The flurries have begun and the 2015 garden $$ totals are in…Picked (but not so much planted) Sept 22nd – Nov 18th

The garden is tucked in for the impending winter season.  Will it be soft, gentle, fluffy and peaceful or a raging onslaught of freezing rain, blizzards and hurricane speed winds?  In Nova Scotia one never knows.  I have been holding off on doing the final tally of what we picked, weighed and calculated this season thinking that we would have stopped bringing in a regular harvest long before now.  But blessings be acknowledged, the girls continued to haul in buckets of treasures up until last weekend!  We did have to buy some tender veggies and extra salad greens from the market last week – the first real time since June!!  There are still beets, carrots, kale, chard, leeks, onions and mixed greens tucked under hoop tunnels and snuggled under frost blankets for special treats between now and full freeze up, but I think it is safe to say that the majority of our harvest is now in! We had our first flurry today, winter is unavoidable.

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When we began asking ourselves how much we could be saving in produce, we never expected that the totals would be so high.  We also never anticipated the volume of veggies that we could actually consume as a family of four during 1 season, nor how much we would be able to freeze and jar to extend our feasting. And we certainly didn’t even stop to think about how much fun it would be to weigh, track and tally our bounty – who knew kids could get so excited about book keeping?!

 

In the end it is safe to say that this experience has been far more worthwhile to us than any actual $$ total.  It has taught us to be less wasteful by ensuring we consumed what we picked, less picky because even ugly cucumbers taste great and save us money and to be even more grateful for our ability to “shop” for dinner right in our own backyard.  It is amazing how much more we appreciated our own produce when we compared what the weekly prices were in the market for what the kids simply pulled out of the (non-chemically treated, clean earth, worm filled and flower kissed) dirt. Dirt is amazing!  And seeds, well they are just mind blowing. Really.

 

So without further adieu…..drumroll please…..the totals for Sept 22- Nov 18th of our 2015 season are:

Approx savings compared to local market: $972.75!!!!

Total since May 26th – $2355.45 WOW!!!

Total weight picked this period: 136.09 pounds!!  That is almost as much as I weigh….

Total to date: 341.15 pounds (That is a lot of veggies!!!)

These totals are compared to local produce when possible but not specifically organic produce – we would prefer to eat local than purchase organic food that has had to travel very long distances, using wasteful packaging and not being allowed to ripen to perfect.  We do use organic methods in our own garden, so the estimated savings would likely be much more significant had we compared to local AND organic produce!  Not to mention the savings in jams, jellies, spreads, sauces, salsas, dried and frozen herbs, saved seeds, compost, cut flowers…you get the picture!

 

Dollars and cents may speak to some, time outdoors and exercise to others, quality conversations and relationship building to most…how do we put a price on the value of our family garden?!

 

 

 

Wildlife Wednesday, May 5th, a guest post

My eldset daughter decided she would start to follow the Wildlife Wednesday meme, here is her first encounter and entry!  Enjoy!

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This is a chickadee.  I decided to take a picture of him one because the golden finches were apparently busy and two “stormin Norman”  (our pheasant) might’ve been with his lady friend Norma. All the better for this little chickadee who was the star today.  I sat on the patio tiles waiting for some sort of wild life to come to me even though I knew that if I wanted to find stormin Norman than I would have to look but…I am too lazy.

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I just sat and waited until a little Chickadee (whose name I decided would be Moonlight because of all the beautiful dark colors) flew over.  I was delighted.  I snapped as many pictures as I could and then decided to try to hand feed the other Chikadees.  It didn’t work.  But one did come about two feet from me and then stared at me like I was ridiculous. I gave up.  At least I had figured out how to do it before so I wasn’t at much loss.  I threw the seeds aside and ran inside.  I sit here now wondering what happened to that one little Chicadee.  Maybe he joined the other birds.  Maybe he was staring at stormin Norman and Norma trotting around yards.  But what I’m guessing is that Norma doesn’t know stormin Norman is a player.  He can sometimes be seen with a smaller pheasant named Gladys. So maybe that one little chickadee is watching them and chirping hysterically knowing who stormin Norman really is on the inside…a scoundrel.

image So that’s why I have a picture of a little bird named Moonlight.

