Nightmares about Hares – a “Guest Post” (written by my daughter!!)

Encouraging my children to get involved in our garden has been quite the adventure…  Even though we don’t necessarily take the same lessons out of the garden, it has had an impact on each one of us in one way or another.  This rambling…ahem…memoir…was prepared by my eldest daughter as a “guest blogger” who apparently found our encounters with a very hungry bunny last year very unsettling!  Watching her read, edit and re-word this narrative has once again provided me with yet another special memory of my big girl growing up. This little glimpse into her budding imagination has been a very entertaining (and sometimes humbling) view of a shared event from my child’s perspective, so neat. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I have!

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The nemesis.

I am not a gardener… but I will help from time to time with watering. Occasionally if I’m in a good mood, I will also help with planting. When I read this blog it brought back some pretty annoying memories. My mother is very big with gardening, meaning me and my other relatives come a close second to her beloved veggie babies. Sometimes she would come from work and she wouldn’t say hi to us or our dad but just stomped towards her garden and violently started to weed. That’s how we knew it was a bad day at work. She takes very good care of her plants and even my “less than inclined gardener” father was on the scene when an unexpected visitor started to make unscheduled appearances.

The bunny.

Can I have some of those garden goodies? Please? I am hungry!

His plan must have been to show up right when my mom was leaving for work so that all she could really do was yell for the little bunny to go away. He just stood on his two paws with his ears up, usually munching on some lettuce, peas or kale. My mom was furious just watching the thing sit there happily munching. We also had other problems as well, such as deer trying to eat our flowers. So the next summer, after my mother spent weeks of planning, shopping and researching, we finally put up our electric fence. It may have kept wild animals partially out but it also kept our dog out as well. He like to eat kale too. We were working in the garden one day when he ran up and got shocked. He shrieked and started to run around the yard in circles yelping. (It won’t actually hurt him though.) So we had succeeded with keeping the dogs out who would sit in the garden eating our kale and the deer when it was actually turned on. (It is my job to make sure it is on at night. I have really bad memory).

So we were set for a while until the little bunny returned. Sometimes we would send the dog in after him but the dog isn’t all that smart and didn’t have a chance of catching the bunny. And in the slim chance that he did, he probably would have no idea what to do with it. So he was usually just our “back up” in those situations but only really succeeded in chasing it away.

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Wouldn’t you be afraid of this face?!

When my dad got in to the action he brought up the idea of just using a paintball gun and shooting the thing to get it moving but was quickly extinguished when my mom thought the idea was crazy. He is from Northern Ontario and used to hunt with his dad. He was astonished when he found out that kids in Nova Scotia didn’t get a week off in the fall to go goose hunting with the whole family. One day my dad walked in the house with a new slingshot from Canadian Tire. He said that it wouldn’t really hurt the bunny, just get it to go away. He asked me and my sister to fill up a red bucket full of small rocks. By the time he actually hit the bunny – after many, many, many attempts – he simply jumped up in the air landed back on the ground and continued his business eating. Later on in the year the slingshot broke and we just had to accept the that was life and in life there are bunnies. So if you ever had a bunny don’t try to hurt it or scare it away you just have to accept that he’s there and you’re helping him live. It’s not like he can eat all your garden in one day. Or you can just get a dog. Either way embrace the fact that your garden is so great that you even attract nightmares of hares!

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It does look pretty tempting!

– Ally Griffin (not my real name!)

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Little hands can…pot up flower babies!

Little Hands Can…

Little hands can fill pots and wet them down…

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Little hands can gently dig out her flower babies…

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Little hands can snuggle her flower babies into their new little homes…

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Little hands can turn on her very own lights…

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Little Lessons Learned

Little hands can plant a lot more seeds than I realized…Oops…

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Little seeds collected fresh last fall germinate far better than seed packets! Last year we planted 100 Coleus seeds and got 9 plants. Somehow this year we ended up with 136 little seedlings.  Oops…

Little hands get upset if not every last seedling gets potted up…Oops…

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Less than a little patience was needed!  We thought Coleus were supposed to be slow plants, they aren’t. They can’t go outside until May.  And where did those Calendulas and Coneflowers come from?! Oops…

Little hands may need to learn how to set up more lights!

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Maybe Daddy will help…Mama needs a nap.

A heart of gratitude…and an award?!

liesbster 2I am grateful.  For many things; my children, my health, my husband, my family.  I am grateful for those in my life who have influenced me, who have challenged me, who have nearly broken me and for those who have held me up. I am grateful to come home to a warm house and plenty of nourishment every night.  I am grateful that I am safe and loved.

