was smaller, it rapidly took off, and at one point was even bigger than the one in the greenhouse. However, this changed later in the season when it was using a lot of water and drying out quickly, as I just had it sitting on a board on the ground instead of in a kiddie pool with some water, or some other auto-watering system, as Larry Hall suggests. It should be noted, however, that when I took it out of the bag at the end of the season, the roots had AMAZING growth, with tons of root hairs and if I could have kept up with the water, it would have been a great success.

I’m sure that there was definitely more that I learned through my gardening last season, but I can’t think of anything at the moment. Hopefully, by sharing what I learned, I helped you learn something new as well.

Let me know what you learned in 2015 in the garden in the comments below.

Goals for 2015

Last week, I discussed some of the things that I had accomplished and learned through 2014, so this week I thought we could look ahead at some of the things that I will be putting time and effort into this year. I will break the projects and the plantings into three different groups, things related to the greenhouse, things related to the outside garden beds and areas, as well as touching on other projects that I will be working at that are not directly related, but have to do with the overall areas.

In the Greenhouse

2015 will (hopefully) see some changes for the better in something that I already love to garden in; the greenhouse will go under many small changes to make it work even better in the coming years. Those changes include:

    • One of the biggest changes in the greenhouse will be the addition of a raised bed on the north side right next to the wall. Though I was mildly successful with the containers I used in 2014, I could fit a lot more plants into a raised bed with a lot better quality soil than I had with the containers last year.
  • The floor in the greenhouse is going to change as well, the tarp that I had for a floor in 2014 just wasn’t good enough. By the end of the year, I was picking quack grass out from through it almost daily. This year I am going to be putting in a layer of cardboard underneath some landscape fabric, and laying cedar chips down. Not only should this get rid of my grass problem, but it will look great too.
  • I will be adding more windows to the structure as well, it’s nice in the fall (and I would assume in the early spring) to trap the heat inside on cool, sunny days. However when it was hot and sunny outside, it was extra hot on the inside of the greenhouse, even with my “shade cloth”. To help with venting, I am going to be adding two windows each to the bottom of the North and South sides, these windows will open from the bottom outwards to allow more air in. I will also be adding a window to the door, as I don’t like propping the door open as much as I had to last year.
  • Due to the parachute shape of my greenhouse, and the fact that I will be putting windows in the bottom, I am now deathly afraid it will fly away in a good wind storm. To sooth my worries, I will be anchoring the greenhouse to the ground with some cement and bent rebar.
  • While I am doing that, I will also being leveling the area the greenhouse sits on and laying a level layer of bricks for it to rest on once the anchors are ready. This should eliminate the problems I have with gaps around the bottom that I noticed this winter and will save the wood from sitting on the soil when it rains.
  • I am going to try to get a hold of some bamboo that I can grow in the greenhouse to make into stakes for other plants around the garden. This isn’t really a necessity since bamboo products aren’t that expensive around here, but after all of the rest I am planning for it, I need to save money in the greenhouse somehow! I would bring the plant inside the house for the winter so that I could keep it alive as well.
  • The last thing I have planned for the greenhouse is to make some cold frames for the raised bed in it for next winter. I don’t know if I will just do an unheated hoop house over them, or if I will get an extra aquarium heater and do what I did this year with my fall garden to keep it warm. Either way, I have lots of time to decide.

In the Gardens

I will be expanding my outdoor gardening area yet again this season, I won’t just be adding in extra beds as I did last season however. Here is what I am planning on:

