Thursday, August 4, 2016

Wood and Stone Path with Cedar Stepping Stones

DIY Pathway of Cedar Stepping Stones and River Rock

Wood and stone path over old sidewalk, cedar stepping stones and river rock

The old concrete path across the front of the house to the backyard is seldom used. When we put new concrete on the main sidewalk from the front door to the street, the old walkway to the back yard was in need of decoration. The new sidewalk was also a few inches higher than the old concrete path.

To make the stepping 'stones' of wood, we used 2 x 6 cedar, cut into 11.5 inch boards. This made 2 stepping stones per 8 foot plank. Each of the four cut boards was attached to each other with wooden dowels and wood glue for external use. This created a square. The stepping stones were protected with a wood penetrating oil based stain in a natural cedar tone. They were placed flat directly on the old but very level concrete sidewalk and then surrounded by 1.5 inch round river rocks.

Before laying the river rock, we placed landscaping fabric at the edge of the sidewalk and onto the garden, and covered it with rocks that met the cedar bark mulch.

The main sidewalk to the house from the street is newly poured concrete. We also have a back alley garage and entrance. So...this stepping stone pathway is almost never used. The wood and pebble combination would not be practical in a high traffic area, in my opinion.

Problems: - a lawnmower won't transport over the path easily, without moving the rocks around.
                  -the pebbles move around and are not easy to walk on (maybe rocks are too big?)
                 -don't know how durable the wooden stepping stones are - will the dowels hold? (Might have to re-enforce them somehow)
                 -don't know about traction and safety in winter, or ease of shoveling snow (might have to put something non-slip under them)
                 -the stepping stones took a long time to make (maybe flagstone would be better?)

Pros:- easy and fast to lay down over an old concrete sidewalk
         -beautiful to look at - zen, natural feeling.

DIY pathway from stones and wood

the old, seldom used sidewalk to the backyard

Added a cedar platform for the child's bench
Cedar wooden stepping stone

Monday, February 22, 2016

Grow Microgreens at Home

2 Minute VideoBroccoli Microgreens Homegrown

Here's how I grow broccoli microgreens at home.

- Use mixed broccoli sprouting seeds from Mumm's seeds.

- 1 tablespoon of seeds for the tray.

- Gently pat an inch of moist seed starting soil-free potting mix in a shallow seeding tray with drainage holes.

- Sow the seeds evenly and thickly (not overlapping) on top of the mix. Cover the seeds lightly with more moist seed starting soil mix.

- Mist the seeds with water twice a day. Once the seeds sprout, usually by day 4, I water only from below.

- Place the tray in a sunny window, right away once the seeds have sprouted.

- Put them under artificial lights for a few hours in the evening winter, to top up the sunlight, if you have that set up. If the temperature rises a few degrees above freezing, give them a little afternoon sun outside. The greens like water and sun, and a little rest over night.

-I run a fan across the seedlings for 10 minutes each day. Maybe not necessary, but all my plants get aeration in winter.

Low February light = under lights for a few hours each evening.
-As the greens grow, I water them only from below and drain the water off, each day. Keep the potting mix damp but not soggy.

-Harvest starting on the 8-9th day following sowing, or earlier if you prefer. Cut them well above the potting mix, with scissors.

-They taste delicious when tender and have a stronger flavor as they age. I harvest them when they are young, before the first true leaves have developed.

-Wash them well, and rinse in a fine strainer.

-Use them immediately in salads, sandwiches, smoothies, pastas. Best to use them right away. I don't store them. I harvest them as needed.

-Younger greens are milder.

-View my video above, to see the action. It is a very cute video!

Broccoli microgreens on pasta

Sunning in February in Edmonton.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Grow Seedlings or Microgreens Under Lights

I need more winter light for my seedlings and microgreens. They sit in a south window, but in February in a northern city like Edmonton, they grow spindly. I run a soft fan across the seedlings for ten minutes a day to keep them strong, but still they are 'leggy' and pale. 

