Wednesday, April 11, 2018

forsythia forcing

A welcome sign of spring in the house
This shrub doesn't look like much:  a bunch of dry sticks in a boring form.  
But these branches are perfect for forcing.  Cut branches up to 3 feet long, anywhere you feel the plant needs thinning.  Bring them inside, cut the stems again, and immediately plunge into a deep vase of warm water.  The next day, cut the bottoms again, and change to fresh warm water.  Every few days, change the water again, always making sure to use warm water.  As the water rises up the stems, the tiny hard buds will swell, and the branches will be covered with yellow flowers, weeks before any blooms appear outside.  

Thursday, March 22, 2018

starting seeds inside

It is March 22, and we are in the midst of another storm - in fact, its more snow than we had all of February.  But it's 11 weeks before the last frost, counting backwards from the new moon in June, which is the 13th this year.  So it's time now to plant seeds that take a long time to germinate and grow, seeds that would never grow into mature plants if I planted them outside after the last frost.

The most important thing when considering if you would like to try starting seeds inside is light.  Lots of it.  Without adequate light, the seedlings will be spindly, and never recover.
I have deep windowsills facing south and east, which are perfect.
Check the seeds you want to grow.  Each variety has its own schedule.  Usually, the bigger the seed, the faster it will germinate.  Tiny seeds usually take longer to germinate and longer to produce a mature plant, so they need to be started sooner.  The back of the seed package is a good place to look for information about when to start seeds.  Otherwise, some research on the Internet will help.

I have a nice new shelf unit (a Christmas gift from my son) that I set up against an east-facing window.

Soil:  use purchased potting soil, not soil from the garden.  It should feel light, because it is made up of peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite and a wetting agent.  Added fertilizer is not necessary.  Put the soil in a bucket and wet it to the consistency of a wet sponge before packing it into seed cells.  Don't use pressed paper cells - they dry out very fast.  Use the black plastic ones.  Press the soil fairly firmly into the seed cells, and then sprinkle one larger seed or a few tiny seeds into each cell.  Press the seeds down firmly, cover or don't cover with soil as per the needs of each type of seed.  Label each variety, because you won't remember what you planted.  Cover with the clear plastic dome to keep the humidity in, and don't let the soil dry out.

These are new pepper plants.  They popped up within a week of planting.  Some seeds, like peppers, do much better in warm soil.  A heat mat placed under the seed tray warms the soil.  Now that the plants are up, I took away the heat mat.  Too much heat for too long causes the plants to become leggy and weak.

The Livingstone Daisy (Ice Plant) seeds were tiny as dust.  I was surprised that they popped up so fast.  It was hard to put just a few in each seed cell, and they all germinated!  These annual flowers are amazing - fluorescent pink and orange flowers, and foliage that looks like ice has formed on the leaves.

Look closely and you will see three tiny plants coming from the same place.  These are calibrocha (Million Bells). The tiny seeds were fused together in one pellet and the plants will bloom in three colours.  These plants, along with petunias, needed bottom heat to germinate well.

And now for something completely different:  last summer, I bought these Edelweiss seeds in Vienna Austria.  They cost 15 Euros (about $30) so I had a good reason to make sure they would grow.  I did a lot of research before I decided how to proceed.  This  plant, made famous by The Sound of Music, grows high up in the mountains in dry, chalky soil.  Many perennial seeds will not germinate unless they have first gone through winter because if they sprout in the fall, they will surely freeze over the long cold winter.  So I made the seeds think they had experienced winter by putting them in the freezer for 5 months.  To make the seeds feel at home in soil they were meant to grow in, I put ground egg shells in the potting soil for extra grit and calcium, kept the soil moist, and voila!  the seeds sprouted within a week!

Sunday, February 11, 2018


Yesterday I was in the bathroom  and came face to face with this guy.  I have never done my business so fast in  my life!

It was the biggest daddy long legs I have every seen - almost 3 inches (8 cm) from tip to tip.


