Category Archives: Growing and gardening

The Thank You Bee.

I was watering the garden this morning when I noticed a panicked bumblebee sloshing around in my bucket. I quickly scooped her out and set her on the dry mulch, hoping she’d dry out (to be honest, I thought of the bee as a him, but I’m pretty sure worker bees are actually all female). Every time I checked, she was still stumbling around in the hay, looking drenched and trying to make her wings work.

Twenty minutes later I was half way across the field when a bee lit on my hand. It was the same bee! The feathers of her back were still slicked and glittering with water. She flew from my hand to my other shoulder, and rode there for several minutes while I worked, nibbling a little. I felt blessed, and I knew for sure she’d never sting me.

“Oh hi,” I said, “you’re welcome.”

Even insects know more than we think, I think.

In an unrelated note, this is what happens when you leave mung beans soaking overnight in a jar too small for them. Hilarious. They were all over the floor, still tumbling out every few seconds, when I discovered them in the morning.

Battle of the Broom

Haven't reached this part of the hill
The hillside behind the house is infested with Scotch Broom, an invasive introduced species that has spread all over BC, by the looks of it.  We’re determined it’s not going to have this hillside, and we are waging war.  Every week or so, one of us spends a few hours yanking shoots and snipping the fibrous thick stalks.  This is nasty bent-back Sisyphean work, that ends when you stop, scratched, bitten, dirty, aching and itching, rather than when the job is done, because this job cannot be finished.  Even after a systematic back and forth scouring, invariably you look back and there’s a few bright yellow flowers mocking you.

Our idea is that if the broom is never allowed to go to seed from flower, then it will lose one mechanism of reproducing itself, and perhaps other plants will gain dominance, and after a few years, optimistically, there will be no more broom.  Too bad the stalks sprout like Medusa’s head when cut off, and the thready white roots are knotted like bathtub plug chains with rhizomes.  I assume it reproduces like grass from the root, and divides like a tree from pruning, in addition to the explosive seedpods, that twist and spray out their evil spawn.  Acres of broom in the hot fall absolutely rustle with the snapping of seedpods.

Even the shortest of sprigs can produce flowers, and they seem to do so a day or two after an attack.  I suspect rather like dandelions, they flower prematurely when stressed or aware of stress in their fellows via root system connection, determined as they are to conquer all.  So we work along, ripping out anything yellow, chopping down anything so big it can’t be uprooted.  Always more, the most endless task.

And what a workout.  I always end up with my hair and shirt drenched with sweat, all exposed skin red and stinging from allergenic plants.  Temporarily satisfying.

Everything’s up.

This is the grape vine on the barn, earlier this year

Today or yesterday, everything popped the surface in the garden.  Peas, beans, radishes, clover-esque kale sprouts, tiny blades of beet leaves and green hairs of carrots.  The onions are charging away.  So satisfying.  They made it!  Wasn’t too rainy for the beans, or too exposed for the carrots.

I haven’t been too ambitious.  I had a lot of unassigned garden space that I bought random starts for at the garden supply, chosen by what interested me.  A cucumber, and celery, which I consider exotic, and two watermelon plants that are a flight of fancy.  I have high hopes, though, and they are looking transparently plump with water and thickly endowed with white prickle hairs.  They look like happy watermelon plants.

The hay mulch is introducing grass by seed, but the tiny grass seedlings are the most vulnerable sprouts of all, easily swept away, totally unlike the rhizome-rooted counterparts that look innocuous when young and tiny, but are really just the surfacing tip of a diabolical rampaging root system.

Upside down tomatoes

I thought I’d give this a try, because I love the idea, although unproven.  Last year my tomato planted upside down in a juice jug was a total fail, probably not least because of the transparent jug, and inadequate gasket around the stem of the plant.  This time I roughly copied the technique of a guy I met hitchhiking (cute, and he gardens!), and the summer will tell if it’s a success.  Both of us saw this in the Lee Valley catalog, and although the special pots they sell are certain to be sophisticated technology, there has to be a way to make them work low-tech.

