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Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Sometimes life gets busy and things like dates for seed starts pass you by.  This spring was one of those years but gardening with my kids is a priority for me so we chose some things like sugar snap peas that are tasty, quick to grow to maturity, easy to grow, and very forgiving of small children who forget to water them some days.  Do yourself a favour and start with good seeds.  Cheap grocery store seeds often have low germination rates and they may frustrate you and make you think you can’t grow things.  I love Territorial Seeds, their affiliated West Coast Seeds, Sandhill Preservation, and Seeds of Change, just to name a few goodies.  They all have great seeds, don’t sell GMO’s, and have lots of heritage varieties.

We also started some mint plants from cut mint stems that we picked up for $1.29 a bunch at the grocery store.  Mint is a vigorous, some would say invasively aggressive, plant which makes it challenging for gardeners who forget to isolate it, but perfect for busy families who need a tough as nails herb to grow.

We took the freshest looking stems, cut the ends off, and put them in a glass of water.  New roots and leaves are only going to grow out of the nodes on the stem so try to have one near the bottom as you won’t get rooting unless you have at least one node in the water.  (nodes are the “joints” between sections of the stem)  Start more than you want; we got three good plants out of five started stems.

We then put a plastic bag “tent” over the leaves and the cup so that it would be really humid around the leaves.  This is important because the plant has no roots and can’t support those leaves.  They may all fall off during the rooting process.  This is ok.

For the next week or two, just put the glass somewhere that it isn’t going to be directly in the sunlight or it will get too hot.  Make sure that there is always about the same level of water in the jar, and remove dead leaves if they fall in the water.  After about ten days, our stems had roots like this.

The next step was to plant the stems in potting soil.  You need to use potting soil unless you are planting these in the garden.  This is because regular garden soil in a pot will become like concrete in a very short time when it is used in a container.  If you do plant your mint directly in your garden,be forewarned that it may spread and take over.  The containers don’t need to be anything exalted; we used an empty yogurt container and an empty strawberry container.  The strawberry container was better because it had built in drainage holes.  Poke or cut some holes in the bottom if your chosen container has none.

We kept the starts well watered for a couple of weeks.

Then we planted them in a big pot to live on the deck in the sun.

And after two months, the peas are blooming!

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Grape vine pruning

So this happened a long time ago, but I promised a friend that I would post a few pics and a description, so here goes!

The vines are best pruned in the fall, when the vines are dormant. This year’s fruit will come from last year’s new vines, so the one year old wood is what you are looking at pruning carefully. The fruit, in incredibly miniature form is already in the buds! There are all kinds of complicated formulae for determining how much fruit a plant can support that involve weighing cut wood and such. You have to find a balance. If you let a vine produce too much fruit, it may not give you much at all the next year. On a mature vine, I think it is safe to leave 12-16 buds.

You can click on each picture for more information.

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So it happened.  In mid-summer, we’ll be packing up the car and heading off to Virginia to live with relatives while we sort out what to do next.  In the meantime, how to garden?

Mid-summer is really a terrible time to be moving, from a food garden perspective.  My first impulse was to plant only those things which I’ll be able to harvest before we go, but then I remembered that we ate all fall from plants started by someone else last year.  In any case, garden plans will need to be re-thought.

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captured slug

The garden space we inherited here is full of wonderful perennials, beautiful raised beds, and lots of slugs. There are lots of theories about how to prevent slug damage and/ or get rid of the slugs, but we’re going to start off the old fashioned way; slug hunting. Turns out that this is a pretty effective method for relatively small areas, and it also happens to be a great activity to do with three year olds! The thrill of the chase (turning over leaves, plastic lids, etc.), the battle (picking them off and dropping them in the bucket of soapy water), and then bragging rights to just how many slugs we caught (“thirtyteen”). We also met all kinds of other little soil creatures that we are not going to put in the bucket; earthworms, red wrigglers, centipedes, and pillbugs.

red wrigglers are our friends!