Google search.....hmmm.  'Weed' sites have taken up the 'grow box' problem with vigor. Pot head solutions seem a bit complicated and expensive. 

I need a quick, simple, cheap solution. 

I have a 4 tier metal wire shelf  that sits up against the south window. These shelving units are inexpensive and easy to put together. 

An industrial clamp light
Light source? 

An industrial clamp light with a 100 watt (aka 23 watt) compact fluorescent bulb. According to the package, this bulb lasts 9 years - so shine away! The clamp light fixture with metal shade is sold at hardware stores.

Initially, I clamped the light under the 2nd shelf from the bottom to shine down on the bottom shelf. I soon realized that a better set up was to move the lights up, and compliment the window light with the artificial light.

I also had a reflective space blanket around the shelf, but the lights give off some heat. I concluded that I didn't need the blanket.  

Wired and taped up, protected on top from water. 
After viewing the excellent videos about growing with lights by Alberta Urban Garden, I altered my system by adding another lamp next to the first light. One light is a 6500K CFL bulb and the other is 2700K CFL light. 

A second light source with a different 'temperature' to satisfy light requirements.
Update: January 2017. I could not resist planting a cherry tomato seed much too early. Below is a picture of the plant at about 4 weeks. At the first site of the stem, before it even emerged from the ground, the lights were on. They shine for about 16 hours a day. If the leaves touch the lights they will singe, so I keep the bulbs a few inches away. The extra heat is a plus near the cold windows. 

Tomato plant - 4 weeks- under lights- Edmonton

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Grow Rosemary Indoors over the Winter

Rosemary indoors over winter.
Garden rosemary does not survive outside in winter in Alberta. Each spring the backyard gardener in a cold climate must replant rosemary. It is an essential and delicious culinary herb, not to be without.               Although rosemary can be grown from seed, I have had only limited success. Sometimes one or two rosemary seeds germinate, but most often none. Those that do sprout takes weeks to do so and the tiny plants grow extremely slowly. 

Rosemary on Crete

An alternative is to bring a plant from the garden inside. Pot it up.

First, harvest much of the rosemary while the plant is still outside, in the ground. 

Four weeks before frost, dig up the plant with a good amount of earth around the roots. Gently tap off enough dirt from the roots so the plant will easily fit into a medium sized pot with drainage holes. Try not to damage the roots, but remove much of the surrounding soil, to be replaced with a light fertile potting mix.

Put damp potting mix in the bottom of the pot. Place the rosemary plant into the pot so the natural crown sits about an inch from the top of the pot. Add more damp potting mix to surround the exposed roots and fill the pot. Hose off the plant from above and below to wash off bugs. 

Reduce the stress to the plant by gradually reducing light. Keep the plant outside in a place with sun and shade throughout the day to adjust to pot life and reduced light.

Bring it indoors just before the first hard frost. 

Inside, rosemary needs sun. Place it in a sunny south facing window to survive the low light levels of winter. Too much water will kill the plant or foster a chalky mildew on the leaves. Wait until the soil is dry, but water before the plant is drying out!  Rosemary needs less water in winter, but still needs some, as it is still growing. To water, place the pot in a deep bowl of water for about 40 minutes and then drain it well.

Rosemary benefits from air circulation, so don't overcrowd it. To improve air circulation, run a fan across plants for about 20 minutes each day. Mist the air around the rosemary with water every few days. Cut off and use the spindly growth. Fertilize very lightly in late winter, if needed. When warm days return in May, plant the rosemary back into the garden.

An alternative is to grow the rosemary outdoors in summer in a pot, instead of the ground, just be sure to water it enough. In early August, move it to a spot that gets some shade each day. Cut the plant back to a manageable size, lift it from the pot and replace some of the potting soil with new fertile mix and bring it indoors before a hard frost.

