Monthly Archives: July 2012

Tough love, part 2

Last night I’d been reading that some of the brown spots on the tomato leaves may be early signs blight. So this morning I sprayed the leaves  as well as those of the zucchini with some diluted milk and poured the rest into the soil. I read about this idea in the book You grow girl by Gayla Trail (it’s also on her website of the same name). Milk is apparently a potent antifungal. Who knew?

Milk, does a plant good too!

In one of her posts, Gayla uses spoiled milk but says in response to her post on the subject that regular milk can be used as well. My family drink a lot of milk (I only really crave it when I have cookies) so it rarely goes bad. I also went a bit crazy with removing suckers, accidentally removing some that had flowers on them. Flowers that would have become tomatoes. My brother was not impressed.

Continuing with tough love, as planned, I removed the nine calendula flowers crowding the zucchini. The space was a housing tons of earwigs and a cucumber beetle! I’m so glad I removed them  if only to find this out. Earwigs are helpful in the garden, getting rid of debris, but they can also attack your plants.  And the cucumber beetle will harm your curcurbits (ie. gourds such as squash and cucumbers).

No longer a hiding place for earwigs and cucumber beetles

I was so happy to see them scatter when I pulled out the calendula. I not only improved the circulation around the zucchini, but I also took away a pest hiding place. Yes! Hopefully the zucchini will recover and start to make fruit.

Now to find a home for 9 Calendula flowers

We easily removed the giant sunflower from the front of the plot and I planted 4 of the calendula in its place, 2 where the carrots were planted next to the sunflower, and 3 next to the cornflowers, which are finally starting to bloom. I was going with the idea of 4 plants per square (it seemed like logical spacing). This plant is very delicate! Several leaves broke off as I planted them, making a hollow crunching sound like snapping off a piece of celery.

Calendula take stage left, former space of sunflower and carrots

Red and yellow nasturtiums, blue cornflowers, and once they bloom, orangey-yellow calendula

Saw this cool bug that looked like a leaf. I did a Google search for “insect that looks like a leaf” and came up with a katydid. I wonder if that’s what this is:

Can you see the leaf-mimicking insect?

Harvested mostly carrots today and a few more zucchini blossoms. The carrots were pretty good and I had the blossoms on my pita pizza. They had disintegrated when I washed them with my harvest from yesterday. I have tons to basil and I’m not sure what to do with it. I’m not a fan of pesto. I might just them to my green smoothie.

Beautiful carrots

This cucumber did not need my help. It scaled the nearby sunflower to become the tallest plant in the plot. Good job and great companion planting advice (see July 5th visit)! I’ve seen at least 3 baby cucumbers on my 4 plants. It doesn’t sound like much, but to see any is fabulous. Things are looking up!

This cucumber is now the tallest plant in the plot!

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Tough love

In my Hot and Humid post, I said I was looking forward to the results of the rain that happened last Sunday afternoon. I expected that the garden would flourish. I was not prepared to hear my brother come home Monday morning and say, “the tomatoes and zucchini are dying.” What?! It wasn’t until I made it up there Wednesday night that I understood what he meant. Many of the tomato leaves and some zucchini leaves had turned yellow.

Tomato leaves, yellowing and shriveled

My neighbour to the north said it was probably nothing as it was common for the bottom leaves to become yellow as they weren’t receiving enough sun. The leaves seemed pretty high up to me. He observed some yellow leaves on his plants as well and said he would ask his tomato-expert friend. Later that evening I received an email from him saying that the friend advised that it was probably “plant stress due to varied watering” – not enough, which he told me was causing the shriveled leaves, then too much on Sunday, and then a new pattern now. He suggested letting up on the watering for a few days to see what happens and that if that didn’t work, it might mean something else. He also suggested I tie up my tomato plants to prevent them from being damaged in future rains. I didn’t have any twine, so I used the plastic bag that held the eggshells I put down and tied up one branch that was hanging out of the plot.

