Monday, December 29, 2008

Blog 'reprinting'

If you do a search for my blog which I always end up doing when I want to post something because I have yet to add my blog to my favourites...

Think of that folks. Your blog is in my favourites but mine isn't. Actually, no, don't think of that.

... I encounter my blog reprinted in various odd sites. Some are collections of gardening information, one is about global warming (?) for my recent post on La Nina, and many are advertising sites that use my blog content as search terms to try to lure you to their site. For example, you can buy a coldframe from some place which uses my blog and its content as a trap door.

Shame, shame you reprinters. Of course, I am happy to have the traffic through gateway blogs but most of the time it just generates hits for their site.

How to tell my site from the others (what follows is obvious btw)?

1. I don't try and sell you anything. I try to give you seeds but sell no: did you see my seed list?
2. I try to be informative. Take this one as you like but I swear I like do research and stuff.
3. Every word and typo is my own finger stumbling.
4. Pretty pictures from my garden including the banner which is badly offset and drawn in Paint.
5. If you comment on my site, I'll visit yours and I'm not just saying that.

So now you know how to tell the authentic Ottawa Gardener from my imposters. Oh and normally I appear first in a google search. (Shortly thereafter Bifucated Carrot merely mentioning my site appears, but then he's google cool).

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Vegetables for shade

How many times have I typed that title into google to see what I could find. As I have mentioned in my previous post on Northern Drought Tolerant Edibles, I have a very very small gardening biz that focuses on native and edible plantings. In order to better serve my clients, my garden and my curiosity, I make mock garden plans for areas that don't traditionally grow vegetables. In this series, I plan on writing about bog vegetables, pH variances of vegetables and the best kind to grow in clay soils. This time, it's all about shade.

Orach, lemon balm, elderberry and friends in a part shade garden.

What the heck do you mean by shade?

Good question. A shady area can vary from getting no direct sunlight at all to being flooded in sunlight in the spring until a tree canopy leaves out into dappled shade to a garden that recieves 6 hours of sun. All of these gardens might be described by someone as shady along with many other variations. To find plants well suited to your area, you have to know exactly what kind of light you are getting: it's intensity, time (am or pm), duration, along with seasonal changes. Here are some quick and dirty catagories which I'm sure will only satisfy some of the reading audience:

Self-seeded corn salad / mache in 'woodland shade.'

Mostly sun: 6 or more hours of sunlight a day.

In this setting, you can grow most vegetables especially those that like cooler weather. It is best to have morning sun but mostly afternoon sun will work too. Avoid those that are borderline for your area because they need heat or a long growing season. You might find that some plants take a longer to mature than it says on the seed pack.

Alpine strawberries, raspberries (now I grow blueberries here) and even cabbage and lettuce that year grow in part sun, about 4 hours.

Part sun: 4 - 6 hours a day

Fruiting plants will not preform as well which includes tomatoes, and squashes etc... but most greens and roots will do fairly well. Look for varieties that are bred for short seasons and / or are eaten at the immature stage, ie. summer squash instead of winter squash.. Bush peas and beans often have a shorter growing season than their pole cousins. I have had potatoes grow very well in 4 hours sun. Jeruselum artichoke grow in our yard with about 4 hours of western sun in dry soil, and it produces abundantly. Many alliums, herbs, brassicas (chinese cabbage, brussel sprouts etc...) will thrive.

Jeruselum artichokes, egyptian onion, horseradish, daylily and rhubarb grow in limited sun on the western side of the house between two walls.

Mostly shade: Less than 4 hours - solid shade

Each hour less of sun will lower the possibility of growing traditional vegetables but in the least sun it may be possible to grow some greens that are quick to bolt like chevril, some woodland plants such as fiddlehead ferns and mushrooms. Dry shade will present further challenges.

