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!

Friday, October 12, 2007

3D Virtual Garden Design: The Hourglass Garden

As I read more garden blogs, seed catalogs, and visit other gardens, I feel compelled to collect and admire more perennials. The trouble is, where would I put more plants? I need a new flower bed, which is plainly obvious to me (if only resident-lawnmower-man had the same divine vision). I had an idea for a flower bed in the center of the lawn earlier this year, but it didn't appeal to RLM.

Thanks to a landscaping computer program, I have a 3D model of our house and yard to play with. Recently, I came up with a series of designs and consulted with RLM about them. He settled on this final design, while mocking my enthusiasm for virtual mulch-spreading and digital hosta-planting. I call the design the "Hourglass Garden".

So in the manner of HGTV, here is the yard "before" the proposed new flowerbed. There are four "Carmine Jewel" tart cherries in the lawn, and the flowerbed will incorporate the two nearest the back of the yard.

Here is the yard "after" the new flower bed. I hope the new flowerbed matches the scale of the other beds in the yard. It would be nice to put a flowerbed close to the front of the yard, where it is more visible from the road. However, it would be destroyed by snowplow's heaved gravel or the temporary spring pond created by the mountain of melting snow.

A top-down view of the yard with the new hourglass flowerbed. We built the two stone-wall raised beds two years ago. The center of the lawn features an established blue spruce, a crabapple, 3 sandcherries, and 4 young tart cherries.

A view from the front of the new flowerbed. It would be edged with stones, to match the stonework in the rest of the yard. I would surround the plants with cedar bark mulch.

Another front view. I think this bed would create a "garden room" in the back area of lawn. I hope it doesn't look silly to separate the lawn like this.

Do you like the random person in my virtual yard? I just thought it was fun to use this feature of the program. The area beyond the road is not really a vast grassland, but a lake with hundreds of little islands. It was just too difficult to add to the computer model.

Left side of the hourglass. I have always wanted a bench to sit and ponder the flowers, so I've put one under the mature willow tree. I will probably use dry-tolerant plants in this bed to accommodate the tart cherries, which need to be dry in late summer and fall. Of course, without the lawn around them, they might soak up more moisture.

Arbour at the center of the hourglass. RLM figures this flowerbed design would work well because we could create it in steps, making the right side first.

The view down the left side of the yard.

You can click on any of the photos to see a larger image. So what do you think? Is anybody else doing virtual landscaping?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Garden Tools: The Bulb Planter

This is my essential fall gardening tool: the bulb planter. I broke one two years ago, when I planted hundreds of bulbs in muddy soil. It was probably a cheaply made tool and seemed too light and flimsy. This one has held up pretty well though. I paid a bit more for it too. A decent bulb planter is a beautiful thing. However, when you plant 400+ bulbs each fall, count on getting blisters on your hands from these manual planters.

My bulb planter. (Notice the long shadow, despite it being mid-day! Oh, the northern sun.)

This one has markings on the side to measure the depth of your hole. I find it the most useful for the larger bulbs, like tulips and daffodils. It is good for planting in between other plants, because you don't have to dig a large hole, yet can get the bulb in deep enough. Obviously, it can't manage rocky soils very well, but my beds are quite sandy, which is good for planting and good for the bulbs too. For minor bulbs like crocuses, muscari, or chionodoxa, I find it easier just to dig a shallow, broad hole and place the bulbs in a cluster or to make "cracks" in the dirt by wiggling my spade in the dirt and then sticking the bulbs into the crack.

I have commented to resident-lawnmower-man on bulb augers in gardening catalogs. (Lee Valley has a nice one.) "It would really be handy to have one of those bulb augers attached to a cordless drill" I say. Resident-lawnmower-man replies "I am NOT buying a cordless drill just so you can plant bulbs!" I've even been offered the use of another gardener's bulb auger, which means I would only need the drill. Alas, RLM is still not receptive to this idea. Honestly, he has a non-cordless drill, but has hardly ever used it! How many manual bulb planters do I have to break before we can move onto to better technology? Let me know what you are using to plant bulbs!

Speaking of augers, I have noticed that it is not uncommon to win an auger as a prize in local raffles/draws/contests. If you win the BIG prize, you might get a snowmobile. What is the auger for? Ice fishing, of course!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Thanksgiving Bounty in the Basement

Happy Thanksgiving to all the Canadians and to anyone else in the world who also happened to be celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend! We had nice turkey dinner (those pre-stuffed Butterball turkeys are the bee's knees!) followed by a mellow afternoon. Kona, our furry canine was allowed to clean up the giblets and turkey skin, making her a happy dog!
Lettuce and tomato plants under grow lights in the basement:
I purposely deformed this "Heat Wave" chili pepper to fit under my basement grow lights. The resulting shape inspired me to take this photo of the "Semi-cascade style chili pepper". Ha!