We met our back alley neighbour too, who informed us that our mulch came from a walnut tree. Not a moment too soon, as we were already building the base of new beds with it. Walnut exudes a chemical called juglone, which inhibits the growth of other plants (or kills them!) so we’ll be moving those mulch piles to pathways and driveways and other spots where we don’t want things to grow!

In other news, we planted a bed of black chickpeas and breadseed poppies, and the peas are up!

first glimpse of peas!

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king of the pile

king of the pile

It has been a good week in garden land.  My boy has started to get the idea of what we are trying to do and has been heard ordering adults around, “Do not step on the peas, only the path!”  We found some garlic heads sprouting in a clump that were missed in last year’s harvest, so we gently pulled them apart and replanted them in our garlic row.  It made the universe feel more balanced, as we recently lost some garlic to a marauding pooping cat.  (Grrr… outdoor cats!)  I think we’re up to 60 heads now, which should be enough for us for the year.

We also planted a 4 x 4 foot patch of spring greens and another of broccoli.  We’ll try to do a greens patch every two weeks or so, and the direct seeded broccoli is sort of a gamble, so I’m going to try to put some seeds in pots today.

The big news of the week, though, is the unexpected help and supplies that showed up.  A prof from the local university brought her sustainability class by here and they tidied up piles of trimmings, pruned the raspberries, cleaned up the asparagus bed, and made the beginnings of a new bed with cardboard and mulch on a grassy spot.  My boy is a very social guy, so he was in heaven with all those “big kids” to play with.  A couple days later, he really hit the jackpot when a neighbour across the alley mulched up a tree and left a mountain of it for us by our back gate.  We spent a profitable hour yesterday evening moving mulch to make another new bed.  It was hard to tell if my boy or his Tonka dump truck was more excited about the work!

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golden sweet and sugar snap

pea seeds: golden sweet and sugar snap

Seeds arrived yesterday from Sandhill Preservation.  Very exciting!  Too many to list, but today we planted Blue Pod Capucjiner Peas, Sugar Snap Peas, and Golden Sweet Peas (the variety Mendel messed around with, not the flowers).  I’m hoping we can do some pea breeding using inspiration and instruction from this blog.

We took turns being the “hole poker” and the “seed dropper” and then we covered them up with their seed blanket and patted them good night.  Unfortunately, the tonka bulldozer felt the need to do some excavating while I was checking on the baby.  Sigh… note to self: try to remember that this is as much about children learning as it is about my gardening dreams!

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Pruning

So my neighbour, who also happens to be a blueberry farmer, has twin girls who are four days younger than my newborn girlie (who happens to have ten of the thirty famous fingers).  All the time she was pregnant, she walked by the house itching to prune the overgrown rows of blueberry bushes in my front yard, but by the time she brought it up, we were both way too pregnant to do anything about it.  Yesterday afternoon, however, with one toddler and one baby asleep, we decided to strap on the remaining wakeful  babies and prune some bushes.

The idea is to make sure that the bushes are open and airy, especially in the center, that enough leaf buds are left to support the plant, and that any old dead or diseased wood is removed.  We went about our work in a painstakingly particular manner after she informed me that every fruit bud was going to produce many berries.  I had to weigh how much my son enjoys picking and eating the berries with the longterm health and productivity of the plant.  Compromise pruning is not very efficient; we would have made bad field hands!

leaf and fruit buds

leaf and fruit buds (the fruit are the fat ones)

Pruning is a lot of fun, though.  We decided that weeding is like laundry or sweeping the floor and pruning is like interior painting.  Both of us greatly prefer the latter pair of jobs!  Pruning the grape vines was the first post partum gardening job I did (except digging a few potatoes for dinner, which I wouldn’t really recommend at three weeks pp, but that is another story).  It is always a very satisfying job for me; identifying the one year old growth and deciding which vine will be the most productive and cutting the others off.  I saved some of the cuttings to try and root them for the church’s garden.  In theory, you can just stick them a few buds deep (the right way up!) in the ground and they will root and grow in the spring.  I’ll keep you posted on that.

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