Monthly Archives: August 2011

garden pool

garden pool

My sister sent me a link to a website that explains and documents one family’s DIY aquaponics project. She knows that aquaponics is on my very long list of things to try someday, which is why she thought of me. She was right, I thought it was a great idea. Basically, the McClung family bought a house in Arizona that had a run-down old swimming pool in the backyard. Rather than spend ridiculous amounts of money to restore the pool, they decided to turn it into a greenhouse with a tilapia pool in the deep end and growing area in the shallow end. There are also some things growing over the pond. If you’re interested take a look!

 

http://gardenpool.org/

 

They’ve posted a video as well as some diagrams and a 360-degree moving picture.

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I realize this might be trickier in our Canadian climate. They can grow 365 days a year down there (so jealous!) and we can only do that if we want to pay a fortune to heat and light the plants. But still, if I ever buy a house with a run-down swimming pool, you know what I’ll be doing! This or some version of it.

And if not, well, I’ll have to look into building some other system that will hold fish and plants. Aquaponics is like hydroponics, except you’re using the natural waste from the fish to feed the plants instead of feeding synthetic fertilizers to the plants. It’s like a mini-ecosystem. You’ve got fish tanks large enough to grow tilapia or other fish for eating, and you’ve got grow trays for plants, filled with an inert substance that holds the roots of the plants. Every so often, water from the fish tank is pumped into the grow beds to flood them and water the plants. The plants take the nutrients, which are actually waste and toxic to the fish, and so filter the water. When the water is returned to the tank it’s cleaner and this creates a better growing environment for the fish. Another key to this system is having a good balance of healthy microflora, or bacteria. Plants grow amazingly fast (I learned this at a conference, from a real scientist!) when there’s a good population of microflora. Great flavour in the plants and the fish, too, apparently. I really can’t wait to try this!

Aquaponics is truly a backyard system. Some people are working on how to make it feasible economically, and it’s proving to be difficult in terms of economizing BOTH the fish and the plants. When I spoke to a professor at the University of Guelph, he told me that you really have to focus on one or the other in a commercial setting. The best systems are those that a person would set up in their backyard for their own use. And really, that’s what I’m passionate about. Everybody growing stuff in their own backyards. Why not some fish too??!!

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a new look for the blog

oh snap

I’m freshening up the blog a bit – please bear with me as I change things around a bit and hopefully make it a bit more useful in terms of finding content!

It’s all still here, but I want to alter some category names and adjust pages etc….

In the meantime, if you came looking for something please ask me about it if you can’t find it.

-Sarah

size does matter

peppers in pots

Two of the same variety of hot pepper – Chinese Ornamental – were seeded indoors at the same time, watered the same, exposed to the same lights and sunlight, potted into containers for deck-top gardening at the same time, and…… one is way bigger. The photo above shows these two pepper plants. The only difference in their treatment to date has been the size of container. And, honestly, there’s only ONE plant in the large container.

I have many peppers in pots of various sizes on my deck. Partly because I could NOT compost them, and partly because I wanted to plant them in various sized pots to see what would happen. Well. It seems pretty obvious to me that if you want a prolific plant you should give it lots of root room. The large container is probably a 3-4 gallon size, and the smaller one is maybe a half gallon. Way too small. Unless you want to grow a fairy garden of course. Those are pretty cute, if you’re into that sort of thing.

If you want lots of hot peppers, though, you’ll want to give your peppers some root space. I’ve also found that the bell peppers I planted with tomatoes and basil didn’t really appreciate it. No peppers on those plants, even though the pot is very large. However, the hot peppers I planted 3 in a container (Black Hungarian, Variegated Fish, Chinese Ornamental) seem to be enjoying the company and are producing moderately well.

Peppers are one of the few things that do well in pots. They enjoy the extra warmth to their root zones that the exposure provides, as long as they are watered well enough. If your garden is getting seemingly smaller every year because of how many new things you want to try, then consider growing peppers in pots. Just make sure the pots are large enough and you’re good to go.