Daddy longlegs is a common animal of woodlands and dense vegetation. Daddy longlegs, or  harvestman, belong to the same class as spiders, mites, ticks and scorpions but are in a class by themselves. 
Daddy longlegs have eight legs like spiders but otherwise they are quite different. The body is an egg-shaped glob perched between and slightly below the first joint of the legs. The legs look too long to be controlled by the small body and appear to impair the animal’s vision. The two eyes are placed back to back on turrets in the middle of the daddy longlegs’ back. Two small arms (pedipalps) at the front of the body are used to steer food into range between the jaws.
The most important of the daddy longlegs’ legs are the extra-long second pair. They touch the ground ahead of the others and are equipped with special sense organs that allow the daddy longlegs to get an advanced taste and feel of the ground ahead.
Daddy longlegs must drink often and are therefore found in moist areas. The two front pairs of legs are rested on the surface of the water and the jaws are lowered until the animal can drink.
These tiny animals do not spin webs and are not capable of killing or poisoning their prey and thus resort to eating dead animals or the eggs of insects and spiders. They will eat bread or animal fat and therefore do quite well in a home terrarium.
Daddy longlegs have a hard outer shell that must be shed during the molt and at regular intervals as the animal grows. The skeleton splits at the front end and the body partly emerges through the gap. The jaws then bundle the bases of the legs together and force them toward the jaws, which draw each one of the legs out through the slit in the old skeleton. The new skeleton is soft at first but then it hardens and expands to allow for more growth.
Daddy longlegs do not need all eight legs to get by, in fact in some cases they are able to get along on only two. They are unable to grow replacement legs, as some other insects and animals do.

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Now my problem:  I have lost track as to where my daddy longlegs went to, and I'm sure I will bump into it again at an inopportune moment!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

gardening in winter

My second cousin sent me pictures of snowdrops already blooming in Germany.  So lovely!

But here in eastern Canada, although we have had many thaws and the snow has dissappeared so many times this winter, snowstorms have always followed.
Mountain ash berries covered with snow
With the grey skies and freezing weather, I'm getting restless, and I need to get my hands dirty.
I have repotted and divided my rampant aloe vera plants and another little succulent that has cloned itself madly, and I have watched my indoor flowers come to life.

I have coaxed my 5-year old orchid to re-bloom by filling the pot with fertilized water once a week, soaking 20 minutes, and then draining it.

I have a huge old Christmas cactus that blooms faithfully 4 times a year between Thanksgiving and spring, and then takes a well-deserved rest for the summer.  The plant is easy to propagate, and the daughters of the original plant are just as eager to bloom.

Yesterday my husband brought me a package of 3 different types of blight resistant tomato seeds.  I will wait until 8 weeks before the last frost (here that would be about April 10), and then plant them inside.  I'm looking forward to getting dirt under my fingernails!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

November colours

As the days get shorter and the sun refuses to shine, we know the dark days of winter are around the corner.  But there is still colour to be found.  The mild November weather means the flowers are down, but they aren't out yet.  This calendua is blooming, but lying down on the job.
This I believe is flax, which grew from a pack of mixed wildflower seeds from Veseys.  A very intense blue on flowers that bloom for a very long time.
Another intense blue-purple on johny jump-ups that bloom profusely from spring to late fall.  All you need to do is give them a hair cut once in a while to get rid of the spent flowers, and they will keep on giving.
The glorious pale-yellow snapdragons reseed and come back on their own year after year.  Behind is something I splurged on in September:  three species fuchsia with long orange tubular flowers that were visted by hummingbirds before they flew south.
This little burning bush seedling makes up for its small size with fiery leaves.
Can't get enough of these bright Chinese lanterns.  After the pod fades to a tracery of veins, you can see a bright orange seed inside.
Fluffy white seed plumes from ornamental grass look like clouds come to earth.
We took a walk in the woods near Mount Stewart and found scattered under the trees some yellow chanterelle mushrooms.  They seemed pretty hard and tough, but we soaked them in water for a half hour, and they were tender and delicious. We have been told that the mushrooms must be cut, not pulled, or they won't grow back next year.   Our recipe:  soak mushrooms, clean and chop.  Saute onions and garlic in butter until transparent.  Add mushrooms, saute for a few minutes, then add some white wine and cook till reduced.  Delicious! 

