Sunday, 25 June 2017

Keep your Baskets Flowering and Thriving

As we start to get warmer temperatures, true summer weather, your hanging baskets may begin to look a little peaked.

How to keep them happy and thriving, blooming all summer long? Good watering, some feeding, and a bit of pinching, too. 

Water all hanging baskets (coir, poly, or moss) till the water flows freely from the bottom.

Go from basket to basket and then start all over again. 
Thoroughly soak each basket two or three times each time you water. 

I water my baskets every second day in spring, once a day in summer, 
twice a day in +30°C weather. 

After the watering, give them a really good shower. 

Spray baskets and planters from all sides each time you water.
This re-hydrates tired baskets, hoses off stray bits of dry foliage and spent blossoms, 
plus blasts away any bugs trying to take up residence. 

Feed them well! 

To keep baskets and planters looking amazing, lush and full of blooms, 
watering is not enough. 
Feed every week or two with a fertiliser that has a higher middle number, 
such as a 15-30-15.

Slow release fertilisers help forgetful feeders keep baskets looking pretty, 
especially if re-applied in mid-summer. 
However, if you want amazing baskets, you'll need to use a water soluble feed, as well.    

 Pinch and dead head. 

Remove spent blossoms (dead head) weekly to keep flowers blooming. 
If you leave the spent blossom on, they will form seeds pods instead of more blossoms.  

Pinch back leggy growth for bushy dense growth and full looking baskets.
Some flowers, like petunias, can start to get a bit lanky and scraggly in summer. 
Pinch them back for nice bushy baskets. 

Happy gardening! 
Enjoy the sunshine! 

Friday, 16 June 2017

Is Your Garlic Ready To Harvest?

The hardest thing about growing garlic is knowing when to lift it.

Planting is easy, growing is easy, care is easy ... but knowing exactly when to harvest can be kinda tricky.

Garlic harvest can also vary, depending on the area that you live in, when you planted, the weather, and the variety that you planted.

 Garlic growing in late spring

In general, for most of us here on the west coast, harvest will be in early to mid July.

Scapes ...

About a month before harvest, you will find scapes forming at the top of your hardneck garlic plants.

These yummy curlicues are super tasty greens that can be used in stir fries, made into pesto, grilled on the barbie, or chopped into your eggs/salads.

Scape season is relatively short, just a couple of weeks at the most. You want to harvest when they are young and tender, just as they have made one curl or are starting to do so. If you wait till they get older, they'll be tougher, a bit woody.

The scape is easy to harvest, no knives required. Go to the spot where the scape comes out of the topmost leaf and simply snap it off between your fingers. If it is bendy and does not snap easily, that means it is getting older and woodier, go up a little bit higher on the stalk and snap there instead.

Common lore tells us to remove the scape or the garlic will put it's energy into flowering rather than making a good sized bulb. I must admit that I have never noticed any size difference, whether I snap them off, or not. While not always the size of the monster garlic in the picture above, they seem to size up well regardless.


After scape time is finished, it's usually about three weeks till harvest. Stop watering now, let the garlic grow dry for the last few weeks before you lift the bulbs. The 'stress' of growing dry forces more growth into the bulb.

You also do not want wet bulbs or wet soil on your bulbs at harvest, as they tend not to cure as well. Last year was a prime example of that here on the island. We had too much rain, followed by too many days of grey skies and humidity. The soil was wet when we lifted our garlic, the bulbs were plump with moisture, and the days were neither hot nor dry enough for the garlic to cure well.  

Bottom 2 to 3 leaves are brown

Getting close.... 

The answer is all in the foliage. Each leaf on the garlic stalk is a skin/wrapper on your bulb. You want to keep an eye on those bottom leaves. When the leaves look as they do in the picture above, you are getting close, only a week or so to go.

Do not pick yet at this stage, is just a titch too early, the bulbs are still growing. Wait until the foliage has dried half way up the stalk, so the bottom 4 or 5 leaves are yellow/brown and the top 4 or 5 are still green. The waiting is the hardest part!

This artichoke variety (softneck) of garlic was left in the ground too long 
so has split it's wrapper. 

If you leave them in too long, they will lose their protective skin/wrapping. Do not let too many of those leaves turn brown.

The split bulbs are edible, but they will not cure or keep. Take split ones inside, wash them up, use for cooking, mince into oil (use up in two weeks), or freeze for use at a later date.

When ready, gently lift your garlic from the soil. Do not pull on the stalk unless you have really, really soft and friable soil, or you risk ripping the stalk right off of the bulb. Loosen with a garden fork or transplanting spade.

