Saturday, December 29, 2007

Indoor Pepper

I grew my first sweet pepper from seed: indoors and under lights.  It wasn't the most successful project, because the plants got too tall and started to grow into the fluorescent lights.  Oh well. This tiny sweet red pepper tasted great, something like sweet green grapes.  The variety was "Top Girl".  I have no idea why I picked this pepper in particular.  If there were really short versions of pepper plants, I'd have chosen those.  
"Top Girl" sweet red pepper

Outside of the basement, the phalaenopsis orchid is re-blooming nicely.  There are many buds yet to open.  

I notice that my paphiopedilum is also going to bloom again.  My own blog reminds me of its last bloom in March, 2007.  Several types of orchids seem to prefer to bloom in winter.  Their blooms, and occasionally their scents, are a nice contrast to the cold white winter outside.  Mine grow just inside my living room window, with no special care other than the usual watering and occasional orchid fertilizer.  I take some care to prevent them getting direct sun and sunburns, though.    

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Micro Tom Tomatoes

It's December and I just ate my first indoor tomato. Just because it's December, I'll say it tasted great! I should have just started about a dozen of these tiny tomato plants, because they are the only ones that I haven't had to compost because they grew too large.
I bought the seeds online and it took about 3 months to go from seedling to fruiting plant. They truly are small, and the tomatoes are like small cherry tomatoes. If I had a bunch of plants, I might have had enough to make a salad. As it is, it's just fun to enjoy the novelty of tiny tomato plants in the basement. I'll save some seeds from one of these tomatoes so I can grow these again.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Orchid and Paperwhite Blooms

The houseplants are putting on a show now and the Phalenopsis (orchid) should be in full bloom for Christmas. The orchid has taken two years to re-bloom. It has a main flower spike with two small spikes branching off the main one. All have several buds on them. I bought an support stake for the flower spike from Lee Valley tools. I hope it comes soon and works well for this plant.

Here is the first bud open on Phal. Brother Mirage "Brother". This is a non-fragrant type of orchid, but the pretty flowers are enough to bring it great admiration.

Here is my collection of houseplants, huddled together in front of my big livingroom window. The paperwhites are in bloom on the left and the orchid and African violet are blooming on the right. I have three other orchids on the same table (which are not blooming anytime soon). I have decided that the paperwhites STINK. Yes, they are advertised as fragrant, but it is not a fragrance which I have any appreciation for. Anybody else agree with me here?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Snowdog on a Walk

Kona and I went on a walk today. I just had to share some pictures, since the sun is so bright and cheery. Imagine the snow crunching crisply under foot while doggy finds treasures in the snow.

Following some rodent tracks on the frozen marsh:

"I smelled a shrew...I'm sure I smelled a shrew..."

On the lookout:

Christmas decorations on our house!

Paperwhites too soon

The thermometer read -23 degrees C this morning. Not bad. It's clear and sunny and RLM is out in the shed, spending quality time with the snowmobile for the first time this season. Snowmobilers and floatplanes (on skis) are now using the lake to get around.

I bought paperwhite bulbs last month and followed the instructions to pot them up 6 weeks before Christmas. It seems that mine will be done before then. Oh well. I still have an orchid preparing to make a big show for Christmas.

Here are some pretty frost patterns on our window yesterday afternoon. While the patterns are pretty, the significant condensation and mildew in the wooden frames around the windows are why we are going to replace these windows soon.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Vegetables at northern grocery stores

It's a good thing that resident-lawnmower-man doesn't read this blog, for he would be sure to get worked up about this next story.

I stopped in at the main local grocery store for some potting soil. Of course, I left with a bag full of various items. No, five bags full. Anyhow, I spotted some Belgian endive in my wanderings. I read about this vegetable in a cookbook last night. They recommended cutting it lengthwise and dipping it in a nice herbed dip. I'd never had this before, so I picked some up. Out of interest, I also checked out how much the red peppers were selling for this week: $4.49/lb. I think they even get more expensive later on in the season. I scanned around to see if this was the most expensive vegetable there. No, it wasn't. Belgian endive was the most costly at $4.99/lb. It was tied with strawberries.

