Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Winter Storage for Dahlia Tubers

I'm a huge fan of dahlias.  Big blossoms and small, cactus petals and pom poms, white, yellow, red, pink and orange.

But every year there's the question of where to store all those tubers?

Last year was my first time in our new home storing tubers and it was a struggle deciding where to keep them.  I initially put them in the basement but that was a failure.  Our basement doubles as Jody's workshop and is kept relatively warm in winter.  Halfway through the winter the tubers were beginning to dry out.  

This year I had to try something different.  I need a spot that is cool and dark but not damp.  Light, warmth and moisture will cause the tubers to start growing and we want them to become dormant.  Too much moisture and they may rot.  Too dry and they may wither and die.

This is my bay window in the dining room.  The bench holds my houseplants on top but underneath there is a secret hiding spot.

Pull back the cover and lift the lid.

The seat has a compartment below which is not insulated.  It's quite cool down there and quite dark with the lid on.  A perfect spot to hide dahlia tubers!  And it keeps them out of the way for the winter season.  I put the tubers down there in the fall and I checked them for the first time this week.

My yellow dahlia has grown to epic proportions and wouldn't fit in a box so I put it in this extra large brown garden bag with some peat.  A look inside revealed the tubers are still nice and firm.  No signs of rot or withering.  Absolutely perfect.

A cardboard box filled with tubers didn't fare as well.

Sprouts were peaking out the top.  Either too much warmth or light is causing these tubers to begin to grow.  My guess is too much light as the peat in the box was barely enough to cover the roots.  They should have been completely covered with plenty to spare.  Apparently I was in too much of a hurry when I put them away.    

The good news is the tubers are very healthy.  As you can see above the bulb is plump, no signs of drying up and they feel solid to the touch.  So what does one do when their dahlias decide to start growing a bit early?

Well in my case I've had this happen before and I let them grow.  I take a cardboard box and mix up some potting soil and plant my dahlia in it.  I water it, put it in a bright window and watch it take off.  The sudden change in conditions is all the plant needs to start growing.  By the time the weather has warmed sufficiently outside my plants are quite large and more than ready to be planted out in the garden.  I harden them off for a few days first and then outside they go.  The result - extra early blooms in the garden - and that makes me very happy.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Broken Apple Branches

Although the majority of action in the apple orchard takes place in the fall it is only now in mid-winter that I finally find myself with the time to spare to talk about the goings on there.  The problem with having an apple orchard is that from August to November we are consumed by apples.  There is no time for anything else.  We pick from trees, we collect them from the ground, we constantly taste test to check for ripeness, we compost them, we bake and cook and freeze.  Now in February, with a mug of cider and a slice of pie to sustain me, I'm finally able to talk about it.

An issue we have noticed after two seasons of caring for this orchard is that by the end of summer the tree limbs are heavy with fruit and hanging low to the ground.  The apples are fully formed but not yet ripe and we found this year there can be disastrous consequences in this situation if your trees aren't prepared to bear the load.

This tree at the front of our property produces bushels of apples each year.  This year, under the weight of all that fruit, one of the limbs gave way.

Unfortunately it was not a clean break.  Instead it ripped the bark right from the trunk which is further bad news for this tree.  Tears in the bark are prime targets for fungus and disease to infest your plant.  We were able to cut the branch off but the damage was already done.

As you can see the branch that came down was loaded with unripe apples which were a loss.  And now the tree is open to having its health compromised.

This open wound is now a prime target for disease
What could have been done to prevent this?  Early each summer we thin our apple trees removing fruit that is too small or shows signs of deformities and disease.  By thinning the fruit we are providing the apples that remain with more space and nutrients to grow their very best.  However, thinning fruit is also another way to decrease the weight load on your trees so that branches don't become too heavy and snap.

Another preventative measure is to carefully prune your fruit trees when they are young.  Branches should be evenly spaced and grow at a wide angle from the trunk.  Ideally the angle should be 60 to 70 degrees from the tree trunk.  Branches growing at an angle of 45 degrees or less are at higher risk of breakage due to bark build up between the branch and the tree trunk.

This old tree already has a number of health problems and I suspect it won't last much longer but we'll be watching other trees in the orchard this year for branches that look overly heavy and acting accordingly.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Budgeting for Seed

Way back in December I drew up a plan for the 2012 garden and a budget to go with the plan.  I allotted $20 for seeds in the vegetable garden.  Well the first step towards this season's vegetable garden has been taken and after much flipping through catalogues and online perusing, the orders have been filled and my seed compartment in the fridge is overflowing.  Let's see how I did.

From Heritage Harvest Seed in Manitoba came the heirloom seeds.  Australian Brown Onion, Andrina cherry tomato, Bison and Martino's Roma tomato.  This company has the most ridiculously huge selection of heirloom tomatoes I have ever seen and it was incredibly difficult to choose.  In all I spent just under $20 - the amount I had originally intended to spend on my ENTIRE seed order this year.