Brush the soil off with your fingers, do not wash or hose off with water. Do not remove the stalks, roots, or wrappings at this time.

Set out to cure on tables, or hang in bundles, in a shady, airy location. Average curing time is two to three weeks, though I tend to leave mine out for much longer than that.

When fully cured, remove the stalks, trim the roots, brush off the remaining soil from the bulbs. Store in a cool, dry spot.

For more in-depth information about how to harvest and cure, please see HERE!

Happy Harvesting! (just not quite yet!)

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Organic Pest Control

Insect pests can be one of the most frustrating gardening issues one has to deal with.

Which is why I am often asked what I use to fight bugs. If you mean, what kind of product do I use? Then the answer for the most part is ... nothing at all.   

Why not? The problem with any kind of insecticide or pesticide, even the organic earth friendly kinds, is that they do not discriminate between good bugs and bad bugs. All forms of sprays and powders will kill the good guys, too. Therefore, I try to use no product of any kind, not even soapy water.   

So... What to do about those bugs then? 

Add organic material to build up your soil

Grow healthy plants in healthy soil. Pests prefer stressed out, unhappy plants and rarely bother happy, healthy ones.

Invest in good soil and feed that soil annually with lots of organic matter. When you add manure, compost, leaf mould, and other organic matter to your beds, you are feeding the worms and the microbial life in the soil, which in turn work hard at keeping your plants nice and healthy.

Top dress around your plants with manure or compost during the growing season, or feed with teas to keep your plants (and soil) happy and healthy.  

Planting diversity means happy, healthy, pest-free gardens. 

Create diversity in your garden and yard. Companion planting with herbs and flowers is the single most important thing that you can for your garden annually to keep it happy, healthy, thriving, and pest free.

Companion planting is cost effective, adds colour and beauty to your beds, but most importantly, fights pests organically with no great effort required on your part.

Companion plant with herbs and flowers

Herbs are very attractive to pollinators, birds, and beneficial insects alike.

Birds will eat lots and lots of garden pests, plus mosquitoes, too, so you really do want to attract them to your organic garden. Sweet little hummingbirds eat bugs, their eggs and larvae, and pollinate your flowers. They like zinnias, sage, lantana, and even marigolds! Sunflowers are a bee and bird favourite.  

Companion plants cilantro, borage, and violas, plus hyssop in the background. 

Bees, hover flies, tachinid flies, lacewings, most all predatory insects and pollinators, tend to like high pollen flowers, such as the flat umbels of dill and cilantro gone to seed.

If you plant it, they will come : ) The more variety you have in your garden, the more beneficial insects and birds you will attract. Different plants attract different beneficials. 

Perennials to add to your garden beds, or in pots around the garden... roses, lilies, lavender, cone flowers, salvia, rudbeckia, asters.   

Bulbs... gladiolas, dahlias (especially the single ones, like Bishop's Children), cannas, anemones, tulips, daffodils. 

The best annuals to incorporate into your organic veggie bed are marigolds, calendula, sweet alyssum, and zinnias. For more information on companion planting with annuals, see HERE!

Pick and squish. Gross as it is, it is still one of the most effective ways of dealing with pests of all sorts.

Spray bugs off with a strong jet of water. I blast my roses with water, my hanging baskets, my cabbages and Brussels sprouts... anything that needs to be hosed off for bugs, gets a strong jet or spray of water. This super easy step helps to eradicate the majority of soft-bodied pests, like aphids.

Do a thorough garden clean up in the fall. Remove all old leaves, weeds, and spent plants, as they offer hibernation places for pests like stink bugs, cabbage worms, and grubs.

I had an issue with stink bugs a few years back, so now make sure to never leave any debris on top of the gardens for pests to over-winter in. I found that they really like to hide in the thick foliage of strawberries, so I moved the strawberries out of the potager and into another part of the yard. If they over-winter in my strawberries now, at least they are far away from my tomatoes, raspberries, sunflowers, and corn.

My onion bed is covered with bug netting to keep out the onion maggot fly

Cover the crops that tend to be the most buggy. Always get aphids on your brassicas? Have a problem with carrot rust flies? Onion maggots? Stink Bugs? Cover those crops with hoop frames, bug netting, or white fabric.

Ladybug attracting plants. Pic from

Do I use biological controls? Not much actually.

I sometimes buy nematodes for fungus gnats, a common greenhouse issue, but do not otherwise tend to use other bio-controls. I mostly rely on companion planting to attract native beneficial insects to my garden and into the greenhouse.

