Thursday, June 28, 2012

How Quickly They Come

It feels like just yesterday I was posting about blooms on apple trees. 

I wondered in May if the sudden cold temperatures we experienced would affect the crop this year and now suddenly there they are.

It's hard to tell for certain at this point if it's a smaller crop or not as the apples on some trees are still forming so they're easy to overlook.  But other apples are already big enough that it's time for that annual chore of thinning.  The small apple tree in my flower bed loves all the added compost I put in for flowers and the apples are quite sizable already.  I'm busy thinning it as much as possible since last year part of this tree broke off in a storm when it was loaded with heavy apples.  The base is still unstable and likely always will be, so I need to remove as much weight as I can.  I do want to leave a few apples though as these are large beautiful apples with great taste and don't have any disease.  There I go!  With so many apple trees we really don't need any extra at all but I can never resist just one more.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Spreading the Love

One of the issues with creating bouquets for my own house is that I'm not often here so I don't get to enjoy them.

I spend every day at the office so only our flower sniffing cat really appreciates the delights that I bring indoors.

Not that the cat isn't important too but he can go outside whenever he pleases and sniff the flowers in the garden.

So I had a bright idea this week.  Why not bring the blooms to work where I can see them all day and others can appreciate them too.

Our office gets a boost of colour and I get to enjoy my blooms all day long.  Why didn't I think of this sooner?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Triumphs and Tragedies

Mixed blessings this weekend.  The weather is rainy and cool.  I would love to be out in the garden but tramping through the mud isn't much fun at all.  On the positive side it's been very dry here of late and the ground needs a good soaking.  I'm hoping my rain barrel gets filled and the new trees get a long drink.

During breaks in the weather I managed to snap a few photos.  At least overcast skies are good for photos.  We have lots of flowers suddenly bursting into bloom this week.

Peony buds are beginning to open

Chive blossoms
Weigela is starting to bloom
This highbush cranberry bush is really putting on a show this year.  We purchased two of these shrubs in the spring of 2010 and it's been funny watching them grow.  One shrub is tiny, only a couple feet tall.  It appears healthy but it's growth has been very subdued and it only has a few blooms.  The shrub pictured below, growing only a few feet away from the first one, got hit with the lawnmower not long after planting and its reaction was to put out more stems and grow like crazy.  It's now about 5 feet tall and covered in blooms.  

Nature's a strange beast sometimes.  Also odd is how the pink lupines are far outnumbering the blue ones this year.  I usually have a mix in the front bed but pink is the dominant colour this year.

The spicy sweet scent of the roses is filling the air right now.  I've never been a big fan of roses but these old fashioned beauties have wormed their way into my heart.

Last year I picked up Penstemon Prairie Dusk.  I've grown penstemons before but this cultivar was new to me.  I was expecting a soft purple flower on a two foot tall plant.  Instead I got this.

Less than a foot tall and hot pink.  Not what I was looking for at all.  Now I'm not sure what to do with this plant.  It's pretty but it doesn't quite fit the scheme I had in mind.  

Pink seems to be the colour of the day here.  Blooms on my Rhododendron catawbiense "Album" are starting to open.  These flowers are white with a yellow throat.  But the buds look pink?

Perhaps it's something in the water....

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Reaping the Rewards

Early this spring I was grumpy.  My vegetable beds were a mess.   Last August I quit weeding and it showed.  The beds were covered in a mass of twisted greens.  Clumps of dead lettuce that I hadn't bothered to pull in fall were still standing in place.  I had a lot of work to do and where I really wanted to be was in my flower garden.

It's hard work digging up weeds.  Edging beds and adding amendments to the soil.  At the time I muttered to myself about how I really wasn't much of a vegetable gardener anyway.  I prefer flowers so why was I wasting so much time digging about in these empty beds pulling rocks and heaving around bags of manure? 

