Saturday, 13 October 2012

Getting in the garlic!

Our summer was full of unexpected hurdles-moving houses, digging and planting a whole new garden & then a serious drought-we didn't have rain for over ten weeks straight!

It meant Andy taking a bunch of ten gallon jugs to the lake every other day, filling them with water and then hand-watering the garden at night after work. Suffice it to say that the garden was way more work than we'd been expecting this year-but now that the harvest is almost all in, it's all worth it.

I have lots of catching up to do as I haven't posted here for such a long it's October and it's high time to plant our garlic.


Look at these giant, beautiful cloves! We didn't have our own garlic, so I bought a bunch of organic garlic from the farm I work at part-time, Everdale Organic Farm.

We haven't planted garlic before, so we researched the best methods for planting. It's best to plant in the fall, about a month before the ground freezes-so we picked a sunny fall day and made it happen!

I got the kids to help me out. They got mildly excited about breaking the cloves apart; the promise of a treat after also didn't hurt...except for Lily. I don't need to bribe her yet. She just likes doing anything her big brothers are up to.

I dug over a couple of rows that were empty, and we started planting them-about 6 inches apart, blunt end first, and about 2 inches deep.

The kids actually got into the planting part-we said we were putting the little garlic 'men' to bed with their pointy stocking caps pointing up, and their round bums down...of course much hilarity ensued every time the boys said 'bum'...over and over again!

Lily tried to plant her apple.


Apparently Lily found it all very tiring, so she decided to have a wee nap while the boys were finishing up.
Now if she would only nod off so quickly at night time!  

The last step is covering the row with mulch, which helps to protect the garlic from freezing while it's napping through the winter. We used organic pine bark mulch that someone gave us, but you can use a thick layer of straw or leaves. You can also layer on some compost in the fall before you add the mulch, or you can add it in the early spring. As our compost still has some decomposing to do, we'll remove the mulch in the spring, add some compost, then put the mulch back on again. We'll leave it on all summer to help the soil stay moist and encourage earthworm activity. We'll just make sure all the new shoots can poke their heads through the mulch.

Daniel actually really got into filling the bucket with mulch and dumping it-he told me " This isn't boring anymore, Mom. This doesn't feel like work-it's fun!" Kids-go figure. The part of the job that I thought would be the hardest for the kids was the most fun for him. This could bode well for the future. Maybe I'll let him take over next time and I'll join Lily- and the little garlic men- for a siesta!

Friday, 13 July 2012

Gardening in drought conditions

As we enter into over a  month now of drought condtions in Ontario, there are many places in North America that are even harder hit.
While most of us are conscious that global warming is happening and affecting us more from year to year, it's still shocking to see how rapidly our climate seems to be changing. There have been record setting highs this month throughout North America, and many farms have suffered irreparable damage for this season. In fact, the USDA has declared this the biggest disaster in the agency’s history as crops dwindle. Many regions in the US have been declared natural disaster zones, due to the loss of crops, and farmers will be receiving low-interest loans to help buoy them through this difficult time.
According to a report from CNN today, half of America's pastures and ranges are in poor or very poor condition, up from 28% in mid-June.

Our tomato garden

The past 12 months have been the warmest the United States has experienced since the dawn of record-keeping in 1895, the National Climatic Data Centre said earlier this week. Of course, this drought will have repercussions internationally. Since 75% of grocery store products use corn as a key ingredient, expect food prices to skyrocket. Corn is also a staple in many fast foods. Corn is in ethanol and the main food source for chickens. In addition to this, maize is in many things that aren't obvious like adhesives, aluminum, aspirin, clothing starch, cosmetics, cough syrup, dry cell batteries, envelopes, fibreglass insulation, gelatin capsules, ink, insecticides, paint, penicillin, powders, rugs and carpets, stamps, talcum, toothpaste, wallpaper, and vitamins.

We consciously try to buy products that don't have GM corn listed in their ingredients, but it really is difficult, as so many products have corn as an ingredient. Perhaps this emergency will force people to take a closer look at the monoculture we have created in North America, and how vulnerable this has made us in regards to our dependence on one crop.

