Saturday, March 29, 2014

Edible Flowers

The cold is still with us, warmer today but temperatures are below normal for the season.

 Do you plant edible flowers? If so, in with the vegetables, the flower garden or on their own? What flowers do you use? I usually add nasturtiums and borage to my vegetable garden.

Friday, March 28, 2014

It is Always Gardening Season

This is a harsh winter. I use winter, because while it is officially spring, the 15 foot snow mound, almost, reaches the top of the apple tree in the backyard, and the winter blows strong and cool. It feels more like Early February than Late March.

Surprisingly, I am not down in the dumps or suffering cabin fever. As I walked along Roseberry Street this morning, I realized I was enjoying the day. The air was fresh and clean; a bit damp, heralding the snow that fell a few hours later.

The sun, when out is strong, the air gradually warming. I do miss the gladiolus and crocuses often seen by now. They will be late this year, but their vibrant colours will warm our hearts when they begin to peek out from under the snow.

Regardless of the weather, it will not be time to start seed indoors, for at least three weeks. I suggest April 26 for those who must have a date. Most vegetable seeds and seedlings will not see the earth until nearly six weeks later, about June 9. So why be glum. Life is too short and the wheel will turn no matter how I feel.

New gardens will pop up when the time is right. New gardeners are asking for help or a piece of land to plant, and we have been able to accommodate. The snow may cover the ground, the cold wind may grab our breath, but the gardens are already growing in the mind, heart and dreams of every gardener I talk with.
It is always gardening season.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Free Food: Coltsfoot

 Coltsfoot looks at first glance like a dandelion, but look closer and you notice the differences.

Coltsfoot or Tussilago farfara L is one of the first plants to flower after the winter. They come out about the same time as the crocuses and add their bright yellow to an otherwise still brown landscape.
The name, Tussilago, comes from the Latin tussis, meaning cough. This plant is aptly named as coltsfoot has long been used as a cough syrup. 

Coltsfoot is a member of the Asteraceae family and is a perennial with an unusual growth habit. A single flower head appears in the early spring and coltsfoot is often mistaken for a dandelion.  It is fairly simply to identify, though, as there is little else growing at the time it first appears.

The seed head of the coltsfoot plant does bear a resemblance to the seed head of a dandelion, however, the flower of coltsfoot usually has died down by the time the dandelion appears. The leaves appear after the flower stem dies. This aids in identification.

A native of Europe, Coltsfoot thrives in North America in waste spaces and along roadsides. I have snacked on coltsfoot picked in my backyard and washed. In and emergency, it would do but I am not going to add it to my menu.

" Coltsfoot flowers can be eaten. They can be tossed into salads to add a wonderful aromatic flavour; or fill a jar with the flowers and add honey to make a remedy to help calm a cough or to sweeten a bitter herbal tea. Dried flowers can be dried and chopped up so that they can be added to pancakes, fritters, etc. Young leaves can be added to soups or strews and small quantities of fresh young leaves can be used in salads. The leaves have a bitter taste unless they are washed after being boiled. An aromatic tea is made from the fresh or dried leaves and flowers. The dried and burnt leaves are used as a salt substitute."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Dandelions: Yummy

Dandelions, the most misunderstood and under-appreciated “weed’ in the world, well that may be a bit over the top, but you get my drift.

This is urban food foraging at its most basic. You may not even have to leave your own property to gather this most versatile plant. If you are a home owner and have a lawn, the odds are good you have a handy supply of dandelions.

Now you may have spent hours, each summer, in vain attempts to make the dandelion go away, but somehow, no matter what you do it keeps coming back.

Now you can give up the struggle and start reaping the rewards that nature has been putting in front of you for all those years and rather than doing battle, go and get some supper.

Dandelion greens are one of the season’s first edible arrivals and the ragged leaves add a distinctive appearance to the meal. They are best picked when young. Dandelion greens are high in vitamin A in the form of antioxidant carotenoid and vitamin C.

What looks like a dandelion, arrives even earlier in the spring and is also edible?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Knowledge and Observation

To answer my questions from yesterday. My favourite garden tool is my brain. My 2nd favourite garden tool is knowledge.

Knowledge is gained from experience and for anyone who wants to grow things, the best experience comes from, first observing the site were the garden will be, then interacting with the soil, seeds, seedlings and all the other beings who make a garden thrive.

Books, workshops and video provide information that feeds your knowledge.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Most Important Garden Tool

Today, I have two questions for you;

1- What is your favourite garden tool?

2- What is a gardener's 2nd  most important garden tool

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Social Networks for Gardeners

When the Internet evolved from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, and social
networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and more recently Twitter grew, the gardeners where there, exchanging everything from advice to zucchini.

