Sunday, November 22, 2009

potatoes in containers

I had such a lovely day working outside today. No wind, no rain, a little sun, thank goodness. When it came time to think about dinner, I decided to harvest a pot of potatoes that I planted for winter new potatoes and thought I'd share my year-round new potato growing idea here.
It all started last year when I experimented with planting some Yukon Gold potatoes in a garden bed on labour day weekend. In January the garden was covered with a foot of snow (we had an unusually cold winter on the coast last year) but I was surprised and happy to see that when I moved the snow away and dug through the soil I found a lovely crop of new potatoes ready to be harvested! What a fabulous treat.
That summer I had also experimented with growing potatoes in containers and it worked beautifully. Many of the city-dwelling visitors to the garden went away interested in trying this on their balconies! Below is a 1/2 wine barrel growing Russian Blue potatoes.

This year, I decided I'd try to grow Seiglinde potatoes in containers to help with the production for my weekly veggie harvest basket deliveries and also for our own food throughout the year. Below is a photo of the containers all lined up.

I begin by putting about 2 inches of soil in the bottom of the container. I then set 4 small seed potatoes (or pieces of potatoes that have sprouts on them if they're large to start with) around the edge and 1 in the middle. I cover them with another 2 inches of soil and wait for the seed potato sprouts to grow about 4-6 inches tall. I then add more soil to almost cover the new green growth and let them grow again and then add the last layer of soil to fill the container and give them the maximum room to grow. I plant up the containers at different times throughout the season so I have a constant supply. There are always containers at different stages of growth and this year each container got planted 3 times from late February to early September.
New idea for next year: instead of filling the containers up to the top with soil, I'm going to cover the new growth with grass clippings, old hay, straw.
Here's me harvesting my container of new potatoes for dinner....see how the potato growth has turned all brown and is decaying....

The potting soil has been used for all 3 plantings. I'm now dumping the container fulls from this last winter crop into an area where I want to create a new garden bed. It'll help create some nice soil there.

Just over 4 lbs of beautiful unblemished potatoes this time. One of these pots will produce anywhere between 4 to 6 lbs. depending on how big I let the potatoes get before I harvest them.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

a winter wind storm

Every year at this time, living and gardening for me involves cleaning up big messes after big wind storms. This week has brought us 2 big wind storms with a couple of big trees down. Last night was dramatically windy. Our power went out and we felt a big thump that shook our house. We're getting quite accustomed to this in November and this morning we went out on our morning-after walk to inspect the scene after the storm. An alder was taken down by a big fir whose root also involved a few smaller firs. Luckily this was far away from any buildings or fences or gardens. It was probably this that shook the earth last night.

Here Chris and the dogs are inspecting another tree down in an old compost pile area that I'm planning to make into a new garden area for cut flower the prep will take much longer. It smushed a plastic compost bin, pails I use to collect manure in, left over fencing and rebar and a bunch of other stuff that I was temporarily storing here 'til I could find a proper home for them. A nice mess that someone with a big chainsaw will have to come help me with. Winter has arrived!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

falling leaves

It's the season to collect fallen leaves and I've been raking up a storm.
In our neck of the woods, we have a lot of big leaf maple trees.
Visions of rich brown crumbly leaf mould for next year's garden are on my mind these days.

Leaf mould is simply composted deciduous tree leaves.
In my garden, I leave many of the tree and shrub leaves to decompose where they fall, just as nature intended but I also want extra leaf mould for my veggie beds.
Since I decided I wanted to make lots of it this year, I've been collecting leaves at my place from around the edges of the forest....

....and because I need more leaves than I have at my place, I'm collecting from my neighbour's yard as well. Below, we're unloading a truckful of leaves onto a tarp and will drag it to the wire enclosures where the leaves will sit and rot. After about a year, it will become a beautiful super-duper premium soil amendment that I'll add to my garden beds. An abundant renewable natural resource!

