Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Triumphs and Tragedies

Here we are in the final days of 2012 and I thought, let's take one last look at what was this past season.  Sometimes I struggle with thinking I have not accomplished very much.  Frustration sets in.

Then a glance through a season's photos, my but there's been some changes.  It wasn't all bad was it?

The flower bed that started out like this in April.  Weedy and bare.  Grass creeping in.

At the end of summer, although not complete, the flower bed actually had flowers.

I still have frustration that this bed isn't complete.  Part of me asks why it wasn't possible to finish the darn thing.  But then, what's the hurry?  Regardless of what I accomplish this season there will still be weeding, mulching and planting next season.

I was surprised and delighted to find how quickly columbine will grow from seed.  On the far right of this bed you can see a bare triangle of dirt.  I threw some columbine seed taken from my Bowen garden into that triangle patch.  Would they take hold?

Obviously columbine seed has a fairly good shelf life.  Several years and several moves later not only did the seed take hold they GREW.  

To the left and behind the hosta are the bright green leaves of columbine
By the end of August the plants were full size.  They did not bloom but they will next season, and what a surprise that will be.  Columbine like to party amongst themselves in the promiscuous sense (cross pollination is the technical term) and I had a collection of different varieties in my previous garden.  These seedlings should prove to be an interesting mix of sizes and colours.

I recently discovered a lovely triumph.  After a very hot and very dry summer I thought the transplanted spruce we put in the meadow and hedgerow might be done for.  The grass and plants grew up around them and we couldn't find them to water during the summer months.  They should have been toast.  But in November as the grass died and fell back we discovered lumps of green.  The shade of the weeds preserved these evergreens and they appear to be growing just fine thank you very much.

These tiny spruce were planted in spring and then disappeared under a wave of grass.
Not all was great this season.  I made some bad choices.  I moved the red elderberry from the flower bed and it choked.  I put it in the new mixed shrub border and I guess it doesn't want to mix?  Only one branch is alive now.  If it survives this winter I will have to try another location come spring.

Elderberry buds held such promise in spring.  Now most of the branches have died.
Another issue - that darn mock orange eludes me again.  I bought this shrub my first gardening season here and it sat for months in a pot while I looked for an appropriate location.  My first choice was by the shed in front of the house.  After languishing a year it looked half way dead.  This year I thought, try another spot, not enough sun, it will be happy.  Well the good news is it didn't die - yet.

This is a dreadful photo but there's no point dressing it up, this plant looks awful.  Buried in grass, some leaves at the base but otherwise dead branches poking everywhere.  I'll try and clear out around it next season and dump some compost but I get the feeling this plant just doesn't like me.  We were not meant for one another?

And then there's my never ending urge to dig things up out of the ditch and bring them home.  You can blame my mother for that tendency.  She never left home without a shovel.  The problem is I never seem to know what it is I'm digging up.  The Cornus alternafolia I was so gleeful about has turned out to be a Beech.  Nothing wrong with that particularly.  In fact, beech should be preserved as they are falling prey to canker and this one would otherwise have been taken out by roadwork that was completed shortly after I took it away.

Those ridged leaves mean beech not dogwood!
But it's not the flowering dogwood I so prized.  Identify, and then dig, girl!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Spring Planning for the Vegetable Garden

It's during these dark days of winter that I start my planning.  Sitting in a warm house, with a cat for company, I sketch out my veggie garden and start planning the rotation of vegetables.  I am trying to work on a 3 year rotation as it helps prevent insect pests and diseases from building up in specific areas of the garden.  The constant moving of veggies also means that nutrients are more evenly taken from the soil and replenished.

Where to plant the garlic?
A piece of graph paper, pencil and the all important ERASER are all I need.

I check back through the past years designs and determine where to next.

Beets and turnips in a newly renovated bed chock full of manure and compost as I've had trouble growing these in past due to poor soil.  Tomatoes must go in a location not yet used as I don't want to risk blight.  Where to find space for the vines of zucchini and pumpkin.  Choices are based on soil health, where other plants once stood and how much space each plant will need.

Zucchini's need a lot of space
Another important aspect of this ritual is checking my seed stock.  A list of all my seeds was made so I know what I need to make space for.

It was a bit of a shock this year going through the fridge.  How did I manage to accumulate 23 varieties of tomatoes?  Or 13 types of lettuce?  5 types of beans?  and the dill - oh my.  I have inadvertently collected enough dill seed from my garden to supply an entire dill pickle factory.

Attending Seedy Saturday at the ACORN conference in November was no help.  How could I resist all those pretty packets of organic seed of what might just be my new favourite variety?  From Tourne Sol I purchased Red Cored Chantenay carrots.  From High Mowing Organic Seeds there is Green Towers Romaine Lettuce.  Johnny's had bright lights Swiss Chard.  Hope Seeds had New York Early onions and Mammoth Grey Stripe Sunflower.

