Plant Lessons

The big lesson so far this season has been to think ahead when planning the annual beds and match the trellis to the plant. So in the first group of pictures, it all looks kind of sweet and under control. The beans and peas have been staked and the carrots have lots of room to spread out in the rest of the bed. (click the pics for larger images; mouse over for caption.)

Then in this group of pictures, you see what happened later: a garden gone wild.

But they’re producing and that’s what counts. Earlier harvest of fruit (haskap), veggies (garlic), and herbs (oregano) below.

And where the garlic was will be new lettuce and other various greens.

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Lettuce starts about to be planted in the already harvested garlic bed.

Meanwhile, around the front of the house, the daylilies have a thing or two to tell us.

The thing I love about daylilies is they always look like they’re shouting.

Sometimes with joy, sometimes good morning, sometimes HEY, I’M HERE!

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Daylilies and hostas. Everyone plays nice together.

Peaches Don’t Lie

Denial is a powerful thing. Today is June 22nd and I refuse to turn on the heat because I should not have to turn on the heat on June 22nd. I should be begging for mercy from the heat and humidity gods. Instead I dress in layers: sweatshirt, wool sweater, heavy socks, a toque for god’s sake. But I do NOT turn on the heat. It is summer.

It is somewhat warmer outside so, despite being sick, I go out to the garden. When I return, my partner asks me what I’ve been doing and I tell her I’ve been weeding and thinking. I tell her I’ve been thinking about survival of the fittest and how sad that really is because who and what is fittest seems to change from day to day. Or maybe that’s actually good because whoever is down one day might be up the next? These are the places my brain goes.

I was weeding and thinking about a film I just watched about walruses. Used to resting on the arctic ice after feasting, they now have to swim hundreds of miles looking for a place to hang out because their beloved ice has melted. When they finally meet land, they climb up the highest cliff and are so exhausted many fall back down to their death. Hundreds of them lie dead or dying on the rocks at any given time.

Here on the Atlantic coast where I’ve been living for the past seven years, young people I know in their 20s and 30s have decided they will not have children because of climate change. I ask and am told that yes, they would have liked to have children but feel they cannot, in good conscience, bring children into a world that is burning up, into a world where the youth will have to struggle in ways that we in North America cannot even imagine.

And yet still, they have not given up. They fight every day to make a difference, to get the rest of us to pay attention. So when I am in the garden, I have hope too. Especially in the spring. I see the pollinators that overwinter here in the north struggle to survive. And while some of them don’t, many more do.

It’s been a tough spring and a lot of pollinators are still hiding out in the mulch. Luckily, there’s a lot of food for them.

I started ground cherries indoors this year where they grew beautifully. When the time came to transplant them, I think the wet windy weather caught them off guard. I thought they were done for as they shed one leaf after the other. But I put them in the ground anyway and most of them have rallied. Most of them look like maybe, just maybe, they’ll make it.

First day out for the ground cherries when they were still at their healthiest.

And then there’s the peach tree. For 5 years now, I’ve watched a pit thrown on the compost pile root into a seedling and finally into a tree that is at least a few feet taller than me and produces the most delicious fruit I think I’ve ever had.

Whatever goes on in the world at large, nature goes on. We humans tend to forget we are part of that cycle. We’ve lost some of our grace but I’ll continue to hold onto hope.

And look at that … the sun just came out and it looks like summer again.

The Big Picture

It’s been almost a year since I wrote anything here and in those last musings I promised I would write next about how permaculture gardening makes for less work overall.

Springtime planting takes a lot of intense work and certainly 6 raised beds, which is what I have now for annual veggies, is a lot less work than the 12 I used to have. You can get a refresher on where the redesign all began at this ch-ch-ch-changes post.  But the two photos below are a quick look at the design in the off-season before all the growth hides the lines. Everything except for the 6 raised beds up front is perennial. Click on the pictures for a larger image.

Not being in as much of a frenzy about planting annuals leaves more time for cleanup after the kind of heavy duty winter of ice/rain freeze/thaw craziness we had this past winter. But even taking that into account, the rewards of the permaculture part of the plot outweigh the work of the annuals.

