Sunday, 22 July 2012

First Tomato of 2012 and Other Vegetable News

One of the happiest days of the year has arrived--the first tomato has ripened in my garden!

It is a Sakharnyi Pudovichok variety that I grew from seed obtained through Tatiana's Tomatobase this spring. She indicates that it is a "Russian commercial variety introduced in 2006 by Russian commercial vendor 'Sibirskiy Sad'."

I probably should have picked it yesterday, as it's a little soft today, with a few holes where some critters took samples.
At 256 grams, it is a BIG tomato.

Not to be outdone, 2011's first tomato of the year, a Mortgage Lifter, grown in a pot at the side of the house, is pulling in a close second. I picked it today so it wouldn't get "sampled" but I probably won't slice it until tomorrow.

It's smaller, 149 grams, but still a good size for a container grown plant. And I know from last year that it will have excellent flavour.

This was the first tomato plant I've ever grown from seeds that I saved myself (as opposed to buying the seeds from someone else.)

The other 14 tomato plants (yes, I did get carried away) are growing like weeds.
Most of them are at least 6' tall now, and some I'm trying to train to grow horizontally (just so I can spend less time on a ladder.)

I mostly grow indeterminate heirloom tomatoes. Indeterminate means that they keep growing and producing tomatoes right up until frost. Determinate tomatoes grow, set a big batch of fruit, and then stop. I like indeterminate because a) I get a kick out of growing oversize plants and b) I like to have fresh tomatoes for as long as possible. If I were interested in canning them I would prefer determinate tomatoes so I would be able to do them all up at once.

The heirloom tomatoes tend to grow bigger than the modern hybrids as well, because the modern hybrids have been bred to grow for ease of commercial production--fields full of 8' tall plants would be unwieldy on a commercial scale.

In other vegetable news, the zucchini are having a rough time. One zucchini plant should be more than enough for all our needs, but I put in three plants because I know I have a problem with striped cucumber beetle (an evil, disease carrying creature.)  Sure enough, two of the plants are on their last legs already, after having produced one mature zucchini each. Hopefully number three will remain resistant long enough for us to have a few nice stirfries...
Zucchini #3 on the left in the top picture and front and centre in the bottom picture. Zucchini #2 on the right, after succumbing to the diseases spread by the evil Striped Cucumber Beetle.
In happier news, the garlic harvest has cured and it's pretty darn fantastic.

Hopefully this will last us for most of the winter. I'll use several heads from this as "seed" in October.

And here are a few shots of the front garden (these don't go with the title of this post, but if I don't put them up now it will suddenly be next weekend before I get to it, and it will all look different.)

The plantings in containers are really coming into their own now. Coleus 'wasabi' (the lime leaves you see in the planter) grows like it's on steroids. It was a new introduction for this year (I first saw it at the Garden Making magazine booth at Canada Blooms) and it's certainly a plant that you gives you your money's worth. I've pinched it back several times to keep it from overwhelming the rest of the garden.
Another new plant for me this season was the "potunia" petunia you see in this picture (the peach/orange flower hanging over the left edge of the pot.) The tag said it would produce mounds of blooms on a compact plant, with no need for deadheading--and it's delivered! I was so impressed with how it started off the season that I purchased 3 more (in purple and red) for the planter on the side of the house. A definite improvement on the old cultivars that would get leggy and require constant deadheading.

The liatris (the purple flower spikes) has been very happy this year. I've had to create a set of stick braces to keep it from reaching out and grabbing passing pedestrians. The bees love it.

There's a lot going on in the front garden...

While the back, home to vegetables in the sunny parts, and more cool foliage plants in the shady parts, is a bit calmer.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Giants in the Garden

There are two show-stopping giant plants in the front yard right now. 
The first, these lilies, are well over 6 feet tall! When I look at them eye to eye, I'm looking at the bottom to middle row of flowers! And each flower is quite substantial.
This is about the fourth year for these plants, which have grown stronger and bigger each year. The red lily beetle has decimated most of my lily collection but this variety has withstood the attack--I think they were so big the beetles were afraid of them! 

