Re-Designing Your Garden

Apparently I’m not the only blogger starting the year by focussing on design rather than various plants and techniques. These three sources were in my inbox since Jan 1:

Challenge

Design Your Dream Yard is a 6-day challenge with Garden Tribe and Billy Goodnick to help you identify what you want from your garden, and how to get there.

It’s pretty simplistic, IMO, but it does go a long way toward preventing the most egregious errors, not least of which is starting the process at the nursery. Always DANGEROUS!

Errors

And speaking of egregious errors, saw this today: 10 Landscape Blunders and How to Avoid Them.

Now this sounds like the author, Don Engebretson, is teaching from the negative standpoint–don’t do this, don’t do that–but happily, each negative problem is balanced by the positive solution. Like why this picture is really awful!

 

 

Principles

And the third is Landscape Design Principles for Residential Gardens.

The title sounds a little heavy, and indeed, it does start off pretty “weighty” with “01: Obey the Law of Significant Enclosure”. Hmmm. But stick with it and you’ll find the principles more practical than theoretical. You’ll catch on quickly.

I’m going to collate the various elements that I think are most important to the home gardener looking to make changes to the structure and layout of their garden. So stay tuned…

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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

Chives

Chives

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!

Veggie Tales Day 16 and 17

The reason I’ve grouped Boot Camp Day 16 (Seed-Starting) and Day 17 (Seedling Transplanting) together is because I wrote about seed starting already on Day 14, and besides, they’re pretty closely related.

This is the carrot bed. Tiny seeds sown thinly and shallowly, onto very damp soil, barely covered with light fine compost, and then covered with black plastic to maintain the moisture without the seeds washing down the drain in typical spring "showers".

This is the carrot bed. Tiny seeds sown thinly and shallowly, onto very damp soil, barely covered with light fine compost, and then covered with black plastic to maintain the moisture without the seeds washing down the drain in typical spring “showers”.

carrots

The same treatment a few weeks ago, and these are the carrots today.

So a quick review: if you’re sowing outdoors, make sure the seeds stay moist. That’s pretty much it.

If you’re sowing indoors, you need strong light (remember my friend with LOTS of windows in a west facing room), constant moisture– the seed starting medium will dry out faster indoors than outdoors, a bit of a breeze from a fan will help prevent fungal disease commonly called “damping off”, and you might want to consider underneath heat from a heating pad, the fluorescent light fixture, or a seed starting mat.

I haven’t made any mention of seed starting medium (except a second ago): I use Jiffy pellets for convenience.

Broccoli Raab, Purple Sprouting Broccoli, 4 different kinds of tomatoes.

Broccoli Raab, Purple Sprouting Broccoli, 4 different kinds of tomatoes.

I don’t recommend using peat/paper/coir pots (which in theory are meant to be planted whole), unless you are very careful to make sure the whole pot is buried in soil, and no portion of it is peaking over the soil. If it is peaking out of the soil, that edge will dry out and wick up all the moisture in the pot, making it difficult to keep the soil immediately around the root moist. Ask me how I know this… And of course, you’re only doing a small vegetable garden to start with, to maximize your success and gratification.

Moving on to transplanting your little guys:

[I’ve been enjoying watching Charles Dowding on Youtube. This vid is on transplanting.]

The main thing about getting your seedlings from where they started to where they’ll finish is “transplant shock”. Outside it’s colder, windier, brighter, and possibly in the middle of the day, hotter, than where the seedlings have been for several weeks. Think of a newborn baby! (Maybe a slight exaggeration…)

Most seedlings, and maybe all seedlings should be “hardened off” before actually being planted in the ground. I’ve read that you should take at least a week to gradually acclimate them to the outdoors, starting in a sheltered place for an hour or so and building up to full time in the kind of exposure they’ll live in. Mine go to the back veranda– bright but not direct sun, close to the house, so not too windy, and I start with 2 hours, go to 4 , then 6 etc.

When it’s time to finally time to get them in the ground, follow Garden Tribes instructions, and they’ll be happy as clams. And don’t forget, (Charles Dowding mentions it as well) don’t be afraid to plant your vegetable transplants deeper than they are in the starting medium.

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 (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.

New Vegetable Garden Day 13

Vegetable Garden Day 13

Oh dear, running late again. Today’s topic (GardenTribe’s Boot Camp) is pretty basic–TOOLS–, so I’ll skim over it quickly and get on to Day 14.

So about Tools. I’m going to tell you about the tools I use most often, how I use them, and what I think about them.

Shovel. I like a pointy-tipped (“spade”) shovel with a long handle, no “D-handle” at the end. This gives me leverage. But it gives me so much leverage I’m tempted to use it to pry up large rocks in my digging. Which is a good way to break the handle, as I can assure you from experience. Getting a universal sharpener and then using it when needed will make your shovel even better.

Trowel: hand shovel for planting or digging up anything smaller than a gallon pot size. Somewhere lost in the garden is my best one, with a nice rubber handle, not too wide spade, and a really strong “stem”–the section between what you hold and what does the digging. If you’ve ever tried to use a spoon to dig in the garden, you’ll know what happens if that “stem” isn’t strong enough.

Old bread knife. This is one of my favourite tools for doing almost anything. The serrated edge of the bread knife can do all manner of cutting, and since it’s otherwise discarded, you won’t have to sterilize it to cut your bread. One of the things this is really good for is cutting through weed taproots–like dandelion. By inserting the knife close to the root at an angle, you can slice through the root (about 1-2″ deep) and pull up the weed without disturbing the soil too much, nor making a big hole in the space that then has to be filled.

Pruners. I can’t tell you how many pruners I’ve bought over the last decade–it’s many. For two main reasons: I’m not careful to keep my pruners in a place I’ll find them, so again, like with the trowel, somewhere in the garden (likely under the garden by now) is probably at least two sets of pruners. But the other reason is that cheap pruners either fall apart or loose their spring action, or haven’t the strength to cut through anything larger than a pencil, if that. So I’m with Garden Tribe on this: buy a good set of pruners, and don’t cheap out. (They don’t have to be a Cadillac version, just don’t buy them at the dollar store!)

Rake. I do use my garden rake quite a lot, but that’s because I’m always changing my garden spaces, spreading mountains of mulch, and then raking away those mountains of mulch. In small new vegetable garden (with only 5 vegetables crops) you probably won’t need it to start.

Gloves. Lots and lots of gloves. They get dirty, of course, but they also get wet, and working in wet dirty gloves for a long time is hard on the hands. So I have lots of gloves (right now I have a surprising surplus of right handed gloves…), and change them when my hands get uncomfortable. And get gloves that fit: too-long fingers are REALLY inconvenient when you’re trying to pick up little seedlings or do any other fine motor work.

this looks good...

This “one-size-fits-all”  looks good…

Until you see the real size

Until you see the real size

Stay tuned: I’m going to post Day 14 as soon as I write it…