Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Tomato Transplants - Journal Entry

I got a pack of heirloom tomato seeds from the new Saskatoon Seed Library at a garden event several weeks ago.  And these plants took right off!  They were sitting in the back of my set up, under a grow light above my fridge, and I hadn't checked them for several days after planting.  I was shocked when I finally did climb up a chair to peek, and discovered several healthy well established plants less than a week later.  I wish I could remember what day exactly that I planted them, and let that be a lesson: you will not remember most of what you do, so write it down!  Which is the reason I started this online journal.  

Anyways, yesterday was finally transplant day!  I will still transplant these once more into their outdoors container, and while we have had lovely April weather this spring (plus 25 yesterday, that's in celsius), it still gets frosty at night.  I will likely begin setting these outside now and again to harden them off.

Well here is my little helper:

I think we only squished one tomato plant.  And she gets so enthusiastic about "planting" now that I use it to bribe her while running errands. (ie, "If you hurry, we can go look at plants," or "Time to go home so we can do some planting.")  It's like candy for her, I can barely keep up as she runs on ahead in her excitement.

There are some downsides to raising a nature lover, but even these are adorable.  She brings a lot of nature inside.  Including: pails of dirt, lady bugs, shovels, rocks, grass...

Here's what my current set up looks like:

I spend my current day dreaming time thinking about a floor to ceiling cart of grow lights and plants.  I'm not sure where I'll put it yet, or how I'll buy/make the set up, but nothing helps with winter blues like seeing plants grow.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Last Week: Strawberry hot house, Kennel Planters - Journal Entry

I've been a bit lazy with this blog as I am busily applying for jobs as my maternity leave wraps up, so to start off, just a few quick updates from last week:

Here's my mini compost bin:

I will likely cover it with plastic to keep it hot and moist.  Will be buying greenhouse plastic soon anyways for my hoop house and (yay!) greenhouse (my big summer project!)

And here are the planters I've built from pallet wood, with my little helper:

These are to try to absorb some of the smell of the kennel, as well as maybe provide some shade cover (he's all ready pretty well in the shade).  So I haven't decided between vines, or spearmint.  Or maybe just flowers. 

 My pipe cleaners over my strawberries, which supports the plastic wrap:

After a couple years of needlessly struggling with slow growing strawberries, I've discovered at least of one their secrets: they like the heat!  I swear they are growing 10x faster now!  Of course, the day after I made this mini hot house, we left for 4 days, and our furnace kicked out, so they had a chilly it's a little hard to tell!  But the heats back on now, so hopefully I'll kick start them again!

Other than this, just a lot of raking, painting, rearranging, weeding, and typical yard stuff!

We had a great weekend at my family's farm, talking mulch gardens, ground covers, hoop houses and cold frames, debating GMO, toying with ideas for extending greenhouses into the winter without heating them (reveal: my big project! stay tune), and more.  Learned a lot, and reading well into my book on permaculture right now.  Also, my online course, intro to permaculture course starts in two weeks, so it is only getting more exciting! 

Monday, 11 April 2016

5 steps to preparing for spring planting

Well it's almost here!  And by almost, I mean more than a month away, but there is still much to be done before I am ready for the planting season.  Here's a list of things I've done, or have yet to do.  If you haven't started yet, its not too late!

1.  Start my seeds indoors

I've started a few seeds indoors - peppers, strawberries and tomatoes for this year.  I use a grow light, and started them in jiffy pellets (see post on how to start seeds indoors for more info).  I'd like to do broccoli and a few other fun ones, but I will have to wait for next year, since I'm transitioning to no till garden space, and won't be able to grow the majority of what I'd like until that is ready to go (more on this later)!

2.  Prepare the Garden Space

For me, this means spreading newspapers and shredded flax straw (or some other mulch, such as wood) over my backyard lawn.  Ideally I would have done this in the fall last year...but I was 8 months pregnant and running pretty low on enthusiasm and energy.  So I miss out on a lot of garden space this year :( I am using flax straw because my dad is a farmer, and has loads!  So money saver there.  I'm heading there this weekend, and hoping everything is in order so they can set me to work shredding straw, then I can bag it up and spread it about!

