Saving Seeds

Earlier this spring, I wrote about choosing seeds for the veg garden and noted how the seeds I had saved from the previous year always seemed to germinate, grow and produce better than seeds of the same varieties that I purchased. It only makes sense. I know that the seeds I saved are fresh and have proven they can produce well in my particular soil and climatic conditions; and they’re free!

I’d like to encourage readers who are gardeners to save a few seeds this year for planting next year or even through the winter if you garden indoors at all. It is probably best not to save seed from hybrids because they may produce fruit quite different from the parent plant; but I have done it and had some good results. If you are into an experiment you could try, but for more certain genetic results use open pollinated varieties.

Legumes (peas and beans) are probably the next easiest to save. Just choose a plant that is exhibiting the characteristics you are looking for and let it grow, but don’t pick the pods. Sometimes I tie a ribbon on it so I don’t forget which one it is! Or, if you are a laisser-faire gardener, like I often am, and haven’t gotten around to pulling out the spent pea and bean plants, there will probably be a few pods left that have matured on the plant and you can pick to save for seed.

Near the end of the growing season when the plant has started to die back, and the pods are drying, pick them off and put them in a warm dry place to finish drying. When they are paper dry, crack the pods open and remove the seeds. Store in a cool dry place out of the light. A single bean or pea plant will probably provide as much seed as you would get in a purchased packet.

A parsnip left out overwinter will flower and make seed the second summer (one is enough!); but other biennial roots crops are trickier in Zone 1b because they will not survive over winter. 

Many salad greens, like lettuces and mustards, will make seed if left to their own devices in the garden. Annual brassicas, like broccoli and rapini, and a radish plant or two can be left to bolt, flower and set seed for an amazing amount of seed production (and pollinators love the flowers). Leave the plants in the garden until frost kills them then cut off the stems or pull the whole plant and leave some place to dry. I put them loosely in a big cardboard box in the greenhouse or garage. Picking the seed pods off the dried plants is a bit tedious, but not difficult. I thresh them in my food processor and winnow them outside on a breezy day.

Vine crops like squash and melons are also easy to collect seeds from. Just pick some seeds out of the “guts” when cleaning the mature fruit and dry on a paper towel. They do cross breed easily though so if you have grown more than one variety, or your neighbors have, you might get some surprising results next fall! Cucumbers are a little trickier and rarely allowed to mature before picking, but I have had good results.

If I have sparked your interest check out this information sheet. Thanks to Mike Dunton of Victory Seed Co. who sent the link.

Ground Cherry Update

Earlier this summer I wrote about some research that Seeds of Diversity is doing in trying to breed a more upright strain of ground cherries.  I have had some fun (and some stress) growing out a few seeds that they sent me to advance the strain. I was to seed them and select 25 berries from the most upright plants and return their seeds to S of D.

An upright stance is preferable for ground cherries as it allows for easier picking and better air flow. All ground cherries drop their ripe berries on the ground. The fruits are not ripe until they fall from the plant, so one always has to look for them on the ground. However, low plants that grow close to the ground make that task more difficult by hiding their fruit under their leaves and holding moisture around the fallen fruits, promoting mold growth. Ground cherries are considerate enough to wrap their tasty berries inside a little paper husk, so they stay clean even as they fall to the ground.

Through the summer my plants suffered from the same chlorosis malady as my greenhouse cucumbers. Thanks to some advice from the U of S Gardening Dept. I now have a diagnosis of iron deficiency and some ways to avoid the problem next year. (Basically, they needed better soil!) Despite their poor growing conditions, the ground cherries were able to produce not only 25 berries for the Seeds of Diversity project but a couple dishes for Grandpa and me to enjoy as well. They are sweet and tropical tasting, sort of like a pineapple strawberry cross. So good!

Weird Lettuce

suey choy

Last fall I did a little experiment with pre-seeding. I planted a row of mixed salad greens in the front yard garden so late that there was no way they could germinate. The ground was already starting to freeze a bit when the seeds went into the soil. This spring the seeds germinated, and we had a lovely bunch of mixed lettuces and a couple mustard plants early in the season; and THIS?????

I had no idea what it was, and it just kept getting bigger and bigger. Long after its compatriots had succumbed to the salad tongs, it was still forming a gigantic head. Al last I had to check it out and cut away the outer leaves to reveal a huge suey choy cabbage! I have never had a lot of luck growing this vegetable that we really enjoy eating, but perhaps now I have stumbled on a way to do it!

