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Deluxe Greenhouse Gardening

Sunpod Greenhouse
At Seedy Saturday this afternoon, I had a chance to once again check out SunPod's deluxe FSC certified wood greenhouses and I fell in love all over again. I had a chance to first see a SunPod up at Hollyhock at a business conference last Fall and was pretty enamoured at the time, but as the end of February rolls past and sunny days of summer gardening are the kind of day dreams that keep you warm through winter, I'm really smitten.

While the photos of SunPods are lovely, to experience them in person is really something. They are exquisitely hand made with bent cedar and gorgeous metal hardware. They remind me of the art of hand carved boats or even perhaps a particularly green thumbed hobbit fabrication. The craftsmanship is really something to behold.

You can read all about the SunPod's here. I'm personally smitten with the Smart Vented Mini Greenhouse, which Michael the owner told me he can grow up to 40 heads of lettuce in (the 4' wide version). You can use the SunPod to start your spring leafy greens early, then pick it up and move it over to house your tomatoes and basil, and then move it on the next bed to over winter kales, chards, cabbage, beets, leeks etc over the winter. (All suitable for a West Coast gardener anyway).

I would truly love to bring a SunPod into our yard, but think it may be a bit steep for us this year. I do however, think we'll try making a less fancy version this year and if I can take to greenhouse and coldframe gardening, then perhaps I'll save up to invest next Spring, though I have to admit it's the promise of keeping winter veggies warm and thriving that makes it even more seductive to me.

(The SunPod site also has some great resources on organic, container and greenhouse gardening).

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In the garden June 08


In the garden June 08
Originally uploaded by emira

Summer has finally arrived this weekend and after a morning spent at the Farmer’s Market, I came home to take stock of what’s going on in the garden. Everything from my tomato plants to little bean seedlings are finally taking off and the flowers are plentiful. Most exciting for me? My new white lavender, acquired at this year’s UBC Perennial sale, is in bloom. I’m a total sucker for lavender and have several plants tucked around the front, back and side gardens. This new white lavender is by far my new favourite, so delicate and lovely and it seems the bees agree.

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Mid-Summer Garden Roundup


  beets! 
  Originally uploaded by emira

This year’s veggie garden has definitely not lived up to last year. While I’ve got a bumper crop of tomatoes on the way — yeah for south facing gardens! — I’ve fallen behind on my ongoing rotation of the square foot garden. Turns out renovating your kitchen in Spring and then trying to finish a book during the summer is not good for garden productivity. Who knew?

Tonight, while Martin and Miss P made dinner (!), I got a couple of hours of garden time in. Moving the rainbarrel back in place, setting up the compost bin in a new home, weeding, pruning and tying up the tomatoes etc. As I was out there, I had a chance to mentally catalog the successes of this year’s garden and where I’d like to improve next year. For the most part this has to do with my square foot beds, and not the rest of the yard.

Successes:

  • Adding to the beds I already had (two 4×4 foot beds) with one 6ft x 1ft long bed for trellising beans and peas was a great idea. I’ve got a fair number of fresh beans (and peas) for kitchen use and it looks like i’ll have a decent harvest of dried beans as well. I planted a number of different varieties and they seem to be quite different in their success rates. I’ll give more detail on that later as we’re just entering bean season in my yard.
  • For the first time (in two years) I got a lovely bounty of beets. Last year I did a few subsequent beet plantings and each time came up with nothing but some tiny beet greens and maybe 2 baby beets. I’m not sure what I did differently this year, aside from generally neglecting them — perhaps the secret to success? I’m only hoping that my replanting wasn’t too late to get another crop. I’m drinking a lot of fresh beet/carrot/lemon juice these days so I’m appreciating the very local supply.
  • My garlic, planted last Fall, was ready for harvest today and I had pretty much a 100% success rate in the back yard anyway. The ones planted in the side yard (facing east) seem a bit puny. I’ll leave them another week and then dig them up. This means that I now have 42 bulbs of garlic hanging to dry in the garage. Want some? Unfortunately I  misjudged when these would be ready and bought 2 massive cloves from a farmer just yesterday. So roasted garlic, fresh garlic and perhaps some garlic pickles will be on the menu here over the next while.
  • My chard and kale are winners again this year, I’ve got two strong healthy plants of each and am able to pick from them regularly for kitchen use, as they thrive. I’ve reseeded in hopes of having equally healthy plants for the Fall and am determined to have a cold frame this winter.
  • Radishes are a sure fire winner back in my yard. And Miss P loves them. I simply can not keep on top of the demand.