In my defence, these are hard to find seeds and worth the money.  I also forgot to budget for shipping.  Something to remember next year.  On the bright side they sent me a bonus packet of Starfire tomato seeds.  After an entire winter without homemade tomato soup due to last summer's blight I'm dreaming of a huge harvest this year to make up for it.

The second order came from the Halifax Seed Company.  Luckily I found myself in Halifax recently and was able to buy the seeds myself so there were no shipping charges.  Still $18 later I have spent almost double what I said I would.  I walked out with Chantenay carrots, Early Sugar Pie pumpkin, Laurentian rutabagas, Black Beauty zucchini, Mr. Big peas and a package of innoculent.  I've never grown rutabagas or zucchini before so this will be a fun year.  The pumpkins were a last minute addition and will likely end up growing not in the garden but on my loose compost pile.  I've heard this is a good way to grow squash as they are heavy feeders and frankly, there's no room in the garden for that huge vine!  But I couldn't resist.  Pumpkin is a winter favourite here in cookies and sweet bread as well as soup.  I also received a complimentary packet of mesclun lettuce when I purchased Niki Jabour's new book The Year Round Vegetable Gardener.  Another bonus!

And then just when I thought I was done a dear relative emailed to say she had sent seeds in the mail for me!  Peas, beans, chinese cabbage, kale, cauliflower, corn salad, giant red mustard, arugula, four kinds of lettuce, and two kinds of tomatos!!  whew, that's a load of seed.  So despite the fact that I overspent this year I've gotten much more than my money's worth with all the freebies.

Now it's back to the drawing board with the budget.  Obviously $20 wasn't nearly sufficient for what I needed but I'm not keen for the whole budget to continue this way.  Perhaps the extra $20 I spent can be deducted from somewhere else but what will I give up?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Versatile Blogger

A bloggie award has been going around lately (gosh that sounds like a flu bug you might catch) and over the past month I've been nominated four times for the Versatile Blogger award! (thank goodness this is much nicer than the flu)  A big thank you to

Jean  @ Jean's Garden - one of the most organized gardeners I know
Karin @ Southern Meadows - who inspires with the many horticultural classes she is undertaking
Kevin @ Nitty Gritty Dirt Man - fellow seed addict
Norah @ Aagaard Farms - who raises some of the darn cutest pigs I've ever laid eyes on

Blog awards have rules so here goes (following them is another matter):
  1. Include the Versatile Blogger Award logo in the post.
  2. Thank the blogger who nominated you with a link back to their blog.
  3. Share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.
  4. Include this set of rules.
  5. Forward this award to 15 fellow bloggers, and inform them with a comment on each of their blogs.
Next step is the random pieces of information bit.  Sounded like something you might do on a first date so with that thought in mind I figured I would go for some classic getting to know you information.

1.  My Favourite Book.  I'm a reader and have been as long as I can remember.  In fact this photo below is of my current pile of books waiting to be read.  

It doesn't even include the books downloaded to my Kobo!  As you can see there's garden books, victorian novels, biography, fiction and non-fiction.  Fiction is by far my favourite and Jeanette Winterson is a favourite writer.  I read her novel The Passion when I was in college and it's stuck with me over the years.

2.  Favourite Movie.  I'm not picky.  Science fiction, drama, comedy, documentaries.  I'll watch pretty much anything and if I like it I will watch it over and over again.  One of my favourite activities when we lived in the city was attending the annual International Film Festival.  A few movies on my over and over again list are Dumb and Dumber; Harvey; Harold and Maude; The Others and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

3.  Favourite Colour.  Well that would depend on what it's being used for.  I love red and own a number of red jackets and sweaters.  I even painted the piano room floor red.  In the garden I love yellow, bright and vibrant it glows in the late summer sun.  Green is calming to me.  New green in spring on the trees, shady green spots on a hot summer day, bright green peridot earings, green t-shirts and green glass vases lined up in my bay window.

4.  Favourite Music.  Despite the fact that I grew up listening to 80's pop music I prefer folk music to anything else.  Musicians who can write and play and sing have all of my respect.  My itunes playlist heavily features Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens and John Denver.

5.  Favourite Food.  Grilled kebabs in summer, anything that features cilantro, home made tomato soup, and my weakness, good chocolate.

6.  Favourite Flower in the Garden.  Well it is a garden blog so I couldn't not tell you about my favourite flowers.  Dahlias are like candy to me.  I can't have just one.  So many sizes and colours and shapes.

Just when I think I have no more room in my house to store the tubers I buy another one.  

And now for my reading list of fellow bloggers.  This is a list of blogs I frequent on a regular basis for their good sense, their candid writing and their ability to share their gardens and their lives in such a delightful manner.  Please take a moment to visit their blogs.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Happy Ending Story

This winter has been a mild one in PEI.  Plenty of sunny days and above freezing temperatures.  Rain instead of snow.  But winter has finally set in and with it came the storms.  One week ago we had a blizzard.  The day started out nicely.  Warm even.  So warm we had rain at first.  Then, as the day wore on, the temperatures began to plummet and rain gave way to ice pellets.  Eventually that night the temperature hit -20 and the wind howled turning it to -35 wind chill.  Then it began to snow.  15 cm of snow.  Not a very nice night to be outside.

