Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Calamity on Blueberry Hill

We’ve had some incredibly high winds here on the south coast lately.  Mother Earth flexing her muscles.

My house sits on a slight hill on a 20 acre blueberry farm just outside of Langley, B.C.  Because of this subtle elevation, it always feels windy, even when the surrounding treetops are still.  And so, when the wind really pipes up, its effects are doubly felt on my little plot.

Calamity struck while I was away.  Returning late, in darkness, from a visit to Vancouver Island, (lucky to get home with BC Ferry cancellations due to high winds), I didn’t see the damage until the following morning.

The Damage

One third of the tree has fallen to the right.  The second third has fallen to the left.  The remaining third is still upright.

I’m not even sure what kind of tree it is.  Nor am I a tree surgeon.

Thank goodness for the experts…….

Buddy:  ”It looks bad.  Real bad.”

Freddy:  ”Nah! Just a minor flesh wound.  Fuhgettabout it.”

While I don’t own the property, and the surrounding trees are my landlord’s responsibility, I feel a gardener’s compulsion to come to the aid of all sick or dying plants.  Call me “Saint Francis of Assisi”, I just hate looking out my window and seeing this poor tree in distress.  My landlord has inspected it several times, circling the tree solemnly in his black rubber boots.  But the limbs remain, hanging like dislocated arms, crying out for a compassionate amputation.

It’s all I can do to refrain from calling out my window, “Gangrene, dear sir!  We must stop the gangrene!”

Happy Earth Day, everyone.

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Green Porno

Thanks to a little visit to yesterday, I discovered a post by Garden Brae which included a link to “Green Porno” a series of films all written by and starring Isabella Rossellini.  Produced for the Sundance Channel, each short is approximately one minute long and dramatizes the life-cycle of a featured garden insect. They are intended to be educational and entertaining and admittedly, a little shocking.

“Green Porno” is definitely wacky, but a lot of fun.  Take a look.  Let your inner child laugh out loud, but don’t be surprised if the prude in you is dumb-founded.

Green Porno: “If I Were an Earthworm”

So?  What do you think?  Inspired film-making or gratuitous drivel?

Why don’t you check out another one to help you decide…

Green Porno:  ”If I Were a Bee”

What do you think?  Bizarre?  Hilarious?  Offensive?  Or just plain stupid?

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

After all these years living on the west coast, I’ve never experienced The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in Washington State.  Until, that is, last weekend.

Spurred on by Stevie’s magnificent montage of photos on her blog, Garden Therapy, I packed a picnic lunch, charged up my Nikon battery, and spent a warm spring day tiptoeing through the tulips.

Fun Tulip Facts

Tulips did not originally come from Holland.  They were introduced to western Europe from Turkey, by the Ottoman Empire.

The Dutch Royal Family sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa in 1945. The gift was to say thank you for sheltering Princess Juliana and her daughters during Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

Tulips belong to the Liliaceae family. They share this family with onions, garlic, asparagus, Amaryllis and lilies.

The tulip is the official symbol of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. A Dutch horticulturalist named a tulip in honour of Dr. James Parkinson and his work on the disease.  The Foundation adopted the tulip as its symbol in 1980.

Tulips are edible. You can add the petals to salads.  At the end of WWII, many Dutch were forced to eat tulip bulbs out of hunger.  They roasted the bulbs in the oven, (first removing the centre of the bulb which is poisonous), and ground the bulb into a meal-like flour to make into loaves of bread.  A Dutch man who was interviewed on CBC radio likens the taste to ‘wet sawdust’.  Hmm, think I’ll stick to onions and garlic.

One More Fun Tulip Fact

Tulipmania, the craze that hit Holland in the mid-1600’s, was caused by a virus in the tulip bulb. The virus, known as a mosaic virus, caused the tulips to grow in vibrant colours with unique lines and flames in the petals.

The infected bulbs sold for astronomical prices, but the the bulbs weren’t stable and didn’t produce the same effects the following year, and so the market crashed.

Canadian Tulip Festival

We Canadians have our own tulip festival in Ottawa, Ontario.  The Canadian Tulip Festival runs from May 7 to 24, and claims to be the largest tulip festival in the world.

With more than one million tulips, the displays stretch from Commissioner’s Park at Dow’s Lake to Parliament Hill, and then across the Ottawa River to Gatineau Park, Quebec.

As for me, I’ve never stood in fields of colour like this before.  It feels like a sacred communion with Mother Earth, even though I know the fields are planted by farmers and cultivated for market.  The expanse, the scale of it, is impressive, and also strangely comforting.