I no longer buy wild ladybugs, as I think that this practise causes more harm than good, or is at best, pointless. I do, however, do my very best to attract native ladybugs to my yard.

Put out water sources for them to safely drink from, saucers or birdbaths with flat stones or pebbles to land on (this is also important for the bees). Plant flowers that they find most attractive. They like yellow and white flowers best, and prefer flowers with a landing pad, like dill or cilantro, yarrow, calendula, marigolds...  

If I really have a problem that is not solved by the above remedies, I will resort to using a Safer's Soap Spray. This usually is only used in the greenhouse, on my seedlings, to fight aphids or white fly, and so does not affect the lovely beneficial insects out in the garden.

As mentioned at the very beginning, I do not like to use even these safe and organic sprays, unless absolutely necessary. Even organic solutions do not discriminate between good bugs and bad bugs, and will kill them all.

Bee on an artichoke

I once, years ago, watched a bee land on a rose that had recently been sprayed with this soap. The soap had already dried, so I thought it was safe... however, the bee died anyways, right before my eyes. Perhaps it was in the pollen? Since that day, I decided that squishing bugs or water spray is the safest and best solution. Simply not worth it. Besides, there may have been lady bug larva on the rose, that I could not see, or some other beneficials. How many times do we kill more of the good guys by trying to get rid of a few bad guys?

Luckily, because of these measures, I rarely have any big pest problems. The ones that do pop up, like the stink bugs and onions maggot flies, I combat using the remedies mentioned.

Flowering garlic chives. Pollinator heaven. 

I try to do no harm. The reason for growing organic food and flowers is to be healthy to our world, our environment, and our selves. So please, try to do no harm. Plant companion plants, squish or spray with water, do a good clean up and feed your soil. It works, I promise you.

Happy Gardening! 

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

June Garden Ramblings

Long awaited spring weather has arrived on the island. Happy dance!

The thermometer still seems to struggle to get up into the teens on most days, and mornings can be a bit chilly... Hah, whatever, we are all simply thrilled that summer crop planting time is finally here!

Cool weather crops have really enjoyed this extended cool, rainy season, thriving rather than bolting. Broccoli, radishes, kale, spinach, and lettuces are flourishing. Have grown the best broccoli of my life this year : )

Enjoy your cool weather crops now, don't save them 'for later' or for 'when they get bigger'. Harvest regularly as they will soon bolt in this new found heat.

New pockets of planting space will open up for your summer vegetables as you harvest these crops or compost the bolting greens.

What to put in those spots?

What to plant this month?

Squash. Pumpkins, zucchini, pattypans, all sorts of squash can be planted into the warm garden beds now. Start them from seed or starter plants, it is not too late! They will quickly take off.

Beans ... Often accidentally lumped in with peas, they actually have very differing needs. Beans love warm soil and heat, while peas love cool temps and the rainy season! Plant your beans now. You can even plant them at the base of your peas so that they are well on their way when you eventually pull out your tired looking peas.

I love pole beans grown up spiral trellises or lattice fences, as they use less garden space, but they do have a longer growing season (about 80 to 90 days). Plant both bush and pole beans for a continuous crop.

Wondering what to plant in the garlic bed once you harvest it? Bush beans have a short growing season, just 50 days! Loads of time to crop up before you start prepping the beds to plant your fall garlic again.

Carrots can be sown throughout the month of June. Plant a row here, a row there, as the space becomes available.

Carrots can be notoriously difficult to start as they take 10 to 21 days to germinate and must be kept moist till you see the little sprouts growing.

Sow your seeds, water well, cover the seeded area with a burlap sack. This will help to keep the soil from drying out too quickly. Water through the burlap daily.  A week after sowing the seeds, start checking for sprouting. Remove burlap when you see little carrot seedlings popping up.

Tomatoes! If you have not yet transplanted the tomatoes, they can go in the ground now. Bury them deep for a better root system with stockier and sturdier, healthier plants.

Peppers and eggplants. They thrive in pots better than they do in the garden. Pot them up or plant them up anytime now! Never use garden soil in pots, always use bagged potting soil when growing food or flowers in pots. Garden soil or loam will get too compacted, your plants will not thrive.

Beets - seeds
Corn - seeds or starter plants
Cucumbers - seeds or starter plants

Cabbage - starter plants
Brussels sprouts - starter plants
Cauliflower - starter plants

What else to do this month? 

Water. Set up up drip tubes or weeping hoses to deep water your garden beds.