    • I am going to make a raised bed just for strawberries, before I was just growing them in pots, but we never got enough berries for my liking. I think I will make it a little taller than my other raised beds, with a 2×4 around the top for sitting on.
  • A new technique that I have been looking into, mostly on Larry Hall’s YouTube channel, is air pruning. Basically, you grow a plant in a cloth container (in my case some old cloth grocery bags) and when the roots get to the edge of the bag they hit the air and stop growing. Instead of growing around like they do on the inside of a pot, the plant grows extra roots and root hairs and it is supposed to give great results. I will try a couple of bags this year, and if they work out, I will expand on it in 2016.
  • I am going to plant my gladiolas in pots that are put into the ground instead of just growing them in the greenhouse like I did last year. This will allow me to have the extra space in the greenhouse when it is full during the summer, but come fall, I can extend the season for the gladiolas by bringing them into the greenhouse once there is risk of frost. I am hoping this will lead to more growth of the cormlets that I will be planting come spring, and that the mature corms will produce more, and larger cormlets this year.
  • I will be adding more variety to my gardens this year as well, with turnips, Swiss chard, kale, and garlic being guaranteed for this year, as well as some hopefuls, like grapes, blueberries (which I had last year, but never found a place for, I’m hoping they’ll live out on the deck for the winter, if not I’ll probably buy new ones), rhubarb (mine died), and at least one goji berry bush if I can get a good deal on one.
  • The last thing I will be doing in the fall for the outdoor gardens is collecting leaves from the neighbours. I want to mulch all of my outdoor beds with them, as well as starting a pile just for leaf mold if I can get enough. It’s too bad we only have the one tree and some of the neighbours lilacs to get leaves from, or I would have done this a few years ago.

Planned Projects

As with 2014, this year will involve some building on my part, though I have decided to keep it as cheap as possible, as these projects are optional in my book and I could just as easily leave them for a year or two:

    • I want to build a small tool shed out of pallet wood. I will probably buy a couple of 2×4’s just to rip down the centre and make a solid frame out of, but the sides, roof, door, and floor will all be free materials. It won’t be too big, probably a couple of feet deep and wide, by about six feet tall. I have already started collecting pallets for it, but I still need a lot more of them to get the materials that I need.
  • Mason bee houses. I have some pieces of cedar that came off of one of the pallets I mentioned I had in the last part that I am going to fashion into some mason bee houses. Hopefully I can see some of those hardworking little guys this spring since they are native around here, but we’ll see. If all else fails, I will order some for next year.
  • I am going to try my hand at hydroponics. The system I have chosen is really cheap to make, it is all done in a five gallon pail, but it will be my first time trying it and I am excited to see the results. I haven’t decided whether to do tomatoes, or a watermelon in it yet however, but I found the design on MIGardener’s YouTube channel.
  • I also want to move forward with my solar project plans for the future. At very minimum I want to turn our current shed so that I can have one of the slanted sides of the roof facing south so that I can put a solar panel or two on it in a year or two. I may also, if I can get the parts, and some batteries for cheap, start on the small wind turbine that I found plans for as well. That is a very big maybe though, and I doubt it will happen this year.

So there you have it, that’s what I plan to do with my garden areas this year, I would love to hear what new and exciting things that you are planning on building, growing, or expanding as well. You can tell me in the comments below, on Google+, or show me on Pinterest, I can’t wait to see what you guys are up to!

A Look Back at 2014

Hello everyone, and happy belated New Year to you! Today I just wanted to take a look back at some of the things I did, and some of the things I learned in 2014. It was a good year for me, I don’t think I produced as much in terms of food in 2014 as I had in years passed (except for a record number of Evan’s cherries from our tree) but the garden had more diversity, and grew in size by quite a bit. I might have even doubled my growing space if you count the greenhouse are. Here are some of the projects that I completed last year:

    1. I built a greenhouse. I used TexasPrepper2’s plans to build a nice sized, sturdy greenhouse that I absolutely love and am proud of. I will be adding some more things to it this year, as well as posting about building it, so stay tuned for those posts! Here is the video that started it all for my greenhouse, as you can see, there isn’t much to making one like it.
    2. I added two new garden beds to the yard and moved another one to a better position. It took a lot of digging, and I never got around to planting the two new ones, but they should look great growing this season. You can read about them here.
    3. I bought and planted an espalier/grafted pear tree. It has three types of pears on six branches, is hardy to Zone 2, and looks fantastic. I will be doing a write up about it this year as well.
    4. For the first time, I actually saved some seeds from my garden. I know many of you reading this will think I was crazy not to before, but it was never something that I had been taught how to do, and never really thought of before this year. I managed to save some marigold, viola, chili pepper, and dwarf arctic iris seeds for this season, and plan on collecting many more for 2016 and beyond.
    5. Many of you might already know this, but I also started a YouTube channel for this site, it’s still very small, but I will be doing a lot more videos in the future so keep on watching! You can subscribe to the channel by clicking here.