 

Patty Pan

Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away …

a friend of mine grew Patty Pan Squash.  I have always since been intrigued by the little spaceships that they grew.

After last year’s squash invasion, I was determined that no squash plant would ever again be planted in the Front Yard Garden. Later this spring as I contemplated jaunting “all the way” to the big garden to pick a summer squash I decided one – and only one – bush type summer squash might find a home in the back corner of the FYG.

I really enjoy summer squash and Grandpa is learning to. I have grown them all: zucchini, yellow hook-necked, marrows of all description, but never a Patty Pan.  I thought this would be a great time to try it.

Squash are heat loving plants that need a lot of moisture, but the spring was cold and dry so Patty wisely stayed ungerminated in the soil until mid June. Then she grew a beautiful bush and eventually a few male flowers. I checked almost daily for the little spaceships to appear, but the flights were delayed. We had no summer squash to enjoy.

In spite of the longer, warmer falls we are having, eventually the latitude prevails, and a killing frost appears. It happened last night.

However, in her Gia inspired wisdom that only plants have, Patty decided to put all her accumulated energy into the next generation the week before. Now what am I going to do with a bushel of spaceships?

Is the Corn Ready Yet?

Trinity SE cornGrowing sweet corn in Zone 1b is always an “if-fy” endeavour. Even short season varieties may not get enough heat units to mature. If we do manage to grow a good crop, we want to be sure we get at its best. Knowing when to harvest it is critical. Pick it too soon and we miss the ultimate, corn flavoured, deliciousness of it. Leave it too long and it loses its sweetness. Admittedly, I usually peek. I choose the most likely cob candidate and carefully pick through the layers of husk for a glimpse of the kernels inside.

corn stalksThere are some clues to knowing which cobs are most likely to be ready. The first thing to watch for is the silk at the top of the cob turning brown and dry. The silk serves the same function for corn plants as the pistil of flowering plants so once pollination is complete the plant has no more use for it and lets it die off.  Next, we want to find cobs that are sort of leaning away from the plant’s stalk. Finally, we choose cobs that are plump and firm. The only way to know that is to give them a gentle squeeze. After choosing some likely suspects, one can either go for broke and pick them, or just sneak a peak.

I grew a trial of three varieties this year. Simmonet, from Prairie Garden Seeds, was the earliest. It was OK but lacked that incredible sweetness we had been waiting for. The hybrids, Trinity and Café, from Early’s Farm and Garden, were at least two weeks later maturing (two weeks of cold and cloudy!) but are both delicious! In past years I have grown the open pollinated Fisher’s Earliest from Highmowing Seeds with great success, but international shipping costs were too high this year, and I am trying to support local businesses. My mother’s favorite was an older variety called Spancross. I may have to search for a source for that seed for next year.

 

The Fall Garden in Zone 1b

2020 FYGMany garden writers are now encouraging gardeners to start planting seeds for a “fall garden”. Because I garden in a very cold hardiness zone and am inclined to choose easy over ambitious, my “fall” garden will mostly involve using the plants that are already growing there.

Today I cut all the remaining side shoots off my broccoli plants, but instead of pulling them out, I just put the lid back on their screen box. The plants were healthy so perhaps they will grow out another set of side shoots. Certainly, that will be quicker than staring new plants from seed. Other brassicas like kale and cabbage love the cooler weather of fall and will be happy to wait in the garden until called into service.

chardI also cut out the young, centre leaves from most of the Swiss Chard row. This cold hardy plant will regrow and survive the first frosts to allow us to enjoy a mess of greens any day until the snow comes.

ING-pea-shoots-thumb16x9The peas are definitely finishing, but I am allowing them to grow out some pods for saved seed and consequently the plants are making some lovely shoots at the ends of the vines. They are a trendy addition to salads or to use as a garnish.

Jacobs cattle beansBeans I planted for dried beans are starting to die down as they put all their energy into seed production, but there were a few late blossoms that are just now forming pods and are great to use as green beans.

