Fed up. Hoops Up!

It snowed again today.  No accumulation, but big, wet, yucky flakes came down.  Again.  Mother Nature and I are having a time out.  A pause.  I am trying to be the bigger person and not throw a full on hissy fit – it is pretty tough, but so far I am in for the win.  This past weekend was glorious!  A large amount of snow had melted and by Sunday evening I had 4 raised beds thawed and moist and the main veggie bed almost visible.  There was hope!  I even started hardening off the early veggie babies and the perennial seedlings on the porch.  Apparently Mother Nature put her big old arctic mukluk wearing foot down.  But I am no schmuck – I got prepared. That does’t mean I am happy about it.

I am now a full 3 weeks behind where I was 2 years ago, not a single pea has gone in the ground.  Not cool, Mother Nature. This guy won’t be deterred and neither will I!

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What do maritimers who really like to garden in the early spring do when they get fed up?  We pull out the construction supplies, our rubber boots, the frost blankets and the pitch forks and get the hoops up!  Mini hoop tunnels provide additional protection from frost, sleet, snow, deer, rabbits and wind.  They can allow early cold hardy varieties to be started as soon as the snow has melted enough to find the dirt (usually end of March or early April).  They also allow for tender annuals to go out a bit earlier without worrying about the random late frosts wiping them out ( 2 weeks or so).  Different types of covers can be used depending on the season or level of protection needed.  This time of year, I cover my tunnels with 6mm vapour barrier to create a greenhouse effect and warm the soil up quicker with as much light transmission as possible.  In the summer, I will cover with thin shade cloth to keep cooler veggies happy in the heat and in the late fall or winter I will use heavy frost blankets as insulation to eek out a few extra weeks of growing.

Here is how we set up our hoop tunnels:

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Using the circular saw, I cut 6 foot lengths of 3/4 inch PVC pipe (50 feet of the black stuff was $17.99 at Canadian Tire.  The white stuff was more expensive – I was excited to find it cheaper!)  My beds are 4 feet wide, 6 feet hoops give me roughly 2 feet of clearance once they are placed in the raised beds.

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I then hammered 18 inch and 24 inch rebar stakes into the freshly turned soil so that they are deep enough to be sturdy (look in the top right corner).  I picked the green coated ones up at Home Depot.  I also picked up some cheap 2 foot uncoated pieces at Kent for $1.69 each.

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I always use at least 4 hoops for my tunnels to keep them from collapsing, whether they are 8 feet long or 14 feet long. I slide the ends of the PVC over the rebar (at least 4 inches).

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For the Poly tunnel covering, I picked up a roll of 6mm vapour barrier (I don’t remember where I got it, I have been using the same roll for 3 years…).  I cut left over decking boards to 7 feet (my raised beds are 8 feet). I am not worried about the treatment on the wood because it will be wrapped in the vapour barrier anyways.

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I centre the boards lengthwise (the poly is folded in half here to fit in the picture – it is actually 8 feet wide, which works perfectly to cover the 6 foot hoops…)  I then recruit cute little helpers to staple the plastic to the first board.  To make sure it is secure, I staple, then roll the board once in the plastic and staple it again.  The second board is secured to the other side of the plastic in the same manner making sure the rolled edges are the same side up.

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Little hands help me carry the boards and poly cover to the garden where we unroll it over the hoops.  You can just roll or unroll the boards to tighten up the cover.  We tuck the boards down in between the hoops and the edge of the bed.  The ends are tucked in like a birthday present and held down with a rock.  On warm days, we can simply open the ends and tuck the plastic back to ventilate or unroll one side to open the tunnels completely.

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Finally, we use clips we found at the dollar store to give a little extra support, et voila!  Mini greenhouse is complete!

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For less finicky greens, and because I was completely out of patience, I hauled out a frost blanket and planted Tyee spinach, Spicy mesclun, Cos Romaine and arugula between rows of Munchkin and Packman broccoli.  I will not be defeated!!

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I have since shovelled in some compost, the soil is warming up wonderfully!  I hope to plant some of these little beauties this weekend – in my rubber boots or in my snow pants.  Either way – I win!!!