Rosemary growing  year round in the hills of Crete, Greece.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Scare Off Spider Mites

Lemon tree. Problem: spider mites. 
Solution: cool water mist every day!
The list of plants attractive to the destructive spidermite is long. Ivy does not fare well. Impatiens and mint brought in to overwinter often succumb to these tiny destroyers. Vietnamese coriander is vulnerable and so are indoor lemon and lime trees.

Spider mites take down a few of my indoor plants every winter, and linger around, ready to attack seedlings in spring.

A local greenhouse expert on indoor citrus trees offered  a solution to keep spider mites at bay. Spray vulnerable plants with cool water every day. Spidermites do not like cool, damp conditions. They will depart when confronted with a cool, moist habitat. 

I recently noticed fine webs on the tops of two indoor citrus trees.  A magnifying glass revealed the tiny spider mites in action.

I sprayed the plants with water. At first I didn't spray enough, and the spray was not fine enough to provide excellent coverage.  I used a finer spray and misted the plants, over and under the leaves, on the stems and on the soil.  I turned the plants around and sprayed from different directions, from the top, from the bottom and all around. I kept the plants free from dead leaves. Each day I misted with cool water, and at first I sprayed twice each day. I watched for more mites, magnifying glass in hand, and if I spotted a mite I tried to pluck it from the plant. Be gone!

Chase away spider mites with water.

A week or so later, the spider mites were gone! 

Keep Spider Mites at Bay

I continue to mist thoroughly all plants susceptible to spider mites.  I also mist the basil and tomato seedlings. 

I do believe I will have to keep spraying every day, but as the winters in Edmonton are dry, the continuous misting adds welcome moisture to the air. 

Keep a close eye on your plants for  spider mites. The sooner you start spraying, the more likely you are to keep these destructive critters under control.

I also water from below whenever possible. Put the plant in a bowl of water and let the water soak up from the bottom. Give the plant a thorough soaking once a week or so, depending on the water needs of the plant. I think this keeps the indoor plants healthier and less vulnerable to attack from pests.  

Spider mites have left the lime and lemon trees.

Link to Salisbury Greenhouse about lemon trees.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Succulent Garden in Recycled Dish

Succulent garden in a cracked casserole dish

This gorgeous but cracked pottery dish was too beautiful to throw out. No longer could we use it for baking. It required a new life as a succulent garden.

Easy Pretty: -fill the dish with store bought cactus soil
                      -plant some small succulent plants in the soil
                      -add some decorative sand and rocks.

Easy pretty - succulents in broken ceramic dish
Succulents don't require much water, so water sparingly. Keep the soil on the very dry side, especially in winter. Wait until it feels dry to water. I lightly spritz (very lightly) the soil once every few weeks in winter. My planter has no drainage hole in the bottom, so it is even more important to water lightly. The ideal planter for succulents has drainage holes! I couldn't drill a drainage hole in this shallow casserole dish, so I opted to use well draining potting soil and infrequently water with a spritzer bottle, as needed. It probably would have been helpful to add a layer of crushed stone in the bottom of the container for better moisture control.

Place the planter in a sunny south window in winter. In a northern climate the winter sun is low. Hours of sunshine are reduced and the sunlight is not strong. Even though the succulents are not growing vigorously in winter, they will benefit from the sunshine.

In summer, the growing succulents will be happier if planted outdoors, and re-potted and brought inside again in the fall. If kept indoors, they require more water in summer, but still not too much.

Planting hints

Vary the heights, shapes and sizes of the succulents for interest.

Place the damaged part of the planter at the back of the creation. Arrange the plants in a pleasing way.

Be artistic. Find pretty rocks, tiny statues, little pieces of driftwood for decoration. Keep out of reach of young kids, who will find the colorful, interesting planter irresistible.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Mini Lettuce Roll Snack

So simple this is hardly a 'recipe'. Add fiber and reduce the fat in hummus by adding more beans. Use a salad green as the 'wrap'. Add extra flavor with fresh herbs.