However, there were two folks outside that night.  These two.

Priscilla and Funnyface last spring
Initially I wasn't worried.  They have an out of the way spot under the porch as well as a straw filled carrier in the garage to hide in.  They would be fine.  However, the next day they were nowhere to be seen.  Not unusual though as the wind was still blowing and they often disappear in these conditions.  Four days later I was worried though, and sick with the feeling that they weren't with us any longer.  There was no sign of them in the garage.  We tore apart the porch thinking they may have frozen under there but we did not find them.  Wherever they went it wasn't somewhere we were aware of.  What were the chances they had survived?  100 to 1 maybe.  Feral cats do not live long lives.  It is to be expected.  The conditions are harsh.

But sometimes a miracle happens.

His toes still look sore but he's quite healthy and happily alive
Watching tv Sunday night I heard a noise.  Likely all in my head but nevertheless I turned on the porch light and looked out as I have done many times this past week.  This time there was a cat.  Just one.  Incredibly dirty, and very skinny, waiting at the door.  He was in one piece.  No signs of injury so I yelled for Jody who ran up from the basement and grabbed some food for this poor soul.  And as we yelled and exclaimed over him another furry face came running up the steps.

Priscilla's cold is back after missing her medication this week but nothing some TLC won't cure.
The family is back together again.  And it really is a miracle.  Today we followed their footprints through the snow trying to discover where they had been.  We found this.

Across the road there is the old Canoe Cove Schoolhouse.  The cats had gone there and crawled under the building.  When the snow blew it drifted up against the sides of the building trapping them.  We know now why Funnyface was so dirty.  I'm not sure how they knew where to dig but it appears they clawed their way through the dirt and a sheet of plastic to escape.  It took 7 days and a whole lot of courage and we're so thrilled to have them back.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Learning About Permaculture

When my garden started flooding this past week I suddenly remembered a topic my niece had talked to me about some time ago.   She had taken a class in permaculture and told me about how this system directs water in the garden through the use of swales.  I really didn't know anything about permaculture  so I had to look it up and I discovered that it refers to landscape design that uses naturally occuring patterns in nature to maximize land use and agricultural production.  What I realized as I read is that many of the practices gardeners are encouraged to use such as mulching and using compost are the same practices that permaculture advocates.  However, permaculture takes it a step further by combining these practices into a cohesive garden design.  Instead of focusing on individual steps, permaculture views the garden as a whole ecosystem.

A large part of permaculture appears to be planning.  To create a permaculture garden you must plan it first, then plant it.  A difficult task for me as I'm terrible at planning in the garden.  But after viewing my niece's design it didn't look so hard after all.

The general shape of the beds and a couple large buildings and plants are accounted for but it isn't so detailed as to be daunting.  The most important aspect of the plan is the use of water.  A rain barrel (not pictured) is installed at the highest point in the yard and then water is diverted from the barrel to the garden using the simple principle of gravity.  Water runs through swales which are built through every bed delivering water to the plants.  When I looked at this design I saw how simple it was and wondered how I had never considered this before.  Now looking at water collection in my own garden bed I'm thinking about how these design principles might work for me.

One aspect of permaculture that I found really interesting is the social nature of this idea.  Permaculture is more than just a design principle, it has become a movement.  After planning her garden at permaculture classes my niece held a blitz at her home.  The blitz involved the entire class coming together in her yard and over the course of a couple days turning her design into reality.

Everyone grabbed a shovel and began to dig
Sod was dug up and swales were installed.  Beds were made and covered with cardboard, compost, bone meal, grass clippings, straw and leaves.  So much work was completed so quickly because everyone came together to make it so.

My niece Julia posing in her new garden
I asked my niece about this movement and how permaculture had impacted her and she responded "It is about grass roots earth repair.  Transforming a non-productive resource sucking space, like a yard full of grass, to a food producing self-sustaining system.... I can build a food forest in my backyard.  I can grow a lot of my own food.  I can find most of my materials from back alleys: bricks, leaves, coffee grounds from coffee shops.  I can meet many new faces and build a community and spread the word about permaculture".

Permaculture has become much more than just landscape designing.  It's striking a very personal chord with a lot of people.  As I searched the internet for information permaculture schools and classes popped up, news on the latest blitz, and photos of new gardens appearing in suburban yards.  It's amazing to see people coming together, talking about the environment, sharing their knowledge and their skills.  It reminded me of garden bloggers actually.  By talking about our gardens and how we garden we are spreading new ideas and encouraging one another.  What a fine idea that is.  I can see why it's catching on.


Julia took classes with Big Sky Permaculture in Calgary, Alberta.  You can learn more about their classes and view details about Julia's blitz here.