Learning experiences/Things I’ll change:

  • I planted a few perennial crops in my squares and now they’re taking over. Specifically: chives and sorrel. Both started from seed last year and now in need of constant pruning/thinning and general wrangling. I’m going to move them both out of the square foot structures because they could easily take over the entire space by next year I’m sure. It seems to me that ongoing crops — hearty herbs like these — are not well suited to the square foot approach, but let me know if you think differently.
  • Why can’t I grow dill? I just can’t get it right. Out of all the seeds I plant this is always the least successful, and then just as it’s succeeding it bolts on me. This annoys the heck out of me as I like having fresh dill but it’s so delicate and doesn’t last long once picked.
  • The lettuce I bought this year hasn’t been as successful as the varieties I had last year. I’m not sure if this is because of the weather this year (lots of rain, not as much sun) or the variety. I’ll try it again next year I think, but will also probably try something different to see if one is more successful than the other. (By success I mean the number of seeds that actually germinate.)
  • Everything is bolting. Last year my arugula was so bountiful. As was my cilantro. This year: bolt-mania. I’m not sure if this has to do with the weird weather patterns this year or my overall lack of attentiveness this year, but damn it’s annoying. I love both of these plants and they seem to keep going from "nearly ready" to bolt-astic over night. I swear.
  • As already mentioned, I’ve been a bit lame at keeping on top of replanting this year. I had the best of intentions, but then life/bookwriting/meltdowns/bad weather all got in the way. As such I’ve not taken full advantage of the whole square foot thing this year. Which kinda bums me out, but live and learn. Next year I’ll be more committed to staying on top of things, plagued by memories of disappointment this year. I missed out entirely on a few things by just not staying on top of planting seasons, and I definitely cut things like my pea harvest and beans down by not being totally on the ball.

So, that’s the state of the garden here this year. How’s everybody else doing?

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Our New Beds


  A new bed. 
  Originally uploaded by emira.

About two weeks ago now we moved the new bedroom furniture that Martin built into our room to much personal fanfare and delight. We went from a room in which every inch of wallspace that wasn’t a door had a piece of furniture on it to a room with really only three pieces of furniture in it: a bed with built in floating bedside tables, a long low dresser and a chair. Oh and a mirror. And a laundry hamper. But trust me that’s way less than what was crammed in there before. I’m borrowing the very generous Miss P’s camera for the week so as soon as I’m home in decent light and manage to actually make the bed I’ll share some photos. It is lovely.

Not satisfied with a mere interior improvement I also asked Martin to expand my garden bed space this weekend giving me in effect a new bed by expanding an existing bed to the other side of our fence. This new bed gets south east exposure and serves many awesome purposes:

1. It means I no longer need to try to weed underneath the fence in behind my herb garden, which is a major bonus as that was a tricky area to get to.
2. It makes mowing the lawn up to the edge of the fence a non issue as the lawn no longer comes up to the edge of the fence.
3. It provides me with a new spot to do some kind of dramatic garden design. By that I really just mean planting some bright colours next to our charcoal fence, which given that the bed is visible from the front, back and side of the house (which is next to a sidewalk that folks pass by all the time) makes me happy.

My grand plan for this bed is to have some forsythia growing there for early spring blooms (I love the thought of those tall branches covered in bright yellow flowers against the dark grey) and an ornamental quince for a dash of bright pink. In the summer I grow giant sunflowers on the other side of the fence in amongst the herbs and I may just try my hand at some sweetpeas to trail up the fence as well, but that may need to wait until next year.

