Tag Archives: butternut squash

Seed starting

Starting seeds this year was an interesting experience. I started tomatoes, leeks, sweet and hot peppers, butternut squash, watermelons, parsley, eggplants, and a few flowers (lavender, lupine, and yarrow) in early April on top of the fireplace.

Plastic keeps in the moisture

Plastic keeps the environment warm and moist

I saved plastic mushroom containers to use as seed trays. They seemed a good size and depth and it was easy to make drainage holes in the bottom. I also saved a few yogurt containers thinking I could use them for tall plants, like tomatoes, once they got big enough. I used note paper and taped labels to the trays, but they didn’t stay on. And I used leaf mold as my growing medium, which I purchased at Urban Harvest.

Seeds looking for light

Tomato seedling looking for light – mid April

Butternut squash

Butternut squash standing at attention – end of April


Watermelon – end of April. They didn’t survive.

I found the seed starting tips from Fine Gardening the most useful;  Mother Earth News and Rodale’s Organic Life also added some good information. The one thing I don’t think I did was fertilize the seeds, although I did buy vermicompost from Urban Harvest for that purpose. I also though this article on the benefits of cinnamon for preventing diseases in seedlings was really interesting; I want to try it next year.

Once the seedlings started to get bigger, I took them to my dad’s house. I don’t get much light in my apartment and having access to a house with a shady back yard  allowed me to harden them off outside for short periods of time.

Tomato plants by a sunny window at my dad's place

Tomato plants by a sunny window at my dad’s place – excited to see some true leaves! End of April

My dad was not too impressed with my plan to gradually increase their time outside by one hour every day over a week’s time (possibly because I was bugging him to do it), so they stayed out longer than they probably should have in some cases and in conditions that were probably not ideal (cold and rainy!).

Hardening off in the back yard

Hardening off in the back yard – I probably should have thinned these out. Early May.

At the end of May, I was able to hitch a ride with a friend to Hamilton (otherwise I’m not sure how I would have gotten the plants up there). They look much healthier having been in the sun for a while and their stems are nice and thick. I read that gently brushing your fingers across the leaves encourages stem development. Perhaps it simulates the plant blowing in the wind.

Box car Willie tomatoes

Box car Willie or red or yellow pear tomatoes – and a pepper plant in the centre.


L – California sweet and golden peppers; C –  habanero; R – mystery peppers


Knowing what I know now, what else would I do differently next year?

  • Use sticks in the soil to label the seedlings. At the time, I couldn’t find the tongue depressors I knew I had and didn’t consider that the paper and tape would fall off when I was moving the trays around
  • Bring the plants to a sunny window much sooner than I did. Maybe some plants would have survived (poor watermelons).
  • Thinned the plants, either by moving some to other containers or killing them off (probably the former. I have a hard time killing off seedlings). It probably would have caused less deformation, particularly in the tomato plants
  • Fertilized the seedlings. This probably would have made them stronger. I was a bit nervous about doing this. All the articles I’d read said to use a ‘weak’ tea, and the dilution instructions for the vermicompost tea bags and the even the kelp meal required steeping them in large quantities of water so I couldn’t do it at the apartment. That was really the only time I was thinking about it.

Starting seeds was totally worth it, as you’ll see in future posts!

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Summer’s end in “The Hammer”

I’m spending the next two weeks as a resident of Hamilton. I’m really looking forward to walking to and from work (have done it for two days already and it’s been great!) and no commuting to Toronto for two weeks – woo hoo!!! This will also give me good insight into what it’s like to live here.

Planning to spend a lot of this time in the garden, cleaning up the summer mess and planting for the fall. Some interesting sights in the garden right now: it seems my relatives have been lax with the watering. The plots are dry as a desert. As a result the greens I planted on my last visit (spinach, collards, kale) are nowhere to be found. I guess I should cut them some slack. They’ve been more focused on preparing for their trip to England.

garden aug 24

The garden minus all the beautiful morning glory.

Acorn squash plant is near death but the fruits are looking good (hallelujah!)

Acorn squash plant is near death but the fruits are looking good. How are they still thriving?!

Also noticeably lacking are the beautiful purple flowers that were climbing the fence. I thought were the precursor to beans (silly girl). Turns out they were morning glory. Really beautiful but difficult to get rid of once they’ve settled in. Both my aunt and uncle have talked at length about the problems they had trying to remove morning glory from their front flower garden.

I personally don’t see what the problem is. I think they’re beautiful! Whether they’re closed for the evening or open in the morning, they really are eye-catching. What a sight!

garden aug 4 010

What’s the story, morning glory?

I don’t think they caused any real harm, except maybe competing with the sugar snap peas (they are doing quite poorly actually). When you’re this beautiful, how can anyone stay mad at you for long?

garden july 19 064

Closing up shop for the evening

The same flowers, closed up in a different way. Interesting...

The same flowers, closed up in a different way. Interesting…

My edible flowers are starting to go to seed. I should start harvesting before I lose them in the soil. Seeing them makes me mourn the fact that the borage seeds didn’t take. What a loss.

What a bounty from just one plant!

What a bounty from just one calendula flower! How many seeds can you count?

Some good sized nasturtium seeds

Some good sized nasturtium seeds

My uncle’s side of the garden is looking pretty good. The many okra he planted are finally starting to produce fruit.

Okra flower and fruit!

Okra flower and fruit!