Woodland shade - deciduous trees

If you have a spot in your garden dominated by deciduous shrubs and trees, look for edibles adapted to a woodland setting such as Giant Solomon's Seal, Sweet Cicely, Ramps / Wild leeks and claytonia. These plants are normally up early in the spring to take advantage of available light before the canopy leaves out. This is another good spot for very early spring crops like pea shoots or fast growing brassicas and a fall garden especially under a coldframe. You can even try growing early spring crops of lettuce and other vegetables that don't like the heat to see if they last longer into the summer season. For more on this subject, look into 'Forest Gardening.'

On the southern / eastern edge of your woodland site, you can plant more traditional vegetables.

Coldframes located in full winter sun but dappled summer shade.

Techniques to increase sunlight

If you are stuck with a shady spot but would like to increase the amount of light you get, you can use several tricks. Firstly, if you can set up a reflective surface to direct some sun into the dark corner such as a light coloured wall, stone or water. If your shady spot is under a tree, you can limb it up (remove the lowest branches) or thin out the branches. Never prune more than 30% of your tree a year and really I'd do this very sparingly. Finally, always plant taller plants to the north of your patch so that they do not shade out the shorter ones.

Young turnip and broccoli plants in dappled shade.

I may post some gardening plans soon.
Happy gardening!


Plants for a Future - north facing walls and deep shade

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Narnia returns to Ottawa

Last year, the snow witch had definitely descended upon Ottawa dropping near record breaking dumps of the white stuff. We were second place in the most snowfall EVER recorded in Ottawa, only off by 15cm or so. I don't remember the exact numbers but remember thinking at the time that this was one record, I wasn't all that interested in winning.

This year, in December, my back garden looks like this:

You can see the double wrapped coldframe as a lumpy hill in the back.

Seriously, I mean seriously. I know that I live in the great white north but it doesn't usually look like a white desert until January. Not only are we getting more than our fair share of snow (and I'd be happy to share with a snowless region wishing a white Xmas) but we are getting bone chilling cold with windchills nearing -30.

Global Climate Trends - La Nina

Last year, the snow mountains were associated with La Nina, a global weather pattern which brings cool, wet weather to the north east. Anyone attempting to grow tomatoes last year can vouch for the accuracy of that.

So is this year La Nina dos?

This blogger attemps to find out by using other people's internet published articles. For the most part, people are predicting a near-neutral / weak la nina event. Regardless of temperature predictions, both NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmopsheric Assocation) and the Farmer's Almanac predict higher than normal percipitation for Northwest.

I decided to get a Canadian perspective and went to Environment Canada's Weather Office which predicts cooler than average temperatures for the immediate three months. These current forcasts also say that it might be warmer than normal in the lower regions of Ontario in the all important run up to spring months but if I read correctly than it is not strongly statistically significant. However, like all forcasts, it is subject to change. We shall see how long it is before the lion of narnia arrives.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Alternative sources of seeds

It's the giving season so let me remind all you out there that it is good to save and share seeds. To increase your karma even further just give them away. That's right, invest in some cheap tiny plastic baggies or small paper envelopes, and put in your extra seed. It will be even better if it were saved from your own garden!

Now that you are ready to give, why not receive? Gardeners are normally generous people and if someone lists seeds to give away that means they are expecting you to ask for them. Really. They aren't just kidding. Sometimes, they are merely great people who like to share and other times they are great people and they believe that seed saving and distrubition by the people for the people is an important political project.

Here are some places and organizations where you can learn more:

Seeds of Diversity Canada
Seed Savers Exchange
Blogger Seed Network
Plantcycle Ottawa
Gardenweb Forums

And if you are really into edibles including plant breeding then you might be interested in:

Homegrown Goodness

Let's revive the time honoured tradition of seed sharing and break our reliance on commercial seed to grow our own food. Many times, the only source for seed I was looking for has been from a fellow gardener not even from my beloved local OP / Heirloom seed companies. In the spirit of this let me repeat:

"If I write about a plant that reproduces by seed that you are interested in trying, email me (email is under my profile) and if I have extra, I'll send it along. You do not need to trade me anything for it. You do not need to send me postage if it is just a small order as I am willing to forgo a couple coffees a month for this effort. All I ask is that you consider doing the same one day. It does not have to be this year. Gardens can be fickle things and seed saving is a learning curve. If it reproduces vegetatively (ie, cuttings, prunings, tubers) then it will only be available around the Ottawa area for pickup but I am happy to suggest sources in your area if I know of them. I don't list all the seeds I have available in my availabe seed list as some I only have smallish quantities of most seed."


