Tuesday, 30 June 2009

A few garden pictures

So tomorrow is July 1st, Canada Day. Comparing pictures of my garden this year from about the same time last year, you can see just how far behind the growing season is. I have managed to harvest a few small greens for our guinea pigs though - they love the tender lettuce, kale and chickweed.

We have been having some mole problems too. So we ordered some mole-repellers that use a chattering sound and vibrations to convince the mole to move away, because there's another mole in town. The man at the hardware store told us we could generate the same effect using pinwheels, so we are trying some of those as well. Nicely patriotic for Canada Day, even! We're not sure if these are working yet, but there don't seem to be any new mole hills/holes, so far.

My perennial herb garden is doing fairly well. All three of my salad greens are growing nicely, albeit slowly. This plantain plant to the right of the Salad Burnet is a volunteer - but once I found out about its extensive medicinal properties, I have just let it grow. The guinea pigs like to eat these two plants as well - plain lettuce from the grocery store just doesn't cut it anymore!
In my rock path to the garden I have transplanted some thyme, and put up this little barrier to keep people from walking on it while it gets established. Eventually I would like thyme and other ground cover all amonst the rocks - it's just a matter of 'thyme' I guess! Hee!
Here is an overall picture of the garden. You can see that the potatoes on the left are doing really well, and so are the peas on the right. The beans, carrots, kale, chard and radishes are just tiny still, and I have pretty much given up on the cucumbers and the pumpkin. I may dig up the cucumber plot (the last plot on the right) and plant kohl rabi instead. Apparently it is a good candidate for kim chi, so I would like to try it, if it's not too late.
So that's a quick update on the state of the 2009 Garden. I hope everyone else's gardens are coming along as well, and that you are getting more rain than we are. Already two nearby municipal counties have declared droughts, and ours could be next. But I hope not.

A dearth of posts....

Ach, the end of June already and only one garden post....

Things are growing and I have been weeding and watering and taking pictures with the intent of posting about it. The trouble is, I've been so busy doing things I haven't had time to post about them. With Gord still on crutches, all of the outside work on our acreage is mine for the summer, and so my time is filled with many, many things. And my end-of-day computer time is usually spent reading other peoples' blogs instead of writing on mine! I have a feeling July and August will be much the same, but I will try to at least post a few pictures of how things are growing in the next week or so....

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Mini Book Review: Dharma Punx

Some weeks ago I had had seriously bad and potentially career-changing day at work, and decided to splurge and buy myself a new book. I had been eying Noah Levine's book, "Dharma Punx: A Memoir," over the previous several months, hoping to find it at my semi-regular visits to my favorite used book store. But, I never did, and so when ever I found myself in a retail bookstore I would sneak-read a few pages of Dharma Punx. But then came The Bad Day: I threw all of Green Bean's excellent advice and restraint out the window and made a bee-line for the first bookstore I could find. It was a big box store and I didn't even care, I just bought the book, brand new. And my eyes and brain devoured it, page by page.

I suppose it is fairly ironic to have used a book about buddhism as a way to avoid thinking about my Bad Day, but I am certainly glad I bought the book, even under those less-than-admirable motivations and circumstances. Noah Levine has a way of making Buddhist ideas come alive, and showing how piercingly relevant they are in our society today, regardless of any other spiritutal/religious beliefs you may or may not have. His Dharma Punx book is an exposition of how he went from being a seriously drug-addicted young person frequenting jail, to a clean and sober maturing person living a life of compassion and service to others. It is a stark, blunt, riveting and yet ultimately joyous book. He has since written a second book, called "Against the Stream" which outlines the teachings of the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) , whom Levine affectionately refers to as "Sid." I really want to read that book too, but I am doing my best to wait for it second hand -- so far so good!

As a result of reading the first book, I stumbled on to Levine's two websites. On these websites are several of Noah Levine's dharma talks, in podcast form. I have been enjoying these down-to-earth talks immensely as I attempt to wait patiently for a chance to read Against the Stream. I see it is availabile through inter-library loan via my local public library branch. In the meantime, I will happily listen my way through Levine's podcasts on topics such as money, patience, meditation, impermance, relationships, forgiveness and women and Buddhism.

Now to check out those library hours....

Thursday, 18 June 2009

'Cloning' Aspen Trees

On our small acreage we have a spot where there used to be trees, but there isn't. When this house was being built (by the previous owners), a section of the aspen poplar trees was graded away, probably to make the septic field. Other than this ~25 ft long section, the rest of our acreage is ringed with these aspen trees. We refer to the place with no trees as 'the gap.'

We have attempted to fill 'the gap' with tre
es in a couple of ways already. First, we tried to dig up some little aspen trees from elsewhere on the acreage and re-plant them. This didn't work, because, as we found out when we dug them up, they don't have individual taproots. Instead the new little trees emerge from the buried roots of bigger trees. So these uprooted little trees died in short order, even when we managed to dig one out.