I wish I had taken a photo of the emerging growth in the spring--they didn't so much sprout as launch. 

The scent on these is strongest at night, but even during the day that distinctive lily smell is evident from most of the front yard. As these plants are somewhat hidden from the street by a magnolia tree, passers by likely  wonder where the smell is coming from. 

And what kind of lilies are these you ask? I'm very proud of myself for actually having saved the package:
so that I can tell you they're an Oriental x Trumpet Lily (i.e. hybrid) by the name of Conca D'Or. I don't remember the price but it was probably about average ($8). It certainly delivers above average impact!

And if you're wondering, the yellow daisy-like flowers in front of them in the picture are Helianthus 'Lorraine Sunshine'.

The other front yard giant draws bees by the hive, and has caused more than one pedestrian to stop and ask "What's THAT?!"  

It's a bit of a challenge to photograph (because it's big you need to be far away, but because it's so slender, it gets lost in the picture), but look above the purple daylilies and follow the stems up, way up, to the yellow pom-poms flowers. That's Cephalaria gigantea (aka Giant Scabiosa, aka Scabiosa gigantea). It's a conversation piece for pedestirans and certainly THE most popular plant in the entire garden with all the neighbourhood bees right now. I've mentioned it on the blog before, but it's such a cool plant I thought I'd feature it again.
There are 3 or 4 bees on that one flower.
A close up from a day the bees weren't so busy.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

This morning's haul from the Weston Farmer's Market

I visited the Weston Farmer's Market this morning to pick up some eggs and Ontario strawberries. As you can see, I found quite a bit more!

The Gallardia (red and yellow flowers in the top right corner) were only $4, and they're big healthy plants. It took a lot of willpower to only come home with one plant--I wanted one in every colour (I think there were 5 to choose from). A salmon pink geranium, priced to sell at $1, also jumped into my arms. These are the exact same plants you'd find at garden centres--the folks that sell them at the Weston Market also sell to retailers from the Ontario Food Terminal during the week. It's a family run operation and they're nice people. I didn't buy any of their produce this morning, but they have the best corn, leeks, romaine lettuce, and broccoli at the market.

The Egg Man sells all sizes and colours of fresh eggs, along with an excellent selection of cheeses, from a refrigerated trailer. I've been buying from him for years and have not been disappointed.

Asparagus and strawberries have been in my market shopping bag for the past few Saturdays. An assortment of peppers ($3 for the lot), baby cucumbers, and some amazingly sweet nectarines (they had samples, which was really smart, as I was only going to buy a small container until I tasted them. And then I immediately asked for the larger basket!)

Rounding out the haul from this morning is some fresh cilantro (salsa on bean burritos this week!) and a loaf of "Persian bread" (that's what they call it. All I know is that it's made with olive oil and there probably won't be a lot of that loaf left by the time lunch is done today.)

I've noticed some new additions to the market this year: a local coffee roaster (you can buy the beans or a freshly brewed cup), someone selling pies, a second roti seller (the first one was pretty good so they're in for some stiff competition), and a couple selling some amazing looking Greek delights (phyllo wrapped bits of deliciousness!) Besides all of this, there's a vendor selling freshly grilled back bacon on a bun, as well as other vendors selling honey, maple syrup, and I'm probably forgetting a few other things.

There's usually a different busker performing every week. This week it was a  dulcimer player. Early on in the season (when the only produce to be had is asparagus) the buskers don't come, and I really miss them. They add a nice atmosphere.

The market is held every Saturday in the Weston GO parking lot from May to October. I highly recommend it!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

I Was Inviting Japanese Beetles to Flock to My Garden?

Thankfully, this is not what my roses look like yet. Right now they're glorious--full and smelling like only roses can.

But I'm living in quiet dread, because this IS what my roses looked like a little further on in the season last year. Those shiny brown things in the picture at left? Those are Japanese Beetles.