First things first!  Drive the nails or hooks where you’re going to hang them.  Because the moment you have one full, you’re gonna need to put it somewhere to get it out of your way.

The supplies: 2 gallon pots with 1 1/2” holes bored in the centre with a spade bit. I made two hanging loops off the top with baling wire by drilling small holes in the side of the pot lip. 5ml poly cut to more than cover the inside bottom of the pot, with an X slit in the center, and palm sized squares with one slit in them.
Seedling out of the pot, using the small plastic squares around the stem, with the slits opposing. Does that make sense? These two pieces collar the stem with their slits facing opposite ways. Then I plunged the root ball in the water to soften it.

Continue reading Upside down tomatoes

Worm circus

I don’t know what kind of bush this is, but I love it. It’s transforming daily, and I love the rich, deepest ox-blood colour of the leaves.

The last few days have seen a zillion minute delicately pale green worms rappelling on gossamer filaments from the fruit trees.  Collectively, they make a shimmering curtain that leans in the breeze and catches the light from the right angle.  It’s a beautiful thing.  Unphotographable.

From the wrong angle, the trapeze show is totally invisible, and when you stride through it, you’re festooned by a dozen sticky threads and instantly remember you meant to skirt the tree.

Today I noticed a development.  Instead of the 100s of lines almost reaching the grass with one worm on the end of each, there’s a reduction in numbers of lines, but that the ones that remained had dozens of riders.  Tiny green bodies tip to tail like a beaded string on one lifeline.

I’m fascinated at the process.  Do these worms spin out their lines to ride to the earth, over a few days?  Then what?  Do they eat the spring leaves on the tree then go to the ground to transform?  Or travel back up the tree to inflict for damage come fruit time?  I know nothing about these insects. As beautiful an effect they create, I’m horrified at the obvious infestation.

What can be done about them?

Et voila

She’s planted.  I had to turn the whole thing by hand once more, to decompress any areas smushed by my walking around on it during tilling, then raked it all out.  It’s so pretty!  I’m very proud.  I took the picture before mulching it, because I think it’s not as presentable after mulching.  I really like the “earthy palette” of brown smoothed dirt with the tender green of seedlings.  Mulch just makes the whole thing look like an unusually well groomed haystack.

Lettuce starts were totally psychological.  “Oh look, its as though something’s already growing.”  Tomato starts were necessary.  Mine are too late and spindly to finish this summer and will end up in the greenhouse.  Putting something in    that’s already above ground makes it feel like a real garden.

It feels so late in the year, but when I got my potatoes in the ground the day before the market gardener on the next road who’s lived here for 40 years, well, I can’t be that far wrong.

Mulching.  So satisfying in one way, tucking in the vulnerable dirt to conserve its moisture and making little nests around the tiny sunflower seedlings that will become wrist-sized  stalks.  On the other hand, it’s an awful lot of hay to move, and it’s not esthetically pleasing.

Popular wisdom says not to use only straw and never hay for mulching, because it’s full of seeds.  Mogi says that if feed hay has gone to seed, then it has no nutritional value, so it’s always mowed and baled before it goes to seed.  I’m looking at:  buy straw, or use the giant, growing pile of dry, yellowing reject hay that Mucky has eaten what he wanted of and left to dry on the ground.  It’s practically in unlimited supply, all this quality mulch.  There are some seeds in it.  I can see them.  What I’m more worried about is introducing moulds or mildews, but there’s one way to find out.  Time will tell.

In other news I had a rather dazzlingly productive day, from 6am to 7pm.  I would’ve kept going- I’ve proved it only gets too dark to see in the garden at 10pm – but for the UFC fight.  I was on way too much of a tear to bother with any before pictures, but I’m systematically working my way through the  todo list in the order of how much they drive me crazy, rather than how important they are.  Thus I’m transporting rubble, dismantling poorly designed fences and reframing gates that have bad feng shui before getting the squashes into their patch.