Here's a downside to all that glorious mild November weather.  I visited Eureka Garlic to try a different variety this year, and ended up choosing "Cuban Purple".  I didn't clue in that Cuban winter is nothing like ours, so I planted it a month ago and it has already sprouted, which means the cold Canadian winter will kill it dead.  When you are this far north, this type of garlic should only be planted in spring.  Lesson learned.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

carrots and tomatoes

Although I have a big vegetable garden in my back yard, I also rent a plot at the Legacy Garden, a community space in downtown Charlottetown.  Why do I do it?  It started because I couldn't get carrots to grow in my own back yard, so I thought I would try a change of venue, and now my carrots are fabulous, if I do say myself.  But an unexpected benefit was the company.  Gardening can be a bit solitary, if not lonely pursuit.  But at a community garden, there is always someone around to talk to about the bugs eating the cucumber leaves, or to brag up your beautiful lettuce.

Here's my plot.  I plant just carrots and tomatoes, rotating them every year.

The sunflowers reseed themselves, growing anew every year.
From 10 tomato plants, I get an enormous amount of fruit.  After all the hard work of nurturing the seedlings, enriching the soil, digging weeds, and planting carefully, it's all worth it to harvest each beautiful tomato at the end of it all.

This tomato plant is a volunteer, growing from seed that must have survived the winter.  It produces big cherry tomatos, and they are really sweet.

The carrots did surprisingly well, powering through even though we had no rain for 2 months.  I always plant the variety called "Rainbow" which produces a range of colours from orange, pale orange, yellow, to pure white. I also plant a dark purple variety.  Last year, I found that the paler the carrot, the more bug damage it sustained.  The purples had no damage at all.  I was delighted to find almost no damage to the roots this year.  Maybe the carrot rust fly larvae don't like dry conditions.
One strange thing I noticed is that the tomatoes growing on the side of the plot facing west are not ripening as quickly as those facing in the other direction.  No shade falls on these plants during the day at all.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

fall flowers

Fall is here, but the flowers have not given up yet.  There are still lots of pretty petals to check out!

Two years ago, I planted a few hibiscus.  Last year, they were full of buds - which all dried up without opening.  I was pretty disappointed, especially when I see what I missed - check this out!  The flowers are about 8 inches across, totally out of proportion to the 3 foot size of the plant.
Hibiscus is very late to come to life in the spring, so don`t pull it out too early thinking it didn`t survive the winter.
These frothy pale purple beauties are fall asters, which grow wild here.  All I need to do is recognize the plants and not pull them out thinking they are weeds.
Queen of the Prairie is a magnet for fall bees.
This brave rose is blooming, even though its leaves have been chewed and sucked dry.
Phlox `David` in the background, `Autum Joy` Sedum in front.
A dried alium has lost its purple flowers, but it`s still a striking sight.
Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susans) and Purple Coneflower and wild mallow make a great combination.

It's a good year for hydrangeas.  This one started life as a multi-stemmed shrub with flowers as big as your head, so big that they hung to the ground.  this left a big open space in the middle of the plant, and flowers dragging on the ground.  So I cut off all the stems, and the next year let just three grow.  Then I cut out the two weakest ones, staked the remaining one for a year, and voila - it's now a standard holding its flowers high!
The Chinese Lanterns seem bigger than usual this year.  They really shine in a forest of green leaves.
I never get tired of the look - or the fragrance - of sunflowers.
Just one more - sunny Calendula reseed themselves every year. The chickadees gorge on the extra seeds all winter.