This drought has left most of our gardens crying for rain, but it is all the more important to try and save our gardens this year, as food prices will rise drastically in the coming months. The projected rise in food costs is an important indication of why it is so important to raise your own food. We're been trying to water consistently, but as the water levels become lower in our area, we also have to conserve water.

Often when plants appear wilted they have already experienced stress, so it's important to water consistently. We're now filling jugs from our local lake to water our garden, in order to not use too much water from the well on the property where the garden is.

There are some important measures to take to help your garden in such times of low water, to help avoid stress among the plants. It's important to make sure that there are not a lot of weeds competing with your plants for water. It's also important that soil be of good quality, full of organic matter to retain water and to provide maximum nutrients to the root system.

Another important method of conserving water is to mulch your garden well.
"Mulch is by far the best way to preserve the water in your soil and can be a very effective way of feeding your soil and regulating growing temperatures. Mulch can be almost anything: straw, grass clippings, corn cobs, river stones, pea gravel, chipped bricks, bark chips, leaves, peat moss, seaweed, wood ashes, sawdust and so on. Mulch helps preserve water and regulate the temperature in your soil and, if organic, feeds your soil. All that organic matter keeps your soil loose so that it can retain moisture and promote root growth." -Gardening Channel

This article has great tips for keeping your garden alive during a drought, so be sure to have a look at the other tips it offers. We've been using cedar mulch for our most sensitive plants, such as onions, carrots, beets and lettuce; all those vegetables that prefer cooler weather.

We're just figuring this out as we go along; we'd love to hear how others out there are dealing with this drought!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Squashing bugs!

The other day as I was admiring our rapidly growing tomato garden, I was appalled by the site of a bunch of these horrid creatures munching away at a few of the tomato plants. (I'm referring to the orange slimy thing in the photo above, not this charming creature below!)

My bug pickers-just the right height to get these pests off of the tomatoes!

They were pretty repulsive looking and I had no idea what they were. I picked off all the ones that I could find, relieved that they were only on four plants out of the 60 or more tomato plants that we have growing, and dropped them in a jar of water. Then I sqashed them all, but kept one wrapped in plastic in a jar.

Our tomato garden is doing well...except for these repulsive orange intruders!

I went online and googled 'orange and black bug eating my tomatoes' and came up with all sorts of images of various orange and black bugs. Man, how many orange and black bugs are out there? It's a bit depressing...what one will show up next?!

Apparently these ones are the larvae of  Colorado Potato Beetles, and both the larvae and the adult beetles are voracious eaters of eggplant, pepper, potato and tomato. A little far from Colorado, aren't you guys? Let me help you pack your bags-it's time to head on back to the Rocky Mountains!

Chowing down on a tomato leaf in our garden
 The adult beetles stay in the soil over the winter and emerge when they catch a whiff of their favorite foods to eat. They then chomp away at the leaves, laying eggs underneath, and the nasty young larvae soon appear on the scene.
This is a good example of why it's important to rotate your garden, as the beetle won't find his ideal menu growing when he wakes up the next year in that spot. Because we're growing our tomatoes in a new garden, built up where our friends grew their garden last year, I'm sure we've discovered a spot where the beetle fed on something it enjoyed last year. We won't grow tomatoes in the same place next year so hopefully this will help to combat them in the future.

That's a big hole-this orange villain had to go!

Apparently a large number of them can really damage a plant, but if you act fast by removing them and their eggs by hand, there shouldn't be too much of a problem with larger infestations later in the season. The beetles or larvae should be destroyed, and then sprayed with neem oil. This natural insecticide made of oil from the Neem tree can also help to repel them. We spray neem oil on most of our plants to help repel insects, as it seems to work to a large extent and it's a natural alternative to chemical insecticides, which of course we won't be using.

Today I decided to vanquish all the larvae that I could find (haven't seen any adult beetles) by bringing in the reinforcements!

