Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hugel kultur bed and first harvest

Our front yard faces west and the northern half is dominated by a large mountain ash. This is a lovely old tree (about 50 years, we think) but it has been succumbing to fireblight. I've pruned the blight a number of times but it keeps coming back and I think we'll have it removed this autumn before the wind takes it out.

This portion of the lawn is mostly an iris bed with a small vegetable plot and about 45 square feet of lawn abutting the city sidewalk. In preparation for taking the tree out, I decided to convert the lawn to a garden bed. The soil is fairly nasty so we decided to try a small hugel kultur bed.

Basically the sod and dirt is lifted out, old branches are dropped in (which create spaces for air and water and release nutrients slowly over time), the sod is reversed and replaced and then the whole thing is topped with soil and compost. True hugel kultur beds are large mounds but apparently every small beds will work. Above you can see the sod stripped out and the wood dropped in place. Below, a very exhausted looking Jessica has helped me replace the sod and swept up.

That took most of Saturday. This morning I put some manure and dirt in top, dug the rest of the bed and we're good to plant in a week to two. Relatively new wood apparently grabs a lot of the nitrogen from the soil as it starts to rot so we're going to plant bush beans (yellow, green and purple) to fix some back in. Along the brick walk we'll do some tomatoes (plum on stakes and cherry in cages). When the trees comes out in the autumn (and assuming my body recovers from this weekend's work...), we'll look at putting in three fruit trees along the hedge line.

We also puttered and cleaned and planted some more onions. The first of the onions we planted in the old garden bed have poked up. In the cold frames, the garlic is up about seven inches (the wood in behind is a 2x6"). 

I will likely remove the glass on this frame in about a week when temperatures stabilize--the garlic is bumping up against it. The kale has also germinated and will need to be thinned in a week or so. Lovely to see things growing!

The chives in the new garden bed are up and a bunch of them went into the potatoes we're roasting tonight.  If you look closely, you  can also see a tiny spider on the tallest chive on the right--he has spun a web between the two tallest chives. I also some bees of some kind buzzing about today.

We managed to get some lettuce and chard seeded into the left-most new cold frame (below). Not sure what will go in the frame to the right. I wonder about seeding in some rutabagas?

Hopefully we will see some bulbs flower out this week--lots are up and the daffodils have buds. Now I'm off to have a nap.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Pansies and potatoes

I went to the store for glue today and, it being the first nice day of the year, of course the annuals were out front to tempt foolish gardeners. I managed to resist all but a single package of pansies.

They were just so colourful and green and bright amid the brownish gloom of late April. We usually put flowers out in a bucket by the boulevard and Jess and I plunked all six flowers in and watered. Fortunately, the pansies are frost hardy. There also looked to be a carnation in the bucket from last year so I left it to see if it had any life.

The rest of the past few days we have been raking and digging up sod for an expanded garden bed and generally puttering. I can sure feel the muscles in my arms!

Out back, we also planted potatoes. We again planted some blue caribe (foreground) as there were big producers last year. They have a purple skin and whitish flesh and were a delight to eat and stored well. These are an early-season potato.

In behind, we planted a bunch of blue Russians, which are late-season potatoes. They have dark purple skin and (I think) a purple-colour throughout the flesh. I think we need to wait for the season to catch up some before planting more. That said, the two new cold frames have finally melted out of the snowdrifts by the hedge and I'll seed them this weekend.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Seeding peas and beets

The weekend was rather blustery, so we spent time indoors and baked a raspberry-saskatoon pie. I also went to Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton's first annual general meeting.

The weather has come around this week and I've started planting. I put in three rows of sugar beets in the back bed in the foreground. I will thin these as the season goes on so I get a few monsters for sugar in the late summer and few early ones for eating.

In the backyard, we finished the second pea trellis trellis last week and I planted peas. The left trellis has pea seeds I save from last year while the right trellis has pea seeds I bought--we'll see how that goes. I also planted about 50 feet of beets in front of the peas (a mixed packet of heirloom types) for eating and pickling.

The garlic is up about four inches and the kale has germinated in the cold frames. By contrast, the garlic in the regular bed has not moved at all! Tonight I started digging holes for potatoes. We'll stop in at Apache tomorrow and pick some up. The next big tasks is lifting some sod out front and digging a bit for a new bed.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Trellis for peas

I wanted to do a better job of using the vertical space in our garden this year. So three or four weeks back (when it was warm but there were several feet of snow) we spent some time in the garage with a hacksaw putting together two 5x5' pea trellis frames made from electrical conduit.

Jess learned the difference between a phillips and a robertson screwdriver plus expanded her German vocabulary when I slightly sawed my hand.

Today the snow had retreated enough that we got the frames out into the garden. They are along the north border. Between the trellis and the fence we'll grown sunflowers. And in front we'll grow other veggies--I think we 'll plant these with beans.

We got a nice (nearly invisible) green bit of netting on one and I zip-tied it to the stakes I bought. We'll string the other one tomorrow. Looks like there is room for a third on on the left but I think that can wait until next year.

And, with pea shoots on the mind, we had a visit from one of the many, many bunnies hopping around the neighbourhood. These fellows are big!