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what to do with too much swiss chard

This year, I don’t have this problem. Past years, though, the garden would fill with Swiss Chard as my husband and children watched in trepidation. Since I’m the only Chard lover in this house, I didn’t plant much this year. Then what little I did have was eaten by rabbits. So, I won’t get to try this recipe this season. I thought I’d pass it on, though, in case someone else was blessed with an overabundance of Swiss Chard. If you try it, please let me know how it goes!

Bright Lights Swiss Chard

You’ll want to use older larger leaves for this recipe, about 2 cups of them when roughly chopped. Put them in a blender with hot water to fill the blender, and whizz away. Strain out the leafy bits and put them around the base of your plants. Then wait for the liquid to cool and use that to water any plants that look like they could use a pick-me-up.

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This recipe is adapted from ‘Great Garden Formulas’, a super awesome book that is available at the Kitchener Public Library for anyone who is interested in more concoctions for the garden.

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p.s. Thanks Akilah for the Chard photo above!!

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saving tomato seeds

If you grow your tomatoes from seed, it’s economical and very rewarding to save seeds from your favourites for future growing seasons. There are different schools of thought about the best way to go about doing this, and I thought I’d try one of the methods that I hadn’t yet attempted. In previous years, I popped out the seeds, allowed them to dry out, then saved them. Many people do this, and have no problems. Mine germinated alright, but they might have been a bit slower than usual. Hard to say, since my memory ain’t what it used to be.

Regardless, I figured I should at least try the fermentation method, since those who promote it say that the seed coats of tomatoes are covered with germination inhibitors and you’re doing the seeds a favour by removing them before drying. This should give a higher germination rate as well as a speedier germination.

squeezing out tomato seeds

So, I squeezed the seeds into a container.

fermented tomato seeds

Then allowed them to sit outside, covered with a hanky, for a few days. There’s a thin layer of mold on the surface here. That’s a good sign.

tomato juice and seeds in a strainer

This mixture was dumped into a fine-mesh strainer.

washing tomato seeds

Tomato seeds were washed, and the chunky fleshy bits were taken out or forced through the strainer.

wet tomato seeds on a plate

Then the seeds were placed on a plate to dry.

dry tomato seeds on a plate

And now they’re dry and fuzzy, ready for next year. These are seeds from the Silvery Fir Tree tomatoes. I’m happy with this variety. They are great container tomatoes with pretty feathery foliage, and are ready before any other slicing tomato. The cherry tomatoes beat them, of course, but that’s to be expected. I’m looking forward to growing them again next year.

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The next step is to do a quick germination test – put them on wet paper towels until they germinate, see how many out of 10 actually sprout. I think I’ll wait until I have a few varieties saved up, and test them all at once.

sweetgrass braids

About a month ago I was with my sister in Fort Erie, tagging along with her when she went to pick up her CSA share at a local farm. While we were there I was treated to a tour of the medicine garden they had on the property, which was fascinating to me. It was divided into quadrants North, South, East, and West, with each quadrant planted according to its direction on the compass. Sweetgrass was the main plant in one of them – I believe it was the North, but I may be wrong – and I was gifted a bunch of it in order to make myself a sweetgrass braid.

sweetgrass

Lucky for me, my bunch also included lots of seeds! I’ll be trying them out in the spring, so let me know if you’re interested in growing your own as well. Sweetgrass braids are burned, which produces a lot of sweet-smelling smoke since they really just smolder. The smoke is said to be purifying in the traditional medicine of our aboriginal people. But even if the braids are not burned, they do have a lovely scent and can be enjoyed as they are.

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My instructions were to hang up the sweetgrass to dry, then soak it and braid it. Which I did, after first taking out all the seeds and saving them for later.

sweetgrass soaking

I didn’t keep track of the soaking time, but it needs to be pliable enough to braid.

sweetgrass braid

My braid is now dry, and still intact. It’s enhancing the smell of my office. I want to enjoy it a bit more before I burn it.

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how to grow garlic

hardneck garlic bulbs

Hardneck garlic is the most winter-hardy type, so if you’re a garlic-growing beginner, you’ll most likely want to start with some variety of this type. Basically, the short garlic-growing story goes like this:

planting garlic

In October or November, break apart the bulbs and plant the cloves 4-6 inches apart in rows about a foot apart, 2-3 inches deep.

garlic shoot

Watch for them in spring – they’ll be first out of the soil!

garlic plants

Keep them weeded so the bulbs have room to grow as large as they can. Be watching for scapes, the long curly seed heads.

garlic scapes

When you see the scapes, cut them off and eat them. This will allow the bulbs to grow larger as well.

curing garlic

When the tops dry out, dig up the bulbs and put them somewhere hot and dry for two weeks. This curing will allow the bulbs to be stored for a longer period of time.

