Garden is planted!

The last couple of weeks have been a little mad around here. Between work, the garden, the kitchen and all of the usual events that pop up, neither of us have had much time to do anything. Luckily, today we took some photos (finally) to share of the progress in the garden.

Taking advantage of the Victoria Day weekend and having a pickup truck, we moved a lot of soil, plants and wood. Last year we had three raised beds on the vegetable side but left space for two more 4×8′ beds. After visits to three Home Depots for 1x8x8’s (for some reason, Home Depot doesn’t like to carry common cedar planks, and the ones they do carry are so warped, you could wrap them around a corner) we built and installed the new boxes. We moved about 1 1/2 cubic yards of triple mix but fell short of filling both. We did however fill the cedar boxes I made a few weeks ago for our bean wall. Originally, on our patio, we had bamboo blinds hanging that were left behind by the old owners. We never used them, and we aren’t really worried about hiding from our neighbours so we pitched them. To get the most out of our garden, I built the boxes and strung glow in the dark rope for the beans to climb in a diamond pattern. If the cat will stop relieving herself in the one end of the box, we should get quite a crop of beans and a nice living wall.

This photo brought to you by Costco.

After planting the jalapeños and hot banana peppers in a raised bed, we planted the red hot chilli and scotch bonnet in hanging hot pepper planters. Special thanks to the person at my work who decided to throw away hundreds of dollars worth of cedar planks in the skip round back. This salvaged timber has helped build a lot of things around the garden this year, including the brackets for the pepper planters.

The idea behind the hanging pepper planters is that it receives more heat as there is more surface area which enables the plants to produce more peppers, faster. Downside to these planters is that they dry out easily and with the heat we have already had this year, it’s been hard to keep up. Each planter has seven holes around the sides which you plant 7-14 started plants in. Doubling up plants in the holes is supposed to help them root better, but we’ll have to see how that works out. Within the next 6 weeks I’ll start the first batch of hot sauce. If it’s any good, there will be plenty to share with those who don’t mind it being as hot on the way in, as on the way out.

Five bags of heat!

 

On a sad note, our artichokes didn’t make it through the winter. We were really looking forward to them fruiting for the first time this year, but they just couldn’t hack it. Forgetting that miserable thought, our raspberries are going bananas. I don’t mean long and yellow either. We had to weave them to keep the plants off the ground, and if the birds permit it, we should have a nice bounty of them as well. Our neighbours we back onto gave us a rhubarb to transplant. At first it didn’t look good for our latest addition, but over the last couple of weeks the plant has perked up and started some new stalks and leaves.

Raspberries or triffids?

There isn’t a whole lot to see on the vegetable side of the garden as most are still little tiny plants without any fruit. The other half of the garden is devoted to all things flowery and pretty. This is the side to see. First off is the shade garden. We added some hostas, lilies of the valley, bleeding hearts and periwinkle.  The ferns even came back from last year that we thought we had lost to the bastard squirrels.

Shady business

We were lucky to get some nice planters this year from family and friends. My mother gave us an old galvanized wash basin, and a good friend of our gave us two of her concrete creations. She is a furniture designer/maker and uses concrete in some of her pieces. These two were meant to be bedside tables with drawers but didn’t make the cut. (For more on her work, visit http://www.jeanwilloughby.com).

Planters galore!

So with most of the plants in, there was just one piece of business to take care of; the cat who keeps emptying her bowels and playing in the plants. Pretty simple really, we rung her neck, waited for rigor mortis to set in and we now leave her out the back door to brush the mud off our shoes.

Your boots will never be cleaner!

Once we have more growing and worth looking at, we’ll post more pictures. There is still a lot to be done in the next few weeks, but once things get going, it will be time to sit back and eat the proceeds of our hardwork.

P.S. I was joking about the cat, but if do have a dead cat lying around, you should read 101 Uses for a Dead Cat by Simon Bond.

Potato time!

The last frost for our region is typically no later than April 29th, so it’s time to put out some of the hardier plants. One plant that can sustain the odd frost is the potato.

Potatoes can take up a lot of space in your garden beds and are great at creating back-breaking work to keep them happy and to harvest them. As potatoes grow, earth must be mounded up around the growing plant to stop the sunlight reaching the tubers and turning the edibles green. You probably don’t want to eat the green ones as they contain the toxin solanine. If you want, give it a go, and let us know how it works out for you. If you don’t make it to a computer, I’ll come to your funeral.

Back to mounding. Why bother creating giant, unsightly hills in your garden when you can grow them in bags! In England people started experimenting with growing potatoes in different containers and have now settled on tarp bags. These reusable bag can be found at the dollar store and have a spring hoop running through them which helps keep them erect. Using a cigarette, burn drainage holes in the bottom. The burning melts the tarp and stops the hole from getting larger. Dispose of cigarette as it now has plastic melted to the end. You wouldn’t want to inhale any of the dangerous toxins in the plastic, so just stick to the ones that come with the cigarette.

