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.

 

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The In-Between Time

So it doesn’t really feel like winter anymore and yet it is definitely not spring. It’s raining but there’s the odd big-flake snow flurry mixed in with it so I don’t quite trust that snow is done for another year. In fact they’re threatening a Nor-easter for next week. Winter does not let go easy here. But I’ve started thinking about spring anyway and gardening is on my mind.

Sadly, I have to be away for most of May this year. Well, not sadly because the time away will be fun but May is, of course, prime gardening time. I’m nervous about getting everything prepped and planted and wondering if I should just let someone else take over for awhile. But to remind myself not to worry about things and to remember that it is Mother Nature in charge after all, I want to share a story I just read in Thomas King’s book, “The Truth About Stories”. He tells about the grandfather of a good friend that he went to visit when he was travelling through Alberta. They were sitting inside having tea when the old man asked (and now I quote King)…

‘You see those tomatoes out there?’ From the kitchen window you could see his garden. The tomato plants were just beginning to produce fruit. ‘When that last storm came through, I was just getting ready to pick my tomatoes. They were big and red. Real ripe. But the storm beat me to it. First the rain. And then the hail.’ And here the old man stopped and helped himself to more tea. And then he sat back and looked at the table. I tried to be sympathetic. ‘You must have been upset’, I said. ‘Nope’, said the old man, without even the hint of a smile. ‘Always good to have some ketchup.’

I laughed hard reading that and decided there was no way to go but easy, to do our best day by day and then let it go. I’ll be back here when it’s spring. And it will be spring before we know it.

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.

Yes I do!

I come from the arts side of the corporate world but the corporate world nonetheless. So I understand when some of my friends from those days can’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that not only did I walk away from a “successful” career but that I appear to now spend most of my time in the garden. And while not exactly true (I still do a bit of freelance work, I volunteer on Boards, etc.), it’s a fact that in the growing season I spend most of my time in the garden. And the reason I do that is because, selfishly, it keeps me sane. Literally. It is my meditation. My medicine. It feeds my other creative endeavors. It gives me food and beauty. It makes me happy. Even in black & white.

self But I don’t only do it for me. I grow food for my family and give excess to friends and neighbours near and far. I do it for the earth and for the generations who follow us who will be left with this mess that too many of us just sit around crying about. I’ve encouraged neighbours to grow their own food and taught them tricks to make the process more rewarding.

IMG_0930I also have an herb garden where I grow oregano, thyme, valerian, and feverfew year round. I plant rosemary and basil annually and throw in poppies and bee balm to round out the bed. We just dried herbs that will take us through the coming year and sent some more to family who, sadly, don’t live nearby.

New for me are flowers. The flowers obviously aren’t food for us but they are for the bees, other insects, and the birds. Plus they’re beautiful. So just as other gardeners have given me plants, I try to pass on as many seedlings as possible. I don’t really know what’s become of them all but I imagine some of them have grown into beautiful plants.

And somehow it’s the end of October already. The garlic is planted and everything else is mulched. And gardening time has slowed down. Until the spring.

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Some of the greens that we’re still eating out of the garden. Except for the parsnips and beets up front. For them, see next photo.

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Underneath this very thick layer of straw mulch are the parsnips and beets we’re hoping to eat all winter.

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Leeks thickly mulched. Hoping to eat at least through December.

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Mustard greens keep on volunteering.

 

Bees Go Balmy

I’ve been doing a lot of clean-up in the garden these days … all of the usual harvesting and weeding and thinking about what beds to mulch for the winter and whether or not I can get one more crop of something or other and, if so, where I should plant it. I spend as much time as I can out there at this time of the year and have noticed lots of bee action. Crazy eccentric bee action.

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I came across these bees on the ground between a bed of leeks and the herb garden. Initially I thought they were just a couple of bees drunk on pollen but no…on closer inspection, they were doing the humpty-dump. The male was injecting sperm into the queen. Right there, rolling around in the garden. But wait, it gets better… As the male flew off and the queen was pulling herself together, I noticed there was another bee on the back of the flying male! I kid you not. It was a 3-way. I’m only sorry I was too stunned to take a picture.

I’ve since done some research and, if my sources are to be believed (which I’m sure they are), these are ground nesting bees. Each female builds her own nest though many will build their nests close to each other. I believe the male dies after fertilizing the female’s eggs.

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A calmer moment than that depicted in the picture above. The bee seemed to be sleeping on the petal of the echinacea flower. If you look closely you can see pollen on its feet and mouth.

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.