Ally Griffin (not my real name!)

A glimpse under the grow lights – April 7th (or Survival of the fittest and vegetable infanticide…)

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Nova Scotia continues to be buried in feet, yes FEET, of white stuff. In fact, we woke up to another 5-10 cms this morning.  Usually by this time we are prepping early beds, assembling poly tunnels and seriously considering planting the early veggies outdoors under cover (peas, kale, bok choy, onions, beets, carrots, chard and spinach)…not this year. There is some hope in that the temperatures are warming up and there has been some melting but at this rate I am afraid it will be a very, very late start to the garden. Thankfully the grow lights are shining away and the early starts are doing well – the veggie babies may not have a nice dirty outdoor place to move into before they peak, but they seem happy for now.

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Potted up veggies, herbs and flowers patiently waiting under the lights until they can move outdoors.

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Columbine reaching for the light.

Many have been potted up to larger pots and some have graduated to another location with less direct light as we have started to run out of space under the lights.  My wee girl has a nice sunny window and found a little greenhouse unit that has moved into her bedroom as well for her maturing flowers(she simply had to have it…and I simply couldn’t say no…) !!

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She simply HAD to have it!! We added some lights to the bottom for a little something extra…

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A few of my Wee girl’s Coleus plants happy in the sunshine! (This is about half of them…oooops!)

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Chamomile, Impatiens and Rudbeckia – also in her greenhouse…ahem…bedroom…

We have had some casualties, sadly. This weekend, as we were potting up seedlings and starting new seeds (the 6-8 week prior crowd), we found many seedlings that had been burnt by organic seaweed fertilizer. Yup, unintentional vegetable infanticide. We had diluted the fertilizer even more than the directions had stated and waited until at least 2 sets of leaves had grown, but it was still too strong and in the end, only the strong survived….fail.  The bok choi and chard were hit the hardest, with jalapeños suffering a fair amount as well.  The cauliflower and broccoli fared somewhat better, with the strongest seedlings overcoming the weaker ones.  Survival of the fittest. And unfortunately this is the second year in a row we managed to do this…double fail.

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Damage from the fertilizer – discolouration and stunted growth. I am not sure if they will pull through. Has anyone else had this issue?

My wee girl was pretty sad and after we gave the lost seedlings a little burial in the compost bin we had a big chat about the circle of life. I never expected that gardening would lead to philosophical discussions of life, death and the afterlife, but am glad that I had the opportunity for this talk to happen over vegetables before she really has to deal with a loss of someone close. So as we continue to wait, and wait, and wait for the snow to melt, at least I can pass on a few life lessons and we can peek under the lights (instead of under frost blankets) to see what’s poking up!

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“Oh yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.” ~ Rafiki (after bonking Simba on the head – probably what I deserve!

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

Obsessive Seeding Disorder (O-Seed-D)

IMG_2000Hello, I am a gardner and I have a problem. Whew, what a relief to get that off my conscience!  But I actually do not want any help getting over my condition, in fact I hope it is contagious! I wouldn’t call it an addiction, per se, I could stop if I wanted to (ha!), more of a vice (because I choose to spend many hours during my week thinking about seeds).  My husband refers to it as my obsession.  Obsessive Seeding Disorder. Guilty!

Because our growing season in Nova Scotia is roughly 20 weeks frost-free, a lot of thought has to go into what seeds I will plant, how and when they will be started and where they can be planted without getting devoured by wild life once outside.  Thankfully, Nova Scotia has a fairly large collection of gardeners who share my O-Seed-D affliction and there are many good resources to help with the daunting task of picking the right variety of seed!  I have found kindred spirits and had great conversations in the church nursery, at my daughter’s basketball games, over a glass of wine at bonfires down the street, during “meditation” time in yoga class and even during the odd moment of down time at work (I would say don’t tell my boss, but I think he is part of the club).  I have been surprised by some of the people that speak up when the topic of seeds pops up – there are many closet gardeners you would never suspect!

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My seed box and seeding journal…sigh…so beautiful!

