Early November Harvest

Early November in our Edmonton backyard garden.

Snow carpets the last of the beets and carrots. Some kale and collards still survive, as does the mint sheltered near the garage. Temperatures are set to drop to below -7 C, so this is the last of the 2018 vegetable garden season. What a fantastic year!

Beets and Collards from November Garden in Edmonton
This year, we grew beets in a raised bed in light, fertile soil. Best crop ever. We planted the traditional Detroit red beets. Beet greens are delicious, too, in salads, smoothies and as a cooked side dish, mixed with chard, kale and collards. We often have sauteed garden greens, with salmon, for a healthy supper. 

For a second year, we canned a few jars of beets for a winter treat. 


Make a new garden bed on a grass lawn.

Garden bed (raised) made over grass lawn.
A grass lawn can become a fertile vegetable garden bed without removing the grass sod or tilling the soil. This is achieved by smothering the lawn with cardboard layers to deny light and kill grass and weeds, but still allow the moisture required to decompose the grass into fertile compost.

This method takes time. The longer the bed rests under the cardboard, the better. The cardboard should not be removed until the grass is fully dead and composted, and weed and grass seeds have germinated and then died from lack of light.

In a northern climate, where composting is slow, this process can take a full growing season to ensure the grass and weeds are dead and composted. Be prepared to wait a year.

Once the snow has melted, before grasses and weeds have started growing, select the site. The new vegetable garden bed is best located in a sunny spot, without tree roots that clog the soil and steal moisture and nutrients. While the bed dimensions can be any length, the width is best kept to no more than 4 feet, for ease of access without stepping on the bed.

Mark out a border pathway around the new garden bed of about 18 inches on all sides. This is to protect the garden bed from creeping quack grass. This border will be covered with cardboard too and later become the path around the bed.

Prepare the bed by picking off by hand obvious weed seed pods. Mow the grass and mow down any weeds. The plot should be mowed flat. No need to rake. If dry, water the soil to get weed and grass seeds to germinate and force perennial weeds out of dormancy.

Collect plain cardboard boxes. Flatten them to single layers. Collect enough to cover your plot (plus the 18 inch borders) in a double layer, triple is better.

Place the first layer of cardboard over the plot and over the borders around it. Lay another layer or two of cardboard on top and cover any openings. Hold the cardboard down securely with heavy rocks, bricks or boards. No light should pass through. The layers of cardboard need to last in place a full year.

Leave the cardboard on all summer and winter, until the following spring. At next seasons planting time – after the last frost - remove the cardboard. 

The grass will have composted into black humus. If the grass was growing in clay soil, the soil can be lightened with more compost and leaves.

This methods works well if building a raised bed on the new plot. Fill the raised bed with good garden soil on top of the new bed.   

We place bark mulch on the paths around raised beds that are not tilled. Wet cardboard is too slippery for pathways. You can put the cardboard under the bark mulch and the paths will be weed free- for a while anyways.

Garden bed previously grass.

Cucamelons - crunchy treats

 Cucamelons, cute and crunchy on delicate vines.

We started cucamelon plants from seeds in April - a few weeks before the last frost. When the weather warmed up (no more fear of frost) the seedlings went outside to a sunny spot in the garden. The tender vines were tied to bamboo poles for support. Tendrils wrapped around the bamboo as the vines grew.  Cucamelon vines flourish in steady heat, regular watering and sun.

Tiny melons appeared in early August and by the end of the month, they were full size - about 1-1.5 inches long.

These tiny crunchy melons are a fresh, mild treat from the late summer garden. Cute, with a crisp and somewhat sturdy rind, sweet and bright with a refreshing taste. Although fun to grow and eat, cucamelons are more of a novelty vegetable than a garden staple.

Cucamelons are fine for 'straight from the garden' munching in August and September. Anytime of the day, head out to the backyard garden. Eat a few ripe cherry tomatoes - top them off with a cucumelon, fresh from the vine.

Refrigerator cucamelon pickles. Water, vinegar, pickling salt, spices, garlic and chopped hot pepper.

Cucamelon on the vine.
Chop up these little beauties in any fresh dish where you want a little crunch. Greek salad, tabouleh, fresh salsa, cherry tomato salad. Pickle them the easy way - as refrigerator pickles.

How to post a photo from IPAD photos to Google Blogspot on your IPAD.

How to post a photo from IPAD photos to Google Blogspot on your IPAD.

Here's how I do it.  Relatively easy and the steps are intuitive. 

If you don't already have it, download the Google Chrome App to your IPAD.

On your IPAD open Google Chrome.

On your IPAD in Google Chrome open and sign in to your Google Account.

Open your "Google Photos".

Open "Upload" at the top right corner of |Google Photos - a menu box will  open.

Select "Photo Library". These are the photos from your IPAD.

Go to the "Camera Roll", 'select' the photo, press "done"

The photo will upload to Google Photos. Add the photo to an Album for ease of locating again.

