Vegetable Garden Day 7

5 Gallon cloth containers. these dry out FAST.

5 Gallon cloth containers. these dry out FAST.

Getting tired of this yet? Hope not, because today is only day 7 of Garden Tribe’s 21-day Vegetable gardening Boot Camp.

Today’s topic is nice and simple, Container Gardening. I’ve written quite a few posts on container gardening, so you’re probably all experts by now.

Growing vegetables in containers is exactly the same process as growing anything else in containers. And offers the same advantages. Your containers can follow the sun Put your large pots on castors), they can fit in the smallest of spaces, they can create a doubly colourful focal point, they can create height…

Here are the chief principles in growing your veggie garden in containers:

1. Drainage. More holes in the bottom than you think you need. Some perennials and shrubs tolerate soggy soil, but virtually NO vegetables will. Coffee filters over the holes will keep the soil in.

2. Size: Bigger is better. The container soil is the entire reservoir for food and water for your plants, so whereas in the ground the reservoir is unlimited (sort of), in the container it’s very limited. Even plants that have a small root system, like lettuce, still need lots of food and LOTS of water.

3. Potting “medium”: Don’t use garden soil in your containers. There are a lot of reasons that I won’t go into here in detail, but it has to do mainly with drainage and weight. Buy a “soilless” potting mixture (inconveniently called “soil”!) It will have peat or coir, perlite for  drainage,and compost, and might have some fertilizer that will get used up quickly.

4. Feeding: A granular (aka “slow-release”) fertilizer at planting, and then liquid fertilizer every week or so once the plant really gets going. Remember the container is the entire reservoir, compared to an in-ground garden that has a vast reservoir. As Doug Green says (Rule #1), if you want roots, fruits, or flowers, fertilize.

5. Water more often than you think you need to. Remember “reservoir”.

Container-grown tomato from last year. No idea what variety.

Container-grown tomato from last year. No idea what variety.

How to Design a Wildlife Garden

“If You Build It They Will Come”

First of all, why should you bother with a “wildlife garden”? Providing habitat for native critters will not only benefit them, but you as well. The more diversity you have in your garden the more you’ll appreciate it and get out into it. Which as you know from reading my first post of the year, is very good for your mental and physical well-being. Then of course there’s what you learn from co-habiting with lots of different species, and what your children will learn. But for me, it’s the entertainment factor that motivates me to develop the micro-habitats in my small urban yard.

Food Water Shelter.

That’s really all you need to encourage beneficial and entertaining wildlife to consider your home their home. Not talking raccoons or skunks or rats or even squirrels. But birds, bees, butterflies, frogs, toads, even little lizards if you live in the right place.

Bees and butterflies like a little mud. Birds will be happy with some bugs that you didn’t kill. Frogs and toads will be attracted to some fresh water.

It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of work or money, but it does take planning and commitment. Here’s a short article by Doug Green. 

First Things First

In order to have a wildlife-friendly garden, you’ll need to think in terms of balance: everything serves something else. You’ve heard me mention my aquarium before (the only pets in my family); my aquarium is balanced.

My aquarium

My aquarium

I seldom have to do any remedial care except for small water changes: I feed the fish small meals. The fish feed the plants, the plants aerate the water and use up all the nutrients the fish don’t need, and the water quality is nicely balanced.

Basics

In future posts I’ll get more specific, but for now, let’s cover the foundations. To welcome a wide range of native guests, you’ll want to have at least a selection of native plants, varieties of plant heights, minimal added fertilizers, and ZERO pesticides and herbicides, with the exception of organic treatments for food crops. Again, when I get to the different species, I’ll explain in more detail, but at this design stage, I’ll just cover generalities.

Shelter

Plan to have at least a few tall trees, some short trees/tall shrubs, planted quite densely, short shrubs, and a variety of perennials, tall and short. This is called layering, and altho’ in some pictures the layers are often stacked like a grandstand, they don’t have to be, and in my opinion give a lot more interest when they are more “randomly” positioned (ie, designed to be that way). After all, your view of the garden depends on where you are–you’re not always looking at it from the living room window. I was surprised to hear a neighbour comment on how much she loves the look of my garden from her front window.

layering of vegetationThis picture (thanks to NatureScapes BC) shows the tallest at the back (that would indeed be the most logical) and then a variety of tall and short in the mid-background (shaded), finally more varied heights in the foreground. The purpose you can see on the left: different birds and beasts will fly, eat, sleep and nest at different heights.

