Saturday, March 27, 2010

Slow Food and Fast Grass

The smaller Farmer's Markets open in May all across our city, right now only the largest one by the college is open so of course it was a freakin' zoo but we went this morning anyway. I have a feeling we won't go again till the one by our house opens up.

I love going there. DH on the other hand, perhaps not so much but he humored me today and we had a bit of a family outing. We picked up some leeks and grass finished beef and arugula to make BBQ Burgers with for dinner. We split and grilled the leeks with the patties. It was the best freakin' burger I've had all year. OH I adore spring. I'm only sad I didn't get some of the gorgeous looking potatoes to make leek and potato soup. Ah well... next week perhaps.

After we got back DH made lunch for himself and the kiddlet then took her to the park and the grocery store. I worked in the garden... kinda. Actually I worked on our lawn. Well, it needs some TLC too ya know! Plus it was sunny and in the mid-high 60's. Just perfect for being outside!

So last month I put down corn gluten which inhibits weed seeds from germinating. Today I pulled out all the dandelions I could find. Whew~ There was a whole mess of them!* Since they hadn't gone to seed yet I chucked them in the compost (also good because they pull up a lot of calcium from deep down so that'll go back into the garden soil at some point). Anywhoodle. Then I mowed and sifted compost all across the lawn. (Feed the soil not the plants!) I also put down patches of compost where there was no grass growing either due to having pulled a dandelion from there or moss or what have you. Then I busted out the bag of black gold - worm castings! Yup. Worm poop. Awesome possum stuff. Sprinkled that everywhere. Then got out the bag of grass seed and seeded the areas where I'd laid down compost earlier. I kinda looks like a patchy mess at the moment but it's supposed to rain all next week. Perfect! Once the grass seed sprouts look really lovely.

There's a local company around here called Chem-Lawn. They always leave a sign up on lawns they service. Anyway the lawns are always this amazing deep green poison field but they sure do look pretty. I really thought that the only way I'd ever have a lawn like that was if I sprayed it with chemicals every three weeks. But I was looking at our grass today and it was a deep stunning green. I'm just pleased as punch that it's so healthy AND non-toxic. Wonderful! Plus I don't think I have to do anything else now for the rest of the year except mow. Nice. =)

*BTW DH and I had a good laugh because one of the venders was selling dandelion greens for crazy amounts of $$ at the farmer's market this morning. We could make a killing! Ours are organic even. Bwahahaha!

And just so this post isn't so wordy.. a few pictures perhaps?

More tulips in bloom

Baby broccoli is doing great

Peas have sprouted too though they're little...

Kids eye view of newly planted onions, leeks and shallots and me at the compost pile chuckin' something in. Gotta keep the monster fed!

I also found another great use for my cold frames - prop up my garden notebook! Perfect for keeping track of everything. Please ignore the soda (though if you like Mango you really should try these - they're divine! - This from someone who rarely if ever, drinks pop)
BTW This is another kiddlet picture. I love letting her have the camera in the garden because she sees things I don't or wouldn't think to take a picture of. It's kinda neat.

Friday, March 19, 2010



Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pests and Companion Planting

I always thought companion planting was a good idea... but this does cast a seed of doubt.
I wish I could do some controlled experiments myself with various touted companions, especially the one's I've been using in my garden. Sadly, I do not have the room; fortunately neither have I come across the colorado potato beetle! (Knock on wood)

Questionable Companions
Mainstay of Organic Pest Control Won't Deter Colorado Potato Beetles
by Tara Moreau

I just completed my Master's degree at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, where I devoted two years of research to one troublesome agricultural pest: the Colorado potato beetle. Working with the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada (OACC), I evaluated organic controls for this insect on potatoes. The results, which came as a shock to me, will perhaps be a disappointment to gardeners who place a lot of faith in companion planting.

I realized early on that the 10-striped, leaf-eating Colorado potato beetle (CPB) is no ordinary insect. Its ability to develop resistance to nearly all pesticides used against it, and its global distribution, make it one of the most notorious agriculture pests in the world - and therefore one of the most popular pest species in scientific literature.