Carrots, rutabaga and beets are maturing but will keep better in the ground until it is almost freezing than anywhere else, so we will leave them out and just harvest them on an as-needed basis until it is really cold.

cucumber vinesCucurbits are really coming into production. I will watch the forecast and cover the cucumber patch if frost threatens to try to extend the time we can enjoy fresh cucumbers. I have already made some pickles. Squash do not like the cold so as soon as the first frosts touch the leaves, I’ll bring the fruits into the house. The plants however I will leave out in the garden and harvest the odd late flower for stuffing and frying. The leaves of all these vine plants will serve as a ready-made fall cover crop. A hard frost will turn the gigantic plants into a tiny layer of mulch that can just stay on top on my no dig beds. By spring it will have practically disappeared.

black seeded simpsonThe plan for fall salads includes a few lettuce seedlings left in a plug tray that have been patiently waiting transplanting into the garden and I will put the last few out or into the greenhouse tubs.  They won’t be the big plants that spring seeded lettuces were, but they will make some nice leaves to harvest.

tomatoes ripening on the vineTomatoes are continuing to ripen and green or ripened they will all get picked in as soon as frost threatens.

bunching onionsSet onions and transplanted ones are starting to dry down but some late planted bunching onions I direct seeded are still fresh and green, and chives that were cut back earlier are regrowing.

All this means I’ll have lots of good food to pick from my garden every day this fall until the snow comes!

Post COVID Subsistence Garden?

A very long time ago in one of the blogs I follow the writer, Kevin, asked the question:  What would you plant in your veggie garden if, for some reason, you couldn’t access a supermarket for an entire year?   There were a number of very good comments in reply, but one of the best came just lately (i.e. post COVID19) from a real subsistence farmer, John.

garden harvestI have recently begun some serious harvesting from my own garden and so the idea of having to live off it entirely for a year causes me to ponder, “Could we live on this for a year?’ Probably it would not be a varied or exciting diet, but it might be adequate.

 

caribe potatoFirst of all the macro nutrients: This year I have about 300 hills of potatoes which would easily meet our need for carbohydrate energy. I also planted two short rows of triticale and a 10×10 ft field of wheat. Between the two of them there would probably be enough flour for thickening sauces and gravies if I didn’t use them for anything else. My 100 corn plants will soon be at the corn-on-the-cob stage, but if I let them mature there might also be some corn meal.

Jacobs cattle beans

Protein would be the limiting factor. I do have a plot of Jacobs Cattle beans that are coming along well and would go a long way to meeting the protein requirements. My main crop of pole beans has been an abysmal failure this year, so I suspect I might look carefully at the white tail deer that have been munching on my garden all summer too.

deer question mark

Without animal fats, there might be some problem meeting this nutrient requirement. There are a few oil-bearing seeds growing that would suddenly become much more important: self seeded canola, mustard and radish are forming pods now where I failed to weed them out. With some advanced planning I would have seeded canola and some flax as well. I am not sure where it fits into this equation, but I also have a fair bit of fat stored up on my body.

20613291-canned-tomatoes-and-pickled-cucumbers-homemade-preserved-vegetablesMicronutrients would be less difficult to supply. My garden is full of leafy greens and tomatoes right now that I can freeze, can and pickle (I have salt and vinegar on hand).

root vegCarrots, rutabaga, onions, parsnip and turnip are all forming nice roots that will store over the winter.  This year’s squash crop is complete failure. They would have been a very good addition to the winter larder. Rhubarb and raspberries will be the only fruits to store away this year. Birds have devoured the currents and cherries.

We have enjoyed a huge selection of salad greens this season and from last year’s experiments I know that I can grow enough lettuce indoors to meet our salad needs throughout the winter months.

There are probably enough herbs in our yard to dry for seasonings and teas over the winter, but we’d have to live without coffee. Hmmm… ? Nope.

coffeeWe cannot do that! So I guess that while the garden produce will go a long way to allowing us to avoid trips to the stores, there are a few things we just can’t do without.

 

Best Summer Gardening Advice

weeds littleThe lovely little Lambs Quarters (Chenopodium album) that graced our early spring salad bowl and the red rooted pig weed (Amaranthus retroflexus) that made for a yummy mess of greens in early summer have turned into MONSTER WEEDS now that warm weather and timely rains have supported their growth. It happens every year. I don’t know why I am always shocked to see them, but it seems impossible that they can grow with such vigor. The veg I planted are coming along nicely, but they are puny wimps compared to the weeds.

weed moster

weed wackerThe weeds are well past the stage where I might pull them so I am engaging some mechanical advantage. My Earthwise Weed Wacker will be called into service. Together we will clean up some forgotten areas around the asparagus patch and the apple tree.