Notice that not only are there too many to count, at least five pairs of them in the picture are in the process of making more Japanese Beetles. For the past few years I never find just one Japanese Beetle in my garden, I find a plague of them.

Which is why I was so excited to learn that geraniums might be the answer to keeping them under control. I've planted oodles of geraniums in my garden this year in case they do work.

But I'm still worried. The research didn't specify how many geraniums you need per rosebush. Or how close they had to be. And what if the birds in my yard are so full from birdseed or the snails I throw out of the garden for them to find on the road that they aren't interested in eating the beetles?

So my ears still perk up when I hear of anything that might possibly be a proven solution to my plague. On twitter today I saw a post from Fine Gardening Magazine with a link to an article about Japanese Beetles and roses. This piqued my interest greatly, as Fine Gardening is a very reputable publication and the author of the article, Paul Zimmerman, looks to have some pretty serious rose cred ("Paul Zimmerman has grown thousands of roses for over 15 years and for ten of those years in a sustainable manner.") 

From that article I learned two very interesting things:

1.  "Simply shaking [Japanese beetles off your roses] and stomping on them attracts more because when killed, the female emits a pheromone that attracts males. Hardly the desired result."  

Egads, every time I crushed one of those %$@@$ bugs I was sending out a siren call for a bunch more of them to come to the wake! Argh!

2. So is there a solution "...It’s simply a spray made from cedar oil! Preferably Eastern Red Cedar. The principal is the same one used when storing sweaters in a cedar chest to keep moths away. When sprayed on the roses it keeps the beetles away and they fly off to another garden."

Eastern Red Cedar oil! Ooh, where do I get my hands on some of that?!?  (a quick Google search suggests that my neighbourhood natural/health food store is the first place to look.)

This is definitely something I will be trying out as at least some of my roses are bound to have some beetles appear (there was only so much space and budget for geraniums; I can't possibly have bought enough to render 100% coverage, even if they are the miracle cure.) 

And if I hear of any other possible solutions, I'll be sure to let you know.
What my roses look like right now. May they stay this beautiful!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

2012 West Toronto Plant Sale

There's been very little time for blogging lately as EVERYTHING needs to be done in the garden. And all of it right now.

Two weeks ago I set aside the better part of a Saturday to dig up many of my perennials and pot them up for my horticultural society's annual plant sale. Included in the stash are heuchera, 'Twist of Lime' hosta, bachelor's buttons, two types of astilbe, artemesia, anemone, Lysimachia 'Firecracker', rhubarb, rudbeckia, 'Northern Sea Oats' grass, sedge, Sweet Woodruff, lamium, geranium and more.

Tonight, after I printed off 12 pages of labels (plant name, size at maturity, growth habit, whether it prefers sun, shade, etc.) I spent another couple hours fussing over the plants and labeling them. Tomorrow night I have to find some time to price them, and then Saturday...Saturday, May 19th you can come to Eglinton Flats park and buy my perennials, many perennials from other members of our hort society, as well as lots of nursery grown bedding plants, herbs, vegetable seedlings, etc. Oh, and there are also 4 trays of fabulously interesting heirloom tomato plants (grown by my friend Marsha. I still haven't planted mine outside, so I'm not sure which seedlings will be "spares.")

The sale starts at 9 but I have to tell you that if you want to get the interesting plants you will want to arrive by 8:50 and join the lineup (yes, there'll be a ribbon cutting and everything at 9 where we make a fuss and then let you loose on the plants.)

Insider tip: bring a wagon or some boxes/plant trays to cart your plants home in. Also recommended is a spouse, child or friend who is willing to carry your plants while you rummage through the tables looking for more.

You can find the sale in the northwest quadrant of Eglinton Flats Park. It's west of Jane and north of Eglinton. The park entrance is via Emmett Avenue--once you come along Emmett you can't miss the sale. Just follow the signs.

While at the park, you can find the Emmett Avenue Community Garden about 60' past our sale. Stop by to see how great their gardens look already (new fencing this week!)

