Monday, April 30, 2007

Green Things from the Basement

The basement light garden is growing well. The annuals, perennials, orchids and other stuff are aphid and gnat-free so far. The only problem was some mildew that developed while I was away and resident-lawnmower-man was watering the plants. I resolved this by removing the yellowed, withered leaves and directing an oscillating fan to blow over the plants. This restores good airflow, but means I've got to stay vigilant to prevent overdrying of the little plants.

I am currently soaking some morning glory seeds ("Star of Yelta"). The package picture looks attractive, yet up until now I had felt too lazy to do the required chipping of the seed coat and soaking of the seed required for successful germination. Just like lupines and sweet peas, they have a tough seed coat and need some help to germinate. I use an exacto knife to chip off a little piece of the seed coat, leaving a bare spot that shows the green core the the seed. We'll see how it goes!

This flat of Aladdin Cherry petunias looks quite good. Although the seeds and seedlings of petunias are extremely small, growing them seems to be quite easy!

I have just 3 grape tomato plants started, but they quickly grew too tall for the basement light garden so they are sitting with the orchids in the living room. I started my seeds around March 1, so hopefully I can get some mid-summer fruits.

I find it intriguing that the species name for the tomato (Lycopersicon) means "wolf peach". Lykos is Greek for wolf, Lupinum is Latin for wolflike. The wolfish origins of the name don't seem too apparent to me. Some googling revealed the sordid history of the vegetable hailing from South America. It was thought to be poisonous by the Europeans, though the Aztecs had been eating tomato salsa on their chalupas and gorditas for thousands of years (or at least, the Aztecs that went to Taco Bell). Tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family, along with eggplants and peppers, but only the green parts of the plant contain the toxic alkaloids.

According to the climactic data for La Ronge on the northscaping website (, we have annual precipitation of 19 in. (489 mm), last spring frost May 17, first fall frost Sept 22, for a typical growing season of 128 days. Check out the northscaping website, it has climactic data for North America north of 37 degrees latitude. Anyhow, most tomatoes seem to take much longer than 128 days to do anything, so hopefully this year we have success.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Travelling Tractor Sprinklers - Do I Need One?

These tiny tractors appeal to my childhood obsession with miniatures, AND claim to be a useful garening tool. I was keen on buying one a few years ago, especially the eye-catching John Deere version. Resident-lawnmower-man attempted to destroy this dream, saying that these contraptions probably wouldn't work on our lawn. Our lawn is has some gentle slopes, no jutting rocks (anymore), and a few trees here and there. I can't see any major problems.

These ingenious contraptions can water a large area by motoring along the length of your hose over a few hours, saving you from having to move your sprinkler multiple times. A good article explaining how these tractors work is found here:

The yellow one is the Nelson Travelling Tractor Sprinkler, as advertised on Amazon ( Several people wrote reviews, saying that this particular model has problematic plastic gears that were stripped when the tractor got hung-up on something, or that other parts malfunctioned. I guess I'd stay away from this model, despite the sale price advertised on Amazon ($105 USD).

The green tractor is the John Deere model. It seems to have the most visual appeal, in my opinion. I hate to say it about a tractor, but "isn't it cute?". Well, perhaps you can guess why my purchase of a new piece of machinery was vetoed by resident-lawnmower-man. I promised to do more research into this before purchasing anything...or wait a minute...did he realize mother's day is coming up soon? Someone send him an email!!!

Craftsman (from Sears) also has a tractor sprinkler. I see that some guy is selling a 1950's cast iron one on ebay. One benefit of buying one from Sears is that they seem to have a good service and returns policy.
Does anyone out there have one of these? Send a comment my way -- it's easy to put comments on my blog. You don't need to give your email address and you can even be anonymous.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Solitary Snowdrop: 3 Years in the Making