This past month has been a new adventure for me!  I am not a writer, I certainly did not think that I would enjoy it at all.  I started this little blog more as a repository of memories about some of the things in my life that I am most grateful for – my home, my family, my friends and my garden.  The garden seems like a silly little piece of the big picture, but it is a very fitting foundation upon which to build my story.  It is such a perfect backdrop for so many things and there are so many puns to be worked in!! I had hoped a few people would enjoy my ramblings…ahem…memoirs… about my trials in the garden of course, but most importantly, I hoped that as my girls get older they see past the posts about seeds, weeds and dreams and recognize these tales for what they really are. They are for them.  I am trying to share with them a bit of myself that they don’t see day to day by planting memories for them “on paper”.  I am trying to bury the little things they don’t hear from me (as we rush out of the house in the morning or to soccer after dinner or when I am upset that they are arguing again) in the little stories I share about “gardening”.  I hope they one day unearth what I set out to achieve. I hope they discover the meaning of the words even if they are covered in a bit of “dirt” and I hope that this little time capsule helps them get to know me a bit better. And if they learn a little something of the importance of knowing where their food comes from or discover the beauty in a blooming flower along the way – so much the better!

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When I turned my computer on 2 nights ago, I had a notification that someone else is reading these memoirs and maybe even enjoying them a bit!  Lynn from WordShamble had selected me as a Leibster Award Nominee – I am not sure if this like a blog chain letter disguised as an award for new Blogs, but either way, I am grateful!  So thanks Lynn!

Apparently, there are rules that go along with accepting this award, so here they are:

1) Put the Liebster Award logo on your blog.

2) Thank and tag the blog who nominated you – Again, thanks Lynn!

3) Answer their questions and come up with 10 new ones for your nominees

4) Nominate 8 blogs (with less than 200 followers), let them know you’ve nominated them and link them in your post.  I was not sure I had even read 8 blogs, so this led me on another adventure searching for some like minded gardeners (I apologize if you have more than 200 followers – that part was tricky)

5) No tag-backs.

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So these are the questions I was asked…

(1) What was your favourite book as a child and why?

The Poky Little Puppy because the drawings were sweet, the adventures were grand and the puppy was so naughty. It gave me hope that someday, maybe, being naughty would pay off in Strawberry Shortcake. Still waiting… 

(2) If you were a Supervillain, who would you want to be and why?

Dr Doofenschmirtz from Phineas and Ferb – deep down he isn’t really evil and he has some phenomenal ideas!
(3) If you could only save one animal from a global extinction, what would it be?

My dog Gus.
(4) Where’s your happy place? Describe.

In my garden, with my girls – guess you will just have to read all my other posts to find out why!
(5) E-readers or conventional books?

Always a real book.
(6) If you could choose one piece of tech from a Bond movie, which would it be?

I would choose Pierce Brosnan – is that an option?!
(7) What are the three foods that you wouldn’t want to live without?

Brie, pepper jelly and chocolate.
(8) If a griffin fought a hydra, which would win?

I couldn’t even venture a guess.
(9) What’s the favourite post you’ve posted?

Little Hands, Little Seeds, Very Little Patience – I love that little girl to bursting.
(10)What’s the best piece of conversation you’ve ever overheard?

My two girls whispering behind my back after a very bad day at work…”Uh oh, Mama is getting out the rototiller, we’d better go inside and hide!”

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I am grateful to have discovered the following blogs and nominate:

Plumdirt

New Gardener Blues

Garden Fairy Farm

DirtnKids

The Gardeners Notebook

Garden and more

The Bent Trowel

Gardening Hands

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My 10 questions for you are:

1) Favorite flower

2) Favorite veggie

3) Favorite garden picture (insert it if you can)

4) Favorite season

5) Biggest defeat in your garden

6) Biggest challenge in your garden

7) Your next big project

8) Your gardening partner you are most grateful for

9) Your favourite quote

10) What are you grateful for?

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So the first month has been a truly great experience!  I have discovered that writing can be a lot of fun and a great distraction – even if it only lasts for this one season, for that discovery I am…. grateful.

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” ~William Arthur Ward

Best Laid Plans…Ironically, Version 2

IMG_1387I am a planner. I really, really like spreadsheets, notebooks and lists. I especially like the feeling of checking things off my list.  I am ashamed to admit that sometimes I even add points to my lists just to get extra check marks. (Make list, check!  Complete first item, reward yourself with a cup of coffee, check! Do that thing that you actually already finished but are adding it to the list just to cross it off, check!) I can be impulsive, don’t get me wrong, but I like it when a good plan comes together. Despite my best efforts, life has thrown many curveballs at my plans. Career starts, start overs and changes, long commutes and time away from my family have taught me many hard lessons. New additions to our family have tested me and taught me things about myself I may never have known otherwise, wonderful and not so wonderful. Losses have proven to me how strong I actually can be. Moving around Canada has led me to appreciate home and family more than I could have ever imagined. What I have learned most is that despite my best laid plans, the experiences of actually “doing” are never what I had anticipated.

