Gumboot Adventures

gowing and growing green

Picking and Pinching August 14, 2011

 

Tomatoes Ripening

Tomatoes Ripening

It’s the time of year when a lot of the work in the garden is either pinching or picking.  To increase production, plants need to be pinched. To maintain continuous production, other plants need to picked regularly. The practice of pinching sends the energy to the fruit, increasing the likelyhood of nice, big, ripe fruit and vegetables. Our tomatoes have been especially needy in the pinching department as they struggle to produce ripe fruit amidst a short growing season and the constant threat of blight.

PINCHING

Tomatoes  – Tomatoes can be pinched in a couple of ways. (1) Once flowering starts, pinch the tops to stunt growth and send energy to fruit production. (2) Especially in wet climates, pinch the lower leaves to prevent the onset of blight. (3) Once fruit production begins in earnest, thin out leaves to send energy to the fruit and to allow the sun to reach and ripen the fruit.

Squash & Pumpkins – If size matters, pinch all but a few flowers to get big, lovely pumpkins and other squashes. If space matters, trim back the vines, unless you’ve trained them up.  Squash flowers are edible and make a nice colourful addition to salad.

Strawberry – Trim back those runners! Strawberry plants should be replaced about every four years. Unless it’s replacement time, trim back the runners to direct the energy to the plant, and to allow enough space for the existing plants to produce well.

PICKING

Peas – Peas require continual picking to keep up their production. In August, the novelty of the peas can wear off as other vegetables come into season. Don’t let the peas become the neglected plant in the corner. Continued love will be rewarded with long lasting production and fresh peas for salad, stews and pesto well into the summer.

Brocoli – Quick, before it flowers! Any remaining brocoli needs to be picked now before it flowers. Leave the plants for a second set of heads ready for harvest later in the fall.

Leafy Greens – Picking a few leaves from each head of lettuce and from the kale, chard, and spinach is key to preventing to bolting and to enjoying fresh sweet salads all summer long.

 

Seaweed for the Garden August 6, 2011

Seaweed from the Beach

Seaweed from the Beach

We spent last weekend camping near a beach covered with washed up seaweed. Seaweed is full of nutrients – reputed to be as good as fresh manure for the earth – so before leaving, we collected a rubbermaid full of seaweed for the garden. The kids collected (and returned) a bucket full of fish from the tidepools.

Chasing Fish in the Tide Pool

Chasing Fish in the Tide Pool

We live on the West Coast, so mulching with seaweed seems like a given, but the opportunity hadn’t presented itself until now.

Seaweed can be applied directly to the garden as a layer of mulch or it can be added to the compost. A tonic can also be made by filling a barrel half way with the seaweed and adding water. After sitting three months, this is similar to the commercially available seaweed fertilizer formulas.

Impatience and lack of organization negate the possibility of making tonic right now. And as much as I’d love to mulch, I’m not going to for two reasons:

  1. We didn’t rinse the salt from the seaweed with freshwater.  The salt can be harmful to the garden and can kill the worms. In the rainy winter months, the effect is negligible, but during the summer months adding a lot of salt to the garden isn’t a great idea. That said, that’s way too much work for this busy mama!
  2. Apparently seaweed is rich in growth hormone and shouldn’t be applied late in the growing season.  We might mulch with seaweed in the early fall, when the winter garden is just starting and the other beds are replenishing.

So the seaweed is going into the compost. I’ll let you know how that turns out…

Collecting Seaweed

Collecting Seaweed

Collecting seaweed is as easy as anything. The variety of seaweed is inconsequential and many types varieties can be found on most beaches.  The one and only steadfast rule is respect. Seaweed is an important part of the aquaculture and removing it can be harmful to the natural balance of the environment. So,

    • NEVER take live seaweed. ONLY take seaweed from the beach.
    • RINSE the seaweed gently in the ocean to release aquatic organisms back into the water.
    • LEAVE plenty of seaweed on the beach.  Dried seaweed is a home and harbor to many creatures, if you take it all they are left without cover.
 

Salad Greens July 25, 2011

Salad Greens

Salad Greens (and peas, dill & strawberries)

The salad is doing well this year. That’s because it’s late July and yesterday was the first day of “summer” here on the wet wet coast.  Now that it’s hot – and assuming the heat is planning to stick around, the salad will now bolt.  Which means it’s time to eat it all up. Fast.

Until this year, I’ve never had much luck producing sweet lettuce. The heat and dry of summer have always got the better of us and the spring lettuce has consistently bolted early in the year, quickly become woody and bitter. So for the long spring lettuce season, I give thanks.  The peas, brocolli and cabbage are also doing remarkably well with this odd season. To extend the growing of these spring crops in the summer heat, we need to get on top of watering now.  Until this week, we’ve been leaving the watering to the elements. Luckily, the rain barrels are full after a wet spring so we should be able to ward off bitter bolting greens a little bit longer.

It’s also time to sow another round of greens. We’ll plant in the partial shade of some of the bushier veggies to keep these a little cooler and eat them young and fresh during the hot summer, um, weeks.  Strangely, it’s almost time to sow winter greens too – more kale, spinach and crests to go into what will be a covered winter garden in a couple months.

 

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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