Ghetto twine, only temporary

The yellowing didn’t seem so bad this morning, and my brother had continued with watering once a day in the morning despite my neighbour to the north’s suggestion.  As my brother watered and I harvested mostly basil, we chatted with our neighbour to the east. I complimented him on the string work he had done with his beans. It was like a work of art.

My neighbour’s beans. If it was a house I’d live in it.

I tied up the borage plant that was shading my basil and parsley and we began to tie the tomatoes to their stakes. I noticed that at least one of the tomato plants had more fruit that were quite healthy looking. My brother seems to think that some look like they might be changing to a lighter green/yellow colour. Could we have some yellow pear soon?

More tomatoes, and they’re looking pretty healthy

We chatted about the importance of air circulation for preventing diseases. I’d been reading that powdery mildew in zucchini plants could be caused by high humidity and poor air circulation. My neighbour to the north had white spots on his zucchini, but his are in cages and they were properly spaced so I ruled that his problem was due to the humid weather. My problem was definitely overcrowding. Coupled with the humid weather, I was setting the plants up for trouble.  So I instilled some serious tough love and removed the basil plants that were hiding under some of the leaves and removed some of the zucchini leaves that were looking pretty poorly as my neighbour to the east suggested.

Yellow zucchini leaf, and probably powdery mildew

No room for these two extra zucchini plants. Had to pull them up. Tough love.

Sadly, I knocked off one of the few tiny zucchini and now it seems there is only one left among the many male flowers. Damn.

Many male flowers, one lone zucchini

After detaching them from the nearby tomato and nasturium, we trailed two of the four cucumber plants up a stake (the other two had been climbing the nearby sunflower, which was OK). We noticed that we had some cucumbers after all! I hope they make it.


A shaded cucumber

After some tough love and general maintenance, the garden is looking much better and I’m feeling more confident that there’s better air circulation. Tomorrow morning we’re going to transplant the calendula flowers that are also hidden under the zucchini leaves to another part of the plot. The flowers have been struggling and dying off.

Still looks like madness, but much better air circulation and better supported plants

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My gardening bibles

These are the books I use as resources to guide my gardening practice:

Square foot gardening by Mel Bartholomew – An excellent practical guide for an overall space saving planting system. I like this version better than All new square foot gardening because it’s more detailed.

You grow girl by Gayla Trail – Great for affordable and nifty tips and tricks as well as and creative ways of enjoying your gardening experience, including making your own body products from plants in your garden. Focus on container gardening.

Grow great grub by Gayla Trail – same as above except the focus is on growing food in and out of containers. The recipes are for consuming rather than making body products.

Great garden companions by Sally Jean Cunningham – Detailed advice on companion planting. The drawings are beautiful and so is her garden!

Carrots love tomatoes by Louise Riotte is a classic. Many many authors either quote or recommend her companion planting wisdom in their resource list (I’ve only breezed through it in the past). I’ve used other resources but these are the ones I turn to most often.

8 x 4 square feet of heaven

There are so many intricacies to a successful garden, I find I can only focus on a few things each year. This year I’ve begun to seriously look at dealing with pests and preventing disease beyond companion planting methods. For example, I’ve put down egg shells to deter slugs and snails and used milk in the soil around my tomatoes to prevent disease. Eventually I’d like to get into preserving methods such as canning and drying herbs. It would also be fun to make my own body products.

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Hot and humid

It’s been really humid this summer. I’m noticing that plants such as the borage and tomatoes that were so chipper and upstanding last year are looking limp and sad. It thunderstormed yesterday afternoon, bringing much needed rain. As a fellow gardener said to his friend: “If I don’t water, it won’t rain.” I watered in the morning as well and as I watched the downpour I worried that my plants might have gotten too much water. But I’m looking forward to seeing the results of the rain. You can water as much as you want, but it’s only after the rains that plants really flourish. It must be the nutrients in the rain. I don’t have much nutrient-rich kelp meal left,  so I’ve been saving it for when I plant the fall crops.
While at the garden, I picked the first zucchini of the season.  It was small, about 7 inches long, but firm with very few blemishes. My family enjoyed it raw in a bean salad. Very nice.

First zucchini of the season!