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“Even if you are on the right track, you will still get run over if you just sit there!” ~Will Rogers

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My top ten steps for starting a new veggie bed…maybe it will help a few dreamers?

Beginning any new task is very daunting for me.  I like to know what I am getting myself into and I like to know all the steps before I begin.  I don’t mind adjusting on the fly, but flying blind is not for me. After writing about a few of our successes, trials and plans in seeding, gardening and lighting I received a request for a specific post – How do I get started on a small veggie garden without getting overwhelmed?  I am certainly no expert in this area – but this is how I started laying down roots, how I dreamed and triumphed and of course how I could have done it better.  I hope it helps a bit.

MY TOP 10 STEPS FOR STARTING A NEW VEGGIE BED

10 – SUCCESS! Site Selection – The soil in my yard is quite heavy with a lot of clay.  I also have a lot of trees that cast weird shade.  We started by finding a flat site and staked out a 10×20 foot square.  We watched where the shadows were throughout the day and adjusted the location of our square to make sure we had as much sun as possible throughout the day.  We also made sure the hose and sprinkler would reach. I use a lot of planters on the deck and patio and fill them with veggies – even my 2×2 planters produce a pile of tomatoes and chard and are very pretty when planted with a few annuals or herbs for a splash of colour. Added bonus – planters can be hauled inside during summer hurricanes!

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9 – FAIL – Could have done better….Soil Preparation – The first year, we dug out the sod (we needed it in other places anyways…), pulled as many big rocks out as we could and turned the “soil” (it was really clay) with shovels.  We added bags of peat moss and compost and had 2 yards of garden soil dumped in the back of our truck and dug that all in too.  I did buy a soil test kit and a pH tester, but I am not sure they were ever very accurate and never repeated the process out of laziness and distractedness.

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The start of year 3.

What we have since done better – in subsequent years of expansion we borrowed and then purchased a root-tiller to till the original plot – soooo much easier than hand-bombing it with shovels. We also lost the rock and clay battle and chose instead to have more garden soil or triple mix delivered to “build up” our soil.  Instead of cutting out the sod, I laid cardboard down in the area to become the garden.  We then dumped 10-12 inches of soil on top of the cardboard.  By the end of the summer, the cardboard had broken down the sod and the garden soil was much more productive than our natural soil even with the amendments.

Better still – 2 years ago we bought composite raised bed kits.  We placed a few inches of crusher dust and gravel underneath the boards to level them, lined them cardboard and then filled with garden soil and triple mix. Each bed is 4×8 feet and 12 inches deep. They were much more expensive, but by far the best approach for us.  After we clean up the gardens in the fall, I cover the beds with straw to keep weeds down and turn it under in the early spring with a fresh top up of organic fertilizer and compost – less weeds, more yield and no boulders to be dug!  SCORE!

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A lot of work to set up, but so worth it!

8 – SUCCESS! Hilling my rows – We get a lot of rain and I found that in the main garden, I lose less soil and seedlings to run off and drowning if I create hilled rows. I mark where my rows should be (they are pretty set now after 6 years and it reduces work and soil compaction by keeping my rows in the same places.) I make my rows approx 2-3 feet wide by 10-12 inches high with a hoe so I can plant a few rows of treats in each hill or plant in clumps.  The water runs off into the lower paths between rows and it seems to keep the roots watered while keeping puddles in the actual rows to a minimum.  This doesn’t apply to my raised beds as the drainage is really good and we don’t walk in them anyways.

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7 – SUCCESS!! 2 foot paths between rows – just enough space to kneel in and get the wheelbarrow through! Enough said…

6 –SUCCESS!!! Weed barriers – I HATE WEEDING!!!  We almost plowed down the dirt and seeded the plot with grass a few summers ago because the weeding was becoming all consuming!  They were shading out veggie babies, providing hiding spaces for slugs and bugs and smothering everything edible (as well as smothering my desire to garden anymore….) With two busy girls, a full time job and the desire to do something other than pull weeds every non-scheduled waking moment, I caved and bought weed barrier. AND THE ANGELS SANG – AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! (That was supposed to be angels singing in harmony with the sun shining brightly and me frolicking in a long shimmery dress with flowers in my hair! Yup, the result was that good!!)

