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.

When We Need it Most

Last week a copy of the Whole Seed Catalog arrived in the mail for me. The Whole Seed Catalog is a catalog unlike any other. It is nearly 400 pages of stunning photographs of plants along with guides to growing and harvesting said plants. It includes stories of farmers and seed warriors around the globe. It’s filled with how-to’s on gardening. And of course it has that little white form that allows you to pick and choose and order seeds for yourself.

As if all of that isn’t enough, the whole idea of this catalog holds special resonance for me personally because I was one of a team of people who worked on a project digitizing the real Whole Earth Catalog in the late 1980s. Don’t remember the Whole Earth Catalog? Too young to have even heard of it? Google it. I am feeling transported.

And who amongst us could not use some transporting right about now. I mean every winter, gardeners look forward to thumbing through seed catalogues as we anxiously await spring’s warming soil. But this winter many of our heads are spinning and splitting from the racist, xenophobic, misogynistic coup that is taking place in the united states right now. Our hearts are breaking from the attack on Muslims in Québec City, the ranting of alt-right leaders in Europe. Sometimes you need a flower to soothe your battered soul and when all you have is this…

… it feels wondrous to flip through something like the Whole Seed Catalog. Though don’t get me wrong. I spent close to 20 minutes in below zero weather wandering through my garden of winter detritus. It is still a heart warming event to bear witness to Mother Nature and her always continuing cycles of life and death. There is always something new to see and learn and there is always beauty.

So as we do what we can to bring justice and love into our worlds, let’s also bring refuge. Let’s not forget that Mother Nature is a never-ending sanctuary of life lessons and serenity. Take it wherever you can find it. And pass it on to someone who could use a little peace and love.

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.

Introducing…baby veggies

What can I say? We
started late but here they come.
Let’s appreciate.

(It not only rhymes, sort of, but hey, it’s also a haiku.)

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Baby broccoli.

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Baby peppers.

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Baby tomatoes.

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Baby blueberry that seems to be calling for some food of its own.

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Baby squash.

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Baby kiwis.

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Test harvest of the garlic. They’re ready.

So that’s the next big task… harvest the 2 beds of garlic, dry it briefly in the sun, hang it in bunches in the basement until it’s ready to be stored. Meanwhile we continue to harvest all the various greens and herbs as we wait for the babies to grow up.

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.

 

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.