My particular interest was in the commonly prescribed technique of companion planting. Many publications devoted to home gardening and organic crop production recommend planting non-host plants or aromatic herbs as a means of reducing insect attack. I was intrigued with the concept. Could the presence of a non-host plant actually work to repel the beetle from potato plants nearby? Is there an unseen level of communication between plants and insects that can be used by growers for a more natural means of pest control?

One of the greatest challenges I encountered in testing companion plants was the lack of information about which companion plant varieties worked best, how many companion plants were required to have an effect, and how to arrange the companion plants within the potatoes. These were the questions I sought to answer.

Delving into the available literature, I realized that companion planting was a controversial subject, with various scientific data supporting and refuting its effectiveness. One study with the CPB reported that adult beetles were less attracted to the odors of potato plants in intercropped systems than in monocropped systems. The researchers speculated that potato plant odors were masked by the odors of non-host plants, and that the CPB's host-plant searching behavior was reduced in the presence of non-host plants. Other researchers demonstrated that CPB populations were lower in high- diversity plots than in lower-diversity plots.

In order to determine which companion plants to evaluate, I reviewed magazines, books, and internet sources, choosing plants that were most commonly recommended and that could be grown in Atlantic Canada. In the end I selected five: Bush beans (Phaseolus vulgaris cv. Provider), flax (Linum usitatissimum cv. Natasja), horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), marigold (Tagetes patula cv. Bolero) and tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), shown at the right. I started the companion plants in a greenhouse in the early spring, in order to grow large plants to transplant into the potato plots.

The next stage of the project was to learn how to grow potatoes. I had no previous experience, and was unaware of the work required, but I managed to get research plots set up. I compared beetle densities between companion planted potato plots and potato plots with no companion plants.

The results from the 2-year study were not what I expected. Analysis of the CPB populations revealed that there were more beetles in plots with flax, marigold, and horseradish than in plots with no companion plants. I couldn't believe it. Not only did these companion plants not decrease CPB densities - their presence near potatoes actually increased the number of beetles. (The plots with Bush beans and tansy showed no difference from the control plots.)

I was surprised to learn that my results were not unprecedented in this field of study. In trials evaluating companion planting for roses, researchers demonstrated that the companion plants increased the incidence of Japanese beetle attack on roses.

While doing this research I had the opportunity to speak with many people who had success with companion planting and believed strongly in its effectiveness. However, my overall conclusion was that successful companion planting depends largely on the insect pest and the companion plants selected. Using Bush beans, flax, horseradish, marigold, and tansy as organic pest controls for the Colorado potato beetle would not be recommended, and I think this study does raise concerns about using companion plants without first verifying their effect on target pests.

Tara Moreau would welcome comments or questions on this subject by email at

This article was first published in Rural Delivery, Volume 29 #2, July/August 2004

Monday, March 15, 2010

Jumpin' the gun

I couldn't help myself when I was at mega-mart-grocery-store-that-has-everything-including-a-garden-center; they were starting to put out their spring plants. I'd read that garlic planted at the base of a peach tree helps to ward of some pesky insect or other and so I figured what the heck. Besides, half the garlic I planted last fall didn't come up and we go through the stuff like water so a dozen extra bulbs couldn't hurt, right? AND they had strawberries. I cannot begin to tell you the love both DH and the kiddlet have for this little berry. It's like crack. They cannot get enough. Our berry pot had very old plants in it... meaning they produce a smaller harvest and more bitter fruit as they age. So I ripped them all out and put in all new soil and plants. The ant colony living in the pot was decidedly *not* happy. Neither was I when they started swarming up my arms. ::shivers:: But we came to an understanding... they were behind on rent so I evicted them to the compost pile. They can set up their shanty town with the ant colony currently living there.
The thing with the strawberries though was I bought too many (well, it's never too many according to the fam) but what to do with them? I tucked them around the peach tree as well. Nothing like easily accessible fruit in june and a nice ground cover the rest of the time. It's nice to see green in that bed... It'll be even nicer when the riot of flowers goes in behind the peach tree in a month or so.