The cost is not prohibitive – less than $60 per season.  I place cardboard or wet newspaper between the rows, then place black bio-film over my prepped rows as tight as I can, staking it with ground stakes or rocks.  I then cover the newspaper or cardboard with clean straw (not hay!!!) In order to seed, I use an exact-o knife to cut slits or small holes and plant seedlings or seeds through the holes.  The black film does triple duty – it heats the soil, prevents run off and SMOTHERS THE WEEDY INVADERS!!!!  It is the rock star of my garden.  I haven’t had to use it in my raised beds yet because the soil was relatively weed free, but I will as soon as I get overrun again.  The prep work is a lot more but last summer I spent less than 10 hours total weeding the veggie beds.  FREEDOM!!!

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5 –Success, partially –  Electric fencing.  This was a must for us.  The deer were eating the veggies faster than we could grow them.  A simple electric fence made for small animals was cost-effective, not too unsightly and keeps the deer out magnificently! It does not keep out racoons or rabbits….that is a battle for next summer….If your garden is small, a fence would be ideal.  Mine is 40×24 and it would far too expensive to do a pretty fence.

4 – SUCCESS (after a few years) – Bird netting, frost blankets and hoop tunnels – These little beauties did not come until 2 years ago, but I wish I had started from the get-go with them.  They can be easily thrown up quickly and protect veggies and berries from animals, frost, hail, winds and sun.  I found frost blankets at the Dollarama last year – JACKPOT!

Hoop tunnels are just 6 foot long sections of 3/4 inch PVC pipes. I slide them over 1 foot rebar stakes that I pound into the ground on each side of the row. They act as mini greenhouses and allow me to plant much earlier and later than the frost dates. I use 4 hoops for a 14 foot row.  As a cover, I bought 6 mm vapour barrier plastic, laid out 18 feet of it (it was 8 feet wide) and stapled 14 foot decking boards down the two long sides.  I rolled the boards in the extra plastic (since the hoops were 6 feet wide – the extra is nice as it keeps the staples from being pulled out).  Hubby helped me carry the boards and plastic to the garden and laid a board in each path on either side of the row, with the plastic resting on the PVC pipes. I can easily lift one board up and over the hoops to uncover or recover as necessary for picking or airing out. I found green plant clips at the dollar store that clamp the plastic to the hoops nicely. Niki Jabbour’s book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener has some easy instructions for making these.

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3 – FAIL – High quality sprinkler – cheap ones just don’t cut it. I have spent more in cheap sprinklers than I would have had I sucked it up in the first place.  In ground drip irrigation would be lovely….someday maybe!

2 – SUCCESS! Strong vertical supports – for peas, poles beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash.  I use everything from cages to bamboo to saplings.  Vertical supports make the garden interesting, pretty, save space and keep produce off the ground.  Plus there is nothing neater for a little kid than a pole bean teepee or a squash house to hide in!

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AND MY NUMBER 1 STEP FOR STARTING A GARDEN….drumroll please…..

1 – Minions for planting!!!! The more hands, the better!  Little hands are capable of so much and bring so much joy, excitement and fulfilment to the garden, as long as I am willing to have a few crooked rows and a few surprises!

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I have made lists of veggies that have worked well for our family in Nova Scotia.  I use calendars to remember when to plant what – you can find them in O-Seed-D if you’d like to take a peek.  I found the best way to decide what to grow is to figure out what we will actually eat and ask other gardeners around me what varieties  have worked best in our area.  Nova Scotia is full of great resources, I only listed a few in Borrowed Wisdom, but I go back to them all the time – I learn something new every time I read the same old books!