-1 tablespoon hummus (home made or store bought)
-1 cup of canned chickpeas, rinsed
-leaves of lettuce
-carrots in thin sticks
-mint leaves or other herbs

Mash the chickpeas with the hummus. Chunky is ok.

Put the chickpea mix on the lettuce.

                      Add carrots, mint. 

                                                                                                               Roll. Eat. 

Use other vegetables - cucumber or red pepper.
Try other fresh herbs - coriander, basil.
Good with swiss chard, tender kale, spinach leaves, too.
Add crushed garlic, a little hot sauce, salsa.  

Doll up jarred salsa with these additions:
-chopped avocado
-fresh parsley, coriander, basil 
-chopped green onion or garlic
-chopped tomato- chunky

Doll up store bought hummus with:
-chopped roasted red pepper
-chopped roasted tomato
-other types of canned beans
-more fresh garlic
-drizzle of good olive oil and fresh lemon juice
-fresh parsley
-more black pepper
-dash of hot sauce

Friday, December 5, 2014

Wooden Bird Feeder Stand and Feeder Tube (odd)

Bird feeder stand from wood
The feeder sits 6 feet from the window and about 6 feet off the ground. I added a metal baffle just under the feeder to keep the squirrels out. 

For the stand:

1. An open tray bird feeder - like the one in the picture. 
2. One  4”x 4”  length of spruce or cedar for the center pole - cut to the preferred height. 
3. Four  pieces of  2”x 4” cedar or spruce –  each about 2.5 feet  long. These make the base 'legs'.  
4.  3 inch deck screws  -  12-16 of them, or more. The base needs to be stable.  

Blue jay gets the nut

With the 4x4 post down on the floor, attach the first base leg. I drilled guide holes, and then screwed the leg on. The broad side (4”) of the 2X4 sits snug against the bottom side of the post. The narrow side of the 2x4 will rest on the ground once the stand is upright. I had help holding the post straight up while I screwed on 2 more base legs. 

Move the stand outdoors to attach the 4th leg. I had to work a bit to square everything up. The base must be wide enough to keep everything stable. The higher the feeder, the broader the base needs to be. I tapered each outside end of the 4 base 'leg' pieces to reduce the risk of tripping. (Attach a squirrel baffle now, if required).

For the platform collar:

1.  2 pieces of 2x4 (spruce or cedar) each 3.5 inches in length.
2.  2 pieces of 2x4, each 6.5 inches in length.
3.  3 inch deck screws - 4-8 of them 
4. - a few smaller screws to attach the feeder first the collar and then to attache the collar to the pole stand.

Screw the two long pieces to the short pieces to form a square. Attach the collar to the bird feeder by using two small screws from inside the base of the feeder into the 2x4 collar. 

Attach the feeder with collar to the stand

Place the pole where you want it. The collar and attached feeder slip over the top of the stand, onto the 4x4 post. Put in a screw from the platform into the stand, to hold the feeder in place, if needed.

The baffle keeps the squirrels out.

How to get the birdseed into the feeder?

Wine Tube Bird Feeder

Take a cardboard wine tube. Poke a hole in the side of the tube near the base. Punch another one directly opposite the one you just made. Run a long bamboo stick through the two holes. Use duct tape to hold the stick securely in place. Put birdseed into the tube. Hold the stick tightly with both hands. Raise it up to the feeder and tip the seed in. Hint: once the seed is in the tube, put the lid back on until you get to the feeder, just in case it topples. 

Bird feeder scoop for high bird feeders.

Tip the wine tube bird feeder full of seed into the tray. 
Here's a link to another fine idea to conserve water for plants in pots in the garden. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Nutritious Salad Dressing - Use Nuts instead of Oil

Fresh fruits on the Big Island, Hawaii.

Every bite is nutritious.....

Here's a salad dressing where the fat in the dressing comes primarily from nuts - not olive oil. 