Seed planning for this year started with seed planting last year.  I have a small journal that I keep notes in from year to year with planting dates and techniques used.  I track germination rates, successes and failures.  I make notes about what I started far too early, too late and which varieties were a complete flop so as not to repeat the same mistake twice.  Einstein proved his brilliance when he said “The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results…” That said, I often forget this quote and black out a bit when I pull out my trays – my obsession takes over and it seems entirely reasonable to start 100 tomatoes when I can only actually fit 20-30 plants in my garden! I also have a specific seeding calendar (one of the many charity ones that come in the mail) for tracking planting dates for inside and out.  I find this method using the calendar a quick and easy way to keep myself on track without too many fancy spreadsheets or by trying to keep seed packets sorted by starting dates.

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Annual Family Seed Organizing Event – (my gardening minions get to vote and veto what they didn’t like last year). Only the favourites get to go into the box and on the list for this year!

I am not a psychologist or geneticist, but I am quite certain that this condition is genetic.  My grandmother always had far too many seedlings for the amount of pots she could plant and my girls are exhibiting the same quirks to which I simply cannot say no.  Just last weekend my wee girl and I were going to seed just 12 jalapeños and 12 munchkin broccolis so they would be ready to plant out in the early tunnels. Fail.  I gave her the scoop and seed starting mix, turned my back to bleach few more cells left over from last year (to make sure there were no diseases to spread) and before I knew it I heard her counting “22, 23, 24, 25…” of each!  Some celery also managed to find it’s way into trays, and some lavender, and some columbine (because we saw those at the store and thought we may not be able to live without them any longer), and some chamomile (because we weren’t sure how we managed to live without them until now), and some Black Eyed Susans (because how could we go on living with such an unfulfilling ditch)……….you get the picture. Just one more reason to add to my list of the thousand reasons I love that little girl!

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See?! I am not alone! Thanks for the support Green Sparrow Gardens!

Selecting the variety of seed can be overwhelming – this is where seed catalogues and a support group come in.   I try to use Canadian seed as much as possible, and preferably grown by sources from the maritimes to ensure the best chances for my Nova Scotia garden.  Each catalogue has planting guides and friends who have been in “the club” for much longer than I have shared their wisdom and extra seeds freely. I have discovered some delicious veggies that I would never have tried myself simply by spreading my roots and soaking up any borrowed wisdom that comes my way.  Somehow, even reporting back how a new veggie is doing has strengthened some great relationships with truly wonderful people.

I select seed for many reasons – storing, freezing, drying, overwintering, canning.  It all started as a small summer garden in my first house and over the years has grown into…well, alright, I admit it, an obsession!  Anyone who wants to join my club is more than welcome, there is always room for more in my garden, even if I run out of space under my lights!

This is the seeding guide from Halifax Seed  and my calendar and for this year:imageimageimageimage image   

This is my veggie list for this year (sorry about the printing):

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These are my new picks (so far) for this year:

Veggies:

Peppermint Swiss Chard (Halifax Seed) – Thanks Niki!

Sub Arctic Plenty Tomatoes (Still looking…) – Thanks Brenda!

Green Envy Cherry toms (Burpees) – Thanks Wendy!

Black Plum Tomatoes (Still looking) – thanks Margeurite!

Sicilia Violetto Cauliflower (Suttons), Tonya’s Pick Pod beans (Annapolis) and Purple Sun Carrots (Suttons) for the “Purple bed”

Celebration Squash (Veseys)

Gonevese Basil (Gusto Italia)

Market Express Baby Turnip (Halifax Seed) – Never thought of turnip tops before last year – Thanks Deborah!

Flowers

Rudbeckia – Just for Debbie! (Hope Seeds)

Columbine – thanks for posting that picture last year Selena! (McKenzie)

Climbing vine and Ladybird Cream Purple Spot Nasturtium (McKenzie)

German Chamomile (Burpees)

Perennial Dianthus (from our own seed)

Have a look at the Borrowed Wisdom section for my favourite East Coast Resources

” An addiction to gardening is not at all bad when you consider all the other choices in life” ~ Cora Lee Bell

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