Tag Archives: Gayla Trail

It’s all about the soil

This year I decided I would try starting my own seeds. I spent months humming and hawing over the best type of soil to use. I read Gayla Trail’s posts on seed starting mixes and decided I would take the easy route and buy pre-bagged soil but I couldn’t find the Nature Mix seed starting mix she recommended in response to a post in the comments section. I was looking in March so it may have been too early or perhaps it was no longer available (the post was from 2008). In the end, fate stepped in at Urban Harvest.

I was at their table at Dufferin Grove Market buying seeds at the end of March. Before I left I casually asked the owner, “can you recommend a good seed starting mix?” She thought for a moment and said, “I have just the thing.” Saved! Their store was opening the following week and she had some soil that was appropriate for pots and starting seeds. A week later I headed down with my cart and bought a 20lb bag for $8. It was an experience carting it home on the subway (I walked from the store location at Landsdowne and Bloor to Dufferin to take advantage of the elevator).

20lb bag of soil, along with some kelp meal in the paper bag

20lb bag of soil, along with some kelp meal in the paper bag

The girl at the store told me that the soil was fine for starting seeds now but if I wanted to use it for permanent pots, I would need to add some perlite to loosen it up, otherwise it would be too dense.

More on seed starting later.

I ended up buying another bag for the community garden (yep, I came back after a 2 year hiatus). After hurting my trapezius carrying the cart down the stairs to the subway at Lansdowne, I swallowed my pride and asked my friend with a car to help me get 5 more bags to the garden. He’s an engineer, so as a bonus he used his skill to level the plot for a professional looking finish; much better than it would have looked had I done it myself.

We left his tool bag in the shot for effect

We left his tool bag in the shot for effect

I received several complements on the quality of my soil! My neighbour to the east was in the garden when I brought the first bag. He stuck his hand in, pulled out a handful, sniffed and said, “this is really good soil!” I loved the way it felt when I was using it to start my seeds, but it wasn’t until I poured the first bag into my plot that I noticed how wonderful it smelled! Wow! He suspected that it was worm compost and he was right. Leaf mold to be exact. It was so memorable that when I was putting the garden to bed at the end of the season (with the help of my engineering friend again), another gardener asked what I had used.

I would use the leaf mold for starting seeds again but it was too costly to cover the 32 square feet of my plot. Perhaps if I had more success with this space, I would have thought it was worth it, but that wasn’t the case. We put the plot to bed with manure and straw for the first time this fall so we’ll see how that works.


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Time of the season…

This is the time of the season where I start to neglect the garden. Truth be told, that time of the season probably started a few weeks ago. Thankfully my brother has energy  to be watering on a regular basis (although lately he hasn’t needed to) and tying up strong but stray tomato branches. Knowing I would be away for the weekend and realizing I`d been away too long, I stopped by Thursday evening after work.

Sad looking tomato plants

Ugh, the tomatoes were such a sorry sight. A limp, unruly, discoloured, and unsightly mess.

In her most recent post on pruning tomatoes, Gayla Trail gives a rundown of when and why she prunes. Although she says she only prunes indeterminate or vining tomatoes, there are some very practical tips for now and for next year. For example, removing the flowers that aren’t going to produce fruit before the fall frost comes along so that the plant puts more energy into ripening full grown fruit. At the beginning of the season, she prunes the branches closest to the ground to establish a mainstem and also under-plants with companion plants and edible flowers. A great use of space and lots of visual appeal.

On a positive note, the flowers are finally starting to look really good.

Bright yellow-orange calendula

Blue cornflower (in need of deadheading), with nasturtium flowers

Dill seeds are finally dry. Packaged them this week.

Dill seeds ready for packaging

Can’t wait ’til next year!

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Saving seeds

Last year I started saving seeds for the first time. I got the general idea of seed saving from You Grow Girl or Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail. I decided on sunflower seeds for a reason that now escapes me… I read about how to do it online and watched some videos on Youtube. You can either cut off the sunflower head and dry it or dry it on the stem. The cheese cloth is to keep birds or other critters from getting at it. I’ve also read you can use a paper bag but this must be for smaller flower heads.

Collecting seeds

I picked out the seeds from the head and dried them indoors on a hard surface. I kept them in a plastic bag all year, which is not good, but it surely didn’t affect sunflower production this year. In fact, the only difference this year is that the sunflowers were poly-headed (my scientific term), specifically with one large head and several small ones, whereas last year they were mono-headed. I still have so many sunflower seeds left that I don’t need to do it this year.

Sunflowers with one large head and many small heads

This year, I want to be more active with seed collection because it’s easy and it’s cost effective (no need to buy seeds next year). I decided to start with dill because the seeds caught my eye.

Dill seeds

I couldn’t remember exactly how I was supposed to do it (because the books are at the library), but I do remember from  Gayla’s books that you’re supposed to cut the stem below the seeds and put it upside down in a paper bag. The seeds will drop to the bottom once they’re dry. I started this last week:

Dill drying in a paper bag

To be sure I was doing it right, I searched the net and came across the Deep Roots at Home blog. What caught my eye was the suggestion to add holes to the bag for circulation! So I poked some holes in it with a safety pin. Hope that’s good enough. The blogpost also shows that you can have several stems in one bag. Right now I have 3 bags going with one stem each because I wanted to be sure they got enough air to dry properly. Totally unnecessary.

I know for sure that You Grow Girl had a template for seed packets. There are many seed packet templates online. I chose one at Carolyn’s Stamp Store because I liked the simple design and clear instructions for putting it together.

Folded template

I didn’t have a glue stick so I taped it together, put my sunflower seeds in and made a simple label.

Homemade sunflower seed package

You Grow Girl suggested fancy designs but I decided to make it simple. I don’t consider myself to be crafty, but I do have crafty aspirations!

Homemade vs professional

I came across this Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook online. I love that it tells you how long you can save your seeds. For example, it says dill seeds will last 3 years or more and sunflower seeds (between squash and Swiss chard on the list; there is no direct link) will last 5 years or more if stored properly.

Can’t wait to package my dill!

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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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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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