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” ~Marcus Tullius Cicero

But for now, we wait…

imageSooooooo…..The garden plans are set.  The new seeds are mostly ordered.  The calendar is marked up. The early seedlings are started and some seedlings have already passed on to greener pastures because we forgot to water them. Ooopsies… More little seedlings are poking up every day.  My wee girl’s flower babies are growing bigger everyday and are slowly inheriting names as she decides what suits them (I will admit that I cannot possibly remember them all.  2 years ago she became particularly attached to her tomatoes that we started far too early – it was a very awkward affair when we started to eat “Isabelle’s” babies!!!) I guess perhaps I should make some new name tags for the Coleus clan. There is not a whole lot more to do right now.  A few more trays of marigolds, zinnia, ganzania, snapdragons, tomatoes, cucs and squash will be started in 2-4 more weeks (doesn’t that seem like an eternity!?).  It would be really nice to get outside to start some prep work…

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Isabelle, Gracie and Tinkerbelle. In March…Ooops. Sorry about the picture quality….

Buuuuut…..(insert large sigh, the baited breath and the big exhale here…) The gardens are covered in about 3 feet of ice and snow.  I guess if it is truly a “poor man’s fertilizer”, then Nova Scotia gardeners have struck it rich this year! BINGO?!  It has been a bit warmer, but the forecast is not warming up by very much anytime soon and as a bonus we are still enjoying many great days of skiing. Last year we had a massive storm on March 27th, so it is entirely possible that we will be waiting for quite some time yet to get our hands dirty outside. But on the other hand, the year before I had the veggie beds roto-tilled, composted, tunnels set up and cool weather veggies seeded by the 30th of March. It is hard to believe when I look out the back windows and I can hardly see where the raised beds are buried that in less than 1 month we could actually be starting the garden for this year! Fingers crossed…

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Early beds poking up in April of last year. Frost blankets are an amazing tool for gardeners…ahem..me..with very little patience!

I don’t want to wish the winter away because I love the snow. I love sledding with the kids and skiing as a family.  There is nothing quite as satisfying as a full day in the fresh, crisp air, filled with fun, adrenaline and true time spent together.  (Well maybe the glass of wine in front of the fire when every, single muscle and joint is worn out is almost as satisfying…) I love the lack of lawn mowing in the winter and I really love the lack of bugs in the winter! More than anything, I love the lack of weeding.  Yup, I said it.  I hate weeding. I will do just about anything to avoid weeding. I will pawn it off an anyone else who can be suckered, administer it as a punishment, convince myself weeds are pretty, figure out if I can somehow make tea, wine, jelly or find some redeeming use for them, you get the point…boy…do I hate weeding.  Unless it is with a flame thrower or a roto-tiller, both of those tools can be incredibly therapeutic!  But I digress.

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If you can’t beat the snow……

Spring can even make me a bit sad.  As a mama, the coming of spring and summer means two more birthdays, 2 little girls getting a bit bigger, 2 little girls who need me just that little bit less…BUT WAIT!  Because they will be a bit bigger, a bit tougher, a bit stronger, it also means they can pull a few extra weeds!  They will be able to drag a heavier bag of compost, and best of all – maybe this year, just maybe, my big girl will be able to mow the lawn!!!  Bring on the Spring!!!

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Chives are usually the first herb to say hello in my spring beds.

But we have no control over Mother Nature.  We can knock on wood, cross fingers, pray really, really hard and do all the spring fling dances we like, but in the end, it is a waiting game. For now, all we really have are some pretty forced Forsythia and apple blossoms to give us hope that spring is on the way. Maybe some forced spring bulbs will finally pop and there are always the pictures from last year to swoon over. I guess I could head to the freezer and pull out some apples and berries from last year and make some of Grandma’s recipes with the girls- maybe that will be next week’s post! Mmmmmmmm….Blueberry grunt…. But for now, we wait…

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Nothing like tulips to brighten the winter!

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“Lemony Sunshine” – Our little lemon lady comes inside for the winter and keeps us smiling with her little lemon babies!

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Hope for what is to come!

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I love to force Forsythias and Crabapples in February or March – just a nice little “Pop!” of life!

