Friday, 13 June 2014

My first zucchinis

Today I picked my first two zucchinis! I didn't know how large they should be before picking, but after doing some inter-netting, it sounded like if I wanted a tasty zucchini with good texture, I better not let them get to big. As it is, these two are pretty solid, they aren't the usual shape of zucchini I would buy at the farmers market or grocery store - a different variety maybe? Or maybe I did wait too long to pick them...will wait until dinner this evening to tell how they are.

I shouldn't complain, because there are far worse things to complain about, but this weather and the frequency with which I step outside has lead to a certain someone crying constantly to go out in the backyard with me. I mean constantly. All. The. Time. I cannot go to the kitchen without Buster running after me and standing at the back door crying to go out. I do take him out on occasion on a leash and harness, but I cannot keep up with his demands. I am cooking, he's crying. I do dishes, he's crying. I am anywhere on the ground floor and you can bet he is crying. And if I am upstairs he follows me upstairs and annoys the crap out of me until I follow him downstairs, where he cries, cries and cries some more. I took him out this afternoon for his usual wander around the yard, grass eating.

Typically something will startle him and he will make a dash to get back to the house but not today, he was going to keep me outside until I had a decent sunburn! I finally hauled him back in, where he protested by crying at the back door before finally giving up and lying beneath an open window. What a tough life he lives.

If this kind of weather keeps up, I will be spending plenty of time outside with the cat...nevermind the garden! If the weather is nice where you are, I hope you are enjoying it as much as Buster is!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

One of these things is not like the other!

Today I decided it was time to clear the remaining seven radishes from one of the veg beds. Five of the seven picked were good looking radishes, while the other two must have been crowded and didn't form properly. Of the five good ones, one in particular stood out.

Can you guess which one?! Maybe the giant purple one on the end?! Believe me, this photo does not do this radish justice. It is much bigger than any of the other radishes I have picked to date and it is purple! Not pink or red like the others. What a thrill...sorry to those of you who have grown veggies for years who have seen it all - this is new for me and the little things - like purple radishes, are really exciting!

In other exciting (for me) garden news: the sad little lemon cucumbers have actually started to flower! This is a thrill, since the seedlings could barely handle life outside their greenhouse dome, I definitely thought they would have died by now, never mind actually produce flowers! Will see where they go from here. I had trellis for them for the longest time but they just didn't seem to be budging (not growing, but not dying) so I got rid of it. Now they are growing a bit, still not much and they have flattened to the ground. I'm going to let them do their thing and see where they go.

And last but not least, the most beautiful zucchini I have ever seen (obviously, I grew it myself!). Pay no attention to the protective netting - that net will go nowhere as long as I have successful veg growing in that bed! I can't wait to harvest what I hope will be the first of many zucchinis this summer.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

What to do about garden pests?

When I started the vegetable garden this year, I didn't really think I would have a huge problem with pests. I figured the resident rabbits might try to get in the beds and nibble away at the tasty goods and that squirrels and chipmunks might snack on some tomatoes later in the season...I was somewhat prepared to deal with these situations if and when they occurred. But what I was not prepared for was for this year to be the year of the CHIPMUNK.

Last year I don't recall seeing too many chipmunks in the yard, maybe the odd one here and there, cute little guys, right? This year the chipmunk population has boomed - not just in my yard, my mum who lives on the other side of town has had a constant flow of chipmunks running through her yard as well. This years chipmunks are fierce, nasty little jerks hell-bent on ruining everything in my garden.

Before there was anything planted in the raised beds, I would notice the dirt all dug up and tossed about, I naturally assumed it was the squirrels up to their tricks. Soon enough I was seeing more and more damage, and fewer squirrels. As soon as I started to plant anything (vegetables, seeds, flowers - you name it) they were being dug back up. In one case, within an hour of planting a flower I started from seed (in a peat pot) I watched from the kitchen window as a CHIPMUNK dug up the peat pot and tried to carry it away!

Obviously the vegetable garden has been a big target for the 'munks. I quickly got tired of smoothing over the soil every morning and knew that no seeds were going to survive at this rate. So I netted each bed. I got a bamboo pole in each corner, topped with a plastic cup, and strung animal netting over each bed. Using dollar store garden clips and some leftover stones and bricks, I tucked the netting down as secure as I could around the base of the beds and then covered the edges with the surrounding cedar mulch. This has been working pretty well. The plants have taken off, seeds that were left in peace have sprouted, garden life was pretty good. Little did I know the chipmunks where laying low and plotting against me.