There are a lot of male flowers  on my zucchini plants (the female flowers are at the end of the zucchini). I picked two, one of which was housing about 6 earwigs (I shook the flower and they fell out). I’ve been reading online that you can batter, stuff, and fry them up and that they taste divine. I might just try it or a less labour-intensive baked version.

A male zucchini flower ready for harvest, with some young zucchini in the background

Gardening is definitely giving me an appreciation and  a comfort level around bugs. I used to be really creeped out by earwigs, in particular, when I was younger. I can say this year they don’t bother me so much.

Earwigs hiding in basil leaves

I managed to photograph the very beautiful cucumber beetle exploring a cucumber flower. I’ve had a hard time killing these little buggers, they fly away so quickly. I’ve been a bit obsessed with trying to photograph as well as kill them. I’m  glad none of them have managed to damage my zucchini. I’ve read online that you can plant radishes near cucumbers to repel the beetle so I planted some Hon Vit radish from my Spicy Salad Mix package. You can also lay down onion skins. I don’t know how effective these interventions are so we’ll see what happens. Apparently the Marketmore cucumber I planted are disease resistant. I guess that’s not the same as pest resistant.

Cucumber beetle explores cucumber flower

Incidentally I’ve been wondering when I will start seeing cucumbers. Turns out they can take anywhere from 55 to 70 days, which I had forgotten. This is length of time is disappointing, but reassuring that my lack of fruit at this stage is perfectly normal. I think I planted around the beginning of June so I should see fruit around the beginning of September.

I’ve been quite lax with picking off the suckers of my tomato plants. Some of them have already turned into long branches with flowers so I picked off the ones without flowers. I’ve noticed on one plant that the bottoms leaves are spreading out across the ground.  I remember reading somewhere that you should remove the leaves close to the ground but I can’t remember why. Many of the forums I’ve looked at today say that removing the bottom leaves increases fruit yields, that they should be removed if they are yellow, and that because they are close to the ground they could pick up diseases. The leaves near the ground on my plants are green and show no sign of disease. Some forum posts gave logical arguments against removing leaves, stating that leaves are required for  photosynthesis and that we don’t go around pulling leaves off of other healthy plants so why do it to tomatoes. I think I’ll just watch and see what happens. It does seem like I have less tomatoes than I did last year, but maybe it’s still early.

A sucker

I planted some dill and parsley. I was happy to see that the collard greens I had planted either last week or the week before are starting to come up but upset to see that leafminers have already begun attacking them!

Leafminer damage already!

I had to tie up my borage plant with twine. It was falling onto one of the tomato plants and keeping the parsley that is already growing from getting any sun.  One branch was actually breaking off but I thought if I tied it up it might heal itself. Many of the flowers are not open yet, but the few that are open are being visited frequently by pollinators. Good stuff.

Pollinator at work

I harvested mostly basil today, with some nasturium leaves, borage flowers, a beet, and the zucchini.

Harvest July 15th

A lovely beet

My brother told me the blogger for our community gardens wants to feature our plot in an upcoming blog post. Exciting! We’ll see if it comes to pass. I think what stands out in my plot are the flowers. One might think they are a waste of good growing space (especially my 3 squares of sunflowers), but they are essential for attracting pollinators. And they look so pretty!

Garden July 15th

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Garden therapy

Yesterday I had a horrible headache. So the last thing I wanted to do was head out to the orchard to do an hour of watering.

Because of the dry spell we’re currently experiencing, the coordinators organized a watering of the orchard (part of our community gardening responsibilities) for Friday at 6pm. I work until about 7 so I would miss the gathering. I wanted to make sure I did my fair share of community hours, so I decided I would water for 30 minutes yesterday evening and 30 minutes today.

When I got there, the gardens were full of activity. My neighbours to the west and north of my plot are a friendly group. We chatted about what we had been harvesting lately as we congregated at the tap. Neighbourhood dog walkers were out in droves and a family walked by, checking out our plots. I couldn’t help but keep an eye on the people hanging around my plot (perfectly natural in light of what happened last week). The sun was going down. It was warm but comfortable. Everyone was in good spirits, which couldn’t help but lift my spirits.