Do not hand water with a wand, save that for baskets, pots, planters, and keeping seeds moist till they germinate. Hand watering will make your garden less healthy with shallow rooted plants, more prone to bugs and disease. It will also take up so much of your time that you will come to hate growing by the middle of the season.

Do not use sprinklers for anything but lawns. They get your foliage wet, which spreads powdery mildew and blights!

Invest in drip tubes or weeping hoses, plus a timer, if you are so inclined. I do not use a timer, but I use these weeping hoses in all my beds. I turn them on for 20 minutes once or twice a week, depending.

What to deep water once a week? Root crops, potatoes, onions, herbs, peppers ...
What to deep water twice a week? Tomatoes, squash, corn, brassicas, celery...  

Feed - Any plants growing in pots will need a regular feed weekly or bi-weekly. Use manure/compost tea or an organic liquid fertiliser.

If you do not yet have fantastic soil, your garden veggies may also require a boost as the season wears on.

For tea recipes and organic fertiliser ideas, see HERE!

Weed - Run a hoe between the rows once a week. This will remove any weeds that you can see and knock down any just starting to germinate. You will  have lovely weed free beds all summer long.

This hoe is called the 'Winged Weeder' and is the best hoe that I have ever used in my many, many years of gardening.

My wee backyard greenhouse biz is now closed for the summer, so I am playing catch up, excited to be playing in my garden again.. planting and seeding, watering and weeding.

Before sowing and planting, I had to remove hundreds of little volunteer Johnny Jump-ups from the beds. So pretty, but need the space for food!

Plant lots of companion plants in the garden.
The more diversity you have, the healthier your garden beds will be.  
Companion flowers and herbs bring in bees, hover flies, parasitic wasps, 
hummingbirds, ladybugs and so much more. 
Plus, they make the gardens look great, too! 

Happy gardening!

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Growing Sweet Potatoes & Yams

I have been trying may hand at growing yams for two seasons now, from slips that I grew on myself.

The first year, I had great success and many slips, while last year I had minimal success and only a very few slips.

I did, however, have semi decent success growing them. Was able to get just enough tubers from each slip to keep me intrigued and want to keep on trying ; )

This year I found a farmer fella who actually grows a couple dozen varieties and sells the slips. Happiness!

As this farmer fella lives on the opposite side of the country, I thought it prudent to trial several varieties to see which ones fare best here on the island.

Pic from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

These are the ones that I ended up choosing this year ...  (The variety information blurbs come from two different sources.) 

Ginseng Red- An early producing heirloom with pinkish brown skin and golden flesh. Bush habit and attractive, deeply serrated, ivy-like leaves.

Heirloom Variety. An unusual variety that offers a “bush” habit, but with attractive deeply serrated ivy-like leaves. An early producing heritage var. with golden yellow flesh and pale pink/tan skin. This one was the prettiest and largest of all varieties trialed.

Beauregard- Selected from the current standard commercial variety. Auburn skin and orange flesh.

The standard variety grown by commercial growers. Vining. Very reliable producers as they offer above average yields. Tubers offer deep auburn (?pink) skin and orange/yellow, slightly dryish flesh. Can’t you already see these mashed, on your plate with a dab of butter? Yum! Mid season producer.  

Superior- A copper-skinned, moist, orange-fleshed type with striking ivy-like foliage. Most appreciated by Great Lakes region growers. 

Georgia Jet- Noted for earliness and yield among the orange fleshed strains.

These are supposed to be very popular in Canada, I am told. A leader in earliness, producing huge yields orange colored flesh tubers. Pink Skin, orange flesh, moist. A bush forming variety. Very prolific & heavy cropper. For the gardener with a 100 day frost free growing season.  

Frazier White- White and very sweet. Bulks up well, especially easy to harvest.

Heirloom Variety. Vining. The only white skinned, sweet white fleshed variety of our collection! Said to “bulk up” well and harvest easy. (…digging for them is like finding candy in a straw pile !)  

Tainung 65- Light pink skin, creamy interior. Large tuber potential. Its purple stems and bronze leaves also make decorative houseplants or hanging baskets.

A variety from Taiwan (I’m told) with pink skin and (creamy) gold flesh. Produces mid-season with good results. Plants offer some eye candy with purple stems and bronze leaves. Vines are much longer than “Georgia Jets“. Excellent taste. Pretty enough for a pot close to the back door! Just make sure it is large enough! Needs lots of moisture! 105 days  Well! This one was my heaviest and largest producer for 2014 and 2016!

Pic from

Planting and care till harvest... 