Interested in knowing more about saving vegetable seed?

Fellow bloggers at Grunt and Grungy's Garden are writing a series on seed saving.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Harvest Day - colder snap, chard reborn

Swiss Chard in double wrapped coldframe.

Two weeks now of -20 and lower have meant that the coldframe has gone into deep freeze. The florence fennel is definitely frozen from the bulb up but I have hopes for the taproot. The rabe is toast, the broccoli is shivering, the tatsoi is popping back to life and I think the slugs have made off with the mustard seedlings. My kale is covered in at least a foot and a half of snow (the ones in the coldframe were slug food. )The beautiful calendula that was in bloom has collapsed but it taught me the value of flowers in the coldframe if just to lift the spirit and I think I"ll add some pansies or violas next year. Onions looking bleek but I know they are far from dead and the minutina and corn salad are hanging in there. Radicchio is still alive by the looks of it, cilantro?, and the parsley is a polar bear, ie. bring on the cold! As for the chard and its friend bietina, they died back but the crowns are sprouting again as you can see in the above picture.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Even More Plants: Drought tolerant, edible plants for the north - updated again!

Updated 17/12/08

As part of my extremely small gardening biz, I plan and care for gardens, with a special interest in edible and native plantings. In the winter months... oh who am I kidding... all the time, I obsess over client questions like 'what vegetables can be planted in the sand trap which is my front yard' or 'can I grow anything edible against the north wall of my house in the shade?'

Thankfully, the answer is surprisingly several and yes respectively, though I have to admit to making up these questions. Normally, people want to plant their edibles in sensible areas with at least 6 hours of sun and so on. However, I hate to think of any garden without something to nibble on so I ask myself these questions.

Drought tolerant, edible plants for northern sunny gardens

Generally the plants listed will require a well-drained soil in a sunny position. Not a complete list but here are some promising sounding ones:

Vegetables - perennial:

Prickly Pear Cactus - pads edible
Notes: A delicacy I have never tried but it is drought-tolerant. There are several types that are native to Canada and quite frost hardy.
Source: Gardens North

Nodding Onion (allium cernuum) - leaves, flowers, bulb
Notes: Several sources say 'very drought tolerant' so I look forwad to trying this out. It has a lovely pink flower and is supposed to taste good to boot.
Source: Gardens North, Edible Landscapes

Garlic Chives (allium tuberosum) - all plant
Notes: It is said to be fairly drought tolerant and does well in my non-irrigated sandy garden in the south side of my front yard. I have also heard of people growing it as a groundcover under trees - presumedly ones with open canopies. This is one tough plant so I don't doubt that it can take some punishment.
Source: Ask me, ask a friend. Someone you know has too much of this plant, various commercial sources including Ritchers who have an unusual pink flowered variety

Crambe (maritima & cordifolia) Sea Kale - young leaves, blanched shoots, young flowerbuds
Notes: Crambe maritima is seakale which should be hardy around here. It is going through its first winter in my garden so I'll let you know though it is mentioned in a gardening book from the Ottawa Valley. Crambe cordifolia may also be hardy around here and is known variously as flowering kale, giant kale or giant gypsophilia (baby's breath) according to Dave's Garden. Both of these plants are extremely attractive with large glaucous leaves and impressive sprays of flowers once they get going. They are drought tolerant because of their deep root systems. To ensure good root development, sow where you want it to grow.
Sources for seakale: La Societe des Plantes, Bountiful Gardens

Asparagus: new shoots
Notes: Sometimes listed as drought tolerant. This is because of their extensive moisture seeking root system. I would say that this is somewhat drought tolerant once established. It also prefers soil rich in organic matter.
Sources: various