Gardeners abound on these sites and the dialogues have the same passion and fire as they always do when people committed to a pursuit, hobby or obsession, gather.

While gardeners can find one another, which is one of the reasons underlying social networks on sites that attract people with a wide array of interests and activities, there are social network that are created for gardeners and by gardener.

Kitchen Gardeners International is designed for gardeners who grow their own food and who are excited about doing so. Their motto is promoting the local-est food of all, globally. The forums are chock full of great information, easy to use and often accompanied by pictures. Overall the interface is friendly and simple to use.

Social Networks for Gardeners

Friday, March 14, 2014

How Secure is Your Food Supply?

When will your cupboard run bare if the trucks or rail cars do not make it into town?

Food is a commodity. This means it is bought and sold in a marketplace. This is a good way to do business, as long as all the participants have the means to shop, and buy the food their bodies and minds demand. 

Unfortunately, many families cannot feed themselves on the income they receive each month, and the money often runs out before the month does.

How Secure is Your Food Supply?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Permaculture: An Introduction

"Just take a minute and imagine a world where people take responsibility for what they do and what they consume. Rather than buying items produced using toxic materials, and tossing away whatever we cannot consume, after the items have been trucked hundreds, and thousands of miles, from where they were produced to where you bought, you buy food and clothing, for example, that was produced within a few miles of your own home or by you. "

Permaculture: An Introduction

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Versatile Sunflower

From children’s forts to cleaning up radioactive waste, sunflowers are a very versatile and beautiful plant.

Floating rafts of sunflowers were used to clean up water contaminated as a result of the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the former Soviet Union. The roots of the sunflower plants remove 95% of the radioactivity in the water by pulling contaminants out of the water.

There are even giant sunflower competitions just as there are giant pumpkin competitions.

All the gardens that I have created for either myself or others have all had at least one sunflower; this includes balcony gardens. Mind you the ones that I grew on the balcony where a miniature hybrid not the up to twenty foot tall monster that grabs your attention in later summer.

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus ) is an annual herb that can withstand mild frost as a seedling, but requires at least 100 frost free days for normal development. Intolerant of shade, sunflowers can be successfully cultivated in many countries.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Spring: The Garden Awakens

The cold temperatures belie the approach of Spring, but the warm sun when the wind is blokced screams, soon, soon.

Spring, even when the cold winds blows and I wonder if a real warm and sunny day will ever arrive, is the season of renewal. The time when the green awakes and colour begins to emerge. 

I enjoy seeing the first spring bulbs break through the ground with their purple and yellow flowers standing out against the brown and often white. The snow is still on the ground here when these brave beings venture forth. 

This year the crocuses were covered my snow twice but that snow served as a warm blanket to protect them against the cold night. 

The crocuses are spreading across the side yard as they are meant to; located between the house and the driveway, they have their own ecosystem to allow them to flourish and they are ready to greet the visitor.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Backyard Classroom

The backyard classroom offers lessons in botany, biology and entomology. Plant and insect identification helps your child understand the other creatures that live in the backyard and gain an awareness of what an ecosystem is.

Children could also write or draw their experiences thus learning some basics skills in expression and communication.

I have frequently referred to a lawn as a waste of space that would be put to better use when food rather than grass is grown. However, I have also made exceptions when it comes to children as they need a safe place to play a place where their minds can soar and creativity emerge.

This outdoor classroom is right out your back door, that’s right, the back yard. In the yard, children can play and allow their minds to transport them to wherever the game takes them.

Now, because there are children playing and learning in this outdoor classroom, hopefully, no one has sprayed any toxic chemicals to kill the weeds or insects that live there.

Not only are the chemicals harmful to the children but by killing the dandelion, the ants or that wolf spider you are depriving the child of an opportunity to learn. To discover the other entities that inhabit our world and begin to grasp the web that is Life.

The first lesson the child can learn is respect; just because something is smaller, much smaller than you, does not mean that you can squish it. It also does not mean that you have to fear it, as, for the most part; it will only harm you if you attempt to interfere with its efforts to go about its own business.

I have seen too many children and quite a few adults who are afraid of insects; they may love the pretty butterfly but be disgusted by this same creature when it is a caterpillar. Flies are annoying but unless you leave a lot of garbage strewn about the yard, they will be at a minimum and even the fly has lessons.

Flies are a part of the life cycle, they help matter to decompose and return back to the earth. They are not alone in this work, but they do have their role.

This does not mean that I want them in my house nor do I want a swarm of them in my yard but a yard that is healthy and in balance will not have many flies.

A bee, well for some, the bee is a danger. They are allergic, and if there is someone in your family who has an allergy to bee stings, then the design of your outdoor classroom will not include plants that attract bees.

