Spring 2017: freaking cold

So winter wasn’t too bad this year and, while I know I’ve said we somehow seem to skip spring and go straight to summer here in Halifax, this year I do believe we have spring! I don’t know how to explain it really, maybe I’m just getting used to it. That said, it’s below normal cold. But hey, the garden grows!

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Peas coming up under protection of prayer flags (they keep the birds out).

Beets under the Wire

Beets, slowly but surely, pushing through. Chicken wire keeps the cats out.

Lettuce Seedlings

Lettuce. Chicken wire will stay on until the plants are big enough to take up their space.

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Garlic, planted last fall, off to a good start.

Meanwhile, pain in the ass that it is because they take over the house, tender veggies have been started indoors. I should be able to plant them out in a couple of weeks. Click the pics for captions.

Other than the veggies, I’ve been keeping busy with post-winter cleanup and welcoming the perennials…

So snow shovels are away for another year and gardening tools have been resurrected. Now I’m going to go plant the onions.

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Winter’s over, spring has sprung…the gardener and her extraordinary assistant.

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Flowers

This is a new daylily, the ‘Niki Jabbour’, named after local gardener, Niki Jabbour. It was grown by Harbour Breezes in Jeddore, Nova Scotia. Shown here are 8 different blooms from 8 different days from July 28-August 12. There appears to still be 2-3 buds to go.

Then there’s the ubiquitous Echinacea purpurea, also known as Purple Coneflower. The bees go crazy for these, sometimes just sleeping in them (or so it seems to me). Butterflies and hummingbirds also love them and they’re a good herb for humans as well.

And speaking of hummingbirds, their favourite actually seems to be the scarlet Bee Balm. At this point, they’re nearly finished but both the bees and the hummers are still visiting.

A bit of a wilder view below… that tall white flower in the back (L) is Yucca and the tall pink flower in the back (R) is filipendula. Monarda, aka bee balm, and some kind of daisy in front.

I’m all about the food growing but what I love about the flowers is not only their beauty but the fact that they’re food for the pollinators. Whatever feeds the pollinators ultimately feeds us.

Top left to right: Iris, ‘Oscar Peterson’ Rose, pink tubular flower (?), a bee hugs a bean, lupins, dahlia, hops.

Spring Came for a Minute and Handed Us Summer

Before moving here, a friend warned me that Halifax really only had 3 seasons. I waited for the punchline but there wasn’t one. She explained that spring basically skipped this part of the country and that one day Haligonians just wake up and it’s all summer humidity and hurricane winds. There is not one part of me that could grasp this at the time. How could you not have spring? How could you just wake up one day and the trees are full of green leaves? How could you miss the budding part? She was just making some point, right? About long winters? Well, yes and no. We do have spring but it’s only about a minute long and you have to work quickly to get your food planted. And it’s all about timing. This year I was late.

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Starting to sow this year’s garden beds and last year’s kale is already going to seed.

I took advantage of the lateness to just go easy and try some new things…

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This is an espalier apple tree that I’m training along our neighbour’s fence. Not just any kind of apple tree… there are 6 different varieties of apple grafted onto the one tree.

The haskap bushes are now 3 years old so I decided it's time to harvest the fruit. First step was to protect them from the birds while the berries were ripening.

The haskap bushes are now 3 years old so I decided it’s time to harvest the fruit. First step was to protect them from the birds while the berries were ripening. I left the male bush (to the left) because the berries were fewer and smaller. One day I looked out and every branch was filled with squawking fluttering starlings swallowing up the little pieces of fruit that I’d left them. 

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Just a handful of the haskap berries harvested. They’re the first of the various berries to ripen and we had them fresh, as vinaigrette, and as jam. We’re also growing currants, raspberries, and blueberries. More on them later.

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The peach tree that I started from a pit 3 years ago is now bearing fruit. This was the first fuzzy little peach bud that showed up.

 

This is that same peach about a month later. There are about 4 or 5 others as well. A neighbour commented that next year the tree would be so laden with fruit, I would have to prop up the branches. He said it like this was a problem.

 

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The not so good new thing this year is that there appears to be way more aphids, earwigs, and ants. Between the ladybugs and insecticidal soap, I may have them sort of under control. Note the scepticism.