Alfalfa, lucerne: growing tips, sprouted seeds
Notes: A nitrogen fixing plant with very deep roots that mine the subsoil. Compact salad plant or use for green manure to add a kick to your compost. It would make a pretty border plant and also attracts beneficials.
Sources: Ritchers, others

Jeruselum Articoke: tubers
Notes: Fantastic perennial food plant - pest resistant, drought resistant, will grow in light shade (gets about 4-6 hours in my yard and grows12 feet high with huge yields in droughted soil next to the western side of the house). I would ammend the soil with organic matter to keep up the fertility. The only caveats are that this plant stores sugars in the indigestible form of inulin which gives some people 'gas' and it does not store in a cellar well though I have developed a simple technique for storing which I'll write about another time. Maximillian perennial sunflower is a related species which according to the book Gaia's Garden produces smaller tubers and edible oil producing 'sunflower' seeds.
Sources: various, Mapple farm has the cultivar 'Volgo 2' which is less knobbly, plant small tubers from grocery store, contact me in the spring or fall for some.

Chinese Articoke: tubers
Notes: It is related to lamb's ear and is sometimes listed as drought-tolerant though it will produce better with more moisture. As they work like a ground cover, they might be nice to grow in and around other plants which would also shelter them a bit from drying winds.
Sources: Mapple farm

Sedum: leaves
Notes: Really, most sedums are edible. Surprised? Me too, but there you go. I tasted S. telephium (like Autumn Joy) that were shade grown and they were quite nice, lemony. I have no idea what they would taste like if grown in full sun but it is worth a try and they look great in the garden too.
Source: various

Yucca filamentosa & Y. glauca: flowering stem, flowers (bitter according to pfaf) and fruit
Notes: Too pretty to eat though I guess I could try the fruit. Very drought-tolerant.
Sources: various

Winecups or Poppy Mallow Callirhoe involucrata - roots and leaves
Notes: Have yet to try this one too, but the roots are supposed to be reminiscent of sweet potato. It's a mallow relative so the leaves are edible and are mucligenous according to pfaf like okra or some other cooked mallows. A true drought fighter, very pretty.
Sources: Cottage Gardener

Allium stellatum & Allium textile - whole plant I think
Notes: Prarie natives that can take dry soils. I don't know too much about these plants so you can check out Plants for a Future if you want more details.
Sources: Prairie Moon Nursery

Astragalus crassicarpus - plum milkvetch - seed pod
Notes: This plant gets an honourable mention from Gaia's garden about homescale permaculture. The plant looks like vetch but the seedpods look like itty bitty plums. It's also nitrogen fixing which means it would require less fertile soils. I've ordered seed so I'll let you know how it goes.
Sources: Prairie Moon Nursery

Psoralea esculenta - prairie turnip - taproot
Notes: When I was scanning Prairie Moon's seed list, I saw the name 'prairie turnip' and some googling revealed that it is considered very tasty. Yup, you guessed it. Seed will be arriving at my house for trial this spring. The plant looks like a small hairy lupin - another nitrogen fixer.
Straight forward wiki link
Sources: Prairie Moon Seeds

Eryngium maritimum - Sea Holly - blanched shoots, roots
Notes: Established plants are drought tolerant and they are also salt tolerant with an extensive root system that can be used to stabilize soil. I have never tried to eat this plant though I enjoy the blue flowered cultivars. I see this as a marginal vegetable as you unless you have a large population, digging up the roots would remove it. I am not sure of how many shoots you could blanch before you significantly lowered its growth potential.
Sources: various

Herbs - perennial:

Sage - leaves, flowers*
Notes: Very hardy, very pretty and drought tolerant. A must for any garden.
Sources: various

Oregano - leaves, flowers
Notes: Golden leafed varieties are pretty. A distant relative of mint, need I say more? Yes, it will cover the ground in short order but it is delicious and hardy, as well as being pretty.
Sources: various

