We still have some of each hot pepper variety and lots of sweet potato vines left, but we are down to our last Chinook hop rhizome. If you were interested in the hops, hop to it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
This is the final list of what we will be planting this year.
Tomatoes (cherry and roma)
Cucumbers (for pickles)
Hot Peppers (cayenne, banana, jalapeños)
Camomile (for tea)
Last year was our first summer at this house and one of our goals was to get the gardens in order. The previous owners had put up a terraced garden with retaining wall in the back that was divided by stairs leading up to it. So far, it sounds nice, until you look at what they planted. There were various small trees (sumac, pine, and some unidentifiables), patches of random flowers, and a shed load of weeds. It looked as though someone had started and got distracted for a few years. Our first spring, with the help of my mother-in-law, we weeded everything. As the soil was very poor and full of clay, we brought in a few truck loads of triple mix to spread. The trees were cut down and uprooted (the pine was used as our Christmas tree) and we built raised beds so we could add even more soil. After our first year, we had the gardens under control and had quite a good harvest of various fruit and veg for preserving and eating fresh.
Now in year two, we wanted to really plan everything out to maximize our limited space. We sat down earlier in the week to decide what we were growing and where all of these plants were actually going to grow. The below drawing is the slightly out of proportion plan for this year.
We divided the back terrace into three gardens; the left for fruit and veg, the centre and right for flowers. When you sit on the patio you can see the flower garden in all its glory, while the frames and boxes of the veg are hidden out of sight. The flower gardens are half unplanned and we didn’t bother drawing in what is going where in that area.
If you look at the veg garden, you’ll see the five 4×8′ raised beds. This is where the majority of everything is grown. Outside of the boxes we have our raspberries from last year (already growing very well) and hopefully another rhubarb plant. Our neighbour gave us one last year, but the squirrels didn’t read the gift tag on it and assumed it was for them so the ripped it to bits and ate what was left. Also from last year are the three artichoke plants. They’ve been cut back for the winter and covered with tarp and straw, which has hopefully kept them alive until now.
One of the most useful vegetables we grew last year was hot peppers. They were great fresh, preserved in vinegar, and in hot pepper jelly. In one of our beds we are putting in banana and jalapeño peppers for the aforementioned uses, but we also wanted cayenne peppers for hot sauce, so we needed to find more space. We tried to claim land rights to some of the neighbour’s back garden but after a lengthy court case, we were evicted and stuck with what we started with. Luckily, my mom was at a dollar store where they were selling upside down hanging hot pepper planters. Five of these hanging off the fence should produce enough peppers to make a good batch of hot sauce this year. Burning bums coming soon.
From the drawing it’s hard to tell, but our garage is two stories. With such height not being used, I ordered in some hops from BC to grow up the side of the building. Hops grow vertical, up to 30′, on lines strung straight up. To maximize how much we can grow, we are planning to do a criss-cross pattern to give us even longer vines, and, in return, more hops for beer making. A few years ago we were in England and my aunt was driving us past the hops farms. She was telling us about the plants and the Polish migrants that pick them. As neither of us had seen hops before, we asked “What do they look like?” to which my aunt replied, “Just like you and me, only Polish.”
All over the garden we have different planters and pots to hold long-term veg and invasive plants. A friend of ours is a furniture designer who creates her pieces with cast concrete. She had a few bad casts of a bedside cabinet that she was throwing out, so I saved them from becoming landfill to become filled with land. Once laid on their backs, the cabinets were perfect planters for mint, which is notorious for taking over gardens. I’d like to see it get out of concrete. Not really, I’d rather it stayed where it was meant to, in the planter, and in my tea. Another waste of space in the garden beds are potatoes. They take ages to grow, aren’t the prettiest, and require mounding soil over them every few weeks. To save using up space, we plant spuds in green tarp bags. The bags are cheap (dollar store), reusable, flexible, and you can simulate mounding by just topping up the bag with more soil. More on the potatoes as they grow.
Another big space taker is beans. We were originally thinking of growing them up the fence, but found an even better spot in the end; the patio. Our patio is covered by a proper roof that makes our outdoor space look a little like a Muskoka tiki bar. There is a mini wall on the one side that was never finished (past owners must have been distracted again) that we are building a bed to sit on top to hold our beans that will climb up cords to the roof. The bean stalks will act as a privacy/sun wall and supply fresh beans for dinner.
So that’s the lay of the land, literally. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but when it comes time to eat it all, you remember why you did it. Also, for any hunters reading, you’re more than welcome to come over and kill every bastard little squirrel you see.