Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On the Inside

Although the sun has been out this week half the yard is still covered in snow and I'm not able to garden. So I thought I would spend a little time with my indoor friends.

After seeing photos of so many lovely orchids on others blogs I was tempted.  Even though I've killed one before I decided I was willing to try again.  How was I to resist when they put them next to the check out counter.  Got you gum, check.  Got your magazine, check.  Got your orchid, check check.

New life is taking hold in the bathroom window

These little spider babies are sprouting roots in the Unbreakable Bodum, which promptly broke one month after purchase.  Oh well, at least it's found a new purpose in life.

More yellow flowers, I do love yellow.

African violets, you can never have too many.  I love the little guy in the back with the spot on his forehead.

A sure sign of good things to come, pussycats are lounging in the suddenly warm sunshine.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Triumphs and Tragedies

It's been so lovely this week.  The sun was out, the snow was melting.  It really felt like spring was well on it's way.  I even found these.

I read recently that voles like to eat bulbs and I had resigned myself to thinking that the muscari bulbs I planted under the birch trees wouldn't likely see spring.  A Triumph.  It appears that the majority of the bulbs have made it through the winter and will likely flower.

In typical fashion, Tragedy quickly followed Triumph.  I woke up Friday to a snow storm.  The wind was blowing, the snow was falling and it is highly unlikely I will be able to do any gardening this weekend.  I suppose the positive outlook is that it's easier to wipe snow off my truck than it is to scrape off frozen rain.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It's Seed Time!

I got very excited last week as the outside temperatures became increasingly warmer and the snow began to recede.  Although I wasn't intending to start seeds indoors just yet the next thing you know I was elbow deep in seed packets and peat.  I just couldn't resist.

Last year was our first gardening season in this house and I wasn't sure what to expect in the yard so I didn't bother starting any seeds indoors.  This year though I know what plants are in the yard and what beds are available so I decided to drag out my seed equipment and dive in.

The first issue was sorting out my equipment.  My heat mat had died in the cross country move and I also sold my lighting fixture back in British Columbia.  The first thing I did was purchase a 20 x 20 inch heating mat from Lee Valley and a lighting fixture was put together by hubby.  Two fluorescent plant lights were purchased at the hardware store along with various wires and a music stand.  I'm not sure about the particulars but I'm thrilled with the results.  The light is attached to a music stand that moves up and down so I can adjust the light as the plants grow.  Very cool.

Looking up at the light fixture
With those pieces in place I was able to pull my self watering seed tray out of a box and set it up.  The deep tray is filled with water and sits on top of the heat mat.  A second plastic tray sits overtop the water and holds a watering mat which soaks up the warm water transporting it to the small propators sitting on top.  The idea is that there is a vast quantity of warm water always being provided to your seeds and less chance of them drying out and expiring.  I'm not really doing justice to the mechanics of it here but it really is a marvelous invention.  

This is a photo of the whole contraption below.

The big piece of white cardboard was a genius idea from Janet at Plantaliscious.  She talked about using a light coloured board to reflect light and make sure your seedlings grow straight and strong.  Well just as I was thinking of seedlings what should show up in the recycling at work.  Somebody was doing a presentation and when it was over they left this great big,  pre-folded board just for me to find!  The world works in mysterious ways.  Thus far it seems to be doing the trick, instead of lighting up the whole room the light hits the board and is reflected back at the seedlings.  Judging from my amaranthus (Love Lies Bleeding) seedlings below I'd say it's working well.

I admit I didn't look at the packages too closely before planting.  Bad choice.  The amaranthus germinated in 2 days and they're now an inch tall.  They will be gigantic before I can plant them out.  Should have waited a few more weeks.  There's nothing like learning through trial and error.  The basil sprouted just a day or two after the amaranthus but has yet to reach any great heights.  Hopefully they will take it slow but I probably should have waited a little longer to plant these as well.

Onions, tomatoes and mystery seeds from MIL (Dianthus?) have also been planted.  A few heirloom pink tomatoes have begun to sprout but everyone else is taking their time to join the party.  In the coming weeks I will plant more flower seeds and bring in the currants that I cold stratified outdoors and see if I can't bring them to life.  I think starting plants from seeds might possibly be my favourite aspect of gardening.  I'm always amazed at how something so tiny with a little water and warmth catches hold of life and turns into a plant.  Having a hand in that process is incredibly amazing and it's a thrill each year to look at a plant that I started from seed. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Beyond Grass

There have been some new readers joining us recently and with the upcoming gardening season soon approaching I thought this would be a good time to elaborate on what sort of garden plans lay ahead for us here on the Corner this season.