Well I got my answer this week.  The past two seasons I have been attempting to grow spinach.  This shouldn't be a difficult thing.  In fact, I can't think of anything much easier to grow but for some reason the darn stuff just didn't like this garden.  It was yellow and stunted, the leaves curled and had white blotches.  This year I was determined to grow proper spinach.  I picked a bed and added a half dozen wheelbarrows of compost.  Then lime, blood meal, and bone meal.  And then topped it off with manure.  I really wanted that spinach.

This week I got it.  Dark green with perfectly rounded leaves.  The plants were so thick and plentiful that they even required thinning.  For those of you thinking - yuck spinach!  Oh boy yes spinach!  Fresh spinach doesn't have a bitter aftertaste which many associate with this vegetable.  In fact the flavour is quite mild.  And it's good for you.  High in iron, calcium and Vitamin A.  We use a lot of spinach - in salads, stir fries, omelettes and spanikopita.  But this first picking of spinach was extra special so we made one of our favourite salads.

Fresh spinach leaves coated with a balsamic vinegrette then topped with parmesan and chopped pear.  yum yum yum.  It almost made me forget the hours of labour in the vegetable patch.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Malware Warnings

Firstly, a big thank you for the many concerned emails and messages I've received today.  It seems many of you are receiving warnings from Google that my site has malware attached to it.  I wouldn't have known this had you not told me as oddly enough I wasn't receiving the warnings for my own site!

Not knowing what was going on I did some internet searching and discovered this is a big problem right now.  In a nutshell, malware is bouncing around from blog to blog and linking through our respective blogrolls.  You can read more about this issue in the attached links as well as some ideas of how to fix it if you are also being affected.

Luckily my blog doesn't appear to have malware itself but I had a blog listed in my roll that was affected.  In an effort to stop this malware from spreading I have removed both my regular blog roll and my PEI blog roll on a temporary basis.  Hopefully they will be reinstated in the near future.  Thanks again for your emails and happy blogging.

Monday, June 18, 2012

First Bouquet of the Season

Flowers have begun to appear in the last couple weeks and I was able to pick my first bouquet of the year recently.

While I don't have a large selection of flowers, it isn't necessary to have a huge vase full of blooms to make an impact.

These dainty red bells liven up any room.

With just a stem or two of asparagus and wild ferns to fill it out.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Triumphs and Tragedies

It's been a busy week.  I've been trying to write this post since Friday but distractions kept appearing.  Some good and some bad.

Triumphantly the strawberries are beginning to appear.  I drool just looking at them.

Tragically the crows like strawberries too.  So it was an emergency run to town yesterday to get wire mesh and ring nails to build a strawberry cage and keep those black feathered clowns out of my strawberry bed.  I love crows and their antics but nobody is getting away with snitching strawberries in my garden.

Our new strawberry cover fits right over top the raised bed.
We had a couple losses this week of the garden variety.  Tragically one of my Neon Blue Spruces met his demise.

Just this tiny stump and a few needles were all that was left.

He wasn't that large so he was hard to see through the grass.

A tight corner when cutting paths through the meadow meant an end to his short life.

Worse, one of our mature birches suffered some major damage.  We had a load of wood delivered this week.

This photo is from last season when we had wood delivered.
See the overhanging birch branch?
This is what it looks like when the wood guy comes.  It's a very big truck and very heavy.  You can see on the right of this photo the birch branch hanging over the drive.  Well it's not there anymore.  It got caught on those steel posts and resulted in this.

The branch had to be cut right off and there's some major damage to the trunk.  Luckily no one was hurt.  It's a shame about the tree though as this will likely spell it's demise.  It's an old tree and not in great health already so I can't imagine it will survive much longer given the extent of the damage.

But we know that where there's tragedy there's also triumph, right?  While at the Agro Co-op buying the wire and ring nails for the strawberry cover I wandered into their garden centre.  And came home with more trees for the yard.  At only $6.99 a piece it was a steal.  I picked up a Sugar Maple, Black Spruce, White Pine and a Blue Spruce to replace the one murdered by the lawn mower.  The best purchase though was this little guy.