I follow a blog by Larry Hodgson, The Laidback Gardener. Recently he recopied A National Garden Bureau article written by C.L. Fornari of Plantrama. This paragraph sounds like a wonderful weeding strategy:

       “I highly recommend the cup-of-coffee-glass-of-wine approach to weeding. Go out in the morning or evening with your favorite beverage and pull weeds, pausing occasionally to take a sip and enjoy the day. Once your beverage is done, stop. The weeds will be there tomorrow, and you can go out with your drink once again. Needless to say, if you live in a very hot part of the country, the early morning is the best time for weed control. Don’t overdo it and this will help make this summer maintenance so much better!”

Honeybees

bee bumbleThis morning Grandpa came in from his morning jaunt to feed the cats with the news that a swarm of bees has invaded the ceiling of the barn. That might seem like bad news, but to us it is quite encouraging. Throughout the last two summers we have noticed a considerable decline in the number of pollinators in our gardens. While the decline has not been enough to keep our pollinator dependent crops from setting seed, it is a concern.

bee3 CCDColony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a well documented threat to the bee keeping industry and a concern for food producers globally. In Saskatchewan it is demonstrated by hives of domestic bees that fail to survive the winter. There may be many factors associated with this disorder including honey bee genetics, climate change, and viral infections; but it is getting harder all the time to discount the implication of insecticide usage as a major contributor. Codling et al found Neonicotinoid insecticides (NIs) and their transformation products in samples of honey, pollen and honey bees, (Apis mellifera) from hives located within 30 km of the City of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. They note that Fairbrother et al have found that overwintering losses have increased, “In Canada, national losses of overwintering colonies increased from a historical average of 10-15% to 35% in 2007/08. This was followed by somewhat lesser losses of overwintering colonies from 2009/10 to 2013/14 which ranged from 15 to 29%,”

It is of course much more difficult to study what is happening with wild pollinators. I no longer keep honeybees, not do any of my neighbors, so it is the wild bees, wasps, etc. that my garden plants depend on for pollination. However, I suspect that they are also subject to the factors that are contributing to CCD.

wild pollinators

So what is a gardener to do? There are many ways to support our wild pollinators.

no sprayingDon’t use insecticides. They are as likely to kill off beneficial, predatory insects and pollinators as pests. Instead protect your susceptible veggies with screens and row covers. That way you don’t eat the pesticides either.

Buy transplants from suppliers you know don’t use systemic insecticides on their plants. Ask them. Or grow your own.

Grow plants that flower over the whole season. Spring blooming perennials, summer blooming annuals and fall blooming direct seeded blossoms can provide an ongoing source of food for the pollinators and entice them to your examine your cucumbers and squash.

bee damdelion

Tolerate some dandelions and clovers blooming in your lawn. They are ubiquitous, one might as well enjoy them.

 

bolted broccoliLet flowering veggies continue growing even if their usefulness in the kitchen is past. Bolting mustards, radish and lettuce, even broccoli will feed and attract pollinators to your garden.

Consider a lure crop of a fast growing, early blooming brassica like broccoli raab to attract pest insects away from your preferred veg and provide a source of nectar and pollen for pollinator insects.

It might be a small part of the world that I have any control over, but I’d like to leave it in as good a shape as I found it.

For more information, check out the Highmowing Blog.

Breakfast Surprise

green tomatoesGrandpa was out early this morning doing some yard maintenance and checking out the Front Yard Garden tomato patch. About the time I was pouring a first cup of coffee he came in with three nice sized green tomatoes. The obvious next step was Fried Green Tomatoes for breakfast!

fish crisp

It is a long time since I first posted the recipe for this annual treat and in the meantime I have discovered a little update. Instead of the flour and cornmeal mixture I have been using original formula Fish Crisp as an easy-peasy alternative. Try it. You’ll like it!

But in case Fish Crisp isn’t available, I have re-posted the original recipe. Look for Fish Crisp where they sell “fish hooks” not “baking needs” (go figure??),.

 

freid green tomato recipe

Radish!

mus

Readers with a Christian background will be familiar with the Parable of mustard seed: The tiniest see that grows into the largest garden plant.