Thyme - leaves, flowers
Notes: From low growing mother-of-thyme to taller varigated varieties like lemon thyme (hardiness varies), these plants are lovely dainty, drought-tolerant perennials
Sources: various

Lavender - flowers, leaves (as a rosemary substitute, never tried this)
Notes: Used sparingly as a floral note in recipes or as potpourri. English lavendar (Lavandula angustifolia) is commonly used from what I read. Munstead is hardy in my garden.
Sources: various, Ritchers


German Chamomile - flowers for tea
Notes: The first year I put in a garden in a sandy ant ridden area of my yard, very few but the most drought hardy plants did well and included German Chamomile that flowered happily for most of the summer. Self-sows
Source: various, Ritchers

Orach - leaves
Notes: Though it is reputed to be drought tolerant, I hesitate when I write this as it is a salad green that prefers cooler weather like its relatives in the spinach family. If grown in a hot, dry spot, I imagine that it would bolt to seed fairly quickly depriving you of weeks of tasty greens and giving you a shorter but still attractive floral display.
Source: various, Wild Garden Seed

Amaranth - leaves, seeds
Notes: There are some beautiful cultivars with coloured leaves. Generally, the green leafed varieties are used as a vegetable and the white seeded form as a grain but all are edible. Self-sows.
Source: various

Legumes: specifically chickpea, tepary bean, asparagus bean, peanuts and cowpea are drought tolerant but all prefer a long, hot growing season which northern gardens are often not blessed with. If you try these legumes, choose those that are selected for short seasons - often dwarf and small seeded - and cross your fingers. You can also space close together if yields are low to see if you get more seed per square foot that way. Heck, they may do well for you.
Sources: prarie garden seeds for tepary, salt spring seeds for chickpeas (winnifred's garbanzos did well for me, small, brown chickpea), valencia peanut is worth trying.

Wild roots - parsnips, wild carrot, chicories, burdock, dandelion
Notes: Many of these plants will grow in gravel if given half the chance and are often found in disturbed sites with poor soil. Though I know that some of them are listed as drought-tolerant such as burdock (cultivated varieties often known as Gobo), I imagine that drought would increase the strength of their flavour perhaps making them bitter. All of these are generally biennials except (some) chicory and dandelion that are perennials. Chicory and dandelion leaves are also edible. Again, leaves will be more tender if grown with moisture. I list these so you can try them if you like. If collecting wild, be careful not to confuse parsnip or wild carrot with some poisonness relatives.

Some more weeds: ox-eye daisy (edible leaves and flower buds), purslane (leaves, quite drought tolerant in my garden), common milkweed (pods, flowers, spring shoots edible, make sure you have the edible variety and check preparation of this plant), malva (young seed pods - cheeses, and leaves, look up your variriety), etc..

Misc. shrubs etc...

I am not going to go into any detail when it comes to the scaffolding of your garden, as lots of companies list drought tolerant, edible shrubs and trees, but here are some I bumped into while on my search: siberian pea shrub (lentil like seeds, invasive in some places), pinon nut, juniper (berries edible), saltbush (leaves, atriplex canescens: grows in Saskatchewan so may be hardy), seabuckthorn (berries)

Southern vegetables, northern gardens

When looking for traditional vegetables that are drought tolerant, note that many are bred for conditions of southern gardens which are also very hot so they won't necessarily do well in areas with cooler, shorter seasons. Of course, there will be seed adapted to short season, cold winter living such as plants that grow in the Canadian prairies but they will also expect a bit of sun. Obviously, what's adapted to your locale will work best.

Cool season crops such as cabbages or peas usually need a bit more water so though they are often good for areas with shorter seasons or less sun input but not drought.

Low watering veggies

If you plan on limiting supplemental watering in your vegetable patch, space your plants farther apart than suggested to give the roots more space to search for water. Plant cool season crops or crops that prefer a good watering in sunken beds that gather water. This will also create a cooler microclimate. I find that dotting these plants near the 'trench' cut edge of my garden border improves their growth. Mulching with flat stones will also help keep the ground cooler and wetter while absorbing heat to be released at night thereby moderating the microclimate. Generally mulching will help maintain soil moisture. If you use organic matter as mulch, it will break down and mix with the soil improving its texture and moisture retention.

