Creating Tags for the Tomato Garden

Its been a very warm week but I managed to get out in the vegetable garden to do a bit of weeding. I also had a new task to do. My tomato plants have really grown since they were planted. Some of them were not planted until the end of June but they seem to have caught up with the earlier plantings. Before going away on holiday I had to figure out a good way to mulch the tomatoes. After all, I was leaving my daughter to water the plants and with a half-acre garden its a bit much to ask. I knew the containers would take priority when it came to watering. How could I keep the tomatoes in this new garden alive? We were only gone for five days but the temperatures soared and it was close to 90F while we were gone.I tried not to worry but you know what its like when you have seen the plants grow right from the first leaf. They are like your babies.

Heirloom tomatoes

Luckily this garden received one watering in our five day absense.When I moved a bit of straw back upon our return, the soil was still very damp. The straw and newspaper mulch has allowed us to only water once each week and even then it’s not much. Using straw is not only a good mulch but has helped us conserve water. The tomatoes are healthy and thriving.

Plant tags

The only problem with laying down a few inches of mulch is my plant tags with the names of the different varieties are hard to see. Not seeing them means they will be easily stepped on. So I knew I had to improve the way the plants were labelled. I cut strips out of an empty yogurt container and used a one-hole punch to make a hole at one end. I grabbed a few twist ties, some string and a trusty permanent marker and off I went.

Plant labels

There I was on my hands and knees looking for the old plant tags. Some were bent and hard to find. I felt like I was looking for buried treasure. Once I found the old tag, I copied the name of the tomato on to the new tag and attached it to an upper part of the plant. As you can see, I have tomatoes already forming and I need to think about starting to isolate some blooms for seed collecting. If you look at the top photo again, you will see the organza bag over a set of unopened flowers. This prevents bees from adding any pollen to the already self pollinated flowers when they open. Labelling the tomatoes properly is crucial to proper seed collecting. No one wants to get a tomato they didn’t order. I collect seeds all summer for a seed bank.

Labeling plants in the garden

Learning how to preserve heirloom species of tomatoes is fun. It takes little time but has big rewards. After all, even though I collect the seeds I still get to eat the tomatoes. Most of the tomatoes were properly labelled today. As the plants grow I may have to adjust the tags but it is easier than crawling on the ground looking for them.

Old Germantown Garden- A Garden Above All Others

It seems like just last week that I attended the Garden Bloggers Fling in Portland. Many great gardens were seen and many new friendships made as eighty bloggers from all over the word came together to share their passion for gardening. Over the three days we visited sixteen gardens and they were all so unique. Today I am writing about the Old Germantown garden in Portland. The garden is twenty-three years old and is one of the most amazing gardens I have ever seen. The garden is on the side of the hill and has been built in layers with pathways leading you to different rooms of the garden. This garden is about two acres in size and makes my half-acre garden seem small in comparison.

Germantown garden

We enter via a steep driveway and up to the front door of the home. You can tell by the incline of the driveway to the left that this will be a garden not for the faint of heart. With my new hip I sure wasn’t going to chance going down steep gravel paths but the owners directed me to one with a lesser grade and it worked. I was able to get to the bottom of the hill without worry. Hubby had strictly warned me to tread carefully as he didn’t want me not walking again.

The garden is full of perennials of all kinds from bog gardens, woodland gardens and water features. This garden has it all. When talking to the owners I learned that the whole property had to be cleared of brambles and old trees to create the garden. Looking at the garden now, I can see that not many trees were removed as its surrounded with huge conifers creating privacy.

Dahlia at Germantown garden

This yellow Dahlia caught my eye. I can’t get enough of these beautiful flowers that last for so long in the garden.

garden art at Germantown garden

The front entrance was in the shade and on a day of ninety degree weather we were grateful to sit and relax here. The garden had this cat checking out visitors as they came to the door. I love the woodland effect in this area. Cool and refreshing to sit nearby on a warm day.

Germantown garden

Many plants were familiar to me but Portland is definitely warmer than here in Delta. The pink Astilbe was planted in huge swathes alongside ferns in this woodland area.

Germantown garden

Art was placed in various places to add some hardscape to the garden. I like the use of empty containers in the garden. I wish I knew what the plant is in the foreground. Imagine its fine foliage next to that of Hostas.

Lilies at Germantown garden

The Lilies stood tall with some towering over my head. I have made a note to myself that I need to plant some Lilies next spring. They bring colour to the garden when many other plants are looking tired.