 

Radish isn’t a mustard, but they are close cousins in the plant world.

radish plant floweringA single radish seed isn’t very big either but the plant that grows from it can be pretty large. There are always a few self seeded radishes in the back corner of my garden and I generally let a couple of them grow out.

radish flowersTheir flowers are loved by the pollinators,

radish seed podsthe immature seed pods are a splash of spice in a stir fry or salad,

sproutsand a single plant grows enough seed for several seedings of winter sprouts.

When it comes to growing veg radish is one of my favorites, maybe not the easiest thanks to root maggot issues, but their rapid growth just can’t be beat.

fraggle rock radishWhat other material could keep up with the dozers’ obsession with building – most of Fraggle rock is built out of radish.

 

Garden Failure

squash invasionAfter 2019’s squash invasion you would think I could grow squash anywhere. Not so. After watching and reading about using cardboard as a mulch, and having some success doing so in my asparagus patch, I decide to try it on my squash row. Unfortunately, with some unexpected results.

I covered the whole patch with recycled cardboard and made some 6 inch square holes about 3 ft apart and planted various varieties of squash into the soil in each hole. The spring was cold and dry. Not good growing conditions for heat loving plants that have a high moisture content. I deliberated. Water and risk rotting the seeds or wait for the rain and risk a shortened growing season for the plants? After a reasonable time waiting for germination without results, I yielded and watered through the holes in the cardboard. There was still no germination until about mid June when the rains started.

It may be a consequence of climate change or just a coincidence, but for the last several years we have experienced cold, dry springs and warm rainy summers followed by milder than expected fall temperatures, with continued higher than average rainfall. It bodes poorly for grain crops but has been nice for frost sensitive veg crops and grain dryer sales.

Picture1But back to the squash saga: When the rains came, the cardboard was saturated with rainwater, but the water did not move into the soil well. The wet carboard dried quickly, and the squash plants never did get any benefit from the rain. When I noticed that the squash was not responding to the rain the way the other garden plants were, I pulled the cardboard away and watered, but I suspect it is too late.

Live and learn.  I should have remembered that the huge leaves of squash plants practically create their own mulch by blocking light from the weeds that try to grow around them.

Fortunately, much of last year’s over production remains unused in the freezer and is still in good condition.

Flowers for Health

The U of S Ag and Bio Department asked people why they garden. “Donna” answered it best. She said, “I garden. For the soul beauty of the plant.”

petunia

There is a reason why we bring flowers as a get-well gift or to show sympathy to the bereaved. Flowers make us feel better. They actually make us happier. Doubt it? Just look at a petunia in full bloom and try not to smile!

 

marigoldTom Stearns, Owner & Founder of Highmowing Seeds has a useful thought for maintaining our good humour, “Don’t forget to drink water, take naps and eat your vegetables.” I would say also plant some flowers! I had a few unplanted marigold seedlings so I put them into the garden today. the old adage of using them as a companion plant to ward of insect pests has never proved more than a myth with my plantings, but by fall they will be pretty enough to make me smile!

Managing Feral Cats

feral catThey’re not mine. I didn’t beg, borrow or steal them. They’re cats. They just showed up. I think of them much the same way I think of the purple martins and swallows that keep the mosquito level down in my yard all summer.  Feral cats are much appreciated for their hunting skills. I rarely see a mouse any where in my yard. Gophers, rabbits, etc. have never been a problem in my garden. In return for this service Grandpa and I have organized a shelter for these homeless ones. We have a small, insulated and unused outbuilding in which we have placed a bedding pad – heated in the winter – and a self-feeder with an unlimited supply of dry cat food. The rest is up to them.

The vagrants come and go, and we are never really sure how many there are: at least 3, not more than 5. We see them occasionally through a window if some leftover treats are put out for them, but if one goes close enough to the window to be seen, they scatter for safety out of sight. Needless to say, there is no way we could ever confine them enough to have them examined or immunized by a veterinarian. They are not pets. They are wild animals; just as the mice they hunt are. Occasionally the hunter becomes the hunted and an eagle or owl takes a kitten. Thus, the population is controlled.