IMG_0656If everything happens for a reason, then I am so grateful to have met some truly amazing people, encountered sheer beauty and joy and been touched in ways no list or spreadsheet could ever capture.  When faced with challenges that were nowhere to be found in columns a, b or c, I have had to learn to let go, give up my plans and embrace what God has laid out in his plans for me. As long as I have faith in myself, my family and God, I am never disappointed in the outcome, even if at the time the experiences have been painful or confusing.

imageGardening has been no exception to the rule of “best laid plans….”! Each winter I plan out how our main growing season will look.  I calculate the amount of compost or triple mix I need to order and I draw out planting diagrams based on last year’s crops (I try my best to rotate crops). I sort seeds collected and left over from last year and I start watching for sales on weed barriers, mulches and plant supports. I test soil pH levels and nutrients when the snow melts. I fill out calendars with planting dates and set up my indoor lights for seedlings. But I live in Nova Scotia!  Anyone who lives on the east coast needs no explanation on why this is the main reason my plans need to be fluid.  We have heat, we have cold.  We have long periods without rain followed by hurricanes and hail in July.  We have hungry wildlife! Each and every season has been different from the last for both veggies and flowers.  Things pop up that I have IMG_1472no recollection of planting and some prized perennials never seem to reappear. Kids happen! Plants get picked, trampled, nibbled and drowned. It is all part of the experience.  Regardless of the outcome, whether as planned or as complete surprises, my gardens and the time shared planning them and caring for them with my girls bring me growth, serenity, joy and clarity that I could never plan for; nor would I wish to.  It amazes me what life brings when I unplug, go outside and just be present in the moment, watching plans unfold.

This is the “plan” for this year’s main veggie garden compared to last years – this is very fluid:

Ironically, after posting this memoir, a comment triggered me to have a second look.  I realized that I had been so distracted by my wee girl that I completely missed carrots, beets and a whole bed in the 2015 plans!  Here is version 2....best laid plans!

Ironically, after posting this memoir, a comment triggered me to have a second look. I realized that I had been so distracted by my wee girl that I completely missed carrots, beets and a whole bed in the 2015 plans! Here is version 2….best laid plans!

2014's plans...not everything went exactly according to plan!

2014’s plans…not everything went exactly according to plan!

*** I have used some great online planners in years past, though I find it easiest to just do it by hand.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Mother Earth News and Garden Supply Company have some great plans! Niki Jabbour from Nova Scotia has also written a great book called Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans That Will Change The Way You Grow Your Garden, that I can’t wait to read…

I will need this much compost and extra soil to make sure I have 12 inches of good soil in most of the beds***:

Triple mix – Width – 16 feet x Length – 30 feet x Depth – 3 inches = 4.44 cubic yards for main garden

– Width – 4 feet x Length – 16 feet x Depth – 3 inches = 0.60 cubic yards for garden beside shed

Garden soil – Width 2 feet x Length 40 feet x 12 inches = 2.96 cubic yards for additional section to be added to finish the raised beds at the back of the main garden

***I use the soil calculator on Kel Ann Organic’s website

Other supplies:

– 24 feet of 3/4 inch PVC to complete raised bed tunnel for early greens, I already have lots of 6mm vapour barrier left

– Bird netting/rabbit barrier for blueberries and strawberries

– Trellis wire for grape supports (last year’s snapped…)

– 12 x 6 foot bamboo stakes  for pole beans and tomatoes

– 1 roll chicken wire to attach to frame of squash house

– 4-5 bales of clean straw

– 3-4 rolls of black bio film mulch

– 1 bale of peat moss for blueberries to raise acidity slightly

– Some form of posts and 3 feet of barrier to keep out racoons and bunnies….hmmmmm…..not sure about this one yet. These cute little critters give us all nightmares!

Next Step…Seed planning.  But that is a whole ‘nother story!!