Our second try was to buy some pre-rooted seedlings from a tre
e seedling company last summer. These were bare-root saplings that were each about 1 1/2 - 2 feet high. We planted five of these aspen saplings in 'the gap' at the same time as we were planting about 20 other small trees (maple and spruce) from the same company all around our place. Well, it turned out to be pretty much impossible to keep up with the watering on all of these trees. (I don't recommend planting this many trees at once unless you have someone at home who can commit to watering them as often as they need it, which was pretty much every day.) We did keep them alive for a few months, but then the deer nibbled the tender tops off, and later the neighbor mowed over the property line and took one tree down to about three inches. Even that one lived for a little while, but this year it is quite dead. One of those five trees has leafed out a little bit this Spring, so there may be some hope for it.

I would love to just go out and buy some 10 ft tall aspen trees to fill in the gap, but that gets expensive. The nurseries also tend to stock more 'decorative' varieties than this one, so chances are trees from a nursery wouldn't really look right in the gap anyway. So, when I found this "rootpot cloning" system, I decided to give that a try instead.

First, we picked out 10 trees that looked healthy and were not too big and not too small. Then, I
followed the instructions as best I could and used a paring knife to cut a small ringed section of bark out of the tree stem - this is called the 'wound,' apparently. Some rooting gel goes on this 'wound' to encourage roots to emerge from it. Next, I dunked the folding rootpot into some water, to fill the reservoir at the bottom of the pot. Then I put the folding rooting pot around the tree stem and clicked it shut. In went the moist, soil-less potting mixture, while taking care not to wipe off all the rooting gel from around the 'wound.' Then I put on the dark stickers, to keep the light from the newly growing roots. Finally, I topped the pot off with its dark colored lid. Once a week I add water to the reservoir with a syringe - this part has proved the most challenging so far since the place to put the syringe is so small, but I have managed it. (But I'm not looking forward to it when there are tons of ants and mosquitoes around!)

According to the rootpot people, in about 8 weeks there will be a rootball formed in the rootpot which, when severed from the rest of the tree will give me a free-standing sapling equivalent to one that is about four years old (3 - 4 feet high). I can then plant these ten sapling 'clones' in the gap, all for a total investment of about $30 dollars and a few hours of my time. The stems of the trees I lop off in 8 weeks should regrow other branches, maybe even with some kind of topiary effect. So I am not killing any trees in the process, which is good - I want more trees, not fewer.

I'm quite excited about this whole process, and I'm really looking forward to having 'the gap' filled in at last. There is something about an unfinished circle that makes me want to try and complete it, somehow.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Hope in the Garden

This morning I went out early to water the garden before the onset of the heat of the day, and was greeted with the sight of many new sprouts. It is amazing what sufficient water will do! (Too bad it is from the hose and not from rain.)

There were some strawberry blossoms, so maybe I might have some strawberries in August or so. Some of the plants didn't survive the winter, but most have at least a few leaves.

There were also some radish sprouts, after nearly a
month. I'm assuming they just didn't get enough water to sprout, since last year they were up in just a week or so. There are some chard sprouts too - very tiny, but they are there.

My one cucumber
out has been toasted, I don't think it will live. And so far there have been no more cucumber sprouts coming up. Maybe now it is too wet for them?

Very good news is that the carrots have finally sprouted as
well. I had a chance to take a look at my sister-in-law's garden this weekend, and once I was reminded what carrot sprouts looked like, I could finally identify a few in my own garden. The potatoes are also doing quite well - they seem to be coming up earlier than last year, believe it or not.

More and more peas are emerging as well. Some more beans continue to fight upwards too, but I think the plants that were killed off earlier were the strongest ones, so I may still have quite a reduced bean crop. I may have a few bean seeds left: maybe I will replace some of the dead sprouts and see what happens. Perhaps we will be fortunate and have a warm Fall - I can hope for one, anyway.

The garden seems to be one of the best places to find hope, actually.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Gardening gets tough in Spring '09

In almost every way, this Spring is turning out to be a completely different gardening experience than last year.

In Spring '08, it seemed like the seeds I planted all sprouted nicely, grew steadily, fended off pests and even the odd hailstorm. Rain fell from the sky in reasonably-timed doses, and by early July I had a lush garden from which I had already harvested most of my nearly perfect radishes.

I guess it was time for me to learn a few different things in Spring '09. So far, the marigolds I planted to help keep the deer away were frost killed the day after I planted them. On June 1st. Yes, frost in June. The cherry tomato plant I bought from the local nursery at the same time suffered the same fate. And that wasn't the last day of frost either - about two nights ago we had another frost.

