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?!

 

 

 

We have germination, OUTDOORS!!

Take that Mother Nature! It has snowed, gone below zero, rained every day this week and been down right, unseasonably, unthinkably yucky. But under the frost blankets and hoop tunnels, we have germination!! Not much, not all, and not quickly, but we have it. The seedlings we planted under the hoops are also happy and thriving, whew!

Score Tally: Us = 2, Mother Nature = 0… The “Spring that Wasn’t” saga continues…

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Lovely little green veggie babies snuggled under their blankie…kind of cute, hey? These were planted 10 days ago.

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And under the hoops the big brother and sister seedlings are going strong!  Not much germination yet, but they were only planted on Sunday.  Can you spot the lone Bok Choi poking up?

Under the hoops are Taunus, Detriot Dark Red Supreme, Chioggia and First Crop beets, Rainbow mix and Napoli carrots, Cherry Belle and Easter Egg radish, Bok Choi, Peppermint and Bright Lights Swiss Chard, Ragged Jack and Dinosaur Kale, red and white onion sets, Giant Musselborough Leek, overwintered hard neck garlic and Butter Crunch lettuce.

I hope they all stay alive and that more join them soon!

“Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love and something to hope for.” ~ Joseph Addison

Finally Filthy Fingernails

The sun is out, the glaciers are receding and I have proof of life after all of that snow!  The gardens are slowly melting and and revealing their treasures (no sign of the veggie garden yet….).  What else would I do but dig?!

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Slowly receding snow banks force me to pace myself…which is good because I hate weeding…

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The problem with not really knowing how to garden is that I don’t really know what I planted and what I should pull out…Oooops!

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Hair cuts for the Goji berries , lavender and oregano!

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Even my wee girl’s flowers came out for a coffee and some sunshine – the snow in the background makes me giggle as I sit in my short sleeves and rubber boots…

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Big hands with happy, filthy fingernails, finally!!

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Can’t wait for more life to pop!

“I don’t want to drive up to the pearly gates in a shiny sports car, wearing beautifully, tailored clothes, my hair expertly coiffed, and with long, perfectly manicured fingernails.
I want to drive up in a station wagon that has mud on the wheels from taking kids to scout camp.
I want to be there with a smudge of peanut butter on my shirt from making sandwiches for a sick neighbors children.  I want to be there with a little dirt under my fingernails from helping to weed someone’s garden. I want to be there with children’s sticky kisses on my cheeks and the tears of a friend on my shoulder. 

I want the Lord to know I was really here and that I really lived.”

~ Marjorie Pay Hinckley

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!

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

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!)

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

Seeds, Weeds and Dreams

IMG_0841The first post in a (hopefully) series of gardening ramblings…ahem…memoirs…seems a lot like trying to pick out seeds for the first time of the season.  I haven’t a clue what the garden will turn out like this year, no idea what will grow well and what will fail, which varieties will thrive in our wacky weather or if an early July hurricane will leave me crying in my bean patch having to decide whether to start over or pack it all in.  Just as when opening up my seed catalogues for the first time in the dregs of January, the first question is – Where in Heaven’s name do I start?

Me, I guess.  I am a thirty something, working mother of 2 very busy girls who fill my heart to bursting. I love to watch them grow and develop as I try my best to feed and nurture them, weeding through what is needed for them to blossom into kind, caring, spiritually rooted young ladies who respect themselves, others and our environment. I have an extremely understanding hubby who lets us turn the house into an indoor incubation station, a legal “grow-up” with plant lighting the neighbours can see 5 doors down at night, a porch plant nursery and he pretends that he cares as much about our “veggie babies” as we do.  Plus he willingly helps out with the heavy lifting and looks really good while he does it!  And of course, I have the cutest fur-baby ever who welcomes one and all for a visit and a snuggle and guards the garden from the sinister rabbits and deer.  I am pretty blessed.

I have no formal training in horticulture, am too distractible to really be bothered to learn the “proper” way of doing things and thoroughly enjoy just spending time experimenting in growing – vegetables, flowers, shrubs, relationships with anyone who will spend some time with me in the dirt or enjoying what comes of out of it…

I don’t suppose to have any answers or wisdom, just passion to share with those who are willing to spend some time with my thoughts – who knows maybe someone else will become a bit more inspired in the end.

Ramblings…ahem…memoirs will simply chronicle my sometimes successful, sometimes not-so-successful attempts at planting roots of all sorts in the beautiful place I call home, Nova Scotia.