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A lone forced Daffodil my big girl planted last year – it opened on Easter morning!

“God has perfect timing; never early, never late. It takes a little patience and faith, but it is worth the wait.” ~ Unknown

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

Roots Grow Deep

IMG_1439In Nova Scotia, roots grow deep in culture, families and gardens.  Growing up around the country, I always knew where I came from and how important it was to know my roots, thanks to my parents and extended family.  It didn’t matter which province we lived in, home was always here. “What’s your Fathers name?” is a phrase that is as common to identification as Black Eyed Susan’s  are to the side of the maritime roads. Every summer was spent from beginning to end with grandparents, aunts, uncles and hoards of cousins, nuturing our relationships and honing our berry picking skills. Most days were spent in bathing suits, running around in the fields, using outhouses, playing cards, baking and creating. There were bonfires, sing alongs, epic games of Lee Hockers in the dark and of course music, dancing and food.

Cape Breton Wildfowers, Grandma’s lupines, Aunt Pat’s tiger lilies, and Grandma D’s dahlias were the stIMG_1386art of my fascination with flowers. They were centrepieces for every table and window sill. And what an honour it was to have your garden’s splendours displayed on the altar in mass on Sunday morning!

Papa’s rhubarb, blueberry patch and crabapple trees were treated as precious as gold, we all drooled waiting in anticipation for his applesauce, jellies, stewed rhubarb and blueberry pies.  I was taught by a great many of relatives that to let a wild berry go unpicked was next door to a mortal sin.  Bugs, bogs and thorns were very weak excuses indeed. My gardens are now home to many “roots” transplanted from many generations of my family.  I get to remember precious moments shared with now passed loved ones every time I sit in my garden.

Before any seed can grow, it needs a solid foundation.  A fertile, well planned plot with lots of sun, good drainage, special friends (bugs) to pollinate it and defences to ward off those pesky invaders who may try to take advantage of good intentions.  This time of year, January, is when I start to dream and plan.  Of course I have helpers!  My littlest daughter is my biggest ally.  We love to sit together and list out what we liked about last year, what new ideas we may have for this year and look through pictures that lift up our spirits while it is still too cold outside to play in the dirt. I like to think that even something as simple as planning our veggie rows or speculating on how tall our sunflowers may grow this summer is laying down some firm roots in our own little family.  Her vivid imagination never ceases to amaze me and I cherish listening to her thoughts, even if it means we will end up with a “purple veggies only” plot this year!

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Dreaming of what is to come!

It isn’t quite time to start sowing seeds, but it is never too early to dream, share and get prepared!

My to do list for this week:

– Pull out old garden plans and pictures to make sure we don’t plant the same thing in the same place as last year.  I can’t grow everything in our zone 5/6 garden, or without an infinite amount of space and time, so planning what we really want to plant now saves a lot of impulse buying when the seed catalogues and greenhouse adventures begin. I also “weed out” anything we tried last year that was not a hit so as not to make the same mistakes again.  I was the only one who liked turnip…60 pounds may have a bit excessive in hindsight!

– Draw out any new planned development and start thinking about supplies, I really want to finish my raised bed border around the main part of the veggie garden and attempt a “squash arch”. And what the heck am I going to do with the garden beside the shed??

– Make a seed starting calendar, so I know when to get started.  I have jumped the gun far too many times and have had 4 foot tomatoes in the porch in April….websites for local seed companies, “like-climate” blogs and books by gardeners from our local area are fantastic resources.

– Dust off my favorite books and magazines to scour through again and again, always finding something new and exciting to try this year…I am thinking maybe peanuts?

– Connect with friends who are looking to share ideas, seeds, separated plants and a cup of tea (or glass of wine).  It is far more fun to plan with friends – even a yoga class can be a place of veggie inspiration.  Bok choy is a great veggie to meditate on!

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Kind hearts are the gardens, Kind thoughts are the roots, Kind words are the flowers, Kind deeds are the fruits.  Take care of your garden, And keep out the weeds, Fill it with sunshine, Kind words and Kind deeds.” – Longfellow