Pumpkins in Texas!

Thanks to Garden Design Magazine for this amazing tribute to the lowly pumpkin. Actually we’ll thank the Dallas Arboretum first, for their creativity.

Follow the link here to see more pictures of the Pumpkin Village.

4 Things About Planting Garlic

More About Garlic

This is definitely the time to plant garlic. (It’s also the time to plant other alliums, not least the ornamental alliums, like my favourite, “Purple Sensation”. But on with garlic…)

This is my third year planting garlic, so I’ve harvested twice before. The best of the harvest goes to the planting bed; the bigger the cloves that are planted, the bigger the cloves that are harvested. So I’ll get a better crop every year. In theory. This year I didn’t get nearly as many cloves as I’d expected. I may have not watered enough through the summer drought, or harvested a bit too early, so the cloves were a bit more vulnerable to rot. Whatever the reason, I think I only got about 20 cloves.

Preparing the bed

Mound of compost ready to be spread.

Mound of compost ready to be spread.

I cleared out extraneous material, then spread a 1-2″ layer of compost. This bed has never had any allium-family plants before; if you’ve had onions or shallots or scallions, choose a different spot. Most crops benefit from a four-year rotation cycle, which decreases the pest load, and allows the different vegetables to use nutrients in different percentages.

Hardneck variety--don't know the cultivar.

Hardneck variety–don’t know the cultivar.

These garlics were harvested in late July, and allowed to “cure” since then. I tried to delay the harvest until  ⅔ of the leaves were yellowing, but I may have jumped the gun on that. I could have cut off most of the stem and foliage, but the stiff stem made it easier for them to dry standing upright in a vase on the back deck.

Hardneck variety, few cloves, all the same size.

Hardneck variety, few cloves, all mostly the same size.

Separating the cloves

The hard stem is a convenient lever to pry apart the cloves.

The hard stem is a convenient lever to pry apart the cloves.

Carefully pull off any loose papery skin, and then twist apart the cloves. Be careful not to take off the clove’s own skin and the “basal plate”. The basal plate is actually the stem of the plant, out of which the roots will grow. No basal plate, no roots. Thus the sad story of a garden blogger who had 75 garlic bulbs. While preparing the planting bed, her teenage son decided to be very helpful, and “prepared” the garlic cloves by completely removing all the outer and inner skin, including the basal plate.

This is a clove ready to plant.

This is a clove ready to plant.

I may have got fewer than I’d hoped, but the size is still pretty impressive.

Large garlic clove.

Large garlic clove. Admittedly, I have a pretty small hand…

Some of the cloves were rotten, many of the bulbs only had two (large) cloves. So out of 16 plants I only got 16 cloves. That’s just not enough, so I’ll break down and go buy some. This hasn’t been a good year for the local garlic harvest (presumably the long drought), so the selection is pretty limited.

Apparently only 16 cloves.

Apparently only 16 cloves.


Previously I planted the cloves around 3-4″ deep, but I recently read they can go more like 5-6″ deep, so I’m opting for deeper. I’m hoping the squirrels won’t be interested–I think they dislike the allium smell. But just in case, the deeper they are the less like the squirrels will bother with that much excavating.

Before levelling out the soil.

Before levelling out the soil.

They’re planted about 5″ apart–they really don’t like to be crowded. They also don’t like to be shaded, so if you add them to a perennial bed, make sure the perennials grow lower than the garlic leaves. Oh, and label the spots–for sure you’ll forget you put them there among the sedums and convallaria and geums…

Then mulch

Protect the soil, insulate the bed, and help prevent weeds (another thing garlic doesn’t like) by mulching with an organic mulch. This rather effusive Campsis radicans will drop its leaves sometime this month, and provide a lovely bed of mulch for my garlics. I’ll have to monitor for weeds in the meantime.

Future mulch!

Future mulch!

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Photo-Tutorial: Squash

Successful Squash

A few years ago I tried to grow squash from seed for the first time. Actually first time for growing it from anything. I’m not a big fan of zucchini and other summer squashes, and just didn’t want to bother with an entire growing season of caring for winter squash for the sake of one or two pumpkins. Apparently most people expect a better harvest than one or two squashes, but my vegetable-growing skills aren’t as developed as my other-than-vegetable gardening skills, so I keep my expectations low!

The reason I decided to grow something that I didn’t much care for was mainly to promote a little more fresh-food-balance in my usually suboptimal diet. Food fresh from the garden is undeniably better tasting than food from the grocery store. And when you harvest yourself, you neither have to go to the grocery store–one of my least favourite tasks–nor store the food once you’ve bought it. You just go outside, pick what you want, and either eat it fresh or cook it within minutes of picking.

