Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Battle of the Weeds

After all the rain this week my garden went into overdrive. But as every gardener knows, for every inch of growth put on by my crops, there was 4" of growth by the weeds. I've never quite figured out how that works but it does. It is a fight now to keep on top of it, not helped by the fact that Michael is away for the most of the summer as of yesterday. Finding a summer job round here is just about impossible, so he's had to find work elsewhere.

Still, the beans are going up the strings/wire they have been told to go up, and apart from the caulflowers, which Michael killed (don't even ask) everything is coming along nicely. We have enough spinach to feed the 5000 but I like spinach so most of it will actually feed me.

Because we don't use any chemicals on our property it's a bit of a wildlife sanctuary. Our pond is teeming with life, frogs and dragonflies galore, and there are butterflies everywhere too. The Monarchs are due any day now (how do I know? watch this: http://www.learner.org/jnorth/maps/galleries/2013/monarch_an_spring2013.html) and it's always a relief when I see them. I worry about them you know. There is milkweed waiting for them here.

So where are the flowers...well, the lupins have finished, the hollyhocks haven't bloomed yet, so it's a bit of a gap. I grew up learning about the May gap, here it's a June gap, and every year I plan on fixing it and I never do. But it's good that everything is late this year because, of course, we're aiming for flowers in September. They are exactly where they should be, more by luck than judgement and we will have a gorgeous display by then. In the meantime we're beavering away trying to make everything tidier. So just to thwart us, two of our trees are dying. I know they have a lifespan like everything else, but talk about bad timing. Oy.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Pay Attention At The Back

I've put my garden report in the wrong blog, and I am NOT moving it, too many photos, so you'll just have to click here:


Sunday, 26 May 2013

Plant Markers

For decades now I have saved a fortune by making my own plant markers. I resent spending $$$ on little bits of white plastic. So I use old food containers. Depending on the size you need you can use anything from a yoghurt tub to an ice cream bucket. It's so easy, and you get a free saucer as a bonus.

Friday, 10 May 2013


People assume that because I'm an organic gardener I am some great guru on composting.

"Do you compost?" they ask me. "Yes" I say. Then they get all technical, and I'm lost.

When we moved here 15 years ago, we build a big composter from wood (3 feet across both ways, and 4 feet high). We had to stop adding to it last year as the wood has rotted. In other words, our composter is now composting. For many years however, it gave us good service. We'd put stuff in the top and take compost out of the bottom on a continuous basis.  We have built a new one, obviously.

So, if I am a successful composter, why can't I teach composting? Well, I don't really DO anything. I leave it to it. Nature invented composting after all (that's why we have soil) and is perfectly capable of doing it inside a wooden box, without any help from me.

But I think I know why some people have problems.

1. They buy a commercially-made composter. This may have 420 features, but most of them hinder rather than help.

2. It's not big enough. The thing is supposed to be warm. So a lot of compost works better than a little as the outside insulates the inside.

3. They don't add to it often enough, or add too much of the same thing, or it's not broken up enough. If you bury a head of lettuce, it takes over 20 years to decompose (they found one in a landfill). Egg shells need to be crushed, BTW or you'll be pulling them out whole.

The reason a big, wooden composter works, is that it allows Nature to do its thing. The rain can get in (and out) easily because the lid is slatted and not watertight.

When I was a child we had a compost PILE. This is obviously not pretty. Compost isn't pretty. Compost is not supposed to be pretty.

But maybe you have no space for a pile or a huge wooden box. Maybe the only composter you are permitted/can live with is small and commercially made. I know little about them. I do know they have to be "started".

Pee in it.


OK then, get a child's potty and dump that in. OR.........most small boys will be happy to oblige. And some bigger ones too.

What can you put in a composter? Anything organic. If it can be eaten by any species it can go in. Just don't add too much paper or grass. You can put grass cuttings in, but don't overdo it.

There's a question of protein, from kitchen scraps. You'll hear people tell you not to add meat, cheese, and eggs. I compost these without any problem at all, actually, but it WILL attract critters, and that's the real reason for not adding it. If you have critters anyway, or don't care, then don't worry about it. My barn cats help themselves.

"Do you need worms?" Yes you do, and lots of other small helpers, but in a big wooden box they arrive of their own accord. If you are using a commercial composter, you will need to add some of them, consult the instructions, it's not my area.

Now talk among yourselves.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013


I have very few places where shade is an issue, and as a percentage of garden, it's irrelevant. For many of you with a small garden, and where most or all of it is in shade, there is a huge challenge finding suitable plants. I have plenty of other places to plant, so I pretty much just ignore the shady spots.

So the north-east side of our house is a neglected place. It's been neglected a long time. Grass grew to the wall, except it didn't. It gets so little sun (only early mornings) that even that was patchy, weedy and ugly.

Tyler dug out a strip along half the wall. In this photo you can see both his handywork, and the ugliness of the location, with the electricity meter piping, a vent, and a tap that has left rust marks all down the wall, plus the standard ugly basement window.

The back half of the wall is covered by the pool deck, so I only have a strip about 12 feet long to worry about. I shall put shade plants there and then gravel and rocks around them for low maintenance. I really don't need any more weeding to do.

Now I have to find suitable shade plants. Tyler's boss suggested boxwood, hostas, and spiraea.