At the moment my grand plans are somewhat on hold, or I should say in progress. This past weekend I got some excellent cuttings of two types of quince, forsythia and a white magnolia tree from Martin’s mom. Each is a fairly small cutting and will take a few years to produce the drama I’m envisioning, but hey free plants that will help Martin’s mom’s garden live on after she moves out of her current house are nothing to complain about. Also, I’m imagining I’ll need to use this bed as a bit of a nursery or "guest room" for some of my other plants this summer when we finally start a project to redo the lower half of the house’s siding. I’ve got plants growing up against two sides of the house and there are some that are more delicate than others that I’ll want to temporarily house elsewhere to make sure they don’t fall victim to falling siding at any point. It’s hard keeping that bed mostly empty in the meantime though I tell ya. I’m itching to fill it with something. Perhaps I’ll see if I can’t just stick a few quick veggie crops in there some radishes perhaps.

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Seedy Thoughts

Like most gardeners around these parts I’ve got my mind on seeds these days. I picked up some great seeds at Seedy Saturday in February and have also been the lucky beneficiary of a number of seeds sent by readers of this blog and garden friends like Renee. I don’t have plans to do things too much differently from last year; I will certainly keep at least roughly with my square foot garden approach to veggies, as that worked well for me last year in terms of use of space and crop rotation. I am hoping to expand a few of my crops with the hope of doing more harvesting for preserving/storage. In particular I’m pretty interested in the idea of growing protein sources in my garden, an idea that my friend James really turned me onto during his year of 100 mile eating (his book, co-written with is partner is due out this month for those o you interested in their story). I have some pinto beans left from the seeds he gave me last year which I can replant this year. They were very successful last year though my crop was small, so this year I hope to expand it. I also picked up some gorgeous cranberry beans at Seedy Saturday and couldn’t resist picking up some Ethopian Lentils to have a go at. I was told by the woman who had them that they aren’t  particularly prolific plants in this climate but that they produce beautiful flowers and I really couldn’t resist the lure of the possibility of growing lentils here in East Vancouver. Given how decorative the lentil bushes are, I will probably try nesting these in amongst my flower beds for maximum yeild opportunity leaving space for more bean production in the actual veggie garden. I’m going to need some new beds for all this bean cultivation, so I think I’ll see if Martin wants to help me build some long narrow beds along one of the garage walls. The garage is in the back which is the south side of the house and the wall I’m thinking of faces west and gets a decent amount of sun so we might just be able to get a bumper crop. All this brings seed musing reminds me that I need to call and get a new load of dirt delivered for next weekend so I can get everything in order for planting. Pronto.

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Lilac Care


  Lilac between a hedge and garage 
  Originally uploaded by emira.

I saw a comment pop up on an old post of mine from last May about Lilacs (at You Grow Girl) that I thought I would pull out and do my best to address here. The comment, or rather question was about a healthy seeming lilac bush that doesn’t seem to be producing much in the way of blooms (or perhaps any). I did a bit of research into this as lilacs are one of my absolute favourites and I do worry a bit that the lack of hands on care that I give our lilac will result in a decline in the plants health. There have been (and continue to be) a lot of plants we inherited in this garden that I need to learn more about. Anyway.

From the reading and web searching I’ve done I can contribute the following info and a few more questions for any of you out there who have more knowledge or tricks up your sleeves:

  • Lilacs apparently don’t need heavy pruning but can do with a bit of thinning out. I know that my own bush sends off suckers and and new shoots a few feet away from the main bush as well as in the centre clump, pruning back some of these will apparently help the plant thrive as it is a heavy feeder or nutrient sucker so cutting back on some of the greedy shoots is a good idea. From what I’ve read I was a bit unclear as to when one should do this, so I’m not sure if it’s a Spring prior to blooming thing or a Summer post-blooming activity. Do chime in if you know. (And I should mention everything I have read has specifically pointed out a need to not over prune, so don’t go too nuts).
  • Cutting off finished blooms is apparently one way to encourage a healthy crop of flowers the next year. Now if you’re not getting any flowers that won’t help, but I do know that this is something I have not done at all really, but have now logged into my garden journal for this June/July to take care of.
  • Soil conditions: limey. Or so says the reading I’ve done. You can spread dolomite lime or other limey additives in November in my climate (zone 8ish/BC west coast).
  • Dividing or moving: Here’s where my big questions come in. I’m a bit worried about the location of my own lilac (between a healthy growing laurel hedge and a garage as seen in the photo there) and that lack of sunlight due to the physical constraints (it does face south so still gets lots of sun) will eventually cause it to suffer. If I wanted to take some of the offshoots and move them to a different spot in the yard, when would be the best time to do this? Or, say if I wanted to move the whole bush?