Garden art at Germantown garden

This blue ceramic container is striking amongst the foliage around it. Who says we have to place anything in the container?

Germantown garden

Being on a  hillside, there are paths taking you to each level of the garden. Each level has a magnificent view. I wondered how they maintain this garden and was told they do it all themselves. Both owners work and garden each day after coming home. I was overwhelmed by the amount of climbing in the garden. You certainly wouldn’t need to go to a gym after working out in this garden. It’s definitely a labor of love for this family. There was colour everywhere.

Germantown garden

This Lily looks like its hiding under the banana tree. I love how this area looked so tropical. Check out the numbers of buds on the Lily still to open.

Germantown garden

I wish I had taken many more photos but hopefully I will return to this garden some day. It was inspiring and I am making changes to my garden now that I am home. Isn’t that what garden tours are all about? It’s about learning from others, taking what you love and trying it out yourself.

Its Garlic Harvesting Time!

This has been a wonderful year for growing garlic. If you are a first time gardener, I would recommend growing garlic as its so easy. Here in the Pacific Northwest, garlic is planted from October to mid November in well-drained soil. It’s a nine month crop so be sure you have room for this before you purchase your garlic bulbs. Choose a site that gets some sun. My bed gets about five hours of sun but is shaded from hot afternoon sun later in the day.

Harvesting Garlic Scapes

I like to buy hardneck garlic. Hardneck garlic will produce funny looking stems called scapes that bend and twist into loops when they are ready to be harvested. When you see the garlic scapes loop a couple of times, you can cut the scapes off and use them in the kitchen.  Scapes store well in the fridge and can be chopped into salads and stir fries just like using garlic. So now that you have removed the scapes the energy is going into producing healthy garlic bulbs below the ground.
Harvesting garlic

If its below the ground, how do you know when your garlic is ready? Normally garlic that was planted last fall is usually harvested around mid July. I had heard that if you left one scape in the garden it would straighten out from its curly loop when the garlic was ready. I tried it and it worked. Look how straight the garlic scape is. Now this would only be possible if growing hard neck garlic as soft neck garlic does not produce scapes. Generally the leaves of your garlic will start to yellow. The plant is not dying. This is normal for the plant as it matures. Cut back on watering and when over five leaves have yellowed your garlic should be ready to harvest.

Harvesting Garlic

I grabbed a nursery plant flat and lined it with newspaper to catch the soil. I harvested my garlic using just a hand trowel. Carefully dig from the outside as the garlic has a healthy root system and you don’t want to damage your crop. Don’t  yank  on the stem or it may just break off. Above is how your garlic should look after cutting the long stems off. I like to leave about a couple of inches of stem attached until the drying process is over.

Harvesting garlic

Like most crops, they will be covered in soil and this needs to dry off naturally. Do not wash the garlic. Gently brush off any loose soil and lay the garlic on trays outside to dry for a couple of days. Keep your garlic out of the sun while curing. I placed my garlic flats on a table located under my shed roof where it is protected from the rain and shaded most of the day.  This will allow most of the soil to fall off.

harvesting garlic

 

It’s important to let your garlic cure like this as you don’t want to bring in any pests or diseases from the soil. Curing will improve the flavor of the garlic so don’t rush the process. I will cure mine for at least a week,sometimes two before bringing it in for storage. Use scissors to clip the root off leaving just a bit on the end.

Harvesting garlic

I usually peel a bit of paper off the outside of the garlic. Just one layer, not anything more. You want the papery layers left on to protect your garlic in storage. Your garlic should look like this before storing. It should have a smooth skin without blemishes. Use any damaged garlic up immediately as you don’t want to store anything damaged.

Harvesting garlicStore your garlic in a dry cool place to have it last a long time. I was able to find this two tired basket and I hang it up in the garage. If you have a mesh bag left over from buying onions you can use it to store your garlic. The important thing is you want good air circulation. Be sure to check your garlic each month. I am already planning my next garlic planting. Garlic bulbs will be available in August for a fall planting so get some while the selection is good. The garlic I harvested this year is Music and Red Russian. Its alway fun to try a new one each year.