When it was still too cold to even start sowing warm weather plants inside (tomatoes, tomatillos, and ground cherries this year), we were eating Sea Kale, Sylvetta, and Good King Henry Spinach from the garden. The young fresh leaves on all 3 of these plants are to die for. No less spectacular in their own special ways were the Egyptian Walking Onions and the doing-its-own-thing, ever ubiquitous rhubarb. I’ve already made rhubarb peach jam (peaches frozen from last year’s harvest), rhubarb crisp (well, of course), and multiple iterations of stewed rhubarb. I let one of the plants go to seed just to bear witness to the flower which I’d never seen before. At least not in our rhubarb patch.

Sea Kale

Spring is also the time to take a step back and look at the big picture. What are the plants telling me? Any fruit trees/bushes with weakened, damaged, or broken branches that need to be pruned? Anything obviously unhappy where it’s living that would benefit from a geographical? And which plants need some organic plant food? (answer: all of them)

For every success story, there is also a challenge. Peach leaf curl comes to mind. Leaf curl, though not necessarily fatal, looks really horrid and can, in fact, impact peach production. It often happens when the spring weather is wet, cold, and windy which ours certainly was. The kiwi had a bad case of powdery mildew for the same reason.

Just as the kiwi is now happy and in full bloom, I’m hoping the peach tree will also recover. I’ve had to deal with it one other time and after picking off every effected leaf, had a hugely productive harvest. I’ve done the same thing this year so I’m hoping we get the same result!


Hot and Humid

I’m not crazy about the humidity that’s knocked us off our feet but the garden seems to be thriving in it. This year’s harvest is the biggest I’ve had so far. The freezer is full of fruits and veggies, I’ve canned pickles, relish, and jam and the garden is still out there producing.

One of the things I’ve really loved this year is that not only are we filling our pantry (so to speak) with fresh fruits and vegetables to enjoy well into the winter, but we’ve given lots and lots of food away.

Especially peaches. And here’s what I learned about this magnificent fruit … you have to thin them early in the season like you would carrots or beets or anything else. Our tree was so overloaded with fruit I had to pick the fruit to save the tree. But the other thing I learned? Peaches ripen after they’ve been picked.

Peach Tree

Peach tree started from a pit 5 years ago.

I’ve also had this crazy little love affair with the way peas, beans, and cucumbers send their tendrils out to wrap themselves around whatever is nearby, thereby helping them climb rather than crawl. When I have more time I’m going to write a whole essay about that. And the peach tree. Click the pics for a better view.

Of course there’s been the usual shenanigans with bees and flowers.

Next post I’ll talk more about the food and how last year’s redesign to include more perennial foods made for an easier season work wise.

Our Arctic June

So I know I’ve only lived here a few years but everyone says this has been the weirdest, coldest June they’ve EVER seen. Given the warmth at the end of May leading up to it — we’d had a week of lovely warm spring weather hovering from mid to high 20s — I got crazy and planted my tomatoes and squash and excitedly went off to Montréal for a week. I’d only been there 2 days when I heard Nova Scotia, including Halifax, got hit with a surprise freak frost that killed all our tomatoes and most of the cucumbers that had just started to push up from the soil.

But what can you do? I’ve now replanted tomatoes and cucumbers and thrown in some collard greens and zucchini to boot. And even more exciting … I found some sea kale to add to my perennial beds! To read about this amazing plant, click on the plant name. I’ve also added 2 dwarf cherry trees from the ‘Romance series’ out of the University of Saskatchewan: ‘Juliet’ and ‘Valentine’. Click here for information about them.

Mouse over pictures below for caption; click for larger photo.

Despite the arctic June, flowers are budding, insects are pollinating, and we’ve been harvesting lots of delicious greens: lettuce, a few different types of mustard, kale, arugula (my fave). And alerted to the ripeness of certain berries by the noisy, thieving starlings, we’ve been eating lots of haskaps, always the first berries in the spring.

And our side garden, that little strip between our house and our neighbours’ driveway, that I pay hardly any attention to since installing it, seems oblivious to the weather and is looking gorgeous! This used to be nothing but lawn and most plants were gifts from gardening friends and strangers alike. So despite the wind and the cold and this crazy June, I am nothing but blessed. I am now hoping for a beautiful hot summer (well maybe not TOO hot). Mouse over pictures below for caption; click for larger photo.

Annuals & Perennials: working together

Today would have been my mom’s birthday so it seemed like a good time to plant some veggies in her honour. Not that she was the gardener in our family, that was my dad’s specialty, but she could always find a way to feed us with whatever he grew. My cousins, to this day, talk about how my mom taught them to eat cucumbers instead of bananas in their peanut butter sandwiches. So what could be more appropriate than planting cucumbers on her birthday?