When we purchased this home one of its positive and negative attributes was it's blank condition.  The house sits on close to 3 acres and the bulk of the property was made up of lawn.  Plain old grass that required excessive amounts of mowing.  The benefit to this was the property was a blank canvas.  We could plant anything we wanted, do anything we wanted, virtually unencumbered by someone else's previous designs.  That blank canvass is both a hindrance and a blessing.  There's a lot of work required to landscape such a large property but I'm excited by the possibilities before me.  We moved into the house in late fall 2009 and last spring was our first gardening season.  The first thing we did, or didn't do rather, was mow the lawn.  We were horrified by the amount of gas and time that it took to mow the entire property and there was no reason to do it.  I don't need a lawn to do cartwheels on.  What I want are flowers.  So we left the 'back' section grow wild and were delighted with the results.  What I hadn't realized was that our 'lawn' was really just an old farm field and when let go it became a beautiful wild meadow.

By allowing the field to regenerate we have become a haven of wildflowers and grasses.  I'm thrilled and hope to expand on this.  Currently I'm reading The American Meadow Garden: Creating a Natural Alternative to the Traditional Lawn and it's giving me all sorts of ideas on how to encourage native plants and flowers and create a meadow that both encourages wildlife and is a beautiful garden.

As much as I love the meadow I do find the property is very open to the elements.  In all seasons the wind sweeps across our yard, shaking the house and sending snow and dirt flying.  To combat these issues and provide some privacy I decided we needed trees.  Trees will provide wind resistance, screen out the road and neighbours, provide food and shelter to wildlife and beauty.  Last spring I visited our local native nursery, MacPhail Woods, and purchased and planted 25 native trees and shrubs.  Unfortunately, as seen in my last post, not all of these have survived.  A frustrating setback but I am determined to visit MacPhail nursery again this spring and continue with my plan to add some woody plants to this property.

Yellow birch is native to PEI and suited to the local conditions
The bulk of the trees and shrubs I have planted thus far have been native ones because I think it's important to maintain some natural spaces.  These plants will support local wildlife and have a higher probability of survival as they are already adapted to the climate conditions and the soil. 

As much as I love native plants I also love exotic flowers as well.  In addition to the meadow I'm also planning a garden area that is it's exact opposite.  I'm hoping to create a small oasis behind the garage where hollyhocks can intermingle with plume poppy, hostas and catalpa.  In my mind's eye I see big leaves and bright colours.  It will be a spot for the plant collector in me.

As these plantings are done and begin to grow I'm hoping that wildlife will move in and enjoy the hidden spaces that will be created.  Already I can see some positive transitions taking place.  Yesterday while I was walking around and enjoying the spring sunshine I came across this guy.

I knew the feral cats were occupying the upstairs portion of the garage but I have long suspected we had residents downstairs as well.  Turns out I was right.  I wasn't the only one who decided to get a dose of sunshine.  Two skunks were wandering about the yard, digging in the grass looking for a tasty meal.  
Digging next to an old tree trunk for grubs
The skunks have been in hibernation and are likely quite hungry after a long winter.  They certainly looked quite skinny and were very busy digging.  Too busy to notice me snapping their photo.

Skunks are often regarded as pests and certainly their smell can be offensive but they are also great garden assistants.  They have a big appetite for insects, including june bugs, slugs, ants and grasshoppers.  With these guys on patrol the insect population in my garden should be kept in check and maintain a healthy balance.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Triumphs and Tragedies

I don't know how it happened.  One day we were in the minus double digits and the snow was blowing, the next day the temperatures had sky rocketed and we were melting like a popsicle on a hot summer day.  It's actually made it possible for me to venture into our yard for the first time in months.  So, now that I'm able to walk around and check on the garden's progress it's now time to bring back Triumphs and Tragedies.

If you're new to Canoe Corner Triumphs and Tragedies is generally posted on Friday or Saturday of each week.  I take a walk around in my garden and discuss the week's progress.  The good and the bad.