There was something therapeutic about filling up my bucket, walking to the orchard, watering each tree deeply at the roots and walking back. I imagine I must’ve looked silly (or maybe as if I’d come from work) – wearing a short sleeved stripped  jacket with a tank top underneath, jeans and black flats, and carrying a blue back back and a black bag in one hand and full bucket in the other. I managed to water for an entire hour without really realizing it (I’ll admit, I did check my watch a few times and I was surprised by how quickly the time went by). Although my headache wasn’t gone, it had eased off considerably.

I stopped by my plot just to check out what was going on and picked some sunflowers to take home. A nice end to the day.

Bouquet of sunflowers

So pretty!

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July 5th visit

I swung by the garden on Thursday after work. It was still early enough in the evening to be able to see what was happening, unlike Tuesday night.

I pulled up some carrots, which turned out to be mostly greens. I don’t particularly like the taste of the green tops so I just took home the roots. They tasted OK. I think my carrots did better in the fall last year.

Carrots, sadly more greens that roots

One of the carrots bolted and sent up this weird-looking flower. When I pulled it up there was no root. I suppose I could have taken the flower head and tried to dry it for the seeds, but carrot seeds are really tiny and I didn’t feel like dealing with it. Plus I still had tons to plant for fall harvest.

Carrot’s gone to seed or bolted

Discovered another garden critter as I was closely inspecting one of several sunflowers I have in the plot (that’s another story, why I have so many sunflowers). Daddy long legs are one breed of spider that I don’t find scary. In fact, they’re pretty cool.

Looks like a daddy long legs!

The cucumber is getting bigger and using the nearby sunflower as a trellis. I got the idea of planting the two together from the March 29th post of  Oakvale Green Community Garden‘s Facebook page entitled Spring Gardening: *8 Unusual Planting Tips You Can’t Miss. Apparently sunflowers improve the taste of cucumbers. Who knew!

Cucumber using a sunflower to stabilize itself

I think I saw a cucumber beetle on the zucchini: a bright yellow, black stripped little guy. I remembered seeing a picture of it somewhere but couldn’t remember if it was a good guy or bad guy in the garden. Turns out it’s a bad guy that will attack my cucumbers and zucchinis so I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.

A neighbouring gardener (who’s name I can’t recall)  pointed out that I had 3 zucchini plants in my garden, two large ones (that are bearing fruit!) and a small one. I’ll have to remove the small one as there won’t be room for it. It seems to be doing pretty good. I wonder who I can give it to…

I see fruit! Yes!

Of the many sunflowers I have in the plot, only one of them has fully opened.

Sunflower finally opens

From what I remember of Square Foot Gardening technique, beets should be pulled when they are about 2 1/2 to 3 ” in diameter. When they get too big, they aren’t as tasty. I plan to pull some this weekend and plant some more in the fall. I think they did better in the fall last year, just like the carrots.

Beets, so colourful!

My garden neighbour asked what type of tomatoes I had and tried to arrange a swap for later in the season. I have red and yellow pear tomatoes and he has brandywine and some other type of hierloom. Such community.

Yellow or red pear tomato

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Pilfered! The curse of the community garden

The one negative about being part of a community garden is that, inevitably, there are thefts. My community garden is completely open to the public. No fences or locks, just a large open space filled with plots. Apparently too tempting for some people. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I passed by my garden on Tuesday night to find that someone had stolen a bunch of my onions!

Pilfered onions – drat! And look what they did to my tomato plant!!

I decided to come by after a relaxing Zen stretch class at the Yoga Sanctuary. I strolled slowly passed the raspberry bushes, helped myself to a few. Then I remembered the gooseberry bush in the community area. So I went over and took some pictures. Afterwards I walked lazily over to my plot, feeling that all was well with the world, until I was shocked back to reality: I’d been robbed!

The biggest insults:

  • they cut off the onion greens and threw them back into the plot (such a waste!)
  • they knocked over my tomato plant!!!