I have been researching a new tree to put out in front of the house.  I wanted something ornamental that could withstand the clay in that part of the yard.  I had thought a Katsura would be a great fit but the only place to buy one is out near Kensington.  About an hour's drive away and I can never seem to find the time to get out there.  Well, wouldn't you know the Co-op had one single Katsura in their nursery just waiting for me to take it home.  That just made my day.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Vegetable Garden Implements

Creating plenty of garden beds was the first priority in the vegetable garden but there have been other beneficial additions made too that are making the veggie garden work well this season.

A double composting bin was the very first project we took on and it has been working wonders since the day it was installed.  Each season I have managed to empty at least two full bins of compost into my garden to use in flower beds, around newly planted trees and in veggie beds.  I can always use more compost it seems and this bin has worked hard to provide that for me.  Despite the large size though I still have more scraps that don't make it in.  Sawdust from Jody's workshop, sod dug up from new garden projects, apples from the orchard.  It's a never ending supply and I have a loose pile cooking beside the bin all the time.  Adding a second composter in another location would be a great future project.

Another great addition has been the rain barrel.

I only just acquired this barrel a few weeks ago but already it has worked wonders.  Previously there was no water source for this part of the yard.  The garage has no electricity or plumbing so a rain barrel has been the perfect solution.  Water is collected off the roof of the garage via gutters and so far has been used to water new veggie seedlings.  As the summer warms up tomatoes, squash and other thirsty plants will all use this water as well.  Previously I was running up to the house and filling buckets and bringing them back down which was heavy and tiring work.  Having a barrel of water right in the garden has made life much easier and more efficient.  It's so great in fact that I'm looking for a second barrel.  When it rains the first barrel fills up very quickly and having a second barrel to collect overflow would mean that during the long hot summer months I'm less likely to run out of water.

One more investment I made this year was tomato supports.

When we lived in BC I had a set of these tomato spirals but in the great move they were sold in a garage sale.  I've been missing them ever since.  So in February, while we were in Halifax, I visited Lee Valley and picked up another set.  These are the perfect way to grow a few indeterminate tomatoes without setting up a whole trellis system.  Each stake is made of steel and is 6 feet long so they can be buried deeply to provide strong support.  Having these I was able to plant some indeterminate varieties along with the bush variety tomatoes.

The best new addition I've made this year has been a very simple one.

Jody came home with a roll of plastic mesh from a second hand store one day and asked if I could use it.  I stashed it in the garage until an idea hit.  Every year I have trouble with cats digging in my garden beds.  I place straw over the beds in winter to keep them from digging but when I have to plant seeds the beds are left uncovered and the cats inevitably tear them up.  This year after planting I stretched rolls of that plastic mesh across the top of the beds and stapled it.  There's a couple inches below for seeds to take hold and the cats won't try walking across the mesh.  Finally!  my annual cat issue has been solved.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Just Triumphs

I'm needing some respite in the garden after a long and weary week.  I have no capacity for tragedy today, all I want to see is triumph.  So let's ignore the weeds shall we and just look at pretty things?

This bird feeder I picked up at a garage sale two summers ago was put out in the garden.  I don't actually feed the birds due to feline household members but I like the pretty carved birds that sit on the edge.

I toured the flower garden looking for new blooms and was not disappointed.  The sweet woodruff is pushing out new growth at the foot of the apple tree.

At the plant sale this year I bought three new hardy geraniums as I liked the dark green and highly divided foliage.  I had no idea what the blooms would look like but was delighted to find a few flowers adorning them now.

They are a mid-size bloom and quite purple.  A very pretty addition to this bed.

The hardy geraniums I purchased last year at the sale are also putting out flowers.  These are tiny blooms but they pack a punch.

That hot pink is quite visible even from a distance.  Jacob's ladder have also started to blossom.

I kept meaning to move these plants to another spot in the garden but now that they're blooming it will have to wait until fall or even next spring.

And finally, the roof is complete along with gutters.