Grind up a small handful of walnuts or almonds in a Nutribullet or other similar appliance. Blend with a peeled orange (seeds removed), a clove of garlic, some dried or fresh basil, a dash of liquid honey, salt and pepper and a little water to obtain the consistency of a salad dressing. To get more of an olive oil flavor add a teaspoon or less of olive oil. Or try a small amount coconut oil. Add a little lemon juice, or your favorite salad vinegar. If the dressing is too thick to flow out of the jar, add a little more water or scoop the dressing out.  

Use favorite salad ingredients - a little raw broccoli, greens of all sorts, cucumber, tomato. Toss the salad. (Hint - if the dressing is thick toss the chunkier salad ingredients first with the dressing and add the tender leaves at the end). 


Instead of honey, sweeten with dried cranberries. Add other herbs instead of basil. Try different raw nuts, like cashews. Use a cored apple, or berries instead of an orange. Add a little yogurt, avocado or dijon mustard. In summary, substitute nuts for oil, with fruit to hold and thin out the nut base. Go from there....

Colorful rooster on the Big Island of Hawaii

Friday, September 28, 2012

Old Logs and Tree Stumps in the Garden

Hens and chicks in a tree stump log. Many types of suculents thrive in Edmonton, Alberta.
When gardening conditions are not great.....

My ramshackle front yard urban garden sits north of the house. The earth is partly shaded and cold and stays frozen until late spring. The soil is hard with clay and robbed of moisture by birch and spruce tree roots. Edmonton residents have a vibrant and determined gardening spirit, perhaps because we face such horticultural challenges as those in my front yard garden. 

Make the most of what you have.....

For easy gardening, find plants that thrive in the exact conditions they must grow in. This is trial and error, but it helps to observe what neighbours have been able to grow under similar conditions. Soil, sun and moisture....all factors to consider when selecting plants.

Hostas for shade. Spot the bunny sheltering from the rain?
This year, I planted succulents and sedums in the partly shaded dry clay soil. Silver Mound (Artemesia), Pink Moss Phlox and Siberian Iris also survive here. Hostas and Lamium return each year in the deep shade areas of the garden. Cranesbill grows, too, but it could 'take over'.  

The succulents seem happy in an old broken clay pot, dug into the ground so only the rim shows. This clay pot didn't survive the Alberta winters - it cracked and fell apart. But the pot rim has been re-purposed and buried in the ground to make a mini garden within the garden. Potting soil replaces the clay soil within the rim. 

Succulents planted in broken clay pot buried in the ground.

When the ground is inhospitable and annual flowers will not grow, put out a few potted plants, above or buried into the ground, for bursts of colour and interest. Chose hardy plants and use tricks to conserve water.  Wave petunias grow well in pots, but do need some sun.  Although impatiens are extremely frost sensitive, I cannot resist growing these shade tolerant flowers in pots for their gorgeous colour and rapid growth. Because they grow in the shade, they do not require daily watering, but they do love moist soil.

Impatiens -great for shade, but frost tender.

Marigold flowers in an old tree stump. 
Experiment. A marigold was plopped into the centre of an old log and 'hens and chicks' went into another. These are little surprises in the garden that only I notice....and that is part of the pleasure. 

 Hypertufa is strong, durable and light. I made these containers 10 years ago. Sedums are perfect in hypertufa because they are shallow rooted, hardy and grow in poor soil.

Make it YOUR garden.......

I don't have a stunningly beautiful front garden, far from it, but I like it. Over the years it has evolved.  Now it is cluttered with old tree trunks, broken clay pots, hypertufa planters and pots of  pretty flowers. 

North facing low maintenance Edmonton garden

Impatiens in deep shade, and wave petunias in the pot that gets some sunshine

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Thyme, Basil, Spruce Tree Seedling Wedding Favors

Living wedding favors: thyme, basil and spruce tree seedlings
Fresh Wedding Favors for a Special Bride and Groom

I was pleased to grow these pretty wedding favors for my son and his lovely bride. Wedding guests had their choice of little pots of basil or thyme, or spruce tree seedlings. At the wedding reception, the table of living wedding favors was aromatic and  fresh. Wedding guests appreciated the useful herbal wedding favors, and the tree seedling favors were a romantic celebration of the couple's growing and lasting love.