Leaf mould is not high in nutrients like garden compost. It improves the quality of the soil because it's full of beneficial organisms and earthworms love it. It also keeps the soil light and helps with water retention. I'm really looking forward to having a nice combination of homemade compost and leaf mould for my garden next year!

Below is one of my new leaf collection areas. I've hammered the rebar stakes in place and now all I have to do is fit the wire mesh around them to create the wire enclosure. Then all the leaves will get stuffed in. I've composted leaves without an enclosure which works fine too.

The beginnings of another leafy pile in a different area of the garden. Eventually I'd like to have a few of these sculptural installations placed throughout the garden so I have the lovely stuff available to spread on my beds near wherever I may be working.

When I want to use my collected leaves right away, I put a little more work into it and run over the leaves with the lawnmower. This creates a beautiful mulch of dry leaves and grass clippings that can go on my beds right away. When the leaves are shredded into smaller pieces and mixed with nitrogen rich grass clippings, they'll break down faster over the winter and will become part of the soil in the spring. The photo below shows what my shredded mulch looks like.

I think creating valuable leaf mould mulch is something every gardener might want to try. It's so simple!

Friday, November 13, 2009

A beautiful sunny fall day today

The plum tree has lost all it's leaves and now we can see the beautiful winter-time shape of it's branches. I love the shadows the branches and sun create on the cob wall.

The beautyberry shrub has lost all it's leaves too but not it's gorgeous berries. (these branches are so fabulous in fall arrangements)
The cardoons are still leafy. They're really nice in fall arrangements too.

The smokebush leaves are changing colour and are beginning to fall. These will be good to add to the leaf mould piles.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

building the new greenhouse beds today

I'm so excited about my new greenhouse.
My imagination is running wild with visions of delicious salad greens in the winter-time and sweet, juicy tomatoes of all colours in the summer-time.
Here I am today, preparing my beds and creating a center pathway. I'm amazed at how different the climate is inside than outside....can't wait to grow stuff!!
In October, Brian Steele and his helper Bill installed this awesome 10' x 40' poytunnel in my garden (I wish I had thought to take pictures) and I'm SO happy about it! I think Brian has designed and fabricated the answer to the serious food gardeners' prayers with this wonderful polytunnel!
His website:
Soon I'll be seeding spinach, cilantro and lettuces.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The garlic is planted!

This year I planted my garlic on the 2 days after the full moon. Some folks believe that when the moon wanes after it has been full, a strong gravitational pull is created that draws more energy down into the soil and into root growth. That's why the few days after a full moon are believed to be the best time to plant garlic which is a bulb and needs to develop it's roots once it's planted. I don't know that much about it but I'm attracted to the idea of following the phases of the moon while I garden. This year, the 2 days after the November full moon, the 3rd and the 4th seemed like really good timing for planting garlic here on the coast.

Many folks who visit the garden tell me they'd like to grow garlic and ask me how to do it.

So here's what I do:

1. Prepare a growing spot. Garlic likes rich soil with lots of organic matter. I add composted manure, garden compost and complete organic fertilizer to my growing beds.

2. In late October or early November I separate the cloves of the planting bulbs. I try to do this just before I plant. Be careful not to damage them...I have read that a little nick can encourage disease in the soil to develop as the clove sits during our long wet coastal winters. You can buy planting garlic from organic farmers in your community or from seed companies that sell it.

Here's a snapshot of some garlic cloves separated and waiting to be planted.

3. I plant the cloves into trenches I've made in the soil or sometimes I make holes with a dibble and place each clove in the hole, pointy end up. Each plant will need about 4-6 inches between it and it's neighbour to grow into a nice big bulb. I put each clove down about 4-6 inches and cover the hole with soil.

Below, I'm placing the cloves into the soil.