Who better to pick off these slimy creatures than my two boys, who were already equipped with their bug boxes, looking for something to examine. It doesn't hurt that these bug patrollers are the perfect height to find these creatures and pick them off!

Of course there was some fighting over who got the most larvae and whose turn it was to pick each new larva that was spotted.

That was nothing over the excitement that ensued when I told them that they were required to SQUASH all of those slimy orange larvae!

They're used to me telling them that insects are all beneficial in some way, and that we should NOT hurt them, so this squash fest was a blast for these boys!

 The messy aftermath. It had to happen-tomatoes win out over larvae in our world!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Act today to stop the Environmental Destruction Bill C-38

Urgent for all Canadians! There is still time to contact your MP and tell them to vote against Bill C-38, being voted on today through June 15th. This is a bill that will fundamentally alter many of our environmental laws and commitments in Canada, including those involving seeds.

Read on to learn more about this bill and see how you can have your voice heard and make a difference. You can call and email your MP today (they're voting on this as we speak-more info here) and tell them to vote against this bill. Here is info on finding and contacting your MP. I called my MP in Ottawa today and emailed him. If just 13 conservative MPs vote against this bill, it will not go through. If our MPs are deluged with calls today and tomorrow, they will take notice. You can also sign a petition or take action in other ways here. Use your voice to make a difference today!

One of the fundamental aspects of life is that seeds from plants continue to propagate and nourish us year after year. This is a photo of Daniel this week. He's holding an ear of organic corn that we saved and dried from last year so that we could plant it now in our garden.

The boys were amazed that they could take kernels from an ear of corn and plant them directly in the garden. They remembered planting the original organic corn last year, watching it grow and harvesting it, so they have a real connection to this corn, and to the whole process.

We can no longer take it for granted that we'll always be able to keep seeds from year to year and grow them with our children. More and more farmers are being targeted for unknowingly having genetically modified (GM) seeds from Monsanto in their gardens, seeds that mixed with their own through natural processes such as travel by wind and animals from farms where GM seeds were used. These seeds are patented by Monsanto and farmers are not allowed to re-seed their land with these seeds. See more about this issue on the Canadian Organic Growers page, where they discuss their ongoing battle against Monsanto.

Today, June 13th, our Canadian MPs are in Ottawa voting on Bill C-38. Among the many disturbing proposed changes to our environmental laws, this bill will change the Canada Seeds Act.This is being revamped so the job of inspecting seed crops is transferred from Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors to “authorized service providers", the private sector. This will essentially mean that the private sector that produces GM seeds will now be monitoring itself, instead of under the scrutiny of our government.

The misnamed Budget Implementation Act, Bill C-38, brings in sweeping changes to Canada's environmental laws. Fully 30% of the 420 page bill is actually not about the budget at all.

Instead, it attacks environmental legislation, repealing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and introducing an entirely new approach to environmental assessment. It also re-writes the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act. It also repeals the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, and cancels outright the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.

This will forever change Canada's natural environment with devastating effects on our future, and that of our children. Find our more information on Bill C-38 here.

The Top 5 Reasons why C-38 will devastate Canada’s environment

  1. It repeals the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and introduces a weaker version, without a single day of hearings before the environment committee.
  2. It removes protection of endangered species and their habitat, when approving pipeline projects, by amending the Species at Risk Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
  3. It guts the Fisheries Act by removing provisions for habitat protection.
  4. It repeals the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act.
  5. It eliminates the National Round Table on Environment and Economy.

This revealing article from The Globe and Mail gives insight into the devastation that is already being visited upon Native communities in Canada because of unrestrained practises in the oil industry.

Elizabeth May's website gives more info on the process that will be taking place over the next few days. Here is an excerpt:

Q: What happens now?
A: Final debate on Bill C-38 should start on June 12th and last three days, until June 15th. During that time, the Speaker of the House of Commons should rule on Elizabeth May’s Point of Order (, asking him to throw out Bill C-38 on grounds that it is not a true omnibus bill and is ‘imperfect’.
If the Speaker rules against Elizabeth May, voting on all opposition amendments should start late Wednesday.