If you don't have time for breakfast before you leave the house, or all that shopping makes you hungry, the Mount Dennis Social Club will have a hot breakfast available for purchase on site.

And just in case you're wondering what kind of treasures await you, here are a few pictures from 2011's sale (taken during the setup--I was way too busy answering plant questions once the sale started to photograph anything!)

That's a really looong table of perennials. Almost all priced between $1 and $5
Same tables, shot from a different angle.

Vegetable seedlings...

Annual flowers from the Ontario Food Terminal (and a smiling volunteer--anyone wearing one of those orange flowers is happy to answer your questions or help you with your purchase.)

One of several extremely knowledgeable gardeners, ready to answer questions.

The weather forecast for Saturday is fantastic and there will be a whole whack of wonderful plants, priced to sell, at Eglinton Flats park. Will I see you there?

Monday, 30 April 2012

The Trouble with Tomatoes

I have a problem with growing tomatoes from seed.

It's hard to admit it, but I do...

The problem is that I keep starting them too early. 

Today is April 30th and they're already three times the size of what you'll find for sale in a nursery on the May 24th weekend (about when they can/should go out here.)

Last year was my first year of growing my own tomato plants from seed and yes, I was so excited I just couldn't wait. I started them on March 12th, the weekend before Canada Blooms. They were HUGE long before I could put them outside. There were more seedlings than I had space for. Potting in the next size pot up had to happen not once, but twice. When I moved them out to the cold frame they instantly filled it. And then some.

However, I had great tomatoes. The first one was in July and they just kept on coming.

But this year I vowed I would do better. No seed planting until after Canada Blooms. And Canada Blooms was 5 days longer this year than last year! Surely this would be a sufficient delay.

March 25th was bright and warm and clear. Out came the tomato seeds...

6 different varieties (yes, six. I couldn't help myself.) Five from Tatiana's Tomatobase (an absolutely  fantastic source of heirloom tomato seeds and information that I had the good fortune to stumble upon) and then my own saved seeds from last year's "Mortgage Lifter" tomatoes.

Into the trays they went, two seeds in each cell. Watered, covered with a plastic dome, onto a heating mat, and into the toasty boiler room.

Of course, within a few days, for every 10 seeds I planted at least 9 germinated.

But I was ruthless! As soon as they were big enough to shed their seed coats I snipped off one from each pair (I've read this is less disruptive than pulling out the ones you don't want.)

And now...

Now it's April 30th and I have blossoms already! This variety is Mennonite Orange.

All the plants are really robust...

I hope I'll be able to move them into the cold frame this weekend.

In case you're wondering about the orange snow fencing you see above and here in the full reveal of my "grow op"...
It's to keep out the furry members of our household...
Who me?
It's not pretty but it works. 

So far.

And yes, that is a fan blowing on the seedlings. I do this for half an hour or so a day (again, something I read) to strengthen them. If I don't have the time to turn the fan on I tap each of the plant stems with my fingernail a couple times (this is also supposed to strengthen them.) 

I told a gardening friend of mine that I did this and he looked at me like I was really crazy. And maybe I am when it comes to gardening.

But I'll have sturdy tomato plants with beautiful tomatoes on them...

...and next year I'll start my seedlings two weeks later. April 8, 2013 is now circled on the calendar!

Monday, 16 April 2012

Book Review: A New Leaf

A New Leaf: Growing with My Garden
Merilyn Simonds, 2011

This is my very favourite kind of gardening book—a gardener who loves plants talking about her garden, each chapter a little insight into some particular episode or season or type of plant. Even better, this gardener is an accomplished writer who has published several well regarded books completed unrelated to gardening. And, to put the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae, the garden of which she writes is located in Kingston, Ontario. I enjoy gardening books about the US and other corners of the world, but it's really delightful to read about something nearby.

I was actually surprised that this was a Canadian book. I thought I kept pretty close tabs on new popular gardening related books, but perhaps I slept through reviews of it in our Canadian gardening publications and blogs, or maybe it wasn’t featured prominently. When I saw the title come up on the Toronto Public Library’s online catalogue, I figured it was another U.S. gardening book, probably from the south, judging by the pretty white flowered tree and expanse of blue sky that make up the cover, but figured hey, it might be interesting, and clicked to place a hold. I'm very glad I did!