The backyard is where children can learn to observe and to interact with Nature but not to interfere with it. Observation is an important part of the scientific process, observation.

Children can be encouraged to make notes about what they see, to draw or photograph their discoveries. 

Let’s get back to the wolf spider, when it comes to beings that scare a large number of adults, spiders, along with snakes, are near the top. Wolf spiders are large and hairy. They are usually patterned with a mixture of black, gray, and brown.

Wolf spiders are predators, busy hunters who seek out their prey such as insects, small spiders, and similar prey. They do not use webs to capture prey. The wolf spider is an organic gardener’s friend.
Wolf spiders will only bite if picked up and if you find one indoors it is because the spider made a wrong turn. 

Children learn from imitating and they will react to spiders and other life experiences much as their parents do.

If you do not have a backyard is there a park or green space near by. These spaces offer similar opportunities for engaging nature and active learning. The big differences are the distance traveled the possibility of sharing the space with others and the need for parental accompaniment.

It is also possible that your municipality sprays the space so find out first. If you have neighbour and friends near by who have children near your children’s age, it may be possible to organize group field trips to the park; parents can take turns watching the children.

However, you do it, whether your child has a backyard or takes the trip to a local park, the time spent in play and interacting with nature can be the best educational experience he or she may get. One that can open the gates of learning, and turn education into an exciting activity that they will seek out all throughout their lives.

If you want to encourage your child to learn more about what is happening in the backyard and to gain greater insight yourself you can visit the public library, talk with the staff and tell them what you are doing and they can guide you.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Raised Beds

The beds are ten feet by 4 feet and 2 feet deep, approximately. They are made from untreated wood.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How To Garden in Small Spaces

Small spaces may present some gardening challenges but with a bit of planning and careful thought you can create a great garden in the tiniest of places. Be it backyard, balcony, or rooftop, the space can be transformed into a green oasis.

To get started ask yourself the following questions:
  1. How do you currently use the space? Is it a quiet getaway; a place for you children to play, or pets to roam, for entertaining?
  2. What do you want to grow, herbs, flowers, annuals, perennials, shrubs, fruit tees, vegetables?
  3. Thinking about a water feature?
  4. Do you use it as an outdoor office?
Once you have answered these questions, here are a few more to ponder.
  1. How much money are you willing to spend, on hardscaping, plants, watering system and d├ęcor, lights, garden art?
  2. How much time do you have to look after your garden?
  3. What specific challenges do you need to address, sunlight blocked by nearby buildings for example, ugly view?
  4. Measure the space and draw a plan. You do not need to be an artist but setting in down on paper will help you focus.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Create an Organic Garden in 10 Steps

Organic gardening is so basic, anyone can create a garden where plants thrive, flower and bear fruit. 

Gardening is a simple and straightforward activity, it is not necessary to understand the science involved, however, it is important to use an organic process.

All you need to do to grow flowers, herbs and vegetable, organically, is follow these ten steps.

1.      Put the right plant in the right place. In other words, make sure the plant you choose is placed where it gets the amount of sunlight it requires as well as the water and food needed for strong growth.
2.      Do the above in the planning stage so you know what you are going to do before the actual planting, what you will plant, where you will plant it.
3.      Organic gardeners feed the soil because healthy soil will produce healthy plants. One of the most effective ways to build healthy soil is to add organic material, such as compost to the soil.
4.       Mulch, proper mulching prevents weeds from taking over your garden and thus reduces your labour. Mulch also reduces the soil’s thirst, as it reduces the rate at which it dries out after watering, and will warm up the ground in Spring and Fall.
5.      Use organic and heritage seeds as these will breed true and you are then able to save seeds from the most productive plants.
6.      When planting the seeds, especially if you are a novice gardener read the seed pack and follow the instructions.
7.      Rainbarrels allow you to collect rain and use it when you need to water the garden. Dry days are not uncommon and to save turning on the tap to provide the plants with that needed drink if you have a rainbarrel you can meet their needs and conserve water at the same time.
8.      Spend time in your garden simply observing the activity. An evening stroll can serve as an early warning system and help to avoid infestations and diseases. Paying attention to your garden can pay big dividends when it comes to combating pests and diseases.
9.      Keep a garden journal, record your observations and thoughts. This will help when planning next year’s garden.
10.   Enjoy experiment and have fun. We learn by doing so do not be afraid to do.

If you are a beginner do not read too many gardening books, stay focused on what you want to grow and how much time you have to garden. Start small and expand, if you want, as your skills develop and your knowledge grows.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

PJ and The Circle Garden

This garden was located on the outskirts of Thunder Bay and was a no dig bed.

Native Plants

There are two projects happening here in Campbellton that have me turning to the subject of native plants. When we are discussing native pl...