The only downside to the presence of the feral cats is their bathroom habits. In winter we provide them with a litter box that consists of a really large plastic tote filled with the cheapest available kitty litter. Changing it annually is usually sufficient. This year even that has been affected by COVID19. We have not been able to shop anywhere to get new kitty litter. Unfortunately, the cats would rather use the vegetable garden than stoop to using the sawdust we put in their potty tub. It has been a battle between the kitties and me. Cucumber plants have been collateral damage. Cats will scat as soon as they see me coming, but I could not stand guard 24/7.

electric lion fenceGrandpa had a solution: ELECTRIC FENCING! So now the front yard garden is surrounded by electrified page wire. The effect was almost immediate. The first victim put her paw on the fence post and sniffed the wire. That was enough. Now she walks down the sidewalk beside the garden with her nose in the air and totally ignores both the fence and the soil it surrounds. If she doesn’t look at it, it can’t hurt her. I’m sure the veggies are happier!

Worm Pee Fertilizer

worm peeThat’s really a misnomer. Worms don’t actually urinate. More properly called leachate; it is the liquid that drains out of the composting worm box as the red wigglers breakdown the scraps I feed them.

It’s now about the time when most of the veggies are coming into production and working their hardest for flowers, fruit and increased size. The demands on the plant require that their roots gather extra nutrients. Watering helps, rainfall is better, but sometimes they also need a little boost of available nutrients. One way I like to help them out is with a small dose of fertilizer. The soil in my garden is rich and fertile, but I have found that a little boost at this time of year seems to help. The way I like to provide that is by giving my plants a good watering with diluted worm leachate.

Many resources will suggest that leachate must be filtered and aeriated in order for it to be used as fertilizer, but my plants seem happy enough with it just being watered down. I mix it about 1:10 with water and pour it onto the soil at the base of the plant. Some growers will use diluted leachate as a foliar spray, but I wouldn’t recommend that for vegetable crops – it is rotten food after all. Although plants love it, it’s not what you would want to eat!

Joe Lamp’l is the Host and Executive Producer of the award winning PBS television series Growing A Greener World. A while ago he had a lab do an analysis of the fertilizer value of worm leachate. the chart below gives the results. As you can see, it’s pretty good fertilizer.

leachate analysis

Upsides to the Pandemic

arrell growing strongerMy parents we married at the beginning of the 1930s depression. Not good timing, but they managed; and they learned a lot about survival. One of the more optimistic philosophies my mother developed was that “There’s nothing so bad it’s not good for something.”  COVID19 has been a bad thing, but there may be some good that has come out of it.

We have all been spending more time with immediate family members. Hopefully gaining a better understanding of, and appreciation for each other. Maybe even reconnecting with kids and spouse.

There is less busy-ness in our lives. We’ve been forced to slow down, do less. Maybe enjoy it more?

We haven’t been able to use shopping and eating out as entertainment, so we’ve reduced our spending. Maybe we’re reducing our credit card debt.

The other thing I have noticed is that people are becoming more self-reliant and resilient. We are baking and cooking and doing more gardening! As individuals and families, we are paying more attention to our food security. But we aren’t the only ones. The folks at Guelph University’s Arrell Food Institute are also looking into the effects of the pandemic on Canada’s food systems and food security. They would like to know what Canadians think about it. If you would like to comment or contribute to the knowledge base you can download a form and find out how to submit your thoughts from their website. There is one for food producers and one for consumers. The deadline for submissions is July 27.

We’ve all been working hard to get through the pandemic. Here is our chance to tell ‘em like it is. Go for it!

A Field of Flowers

road side liliesI am told that Henry Kelsey on arriving on the Saskatchewan prairie as he explored the country commented enthusiastically about the “field of flowers” he had discovered. His timing must have been good as the wildflower season here is short. Unfortunately, it is also less impressive since the arrival of tillage arts.

dandelions 2This season has been an enjoyable exception. I thought the first flush of dandelion was truly an impressive field of flowers. Their exuberant, sunny profusion made me forget their persistence as weeds in my vegetable patch. They are endemic, one might as well enjoy them.

lilies and paint brushBut the true beauty was yet to come. The season is late, but the flowers are trying to catch up. Wild roses usually are starting to bloom for the middle of June and the precious prairie lilies and their paint brush companions show up about the end of that month. This year, like my garden plants, they all decided to wait for some warm weather and rain. It was a wise decision. I don’t remember them ever being quite so impressive!

paint brush borderDo you suppose anyone ever had a flower border as lovely as this one that graces my neighbors pasture fence!