After a week of peace, I noticed everything that was not netted was being hit extra hard, the 'munks were clearly trying to send me a message. One evening a friend brought me some of her rhubarb plants (yay!). By the time I was up the next morning to plant them, the plants were destroyed - I mean obliterated! I salvaged the root balls and planted them, fingers crossed...until this happened:

This is a chewed up piece of the rhubarb I had salvaged. All hope lost!

And it hasn't stopped there. Sunday morning, all was good in the garden. In the afternoon it rained and by dinner time when the rain slowed and I could poke my head outside I saw I site that made me sick...a 'munk had found its way in to one of the four beds and had torn up every last turnip, flattened all green onions, smothered my marigolds and had a good dig around all of the tomatoes. Why?! I had to wait until Monday to fix and re-seed the turnips. I checked every bed and secured the netting as best I could. This morning, as usual, I checked the beds to see if they survived the night only to discover a violent little 'munk trying to get in to one of the beds! It was thrashing around, so much that I thought it was stuck in the netting, then I realized it was throwing a full-blown chipmunk tantrum because it couldn't get in! It then proceeded to knock over the remaining tomato plants I had on the deck and further chew up the remaining rhubarb stumps. It has been back to taunt me through the day. I am going to lose my mind.

Cute as they are, they are nasty little buggers. I have whipped up a batch of pepper spray, hoping that will deter the little devils. I have also scattered blood meal around the beds. As well as the vegetables are growing now, I feel the threat of terrorist chipmunks is only going to grow and that this year, my battle will not be getting my plants to grow as much as it will be protecting my plants from the dreaded chipmunk.

Friday, 6 June 2014

What's growing?

I must confess, I am obsessed with going out into the garden and just staring at it...the neighbors must think I am a nutter. I just can't help it. I am so excited that everything growing in those four raised beds was started from seeds I planted - why didn't I start vegetable gardening sooner?! Since I am so addicted to garden watching, I am seeing some incredible progress but I am sure I am also missing some things, like just how big some of the plants are getting. Not until looking back on photos today did I realize just how big the zucchini plants are getting - BIG.

Today I picked 6 more radishes for a total of 13. The largest of those radishes were growing along side mustard greens - I guess they grow well together? There are also two teeny tiny zucchinis developing, they are looking great so far. Next year I am not sure I will grow zucchinis in the raised beds since they seem to already be taking up a load of space...must get to work on planning more beds for next year (too soon?!).

What else is growing? The parsnips I planted are starting to make an appearance. As per some information I found online about parsnip growing, I placed seeds in wet paper towels in an air tight container for about a week until the seeds started sprouting, then I planted those seeds that had sprouted - that way I am not planting any dead seeds, and the seeds get a head start. The turnip seeds planted at the same time as the parsnips are also surfacing. The spring onions are looking good, although I am, having a hard time believing they are going to grow into the lovely green onions I pay too much for at the grocery store (and that usually only last 2 days in my fridge before flopping into rubbery green nastiness). Time will tell! The kale is looking well, as for the swiss chard, its kind of hard to say; some look pretty good but they are starting to flop over a bit. The tomatoes are all looking pretty good, some of the weakest plants are looking quite strong now and I think I have even spotted some flower buds forming!

Unfortunately I did not get any photos, but over the past two days I have spotted several honey bees in the garden - that makes me all kinds of happy! Don't get me wrong, I love the bumble bees that usually hang out in the yard, but this is the first year I can say I have witnessed honey bees! I better get planting more bee-friendly plants in my flower bed.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

A vegetable in the garden!

Today is a wonderful day! Why you ask? Well for starters, we finally got some much needed rain, so I now have two very full rain barrels at my disposal and the vegetable and flower beds got a decent watering. Last night there was torrential rain, high winds and the power was knocked out for a short while - I know the garden needed the rain but I was a bit nervous I would wake up this morning to see all my baby plants destroyed. Well, not only were the plants NOT destroyed, some were ready for picking - that's right, I picked my first vegetable today! A lovely hot pink radish. I am the first to admit I am pretty impatient, and that isn't going to work in my favor when gardening, but today I just couldn't help myself. I could see the pink of the radishes poking up above the soil and thought it wouldn't hurt to pick one to see how big it is (and how it tastes). So I did it and woo-hoo! Now I will hold off on picking more for a few more days, I think they could use a little bit more time to get a tad bit bigger, but I am so pleased to see an actual edible vegetable come from my garden - that I grew all by myself from seed. Happy day!