This Week's Triumph

Well the weather alone is enough to make me jump for joy.  Where the snow was once 4 feet deep it's only past my ankles now (okay there's some drifts that come to my knees but I'm thinking positive!).  There are puddles of water, the sun is shining and it's warm.  Oh boy it's warm.  We've even gone a few days without a fire in our wood stove.  Spring has officially made it's presence known and not a minute too soon.  This has been one long stormy winter and my whole body is breathing a sigh of relief.

Hey look it's GRASS!

The branches on this lilac are full of buds just itching to burst


A couple weeks ago I was reading Laurrie's blog, My Weeds Are Very Sorry.  She talked about her trees being girdled by voles over the winter.  While reading I was struck by one of those 'oh dear' moments.  My trees were covered in snow, there are mice under that snow, and I did not think to protect my trees.  In fact, this is new to me.  On the west coast we don't have snow for very long, if at all.  Critters living under the snow are unheard of.  So I had no notion of what might happen.  Well my first walk out in the yard confirmed my fears.  Let's just say there was a very loud, very long, string of profanity that came out of my mouth.

Several inches of the trunk and an entire branch were stripped of bark
This is my beloved red oak.  A $50 dollar tree that I purchased and pampered last spring.  I worried about damage to the tap root and doted on it with water and compost and it did so well.  Growing almost a foot over the summer, it seemed well established, happy.  I was so proud of that darn tree and I've never felt more sick than when I saw this damage.  And it wasn't the only victim.  Several white birch were also chewed to pieces by those rotten vermin.

The entire bottom portion of the trunk was stripped on this
white birch and a small branch eaten to a nub
The birch aren't as expensive as the oak and I planted about a half dozen of them so while I was upset there were still trees to be salvaged.  The oak however was a single specimen and my prize purchase.  I put it in a prime spot for viewing it's lovely fall colour and I'm kicking myself so hard right now for not taking steps to protect it.  I don't think there's a chance it'll recover.  It's completely girdled right round the truck.  Heck they even gnawed around the branches.  So it looks like there will be another trip to the tree nursery later in the spring and this time I'll be buying those plastic guards to deter the mice.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pruning Apple Trees in Winter

Yes that's right.  I said pruning in winter.

Although it's cold and snowy, winter is a great time to prune as the apple trees are dormant.  That means there isn't any sap flowing.

Decked out in full winter attire
If you cut while the sap is flowing it may bleed, attracting insects and bacteria which can lead to disease. In winter there are no insects and the cold doesn't allow for bacteria growth. Also consider that sap is the source of a tree's food and energy. If you prune out branches in winter, when the sap does begin to flow that energy will be directed to the branches that are intact. A tree that is pruned during summer will still send energy to a pruned branch. That energy will have nowhere to go and will result in excess vertical growth called water spouts.

Notice the water spouts at the base of this trunk, on the right side.
Another reason to prune in winter is that you want to clearly see the structure of the tree so you know exactly what branches you are removing. Cutting when the branches are bare of leaves and apples allows you to do this.

You also don't want to prune when there are apples on the tree. Falling branches can knock apples down or bruise them.

Pruning in winter doesn't come without its issues though.  We found ourselves sinking in the deep snow so we decided to strap on snowshoes.  They proved a bit difficult to manuvre in.

I now know that trying to walk backgrounds through snow while dragging heavy branches is difficult at the best of times, let alone doing it in showshoes. Perhaps waiting a few more weeks for the snow to disipate couldn't have hurt.  It is okay to wait for the weather to be more cooperative, just make sure you prune before it gets too warm.  We did this pruning almost a month ago and could still prune now in mid-March but spring is quickly approaching and I wouldn't want to wait much longer.

Now you might be wondering, didn't we prune our apple trees in November too?  It's true, we did.  At that time we were simply removing dead branches which is something you can do at any time of year.  If a branch is dead nothing more can hurt it so you can feel free to remove these branches whenever you see them.  We also removed three trees in their entirety.  Again, at this point you're killing the tree anyway so it doesn't matter when it's done.

If we removed dead branches in November you might wonder what were we pruning for now?

