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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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

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

ch-ch-ch-changes

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!

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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.

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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.

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.

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.