If you live in an area that experiences frequent drought, then plant your veggie patch in place sheltered from the prevailing winds (plant a wind break if need be - jeruselum artichoke can act as a herbaceous one though it is invasive so best planted 'out of the way' or somewhere contained). You can also contour your beds to direct water flow and to prevent it from escaping. A pond or rainbarrels will help collect extra water for irrigation in dry times. You can also recycle your greywater.

Use drip irrigation to make sure the water goes just where it is needed. Deeper, infrequent watering will help edibles to develop deeper root systems that will further help them tolerate drought. Morning watering is prefered as it lowers evaporation but also allows plant leaves to dry out keeping foliar diseases in check.

And finally, allow plants that root on the stems like squash and tomatoes to sprawl on the ground further increasing their ability to mine water.

Now it is time for me to hit the drawing table to produce some mock plans for a dry front yard edible patch. Who knows, next year someone might ask for it.

Search terms that might help: xeric / dryland / dry farming / drought-tolerant vegetables / edibles / herbs. Let me know if you find something else!

* Some people will react to the pollen in edible flowers so use cautiously.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Giving up - seed and food thoughts

I had a conversation with a fellow mom the other day and it went something like:

"Nothing is really organic and everything is modified anyway."

"You can get unmodified seed."


"I can give you some."

"Talk to me in the spring."

I've shortened it a lot just so you wouldn't get too bored but the point is that she had metaphorically flung her hands up in the air figuring that she might as well jump onto the Big Agri treadmill 'cause there was no real alternative.

I know that most readers of this blog are aware that there are alternatives. So this is more of a reminder that what we know is not what everyone knows. Once again, I think the key is both on the ground and in the air. We have to continue to push our saved seeds (complete with advice on how they can save their own from them) and demonstrate how we can achieve success in our gardens without relying on death-icides and chemical fast food for our plants. Normally, I give encouragement on how to plant your edibles in the curb side of your house and if you haven't gotten up the courage to add cabbage to your front beds then now's the time. Seeing is believing. Share your seed, share your food, share your ideas.

We also have to continue to use any access to media to let people know that more and more traditional farmers are interested in what was previoulsy considered alternative or cultural practices to improve the growth of their crops. Read, learn and disseminate my friends. Our work is not done.

Getting political and dirty

This is a break from our regular programming to bring you this message:

"Quebec is part of my Canada
and part of my coalition."

To all Harper supporters, do not let your government use anglophone fear of separatists dividing Canada to blind you to what has just happened. A minority government did not have the support of the house and instead of admitting defeat at the confidence vote, they called 'time out.' If this was a game of tag, then I'd demand to see the broken limb. Oh wait, what is broken is the faith of the people in democrocy and no by that I do not think that the coalition was attempting anything undemocratic. The truth is that everyone in parliament was voted to that position: Conservatives, NDP, Liberal and the Bloc. If the 'left' want to work together to create an legal alternative government that is willing to run a deficit and present a real stimulus package like... oh... everyone else suffering from recession, then I say they not only would have the support of the house but my support as well.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Harvest Day - someone else's potatoes and sprouting celeriac

Potato sharing

Canadamike from Homegrown Goodness popped round my place with a bunch of potatoes from his garden and I very much appreciate it. In the lingo of my husband, 'muy amable.'


There were lots of goodies inside for eating but it will be hard for me not to save plenty to grow out next year. I can't help it. I love growing stuff!

(P.S. I found those darn chickpeas)

Sprouting Celeriac


Mind the fuzzy picture. This is celeriac trying to escape the cellar by sprouting. I think I'll have to cook up these forced greens. In the meantime, I'll have to store them some place a bit cooler until the real cold weather arrives in Ottawa and the temperature in my cellar drops to its usual level of just past frosty.