Pest Control

cabbage butterflyI am afraid this is going to be a bad year for bugs. Or rather a good year for the insects and a bad year for the plants they feed on. The white cabbage butterflies were flitting around in small numbers this spring before I even had brassicas transplanted and the night flying moths that produce cabbage loopers are probably at work as well. Since their whole raison d’etra is to devour my brassica crops we have an annual war. I’ve tried physical assaults and chemical warfare tactics with less than stellar results. Confinement of the population of the susceptible plant species seems to be the best strategy – protective custody as it were.

I may have some allies in the battle this year. We have been pleased to see the Purple Martins taking up residence in the many residential properties Grandpa has constructed for them. Proximity to a large natural swamp makes our yard prime real estate for them. Open areas for training their young to fly and hunt and lots of mosquitoes to feed on: location, location, location! They are aided by a few Phoebes and an array of Swallows. While the butterflies are not their first choice of menu, I have seen them snatch the odd one as they swoop and dart around the sky.

I am also applying a host of bug defying strategies of my own:

cabbage wrom deterants

Cabbage moths are moths after all. So maybe moth balls will deter them. The butterflies said to be territorial, so I’ll try to fool them with some artificial competitors. (How smart can they be, really?) Some homemade chemical deterrents, noise and light tactics to mess up their minds and traps for their young are all in my arsenal.

But of course the best strategy is to continue to confine the cabbages. maybe I can starve the bugs out of existence.

Self Sufficiency Gardening

Several writers of blogs and vlogs are using the current pandemic inspired interest in self sufficiency and food security through gardening to describe their ideas about veg species that might be useful. Huw Richards and Liz Zorab suggest the beans and root vegetables they grow in their Welsh gardens. Most of their suggestions are easy to grow here as well.  Potatoes are a good standby of course for calories and a surprising amount of vitamins but need cold storage.  I’d love to grow sweet potato like so many of the YouTubers describe and I try it almost every year, but hey,  this is Zone 1b. Tropical species are a fun gardening experiment but we can’t count on them for  winter food supplies!

onions dryingA couple of things we also can and should grow are squash and onions. I suggest them not only because they grow well, are nutritious and versatile in the kitchen; but also because they store easily. It can be difficult to find storage space for a larger amount of fresh produce than we usually bring home from the market.  Both mature squash and onions like to spend the winter in the same climate we do: indoors at room temperature. Once laid out for a few days after digging so they can dry off well, onions will happily spend the winter in a paper bag or cardboard box in an out of the way corner or cupboard.

blue hubbard squashSquash, including pumpkins and mature zucchini, are even more social and will be happy to hang out wherever you do. This monster Blue Hubbard weighed in at 6381 Grams (That’s a little over 14 pounds) and spent the whole winter in our dining room. He didn’t get invited to dinner until today! Grandpa and I will enjoy his hind quarter, but the rest of the cooked squash will go into the deep freeze.

BASKET OF SQUASHA basket of squash in your living room can serve as thanksgiving décor until you fit them into the menu.

It might be difficult to find some onion sets now and it is probably a bit late to start some seeds for bulb onions, but some nurseries might still have bedding plants and it is not too late to set them out. It is also not too late to plant some shorter season squash.

zucchiniJust a note about storage: If it is “summer squash” like zucchini, that you end up planting and want it to keep through the winter you must let them grow out to maturity. They will rot if picked at the early stage we usually think of when choosing summer squash.

Good for You!

In 2015 Ron Foster wrote in his prepper gardening book[i], “You would think that every community garden plot would be filled to capacity and every government housing project patio and back porch should be sporting pots of tomatoes or a potato barrel or something but they don’t…we in the U.S. live in an affluent society that doesn’t know how to encourage its citizens to assist in their own recovery or supplement government assistance.”

I suspect he might want to rethink those words if he has tried to buy any seeds or gardening supplies in the last couple months. In both Canada and the U.S. it seems everyone with a spot to plant a seed or put a pot has been buying up gardening paraphernalia on mass. It’s a good thing.

sold outPeople are demonstrating a resilience many had not thought them capable of. With time on their hands and food security on their minds, gardeners and wannabe’s have pitched right in.  Good on them!

[i] Foster, Ron. The Bug Out Gardening Guide: Growing Survival Garden Food When It Absolutely Matters. Elemental.