I told RLM to buy a red pepper a few days ago and I made a nice couscous and vegetable salad out of it. He told me it better be worth it for the price he paid. Well, I told him that he really should appreciate the Belgian endive with spinach dip for lunch today. I didn't tell him how much I paid for it, but I thought it tasted nice (and besides, endive is rather light compared to heavy items like strawberries and therefore kind-of a bargain when bought by the pound, right?). I may even buy Belgian endive again, that is, until RLM figures out I'm buying the most expensive item in the vegetable section...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Cold Outside, Vegetables Inside

The temperatures dropped this past week, with cold down to -27 degrees C one morning. With the windchill, it was -38 degrees C (-36.4 degrees F). Yeah, that's enough to make your nose hairs freeze, tinkle like icicles against each other, and then break off. At least that's how it makes me feel. Of course, all the vehicles now appear tethered by stiff, kinked extension cords to power outlets, with everyone plugging in their block heaters. Where I grew up in BC, I never know block heaters existed. Oh, the naive climate-innocence of the southern British Columbian!

So on the indoor front, my houseplant-vegetables are growing well. I've had to repot the peppers and tomatoes, because they were getting rootbound. The new pots are 5 inch square or 6 inch (diameter) round. I ran out of potting soil though, so I dug stuff out of the worm compost boxes to fill the bigger pots. There's a few worms living in the pots, but they've never caused damage so far.

The pepper and one tomato (Red Robin) are growing into the light fixtures. Tomatoes can be "height adjusted" though, which is fortunate. If you bury a tomato plant stem, that stem will just grow roots and be happy underground. My rootbound tomato had a few branches dying at the bottom anyways, so I just replanted it deep in its pot and now it's not crowding the light.
Micro Tom tomato:

Gerbera daisy I am attempting to grow from seed:

Tasty salad in a pot: I have decided that the "Baja MI" butterhead lettuce is the best performer of this winter's lettuce. It also has the nicest texture and flavour. I highly recommend it. Last winter, I also had success with a romaine called "Paris cos".

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Dendrobium in Bloom

As I write this, I can see and hear snowmobiles zipping past the house. The lake is frozen as far out as you can see, though I flew over it three days ago and saw the sunrise glowing through rising steam coming off the lake just north of town.

The air feels dry, bringing back winter's itchy skin. I have fired up the humidifier for our room, and its feels great. RLM may not be impressed to come home today to find condensation running down the windows. He may prefer dry, but I'd like to live the life of mould in a warm (not hot) and humid place. The and orchids and me, we'd do well together.

This particular orchid blooms about three times a year. I bought it as an unlabeled Dendrobium, but I've seen a similar one in orchid books called "Thongchai Gold". Maybe that is what this one is. It is very easy to grow. It had two small canes when I bought it and now it has nearly outgrown this pot. I'll have to go pot shopping soon. I have another orchid making a flower spike (a phaelenopsis) which should bloom by Christmas. That should be beautiful!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How to Pollinate a Tomato

The miniature tomato plants are growing some tiny tomatoes. Success! Well, I hope that the plants continue to make more little tomatoes, as I have not made any efforts to pollinate the flowers, as I have for the peppers. It is clear that I need to pollinate the peppers with my little paintbrush, or the stems die and fall off.

Micro Tom Tomato (left), Red Robin tomato (right):

However, I did some reading about pollinating tomatoes, because I noticed that the structure of the flower does not lend itself to any paintbrush-related activities. Was I ever suprised to hear that vibration is needed to pollinate tomatoes!

Apparently, the price and effort involved in applying vibrators to the flowers and/or plants is a major element in increasing the price of greenhouse tomatoes (greenhouses that don't have bumblebees, anyways). Well honey, where's the vibrator? We need to do some pollination. Yeah, and resident lawnmower man thought that my paintbrush activities were lewd! So RLM, how much do you appreciate fresh vegetables in the middle of winter?

A Micro Tom tomato:

In the meantime, the basement bar fridge has become home to several perennial seeds (and some sparkling peach juice) enjoying a season of continuous 4 degree Celsius weather. I can't recall what's in there, but those seeds all require cold stratification to germinate. Yes, perennials are generally more work than annuals, but they are worth the effort (or so we tell ourselves if we are "perennial snobs").

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Remembrance Day Snow Warnings

We quickly got blanketed by snow this Remembrance day. It snowed from 3 am to 2 pm today. The weather forecasters (with bright red warning banners) predicted 10 to 15 cm of snow today. I haven't measured it, but it certainly is a substantial heap. The lake is still open, but temperatures have yet to drop.