I went out into the garden today to see if the balmy warm (+18 C) weather brought out any new flowers or green shoots. Sure enough, more bulbs were pushing their spiky green leaves into the air. Then, behind the leafless lilac I spotted something that I did not plant last fall, or even the fall before that. I could not believe my eyes. There it was -- a solitary single-flowered snowdrop -- planted in the fall of 2004 before I had learned from a wizened old garden sage that snowdrops "don't grow around here". So here we are 3 years later, with the bulb marker long since removed. Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are supposed to be hardy to zones 3-9 and planted in shady areas. Clearly, they don't thrive here, but I am impressed with the bulb's ability to be a recluse for so long only to make an appearance 3 years later! I don't know much about snowdrops other than seeing carpets of them in Vancouver. However, a quick search of the internet reveals that there are people calling themselves galanthophiles -- there really is a fan club for everything!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Lake Ice and Crocuses

This is the paradoxical state of weather currently in La Ronge: The sun is shining, my crocuses and dwarf irises are in full bloom, snowmobiles cruise by on the lake ice, and it will be another month until all the ice is melted.

Our snow-munching doggy is now sleeping at the foot of the largest spruce tree in the backyard. While this habit makes her smell forest-fresh, the sticky spruce gum on her nose attracts dirt and looks terrible. Oh well.

I just had to post a few more pictures of the crocuses. They are lovely yet so fleeting.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Baby Diaper Horticulture

This is a very scientific article, based on my mucking-about this afternoon:

Title: Baby diaper components and container gardening.

Abstract: Baby diapers may contain the solution to all our garden woes! Enterprising companies label super-absorbent polymers as beneficial additives to keep soil moist in containers for up to 5 years. However, I found out that the commercial horticultural product (Soil Moist) may be an easier and cheaper way to obtain super-absorbent polymers compared to obtaining them from the small diapers I used in this experiment.

Introduction: Super-absorbent polymer gels are used for many commercial purposes, including protection of buildings from fire, fluid absorption in baby diapers, and retaining moisture in soils. I can't help but notice that baby diapers seem to absorb fantastic amounts of liquid. These gels are known to hold 30 times their weight in liquids. Apparently, diapers contain granules of sodium polyacrylate.

Recently, I was compelled by slick marketing that the answer to my parched patio containers was a product called "Soil Moist". Their product contains granules of one of these super-absorbent polymers, namely crosslinked polyacrylamide. My question? Am I being ripped off by buying this chemical as a horticultural product when I could just be putting baby diapers in with my potted petunias?

Materials and Methods: I dissected a number 1 size Pampers Swaddlers baby diaper, revealing some white cotton-like fluff and salt-like grains of clear material assumed to be the polymer. The deconstruction of the diaper was a little harder than I had anticipated. I wondered if the white fluff I was inhaling might someday cause "diaper lung"or if the white crystalline powder on the bathroom counter might raise suspicion that I have a drug problem.

After trying to separate the crystals from the fluff, I had about 2 grams of crystals (measured on the kitchen digital scale). The diapers came in a pack of 66 and cost about $20.00, which would be about $0.30 per diaper. I put the diaper crystals in a cup and then added 60 mL aliquots of water and then photographed the crystals after having absorbed the water. I added a total of 480 mL and the gel completely absorbed all the water. I didn't bother adding any more water after that for complex scientific reasons (the cup was full and couldn't hold any more).

I ordered a 200 g jar of "Soil Moist" online from Veseys for $11.95 CAD. The container says it contains a minimum of 90% polyacrylamide.

Results: After doing some really complex (for a weekend anyways) calculations: I figured that you would need about $30.00 worth of diapers to get 200 g of crystals. Therefore, it is cheaper to buy the Soil Moist product, if the two polymers are comparable in action. However, if the diapers were to contain 5 g of available polymer, the costs would be the same. I'm sure bigger diapers contain more. I guess we'll have to wait till the household's "littlest gardener" grows a bit.

Discussion: This very scientific study may have a few flaws:
1. Picking white crystals out of baby diapers with my fingernails may underestimate the amount of crystals in a diaper.
2. The polymer in diapers is not the same as the crystal in the plant product.
3. Further research (on the internet and maybe on some unsuspecting plants) would be needed to determine the effect of the diaper polymer on plants. However, I read that both are biodegradable and non-toxic.
4. Similar polymers are found in other products (i.e. those "magic gels" used in containers of cut flowers or lucky bamboo) and may be cheaper than using the diaper polymer. I'll have to go shopping to find out for sure.
5. Adult diapers probably have more polymer and maybe are a better value for the polymer-seeker. I don't have any adult diapers around, unfortunately, but if there are any diaper-wearing gardeners out there...go cut one open, for goodness sake!