Yams and sweet potatoes need about 100 days of growing in good warm soil, so should be planted in the warmest spot in your garden. Make sure the spot is weed free, with loose and friable soil. Plant when the night time air temps are consistently 10°C.

To attract more heat and suppress weeds, the planting spot can be covered with plastic or landscape fabric with a planting hole cut into it. Plant 1.5 to 2 feet apart.

Alternately, they can be grown in really big pots.

Sweet potatoes are not heavy feeders, but do benefit from a bit of phosphorous and potassium. Dust the planting spot with bonemeal and kelp or seaweed meal. Avoid too much nitrogen or you will end up with spindly tubers.

Sweet potatoes do not get hilled like regular potatoes do. They grow just beneath the soil level and make lovely vines above ground. Do not allow these vines to root into the ground so that all the plant energy goes into producing big tubers instead of fat, juicy ones.

Create a bit of a depression (a bowl to plant into) to hold water. Dig a hole into this depression and pop the slip into the hole, leaving just the top few leaves showing. This depression helps with the watering, holds more water and slowly seeps into the soil to help get a deep soak.

If you are planting on a bright, sunny day, shade the slip for a few days to help acclimate it and prevent sunburn. An easy way is to cover it with a plant pot that has had the bottom cut out of it.

Sweet potatoes are drought tolerant but grow best when watered deeply once or twice a week.

The plant will seem to grow very slowly at first, as it puts it's energy into rooting in, but by mid-summer, the vines will take off with great growth!

Tubers are ready to harvest when the vines have turned black by frost or when the night time temps start to fall below 10°C.

To cure the sweet potatoes for storage, place in a humid, warm spot for a couple of weeks. Ideally, mid 20's Celsius temperature, with a tray of water under the tubers for humidity. Do not wash tubers until cooking time.

The varying shapes of foliage on the assorted varieties. 

I hope you will pick up one or two of my well-rooted slips to grow in your garden and help me with my trial. Your feedback will be invaluable!

Happy Gardening! 

Monday, 15 May 2017

Ramblings In The Garden For The Month of May

Our month of May is proving to be much different than those in years past. So very cold and grey yet this year, hard to know exactly what to plant.

I just looked back on my post from last year ... by this time I apparently had most of my beds planted up, was just waiting for the hot weather veggies to go in.... This year, I only have two beds planted up! Oh dear! 

So then... what exactly can you plant? 

Tomatoes.... sort of... 

Determinate paste (aka Roma style) tomatoes

Tomatoes need the soil to be warm when you plant them, so a few consistent nights of +10°C is needed before you start to harden them off to pop them into the ground. Mine are outside hardening off as we speak.. but the days need to be warmer before I actually plant them. 

Make sure to harden off your plants, to acclimate them slowly to the higher light and cooler air before you plant. I put mine in a part sun/part shade location for 2 or 3 days and then go ahead and plant. 

If tomatoes get too cold, the foliage will turn purple. This is a phosphorous deficiency and is caused by soil that is too cold for the plant so that the plant is unable to uptake the phosphorous. A deficiency like this will set plant back drastically, so is almost better to toss out a purple leafed plant than to try to resurrect it.  

Plant a good variety of colours, shapes and sizes for making great salads. Wow your friends!

The others veggies.. 

Carrot seeds take from 10 to 21 days to germinate and need to be kept soaked daily till they do. Do not forget to water all your newly sown seeds!

1. Your cool weather veggies should be loving this weather that we are having. No early bolting this year! So, still time to plant and grow your cauliflower, broccoli, kale, radishes, lettuce, spinach, etc.. with no fear of bolting. 

2. Onions, from sets, seeds, or seedlings. See HERE! for more onion planting information.

3. Root crops of all kinds... beets, rutabagas, kohlrabi, turnips, radishes. They love this weather and will grow fast with all the moisture we are getting.

Kentucky Blue Pole Beans, one of the favourites that I must have in the garden annually 

4. Beans. All kinds, all colours. Bush beans, pole beans, drying beans, they can all go in now.

5. Celery, potatoes, kale, leeks, peas, lettuce, spinach, greens of all kinds... will thrive in this weather.

6. The heat lovers are still a bit tentative at this point. Usually we are able to sow seeds/transplants for squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, red malabar spinach, cucamelons, corn, sunflowers, etc.. all the heat lovers at this time. However, this year, I would hold off a wee bit longer! The soil needs to be warmer for them to germinate and thrive.

7. Flowers and companion plants! Plant away! Add your marigolds, calendula, zinnias and more to the garden. Herbs, too, all except the basil, which hates the cool and wet weather.

Happy Gardening!