The good news is that my seed order this year will truly be small.  Unlike last year where I set a budget and then managed to instantaneously spend double the amount.  A second packet of carrots perhaps, some peas and cucumbers.  That really is all.  I do like to add flowers to my veggie patch as well but that too is taken care of.  I gathered bags of seed this year in the garden.  Cosmos, borage, bachelor buttons, nigella and columbine are all ready for their piece of real estate.

Now spring, I'm ready for you!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


That's how I feel today.  I've got some serious turkey bloat going on.  Not to mention mashed potatoes and dressing, cookies, butter tarts, wine....

A dark room and Christmas lights didn't matter,
I was still able to capture a nice photo of my ornaments.
Christmas involved a spectacular feast for us here.  I hope Santa was good to everyone reading.  I was incredibly pleased to find a new camera under the Christmas tree this year.  I often find that I leave our big camera behind when I go out as I worry about wrecking it or I simply don't want to carry that big sucker around with all the lenses.  So a small camera was the absolute perfect present for me.

Of course I had to test drive it immediately.  Jody, I mean Santa, did a great job picking out a camera that takes a lot of the fuss out of picture taking.  It's a Panasonic Lumix and immediately I was happy to find that even in low light I was able to capture Christmas tree photos with ease.  With the big SLR I have to muck with buttons a lot to get it just right and since I lack the patience for gadgets it can be a frustrating experience.

After playing with it in the house I had to take it out in the yard for a test run today.

Zooming in through the trees worked well
We only have a skiff of snow right now so Gino decided he would accompany me into the yard.  Nevertheless he decided sitting on an old stump was preferable to sitting in snow.  Fussy old cat.

The meadow in winter
I really like how wide I can go with this lens.  You really get a sense of how big the back section of our property is in this photo.  I'm standing by the driveway here and the property runs down to our neighbours house at the back and to the left of the garage.

On the other end of the spectrum the macro function worked great on these dried hydrangea blooms.  After perusing the yard we decided to walk down to the shore.  So nice to be able to just stick a camera in my pocket.

The temperature has finally cooled enough that ice is starting to form.  No big sheets yet - more like cookie size - but winter is finally setting in.  Word has it the real snow will start to blow in tomorrow.  Just in time for me to return to work!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Merry Christmas from the Corner

It's been a fun filled month this December.  Two weekends were spent taking part in the Living Nativity and we managed to raise over $3000 in support of the Upper Room Food Bank and the Canoe Cove Community Association.

Photo courtesy of Mari Basiletti
We did our tour as Mary and Joseph with only a few minor mishaps like head butting goats and a cat that wouldn't stay out of the manger.

NOT a real baby!
The angels and choir sang beautifully, everybody commented on that huge cow and the baby donkey.  Overall both participants and audience had a blast.
Photo courtesy of Mari Basiletti
We followed it up with the Christmas Concert at the schoolhouse.  I had not intended to participate in this since getting on stage is probably one of my worst nightmares but another number was desperately needed and it's for a good cause right?

Women's Institute members performing Santa Baby at
the 2012 Canoe Cove Christmas Concert
Which meant that I ended up, in front, singing Santa Baby dripping in fake diamonds and winking at the audience.  Several men said they are now considering joining the Women's Institute after our performance.  Yes, we are a lot of fun thank you.  I'm sure that's what they meant right?

If you're interested in hearing more about the goings on here in the Cove I would highly suggest you join the Facebook group 'I Love Canoe Cove'.  Upcoming events and photos of past ones are posted there for all to enjoy.

On top of these events we also managed to take in two performances at the Confederation Centre.  First enjoying a performance of the Wizard of Oz featuring some of Jody's theatre students who did a fantastic job.  Then taking in the amazing Barra MacNeils.

It's been a jam packed holiday season and I'm glad we're nearing Christmas.  I've got a pile of books to read and plans to sort through my seed packets this holiday season.

Merry Christmas to all my readers, I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and best wishes to you in the New Year!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

ACORN - It's not Just for Farmers

My veggie garden is a lot smaller than your average farm
Over the last year or so the name ACORN has come up a number of times in my blog travels.  The Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network seemed interesting but I must admit I wrote it off at first as something just for farmers.  I dated an organic farmer once but I don't think that qualifies me to join a farming network.  However, I saw another post recently advising the annual conference was coming to Charlottetown and I decided to take a closer look.

Three days of workshops from November 22 - 24 covered everything from debates on tractors v. hand tools, to seed collecting, fruit trees, starting a grass farm, and permaculture.  Some of the workshops were clearly geared toward organic farming operations but there were a number of workshops that intrigued me enough to buy a ticket.