At the lowest level, i.e. ground level, you’ll want to have an area that is left relatively undisturbed, perhaps some uncut native grasses, a bit of brush cut and left, or a section of lawn that is left to grow taller. It doesn’t have to be a large area, just a few square feet will do, and probably not where your neighbours and passers-by will see and exclaim over the mess. 

Water

Of course, every living thing needs water. You may be afraid of providing a breeding ground for mosquitos if you have standing water, but remember, this is a balanced garden. Some of your invited guests will find mosquito larvae just the thing for breakfast; they’ll never last long enough to actually grow to maturity.

Water provides not only liquid to drink, but a play-space for birds, breeding area for frogs and toads, a place to grow bog-side plants, and of course the delight of sight and sound for you.

Food.

One of the most important elements here is to not KILL the food before it becomes a snack for your critters. Keeping your garden healthy will minimize the number of insects it attracts (unhealthy plants practically scream “come and attack me!”) , but will not eliminate them. The birds on the other hand will be quite grateful for the remainder, as will many beneficial insects. Did you know that parasitic wasps are so small they lay their eggs inside an aphid? So leave a few aphids for the beneficial parasitic wasp. And for the ladybugs, the larval stage of which is a big aphid eater.

Providing a wide variety of tasty morsels will increase the diversity of wildlife that come a-callin’. And again, at least a few of your plants should be native. For those that aren’t native, have some that are as little hybridized as possible. For example, many new cultivars of your favourite flowers are actually sterile–no seeds, no seed eaters. So that beautiful ‘Cherokee Sunset’ Coneflower I bought last fall won’t do anything for the chickadees and juncos. But they’ll love the sunflowers.

It’s early in the year, so you’ve still got lots of time to plan your wildlife garden. Stay tuned for more detailed information about bird, bee, butterfly, beneficials-friendly gardening. in the meantime, ask questions, make comments, and click the follow button.

Until next time…

A Few Fertilizing Factoids

“Feed the soil and the soil will feed the plants.”

Plants don’t eat like you and I, they don’t have big gobs that scarf down every fat and carb molecule in sight (oh, sorry, that’s just me).

There’s something called the soil food web–a symbiotic relationship among all the elements of the soil, including microorganisms, earthworms  and macro organisms, inorganic decomposed stone (and not so decomposed!), all manner of organic matter including dead things–all existing together and benefiting one another. Well, maybe not benefiting the dead things…

I want to grow beautiful things and have a beautiful garden not so much for the sake or the plants or garden but as part of the greater beauty of creation. I look at the sky and I’m amazed at the blueness of it.

IMG_4222 2

And when there’s a tornado in New Brunswick I’m astounded at the power of it.

Slurped from amateur video on CBC.

Slurped from amateur video on CBC.

God’s creation is beyond our understanding, and appreciation.

I’d like to do it as little harm as possible, and even maybe do it some good, as a “good steward”.

So here’s some “factoids”:

1. Adding inorganic  fertilizers (I won’t identify the brands, but they’re the ones that DON’T say “organic”) will give your plants some of the nutrients they need (N–Nitrogen, P–Phosphorus, K–Potassium). Maybe a lot more than they need. At the expense of some of the microorganisms, who may find the “salts” too strong and die off as a result.

2. Even organic fertilizers can be overused: they will be slower to break down and filter into the groundwater, but if applied more than the plants need, they WILL filter into the groundwater. Any fertilizers should only be used if needed.

3. Every living organism need more than just N-P-K, but typically the inorganic fertilizers don’t have the iron, manganese, boron etc that we all need in trace amounts. Many of the organic ones do. Read the label.

4. Using organic mulch in moderation is probably the safest way to benefit the whole soil food web: slow to break down so less leaching of nutrients into the groundwater, feeds many of the inhabitants of the ecosystem, which benefits the whole, amends the physical quality of the soil, making it lighter and allowing root penetration.

And now: a completely unrelated poll:

Challenge:

What are your thoughts about use of fertilizer? Yes or no, good or bad, relevant or irrelevant? Let’s get a discussion going. Comment, share, question, dispute (nicely).