 

Preparing the Harvest for Donating to the Food Bank

storing the harvest

Earlier this week I told you about our harvest for the food bank. The vegetables have been sitting in my garage waiting for me to tend to them. Many people think we just dig the potatoes up and drop them off at the food bank. Definitely not. Maybe its all my years working in the retail food industry but most people would rather have their vegetables cleaned up a bit. I was waiting for a dry day to get the potatoes ready for drop off. Yesterday we had a break in the rain and I was outside to take advantage of it. You can see my plant sale shelf came in handy this week. Everything I have harvested this week is laid out to dry and the potatoes are covered in burlap and newspaper. If it hadn’t been raining the onions would be outside curing on my shed porch.

food bank harvest

This is how the potatoes look after they are freshly harvested. I placed newspaper on the bottom of flats to catch the soil as it fell off. There was still work to do. Hubby had offered to wash the potatoes on the day of harvest and I quickly said not a chance. He didn’t understand. Sure washing is fine if you are using the potatoes right away. Have you ever smelled a rotten potato? I am sure you have. If we washed the potatoes they could rot in storage. It’s not like the commercial farmers who have washers to clean their stock and air dry them before storing. Lets look at how I do it on a small scale.

food bank harvest

I grabbed a flat of potatoes and got started. This is what the potato looked like before cleaning.

food bank harvest

I grabbed my favourite vegetable brush. Isn’t it cute? The brush isn’t too rough as I don’t want to skin the potatoes, just brush the loose soil off.

food bank harvest

After a bit of brushing this is how the potato looked. Compare it to the before photo and I think you will agree, the potato is more desirable looking. We are so used to supermarket vegetables that a bit of dirt will often turn people off. I often wonder if people even think about where vegetables grow.

food bank harvest

I also like to oust any green potatoes from the harvest. Greening on potatoes is caused by exposure to light and warm temperatures. It is most likely that this potato was growing close to the surface of the soil. It won’t kill you to eat it as it would take a lot more than just one piece to make you ill. Honestly, I will just cut this green part off and use the rest. I hate to see wasted food.

Potato harvest

I will cull the damaged potatoes from the harvest. Some may have been accidentally cut in the harvesting process.As much as we try to be careful digging the potatoes out, a few always get damaged. Any cut potatoes should be used immediately. I also remove any potatoes with insect damage. You can see this potato has something bugging it, wireworms perhaps. Luckily I didn’t see any wireworms coming out of the potatoes this year. Not sure what this hole is from but no one would want one with such damage.

Now to weigh up the harvest and drop it off. I like to keep records so we know how much is donated each year. In the fall the students come to the Ladner Community Garden and tally the weights of the donated vegetables. It’s a good math lesson in the school garden.

Westwind Farm Studio- A Natural Garden

Westwind Farm Studio is one of the gardens I visited while in Portland a week ago. This garden has the most amazing views I have ever seen. The style of this garden is very natural with meadow like plantings of grasses taking the show. They specialize in selling lavender which is the first thing you see when you approach the gates to the garden. Considering this is a garden with a yoga and music studio the idea of healing plants like lavender certainly fits its mantra.

westwind studio garden

Before we entered the garden, designer John Greenlee talks about what we can expect to see and what his vision for this garden is. The garden is not completed yet. He has much more work to do beyond the gardens and hopes to introduce native plants in the meadows. It was a pleasure to meet John as I had seen his design work in Langley BC. Designing with grasses is amazing. I just wish I was that talented.

DSC06172

I loved the view from the garden. Rolling hills left you wanting to grab a chair and a cup of coffee to sit and enjoy all day. The main garden is four acres and surrounded by forty acres of meadows and forest.

DSC06173

The flower beds were magical with a sense of wildness to them. I love the fact that the beds were full to the brim with perennials.

DSC06174

Below the house are more flowers creating a natural garden, one that looks like its been there forever.

DSC06175

Even though the gardens are more natural, the pool and yoga studio give it a touch of formality. Garden bloggers dip their toes into the pool to cool off. The pool is located just steps from the home making it a great place to entertain.

DSC06177

The view again from a different part of the garden. Its like the garden has been created in layers upon a hillside with the great view as a borrowed landscape.

DSC06178

I loved the waterfall in the garden. So tranquil and refreshing on a hot day. Look how the grasses just seem to billow and soften the rocks. DSC06179

I can only dream of an outside fireplace. This one was majestic standing so tall and draped in foliage. I will bet many a night is spent in front of the fire here. Our time spent at Westwind Farm Studio was short but will be remembered for a very long time.

Home Grown Bouquets are the Best!