Q: How many votes will there be?
A: There are over 870 amendments to Bill C-38 before Parliament. Thus, at most, there will be about 870 votes. However, the Speaker has the power to group amendments that appear to be similar in nature. For example, he could lump all of the ‘deletions’ together, which could reduce the number of votes to around 300.

Q: How long should voting take?
A: Assuming it takes about 15 minutes for each vote to be cast, and if there are 300 amendments, it will take just over three days for voting to be completed. If there are 870 votes, even if each vote took only 10 minutes each, it would last six days!

Q: Six days of voting? Couldn’t MPs just sit in the House of Commons later to speed this up?
A: Once voting starts, it continues 24/7 until it is done, including weekends and holidays. Unless MPs give unanimous consent to a motion that somehow ends the process early, the vote will continue until completed.

Q: Sitting at their seat for three to six days? Don’t they have to eat? Sleep? Shower? Go to the washroom?!?!
A: Yes they do, and MPs can skip a vote, or multiple votes, to do exactly that. However, with a majority of only a dozen MPs, if thirteen Conservative MPs missed a vote and ALL opposition parties were present, it’s possible that an amendment can pass.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The last row!

Amazing! After four weeks of hard work, we've finished digging our new garden! Ok, well, Andy finished digging...I was more the resident planter and planner, and Andy was the muscle behind the operation. This man deserves a vacation, after digging two giant garden beds at the new farm for four weekends straight, as well as after work at night-and he works hard all day at his day job!

Here's the view of the big garden-38 rows planted and starting to sprout!

We've definitely felt like we're on a deadline, as it's getting so late in the season. If you recall from previous posts, we had planted a large part of our garden already, and even started planting early in the season. We felt that we had a good start and were excited about having so much done already, when our landlord suddenly told us in mid-May that he was selling our house and we'd have to leave.
We weren't sure what we would do, or where we could move to that we could continue our country living dream!
Thankfully, our wonderful friends Katie and Mike generously offered to rent us their house, located just down the road from us, and told us that we could start planting our garden right away! Thanks to them, all was not lost, and we've tried to make up for lost time over the last month.

We decided to plant in two areas at the new place; here's a photo of the space that most recently served as Mike's hockey rink in the winter! It's a great flat space, about 80 ft. x 50 ft. with lots of sun all day, but the soil was packed down hard so we decided to till it with a rototiller.

We had to face the fact that we had a lot of work ahead of us. Overcoming that mental hump was the first step! Last year we had a local farmer come and plow out our garden bed for us, and Andy spent weeks digging the raised beds. This year we thought we had a head start, as we wouldn't have to prepare the beds, but only have to plant in the garden from last year. Clearly, such a leisurely summer was not in the plan! Once we knew we'd have to make a whole new garden again, we just started working at it every spare moment we had. Andy borrowed a rototiller and spent days tilling the soil.

We were so thankful for our friend Matt who gave up his Saturday to come and help us...and practised some risky farming by rototilling in his bare feet! Thanks for the help, Matt!

Matt's daughter Clara was a welcome new addition to the junior gardener crew!

Thanks to Katie's amazing dad who kindly tilled the whole other garden bed for us, we didn't have to rototill the other space, so Andy concentrated on creating raised beds and I planted our tomato seedlings, along with companion plants- basil, marigolds and thyme.

While Andy was busy rototilling and digging, I followed, planting, planting, planting! We had some good moments with our junior gardeners as they helped to get the seeds in.

We had some sweltering days, so breaks under the beautiful, huge horse chestnut tree were a usual occurrence!

Our dear friend Indra came and helped for a Saturday; we definitely appreciated her help planting and laying mulch. Her positive energy actually had the kids excited about mulching!

It's so much more fun gardening with friends!

Now that almost everything is planted, I'll get caught up on some posts about what we've been doing with our planting...more to come on the fabulous worlds of mulching, building soil, companion planting, pest control...and how to get kids excited about gardening!

No time to rest-we have a summer of weeding, mulching, pest control and watering ahead...and hopefully, finally some eating!!