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Enjoy your garlic! And don’t forget to save some of your very own homegrown garlic bulbs for planting the next batch!

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I’ve put together a more detailed and informative pdf file with garlic growing instructions, if you’d like to take a look the link is below.

Growing Garlic SKG

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make your own laundry soap

This is so easy. I’ve been using this laundry soap for a few weeks now, and I’m really happy with it. It’s a very simple and pure soap, and it does a great job too.

soap ingredients

All you need is:

1.5 cups borax

1.5 cups washing soda

1 bar of your favourite soap

grating soap

Instructions:

1. Finely grate the bar of soap.

2. Mix with the other ingredients.

homemade laundry soap

I put mine in a large ziplock baggie, but you can use whatever container you have handy. Use about a tablespoon or so per load. You might need more if you have a top-loading washer. Mine is front-loading and one tablespoon is plenty.

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Thanks to Kerry-Ann for this recipe!! I don’t know if it’s hers or if she found it somewhere, but it’s a good one. The original called for Dr. Bronner’s soap, but I just used what I had, so that’s my contribution to the evolution of the recipe.

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calendula lip balm

What I wanted to make was calendula salve, for minor skin irritations, since it’s a soothing, healing type herb.

calendula oils

I started with two batches of calendula oil. The one on the left was made using only the petals, and the one on the right was made using the whole flower heads, chopped with a knife.

filtering calendula oil

After straining out the flower bits, I filtered it with a clean old t-shirt.

calendula oil

Can you see the two tones of oil here? The lighter coloured was from the batch with only petals in it, and the darker orange is from the batch of chopped up whole flowers. I think next time I will definitely include all the flower parts, not just the petals!

melting beeswax

I weighed the oil. I think it was about 3.6 oz. Rule of thumb for salves is to add 1 oz of beeswax for every 4-5 oz of oil. So I just threw in the whole ounce of beeswax and began melting it down over low heat. This is where I should have been more careful. I now have very hard salve. So for now I’ll call it lip balm.

salve/balm in jars

The only problem is, I put it in these jars that are too big for balm. So…. I might be re-melting and either adding more oil, or putting it in smaller lip-balm style containers. Maybe with a bit of essential oil of something nice added as well, to counteract that olive oil odour. Live and learn…

tour of the garden

I figured it was about time to take more photos to document the progress of the garden!
Here they are:
ripe tomatoes

The first ripe tomatoes – Sungold. These are a hybrid variety, so they will likely be taken off the list for next year since I want to focus on the heirloom varieties.

leaves

Here you can see three different plant types mixing together: watermelon (the really lobed ones), blue pumpkin (the largest ones), and cantaloupe (the in-betweenies).

wee watermelon

A small watermelon! EEP! Can’t wait.

blue pumpkin baby

The beginnings of a blue pumpkin.

cantaloupe

I found three cantaloupes under all those leaves! Crossing every possible digit that these babies make it ok. We love cantaloupe.

volunteer pumpkin

Volunteer plants are so much fun. I noticed a squash vine growing in my garden where none was planted, and thought I’d let it grow and see what it was. Looks like it will be a pumpkin! Also notice another volunteer in the background – this is purslane, an edible weed.  Yum!

dead zucchini plant

The zucchini has given up the ghost. Not a great year for zucchini. Too little rain.

tomatillos

My two tomatillo plants are sprawling and loaded with fruit. I can hardly believe it, after thinking when I planted them out that they were so small and wondering if they had enough time to catch up!

lamb's quarters

Another volunteer/edible weed: lamb’s quarters.

chinese ornamental hot pepper

Chinese ornamental hot pepper. So many flowers! I can’t wait to see this when all the peppers are red.

super chili

Super chili hot peppers! They’re larger than I expected them to be.

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Well. That’s it for now. How is your garden growing?

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