Now, if you don't want to do it my way, you can prepare your garden space by:
-building raised beds
-buying or finding containers (for container vegetable gardening)
(*note:  I've used canvas bags before, and had a lot of luck with these!  99cents from Superstore (loblaws), they are black, so attract sunlight and heat; fabric, so they drain nicely, and are very well aerated)
-tilling (*shudder*) your garden plot.  I'll have an opinion piece soon on why I no longer till.  My first garden in the ground was basically tilled (hand shovelled and turned my lawn), but I had a pretty sizeable host of problems, which will hopefully be less with this new method - I will keep you informed.

3.  Decide what to plant

My basic, go to plants:

-Bush beans (this year I also have purple pole beans that I got from our local seed library too)

-Corn (who doesn't love corn?)

-Sugar Snap Peas (My husband has forbade me from growing other varieties "Anything else is a waste of space." - these are just too good!)



And, like I said, I'll also be growing strawberries, tomatoes, and peppers, the last two will likely be in containers.  Also, I hope to start a small herb garden, primarily for indoors, for use through the winter.

4.  Set up a Compost Bin

Mhmm, plant food!  They will thank you for this!  So will the weeds until you can amend your soil over time...but still, the good stuff will thank you too :)

5.  Prepare your water supply

For me, that means fixing my hose (it's a weird mess of flexible pipe tube and copper, and other...stuff).  And finding/buying a rain barrel.  Which, for this year, will likely just be a basic barrel that I'll stick a bucket in to retrieve water from.  I'll get fancier later.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

A few tips on making a winter greenhouse

Well it snowed today.  It is mostly melted now, but it did get me thinking about how sadly short our growing season is here in Saskatchewan.  I have all ready planned to use my indoor grow light year round to grow a small herb garden indoors, but being outside is what really makes me giddy.  I've tried to get into more winter sports, such as skiing, but it's difficult to get started with two little girls under age three.  So...I'm currently working on my plan for a small backyard hobby greenhouse and the project has grown to make my summer greenhouse winterizable (not a word, I know). (I'm also making a few cold frames, which I'll discuss soon!)

I really want to do this without a huge hike in my electrical bill.  I don't want to have to pick up an extra shift at work just to heat a small greenhouse in the winter.  Thankfully, it will be a rather small greenhouse.  But I live in Saskatchewan - temperatures easily hover around the minus 30 degrees (that's celsius!  almost the same fahrenheit, that's how cold it is!) for long periods of time.  I will likely have to rely on some kind of heat source if only for those especially cold days throughout the year.  I imagine that until I fine tune the system, I will only succeed in extending my growing season.  But the long term goal is to grow vegetables all year round without a heater (or at least to as great an extent as can be managed!)

Here are a few ideas for my greenhouse design that I'm considering in my preliminary research:

1. Geo-dome shape (such as this one)

The major draw back to this is that I don't have a large yard, and every bit of space is very valuable to me.  (I have a lot of plans for every square foot!).  But I do want to at least take some of the principles behind this design, such as a roof that is angled for maximum sun absorption (take your latitude and add 15 degrees to find the best angle for your roof).

2.  Compost Heat Source

The idea is to dig a trench, or a small hole in the center of a small greenhouse, cover it with a wood or other material so you can walk over it, and let the decomposition of the pile heat the greenhouse (if only by a degree or two).
I still have more research to do for this one, but I am liking this idea.  Even if it doesn't work well as an actual heat source, it would still allow me to continue composting in the winter months.  Plus, easy access plant food!

3. Insulate with Bubble Wrap

In the summer, I will only have an inside layer of greenhouse plastic.  In the winter, I'll lay bubble wrap on the poly from the outside, and seal it with another layer of plastic wrap around the outside frame.  Apparently, larger bubbles let in more light.  But may also cause faster heat loss than smaller bubbles.  Hmm, I see some trial and error experimentation will likely be needed.  You can buy greenhouse grade bubble wrap, which will be more resistant to UV light.

A few things to keep in mind:
You will still need to ventilate your greenhouse, even in the winter, to prevent diseases.  Have vents you can open during the sunny mornings, and close before temperatures plummet again in the evenings.