Just some of the many things that I learned last year:

    1. Before 2014, I had no idea that you could plant anything before the frost date in my area. I had seen it written about in gardening books, but it took until I saw some YouTube videos that I actually believed it. I planted radishes at the start of April this year, and spinach not too long after with great results. You can read about the radishes here.
    2. This isn’t necessarily gardening related, but can help if you have any projects that you’re going to be doing any time soon: having two drills will save you tons of time. I built the first ¾ of the greenhouse with only my one cordless drill. Between switching between drill bits and driver bits, and constantly having to change batteries (or both being dead at the same time) it took me two or three times as long to do the drilling for the first ¾ of the greenhouse as it did compared to the last ¼ which had way more pilot holes to drill, and screws to put in.
      Also, make sure that one of your drills has a cord; having a million drills wouldn’t help if you can’t find a charged battery!
    3. If you can afford to build, or buy one, get a greenhouse! When I got the plans for my greenhouse, I thought I would just extend the season a bit, and keep some frost off of my plants for an extra while in the fall. I decided to put a watermelon, some gladiolas (which we’ve never had luck with) and some cantaloupe in it. One taste of watermelon and the money and time I spent were well worth it!
      It is just a joy to garden inside, where even on miserable, rainy days outside, the plants inside are happy and you can do a bit of gardening without getting wet. It really keeps one’s spirits up.
    4. An early snowfall can crush your homegrown jack-o-lantern dreams. I planted my pumpkin a little later than I wanted this season, as the two seedlings that I had died before I could get them in the ground, so once the frost was passed I planted some seeds in the ground. To my surprise, I had a pretty big pumpkin growing; it quickly got to the size of a soccer ball and then the snow hit.
      At first everything looked fine; the big green pumpkin looked great despite the vines starting to die almost immediately, so I left it where it was. Once the snow melted a few days later, that’s when I noticed the skin starting to wrinkle on the top. A few more days and the top started to rot, however, it looked as though the other side was perfectly fine, I think if I had covered it (or brought it in the house) that I could have saved it.
    5. Remember everything I said about a building a greenhouse before? If you’re planning on using a tarp for a floor, don’t. I had so much quack grass grow up through my tarp that it became a real pain in the arse. By the fall, I spent almost as much time picking grass out from under the tarp as I did tending my plants! Adding a layer of wood chips may have helped, but I guess we can find out in the spring when I replace the tarp with cardboard underneath landscape fabric before putting cedar chips overtop of it. Though the cardboard will probably do more to stop it growing through than the wood chips.
    6. Growing potatoes in a mixture that mostly contains peat moss does not work well. Not only did my potatoes not produce well, they also had some weird marks on them which are caused by too much organic matter in their growing medium. You can see what I did with my potatoes last year here, or to see just the results, click here for the bags, or here for the garbage can.
    7. Carrots taste better after a frost, or in this case snowfall. At the same time my pumpkin was being ruined, I worried about my carrots still being in the ground and having the snow sit on them, possibly freezing or breaking the stems. All of that worry was for nothing, as I forgot that carrots are biennials, so they are used to living through winters.
      What I did not expect was how delicious that cold weather made them, I have never had sweeter carrots than I had this fall, and I will try not to pick any before we get a frost this year either (I am not going to make that an official goal, as I already know I won’t be able to resist once the tops get big).
    8. I do not like beets. Years passed I thought that maybe it was just they way we had prepared them, so last year I tried a number of recipes… None which I found pleasing. It’s not all bad though, I used the last of my beet seeds in 2014, and now I can use the space they were planted in for something else!
    9. Simply having chives, dill, and cilantro in the gardens will make your eggs taste fantastic. Adding a little bit of one, two, or all three of these ingredients to your eggs just make breakfast better!
    10. A cheap 25 Watt aquarium heater in a 5 gallon bucket and some warm blankets can keep your plants producing under a grow tent in an unheated greenhouse through the harshest an Alberta winter can throw at you. I picked fresh greens for a salad on Christmas and everyone loved having some fresh from the garden produce to eat, of course we mixed it with store bought vegetables as well, so it wasn’t quite summer fresh, but it was still delicious.
    11. Gardening is a great way to get in touch with people. Whether it is a neighbour stopping by to chat while you’re out in your garden, or whether you’re sharing stories and getting tips from Google+ communities, or by making and reading YouTube comments, it can be a very rewarding experience.