Herb Wedding Favors of little pots of Basil and Thyme, and Evergreen Tree Seedlings in gift bags.

Thyme Wedding Favor

Mature thyme plants look sturdy and interesting. The leaves can easily be plucked from the rigid stems for culinary uses, unlike fragile young thyme plants. To get the look I wanted, I sowed the thyme seeds 7 months before the September wedding. 

Thyme seeds are tiny. Sow them in fine seeding soil mix in little plastic pots - about 12 seeds per pot. Until the weather warms up, grow the thyme indoors, under lights. Thin seedlings, so that each small pot has about 5-6 healthy stems. Every few weeks, trim the thyme to encourage branching and interesting shape. Thyme likes to grow on the dry side, but in small pots, the plants can dry out too much. Water the plants just prior to wilting, and from the bottom. Full sun seemed too much for the thyme plants, so each day they received about 6 hours of full outdoor sun, once the danger of frost passed. Plants will be sturdier if grown outdoors, but watch for hail.  In the last few months, I fertilized only twice with a VERY mild solution of water soluble fertilizer. Herbs don't need much fertilizer. The day before the wedding I transplanted the thyme into similar sized clay pots with raffia ribbon and a 'thank-you' tag. The pots were about 2 1/2  inches in diameter. Clay will absorb some water, so it is best to have the plants fully watered before transplanting to the clay pots. 

Herbal wedding favors. Basil, evergreen seedling, thyme.

Basil Wedding Favor

Sow indoors in fine seeding soil mix about 5-6 weeks before the event. Keep plants well watered, in full sun. Watch carefully for spider mites or aphids and spray with water or put out sticky yellow bug traps if necessary. The basil will be more turgid if grown outdoors, but basil will die at temperatures a few degrees higher than frost, so keep the plants warm. Take indoors at night if nights are cool. In other words 'baby' your basil plants. Grow about 10 plants per pot. If the basil stems get too big, pluck a few out, so that the look is balanced.The plants will need more and more water as they grow. Keep them well hydrated.

Spruce Tree Wedding Favor

Order the evergreen tree seedlings to arrive only a few days before the wedding. Keep the roots (which came in peat-like soil), cool and moist and shaded. I kept the evergreen seedlings outside, in an open cooler, so the temperature was stable, and the roots were cool. On hot days, I added a few ice cubes to the cooler. I spritzed the soil and seedlings often with water. The day before the wedding, I wrapped the moist root balls, which were about 4 inches long and only about 1x1 inch wide, in little clear plastic bags and placed each tree seedling in a decorative yellow gift bag, with raffia and a 'thank-you' tag. You can prop the seedlings up in the bag with tissue paper, if needed. Advise guests to plant the trees outside ASAP.  

Herbal Favors
Tips for Growing Wedding Favors

Experiment months before the event, so that you are confident you will like the results. Grow samples and try out decorative trims.

Have alternate plans. (I had 3 options - basil, thyme and tree seedlings - so that if one type failed, I had back-ups). Grow more than you will need. Some will die or just not thrive.

If growing outside, prepare for hail or downpours. Keep the plants sheltered. 

Don't spray herbs with insecticides, not even insecticidal soap. Control bugs by watching closely and removing bugs, use yellow sticky paper to attract bugs, or grow herbs under floating row covers. 

Don't over fertilize, you might kill your plants or cause them to turn yellow. Only use mild solutions of fertilizer. 

Plants grown in tiny pots are sensitive. They dry out quickly, but don't over water, either. Rinse out trays under pots frequently.  

For inexpensive supplies, check out the dollar stores. For the gift tags, use the 'business card' setting on your word processor. In our case, the bride and groom worded the 'thank-you' tags.
Living Wedding Favors
Evergreen Seedling Favors.