If any of you have any other tips for healthy lilac blooms do pass them on. I know I’m keen to do all I can to keep those gorgeous beauties bountiful each May.

(Cross-posted at You Grow Girl).

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Get Garden Crafty & Win a Copy of Craftivity

Craftivity_1You Grow Girl is running a fun and easy content for all your crafty gardeners out there. Just submit a photo that " shows a thoughtful and unique way that you are using recycled materials in your garden" to the You Grow Girl Garden Show and Tell Pool on Flickr with the tag "recylced garden" and you’ll be entered to win. More details here. I wonder if as a YGG blog writer I’m eligble…

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Pinto Success!


  beans! 
  Originally uploaded by emira.

I have made much of my project to grow some genuine protein in my garden in the form of some humble pinto beans over on You Grow Girl and so it is with glowing pride that I come here to share my success. Yes folks: I have beans. So far, about a cup worth. And there may be a whole cup more out there yet to mature enough for harvest. Now I have to admit I went a bit by the seat of the proverbial pants on this one as I wasn’t quite sure how one coaxed a bean plant from green bean production to hard bean bounty, and so expert gardeners out there feel free to correct me if my methodology was wrong. I didn’t really have much of a plan for these guys beyond planting them at the very end of the season and hoping they’d produce. In the end, the plan I ended up following was one more of fate than design, namely: I went on holidays for two weeks at the end of September leaving my very mature beans on the stalk and came  home to find most of the bean pods dried and when split chock full of smooth delightful pintos. Huzzah! The others out there are still a bit too moist for harvest me thinks, and so I’m letting them dry out a bit before I haul them in.

I’m not sure what to do with my cup (plus more!) of pintos, but I’m thinking it will be something special. All ideas and recipes are more than welcome. I’m also kind of feeling a bit like gardening is magic I have to admit, as I sat in my yard cracking open dried bean pods and pulling out a hearty handful of slippery, smooth beans when only weeks prior I had taken a half dozen of them and stuck them hopefully in the ground. I guess the wonderment is so strong because most of my gardening is about turning seeds into something that for my purposes doesn’t look much like a seed anymore: tiny black lettuce seeds into big leafy greens, nubbly little beet seeds into sweet magenta orbs, brown pellets into chives and so on. I don’t usually stick a seed (in this case a bean) into the ground so that I can harvest 50x its likeness. But now that I have, I have to say it really does seem like an insanely awesome project to undertake. I’m already imagining the entire East side of the house in constant bean production next summer… though I’m sure I’ll tone things down a bit when the time comes.

(Cross posted at: You Grow Girl: the Dirt)

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Garden Soup


  Garden Soup Ingredients
  Originally uploaded by emira.

I woke up feeling quite wretched and overworn this morning and on the verge of coming down with some sort of unwelcome summer flu. And while I was feeling far too off kilter to even think about eating breakfast until well afternoon, I woke up with the very comforting memory of a simple cup of soup I had enjoyed last night over dinner with Kate, one of my dearest friends who is in BC visiting from Montreal.

The soup was quite simple. It was the evening’s special at a little restaurant in James Bay (Victoria, BC), and happened to be vegetarian making it appealing for me. Kate had been feeling like she was fighting a cold and so inspite of the rather gorgeously sunny day we both began our meal with a cup of the "Gypsy" soup. Kate seems to recall a similar recipe in one of the Moosewood Cookbooks, though it isn’t in either of the ones I own. It was a tomato and veggie broth, with large chunks of summer fresh veggies, seasoned with a chipotle puree. Quite simple really, and I didn’t necessarily think much of it last night, but today as I battled it out with this feeling of being under the weather it was all I could think of.