I just couldn’t do it any other way.  Every glance at that absurd garden gate tilting over at a completely charmless 20 degree angle the way it’s probably stood for ten years fills me with a bilious, primal drive to change it, and tearing the whole thing down gives me an inner smile of peace that is far more satisfying than the squash plot.  The pumpkins have to wait,  that’s all there is to it.

Go Mantis go

After first till
After second

I rototilled the garden today, with a tiny Mantis tiller that was barely up to the job.  Over and over, I let it churn well into the dirt, then yarded it and some dirt back towards me, then let it go dig a little deeper, repeat.  Working back and forth along the leading edge, and constantly picking the rocks it drug up.  This was the only way for its modest tine reach to really turn over at least a foot of earth.  It meant doing lateral row motions thousands of times, with the consequence that I now feel exactly like I’ve done thousands of lateral rows, but I’m happy with the dirt.  If the thing weren’t rented by the day, I’d definitely have taken two days to do it.  Six hours straight running of the machine, and my back feels every minute, but the results are nice.

All the manure that wouldn’t dissolve out of its pellet shape in the first till was softened by the rain we’ve had since, and as I churned the sedimentary clay with some of the sand that lay beneath, and the manure mixed in thoroughly, the soil looked much darker and more promising.  I’m quite happy now with the results.  The soil is a year and many yards of compost and manure and mulch from beauteous black soil, but at least it looks like it will support life now.  I continue to be joyously appreciative of the total absence of weeds in the former pond, and smug about my choice to turn pond to garden (we’ll see how long that lasts).  It was rocky to till, but absolutely rootless.  Hopefully the last till ever and the rest is up to straw and the worms.  I know many worms died today.

It was a perfect day for it, a sunny window in an everlasting week of deluge.  I got a nice sunburn, in fact, which reflects that I worked my way consistently across the garden facing west the whole time.

Pond-tackling day!

Organic matter? Who, me?

It didn’t take terribly long to tear out the old pond liner.  Although it’s brittle and full of slits, I consider it very valuable still for suppressing weeds and grass in other places.  It’s heavy stuff, still, en masse, and  moving the sediment and displacing the small pocket of remaining water and swamp was dirty and tiring.Could it be that easy?  Of course not.  Naturally, there’s an older liner beneath the black, 5ml poly, only peeking out in places, and mostly entirely buried under no less than 6” of thick clay.

I'm getting better at taking before pictures

That’s the bad news.  There’s much more clay than I thought.  Also sand, and not too well mixed together.  It seems once water flowed through this pond, and left considerable sediment over the poly layer, which had original sandy soil beneath it.  Now there are distinct layers, and I’ve been hours slowly tugging and working out the plastic from between the two, so that it can be tilled. Continue reading Pond-tackling day!

The five pallet compost

First things first.  We need a compost.

Before
After

The flu released me this morning.  After three days of staggering anytime I needed to move, and fearing fainting at any moment, I’m surprised to feel practically full strength immediately.  I cleaned up a number of little nests of junk that were making my eyes hurt today.  That was quite esthetically satisfying.

One of the major nests was lamentably in the ideal location for a compost bin (thanks for finding it, Mogi).  By the horse manure pile, where stink and flies already make their home, out of sight of our dwellings, and in Mucky’s turf, where the bear fears to tread.

It all went shockingly smooth and faster than I expected.  When does that happen?  Lumber (and random fencing, barbed wire, garbage, tarps, etc) out, pallets in, and … we’re done.  Practically built itself.  There’s only about a half-dozen nails in this.

Pallets rule.  I have weird affection for pallets, because I appreciate the (very, very, I know) simple elegance of their design and their underrated versatility and workhorse endurance.   Continue reading The five pallet compost

Pumpkin seeds

Washing pumpkin seeds before the last pumpkin pies of the year from my modest garden.  These were very nice sweet pie pumpkins with rich golden orange flesh, and I look forward to growing next year from the saved seeds.  Just thinking of how many pumpkins the seeds from one pumpkin could produce, and then how many pumpkins the following year…it’s as boggling as counting stars!