So I grew squash–that is, I sowed squash seeds. Don’t remember what squash I grew, because I never got to eat any of it. Because my plants only produced MALE flowers until it was too late to actually grow any. I googled “Why is my squash plant only producing male flowers?” and actually got some answers. Seems I wasn’t the only one with the problem. But by the time I did this it was pretty late in the season, and the cold weather came before any mature squashes. (Makes me think it was probably winter squash I was trying to grow. They take longer to grow, but have to be at least semi-mature before the weather gets cold and miserable.)squash 10

Male and Female

Now here I am trying again, and my Pattypan squash has just begun to flower–MALE flowers! Aaargh! Checked in with Mr. Google (because of course barely remember what I read 5 minutes ago, never mind 5 years ago) to find that it’s totally normal for the first week or more of flowering to be all male, and indeed, as I look more closely at the rest of the vine, I see female buds way up the line.

squash 1

Scallopini squash, male flower. 

The stamen (male reproductive part, picture above) looks different from the pistil (female reproductive part), but until you see the female (which I don’t have yet, so can’t show you), you don’t know what it looks like.

squash 2

Squash male flower 

I find it easier to just look underneath and see if there’s an embryonic squash there. None here (above).

squash 3

Squash flower, female.

Way up at the newest growth this teeny-tiny female flower is just beginning to bud.

Scallopini Squash flower buds--at least two female.

More Scallopini Squash flower buds–at least two female.

You can see here more younger female flowers.


OK, so I know I’ll have at least two squashes (at 2″ across, that will feed me for about a minute.) But no, just because they’re there, doesn’t mean they’ll produce squashes. Because what we’re seeing here are actually ovaries, not miniature fruit. They have to be pollinated in order to produce. Look at my neighbour’s mystery squash:

squash 16

Mystery squash

The flower is fading, and the fruit has started to grow.

Mystery squash shrivelling

Mystery squash shrivelling

This one on the other hand probably never got pollinated, because it’s shrivelling away. And there are others the same that have fallen off the vine.


What to do? Well, optimally, you’ll have planted or sown pollinator-attracting flowers all around. This would include all the parsley family–dill, cilantro, parsley etc., and anything else that has tiny compound flowers like that–alyssum, annual candytuft, yarrow… But maybe you didn’t. All is not lost, you can pollinate the female flowers yourself, as long as you have a male flower.

squash 17

Squash male flower

Here’s the male flower again, with its stamen loaded with pollen. Since you of course read my post on hybridizing daylilies, you know where this is going. You’re going to use the stamen as a wand to apply pollen to the female flower.

Squash male flower

Squash male flower

squash 19

Squash flower stamen

Since the stamen is pretty short, it’s easiest to just remove the petals so the “wand” is a little easier to wield. Now you’ll just dab the pollen on to the pistil of the female flower, which I can’t show you, since I still don’t have any female flowers ready. Nor does my neighbour, or I would certainly “borrow” it for the sake of the lesson.

Growing Conditions

One last thing: you, like me in my previous attempt to grow squash, may still have only male flowers. Not only do the female flowers come out later, but they are less likely to appear at all in the presence of stress. Not enough water, not enough food, not enough sunlight are the main problems the squash plant may experience and therefore not have the resources to produce fruit–ergo no fruiting flowers. Water: enough to maintain damp soil 4-6″ deep. That may be 1″ per week, or more if you have sandier soil, or more plants, or more fruiting. You’ll need to check. Sunlight: “full sun” is considered to be 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. You’ll need to check. Food: use a good shovel-ful of compost in each planting hole–but we’re beyond that. Add 2″ of compost now, and if you have a few flowers, it’s the right time to add organic fertilizer according to your package directions.

There you have it–everything you need to know to get your squashes back on track. If they were off track. I think I’ll assume mine are a little off-track and increase my watering and feeding schedule. I haven’t been checking.

Do you want to add a vegetable garden design to your outdoor space? Contact RLGS via the About/Contact page.

Day 21 of Your Successful Vegetable Garden

Tomatoes! North America’s favourite home-grown vegetable. (Actually, it’s said it is “America’s” favourite home-grown vegetable, but I’m sure Canadians are as keen on home-grown toms as Americans.)

Garden Tribe’s final day of Boot Camp focuses on tomatoes, and what a great ending (and how great that it’s ending!). And isn’t this a brilliant line:

Some gardeners are all about herbs. Some gardeners are all about their roses. But there is no one quite as obsessive as the gardener who likes to grow tomatoes.

I’m going to be repeating some of what Garden  Tribe says, because it’s my blog and I can do what I want. So here’s some things to know:

1. Type. Not variety, but type. There are two types of tomatoes: determinate and indeterminate. You can remember it this way: determinate determine to all ripen together, so that you’ve got a great crop all at once to can or freeze. They are bush like, and don’t get nearly as big as the other. Which is indeterminate, as in, they can’t determine when to ripen, so they all do it at their own speed. Indeterminate tomatoes are like thick vines, just growing and growing until you tell them to stop.

So if you’re wondering what kind of tomato to get, the answer lies in what you want tomatoes for. Salad? Cherry-type tomatoes–they’ll likely be indeterminate–vine-like. Canning? Plum-type, and/or determinate, ripening pretty much all at once. Maybe you want to spread out the harvest but still for the purpose of canning–get two different kinds of determinate tomatoes with different length maturation. For eg. Celebrity tomato is determinate, ripening in  70 days from sowing. Roma, plum and determinate, ripens in  80 days. So you have time to get the Celebrity in and canned before the Romas are ready.