And so on a lovely hot summery afternoon I managed to get the kitchen into an absolute swelter while I simmered a large pot of my attempt at recreating the Gypsy Soup, and because nearly every ingredient came from the backyard, I’ve now dubbed it Garden Soup. I’m afraid I’m hopeless with making note of amounts of anything that I use, so while I will share the ingredients with you, I’ll have to leave it up to you to figure out measurements. I accompanied mine with a loaf of a garlic and fresh herb beer bread, using (which was exactly that easy), which made a wonderful companion to the soup though the additional kitchen swelter was quite unlivable and I ended up eating my dinner in the breeze of the front porch as the evening set in.

Recipe for Domicile’s Garden Soup (Late Summer Edition)

I began by making a simple veggie stock with some vegetables from the garden and farmer’s market that languished in the fridge last week during a particularly busy week. Once that was done I headed out back to see what I could pull in for soup and returned with a bowl full of:

Yellow cherry tomatoes (maybe a dozen);
Six regular/largish tomatoes (mine were Early Girl variety);
A mixing bowl full of very large purple peacock beans that have become a bit too woody for steaming and a handful of green and yellow beans from my bush bean plants;
A bunch of lacinato kale leaves, to which I also later added a handful of green chard;
Four beets; and,
Three small onions.

To this I added about four or five cloves of garlic from the farmer’s market and about six carrots and six red new potatoes also from the market.

Then everything got chopped up to soup size. Which today was pretty chunky.

I got out my large soup pot and sauteed the garlic and onions with two bay leaves (which I happen to get from my grandma’s garden) and a generous pinch of sea salt in olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pot). When those were soft I added the potatoes, five minutes later the beats and carrots, and five minutes after that the beans. Then I put the tomatoes (all roughly chopped) in and added enough stock to cover everything. I ground in some fresh pepper and added about a tablespoon of chipotle puree and let it all simmer for an hour or so. When I came back to taste it I decided it needed some more salt (I don’t put any salt in my stock though) and a little something else, which I decided would be about a tablespoon of freshly chopped sage. At that point I also added the chopped kale and chard. About 30 minutes later I had a bit bowl of soup with the still warm beer bread and am now convinced that with a good night’s sleep I’ll beat whatever this bug is that’s trying to steal the end of my summer.

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Michelle's Seeds


  sunflower 
  Originally uploaded by emira.

Back in November of last year, Michelle gave me a little gift bag full of wonderful goodies: caramels, rocket candies and little packages of seeds culled from her own garden and packaged up all pretty in brown paper. There were four different types of seeds: sunflowers, cosmos and two different pole bean varieties. Each of them went into the ground at their appropriate time with loving care and the intention that these little envelopes from a friend would turn into happy healthy plants. And inspite of all my years of biology in school, and general common sense I must admit that I still find something a little big magical about the transformation from seeds in brown paper to big happy plant. But in this case, magic certainly has happened and this is the month for the splendour of those particular seeds to shine through.

The sunflowers, which are lining about five feet of our new fence have just come into bloom. They’re a good five and half feet tall and I think look quite fetching against our "evening smoke" stained fence. The cosmos are doing well along the side of the house, blooming in various colours of pink. And last night we harvested the first of the purple beans for dinner. The beans are going gang busters, stretching out many feet above my six and half foot trellis, and so regularly need to be wrangled back down to earth to trail along its top.  I’m going to have to do a bit of sleuthing to figure out which plant is which as they’re coming up in one of my gardening boxes that is also totally overgrown with tomatos and at this point I can’t see where one bean plant begins and another one ends. Regardless, they made for some darn tasty dinner last night, though Martin’s daughter was a bit disappointed that they turn from purple to green when steamed. An understandable let down I guess.

Thanks Michelle, that was really a fabulous gift with a very long enjoyment factor built in.

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Photos

emira. Get yours at bighugelabs.com

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