I took a Friday afternoon off from work and made my way down to the conference centre, finding a seat in a presentation by Dr. Andrew Hammermeister titled The Origin of Soil and its Properties.  Soil science is noted to be a relatively young field of study but as most of us gardeners know, soil is our most important commodity.  Although the technical terminology of this session bogged my brain down at times I must say it was a joy to listen to a presenter who was so clearly enamoured with his topic.  My only complaint with this session was that it should have been twice as long.  Dr. Hammermeister's interest in soil was infectious and he clearly had a lot more to say on the subject, even having to skip over parts of his talk as he was running out of time.  Soil ties into everything we do, whether we have a farm or a flower garden.  It's such a basic stepping stone in our human survival and I would have loved to spend more time discussing it.

Cilantro gone to seed in my garden
One workshop wasn't enough for me so back I came on Saturday to hear presenter Dan Brisebois talk about seed collecting.  Although I'm quite familiar with collecting seeds, due to my work as a seed collector for Van Dusen Gardens, there's always room to learn more about a subject and this lecture was no exception.  It was interesting to hear about collecting seed from a farming perspective and I picked up a few pointers on cross pollination and growing organic seed.

One thing that struck me during the conference was the amount of academics involved in farming now.  Back when my mom lived on a farm in Saskatchewan you had a lot of kids who helped out.  Farming was primarily taught, hands on, generation to generation.  When the kids grew up you parcelled off some land to them and you all kept working.  At this conference I was hearing about the struggles for new farmers trying to acquire land to farm, money to purchase tools for the job, and school loans for degrees in agriculture and sciences.  It takes a lot these days to be a farmer.  You need a working knowledge of economics, agriculture, machinery, and animal husbandry just to name a few.  The result though is that the people who are farming are really passionate about what they do.

Unfortunately two workshops only proved to be a teaser for me and now I'm thinking about next year.   ACORN conferences are held each year in the atlantic provinces.  If you have the time to attend I would highly recommend them.  Despite my trepidation that I would feel out of place at the conference I found instead that all of us were there because we share the same basic principles of caring about our environment and our food.  That sort of setting isn't such a bad place to hang out.

Monday, December 10, 2012

It's Slippy Out There

Winter came today.  10 centimeters of the white stuff flew down this morning, coating the trees, houses and roads.

We even got our first snow day from work.  It was coming down heavy at noon when the notice came out.  Freezing rain to follow, get home before the roads turn to ice.  

I have never been able to identify this antique cast iron piece.
Regardless, it makes a fantastic container for festive winter greens.
I don't need to be told twice.  There's nothing I hate more than driving 25 kms through a snow storm to get home.  Especially when conditions are 'slippy'.  

And it turned out to be a great afternoon to get started on that Christmas baking.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Food for Thought

Some of you may remember back in the spring I was watching the fields across the road from our house and noted they were hilled up for potatoes.

I was pretty excited as I had been told that any leftover potatoes after harvest were free for the taking.  I haven't planted any potatoes in my own garden as they take up a large amount of space.  So I watched as the plants grew tall, flowered and began to wither.

Finally at the end of October the tractors and trucks showed up.  Late into the night they rolled back and forth and by the next day it was all over.  I told Jody to go load up while I was at work before we had a freeze.

So off he went with a bucket.  But when I came home that evening I was surprised to see only a few potatoes for dinner.  Jody said he didn't want to take much as it didn't look like the work was done.  There were potatoes all over the ground and he thought they couldn't possibly be all waste so we decided to go back when the farmers were finished.

We waited and no trucks showed up.  Curious I went over the road to investigate.  This is what I saw.

I have to tell you I was more than a little shocked.  This is just one field.  There are many more just like it in the near vicinity and they all look like this.  Despite all I know about farming and farms I had not anticipated this amount of waste and it made me a little ill.

There is enough food here to feed our entire village for a winter.  Laying on the ground and rotting.

During these tough economic times I am hearing constantly about shortages at food banks, the rising cost of food, and the stresses of families faced with feeding many mouths.  All while potatoes are rotting in fields all around us.  I'm struggling with reconciling how this could be possible.

Mechanization and efficiency has changed farming in many ways.  Fields and farms have become larger, the equipment bigger.  Potatoes too small to be handled by machinery fall through the cracks, literally, and stay in the field.  It is too costly and inefficient to handpick this crop where machines cannot reach it.  Food has become big business and what doesn't provide quick monetary gains falls to the side but still - this is food we are talking about.

What sort of world is this when we throw food away by the truckload while there are lines at the foodbank hoping for whatever can be spared?