Here are my sources, and more great information to read:

Monday, 4 April 2016

Composting Weeds - How to

The snow has melted, and my yard work has begun!  We are still expecting a few more small snowfalls before we can completely celebrate, but hopefully they will not be substantial enough to slow me down.  I've all ready done a few things - cleaned the dog kennel, moved some large rocks, picked up the garbage and raked the front lawn of pine cones.

The pine cones I simply raked to the side to cover the bare soil around my caragana hedges.  I did this because I do not currently have enough compost to spread there, and it seemed better than spending extra money on wood mulch - back to the whole rule I have to "make use of what I have."   I will be contacting friends or coffee shops to get my hands on used coffee grounds, which will balance out the acidity of the pine cones, and add nitrogen to the soil so that I can still get green, leafy hedges.  Again, if I had compost ready at this time, I would use that.  But until then, this will suffice.

Once the snow melted, I was reminded of the large pile of weeds that I had collected onto some landscape paper last summer.  I decided to simply add them to my compost bin, since
a) Weekly garbage pickups don't begin for another month, and I can't afford to use one of those pick ups for a pile of weeds
b) I want them gone now
c) it's totally doable! But  you have to make an effort to achieve the ideal conditions needed to kill the weed seeds.

But hey, I wanted to learn the most I could about composting, and this seemed like a good challenge to do so. Hopefully I'm not kicking myself in a year or so when I've planted my entire yard in weed seeds! :O

Here's what you need to know if you are composting weeds:

1. It takes 30 days of exposure to temperatures of 130 - 145 degrees Fahrenhiet
to kill weed seeds, 145 to kill the tougher weed species.  And hey, since I don't know what weeds are in there, I am going to go for hot!

I have a simple compost bin, which is practically just a compost pile with wooden scrap pieces screwed together to contain it and keep my neighbours from complaining.  Most compost bins are designed to aid in raising the bin temperatures, by being black, or to make it a hot house in other ways.  I am reading the book, Tomorrow's Table (by Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak), and they mention in there a technique they use in organic farming of covering the fields with plastic to create temperatures hot enough to kill weed seeds, before transplanting the vegetable seeds from the greenhouse to the fields.  So until I get a better compost bin built, I will be covering mine with thick black plastic.  

Note - you can buy compost thermometers!  Yeah, this is news to me, but pretty cool!  I will probably go without, since that is my motto... :(  But maybe one day will go for it or borrow one from a friend to see how accurate I can become on my guess work!

2. Turn your compost
because "the exposed surface and localized internal cool spots give weed seeds an opportunity to survive" (source: Want to Keep your Compost Pile Weed Free?" - Awesome read!  Check it out).

Note: weed roots and weeds that have gone to seeds should not be added to your compost pile!  Which is basically what I did... oops.  All because I was in a rush to get my yard looking clean!  Well, better get this pile heated up, or I'll be looking for a new location for my compost pile.

While researching for this article I also discovered that if you have a woody base for your compost pile, it will help with air circulation and create a chimney affect to heat up your pile even better.  I will definitely be taking some of those pinecones from my front yard and putting them on the bottom!

That is pretty much a wrap for today's blog - meanwhile, I've got some work to do before tomorrow!

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

How to Start your own Seeds Indoors

How to Start your own Seeds Indoors
(using Peat Pellets)

This is my third year now starting seeds.  I'm not an expert by any means, but most of my seeds sprout and last long enough to bear some fruit, so somehow I've got enough of an idea to make do.  I've kept it simple, more of a how I start seeds now - which is way more streamlined and less messy than used to be!

First, here are four things to keep in mind when trying to grow plants:  

1. Water
Without water, the seeds won't germinate.  Too much water, and they will rot.  Different plants require different watering techniques, but a good rule of thumb is to water from below (let them soak up water from their roots), and let the soil become reasonably dry before watering again (note:  not parched).