One of the benefits of having the netting up over the beds is obviously to keep the animals out, but it also helps keep me out! I have been bad for poking around in the beds when I don't need to (like I said, I'm impatient), the netting being such a pain in the butt to put up and take down, keeps me from rummaging and disturbing the goods that are growing.

I also spotted the beginnings of a zucchini today. I am so glad, especially since I put the zucchini plants out during a few warm days we had, then I was hit with the threat of frost and the plants looked a bit traumatized for about two weeks following that time - dodged a bullet!

The southern curled mustard greens are looking well, along with some scattered lettuces. I didn't expect anything to come of these old seeds, so I just threw them in the beds and didn't save enough seeds to do another round of planting, so I will harvest these as baby greens instead of letting them grow to full lettuces.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Update on the raised beds

I have been so preoccupied lately with getting my hands dirty in the garden (I do own garden gloves, honestly, I just don't often wear them!) that I have failed to post some updates on the actual progress of the garden - the completion of the raised vegetable beds, what has been planted and what is and isn't growing. So, since I need to take a break from baking in the sun and fighting off mosquitos, I will give you a quick update.

As you can see from the photos above, there has been a lot of work going on in the back yard! The raised beds and surrounding area are complete. The beds measure 4 feet by 4 feet with approximately 3 feet spacing in between the boxes. They were built using cedar and treated decking screws. The cost to build the boxes was approximately $200 - as I mentioned previously, I did not shop around for wood, so I'm sure it is possible to get some cheaper wood and as far as deck screws goes, they can be a bit pricey, but the bigger the pack the cheaper they are...the problem with that is I knew we didn't need 500 screws, so I had to go with the smaller, slightly more expensive option. Surrounding the beds is natural cedar mulch, in total I think 18-20 bags were used at a cost of $2.99 per bag. The boarder keeping everything neat and tidy is made of cement paving slabs, they were basically the cheapest we could find, just something to hold the weed barrier ($20 for one roll, $15 for the landscape staples) down and make a clean edge. The pavers were $1.49 each and 46 were used. The beds were filled with a mix of compost and peat moss. I didn't track the cost as closely as I would have liked because we hopped from one store to another over the course of a few weekends buying whatever was on sale - I checked weekly flyers to get THE best price I could - who wants to pay big money for dirt?!

Slowly, I have been planting in all four beds a mix of plants I started from seed as well as direct sowing many vegetables. Unfortunately I quickly realized I had a battle on my hands: the animals - chipmunks and squirrels to be specific. Birds so far have not been a problem, beyond cheeky starlings stealing the cedar mulch to make nests. Squirrels keep running through the beds and chipmunks have not stopped digging up everything I've planted! Every morning I would head outside to check on the garden progress and every morning I found a different area destroyed - seeds tossed around, plants ripped apart. I had no choice but to net the four beds. Netting isn't the best looking, but if I want anything to grow this year it's my only option. I bought cheap bamboo poles and stuck one in each corner of the beds, topped the poles with a plastic cup and pulled animal netting over each bed. The cup is so the end of the bamboo pole does not go through the holes in the net. I have tucked all open ends into the mulch and used garden clips and leftover bricks to close off the bottom. What a pain! If I have to get into the beds its an ordeal but so far nothing has got in and the plants have had a few days of undisturbed growing time to get moving!

I started zucchinis, marigolds and tomatoes from seed. The two healthiest zucchini plants are now taking off in the beds with the early signs of an actual zucchini forming (yay!), the marigolds are doing well and the seeds I didn't have room to start indoors are now taking off outside. I was lucky to get more than enough viable tomato seedlings, there are about 3 tomato plants in each bed. The varieties that I have are Beefsteak, Brandywine and Old German along with some Tiny Tom cherry tomatoes that were started from some seeds that were about 3 years old (what luck!). I also planted radish and lettuce seeds, also 3 years old and everything has taken off! I can't believe how fast the radishes are growing and how strong they look! The other new seeds that have been started straight outdoors are spring onions, parsnips, turnips, some FREE carrot seeds, rhubarb Swiss chard, beets, red Russian kale and dwarf curled kale. So far the onions are popping up pretty fast, the beets are also showing themselves (but most of those beet seeds had been tossed around by chipmunks, so they aren't growing in the neat rows I planted them in). The kale and chard is starting to sprout and looks much better than the specimens I tried starting indoors. All in all I am pleased with how things are growing at the moment - it was difficult to predict what success - if any, I would have this year. As long as I work to keep the animals out I think I should come away with a few good bites of veg!