Now go to your Google Blog, still in Chrome - on a new tab.

Your Blog is in the Blogger App in Google, or search for your Blog or type in your URL to bring up your Google Blog.

Open the Blog you want to post the picture on. This one is called Backyard Garden.  Open  "New Post".

Open the "Add Images" square just above the line around the content box.

The "Add Images" box will open.

Open "From Your Phone" and your uploaded IPAD photos are visible. You may also find them in your Google Album Archive. This may take a few seconds to open.

'Select' a photo and press "Add selected". It will appear on your blog page.

Tips for Winter Biking in Edmonton

Old mountain bike converted for winter cycling.
Bike Modifications 

My commuter 'summer' bicycle, with narrow wheels, was not suited to the slippery conditions of winter in Edmonton. We asked our local bike pros at Hardcore Bikes on Whyte Avenue if they could winterize a reliable Norco mountain bike that sat unused in our garage. "Yes...we can do that", they replied. And so, with their expertise, the old bike was converted for winter use.

Studded tires for ice.
Off came the tires and on went two studded Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro tires. These tires, with a medium-sized stud, fit perfectly on the frame of the Norco. They worked well, gripped ice and snow, and withstood the sandy, stony streets and sidewalks of early spring.

I wanted the handlebars on the Norco raised up, for greater riding comfort. No problem. The low handlebars were replaced and the gears and brakes refitted.  I now ride more upright, but still with the seat low to the ground, to readily plant my feet down for stability.

First Winter

With my new bike, I rode throughout the winter. My trips were limited to 20-30 minute urban rides around south Edmonton. I stuck to the back roads and did not ride in traffic. Nor did I bike in extreme cold - not much below -20C. I rarely changed gears, and rode on level, cleared sidewalks and back streets. Icy ruts are extremely dangerous, especially when mixed in with cars. Here are a few hints for safer winter urban biking in a northern city like Edmonton:

Tips for Winter Cycling

Wear a thermal full face/head and neck mask to keep skin from freezing. Place your helmet over top.

On really cold days - use breakable hand and toe warmers in mittens and boots. Fingers and toes quickly freeze. I use two pair of mittens- warm wool inside insulated leather. Stop to warm up, as needed.  Frequently flex fingers and wiggle toes. Don't risk frostbite. Dress warm. Shelter your neck from cold winds. Some days, it may be just too cold to bike.

It gets dark early, so light up your bike with strong front and back lights and reflectors. Wear a reflective vest, and other reflective clothing. Try to bike during daylight hours.

Plan your route for safety. Winter streets are often gutted with ice ruts that are not safe for biking. Right next to the curb is quite dangerous, as this area is not fully cleared and car tires leave icy ruts.  I use plowed back streets where the snow has been cleared and there is very little traffic (and low exhaust fumes). I ride on the sidewalk when that is safer and I always dismount for pedestrians and their pets. I walk past them, or alter my route clear around them.

Long shadows from low winter sun.
Go slowly to react to dangerous road/sidewalk conditions, pedestrians, or vehicles. Look all around and be prepared to stop. Drivers may not expect a cyclist and may not see you. Make eye contact. Winter cycling requires greater defensive riding. For the slickest ice, dismount and walk over it, or go slowly and carefully. Take your time- slow and steady. Fresh snow over ice is particularly slippery.

If you must ride through deep snow, be prepared for tremendous exercise. It is really hard work. Know your own endurance and strength.  Even on plowed streets, winter bike tires with studs make biking more strenuous. There is more friction when the wheels meet the ground. Maintain your bike - it will take a beating.

Winter biking - not for everyone.

For many years, I concluded that only the brave or foolish cycled in winter in Alberta. I rode my street bike all summer but winter cycling - no. Gradually, I began to ride in the rain, in high winds and even in cold weather - as long as roads were free of ice. But last year, as autumn rolled into winter, and Edmonton streets iced over, I resisted putting my bicycle away.  Was it not time for me, too, to try winter bicycling? It was...and I enjoy it... BUT ... I keep my trips short, plan my route, dress warmly, and bike with extreme caution away from traffic. It is refreshing, exhausting and challenging, but it can also be dangerous.

Update: Visit this Edmonton City site for current information on cycling in Edmonton.

Shade Gardens - A Garden Tour in Edmonton

Here's a few pictures of shaded backyard gardens from the annual Edmonton Horticultural Society Garden Tour in July. Thanks to the artistic gardeners who allowed visitors to wander through and enjoy the serenity.  Under sheltering trees, these shade gardens recreate the feelings of well being found on a rejuvinating walk in the forest. 

Hostas and old wheel rim garden art - tucked away for discovery.
Meandering paths lead to quiet zones for contemplation and observation.  Hues of green -  to cool and refresh, are complimented by muted neutral tones of earth and wood. Decoration and seating are of grey concrete, antique metal, wrought iron of white or dark green, and natural wood - nothing jarring disturbs the calm, fresh ambiance.