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I have never been very good with roses. But this year, for the first time, my lovely partner and I decided to proactively buy and plant a rose bush. And not just any rose. This is an Oscar Peterson Floribunda Rose, part of a Canadian artist series.

 

Autumn Light

When the afternoon sun shines on the plants at the front of the house which, I’m embarrassed to admit, I pay very little attention to, it is as though they’re saying they’ve had enough of my neglect. They’re tired of playing second fiddle to the gardens in the back. And they put on a show that stops me in my tracks. It is their last hurrah before winter. I stop and thank them. You are beautiful, I whisper, and the kids on the street playing hockey pay me no mind as they know now I’m just that crazy neighbour who talks to her plants and lets them “steal” snow in the winter for their forts.

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Purple Fountain Grass in leaf mulch.

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Nearly transparent autumn leaves of the Hosta. Probably my favourite season for this plant in particular. It seems rather plain and common in comparison during the other seasons.

Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus), hostas in the back.

Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) I’ve had 2 of these bushes for a few years now and, for some reason, only noticed this year that they have berries.

September Still My Favourite Month

September is my favourite month for a lot of reasons … the weather is gorgeous, tourists have gone home (nothing against tourists, it’s just quiet again, enough to hear the crickets day and night alike), the garden continues to do its own thing while us gardeners continue to help it along and happily harvest the food it offers up.

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First step of garlic harvest. One bed dug up and laid out for initial drying before move into our basement/barn to hang and dry.

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One bunch of garlic dried and stored. We grew 88 heads this year which should be enough to plant next year’s crop with plenty left to last us through next harvest.

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We planted a bed of corn this year…popcorn! That’s a row of Limnanthes douglasii (poached eggplant) in the middle.

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A barrel of Tom Thumb Popcorn grown from Heritage Harvest Seed out of Manitoba. 2’ plants produce multiple small cobs that average 2-3″ long.

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We’ve had a bumper year of acorn squash, also from fabulous Heritage Harvest Seed. Lost track of how many are growing out there.

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I found it fascinating that every single time the bees entered the squash flowers, they seemed to just lie down and wrap themselves around the pistil.

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This beautiful little guy seemed to like the leaves of the Black Turtle Dry Beans.

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I have no idea what happened here. Part of the life and death cycle all around us.

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More life and death.

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I decided to cut and move all the strawberry plants so they would have their own bed instead of scattered throughout the flower garden as I’ve had them. This way I can cover them, protect the fruit from the birds so we actually have something to harvest.

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Blue Solaise Leek, squash behind them, black-eyed susans to the right.

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And last but not least, COMFREY! A couple of seedlings were given to us by an herbalist friend early this summer and they have grown like crazy. In fact, I’m going out right now to cut some leaves to make a tincture.

Picture Perfect

In the middle of the worst winter in a bazillion years, my partner and I decided we had to partake in an introductory insanely cheap flight to Scotland. Problem is we could only get tickets for July, prime gardening time. But winter will do crazy things to you and we bought the tickets. Now having just returned, the garden overflows and I have done nothing but weed for the past week. Oh, and harvest.

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Broccoli, lettuce, kale, and garlic scapes harvested the first afternoon we were home from our trip.

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Lettuce, beans, and kale, oh my!

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Carrots, parsnips, beets in the front bed; lettuce and beans in the next. There’s a bed of broccoli down there, corn, garlic, sunchokes; onions, leeks, and more garlic over in the top right corner. Click the pic to see better.

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One of the heads of broccoli.

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One of 2 beds of garlic. Scapes have all been harvested, garlic soon to be.

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Never having grown currants before, I’m not sure when I should pick them. At least one robin has been checking them out but hasn’t touched them yet.

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The oregano has gone crazy. Lots of different pollinators appear to love crazy when it comes to the herbs but I think I’ll be cutting it back severely come fall.

And speaking of pollinators, what would a garden be without flowers…

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Rudbeckia. This is always swarming with bees.

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Beebalm. Beloved by both hummingbirds and bees.

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I just planted this Clematis maybe 6 weeks ago, nothing more than a few little twigs. I wasn’t even sure it would bloom this year.

IMG_3116 Filipendula rubra ‘Venusta’

The majestic Filipendula.