2. Conditions. West Coast Seeds (my source of all wisdom and knowledge with regard to vegetables) says to not plant out tomatoes in coastal BC until the nights are consistently over 10°C. Which is not going to be until June 1. I showed you what my seedlings look like now,

This tomato seedling can't be planted out for weeks yet (altho I might try the milk jug trick again), but you can see it's already pretty tall. I'll give it as much light as I can, but when I put it in the ground I'll bury most if not all that stem.

This tomato seedling can’t be planted out for weeks yet  but you can see it’s already pretty tall. I’ll give it as much light as I can, but when I put it in the ground I’ll bury most if not all that stem.

with still a month to go before I can plant them out. Before planting them out they have to be hardened off, which will take a week. That still leaves three weeks of growing indoors without getting stunted, or too leggy, or starved for nutrition, or left dry for too many  minutes… I’ve decided to try the milk jug treatment so I can get them outside two weeks early.

Hot weather, enough but not too much water, (slow down watering by mid-late summer so the plant will focus on fruiting instead of continuing to put on green growth–unless you’re using containers, in which case just continue as normal), protection from rain as the summer nights start to get cooler (we suffer from late blight here). Again, here on the “wet coast” buying tomato plants that have a short maturation time can take advantage of our good July and ripening in August. Most of the cherry/grape style toms mature in 60-65 days.

3. Staking. If your tomato is a vine-grower you’ll have to have some way of keeping it frowing upright. And once the tomatoes start to grow, they get heavy. Those little tomato cages you see at the hardware store will NOT hold up your crop. So decide whether you’re going to splurge on bigger better cages that will last many years, or create another kind of support–like this one from Doug Green’s Garden.

Here’s one last little trick, don’t remember where this came from. When you’re ready to get the plants in the ground, the day before, put them outside lying down. By the next day the growing end will have started to turn upward toward the light (looking like a hockey stick), so then you can easily plant it in your trench with the tops sticking out.

So I have to say, if I can grow tomatoes, anyone can grow tomatoes.

And that’s the end of Boot Camp. Get out there and grow some supper! And let me know how it’s going. I’ll keep you posted on my successes as well–of course this year I will actually have some successes!

Since this whole Boot Camp was about offering quick lessons to take the beginning gardener from fear of starting to joy in succeeding, here’s a link to another gardner’s suggestions for the beginner: In Lee Reich’s Garden.

Veggie Tales Day 20



Herb Gardens. Boot Camp is almost done, and growing herbs is definitely the easiest way of getting going with your edible garden. I’ve written often about herbs,  so I won’t re-hash everything here. A few quick notes:

1. Most of our popular herbs originate in the Mediterranean, so they like sunny exposures, but most, with the notable exception of basil, will tolerate a moderate amount of shade, so as with greens that I mentioned in Day 19, they can be tucked into ornamental borders, or between tall plants, or grown in containers, or in devoted raised beds. Really, almost anywhere.

2. Many of the annual herbs will self-seed, dill and cilantro (the seed of which is coriander) being the commonest.  Basil is annual, but doesn’t self seed in my garden–maybe because it never grows enough to actually make seeds.

3. Basil deserves a note of its own: It loves heat and full sun (8 hours per day here in coastal BC), enough but not too much water, really good drainage, so containers or raised beds are suitable locations, constant harvesting, pinching out of new growth tips to stimulate more new growth tips. Don’t plant it out until the nights are consistently over 10 C. (Same rule as tomatoes.) It is said to be easy to grow, but I have failed more often than succeeded.

4. Mint also needs special care–plant it in seclusion! Either in a pot, or otherwise contained; all the mint family will spread like wildfire. You can use a 2-gallon black plastic pot and cut the bottom off and plant it whole in the ground, But you’ll still need to catch flowers before they set seed, because the seed will scatter and you’ll be finding mint everywhere. But you might like that–most mints are attractive plants, not too big, and will help deter pests because of their strong fragrance.

Lemon balm, of the Mint family. Planted by my tenant and now years after trying to remove it all, I'm still finding it in the garden. But pretty much limited to about 20-30 square feet.

Lemon balm, of the Mint family. Planted by my tenant and now years after trying to remove it all, I’m still finding it in the garden. But pretty much limited to about 20-30 square feet.

5. Oregano, marjoram, thyme, sage are all easy to grow–even for me!– and hard to kill. Rosemary would also belong in that category except for our wet winters here. As long as they have a little shelter, and really good drainage, your rosemary will do well. Last November’s 2 weeks of -10-12° weather was hard on the larger of my rosemary plants, but the smaller did just fine.

Rosemary--Rosmarinus officinalis

Rosemary–Rosmarinus officinalis

One day left–tomorrow’s lesson is TOMATOES!