This year we are doing four bags with two different varieties. The first variety is the Norland red potato which has a shorter growing season and produces small and medium-sized tubers. The other type we are trying is the Yukon Gold, a yellow potato good for baking and chip making. You can get potatoes from Canadian Tire for under $5 but make sure you check each box for mold. Introducing mold and other disease to your garden will ruin your growing season for a lot of your crops.

Norland and Yukon Gold

In your bag, add three or four inches of good soil, free of stones and weeds. Make sure that you have already placed your bags in their final resting place. These bags get quite heavy with all of the soil and disturbing the plants with a move could snap off shoots.

Dirt in a bag. Wow, really, wow!

Have a look in your box of potatoes and take out three or four very happy looking specimens. Luckily, we were spoiled for choice. The nursery that produces these ones must give them a spray of anti-depressants before packaging.

A few more days and they would have opened the box themselves.

Gently place the potatoes, with all growth pointed up, on the soil. Add another three inches of soil, or until the tops of all the growth is covered. At this point, you’ll realize you’ve run out of soil and have to nip out again. Swear a bit, get the soil, and top up the low bag. Pat soil, water, wait. Nothing happens. They’re potatoes. If you want fast growing, you would have planted bamboo (which attracts pandas, hence why bamboo growing isn’t popular in Canada).

Moments before being buried alive.

As the plants grow, you have to add more soil. Once the plant is 12″ tall, add another 6″ of soil. Repeat until the soil reaches the top of the bag. At this point, just let it go. Eventually the plant will die back and this is a sign that the potatoes are almost ready for harvesting. If you ever want to get an idea of how the potatoes are progressing, feel around the sides of the bag for potatoes. When they are ready to harvest, you just dump the bag out on a tarp and rifle through picking out the potatoes.

In no time you’ll have a nice collection of potatoes ready to be stored for the winter, or cooked up right away. Any small potatoes that aren’t worth cooking can be saved and used for potato wine or you can throw them at the pandas now occupying your backyard bamboo garden.

Complete Fruit & Vegetable List for 2012

This is the final list of what we will be planting this year.

Celery
Lettuce (various)
Artichokes
Tomatoes (cherry and roma)
Cucumbers (for pickles)
Cantaloupe Melons
Raspberries
Apples
Pears
Rhubarb
Radish
Garlic
Carrots
Snow Peas
Hot Peppers (cayenne, banana, jalapeños)
Potatoes
Beans
Hops
Mint
Parsley
Chives
Basil
Tarragon
Rosemary
Sage
Bay
Camomile (for tea)

Mushroom growing….on toilet paper

I remember when I was a child visiting my granddad in England, he would always have a few mushrooms growing in his shed. I thought it was magical that he grew them, and it’s always been in the back of my mind that I wanted to grow some as well. Just to be clear though: I’m not a fan of mushrooms. It’s like a vegetarian working in an abattoir I guess.

Regardless of my malevolence towards mushrooms, I had a fungi fantasy to live out. In the past we tried to get some in England on holiday, but a certain someone was worried that the secret mushroom police at the airport were going to whisk them away to Guantanamo Bay for smuggling spores. Canada (as far as I know) doesn’t seem to have anyone that sells the spores, so I focused on the UK. I found a great online store called Mushroom Box (http://mushroombox.co.uk/). They have great prices, selection and their customer service was great. Placed the order, and within a week or so, I had the beginnings of a new species on the kitchen table. It is perfectly legal to have mushroom spores shipped to Canada, assuming they are of the non-psychedelic variety.

Mushrooms need to grow on a substrate. The easiest to prepare is toilet roll. Yes, toilet roll. A fresh one of course, unsoiled. Loo roll on a plate, boiling kettle poured over top, cooled, and packet of spores added in the centre. If you want more detailed instructions, visit Mushroom Box.

The mushrooms grow in two stage; incubation and fruiting. During the incubation stage, the toilet roll is cover by an upturned sandwich bag which helps the developing mushrooms by keeping out competing bacteria and fungi. Of the two species I tried, the pink oyster mushroom wasn’t as resilient as the blue oysters, and were quickly taken over by a green mold. I blame the mushrooms, but most likely it was something I did wrong during the sterilizing process. Luckily for you this picture doesn’t smell like the real thing did:

The other set of mushrooms made it through the first stage and developed what looks like cotton wool mold all over the roll. At this point I removed the sandwich bag and placed the mini mushroom garden in a cooler, airy space to trigger the fruiting. A few days later and we had mushrooms growing on a toilet roll in the kitchen. If you were to see this under the couch or in the washroom, you’d be disgusted and think we were slobs, but having it on display in the kitchen made it seem less offensive:

Once they were at a harvest-able size, we snipped them back to allow their friends underneath a chance at developing. They seemed to lose their will to go on without their larger friends, and I pitched the whole thing a few weeks later. Although I’m not a fan, I had to try these amazing little things I grew, and I have to admit, they were delicious! Apparently (according to my better half) they are three times stronger than store-bought, and about 3 times cheaper. Once we had our little snack, the rest went on a pizza. Seems like most things end up on pizzas in this house. Not looking forward to the cat getting to a “harvest-able size”.