Thanks to you guys reading and commenting here, or on my YouTube channel, or Google+ account, I had a really great 2014. I invite you all along as we step into 2015 and beyond, I know I can’t wait to see what you all are up to, I hope that you guys feel the same!

Next week I will be doing a post about my goals for what I hope to accomplish for 2015, it should be an interesting read, I have some good ideas (or at least I think so).

The First Signs of Spring

After a long winter, almost everyone starts looking for the first signs of spring around them as soon as they see the first bit of snow melting. Around here this often leads to disappointment, as there are generally a few early spring Chinooks which warm everything up, only to be followed by yet another dump of snow.

Some people tend to look for the more traditional signs from animals, such as the first robin of the season picking worms from their lawn, or the Canada geese flying back to the north after a long vacation south of the border. While I do look to these signs myself, I also look to my gardens for more signs of the impending spring season.

Most years, I look to the tulips to tell me that the ground has thawed, but this year we had a very large drift of snow over top of where they are planted that lasted right up until just a few days ago. Even then it wasn’t entirely gone, but the tulips didn’t bother to wait, they pushed up right through some ice to get a jump start on the season.

I did manage to snap a picture of some of the tulips coming up through the ice, but I deleted off of my phone after I thought it had uploaded, only to find out later that something had also gone wrong with the upload. I might come back and add another picture of them soon; I was going to take it today after writing this yesterday, but (of course!) we got another dump of snow last night that buried them again.

First Signs of Spring Bearded Iris

The lighting wasn’t ideal for taking pictures, but all of those little green leaves poking up are bearded irises. (Click to Enlarge)

The second sign that I look for each spring are whether or not our bearded iris bed has started to come back. As of April 10th they absolutely had started, this doesn’t really tell me anything different than the tulips, but if there comes a time when I cannot see my tulips due to the snow around this time of year, I can use it as a fall back for that sign of spring. The iris patch (for now) is in a very flat part of the yard where the snow doesn’t drift, making this one more reliable in years of heavy snow since it is one of the earlier areas of the yard to melt.

The last sign I found this year, which was completely new to me, was the chives coming up in our west-side Square Foot Garden. I had only planted them last spring, and only got a tiny amount of fresh chives from them since they were shaded by some marigolds that I had planted in the square directly south of them. I was a bit afraid to harvest too much as the plants didn’t look very healthy and really never got close to their proper size, I thought harvesting them might hurt their chances of coming back this year.

First Signs of Spring Chives

Hard to see with all of last years leaves still in there, the new chives are coming up nicely under the chicken wire cage. (Click to Enlarge)

I had no idea that the perennial herb started growing again so quickly in the spring, but I am glad that they do, as I think if I put some in a box in the greenhouse (if I can ever get some time and good weather to build it) I can get some chives extra early next year and possibly later this year for use in the kitchen.

What are the signs of spring that you look for in your yard? Maybe the first buds on the trees, or local wildlife making an appearance, or maybe something completely different, whatever it is, let everyone know in the comments section. It would be extra cool if you added in your hardiness zone or area, so that we can get a look into what happens where, but it is not required if you’re not comfortable sharing that information.