Spiraea (Neon Flash)

Spiraea will work. I can plant it right in front of those pipes and it will hide them without preventing access to the meter at the top. We had one round there before, atop the well, but it was lost during the well repairs. So I know it will do well, and I liked it.

Boxwood (Variegated)

This is a possible. Again, had one before but it was in the front flower garden, and I prefer flowering plants. But for this purpose I think it has a place.


I hate hostas. I am FAMOUS for hating hostas. I dug up all the ones that were here when I moved in, and have offended several friends over the years by refusing gifts of hostas. That will not be happening.

If you were wondering what you can plant in shade, first I'll offer the complete list, and then my choices.

Perennials for Light Shade or Part Sun (Those that take deep shade are marked with “*”)

Tall Phlox
Monarda (Bergamot)
Day Lily
Bergenia *
Bethlehem Sage*
Balloon Flower
Siberian Iris
Carpathian Harebell and other Campanula
Creeping Jenny
Virginia Bluebells *
Foxglove *
Oriental Poppy
Astilbe *
Marsh Marigold
Gold Moss
Purple Coneflower
Planted Daisy
Shasta Daisy
Gas Plant
Leopard’s Bane
Christmas Rose
Jacob’s Ladder
Hosta *
Cardinal Flower
Gooseneck and Yellow Loosestrife
Japanese Anemone
Solomon’s Seal *
Saxifrage *
Spiderwort *
Bleeding Heart
Globe Thistle
Perennial Geraniums
Obedient Plant
Coral Bells

Perennial ground cover for shade

Goutweed *
Crown Vetch
English Ivy
Hall’s Honeysuckle
Virginia Creeper
Creeping Potentialla
All ferns *
Many ornamental grasses
Wild Ginger
Wintergreen *

Obviously not all of these will be suitable, as some would die in my winter.

My choices will be as follows:


Nice and tall, will cover ugly things. They aren't long lived, but they do self-seed and multiply. As before, I know they do well here.

Pulmonaria aka Bethlehem Sage (I often prefer Latin names)

This is a short one for in front of the window. The other one for this position will be:

See how nice that looks among gravel. 

I may put some annuals in this year while the perennials are small, and the obvious choice is pansies. I don't do impatiens, no, no, no. No.

Soon as it's in, I'll do an update here with photos.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Not An Update

Just going through my various blogs this morning, I am acutely aware that this one is in limbo.

Obviously, there is no gardening going on here, we're still under a blanket of snow.

But there is also no planning going on, my time has been taken up with too many other things, I will get to it.

What I will just mention briefly is something that cropped up again in conversation on some random Facebook conversation.

Without expensive technology (at the very least a heated greenhouse, and probably some automatic irrigation) actual self-sufficiency is only possible this far north if:

a) You also hunt, because livestock limited to a finite area are a finite resource, and
b) You are willing to TOTALLY change your diet.

Native people managed just fine at these latitudes, with a few weeks of hunger round about this time of year, but so long as things went according to plan living off the land was doable.

I like my diet the way it is, and have no intention of ever switching to subsistence level living if I can help it.

AND...even going halfway, by which I mean half your food comes from your own land, be it half by quantity, or half by grocery budget, or half by summer/winter, or whatever would actually require more financial investment than could be justified by the dollar value of the harvest.

I just want to inject that realism into the whole issue before I do anything else, because I'm getting bored by those whose dream is to "live off the land". Even if they succeed (which I doubt) that is not my dream, not here. I'd be willing to give it a shot somewhere warmer, but I live HERE. So I write about HERE. I am neither a show gardener nor a wannabe "homesteader". I'm a realist.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Makeover

So, as I mentioned, this year I am planning on turning my farm into something much prettier, for my daughter's wedding. This is a massive task, as you'll see.

Thankfully I'm being helped by Google. Even if their overhead photos of my place are pretty awful.

Believe it or not the white blob is a barn/barnyard, and the black smudge below it is a large pond. The house itself is invisible, but you can see the front drive - where that ends, obviously is the house. The curved line on the left of this picture is the stream that runs across the back of our property. We are only concerrned with the front of the property, as most of it is pasture and (beyond the stream) swamp, and the scrubby edge of woodland. 

So this is the area where the work will be done:

You can see pathways etc. I'm going to use this to create an accurate plan. I'll show you that later on.

What Google have done well is drive up the road and take wide-angle photos of the front. So these are the "before" photos.

You'll notice particularly in the second image that it's very "natural" or "rustic". In other words, there is a lot of long grass and little else. Close to the house you'd see flowers, but we want a bright show from the road, as well as all over the property. (You can click on all the photos for a bigger image). 

We also want to make a feature of the pond. It's about 40 feet across with an island in the middle. I have managed to establish a few hollyhocks on the island by throwing seed bombs, but this year somebody has to swim out there and actually do something impressive with it. As it's full of leeches we can't get any volunteers, so I assume I'll be buying an inflatable sunbed thingy. 

#1 priority is to grow things up the fence all along the left-hand side of the front. Probably sweet peas, morning glory, mirabilis etc. But it's VERY soggy there, so it'll be tricky. 

#2 is to paint the barn and sheds a nice country green. 

But there's a lot more. I'll present the ideas a bit at a time.