First Spring Flowers

I am back from a two week trip in BC and SK. Today is sunny and beautiful, so I had an opportunity to admire the first spring flowers. Resident lawn-mower-man (aka dear husband) was commissioned with recording the date of the very first bloom in my absence. The dwarf irises bloomed on April 15 this year. From my "extensive archives", first bloom was April 18 in 2005 and April 10 in 2006.
The Pulsatilla vulgaris (prairie crocuses) have buds but no blooms. The botanical tulips (Tulipa tarda Daystemon, Tulipa turkestanica, Tulipa pulchella Eastern Star) are about 2 inches tall and will bloom in mid-May. I hope to see more of them this year, since botanical tulips (aka species tulips) are extremely long-lasting and are supposed to multiply each year.
The first of the snow crocuses started blooming today. Snow crocus "Advance" has a tiny little yellow flower, the whole plant being barely over one inch tall. I have planted several clusters of these itsy-bitsy crocuses, but unless one studies the rock garden very closely, one could easily overlook them. You would probably have to plant at least 100 of them in a cluster to make an obvious show.
Of course, the regular purple, yellow, and white large-flowered crocuses are enjoying the sunlight today, with clusters of them planted at the bottom of the large bank of sedum.
Thankfully, the mosquitoes are still asleep in their mosquito lairs. Soon I'll be putting the bug spray out with the garden tools!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Guerilla gardener goes on vacation

I am sitting here in the beautiful Okanagan, British Columbia, visiting family. The Okanagan is known for its favourable climate, which is ideal for growing tree fruits and grape vines. A drive into any agricultural area is startling though. Fruit trees are being sawed down and burned. The contours of the land are recreated by machines and acres of milk cartons sheltering little grape vines are springing up everywhere. The wine industry obviously is more lucrative than apples and apricots. It's sad but true.

While here, I had to visit the local garden center to see the fresh spring offerings. The bare dirt at the folks' place was gnawing at my gardener's heart. How could you live in zone 6 and have nary a hellebore or rhododendron in your yard! So you have the occasional urban deer who grazes on your plantings? Throw in some fritillaries for their stench and some pretty spring daffodils.

The bare containers made the place look so stark, so I filled two of them with pansies, yellow narcissi, and tulips. Yes, potted tulips. Ordinarily, I would have a problem with the laziness inherent in buying a pre-chilled and greenhouse-grown potted tulip, but I suppose that's why you pay more for the potted plant than the bulb. I also considered that this uncalled-for planting is as near as I have come to guerilla gardening -- a political, nonviolent gardening action done on someone else's property. I'm not sure what my political statement was. but you can be sure there was no violence involved.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Germination Determination

Currently, I am in the spring manic phase of seed starting. I am planting far more seeds than I could ever grow, and potting up as many seedlings as I could possibly have room for. Some seeds germinate easier than others. As yet, my Pulsatilla, Cleome, and Campanula carpatica have been a no-go. Currently, they are sitting on the garage window sill in hopes that fluctuating temperatures might help do the trick. The only thing that is growing in these pots so far is moss!

My Saxifraga mix seeds are potted and in a ziploc bag in my fridge until May 1. The package says they need cold stratification to germinate and I've had success with the refrigerator in the past. So far, no guests have noticed the little pots of dirt in baggies in my fridge...

The pretty little green and pink-leafed plants are Coleus Kong Rose. These were fairly expensive seeds, but luckily, all germinated easily.

Of course, it is still rather cool and snowy outdoors, but I am quite proud of my lettuce and herb project. These are growing very well indoors and I uploaded a picture of a basement-grown salad I made last weekend. I didn't grow the cucumbers and tomatoes, but the basil, parsley and lettuce were all homegrown. I do have 3 grape tomato plants under the lights though, and they're going to be planted outdoors in June. Hopefully we'll get to eat vine-ripened tomatoes this year, though that is a real challenge in this climate. Last year, we picked nearly all of them green to save them from the first frost. The season is just too short for tomatoes, unless they get a real head-start.