I took a deep cleansing breath, sighed, and cleaned up the greens. I pulled out the remaining onions and staked the poor tomato plant. Then I thought about the bright side: the thief did make some much needed room for the zucchini plant, which had gotten insanely big when I wasn’t looking.

Zucchini plant beginning to flourish

As I walked away from the plot, I noticed more discarded onion greens on the grass! What makes me mad is that they are perfectly edible! Why would you just discard them?

Discarded onion greens

Had some gooseberries on the way home. They taste kinda like grapes. Brought me back to a peaceful state.

Gooseberries – they look like Chinese lanterns

My family wanted nothing to do with the discarded onion greens. Luckily I was able to tell my sob story to some friends I met with on Wednesday night. One of them realized she could make something with the greens and took them off my hands. I was able to give some onions to the hostess and was still left with some for myself. We had a nice evening in her back yard, enjoying the hot summer air, good conversation, and her beautiful backyard garden. Someday, I will know such bliss…

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Wild raspberries

I was up at the garden last week with my brother in the wee hours of a Sunday morning when a local pointed out a wild raspberry bush on the other side of the fence from our community garden. She said the land didn’t belong to anyone and therefore the raspberries were available to everyone.  As I helped myself to a few, she said, “leave some for me!” They are small and tart but tasty.

Wild raspberry bush

We have wild strawberries growing in the community areas of our gardens (I forget what kind). Not quite ready yet, but so cute. I picked a couple a few weeks ago and was surprised by how incredibly sweet they were! Very small but packing a big punch.Wild is definitely better than that grocery store crap that just tastes like water.


Pure sugary bliss!

My brother planted a lone strawberry he found sitting on a nearby plot in the top right corner of my plot (where I planted calendula, which are taking an incredibly long time to grow) in the hopes that it would produce a strawberry plant. I told him that you have to separate out and dry the seeds before you plant them. I don’t know how true that is. But nothing has grown yet. I’m wondering if maybe I might have pulled out a seedling by accident thinking it was a maple sapling (they pop up in my plot a lot, seeds floating down from a nearby tree).

I can’t believe this is my 3rd year here and I haven’t noticed these things!

Cherry tree

On our way to the subway, my brother showed me a cherry tree on private property. The branches hung over the sidewalk. He managed to jump up and get me one (after several tries).  For his hard work,  I let him have it.

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Crazy bounty – Onions

It begins! The incredible bounty that results in trying to pass off your produce onto anyone that will take them.

16 onion sets May 8th

Kinda cute when they’re young, May 19th

Square foot gardening technique says that you can plant 16 onion sets in one square foot. The idea is to harvest green onions regularly and then leave 4 or so to  become the mature yellow, red, or white onions (depending on what you planted). For some  reason that now escapes me, I decided to plant 3 squares of 16 onion sets, thereby producing 48 green onions! What was I thinking?! Clearly I wasn’t thinking.

Insanity – 3 square feet of onions, June 3rd

One square foot, June 18th

My family and I are not eating them as quickly as I’d hoped (they get pretty big as you can see) so I’ve been giving them away to friends, colleagues, and even strangers. About two weeks ago I was leaving the gardens with some onions when I passed by an old East European-looking lady sitting on her front steps in her house-dress and babushka, screen door propped open with her knee, eating what looked like peas out of a small cooking pot. Initially I walked by, thinking “should I…?” I stopped a few houses down from her to see if the two cats felt like pets, but they ignored me. By then I’d built up the courage to turn back and walk up to the lady. I smiled and asked, “would you like an onion?” She inspected it and asked “what” it was. I said, “it’s an onion from my garden. I have lots.”  She inspected it again, scrunched up her face, and said, “noh!”, waving it and me away with a swipe of her hand. I said, “OK”, and walked away. Doesn’t hurt to ask.

Harvest, June 10th

Harvest, June 24th

One of the garden coordinators recently stated that as most people are starting to produce a bounty of crops now, they plan to organize a Monday evening drop off of extra edibles to a local food bank. That way nothing goes to waste and we can reduce our efforts at unloading on friends, neighbours, and the unsuspecting public.

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