“If plan A fails, remember that you have 25 letters left!” ~ Author Unknown 

Setting up my legal “Grow Op”

IMG_0164“Mama! I don’t think we have enough room in our “Grow Op” for all these seeds!!” Those words rang out loud and clear across Halifax Seed Co. from the mouth of my darling little girl as she loaded up her basket with pretty flower seeds she wanted to try to grow.  Completely oblivious… Many heads turned with smirks on their faces. I turned a very deep crimson and muttered that it was a family joke, we truly only grow veggies and flowers… We live in a quiet rural area, surrounded by law enforcement officers who want some respite when they come home. We really, truly only grow flowers and veggies!!

imageNova Scotia is situated geographically on the 45th parallel. Our last frost is not reliably until after June 1st and our first frost is usually in early October.  Our winters are wet and cold. Between November and February we get less than 10 hours of sun per day, not much is growing.  Our zone 5/6 gardens need a little artificial help if I want to be able to avoid paying for expensive nursery grown tender seedlings and still have the luxury of a variety of summer veggies. Without a heated greenhouse or direct indoor sunlight, grow lights are an excellent way for us to jump start vegetable seedlings and slow growing annuals at a fraction of the cost.  Outdoor season extenders are another way to get a few extra weeks of growing season on either side, but when combined with indoor lights, we are picking our first fresh salads of the season in April and harvesting tomatoes much earlier than usual!  The lights continue to provide salad greens and herbs from the basement all winter long when the treasures in our outdoor tunnels have gone to sleep or I have been too lazy to dig them out from under the snow.  We have tried some indoor dwarf bean, pea and tomato plants as well – the concept was very fun but the yield was not worth the effort.

IMG_1207When shopping around for growing lights I visited many garden centres and websites but the prices were overwhelming. In desperation I will admit that I may have visited some web sites of “ill repute” for tips on lighting requirements and cheap alternatives to Garden Center lighting set ups! These websites certainly led to some interesting conversations with my older daughter when I left the computer open to one of these pages by accident.  Being terribly indecisive, I tried both options. I purchased cheap  shop lights and fluorescent bulbs and attached them with chains to shelving using s-hooks to make them adjustable. It takes up very little space in the storage room downstairs and is easily operated with automatic timers and a small fan for air circulation. We purchased one small starter “proper” garden light for my little girl’s bedroom, and she absolutely loves it! (She even added some beads and stickers as bling!) Her bedroom light has served as a great comparison tool for my impromptu grow op downstairs. I have raised seedlings under both types of lights for 2 years and have not noticed a substantial difference between the bulbs, my hardware store version does the trick well enough for me!

IMG_1381Please don’t judge our basement “Grow Op”!  It has served us well in boosting our growing season, has given us a jump start on our seedlings and had paid for itself in the first year.   Growing seedlings indoors has provided a wonderful opportunity for my girls to learn firsthand how much work it takes to produce our family’s food, watching as seeds germinate, sprout, grow and eventually bloom and bear fruit.  It truly provides a hands-on science experience for them and their friends who visit and then return home with fun stories for their own families! The glowing lights from my wee one’s room has certainly generated some interesting conversation on our street and sparked some new gardening interest as well.

Here are a few photos of how I set up my “Indoor Legal Grow Op” in case someone else would like to light one up!

– I purchased a 10-pack of “Natural Daylight” fluorescent light bulbs for $29.99 and started with 4 shop lights, each light was $17.99.  I now have 6 so I can light 12 trays in total on 3 shelves

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– I attached the lights to metal shelves using S-hooks and chains so that the lights can be adjusted as the plants grow.  I keep them about 2 inches above the plants to keep them from getting too “leggy”

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– Using a power bar and a timer, I plug in as many lights as I need at a time to come on for 14 hours per day

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– I save plastic containers and trays to reduce costs and mess. I store them on the top of the shelving unit for when the seedlings need to be potted up into bigger cells

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– The seedlings grow quite happily at about 17 degrees celcius! A small fan recirculates air, builds stronger stems and helps reduce mold and disease

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– When the soil in the tunnels is warm enough, transplants started under the lights can go in the ground much earlier than those that are not protected

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I am still planning where everything will be planted for this year and what seeds need to be ordered, but the plants under the lights remind me that even in the dead of winter, I can provide fresh, healthy greens for my kids. As a small bonus, the growing  plants and bright lights provide us with a glimmer of hope that spring will soon be here.

“Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade.” ~Rudyard Kipling

Nova Scotia Treasures

IMG_3107Buried treasure, shipwrecks, legends of smuggling and piracy fascinate my family, young and old. Growing up in Atlantic Canada provided so many opportunities to become engrossed in tales of lore.  On the South Shore is Oak Island, a small, mysterious isle where treasure hunters have been trying since 1795 to unearth what could be one of the biggest troves, ever!  6 people have died trying, millions have been supposedly spent on excavating and countless hours have been spent dreaming about what could be buried hundreds of feet underground in booby trapped vaults! My big girl’s voracious appetite for theories and speculations cannot get enough of Templar intrigue and Capt. Kidd rumblings.