Avert your eyes from the mass of weeds in the foreground
Roof shingles echo the look of cedar shingles on the side of the house
We found that putting the gutters back up was a lot harder than taking them down.  Were they straight? Did water run in the right direction when they were mounted?  Did the water leak out holes in the bottom instead of into the drain pipe?  Hoses, ladders, caulking and nails have figured prominently in our lives these last weeks but finally the work is through and I've been spending some time gawking at my new roof.  This old house is starting to look rather spiffy lately.  I wonder what will happen next?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Vegetable Garden Then and Now

Back in spring 2010 we had an empty palette to start our vegetable garden with.  A flat expanse of lawn provided endless possibilities.

By June 2010 we had added five raised beds.

The garden looks so empty in that photo.  Today it looks like this.

I think we've quadrupled the amount of space since those first beds.  Several more raised beds were added for strawberries and to provide a base for trellising.  As well a number of beds were dug in the ground.

That first year I tried to cram carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, cilantro, beets, radishes, and spinach all into those boxes.  It was a tight fit.

Today the list of vegetables is much longer and I'm no longer trying to force vegetables into tiny squares of earth.  Breathing space has been acquired.  This year's planting list included 8 varieties of tomatoes, beans, lettuce, zucchini, turnip, beets, carrots, radish, cucumber, spinach, onions, garlic, cilantro, oregano, chives, parsley, dill and peas.

Tomatoes got an extra large bed this year
with plenty of space to spread out.
Despite the expansion I'm still considering the possibility that we may require more room.  I would love to have a few blueberry bushes and grow my own potatoes in addition to the vegetables we already have.  I also wonder if there shouldn't be a second strawberry bed.  While we have a good variety of vegetables I'm not sure if there's enough of what we like.  Perhaps I overplanted tomatoes but could we use more carrots?

This raised bed is packed full of strawberries but will it be enough?
While assessing the garden this year I've also been keeping in mind some bits of information I learned this past February while visiting in Halifax.  I was lucky to be in the city when Niki Jabbour was presenting her new book The Year Round Vegetable Gardener.  Nicky lives a relatively short distance from me (as the crow flies) in Nova Scotia and her ideas on stretching the vegetable gardening season in our cold climate really hit home.  Having more kinds of vegetables in my garden is important but having them over a longer period of time would also be really beneficial.

One idea I used right away was to start planting cool season vegetables like lettuce and peas in April this year.  Normally I wouldn't try putting these in until mid-May but using Niki's advice I planted early and threw a tarp over the beds on freezing nights.  The result is that we were able to eat our first salad at the beginning of June.  The last two seasons we have waited until July to enjoy any greens.

Salad greens and peas were planted in early April
Looking at the vegetable garden now I'm really satisfied with all we've accomplished.  The basics are all there and with a little fine tuning over the coming years we should be able to produce more than enough food for us to live off for the better part of the year.

Both in their third season the rhubarb and asparagus are ready for picking

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Apple Blossoms in May

This year everything is on a fast track it seems.  The weather grew hotter earlier, the bulbs began to bloom weeks ahead of schedule and the apple blossoms followed closely behind.  In mid-May the pink buds were already starting to appear.

By the last week of May several of the trees were in full bloom.

As I checked back through the blog I realized that last year the apple trees weren't fully blooming until mid-June (see the post I Spy).  We are at least two weeks ahead of schedule this year.

Because of the variety of trees here not every tree blooms at the same time.

This yellow transparent apple tree is an early bloomer and it produces apples very early in the season as well.

Other trees follow in succession.

The pink buds slowly unfurling to reveal soft white blooms.

Normally we would get a couple weeks of blooms as each tree opens up.

But this year they faded quickly.  A cold wind blew in and the temperatures have gone unseasonably low.  We went from branches laden with flowers.

To the ground littered with petals

It's only the beginning of June and already the blooms are gone for the season.  I'm hoping the pollinators had enough time to do their work.  Only time will tell as the fruit begins to form in the coming months.