This tree had many low hanging branches on the left side.
Since our orchard hasn't received any attention in quite some time we were focussed on removing branches to make it more accessible and easier to maintain.  Hubby has to mow the grass around the orchard and was having a lot of difficulty.  I also found myself getting hit in the head by low branches so we attempted to remove as many of those as possible.
A small chainsaw was used to remove the large low hanging limbs.
It is important to note that you should never remove more than one third of a tree's branches at any given time when pruning.  Sometimes we forget that a large portion of a tree lives underground.  The size of the root system is in proportion to the canopy and if too much of the canopy is removed the balance is disrupted.  As noted earlier this can cause water spouts and other irregular growth. 
Many branches came down from many trees
but never more than 1/3 from a single tree.
This pruning is the first step towards renovating this old orchard.  Next year we will concentrate on pruning branches higher in the tree canopies to improve air circulation and light which will benefit fruit production.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Surprise

My mother in law is not a gardener.  But she is an incredibly supportive woman and I love her enthusiasm. It was Jody's birthday on Monday and along with a present and birthday wishes for him she also enclosed a surprise for me.

What's in those bags?!
Any guesses why I'm smiling so?

Let's get a closer look.

Now you know why I was smiling.  Those bags are full of seed heads.  I don't know where she got them as she doesn't have a garden of her own.  And I don't know what they are either as this is how they were labeled.

I had a good laugh when I read that.  My mother does the same thing.  She often gives me seeds or cuttings and when I ask what they are she'll say "oh, you know, those red things that Mary has in her garden, they're really pretty, take them".  There are gardeners who have no use for labels.  I can understand that.  They tend to get lost in the dirt or otherwise go missing.  Or the nursery labeled the plant wrong to start with.  Or those scientific folk decide to move a flower from one genus to another.  Sometimes it's good to let go of our tendency to want to divide everything into different boxes and just say, hey that's a pretty yellow bushy flower.

That said, I am curious.  Mother in law lives in Montana, which is a USDA garden zone 4 so hopefully these seeds will grow in my Canadian zone 5 garden.  Let's take a closer look shall we.

These seed heads were labeled yellow gold magenta flower.   Guesses?

I KNOW!!     I KNOW!!

These are echinacea.  I'm thrilled as I'm intending to work on the wildflower meadow in coming years and these seeds will be a wonderful addition.

The seed head above was marked small red flower with white center.  I have a guess as to what these might be - possibly sweet william - but has anyone else got some thoughts on this?

I didn't get a photo of the yellow bushy flowers as they were quite small and delicate but I have a feeling it may be potentilla.  

The last pack of seeds contained these.

The envelope was marked yellow trumpet flower seeds.  These pods are thick and hard like a bean but the seeds are like small light flakes.  They make me think of a lily but I don't know of any lilies that produce a seed like this.  I'd love to hear some guesses if you got them.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Prince Edward Island Through the Eyes of Google

I was catching up on my blogging this weekend and came across an excellent article from one of PEI's resident bloggers.   I've recently begun expanding my reading material from strictly garden reading to other areas and realized that PEI has a wealth of bloggers writing about this island and their various interests.  Gary Gray at Hidden Island Paradise is one of those.  Gary shares PEI's many virtues with his readers and his love of this island is prevalent.  I particularly loved this article Gary wrote.  A glimpse at how the internet has changed our world, bringing together art and computers, connecting people across the seas and showing off all our little island has to offer.

Anyway, enough of my blabbering.  Go visit Gary's blog and read for yourself.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

On the Inside

When we moved from British Columbia to Prince Edward Island we packed our possessions into our truck and trailer and drove across the country.  Unfortunately there wasn't a lot of room and many items had to be sold or given away.  When we arrived at our new house I'm a little embarassed to admit that we had but two lawn chairs in our possession for furniture.  For the past year we've lived a little bit like college kids camped out in a rental house.  Our furnishings have been sparse and there were rooms that were completely empty.  For that reason I don't often show photos of inside our home.  But slowly we have begun to renovate this old house and fill it with the necessities for living.  I looked around recently and realized, hey, this is starting to look like a home.  In light of this realization I thought I would share a few happy photos of a home, that now looks like it might be lived in.

A happy cat is a sign of a happy home.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What Do I Put In My Compost

TS at Casa Mariposa recently wrote a post called Tums in the Tomatoes.  She discussed the many little tricks that we use in our gardens that might not be known to others and encouraged fellow bloggers to share our own homegrown tips.

At first I didn't really think I had any ideas to share.  There is no magic up my sleeve, no miracle concoction that saves my plants from disease.  But then I realized that perhaps the way I do things is particular to me.  For instance, many of us compost but what items you put in your compost might be different than what I would put in.  And how you use your finished compost might be different as well.

