Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy green & red holiday

For all of us caught up in the festivities: Happy holidays. Let your bellies be full of food, your heart full of family and friends and your life light.

Here is my four year old 'long red cayenne' Capsicum Annuum. It does very well in its cramped pot. Right now, it is covered in flowers and has produced several crops indoors. The peppers dry very easily, even on the plant such as last year's crop that you can partially see. It's proved an excellent plant for me. Forgive the flashed overexposure as this was a holiday pic taken after dinner and before putting some excited little girls to bed.

Overwintering peppers has proved quite fruitful for me and I hope to encourage you to dig up some of your favourites to get a jump start on the next growing season. This seems to work best on smaller fruited varieties, like habaneros - Capsicum chinense - but as you see I have good luck with hot C. annuum as well.

For more, see The Chile Man

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Welcome Winter

Hoping for a white Xmas? Come on down.

Yup. Ottawa is joining the snow club. The first blizzard hit our parts dumping who knows how much of the white stuff. I commenced my winter exercise and asked my darling eldest (above) to snap a picture of me as what I look like is a big mystery on the web. Not that I am shy but I'm normally the one behind the camera.

Speaking of behind the camera: My well snow-pant-padded deriere.

"Falalala lalala blah."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Soil Scars and Dressing your Dirt
A list o' veggies

So now that you have been convinced to ditch the digging (well most of it), here are some pointers about how to grow specific veggies using various no-dig approaches.


For those lovers of food forests and perennial food crops, no dig agriculture can be quite easy to achieve. After planting up your garden patch, a thick mulch could be laid and maintained around your veggies. This is similar to the up keep of many perennial ornamental gardens. Of course, some of your food might be under the ground so you may have to go rooting around for it and all gardens change over time, with plants outgrowing their spot or dying so holes will be dug for division and replacement.

Not all perennials will appreciate a very heavy mulch layer, or the same type of mulch. A good rule of thumb is to look at what environment they evolved in. If they grow happily in or around a forest, then lots of leaf litter would probably make them happy. (Keep in mind that some plants grew in groupings with certain types of trees which may have different root depths, give various amounts of biomass back to the soil, acidify the soil in varying amounts, release exudes from their decaying matter or living form, etc...). Other plants that hail from more arid places may like a mulch of rocks which I find a bit finnicky to maintain in treed suburbia but can be quite aesthetically appealing. Thankfully most of the food plants that I grow put up with a variety of conditions. If you have no choice, or you don't want to make your yard a series of biospheres just wing it and see how it goes. It may be that a rich environment makes a plant grow more lushly than it normally would giving you a suffit of good eating greens or that a well behaved plant becomes a thug or visa versa.

Reseeding Annuals / Biennials / Short Lived Perennials

To maintain their population, their seeds will need to fall on favourable ground. Some seeds also require light to germinate. Small seeds might get lost in a thick layer of coarse textured mulch like straw. A thinner layer of finer mulch such as well shredded leaf mould may provide the balance between weed control, moisture retention and adequate germination. You could wait to reapply mulch until after the baby plants are up and thinned in the spring. Apply it more sparingly so that it is nicely broken down into a rich humus layer by reseeding time later in the summer or fall. The sea of seedlings that they produce in the spring may be seen as a living mulch. Thin often to allow for adequate growing room for the remainders. You can either toss these thinnings on top of the soil to act as mulch or if they are edible greens, add them to your meal.

Some seeds may be less hindered by a mat of mulch but my experience is that I get much heavier germination when topdressing is mostly broken down.

Annual Veggies

In a heavily mulched veggie garden, or one that was recently created using no dig techniques, transplants will do well assuming that there are sufficient nutrients available for them to use. In other words, make sure that if you are using mostly uncomposted material that it isn't too fresh, but if it is then incorporate some dirt / well rotted manure / compost into the planting hole to give the plant a feeding while the uncomposted layer is breaking down. In a more established garden, or one that is just getting a topdressing of mulch with a healthy organic layer, just move aside the mulch and plant into the 'dirt' layer below and water well.

Direct seeding vegetables in this kind of bed usually works better if you create a dirt trench or planting hole by moving aside the mulch and sowing. If the layer is very thick, you can move aside the mulch and add a layer of dirt / compost / well rotted manure to sow your seeds into. For greens or root crops, you can sow thickly and then thin several times over the growing season allowing the leaves to cover as much ground as possible, creating a living mulch. Just be careful not to let the plants compete too much or it will negatively affect growth. In practice, I've found the 'living mulch / crowded plant' technique works best with greens but more poorly with roots but that may be because of my particular growing conditons or practices.

Plants grown vegetatively like potatoes or onion sets can be pushed down through the mulch until they touch the 'dirt' layer.

Green manures as mulch

I have recently read of this technique. You start by planting a green manure, then cut it down, leaving the plant residue on the ground into which you sow.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Big on Fall Leaves

The Urban Forest

When I think autumn, I think leaves. Crunching along beside curbs cluttered with the bounty of fall litter. These gold, orange, brown and red riches fall in the urban forest just like they do in the wild but instead of enriching the soil, they are carefully removed, bagged and placed at the curb for pick up.

Leaves litter a suburban street.

Now don't get me wrong, I love bagged leaves. When I get a chance, I haul them back to my property where they are transformed into leaf mulch for perennial beds, path material, compost browns, insulation for tender crops and leaf mould. However, I feel a bit guilty taking from others who have not learned to appreciate this harvest time bounty. Not only are they missing out on a great soil conditioner, but it is easier on the back too since as an adult, fall memories contain a fair amount of raking.

My leaves are left if they flitter to a mulched path, perennial bed or beneath the hedge where they act as weed surpressers. Since my veggie patch is made of raised beds, leaves naturally settle on the pathes, locking teeth and becoming an effective mulch. Those that litter the lawn are mulched by our lawn mower and either left there or collected in the lawn mower bag. This rich mixture of grass clippings and leaves is then spread on the perennial beds. What remains to rake is only our patio stones and the rock path. Any extra leaves are left in a pile by the composter to add as part of my 'brown' layer, or to decay into leaf mould, a wonderful topdressing for the garden. Of course, if I'm making a new garden bed, the leaves are part of the organic layer I place on top of the sod.

Big Brash Brassica


But this is not the end to my leaf harvest. Brassicas make up a big portion of my fall garden as they are cold tolerant and tend to grow better in the cool, fall weather. Here my eldest daughter (her hand for scale at the top right) shows you some supersized greens: leaf broccoli, kale, chinese cabbage and a baby mustard leaf. They were whizzed up and added to a pancake recipe to make a savory base for curry. The kids loved these pancakes which did not taste that green (a plus for them).

As December begins, leaf harvest is almost at an end. The trees stand naked and the brassicas are braving the bracing wind. All is waiting for snow.



Seeds, glorious seeds. I'm pleased to say that I have had lots of requests for seeds (see side bar for seed list) and another batch of mailings will be going out this week. They may take a bit longer in this Xmas rush but hopefully they'll be there shortly.

Wondering where part three of the Soil Scars and Dressing your Dirt went too? I felt like a leafy interlude but Part III on specific veggies will be here next week, promise.