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Astilbe, given to me by my friend, Ed. I have another one out front under which wasps built a nest last year. Here’s to them staying away this year.

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Teasel. I’m not crazy about it because it’s so hard to deal with but the bees love it and I’m all about keeping the bees happy.

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And speaking of bees, I’ll let this one, sucking on the comfrey, have the last word.

Covering New Ground

Someone asked me about the process I went through to replace the front lawn with different kinds of ground cover. How did I choose the plants? The truth is the plants really chose me. All I knew was that I wanted something that I wouldn’t have to mow all the time. Suddenly other gardeners started gifting me with plants. I took everything with great excitement and gratitude. Then I started frequenting fundraisers and yard sales and bought plants there. I would come home with plants, hide them in a shady corner somewhere with lots of water while I did some basic research to find out what each plant liked. The most difficult part was digging the holes and preparing the soil since the “soil” was pretty much big rocks, roots from the street-side maple, and dirt. Initially I went for plants that literally hugged the ground or had a reputation for spreading quickly. Bonus if they had flowers.

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Veronica filiformis

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I think this is a variety of fleeceflower.

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Cranesbill geraniums have the most fantastically delightful smell. Touch the leaves for a sensory surprise.

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Dianthus, aka ‘pinks’.

But then I realized there were lots of different kinds of plants that would add height and texture… That’s where the hostas and lilies came in, not to mention irises, teasel, and violas closer to the ground again.

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Day lilies, hostas, burning bush

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Mostly lilies and some irises to shake things up a bit.

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I think this is the blue flag iris. Tends to do well in shade and wet.

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These violas were just planted which is why they look so scraggly. It’s a temporary thing. We planted them up front near the street to honour Viola Desmond.

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I love the delicacy of Columbine.

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Astilbe, prior to flowering, spreading its beautiful leaves. Actually, last year wasps built a nest under this plant which I didn’t realize until one of them stung me, punishment for weeding too close to their home.

IMG_2516 OK, enough for now. I have so much more but I’ll be back later…

Catching up with myself

When the posts slow down here (or stop altogether), that usually means one of two things: I’m either busy planting or it’s winter and I’m hibernating. In this case, it’s the former. I’ve been too busy planting to document what the heck I’m doing. This is my attempt to try and catch up.

Click to enlarge.

The last time I was here I wrote about the pulmonaria, how I was digging it out from under winter’s mulchy mess and the first few blossoms were slowly showing their shy little selves. If you don’t remember, here’s a quick refresher:

And now to show how Mother Nature ignores the follies of humans and continues creating her magic, here is that same plant today:

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Pulmonaria (lungwort) does best in cool weather and partial shade.

The daffodils have pretty much come and gone, same with the tulips. Still, there are a few hangers-on…

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And now it’s the irises turn…

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Our neighbours gave us these bulbs a couple of years ago telling us, conspiratorially, that they were a rare black variety that they had never seen before.

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The same iris, now open. Obviously not black though there is that wonderful line from the Christopher Smart poem Jubilate Agno, “For black blooms and it is purple”.

And speaking of neighbours, be very careful about what it is you’re accepting to plant in your garden. Last spring a friend gave me a Himalayan Balsam seedling which I eagerly and gratefully planted since I was told bees liked it. And while they do, indeed, seem to like it (though not as much as the bee balm), it is an invasive little bugger. I had one plant last spring and this year there were seedlings everywhere. It is said that the seed head of this plant can eject seeds up to 7 metres away!!

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This is one patch of the balsam where the single seedling stood last year but there is more of this all over the property that we are slowly eliminating.

Back in a bit with the veggies.

Hello Fall

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Most of the beds have been mulched, garlic planted.

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Bamboo to the left, mustard greens to the right.

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A variety of mustard.

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Last of the brown-eyed susans.

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Newly sprouting mustard and onions.

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The calendula love the cool weather.

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Calendula, spirea, and various herbs.

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The dahlias finally call it a season. Once we have the first frost, I’ll dig up the tubers and bring them in for the winter.

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One last shout-out from the saxifragia.

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Yucca gets mulched from the overlooking maple.

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More veggie beds.

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Last leaves of a blueberry bush.