2. Sunlight
Once your seeds sprout, they will require sunlight.  I use one simple grow light, with just one bulb and a reflector.  (I hope to expand my set up sometime in the future!).  Here is the model I use.  I currently have it hanging in the open cabinet above my fridge.  I also have tons of plants on my fridge as well, and regularly rotate them so that they all benefit from being directly under the light.  If you have large, south facing windows, you can more than likely get away with not using a grow light.  

3.  Temperature
Plans need warmth to grow!  This element is often overlooked.  My first year of seed starting, I used my basement.  The plants grew, but slowly.  I got way better results when I moved my set up upstairs the next year (also, more natural light!).  And even better results when I used the top of my fridge (which lets off some additional heat).  

4. Aeration and Drainage
I put these together, because both problems are solved by the same solution:  the container and soil you use!  If the water can't drain out of the container (or your soil mix) your seeds/plants will become waterlogged and diseased and/or rot.  You can have a pot that drains well, but aeration is important as well.  Think: when planting in the ground, if you plant in dense, clay like soil, your seeds will die or be weak.  The more organisms in your soil, the more aerated it will be.  I'm very much in favour of planting directly in the ground, both in order to improve your soil, and to reap the benefits of happy plants.  But when seed starting indoors, I use peat pellets (found here).  I've got very good results using these little guys.  For this demo, I'll be using the peat pellets.  

How to Start your Seeds Indoors

1.  Soak your peat pellets
These little guys require more water than you'd think!  Plan ahead a bit and give them a good hour or so to soak up enough water.  It'll be easier (and better for your seeds!)  if they are thoroughly soaked.  This means no hard disks, which you will easily feel as they begin to soak the water.  Check back occasionally, and add more water if they've absorbed it all.

Here they are completely dry:

I used several old mushroom containers from the grocery store, and added the water and pellets.

And finally ready to go!  

2. Grab your seeds!
I had all ready planted most of my seeds by the time I decided to do this post, but I picked up a pack of heirloom tomatoes from the Saskatoon Seed Library (more on seed libraries soon!) at a gardeners event I attended last Sunday.  

3.  Pull away the fabric, and plant your seeds

The fabric is pretty tightly over the soil, and I found it helpful to pull the fabric away.  This made it easier to push the seed down into the soil, and to cover it back up.  

Here's my daughter helping me out.  I'm pretty sure that one pellet has about 8 seeds planted in there ;)

Now place your new little indoor garden in a warm place filled with sunlight (or a grow light!)!

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Planning your yard landscaping

I drew a couple quick sketches of my plans for my back and front yard.  I've done scale drawings before, so I know the gist of the space I have.  But these are unnecessarily time consuming, especially when my plans constantly change and evolve.  However, it's a helpful exercise to help begin a to do list, and to help visualize what you want.

Here are a few tips when planning your own yard projects:

1. Observe other places

Take notice of what you like about other yards or public places.  Raised beds, spaces for entertaining, or quiet areas for reading or having a morning coffee.  What places in nature or in your travels have you most been at peace in, or been in awe of?  Try to capture a little piece of that magic for your yard

2. Work with what you have

Try to work with what is currently existing in your yard.  When we first moved in, I imagined digging up the huge concrete patio slab to put in something more aesthetically appealing, replacing the caraganas with something prettier, and doing away with the massive pine trees in the front and back yard.  Instead, I contented myself with removing the very back row of caraganas where the patio slab ended, which opened up the yard a lot.  I actually appreciate the privacy the other rows give to us.  
I still have a pine tree in the back yard I want to remove to replace with a cherry tree.  But I've come to love the two in the front yard.

3. Enjoy the Process

Be adaptable and enjoy the process.  You may find some of your original ideas don't work.  Don't let it discourage you - find a new way, and you will probably be happier in the end anyways.  

4. Don't Obsess Over Planning

Don't spend too much time planning.  Start doing.  Your plans are likely to change anyways, but it won't be for the better unless you become better acquainted with your yard, and what you are capable of.  Even if you are not financially in the position for your big plans, you can start by cleaning up weed patches, trimming hedges, planting a few flowers and vegetables, and a few cheap DIY projects with wood pallets or other recycled materials.  You might find that your big ideas aren't even wanted or needed.

My current back yard plan:  

My front yard plan (I spent much less time on this one!  Backyard is my current priority):