I searched a few blogs and apparently you should harvest okra when it’s about 4 inches or pinky size. Test okra’s readiness for picking by either cutting the tip with a sharp knife or trying to break it off. If it cuts/breaks easily, it’s nice and tender for eating. If it’s tough, then add it to the compost. The more you harvest, the more it will produce. I think the one in the picture above is ready.

His eggplant are starting to make their appearance…

Silician eggplant

Sicilian eggplant

And he’s got a couple of butternut squash hiding out as well.

Butternut squash

Butternut squash

I have one butternut squash that’s coming along nicely and I noticed the other day that I have another one coming along on the other plant!


There were two tiny ones also growing on this plant but they died.

New squash at the back of the garden

New squash at the back of the garden.

My seed packet says they take 100 days and I read (somewhere) that you can harvest them once your nail can break the skin. Ooo, can’t wait to make my favorite butternut squash soup recipe with it!

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Victoria Day

I complained enough about the weather.  I put off planning.  I thought I had time. Then somewhere along the way, planting season crept up on me. I don’t think I’ve been as ill-prepared as I was this year.

Milo relaxing in front of my uncle's greenhouse. He put his lettuces, peppers, and eggplants in here.

Milo relaxing in front of my uncle’s greenhouse, home to his lettuces, peppers, and eggplants.

We planted on Victoria Day. It’s a good thing too. Although last frost was expected to be May 9th, making Mother’s Day weekend OK to plant, we were hit with sub-zero temperatures. My cousin bought her mom two big, beautiful ferns that were severely damaged when they left them out overnight. What a pity.

I scrambled to put together a gardening plan for the entire back yard, not just the space I’d asked for. I wasn’t being greedy. I used square foot gardening technique and companion planting sensibilities in order to maximize our space and our yields. I took into consideration some of the stuff I knew my uncle would want to plant, like tomatoes, squash and zucchini, and asked if anything needed to be added. I was being thoughtful and organized. My uncle wasn’t worried. He said we’d figure it out when I got there. In the end, he had his own plan.

My uncle's okra, chives, and thyme.

My uncle’s chives, okra and thyme.

My uncle is much like me. He likes to do things his way. He left me the space I’d asked for, as promised, but proceeded to plant the remaining space in a haphazard manner. At least he was smart enough to plant early Monday morning when it was cool and not in the dead heat of midday like I did. I had to rejig my plan that morning. I could have waited to plant in the evening when it was cooler, but I was stubborn. My cousin, who was helping me, was extra irritable as I tried to explain plant spacing and companion planting. She was baking in her black sweats. She finally convinced me to come inside for a snack. While she took a nap, I went back out and finished in the early afternoon hoping I would at least end up with a nice tan.

Left to right, back to front:

From back, left to right: Sugar snap peas along the back, cornflower far left, butternut squash far right; herbs  far left (parsley, dill, cilantro), zucchini, and onions

From the back, left to right::

From the back, left to right: pepper, eggplant, sunflower, cucumber; calendula, beets, carrots, collards

A few things of note this year:
1. Soil conditions – the soil is not as rich as my community plot.  It’s quite dry and rocky but not clay or cement-like. We used compost that my uncle said he got for free from the city (no comment) and composted cow manure. I added a healthy dose of kelp meal to all the transplants and to the soil around the heavy feeders (squashes).

2. Security – I’m really looking forward to not having any of my harvest stolen. Sweet.

3. I live out of town – this is going to be a challenge. It’s already been over a week since I planted and I haven’t been back. Luckily it’s been quite wet lately.

4. New plants – I went a little crazy at Urban Harvest this year. I bought $46 worth of plants and kelp meal, a cost I wasn’t expecting since I had saved so many seeds last year. New this year:

  • butternut squash seeds
  • Chinese five colour hot peppers – My sister picked these.
  • long purple eggplant seeds
  • alpine strawberry
  • sugar snap pea seeds – another of my sister’s picks.

5. Old plants from seed – Nasturtium, that is. Last year I bought it as a plant. This year, I’m trying the seeds I saved. We’ll see how that goes.

Nasturtium seeds I harvested last fall. Let's hope they grow!

Nasturtium seeds I harvested last fall. Let’s hope they grow!

I bought another alpine strawberry plant today. Planning to go by after work on Friday to plant it and see what’s happening. I know I definitely have to do some sucker removal with the tomato plants. With all the rains I’ve been imagining that the zucchini seeds washed out of their little hill. I know it’s possible because that’s what happened when I first watered after planting them. The recent single digit temperatures has made me concerned about the eggplants because I read online that they really really like the hot weather and don’t tolerate cold very well.

From back, left to right: Borage (planted), crazy sage plant (so much growth!), garlic I planted last fall and neglected (it's doing pretty well), and one lonely alpine strawberry (not for long!)

From back, left to right: Borage (planted), crazy sage plant (so much growth!), garlic I planted last fall and neglected (it’s doing pretty well), and one lonely alpine strawberry (not for long!)

My cousin found me some pots that I can use for my fairy gardens (I’m surprised she remembered). Gotta get on that soon.

What herbs should I put in here?

What herbs should I put in here?

We had the neighbours over and did fireworks on Sunday night. My cousin was disappointed that the firecrackers she’d had for over a year weren’t as spectacular as she had expected. We had a good laugh though and enjoyed other neighbours’ fireworks in the distant. This is what’s left of the bucket my uncle used to light the fireworks.

Can you believe the damage?

Can you believe the damage?

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