I gave in and put up a few Christmas decorations today. There's no wreath on the door yet. Oh, and there are no Christmas lights in the windows either, so that the neighbours don't think we're looney. RLM is anti-Christmas decorations. No, this is not for any good reason other than he doesn't like "clutter" and cleaning stuff up after Christmas. No problems there, because I was the one who packed everything away last year!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Shrubs Shouldn't Have to Wear Clothes

I believe that trees and shrubs that require burlap clothing to avoid browning and death in a prairie winter should just not be grown in the prairies. This is stupid. Trees and shrubs should be able to hold their own and I can, in turn, respect them for their hardiness. Then again, I also have a need to grow azaleas (Northern Lights series) in my yard. I found out that they need to be wrapped to prevent bud kill from late spring frosts. The azaleas are protected by the little brown burlap "mushrooms" to the right of the cedar (arborvitae):
Narcissus bulbs, newly planted in anticipation of fragrant blooms for Christmas:

Here's a new outlet for frustrated Canadian gardeners in the winter: aquarium plants! I haven't had a plant in my aquarium for years, mostly because the fish uprooted and ate them. This is some type of variegated Acorus:

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Walkin' in a Winter Wonderland

Snow has a time-limited offer...until April 2008...
We started getting snow accumulation November 3, and it's supposed to snow most days for the next week, according to the weather people. Unlike other years where I've put it off, I'm getting anxious to decorate the house for Christmas! I'll have to wait a few more weeks at least, so that people don't think I'm strange or anything. I've even got the Christmas music on hand, ready to put into the CD player as audio inspiration.
Kona -- the furry companion -- is beginning to get a winter coat. She is also more discriminating with her choice to either stay or exit the doghouse. Here, she seeks to explore the garage and sniff our latest garbage.

Soon, the lake will freeze over and snowmobiles will be whizzing by on a regular basis. In this community, more people seem to own snowmobiles than cars. Cash often being limited, the local habit is to trade in your boat in the fall and buy a snowmobile, only to do the reverse trade in the spring.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

EBay and Gardening

Internet shopping is not just for the internet addicted. It is for those that live in remote communities, like myself. Well, okay so I can buy groceries and rent videos in my town but the nearest Walmart is 2 hours away (gasp!).

When I lived in Vancouver, I couldn't really get interested in catalogs, but now I see the point of ordering things in the mail.

EBay is a fantastic site for some of the weirdest items. I have bought bonsai mesh, bonsai wire, Japanese bonsai soil, bonsai paste, Plumeria cuttings, pansy and tomato seeds, many orchids, books...and the list goes on.

This is a gardening tome that I just received on eBay. It is John E. Bryan's book on bulbs, a comprehensive resource that every gardener needs, or at least should dream of. Yes, all six pounds of it! I have yet to read it of course, but I am really looking forward to spending some time with this massive volume. It cost $130 on Amazon, but I got it on eBay for $19.95! Ka-ching!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Honey, the worms started a corn farm...

Have you ever considered vermicomposting? RLM and I were at a dinner party last night where we discussed (among world politics and office gossip legends) making our own dirt. This is no small matter in northern areas, where garden dirt is either made locally or imported. I've heard many stories of local people making dirt from fish guts or peat from the thousands and bogs around here. I still think that some enthusiastic entrepreneur could make good money making dirt by composting whatever is available and then selling it to local consumers.

The worm compost is used in the vegetable garden, flower beds, and in the pots growing herbs and vegetables under grow-lights in the basement. There is the odd worm living in the bottom of my pots, and they, like cats, like to leave their droppings in a particular place. Most seem to poop out of the bottom holes of the pots, and a few extrude their waste matter towards the top corners of the pots -- check this out:

Whole heads of corn + worm composter = Abundant corn sprouts in the worm box.

We also have a heap of slowly composting grass clippings and yard trimmings outside. In cold climates with short seasons, the outdoor compost heap operates slowly and I imagine it has to maintain a critical size in order to generate heat at its center and actually result in decomposition. I laughed hard at the post on (outdoor) composting in the Tundra Garden, a blog about the most northern garden in North America.
"The pumpkin from Halloween 1996 didn't look any different than the one from 2005 before the snow fell. As an archaeologist, I can attest to the fact that organic material can stay frozen with minimal decay for hundreds of years here."
I think this just goes to show that there are just some places you can't do outdoor composting! As an aside, if anybody locally wants some Eisenia foetida (special compost worms) for their own worm box, let me know. I have lots.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Micro Tom Tomatoes and Herbs

One of my "Micro Tom" miniature tomato plants produced a first flower today! How about that for garden blooms in the far north? Yeah, it's an indoor plant, but I'm still excited about this. These plants germinated in mid-September and hopefully I'll have some little tomatoes by Christmas. The plant with the flower is actually the bigger plant, and a bit leggy though it received alot of light. These plants are about the size of my hand and are starting to set fruit. Aren't they so cute?