Cape Breton’s natural beauty is booty enough for me, but for treasure hunters the call of hundreds of shipwrecks cannot be quelled.  In 1965, wreck hunter Alex Storm and his crew brought up gold and silver from the treasure ship, Le Chameau. It was rumoured to be worth almost a million dollars, but given a political scandal and settlement, no one knows for sure!  Another Cape Breton legend holds that the Louisbourg treasure, mysteriously missing following the siege of 1758, contained the annual gold and silver payroll of the French colonies, priceless relics and religious artifacts.  It has never been recovered, nor its resting site located…some think it is hidden on a small island in a lake off Mira Bay that was once an estuary, safe from the invading British forces and blockade.

As a kid, my Papa would take us on boat rides looking for the island and the booty. If the motor was out of commission, he would resort to rowing us, dory style, on our epic hunts. Now that my Dad is the Papa, the legend of the Louisbourg treasure and the traditional excursions to “Treasure Island” continues to have deep roots in our family. Annual trips still elicit squeals of delight from my little buccaneers, curious cousins and any little scallywags who visit!  Of course I can’t share the name of the lake, that would break the treasure hunter’s solemn code.

Maritimers are blessed with other treasures as well! Though my girls don’t find my adimageventures seeking out new garden markets to visit, farms to explore on Open Farm Day, or digging for buried treasure in our potato plot nearly as mystical, they indulge (read: put up with) me!  We hide our treasures throughout the house for the winter. In the garage we store root veggies, pumpkins, squash for a mid-winter homegrown pot of soup, rich as any king. In the windows, we hang herbs as decorations to dry and enjoy warm, aromatic teas all winter.  My little one loves delivering her prized mint next door on a regular basis!  The pantry is full of jars of pickles, beets and salsa. We freeze and puree and jelly. We even keep a few greens growing under the lights! There is no greater gold to me than that of sparkling crab apple jelly on a hot biscuit after a great day of skiing!

Lastimage fall, I tried to “overwinter” some cold hardy root veggies and kale in a secret spot in the garden.  Sadly, the strong North east winds and sly deer who share our inclination for treasure hunting had other plans.  They found them. My PVC hoop tunnels and frost blankets were no match for them; somewhere a very content deer is gloating over his victory in securing my garden’s plunders. Next year I will have to reinforce my tunnels with better support, stronger plastic, bigger rocks and more insulation. Lesson learned!  The only thing they left alone were my leeks and a few rogue kale, both of which are quite a treat to dig out from under the protection of the snow in the middle of January.

My big girl (staff photographer) thought it would be fun to share a bit of our winter treasures by taking pictures of a yummy winter soup we made on a blustery day and providing a “treasure map” of how we made it.  It is not exactly a recipe because I tend to measure by tasting! image First she roasted pie pumpkin, acorn squash and butternut squash with garlic hidden under the cored out centres. Next the last of our stash of potatoes were chopped and sautéed with fresh picked leeks, dried sage, thyme, chilis and chives. By accident I added nutmeg instead of pepper – I told you I was easily distracted!  I get that from my Grandma. image Chicken stock was added to the potatoes and leeks to simmer while the squash cooled and sweat under foil, making them easier to peel.  Once cooled and peeled, the were blendered with the roasted garlic and added to the soup. image We added some fresh cilantro, easily grown in windowsill pots, for a little something extra!image Though we may never actually uncover the Louisbourg treasure, I hope my girls will never lose their innocent sense of wonder and adventure. In time, they may even come to treasure all the spoils this beautiful province has to offer, especially those from our own back yard. Who knows, maybe one day they will take their own kids hunting for buried treasure, even if it is only potatoes.

When planning our garden for the year, we try to think about what we will grow to store for the winter, here are our thoughts..

Things we grow to store: Pie Pumpkin, Acorn squash, Butternut squash, Cheiftan and Norland potatoes, carrots, onions

To freeze: Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, Haskap berries, beans, shell peas, beets and greens, Swiss chard, basil, dill

To can: Salsa, berries for jam, jalapeños for pepper jellies, beets and pickling cucumbers

To dry: Mint, oregano, sage, thyme, chives, tarragon, savoury, rosemary, I would like to try chamomile this year!

To tunnel: Beets, carrots, leeks, kale, chard, spinach, bok choy, mustard, parsley, mizuna

Under the lights:  Mesclun, romaine, cilantro, basil, arugula

Riches do not consist in the possession of treasures, but in the use made of them.” – Napoleon Bonaparte