Monday, January 23, 2017

Shade Gardens: Edmonton

Is it not glorious in Edmonton in July? 

Here's a few pictures from a July garden tour of gorgeous, peaceful, cool and shady backyard gardens in Edmonton. Thanks to the gardeners. Wow! Each garden was carefully designed to create a pleasant relaxing, sensual experience - an escape into nature within the city. Meandering paths lead to small seating areas or viewpoints, each with a unique vista. Even a small backyard garden can have many focal points that come into sight only as one travels through the garden. Include a table for eating and larger group gatherings, a bench tucked away for quiet contemplation, a fountain to enhance relaxation, a bird bath or pond to attract wildlife and plantings of differing heights to create a feeling of serenity and seclusion. 

Here's a few suggestions from my own gardening adventures of plants that thrive in shade in Alberta.

Hostas and wheel rim garden art - tucked away for discovery.

Hostas do well in shade in Edmonton. There are many hardy varieties of these leafy perennials. Come springtime, they are not early risers, you have to wait for them, but once grown, hostas are beautiful. Every few years they can be lifted in late summer, divided with  a swift thrust from a sharp shovel, and replanted. Plant them in the ground - they do not overwinter in containers in a cold climate. They don't thrive in hard clay soils either, so amend hard soils with leaves and compost.

A favourite shade flower is the annual impatients. They are super sensitive to frost, so only put them outdoors late in May.  They die early in September too, but they are so softly colourful - a treat for the eye in the shady garden. I grow them from seed, (start in late February - under lights). They are easily propagated from cuttings placed in water. Once the roots have grown, plant them into potting mix to further root and then plant into the garden. Impatients require a loose, light soil and a steady supply of water - they like moist organic soil. I grow them in pots under trees. Dappled shade works well.

Concrete tiered fountain and cedars = time to relax. A black chandelier for candles hangs from the tree. Behind, near the house, is a comfortable area for dining. The colors are soft, the mulch is brown bark, the trees provide shelter from the hot sun. 

The hardy perennial ground cover lamium grows in deep shade. Each year it spreads out a bit. Pretty leaves, with soft purple or pink flowers. You may find it popping up all over.

I have had great luck with the  evergreen shrub Dwarf Balsam Fir. It thrives in dappled shade and has readily survived our winters. It's hard to find in Edmonton. I brought my first one from southern Ontario about 20 years ago. I now have 3 dwarf balsam firs, all in shade, and all grow well.

I admire my pretty shrub Blizzard Mock Orange - one of my favorites. It takes center stage beside the front door step.  Like the Dwarf  Balsam Fir, the Blizzard Mock Orange is not a huge shrub, so it fits in with smaller urban yards. Look for fragrant white blossoms on Canada Day.

Bright begonias draw the eye. Create pockets of attractive beauty throughout the garden.

Concrete bench and urns suggest permanency. Stop, enjoy and be well amidst the soothing greenery.

White wrought iron  and wooden table for a pleasant, private visit.

A pretty picture of  rustic flower pots on big posts. Different height levels for interest.
Simple tranquility. This is enough to enhance calm contemplation.
A waterfall to the pond from a raised bed against the fence. 

Cedars in big pots for privacy and cooling greenery. Candle lamps to enjoy the garden after dark on a wooden bridge over the pond.

Check out my video on how to grow great garlic in a northern climate.

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. It was in need of decoration.

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
Update: We surrounded the stepping stones with bark instead of stone, and pushed each stone up against each other, for a more stable path. This lasted the winter and looks good, but not as beautiful as the zen path above.

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.

Broccoli microgreens on pasta

Sunning in February in Edmonton.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Grow Seedlings or Microgreens Under Lights in Northern Alberta

Mountain Magic cherry tomato grown under lights
In winter, my seedlings and microgreens need more light. They sit in a south window, but in February in a northern city like Edmonton, Alberta, 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. 'Weed' sites have taken up the 'grow box' problem with vigor. Pot head solutions seem a bit complicated and expensive. I need a simple, cheap and energy efficient solution. 

My seedlings sit on a 4 tier metal wire shelf positioned up against a south window. These shelving units are inexpensive and easy to put together. Big box stores sell them. 

An industrial clamp light
Light source? 

Clamp on to the shelf, over the plants, an industrial clamp light with a 100 watt (aka 23 watt) compact fluorescent bulb (CFL). According to the package, this bulb lasts 9 years - so shine away! 

At first, I had a reflective space blanket around the shelf, but the lights give off some heat and the blanket keeps heat in.  I removed the blanket. 

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.  Microgreens will grow well under just the 6500K, but in order to flower, plants need the lower 2700K as well.

Broccoli microgreens

Update: January 2017. I could not resist planting a cherry tomato seed (Mountain Magic) much too early. Below is a picture of the plant at about 4 weeks. At the first site of the stem, before it even fully emerged from the ground, the lights were on. They shine for about 16 hours a day. If the leaves are too close to the lights they dry and crisp, so I keep the bulbs at least 4 inches away. The extra heat is a plus near the cold windows, but if too close the leaves will be damaged. As the daylight hours lengthen, the sunlight from the window compliments the artificial light. 

Tomato plant - 4 weeks- under lights- next to window in mid January.

Update: February 16, 2017

Same plant - cherry tomato Mountain Magic 8 weeks from seeding.
Tomato plant growing in southern window with lights. Lights on 12 hours/day.

Box fan on low speed, circulates air and strengthens leaves and stems. 
The box fan has a furnace filter on it (20 X 20 Filtrete). The filter is not necessary for the plants, but it reduces winter dust and cat dander allergens. This is an easy set up.  When the fan is on, the filter is sucked up against the fan. This homemade DIY air purifier works well.

In the basement, I set up the same wire shelving system with tube fluorescent lights that hang 2-4 inches above the plants. The lights are on a timer - and they shine for about 16 hours/day. The baby arugula is ready to harvest.
Arugula growing under fluorescent lights 6500K. 
Baby arugula, ready to harvest, grown under fluorescent lights in the basement.

Update: The fluorescent tube lights in the basement have worked out really well. I started peppers, impatients, rosemary, sage, and parsley in early February and tomatoes, kale, butter lettuce a few weeks later. I replaced one of the four 6500K bulbs with a 2700K bulb. Lesson learned - keep the plants a good 4 inches from the bulbs, as the leaves will fry easily.
Microgreens sunning outdoors in a mild February in Edmonton.
Check out my short but informative video on how to grow great garlic in a cold climate.

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 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

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.