I use an old milk crate to sift my compost and remove any large chunks
One example I thought of has to do with soggy vegetables.  Really truly disgusting.  eww.  Some people boil their vegetables (ahem, mom) so there's barely anything left of the vegetable and all the goodness is left in the water.  Personally I steam everything but even steaming leaves behind water rich with the drippings of vegetable juices.  Rather than throw this water down the sink I let it cool and then add it to my kitchen bucket.  This small bucket is dumped once a week into my large compost bin.  A little water with the vegetable clippings helps rinse out the bucket and adds much needed moisture to my compost pile to help it break down.  This water has the added benefit of being rich in plant juice which my compost bacteria just love.

Another thing that happens to me is the trimming of house plants.  While I have managed to grow most anything I've put my mind to out of doors, inside is another story.  Deaths occur, leaves go brown.  Haircuts ensue.  When this happens I get out my pruners and drop all those dead trimmings into my compost bucket.

Even dried leaves are beneficial to your compost pile.

A big source of compost in our house is the wood boiler.  Ashes from previous fires are cooled in a metal garbage can and then added to the compost.  Wood ashes are great for combatting acidic soil due to their high lime content.  Our apple trees are suffering from pitting due to acidic soil and I intend to spread wood ashes around the orchard in spring to combat this condition.

Using firewood means there's a lot of mess in our house.  I'm constantly sweeping the basement floor and that material is also added to the compost bin.  Wood chips, dirt, moss and lichen are all organic matter that contributes to a thriving compost pile.

One thing I never put in my compost is meat.  But that doesn't mean it's wasted.  Trimmed fat gets fried up and chopped into small pieces for our feral cats.  It's a welcome treat for them when they need to pack on some winter fat.

If you have any tips you would like to share or if you would like to hear others tips, please join TS at Casa Mariposa.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It's A Cat's World

Let me be clear.  My cat is not allowed on the kitchen counters.  That is highly unsanitary and not acceptable.  There's more than enough other things for him to climb on.

But he's a good cat and would never do such a thing anyway. 

*sigh*  It's hard to be angry when they're so darn cute.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

This Old House

Carolyn from Carolyn's Shade Gardens visited and let me know that Les at A Tidewater Gardener is currently hosting a meme called Winter Walk Off and encouraged me to add this post to the challenge.  After viewing Les' blog I was very happy to do so.  Les is encouraging people to get outside and go for a walk, documenting their journey on the way.  What could be better as spring approaches to get outside and take in some fresh air after a long winter inside.  Now obviously some of the photos below weren't taken recently but I'm hoping Les will forgive me as the snowy photos at the end were taken just last weekend.  Although I will admit that day the wind was so biting cold that our walk ended sooner than expected and we found ourselves instead lounging at a local pub.  

If you would like to join the Winter Walk Off Challenge you can find more details here.

p.s.  I would highly suggest trying the bread pudding with rum sauce at Rum Runners in Charlottetown. just saying

This Old House magazine recently chose Charlottetown, PEI, as one of Canada's best Old House Neighbourhoods for 2011.  To celebrate this achievement I thought I would post a few pictures of some of the homes you can see around the city.  One of my favourite past times is walking around some of the neighbourhoods on my lunch hours and ogling the beautiful homes.  Here are some of my favourites.

That's me drooling over this house while Jody takes a picture from across the street.

Just as beautiful in winter

No gaps between these old houses, they're using each other to keep warm
Some of these historical homes are public spaces and open for touring.  Beaconsfield, seen below, is one of them.

This home is just as beautiful inside as it is outside.  Chock full of intricate details from exotic wood paneling to tiled floor there's enough to see here to keep you occupied for hours.

 Even the door hinges were beautiful.

If you're interested in seeing more photos of historic houses located in Prince Edward Island or learning about their history I would highly recommend the following books:  Inside Island Heritage Homes: Two hundred years of domestic architecture on Prince Edward Island and Heritage Houses of Prince Edward Island: Two hundred years of domestic architectureBoth are written by local author James W. Macnutt  and are beautifully photographed.  We own both of these books and often refer back to them when thinking about the work we are doing renovating our own historic home.

Heritage Houses of Prince Edward Island: Two hundred years of domestic architectureInside Island Heritage Homes: Two hundred years of domestic architecture on Prince Edward Island
Clicking on the images will take you to Amazon where you can purchase these volumes for your own library.