Clearly, the visit left its mark.  The next day, home from the fields, I wrote this poem (and trust me, writing poetry is a very new thing for me!):

When I open my mouth to speak

A mist of butterflies

Flutter like wishes

- delicate and fragile – up from my belly

and across my tongue,

On wings

of riotous colour,

returning to the air.

If you live on the west coast, The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is truly not to be missed.  The fields are nearly finished for this year, but I strongly urge you to mark your calendars for next year.  The festival runs annually during the month of April.

And for anyone who calls Ontario home, get on over to the Canadian Tulip Festival!  The photos on their website look amazing.

Friday, April 16th, 2010

A Carrot For All Seasons

As a relative newbie in the veggie patch, I was a little doubtful about growing carrots year round.  Way too much work for sketchy results, I thought.

But then I discovered seedtape at my local garden centre which took all the hard work out of growing carrots.  Now I’m a convert.  With minimal effort, I can have carrots coming out of my ears all year round.  The best part is it doesn’t take a whole lot more energy than planting and growing in the summer.

Here’s everything you need to know about growing carrots year round:

1.  Wet is wonderful

Ducks and frogs agree.  Wet is good.

Above all else, carrot seeds hate drying out.  Carrot seeds germinate very slowly (between 14-21 days) so if you’re sowing seed in summer, a good way to keep them moist is to lay wet newspaper on top of the damp soil.

Start checking your seeds around the 14 day mark by lifting the newspaper, and once you see the wispy green fronds poking through the soil, you can relax a little.

As your carrots mature, make sure you keep up with a regular watering schedule.  If not given enough water, carrots will fork as their roots search for additional moisture.

2.  Timing is everything

Falling in love.  Telling a good joke.  Yup, just like the other things in life, timing is everything when it comes to sowing seed.  If you’re a little confused about planting dates, like I was, here’s all you need to know to be guaranteed a continuous carrot crop:

For Summer Eatin’ – Plant from March to May for summer harvesting (June-Sept).

For Winter Feedin’ – Plant in early July for winter harvesting (Oct-May).

As you can see, the window for planting carrots is actually pretty wide.  The thing to remember is that if you’re planting for a winter crop, make sure you plant early enough to ensure they are fully grown before the winter comes.  You can leave them in the ground and just dig them up as you need them.  Pretty cool, eh?  Mother nature’s sophisticated storage system!

(My apologies.  I’m a west-coaster.  If you’re planting outside the pacific coastal region, you’d be best to consult a planting guide that relates to your area.)

3.  Stagger, stagger, stagger

Staggering your carrot seeding so that you’re not inundated with them all at once is a smart gardening move.

a.  Plant a few feet of carrots instead of an entire row, and then plant another few feet again 2-3 weeks later.

b.  As generous as it feels to unload –I mean, share– your 18 bushels of carrots with your unsuspecting friends and neighbours, it’s more responsible to grow only what you know you can reliably eat yourself.  Not only will you use less water, you’re also more likely to lavish better care and attention on a smaller, more manageable crop.

c.  You can still donate your surplus crops to your local food bank — staggering your seeding dates just makes it easier.

4.  Turn, turn, for every season

In other words, crop rotation.  The carrot, onion and mustard families are the most important crops to rotate every year.  This is because they’re most at risk from root insects and diseases in the soil.  They also deplete nutrients that can be easily replenished by growing different crops in that location the following year.

a.  Ideally, try to wait three years before planting carrots back in their original location.

b.  Good carrot chasers (veggies to plant the following year in place of carrots) are beets, spinach, swiss chard, endive and lettuce.

c.  Better yet, integrate your carrots into your perennial borders.  The wispy tops of carrots are fantastic foliage for contrasting with broadleaf plants like hostas.

5. Choose a great cultivar

A ‘cultivar’ is plant lingo for ‘variety’, which are plants that we humans have genetically manipulated to give us desirable characteristics.  Like broad shoulders and being kind to strangers.

a.  For summer there are so many great cultivars, although I especially like the coreless “Scarlet Nantes’ which has tender, bright orange flesh with lovely delicate flavour.

b.  For overwintering, you can try the cold-hardy “Autumn King” and “Yaya”.  Don’t worry too much about finding a hardy variety for winter.  You can overwinter any carrot variety.

c.  Try experimenting with different varieties until you find one that you love.  (You’ll have less choice if you’re buying seedtape.)

d.  Dig up any remaining overwintered carrots by April so that they don’t start growing again.

So there you have it.  A few tips for growing carrots all year long.  It really doesn’t have to be a lot of work.  And until you’ve tasted the stunning sweetness of a carrot pulled from your own garden – in the dead of winter – you haven’t really tasted a carrot!

Now that I’ve shared what I’ve learned about carrots, I’d love to hear about any of your techniques. Do you have a great carrot-growing tip?