Speaking of peach trees... I failed at spraying at the right time and now (already!) I have peach leaf curl. Anyone have any organic suggestions on how to go about taking care of this fungal disease? I dearly love the PNW except for the fungus issues the garden has to endure. ::sigh::

Oh and this was an interesting article, Black Soldier Fly, White Magic about a guy who breads black soldier flies and uses them in his compost like worms... so I guess I can let the one's living there stay. =)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sunny Seedy Saturday

Today was beautiful! In the 50's and sunny. I was able to get outside and plant peas. It was such a nice change from last year when I was planting them in the cold, cold rain. I also got my broccoli, kale, cabbage and cauliflower transplants in the dirt as well. Radishes and spinach were direct sewn too. Oh and a few potatoes that were pre-sprouted. My favorite way to plant them? Bulb transplanter. It makes the perfect sized hole to chuck a tater in. I'm still chitting* the three other types (French Fingerling, Yukon Gold and Red Pontiac) - hope they'll be ready by St. Patty's Day since I'm a romantic gardener like that. ;^)

Planting Taters
*How to "green" potatoes (aka chitting): Cut potatoes so they have at least two "eyes" on each chunk. Put in a dark warm place. Damp is okay. Do not let them shrivel as it weakens the seed piece. They should sprout short stubby greens that won't break off easily. Once they do you can plant them in the garden no deeper then 2"-4". If you have trouble with scab you can coat them with a light dusting of sulfer powder first to help ward it off. This can also reduce the threat of infection by bacteria and fungus as well.

I really hope the spinach does better this time around too. I couldn't get it to come up fer nothin' last year. I wonder if it's a pH issue? Maybe if it doesn't come up I'll try planting it earlier next year. It should germinate anywhere from 25° to 75° so I'm not sure what it's problem is. ::shakes fist at spinach:: Grow you!


I also dorked pretty hard last year and accidentally buried my compost thermometer in the compost pile. I thought I'd poke the pile today with a pitch fork and turn it over to see if I could find it. I had no luck in turning it (too wet and nowhere to toss it except on itself) but what I did discover is that it is FULL of worms. Woo! (Though by the time I grabbed the camera most of them had slithered away - still, there were loads.)
Red Wigglers

It was also full of grubs. I'm not sure what they are though. Anyone have any ideas? Friend or foe?

And finally, some of the asparagus is getting bigger. I'd love to have just enough even for one meal at Easter.
March Asparagus
I'm a little worried because I didn't cover the bed with anything over the winter. (No hay, straw or cold frame). We get cold and maybe even a little bit of snow but last winter we had record breaking cold. Of the 20 asparagus plants we have, so far only seven have come back. I bought five more crowns (variety Mary Washington) in the hopes that if the Jersey Knight don't all come back up at least I'll be able to replace them. I heeled them in some compost this afternoon while we play wait and see with the plants in the garden. I'll definitely be getting ahold of some protective bedding next winter for the perennial bed. I lost both the artichoke plants in that bed too so I'll need to be a little more vigilant next fall when I'm doing my clean up.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Just a few goings-on in the garden

Peach tree is blossoming...

Bulbs are emerging...

And there are even a few things in full bloom now...

Otherwise I've been hardening off my brassicas but I think it might be too early this year. Most years I haven't had a problem with this week but 2010 has been cold, cold, cold for us. I was hardening off the parsley with them but I could see they were easily getting stressed with temperature changes. I've left them under the lights for now and will try again next week. The broccoli and etc are looking a wee bit stressed but I'm sort of trying to push them through anyway. This weekend should be beautiful and about 10-15° warmer...

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Seed Fairy!

Holy Heck! My *AWESOME* x-neighbor (from my days of living in San Francisco) sent me 30 packets of seeds today.

::jaw drops::

She's the best. I wuv her! I also had kinda a crappy day and so it was so great to get a fun package in the mail. Woo! Of course I have *no idea* where I'm going to plant even half of these... my garden cannot contain all the love. Foo. Maybe I need a community plot too! Well at least for the melons.
::feigns innocent look::

I really want to try to grow some of the Moon & Stars Watermelon that she sent me. They are sooo cool looking! I hope I can get it hot enough for it to produce. Then again I might be better off trying the Cream of Saskatchewan Watermelon which does better in cooler climates. Or the Charantais melon (like a sweet aromatic cantaloupe). OH, the pressure to decide. lol

Never mind all the other varieties of tomatoes, herbs, squash, peppers, onions, brassica, etc. etc... Bah! lol... It's a happy bah, really. =)