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.

Advertisements

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?

IMG_7943

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.

IMG_7948

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.

IMG_7953

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…

IMG_7961

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.

IMG_7962

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.

IMG_7946

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

IMG_7947

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

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!

IMG_6084

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.

IMG_6081

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.

IMG_5884

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

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.

IMG_4081

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…

garden 017

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. 

garden 019

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.

garden 015

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.

 

garden 013

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.

garden 006

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.

 

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:

IMG_2281

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…

IMG_2273 IMG_2276IMG_2286

IMG_2325 IMG_2328

And now it’s the irises turn…

IMG_2327

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.

IMG_2334

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!!

IMG_2290

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.

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.

 

2014 Vegetable Garden Is In

It’s been weeks since I’ve posted anything here and, at this time of year, that can only mean one thing: spring finally arrived and I’ve been busy in the garden! It was a long time coming this year. In my impatience and frustration, I lost a few plants to late frosts. I learned, though, that tomatoes and tomatillos are hardier than I think. I put them out too early and they struggled with that same late frost that killed all but one of the zucchinis. But the tomatoes survived and are now flowering. Hardy as they may sometimes appear, I do not intend to push my luck. Next year I will plant them later, after all signs of frost have gone. Why make them suffer?

Tomatillo plant finally on the other side of late spring frosts.

Tomatillo plant finally on the other side of late spring frosts.

IMG_1012

By the time the 2nd frost warning came around, I decided to cover the zukes but it was really too late. They were never able to fully recover.

We are definitely over the hump and quick approaching the first days of summer. The vegetables are coming into their own with beans, peas, tomatoes, kale and all kinds of other greens looking all pleased with themselves. Carrots, onions, parsnips all good. My big fat fail continues to be the squash family. I couldn’t stop them from growing on the west coast and for the 2 years I’ve been here (Nova Scotia), I’ve been completely unsuccessful. This years it’s the slugs … ate the leaves right of the baby cucumber seedlings as they appeared. I’m waiting to see if they recover. Meanwhile, I go slug hunting at dusk. I’ve been clearing out all the straw mulch where they like to hang out. And I keep drinking lots of coffee so I can use the grounds as slug deterrent (see previous post).

DSC_0081

Chives just starting to flower in this photo. They are now in full bloom. I’ve watched baby crows try to pull the flowers right out of the ground! I have no idea what the attraction is but they were not successful.

Last yea's kale sprouting up new delicious leaves.

Last year’s kale sprouting up new delicious leaves.

Last year's kale already attracting pollinators.

Last year’s kale already attracting pollinators.

And for those veggies that can’t over-winter, that I start indoors from seed, that need to be hardened off before being planted in the ground, there’s this:

Plastic portable greenhouse worked beautifully for hardening off plants...I didn't have to bring them in every night! Gift from a neighbour.

Plastic portable greenhouse worked beautifully for hardening off plants…I didn’t have to bring them in every night, I just zipped them up and unzipped them in the morning! Gift from a neighbour.

Note: To harden something off is to inure a plant to cold by gradually increasing its exposure to it.