My little bean plants, which valiantly weathered the multiple frosts, have since succumbed to a combination of no rain and full sun. I had been watering the garden regularly, but not regularly enough, apparently. Yesterday morning when I went out to water it again, all the bean plants were dead, and the one pumpkin sprout was completely gone. No doubt it had been nibbled by the critter whose footprints were in the (as yet sproutless) carrot patch.

Peering at the scalded and crispy bean plants I knew they were beyond re-hydration. The garden that looked so full of promise just a week earlier was bleakly barren, with only a couple tiny, struggling kale sprouts poking through the dirt. Not even the radishes had sprouted, and it's been almost three weeks since I seeded them. The weeds of course, are doing fine. For a while there I was despondent. Devastated even. Swearing. Tears. Not fun.

The only thing left to do was to pick up the watering can again, and keep the seeds still waiting to sprout moist enough. Not all the bean plants had sprouted, at least half were still to come. And there were still peas, carrots, potatoes and cucumbers waiting in the soil for their turn.

Later that evening, I went back to the garden to water again, and there was some hope still: several pea plants had come up, and one potato was sprouting. And sure enough, one or two more beans were pushing through the soil. No more pumpkin sprouts, but there's still time yet. I got out the sprinkler and set it up again, deciding that these new plants would not die of drought, at least not while I still have enough water in the cistern to water them.

So, ok, I lost a few beans and a pumpkin. Imagine what it must be like for a farmer who looks out onto his/her fields and sees an entire frost- or drought-killed crop. I know when I looked at those withered beans I was sure glad there was still the grocery store and a CSA share to depend on, at least for now. I'm thankful I have the luxury of time to make some mistakes and learn from them. I'm also thankful I am growing a garden myself, because this Spring '09 weather is surely affecting my CSA farmers and other Alberta farmers and gardeners. We no longer have the luxury of putting all of our agricultural eggs in one basket: it's time for everyone to start growing a garden, even if its just a small one.

So, what are you planting, and how is it doing?

Image of this very determined potato courtesy Warm Fuzzies

Ongoing internet problems

One of the joys of living off the beaten path is that internet service can be very sporadic. I'm still pondering stuff like crazy but can't upload anything because my internet connection only lasts for about 15 seconds each time. I'm told the problem could be fixed as early as today, and I remain hopeful....

Sending well wishes to everyone along with a reminder (to myself as much as anyone) to stop and take time for tea, and enjoy the Spring.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

In the Face of Bankruptcy and Bill 44, Gardening.

Yesterday was strange.

The announcement that General Motors was indeed going bankrupt came early in the morning - it seems I am now a shareholder in that company, along with every other Canadian (and American), their kids, and their kids' kids. Not quite the kind of investing I'm accustomed to making. I would have liked a little more say in the matter. Frankly, I'm quite nauseated at the idea that a company can run itself into the ground, obtain billions of dollars of government bail out money, THEN go into bankruptcy, get rid of its debt and then come out of bankruptcy a few short months later all shiny and new, with squeaky clean books and no lessons learned. Um, shouldn't you have done that in the first place? I guess the saying 'live by the sword (of capitalism), die by the sword' only applies to ordinary people, not to multinational corporations who make large donations to certain political parties.

And then, to cap off the day, Bill 44 is passed. This is the most embarrassing, petty and vindictive legislation I have ever seen the Alberta government pass, and that's saying something. The Alberta government takes more than 10 years to add sexual orientation to their list of things that can't be discriminated against, and in the same bill back stab the people whose rights they are supposed to (finally) be protecting. And now teachers have to be afraid that every time the topic of sex, sexual orientation or religion comes up, they risk being hauled in front of a human rights commission. How can you teach people that human rights apply to everyone, when you can't talk about how those human rights apply to certain groups? This isn't governance, this is manipulative, gamesmanship, and Stelmach and Co. should be ashamed of themselves. What are they so afraid of, anyway?

So. In the face of so much soul-destroying crapola, what is an ordinary person to do? Well, it looks like more and more people are doing it*: veggie gardening. This year two of my close neighbors have planted medium and large size gardens and one of them is also keeping chickens! And another one of my family members is starting a garden this year as well! Do they feel the soul destroying crapola too? Or maybe they, like me, just want to witness something green, true and full of pontential again, instead of listening to the lies, spin and overall decaying putresence that oozes from our politicians' mouths on a near-daily basis.

It's funny, the only time I feel clean these days is when I have garden soil on my hands.

(*Uh oh. I said 'doing it.' I hope the Alberta government knows I didn't mean anything sexual by that. Well, except there is a lot of sex in gardening, all that pollination and pistils and stamens and, oh my, those crazy hermaphroditic earthworms. Wait, does this mean that parents can pull their kids out of classes on plant and invertabrate biology now? Hmmm...)