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Juvenile peach tree which just a few months ago was a peach pit in a compost pile.

Symbiosis

symbiosis |ˌsimbēˈōsis, -bī-|noun (pl. symbioses |-ˌsēz| ) Biology
interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both.

There may not be a more perfect example of symbiosis than gardening’s Three Sisters: squash, corn and beans. Various Native American groups grew the 3 crops together in order to get the most yield for their work and many follow the practice today. Click here for the full story: http://www.almanac.com/content/companion-planting-three-sisters

Two of the three sisters: beans growing up the corn stalk

Two of the three sisters: beans growing up the corn stalk.

Bee on Scarlet Runner

Bees are getting fat on the scarlet runner flowers which are happily entwining themselves around the corn. Is that an ant on the flower to the right?

In a completely different kind of symbiosis, let’s talk humans… our back yard neighbours have 2 beautiful plum trees whose branches hang into our yard. We have harvested the most delicious plums from those few branches which in turn keeps the neighbours happy because they don’t feel guilty about wasting food!

Plum trees and their harvest.

Plum trees and their harvest.

Everything Grows

Well, almost everything grows. Unless it doesn’t. The cucumber has refused to grow this year. First it was too cold, then it was too wet. That was immediately followed by it being too hot. And when it did start to show its beautiful viney self, the slugs ate it. So till next year, no cukes from the garden.

That all said, if I make it to August I’m cruising. This might be my favourite gardening time because it’s a little bit of everything going on: planting, harvesting, clean-up all happening at the same time. And if you have flowers, that’s just a bonus.

Perennial bed back of the house.

Perennial bed back of the house.

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Yucca plant, 1 of 3 given to us by neighbours, in bloom.

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Evening Primrose.

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A Comma butterfly slurping up the echinacea pollen.

We’ve been harvesting for awhile. All kinds of greens, peas, beans, carrots, onions and on the last day of July we harvested the garlic. We’ve now turned the living room into a drying shed or, as we like to call it, our barn.

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Garlic drying in the living room.

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Thinning the carrots. This year I planted carrots every few weeks so we’d have a steady stream of them.

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This is the first time I planted tomatillos and, to be honest, I’m not even sure how to tell when they’re ripe.

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Peach tree (!) from a friend who pulled it out of the compost.

 

Flowers and Ground Cover

There are 10 vegetable beds installed now, 9 of which are active. The 10th is new and waiting for soil. The truth is that once veggies are planted every spring, I have a responsibility to be vigilant and maintain (weed as needed, hunt slugs and other pests, harvest, etc.) but they pretty much take care of themselves. There’s only so much I can do … which has freed me to focus on flowers and ground cover. To that end, we’ve been working very hard, slowly but surely (emphasis on slowly), to remove lawn and replace it with flowers and ground cover.

Front yard, lawn is slowly being replaced with various types of ground cover.

Front yard, lawn is slowly being replaced with various types of ground cover.

To each their own tool. I'm more of a shovel and pick kind of person.

To each their own tool. I’m more of a shovel and pick kind of person. But hey, a trowel will get the job done too and it’s a much more meditative process!

Flowers are a whole new area for me and other gardeners have been wonderful, gifting me both with plants and their knowledge.

This was planted last summer as a tiny little one flower plant. It's now fulfilling its job as a rapidly spreading ground cover whose name I am embarrassed to have forgotten. Anybody?

This was planted last summer as a tiny little one flower plant. It’s now fulfilling its job as a rapidly spreading ground cover whose name I am embarrassed to have forgotten. Anybody?

Here’s how the front is progressing. Would be a lot faster if we could hire a landscaper but it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun!

The hostas from Ed that I planted last year.

The hostas from Ed that I planted last year.

Beautiful fragile little flowers starting.

Beautiful fragile little flowers starting, also courtesy Ed.

Also from Ed last fall. First blooms of Thrift. At least first in our yard.

First blooms of Thrift. At least first in our yard. They likely bloomed in Ed’s before.

 

Japanese Maple.

Japanese Maple. Oh, and that’s a little guardian fairy on the left that a mysterious stranger left in our yard one dark and stormy night.

We’re also taking up lawn and planting flowers in the back alongside all the veggies.