 

Have you ever wondered where all those beautiful store-bought flowers come from? Most of our flowers are imported from countries in  South America. What a huge carbon footprint we are using to get them to our homes! So I have an idea. Why not promote locally grown flowers? They are just as nice and if you buy from your local farmers market or roadside stand, you will most likely get a bouquet of flowers without any pesticides on them. Yes, most of the flowers we import are laden with pesticides. To think we buy bouquets and take them to sick people in the hospital makes me think twice about where I buy my flowers. Debra Prinzing wrote a book called ‘Slow Flowers’ which is about creating bouquets from locally grown flowers. She even covers all four season. So why are we not doing that here?

august bouqets

I was asked to an engagement party last weekend. I knew I wanted to bring some flowers. You see the bride has not decided on flowers yet. The wedding is next July so why not take a few different bouquets to show her what local flowers are available. In the bouquet above, I placed Pink Phlox, Buddleia, purple Hydrangea, Lavender, Dahlia ‘Little Showoff’, purple Zinnias, hot pink Sweet Peas and a Blue Hydrangea. This is just from my garden. I am sure there are lots of other flowers that could be grown for a July wedding.

July bouquet

I am more of a pastel person but I had so many hot colours in the garden I gave it a whirl. Here I have Cotinus foliage, red and orange Zinnias, Alstromeria, Dahlia ‘Mango Sunset’, Dahlia ‘Honka’, Rudbeckia, Calendula and Marigolds. I used mason jars for vases for each bouquet.

July bouquet

I like the blue and white theme on this bouquet. Here I used blue Hydrangea, white Dahlias, white Sweet Peas, Shasta Daisies and Senecio foliage for its silver highlights.

July bouquet

I realized quickly that using jam jars with old labels didn’t look very good. I came across this foil wrap and wrapped it around the jar and added ribbon to match.

blue & white flowers for July wedding

This jar was wrapped using blue fabric and tied with blue ribbon. I used what I had on hand.

Pink bouquet  for July wedding

I had pink tissue left over so I used it on the lavender-pink bouquet. It was fun to take the flowers to the party. The bride to be was surprised but couldn’t decide on any particular bouquet. She loved them all. We will see which flowers lasted the longest and take it from there. You want your bouquet to be able to last for a couple of days. You may need to make the arrangements the night before.

 

Harvest Day at the Ladner Community Garden

Did you know that the Ladner Community Garden grows food for the food bank and other charities? A grade three class comes to the children’s garden and plants vegetables in early spring. The volunteers at Ladner Community Garden help to harvest vegetables every Monday so they can be delivered to either the food bank or mental health society. This spring the children planted onions, potatoes, peas, broad beans, salad greens and strawberries. Of course, the first year strawberries were eaten by the children on their last visit to the garden in June but there was still plenty to harvest.

onions

The onion sets the children planted were ready to harvest this week. The greens had toppled over and its usually an indication to slow down on watering to let the onions mature. I gently felt around just under the soil to determine the size of the onion and harvested ones that were the perfect size. They will be laid out on trays to dry off after brushing most of the soil off the roots. Onions need a few weeks to cure so they will stay at my home until they are ready to be dropped off. To cure them I will move the trays to a covered porch so they dry naturally. You want the roots to dry up and be brittle. I will remove the green tops about an inch and half from the top of the onion. I never cut them too short as you don’t want any stem rot to happen. I will check the onions each day to see that they are getting good air circulation. One rotten onion can affect the rest of the crop. I don’t want that to happen.

 

harvest day

It was also a good day to harvest potatoes. I sure didn’t want to wait any longer as I had experienced wire worm a couple of years ago. I knew that they needed to be dug up immediately. I had already pushed my luck by going on holidays. I was sure to have some large potatoes in this crop. I asked hubby to take this photo as I know many people have no idea how potatoes grow. Last year the headmaster from the school came by wondering what the children did at the garden. He happened to come by just as a volunteer was harvesting potatoes. On a count of one, two, three, the potatoes were lifted from the soil. The head master watched and said,”Wow,that’s amazing!” It was then that I knew our work was paying off. You see he had no idea what was under that soil.

DSC06584

Be sure to bring a plant tray or basket to hold your potatoes. They can get very heavy. I think we filled four plant trays with spuds yesterday.

DSC06602

Between the onions and potatoes, we had a pretty good harvest. There is still lots of harvesting to do. So far the volunteers have harvested peas and broad beans and the plants are now finished.  We are ready to plant a new crop for winter. I am thinking carrots and beets but will delve into my seed stash to see what I have to use.