It bears fruit too! I realize now that it was unnecessary to have three plants, with each having dozens of blossoms. Maybe I'll try drying the peppers. I don't know what I'd do with all of them.

"Top Girl" orange peppers, not yet to blooming stage:

This is the basement-dwelling group of my ever-expanding collection of Dendrobium nobile "Angel Smile" orchids. My plants keep producing baby plants, which I repot and then give away. On the right is the thriving lemongrass, which is destined for ethnic cooking in my kitchen.
The wedding marigolds in bloom! We got some marigold seedlings as a guest favour at my brother-in-law's wedding in June. They are doing pretty well alongside the pepper plants.
One of my "Micro Tom" miniature tomato plants: this one germinated mid-September and is less than 4 cm tall. I am also trying "Red Robin" miniature tomato plants. Hopefully, I'll have tomatoes in a few months. These ones are growing in 4 inch pots. I'm not sure if I'll need to repot them.
This goes to show that with six shop lights and some shelves, you can eat fresh greens throughout the winter! One of the things I like best about this is that there are no beetles eating your vegetables and no worms crawling out of your salad! It's a pest-free environment.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Updated Hardy Perennial Plants List

I have been working on my perennial plant list over the past week and I think it is much improved. I included most of the perennials in my yard as well as some from friends' yards. All of these perennials must be hardy, because they are growing here in Canadian agriculture zone 1b. However, I feel my yard is somehow warmer, something more like a zone 2b or 3a, or maybe the copious snow-cover is just very protective.

Which brings me to...northern garden tip for fall: the messier your yard, the better it is for overwintering plants. Leaving perennials uncut will trap snow. Remove the dead foliage in spring.

Perennial border, June 18, 2007:

Click here to see the list or click on the link in the left hand column.
Click here to find out what Canadian agriculture zone you are in.

How is your garden planning going? Are you designing landscapes and projects over the winter? Scrapbooking about your garden?


Thankyou Veseys for waiting until the end of September to send my bulb order (to my sub-arctic yard). Thankyou Canada Post for taking nine days to get that order to our local post office (our health system may be okay, but the Americans sure do have a superior postal system).
I went to that local post office twice a day for the last two days, anxious to get the parcel. Resident-lawnmower-man also had the (actually very helpful) post office staff double check and see if the parcel was with the unsorted parcels a few days ago. Fortunately, the bulbs and a peony root arrived yesterday and I planted the bulbs this morning. Yes, on a cloudy day at 3 degrees Celsius (37 degrees F) with stuttering fits of snow falling from the air. I don't even own thinsulate-lined garden gloves!

Temptations of the Advance Spring Catalog

I planted fewer bulbs than last year, but combined with the previous year's bulbs, I've probably put at least 1500 bulbs in the ground in this yard. Somehow, word about this hasn't gotten out to the bulb-eating rodents and I hope they aren't reading this blog!

Today, I planted some minor bulbs (Chionodoxa forbseii, White Muscari), some large yellow trumpet daffodils, Double Late "Blue Diamond" Tulips, Allium "Purple Sensation", Allium "Gladiator" and a pink double flowered peony "Bouchela". The Alliums are possibly not hardy, but I got them for a "value" price from Veseys and I'll be thrilled if they do well.

A Convallaria majalis that I DON'T HAVE:

Veseys also sent along an advance spring catalog with the promise of $25 off my next order. You must see this catalog. True horti-porn. My eyes bulge at the delectable new plants I MUST HAVE, or forever dream about. These people know how to market plants. Take this "New for 2008" Lily of the Valley that "is a real conversation piece", with its "pristine white fragrant flowers" which apparently "dance merrily among deep green leaves striped with creamy white veins". Of course, I tell myself that paying $52.95 for 3 pips is totally justifiable for these reasons:
(a) I don't have one of those
(b) now that I read this, my novelty pink "Rosea" Lily of the Valley isn't so cool anymore
(c) it grows in zone 2 and hey, they just aren't many of those

Then again, I'll probably agonize over the catalog for another two months trying to decide which plants I really must have, considering there are so many deals and hot new plants. And these are the months of dreaming and planning...