This phlox was given to us by a gardener friend. The rocks on the right are what I had to dig up before I could plant it!

This phlox was given to us by a gardener friend. The rocks on the right are what I had to dig up before I could plant it!

Star of Bethlehem

Star of Bethlehem

The blueberries I planted this spring. Ideally I would be removing the flowers so the plant could focus on settling in but I just couldn't bear it. What can I say? It's been a long hard winter.

The blueberries I planted this spring. Ideally I would be removing the flowers so the plant could focus on settling in but I just couldn’t bear it. What can I say? It’s been a long hard winter.

 

Today was a  perfect day for playing in the garden…a mixture of sun and cloud, temperature neither hot nor cold, I had a couple of hours to spare, PLUS there were pansies volunteering themselves into the mostly weed lawn!

Volunteered pansies.

Volunteered pansies.

Another plant that’s very happy this time of year is the , AKA red lungwort. And I’m very happy to see it because once we hit the heat of summer, the lungwort acts like it would rather hide out in a cave. It’s a shade loving plant and it doesn’t like heat but look how lovely it looks now…

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Pulmonaria rubra ‘Redstart’

After admiring the newly arrived plants, I sowed some beet seeds in a bed with some extra space between what I’m calling the “surprise” brassica because I don’t know exactly what the seeds are (got them from a Seedy Saturday event) and the sorrel that will not give up no matter how many slugs survive the winter by nibbling on it.

And speaking of slugs, if you don’t know the coffee grounds trick and are having trouble with slugs (and snails too, I believe), it’s worth a try. Just sprinkle coffee grounds around plants that you notice slugs find tasty. It seems to work. It’s a line drawn they just won’t cross. It’ll look something like this…

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The coffee grounds are the darker brown colour. Just sprinkle them so they’re like a moat around the plants you’re trying to protect.

I found these as I was cleaning up some of the veggie beds:

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It’s always good to remember where you planted the carrots in the fall. They are at their sweetest when you dig them up come spring.

 

Earth Day

In celebration of Earth Day, the weather has cooperated and given us spring! We’ve been out in the garden most of the morning generally cleaning up, “removing” any slugs we come across, adding compost and manure, and dreaming of summer. It seems we’ve suddenly fallen behind in prepping the beds for planting… yes, we’ve turned that corner where it’s warm enough to start sowing certain crops. So some purple bunching onions went in today and we’re madly cleaning up beds to plant peas and beans and some of the more hardy greens.

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In the bed on the left, underneath the straw and behind the chives, are 3 rows of Deep Purple bunching onions. I left a bit of plot behind to plant something else later, saving some of the onion seeds for a summer planting. And in the bed to the right, slowly but surely, the garlic inches upward. If you look at the picture in the last post, it’s barely visible.

And what is early spring (especially in Halifax where people say we go from winter to summer but that’s a story for another time) without the brilliant yellow of daffodils. Happy Earth Day, everybody!

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Spring is Peeking

Yes, it has been a really long and harsh-for-Halifax kind of winter but just as the bravest of the plants are starting to peek out from under their protective mulch, so go I. Twice now I have been out in the garden in a tank top and steel-toed boots cleaning up the detritus (I’ve always wanted to use that word in a sentence). While the perennials may be far behind where they were this time last year, the important thing is that they’re here.

After a little cleanup of dead stalks and mulch, voila...chives! Always the first green I see in the veggie garden. And we've already sampled them...scrambled eggs and chives!

After a little cleanup of dead stalks and mulch, voila…chives! Always the first green I see in the veggie garden. And we’ve already sampled them…scrambled eggs and chives!

Garlic finally peeking out through the mulch.

Look for the green… garlic finally peeking out through the mulch. Last year’s were 5 times the height by now.

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Tulips and daffodils never let me down. They’re later this year too, of course, but later is better than never.

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I’ve never been a big fan of crocuses (crocii?) and this is the first year I planted them. I’m still not a fan but seeing their blooms is beyond delightful when there’s still snow on the ground.

 

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Meanwhile, inside I’ve got the tomatoes going as well as some squash and goji berries. Goji berries are a first for me and, while apparently almost indestructible once planted out, the suggestion is that they stay indoors for the first year.