4. When the cloves are all planted and covered with soil, I mulch with a nice thick layer of compost. I don't mulch with straw over the winter.
Later in the season, (April or May) I'll add more compost and mulch with straw to help keep the soil from getting too dry. I have to be careful to conserve water and am fortunate to have a garden in a very wet area. If it's a really dry spring I may water 2 or 3 times but last year I didn't water at all. My garlic probably would have been larger if I had watered it but it's still good. You'll have to plan for water collecting if you garden in a very dry spot.

5. Around the beginning of June, I'll remove the scapes which are the curly flower stalk of the garlic plant. I've read that if this is removed, the plant puts it's growing energy into producing a larger bulb underground, rather than producing seeds. Some people have told me that they don't think this makes any difference but I love the pesto I make from the scapes, so I remove them for a tasty late spring treat!

Removing and collecting the scapes from the garlic plants.

6. I do my best to keep the bed weeded and in July, I harvest my garlic bulbs when I see that the bottom 3 or 4 leaves are dead and the top few are still green. I often pull a couple just to make sure it's ready.

7. After the garlic is pulled, I cure it in my shed that is cool, protected from the sun and well ventilated by an occasional sea breeze. I don't think it's a very good idea to cure it in the sun. After 3-4 weeks of this curing, it's ready to clean up and take to the kitchen.

Below is a photo of the harvested garlic curing on racks under the garden workshop roof. For some folks, it's more convenient to bundle the plants up in groups of 6-8 and hang them from the ceiling to dry.

One of the things I love about my garlic crop is that it gives me 3 harvests during the growing season:

1. Early in spring or sometimes even in late winter I harvest some new little plants and use them as I would green onions, mostly chopped up and thrown into something, even just a salad. Yum! What a welcome taste of fresh green flavour at that time of year.

2. In June, I harvest the scapes and make Garlic Scape Pesto.

3. And in July, I finally get to harvest the bulbs!

The first year I grew garlic I was so excited to realize that I could keep the stalks on some of my bulbs and use them as kitchen decoration first, before we eat them. The stalks can be put in a vase with the bulb up, displayed as a garlic bouquet. It looks lovely! Folks love receiving this as a gift too.

I'm wishing you great success with your garlic crop this year!

How Christina's Garden began

Many folks have asked me why and how I started this garden so here's an answer, sorta simplified:
In 2001 we moved to our new place in the forest by the sea. In the beginning, I set up my jewellery studio in the garden with the intention to continue my work as a designer and maker selling at shows and to shops and galleries. I also planned to open the studio to summer time visitors while I began building the garden environment around it.

I was certain that I needed and wanted to grow alot of our own food so I began to do that by turning the grass into growing beds, installing fencing to protect my gardens from all the deer and planning other infrastructure. It became clear to me that I was taking on a massive project.

Visitors visited, looked at the jewellery, bought some jewellery, walked around the garden and soon began asking if they could buy flower bouquets and some of the garlic they saw growing.
So I made bouquets and sold them and sold some garlic too. I learned that I really liked growing food and flowers for the folks in my little neighbourhood so I did more of it the following year.

Nowadays I grow enough vegetables and flowers to make flower bouquets and vegetable baskets for delivery to weekly and biweekly customers. I also do flowers for weddings and other events that take place on the island. I have a wonderful regular clientele that keeps growing every year. I grow lots of our own food too! My jewellery studio is in disarray, waiting for my attention.

There's still so much I need to do in order to create the sort of beautiful and efficient production garden that I dream of and I continue the work of developing that many ideas to work on for the future!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Christina's Garden blog!!

The full moon is here tomorrow and I have a new blog for the garden. I'm so excited!

As I endeavour to live life in harmony with nature, I make my best efforts to pay attention to the phases of the moon.
The New Moon is said to be a powerful time for setting intentions and the Full Moon is the time when those things come to fruition.
This month, at this Full Moon time I'm so grateful for what has emerged from my intention setting at New Moon time.....this blog!

My hope is that I'll enjoy sharing my garden-growing lifestyle related experiences here and that others I connect with will also enjoy it. And maybe we'll all learn a few things too :)
Thanks for reading!