Space is limited in the basement light garden, which explains why I'm not trying to grow melons and cucumbers down there. I still think I could do that, but they'd each take up a whole shelf (at the very least) and I want to experiment with a variety of plants.

Rosemary, transplanted from outside. I found this to be a slow-growing plant outside, but it's doing well inside. I'm looking forward to some nice slow-roasted rosemary potatoes...

Marigolds, flowering mightily in the basement. I've heard that marigolds keep bugs away from vegetables. So far, no bugs have infested the basement, which is good.

Lemongrass. Yep, still just looks like grass, but tastes so lemony!

Friday, October 26, 2007

First Snow of the Season

Well, I can add the first snow AND the first snowmobiler of the season to the calendar now. I had to take a picture of the snowmobiler after hearing the guy getting stuck on the front corner of our lawn, yanking on the handlebars and trying to get the machine back onto the road. I'd hate to tell him that there's not really not THAT much snow out there!
Don't you like that you can see GREEN plants in my rockgarden in the foreground. Hey, is that a seat made out of duct tape?

Beautiful primula in the snow:
Now that we are getting to that season of reflection and navel-gazing, I have been pondering a new camera. I certainly plan to have a new one by spring. I read two garden blogs last night that mentioned the Canon G9 digital SLR. I love Canon cameras and I am happily snapping away with my Canon PowerShot S50, 5 megapixel camera, having tried and not liked my husband's 7 megapixel Nikon Coolpix. The one I am interested in is the Canon Powershot S5 IS, an 8 megapixel camera with several manual features, while the Canon G9 is a bit more than I need.
Does anyone own and like the Canon S5 camera?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

October Asters and My First Scabiosa

We still see people boating on the lake and we haven't had any snow that stayed on the ground yet. This is a bit later than the last few years. Of course, we've had several hard frosts and all the leaves are off the trees, but that doesn't stop the asters. There is not a bit of yellow or wilted foliage on these plants. The flowers are a bit small on this type, but there are many flowers on the rather large plant.

Aster dumosus "Alert"

I started Scabiosa caucasica "House's hybrids" from seed two years ago, but then transplanted the plants a few times this summer, slowing their progress. I was shocked to see a bloom out there today! I don't know when Scabiosa usually bloom, but I imagine this is late!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

What in the World is That?

Bonus IQ points for you if you can identify this slightly revolting-looking "thing".

Resident-lawnmower-man brought this back from an evening of canoeing a week and a half ago. No animals seem interested in it (I let the dog have a good sniff, just for a second opinion).

It has a unique but not revolting smell. RLM thought it would be a good challenge of my identification skills.

I wondered if it is ratroot (sweetflag, Acorus calamus), but it seems far too large!

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Very Slow Sedum

This Sedum spectabile (Stonecrop) "Brilliant" is very slow to bloom, in my opinion. On the other hand, flu shots are not as late as they were last year in this country (due to some supply problems). I got mine this week and am prepared for the season of coughing and hacking!

Also later than usual (as far as I can remember) are my fall asters. Other garden bloggers have been documenting full bloom in weeks past, but mine are just starting. They'll look great when they finally are in full bloom -- under a layer of snow!

The American Mountain Ash tree. It never lost its leaves last winter, hanging on until the spring winds finally blew them off.

Flourishing flowers: I usually think of spring when I see primulas, but this one is giving a nice fall show! Only certain primulas are hardy in this climate, but mine are sheltered under the ash tree and they seem to do okay. I don't know what type this is, because I picked it up labeled as an annual at a big box store -- though it might even be perennial!

Geranium sanguineum (Cranesbill) foliage: beautiful contrasts.

Morden Blush hardy rose, looking rich and scrumptious among the dying perennial foliage.

Not so scrumptious: a pear slug (part of the lifecycle of the pear sawfly), a pest which has skeletonized leaves on these sandcherries. They also have been affecting my tart cherries. The trees/shrubs still are doing okay despite a few years of this pest, but I wish some pear slug-hungry birds would come and relieve me of this disgusting problem!