I’m trying a new thing this year in my attempt to keep out unwanted creatures. In the bed above, there are 2 hills at each end into which I sowed probably 10 cucumber seeds each. The rest of the bed contains 4 rows of yellow wax beans. The straw is good on the beans until they start showing themselves and that usually discourages any cavorting but I wanted the cuke hills uncovered. I have no idea why. Just seemed right. So the prayer flags keep the birds off and the stakes surrounding keep the cats out. Or that’s the idea at least. As an aside, I don’t think I’ll ever have to buy stakes again as I have so many of all sizes from the stems of the tall flowers/grasses I can use for biomass…echinacea, sunflowers, filipendula, miscanthus, and so on and on. It’s exciting to see all aspects of the garden come to fruition.

And speaking of fruition…

This is the first year I’ve grown saskatoon berries and those bushes are now in bloom. Ahead of them were the haskaps giving the newly awakening bees something to live for. The currants and blueberries have just begun to show buds and even the kiwi are coming alive.


One of two Saskatoon Berry bushes in bloom. That’s mugwort in the lower right corner and strawberries upper right. The strawberries actually surround the berry bush.


One of two Black Currant bushes with 3 Good King Henry spinach plants to the right. These are all part of the perennial beds so, believe it or not, that spinach survives the winter, popping up early with the first greens of the season. Bit of Lemon Balm showing on the left.

It’s still early here for the annual plants and even for the perennials to be showing any kind of good growth…that’s why there’s still so much straw mulch down. Some of that will come up as the plants take over. In other words, better pics next time! But I can’t resist a few more…


Hazel nut tree. This was basically a stick when we put it in the ground last fall and I had no idea it had such beautiful leaves.


Hazel nut tree. A different variety and not as pretty as the one with red leaves but I’m hoping it will make up for that with plenty of nuts! Walking Onions (perennial) in the upper left corner.


Peas starting their race to the top. Yes I know, the trellis not pretty.


About 2 week old onions (annuals). The flags are to protect the carrot seeds planted between the rows of onions from the birds. Supposedly.


So I had a garden this year, just like every other year, but I haven’t written about it or posted many (any?) pictures because, well… every other year. For a couple of seasons now I’ve been thinking about taking the garden to the next step, I just never knew exactly how to start. This year after talking to Jenn at Halifax Earth, I knew what that next step was.

I want to start following permaculture principles as I think about how I move forward with our back yard garden. So that means more perennial food crops that are low maintenance because the plants are taking care of each other. Basically it means an edible landscape for both the humans who live here and the visiting birds, butterflies, and other pollinators. And it means giving back to the soil in a natural, sustainable, organic manner.

Since I already have beds installed, I decided to change them to a horizontal position and move them to the front of the yard, making the annual veggies more accessible to the house. That would leave the back for the new perennial foods. But first I had to get rid of the grass. So with a little bit of lasagne gardening and horse manure from the local stables…voila!


Here we see the beds still travel the length of the property though I’ve started pulling the old beds apart. And other than the beds that have not been harvested yet (I think this was in September), the back has been mulched with horse manure and the middle path is on its way.


The beginning of the new beds. I treated myself to raised beds from Free Spirit Farm who make gorgeous sustainably grown and harvested wood products. And the beds couldn’t be more simple to put together.

Meanwhile, these 2 really great guys were framing up a new house next door. I’d never heard construction guys singing and laughing and having so much fun building a house. So we asked them if they would build us a shed when they were done. They checked out the space and now, yep, we have a shed. Ask and you shall receive.

Then Jenn came over and started in like a mad woman digging and designing as she went…she is fast and strong and really knows her stuff. I was just trying to keep up planting and transplanting behind her. It’s impossible to show the bigger design right now because there are no brightly coloured plants filling in the edges (most are losing their leaves and going dormant) and I don’t have a drone camera but I’ll try again in the spring. So far we’ve planted Saskatoon berries, air potatoes, perennial spinach, Hazel (yes, we’ll have nuts in our back yard!), walking onions, strawberries and so much more to come. Mouse over for captions or click for larger pics.

Meanwhile, we had a pretty good harvest this year including at least 50 peaches from our pit-from-the-compost peach tree and a bunch of sunflowers that we shared with the birds.

The birds are so used to me now that they chow down even if I’m standing right next to them.

So have a great winter! Share with your neighbours. See you in the spring.