In the cold frames, the garlic has doubled in height in a few days and it was about 24C inside this afternoon.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Garlic, onions, kale and pumpkins

With the sun blazing and the temperatures marginally above freezing, we ventured into the garden after school to put in some more seeds. In the second cold frame on the south side, we put some kale in to get some early greens (and had our first gardening spat of the season!). It is room temperature or more inside the cold frames and the soil is nice and warm so hopefully we'll get some germination. I went with red kale as it is supposed to do better in the heat of summer.

In the older garden bed at the back, the fence and stone planter always clear the snow in this section of the garden first so we put in two more heads worth of garlic and about sixty onions. Some pretty exciting planting as the two of us crouched on one unstable board in the midst of the mud! We have about 40 onions left to put in somewhere else.

Back in the house, we also planted eight of the Italian pumpkin seeds (green and white fruit) my buddy Mike gave me in pots on the window sill. I think his instructions were plant indoors a month before setting them into the garden (which is basically the instructions for every seed, isn't it?). I usually have most stuff in around mother's day and we're aiming for about May 10th on these.

As the snow melts down in the front, I am eyeing up the pick work I'll need to do on the section of (now) lawn the pumpkins will occupy. I'm thinking of using a variation on the lasagna method of converting lawn: lift sod, dig dirt down, drop sod in upside down with covering of cardboard and newspaper, dump dirt back down on top with some compost and plant surface crops this year.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Daylilies, bulbs and rhubarb

The snow was not as bad as expected this weekend so with dinner cooking, I went out this afternoon to  poke about. On the south side of the house there was quite a bit of stuff poking through, including these daylilies. 

As I stuck sticks in various spots and considered what herbs to plant, I also noticed some of the tulips were through the leaf litter.

Around back, a large section of the old garden bed is snow-free and soft so I think we'll put the rest of the garlic and some of the onions in tomorrow after school. As I jabbed sticks in here and there, I noticed one of the red rhubarb plants had pushed up a shoot.

And some of my friend Alan's tulip tarda (tardia?) were also starting to leaf out. These guys have been thrown about with digging and soil moving and just keep coming back (in new places). I also paced out where to put the bean frames and tagged some branches to cut as soon as the footing firms up a bit.

This week's pie is strawberry rhubarb. We're more than half was through the freezer and Jenn is cooking up a chicken from Serban Free-Range farm tonight.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Planting garlic

Today was a lovely day and the snow continued to retreat around the south side of the house (alas, another 10-20cm is predicted for tomorrow!). With the garden about  a month behind usual, we decided we couldn't wait any longer to get the garlic in the ground.

We picked some up yesterday at Apache seeds (along with some yellow onion starters) and, after school, Jess plunked two heads worth into one of the cold frames. The quality of the stuff we got last year was exceptional (lasted until just this week and super juicy) so I plan to put two more heads worth elsewhere in the garden in a week or so. The soil in the cold frames was room temperature and a delight to dig around in.

While Jess was spacing rows, I looked over the site of the herb garden. It needs a lot of work before dropping some plants in (you can see the remains of the raised bed I took out in the autumn). But it was nice to see some soil and the green tips of the irises poking out.

Jess snapped this pic while I was doing some inspecting. I've included it only to highlight how old I look this week! In my defence, it has been a trying month at work with layoffs and collective bargaining starting. Nice to get back out in the garden. Next up is some kale in the other cold frame and perhaps some rooting around out back to ready the garage beds for beets.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Quilting, bread and pie

Another four inches of snow and some chilly temperatures have put the binders on spring so we spent the weekend indoors. Jess had always wanted to sew and I had been meaning to pick up quilting so we decided to start. Jess will take some proper lessons this summer but (as I recall) the basics aren't that hard.

After several hours of cutting and ironing and stitching and a bit of swearing (quilting was the only time my mother ever found Jesus...), we managed to put together two and a half squares. We learned a lot along the way and seem to be getting better as we blunder forward.

I also baked bread to go with a tomato and bean soup that is simmering. While making soup, I discovered we're onto our last head of home-grown garlic. This garlic has been amazing and is juicing still, more than 8 months after it came out of the ground.

For whatever reason, I think I finally have the bread making licked (getting great rises) so onto buns. I also made an apple and cherry pie from the freezer stocks--we're more than halfway to the bottom, which is encouraging.

If I get some time this week, I'll walk over to the seed store and get some onions and garlic for early planting (weather is due to warm and the cold frame are in good shape).

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Signs of spring

I was out taking down and storing away Christmas lights today at lunch. There is still a lot of snow in the yard (at least 18 inches in many spots) and more is predicted in the next few days.

Despite this, there were lots of signs of spring. In the new strawberry bed (top left of photo above), the snow had melted off and the strawberry plants were starting to send out shoots (you can just see one through the leaf litter in the picture below).

And by the garage I found a lone lady bug crawling out of the leaves and into the sun. Ladybugs tend to cluster together to survive the winter so I expect a bunch hunkered down under the lilac bush.

By the cold frames, I see the eaves are running into a old water jug (Jess must have put this there on the weekend).

The cold frames are warm and the soil is workable down to about three and a half inches. I think we will plant some kale and maybe garlic in here next week.