Simonds starts out the book with these lines: “I am not what some would call a serious gardener. I don’t know the Latin names of plants, except those that sound subversive or whimsical or mysterious…in the end I will do what looks good to me, because let’s face it, no bus tour will ever traipse across my white-clover lawn. I will never show my delphiniums at the fair.”  Well, after reading this book I’d say that if Simonds doesn’t warrant the title of serious gardener then neither does anyone else on the planet. She’s hard core—to the point that just about everything on her thanksgiving table (including the roast chickens) came from her garden—and I am sure that there will be quite a few garden tours from Kingston and beyond looking to traipse across her lawn and ogle the twenty six (yes, 26) garden beds on her property. In fact, sign me up for one of them!

I had to pace myself through this book. Both so that it wouldn’t be finished too quickly (it’s so disappointing when you find a book you enjoy and then it’s all done and you’re left with nothing nearly so exciting to read or do or think), and because my budget couldn’t afford it. You see, Simonds descriptions of the wonders of certain plants are so genuinely enthusiastic, and so captivating, that I found myself making a sudden trip out to the garden centre to buy a package of seeds I had to have, IMMEDIATELY. 

The book is a delightful read for any gardener, and especially one living in Ontario. There’s enough technical information to appeal to those who want to know the how to’s, but the book is bursting with lovely stories, perfect for whiling away a chilly afternoon. One caveat, the book should come with a warning: may inspire uncontrollable plant and seed shopping. And for Toronto gardeners coping with "pocket gardens" in the city, an additional warning: this book describes a gardener with enough land to grow twenty six large garden beds; hide your realtor’s phone number before reading!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

March 2012 in the Garden

Lots is happening in the garden right now! In a "normal" spring, this would all be taking place in April, but...well, there's not a lot that can be done about things being "early," so might as well enjoy it...

At left is a showy white hellebore. I'm not sure what chewed on the petals, but something thought they were tasty while still in bud stage, as they opened with the holes already in place. Oh well, the overall effect of seeing these lovely white flowers against all the composting leaves is still lovely, in my opinion.

In the front yard is another hellebore, but this one is deep purple.  The effect from a distance isn't quite as dramatic, but up close, it's certainly something to look at!

The crocuses, of course, have been putting on a fantastic show. Their bloom time is short lived but they do make the most of it!
One of my pollinator friends decided to take a closer look...

Unfortunately, bees aren't the only creatures stirring already. I strongly suspect it was a squirrel that decided to "rearrange" the tulip bulbs I had been "forcing" in a pot (The forcing was a bit of a flop. Due to the early warm-up the tulips in the ground are actually farther ahead than the ones in the pot!) Mr. Squirrel definitely does not have an eye for floral design, is all I have to say about his arrangement!

These guys are on the crawl, remarkably plump for so early in the season...

And yes, I did squish him after I took his picture (sorry to the squeamish, but this was the first of many, many that will meet the same fate over the summer. If anyone wants free escargots, please give me a shout--all you can pick, free!)

The Itoh peony is by far the most advanced in growth in the garden so far. It is in quite a sheltered spot and it is traditionally an early bloomer (May 24th most years.)

A few of the species tulips are starting to show colour. Again, these ones are in a protected area. The more exposed ones in the front yard don't have any colour yet. You can see a nice little field of bluebells emerging. Hopefully I'll have the opportunity to see their blue blooms next to the dark pink tulips.

It's not only the flower garden that's showing signs of life; there's action in the vegetable patch as well. The garlic I planted in the fall has pushed up about 3" through the straw mulch.

Of course, what says SPRING to me like nothing else (even if I could be seen shaking my head this year, imploring this plant to wait, as it's only March, and you're risking freezing your blooms off) the magnolia (Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel')

Spring is here...for now, at least!