Gumboot Adventures

gowing and growing green

Hey Kids, We’re Growing Kiwis May 27, 2011

Hey Kids – we’re growing Kiwis!

Really? Where?

Growing What?

When I showed them the vines, planted happily in our West Coast garden, the excitement set in.

Kiwis are Good!

I have to admit that despite the fact that our Kiwi plants are currently little stubs with a few leaves, I share completely in their euphoria. The very idea of growing kiwi fruit in our cool West Coast climate is boggling and beautiful. I had planned on apple trees, plum trees, blueberries, raspberries, maybe even grapes – but I had no idea that we could have productive Kiwis. Apparently we can. And here’s the skinny:

Kiwi plants are aggressive woody vines that grow to be about 20 ft. They require strong support and like all fruit, good soil along with love and attention, including regular applications of fertilizer. (Remember, you’re going to eat the fruit, so keep it organic). Kiwi plants on the West Coast are reputed to be productive as early as their second year – though this is variety dependent.

Kiwi plants are dioecious – both a male and female plant is required for fruit production. For the patient guru male flowers have stamens, and the female ones have carpels. For the rest of us, plants without flowers look identical save one distinguishing feature –

Kiwi Plant - Male

The tag. You’ll need one male and one female. And obviously, you need bees and butterflies to make sure that those flowers come in contact with one and other. If not, the plant will need your assistance. And honestly – whose got time for that! I’ve planted our kiwis near a flowering plants that the bees love so fingers are crossed for nature doing what it does best.

I’ll keep you posted!

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Strawberry Beds and Buttercup Weeds May 20, 2011

Strawberry Flower

Strawberry flowers are blooming.  It fills me with hope for a summer of bounty.  It’s also a call to action!

Our house came complete with the most deliciously sweet strawberries.  Truly.  It also came complete with buttercup. For those of you who don’t know, buttercup is an incredibly invasive weed that makes pretty little yellow flowers, is almost indestructible and mildly poisonous. As an aside, in our first garden years ago, I planted buttercup on purpose after finding it in our front garden and thinking that the yellow flowers would add colour to the back.  I should write and apologize to the current owners of that home.  Regardless, we’ve been here almost a year now, and for that time, the strawberries and the buttercup have shared a bed. No more.

We’ve started anew, so to speak, creating a new strawberry bed and hoping for increased yields with all that root space to themselves.  Strawberries require healthy soil and lots of light. They love the sun and heat, and also enjoy being planted near onions. Strawberries shouldn’t be planted where previous strawberry beds have been, as rotten roots left decomposing can pass disease to the productive plants.

Since we’ve no shortage of strawberry, I’ve actually created a proper bed in the back (following the steps outlined below) and also transplanted some plants to the front yard – where they occupy a sunny patch in our newly converted grass-free yard.  As with all plants, it’s nice to try them in a few places and see where they thrive.

Strawberry Bed Before

Here are the steps taken to create a “proper” strawberry bed:

Step 1: Remove Weeds – in our case, Buttercup

Tedious work! I dug deep and loosed the roots, separating the strawberries from the darker buttercup roots. Buttercup is bagged and sent to the city green waste – no way that horrible little weed is setting root in my compost.

Step 2: Separate Runners

Strawberry runners are clipped and separated from the main plant.  Strawberry plants are generally productive for about five years.  With plants younger than this, remove the runners to send the energy towards fruit production instead of reproduction.  With older plants in need of replacing, allow the runner to take root, then remove the parent plant. In our case, we opted for a combination of the two and saved some mature plants, while also setting up for a good yield next year with younger plants.  If you’re starting from scratch, save the trip to the garden store and instead opt for a friend’s clipped runners.

Step 3: Build Raised beds

Raised beds provide an optimal growing environment.  To maximize strawberry yield, set a raised bed in a hot, sunny location and fill with garden soil.

Strawberry Bed After

Step 4: Plant

We follow biodynamic gardening principles which means – among other things – that plants are grown on mounds, spaced more closely than traditional gardening methods and are planted in combination with beneficial companions.  Our strawberry bed has a lovely chive plant  and will have a few daffodils near the edges when I get there.  Plants are spaced about 1 ft apart, in staggered (offset) spacing.

Step 5: Pinch flowers – sad I know!

The first year of plant’s its flowers should be removed so as to divert all the energy towards plant growth and health, instead of fruit production.  Which means, no fruit year one. But lots of really fabulous fruit thereafter.  Since our strawberries patch is a combination of mature plants being transplanted and new runners, I’ve pinched the flowers on half the plants and am letting the other half produce. Also, if I pinched all the flowers  my kids would think I was a complete failure when they had no strawberries this summer, and I couldn’t have that.

All in all, strawberries are a relatively simple fruit to care for and the reward is oh-so-sweet.  Here’s hoping the blasted buttercup can be kept at bay!

 

Raised Beds are Better May 8, 2011

Raised Beds

Raised Beds in the Making

We’re building raised beds in the vegetable garden.   Half way through the third enclosure, my husband asked me

“Why are we building these?”

“Because they are better,” I replied without missing a beat. I loved having raised beds at our last home and am eager to get them finished here.

“But why?” He persisted. I hesitated, ever so briefly, and in that moment I saw the swing of his hammer slow, the skepticism flash before his eye and the seed of doubt be planted that is ever so difficult to undo when the alternative means less work on the part of the doubter.

So here’s the lowdown on why raised beds are better:

1. First and foremost, they increase garden yields.  Raised beds accomplish this increased productivity in a number of ways, they:

  • Hold more heat – raised beds warm sooner in the season and hold the heat more efficiently. They are typically about 4C warmer than flat beds. This means an increased growing season, in more ideal conditions.
  • Facilitate easy coldframes – raised beds make it easy to install garden covers with PVC piping to keep the heat in and the elements out. With the use of a cold frame, the growing season is further expanded.
  • Prevent Soil Compression – when properly proportioned (we like 8ft x 4ft), raised beds allow for all planted space to be reached from garden paths.  This means that the gardeners (or the gardeners’ children) avoid stepping on the soil.
  • Promote dense planting – by reducing the space between crops traditionally needed for paths, raised beds favour dense planting, reducing the space for weeds.  This is a huge factor in our plot, which is completely overrun with buttercup from last year’s neglect!

2. Raised beds simplify garden planning and maintenance. Here’s how:

  • Clearly defined “plots” facilitate crop rotation,
  • Mulching pathways minimizes weeds

3. Raised beds are pretty.  I like a pretty vegetable garden and find orderly raised beds aesthetic pleasing. Especially when flowers are incorporated into the overall design – a key ingredient in attracting those very beneficial bees and butterflies.

And if those aren’t enough reasons, well, mother’s day is around the corner and I want the lovely raised beds.  So keep swinging that hammer handsome husband.

 

 
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