Concrete fountain and cedars - time to relax. Behind, near the house, a comfortable area for dining. Colors are soft, mulch is brown bark, trees provide shelter from the sun. 

Plants for shade in Alberta

Hostas do well in shade in Edmonton. There are many hardy varieties of these leafy perennials. Come springtime, hostas 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 well in containers in our 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 also easily propagated from cuttings placed in water. Once the roots have grown, plant them into potting mix to establish stronger roots 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.

The hardy perennial ground cover lamium grows in deep shade. Each year it spreads out a bit, and seeds disperse. 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 are robust.

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.

                                     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. Fresh, serene beauty.

Dappled shade for red petunias in rustic pots. Varied heights for interest.
Simple tranquility. A fountain along the path.
A small waterfall to a pond. Lanterns & candles for night enjoyment.
A conversation nook in the secluded 'side' garden.
Quan Yin graces the forested pathway. 
Greenery takes centre stage in a grey pot.
Buddha under the spruce tree.
Impatients in a pot.

Lamium in a pot.

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

A cedar platform under 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.

Grow Microgreens at Home

VideoBroccoli Microgreens

- 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 (peat based) potting mix in a shallow seeding tray with drainage holes.

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

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

- Place the tray in a sunny window as soon as the seeds have sprouted.

- Put them under artificial lights for a few hours each day in the winter, to top up the sunlight. If the temperature rises a few degrees above freezing, give them a little afternoon sun outside.

-I run a fan across the seedlings for 10 minutes each day. Maybe not necessary....

Low February light = under lights for a few hours each evening.
-As the greens grow, 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. Harvest as needed and use fresh.

-View my video above, to see the action.

Broccoli microgreens on pasta

Sunning in February in Edmonton.

Grow Seedlings or Microgreens Under Lights in Northern Alberta

Mountain Magic cherry tomato grown under lights
In winter, seedlings and microgreens need more light than the sun can provide. In February, in a northern city like Edmonton, they grow spindly. I run a soft electric fan across the seedlings for ten minutes a day to keep them strong, but still they are 'leggy' and pale, in need of more light. 


An industrial clamp light
Top up sunshine with an industrial clamp light with a 100 watt compact fluorescent bulb (CFL). This bulb lasts 9 years - so shine away! 

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. On the other hand, the extra heat is a plus near the cold windows. 

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 in southern window with lights. This is starting to look odd.....

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.

In the basement, I set up the same wire shelving system with tube fluorescent lights that hang 4-5 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.
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.

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 take weeks to do so and the tiny plants grow slowly. 

Rosemary on Crete

An alternative is to bring a plant from the garden inside, in autumn. 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 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 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 itself is drying out. 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 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.

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.

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. Spider mites 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 perfect 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 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.

Succulent Garden

Succulent garden in a cracked casserole dish

The cracked pottery dish was too beautiful to throw out. It acquired new life as a tabletop succulent garden.

Easy Pretty: -fill the dish with cactus potting mix.
                      -plant small succulents in the soil.
                      -add some decorative sand and rocks.
                      -water sparingly, place in sunny window.

Succulents in ceramic casserole dish
The plump leaves of succulents store moisture. These attractive plants don't need much water. Keep the soil on the very dry side, especially in winter. Mimic desert rainfall.  Douse the plant with water, like a quick flash of rain, and then let the potting mix dry out completely.

If the planter has no drainage holes, water sparingly only once every few weeks. Spritz the soil at the base of the plants, less in winter, more in summer. The roots of succulents are shallow. Too much water sitting around the roots will kill the plant. The ideal planters for succulents have drainage holes!

Place succulents in a sunny south window in winter. In northern Canada the winter sun is low and weak. Even though the succulents are not growing vigorously in winter, they need the sunshine. Rotate the planter every week, so all sides get sun.

Healthy and happy succulents in a southern window

Planter ideas

Vary heights, shapes and sizes of the succulents- for interest. Many varieties are available in local greenhouses, even in winter. 

If using a damaged planter, place the damaged area at the back - or hide it with plants. 

Succulents can be planted close together, but they do like a little room to grow. Add sand, rocks, tiny statues, little pieces of driftwood for decoration. 

Don't use a layer of gravel at the bottom of a planter without drainage. Water pools in the gravel. Soggy roots will kill the plants. 

Amend regular potting mix by adding gravel, coarse sand and/or perlite to improve the drainage. A peat based soil alone will store too much moisture and kill the succulents.

Instead of planting directly into containers without drainage holes, modify a plastic plant pot to fit inside. Remove it to drain after watering.

It is possible to drill drainage holes into ceramic - very carefully!

A better idea - a clay pot with a drainage hole inside the casserole dish.

Succulent circles of beauty.