Yes, It’s Time to think about your fall Garden!

Right now you have pile of tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini sitting on your kitchen counter that you are spending time every weekend preserving but I’m going to talk about something else to add to your list of garden chores in the midst of this busy harvesting month: The Fall Garden.  This is even more important this year with the warm weather we have been experiencing in Surrey.

This is where succession sowing is so important and time to start putting those cool season crops into the ground if you are growing from seed.  From peas and lettuce to kale, brussels sprouts and arugula there are endless possibilities.  Don’t forget overwintering varieties and what types of garlic you would like for next summer to order soon for September or October arrival at your door.

Here is a great resource from West Coast Seeds which includes there 2014 fall and winter planting guide (the 2015 guide should be out soon).

In order to determine what to plant when you need to know roughly when the first frost date in your area is and work backwards from there with crops suggested days to maturity.  Modern Farmer has some other helpful tips about sowing your fall garden including suggestions of starting the seeds indoors or in a shady area of the garden until the ‘true leaves’ appear.

Trying to decide what pea varieties to grow in for the fall – think varieties that you can preserve for the winter according to A Way to Garden.  As well consider growing crops that may not have time to mature in a fall garden to use as shoots or micro greens instead of for the mature plant.

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Let’s Compost!

During yesterday’s monthly work party at Cedar Grove Garden I was assigned the tasks of cleaning out the compost boxes.  This sounds way worse than it actually was and I learned a lot in the process.

Why Compost: improve soil structure, increase nutrient content, use less water, ward off plant diseases. Learn More

What to compost: Vegetable scraps (excluding tomatoes & rhubarb), tea leaves, coffee grounds. Be sure if you are using scraps from home that the vegatables or fruits are pesticide free.

What not to compost: anything too woody (it will take too long to breakdown), metal, glass, meat products, dairy, anything invassive like horsetail, morning glory and other weeds, tomatoes (there is a lot of debate about tomatoes some say no to prevent spread of diseases and to prevent tomatoe plants coming up everywhere) rhubarb, diseased plants.  

How to Compost: Here are a couple of resources to start composting in your garden. The basics are however to have a good mix of nitrogen and carbon, keep it moist but not soggy and turn it over.

Grow Compost

How to Grow Compost

Composting at Cedar Grove Organic Garden: The garden has four compost boxes for communal use by all the gardeners. Since this is used by all of us its our responsibility to ensure that it is kept free of weeds, invasive species and other composting no go’s. The two wooden boxes on the east side are good compost soil and ready to be added to your plot as needed – but dont add any new clippings to the pile! The two smaller boxes on the west side are still in the process of being broken down so if you are walking by and notice someone has dropped some weeds in be sure to remove them right away! There is a large weed pile at the back of the garden in the southwest corner near the woods for these undesirables. It is these two west side boxes where you should place your compostable items that have come from your garden.

Garden Critters – Friend or Foe?

Bugs, bugs and more bugs!  I’ve been noticing more and more critters of sorts in my garden and have been trying to do some research to see if I should be worried when I spot a new one.   So far I have spotted what I have narrowed down to a couple of green potato bugs (I don’t grow potatoes so not overly worried about this yet) on my chives and cucumber beetles (I’ll be planting my cucumber plants in the next week or so) mating in my wildflowers.   As an organic garden us members at the Cedar Grove Organic garden do our best to keep our in balance so a few pests are okay as long as you have other predatory insects to take care of this pesky pests without your plot being overrun.

Each time I see one of these critters I take a picture to bring him so I can try and figure out what it is so I can decided what to do from there.   In addition to the critters mentioned above I also had aphids in my garden on some kale plants last year put they were pulled and I haven’t seen any yet this year.

Green Potato Bugs – From what I have been able to determine green beans planted near your potatoes can act as a deterrent as well as add nitrogen to the soil to produce nice big healthy potatoes.  I’ve also read in several places that marigolds and others like yarrow, parsley and basil that attract predatory insects that will eat the green potato bugs. Once you spot these critters manually removing them is best but also remember if you are trying to keep your garden balanced the other beneficials that eat these may not stay if they don’t have a food source so it is best not to get rid of all of them.  Potato’s Best Buddies: Companion Plants for Potatoes

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Cucumber Beetles – Tend to emerge in mid-spring and will also eat your squash, and melon plants.  Row covers are one way to keep them away (as they can spread disease from one plant to another once established), otherwise similar to potato bugs you can grow plants such as tansy, nasturtiums, broccoli, radish, the article in the following link also suggests putting onion skins among your cucumber plants.  Lacewings and lady bugs like eating their larve.  Cucumber Beetle Control

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Aphids – I’ve had these both on my peppers on my patio as well as on a kale plant in my garden plant.  They multiple so often that if you don’t do regular checks of your plants it is easy for them to get out of control.   Everywhere I have read says the best method for control is to simply handpick them or wipe them off your plant with a soft cloth.  Ladybugs in your garden will help keep these under control so it’s best to plant make your garden lady bug friendly – I’ve going to take the fact that I see a couple of ladybugs every time I go to the garden as a good sign. If hand picking does’t seem to control them then it may be best to pull the infested plant out; remember you will need to check the plant daily once you see the first aphids.  Aphids, and How to get Rid of Them

Ladybugs – who does’t love these colourful critters.  Two main ways to attract lady bugs is to plant lots of flowers to attract them and to make sure you have the right bugs in your garden for them to eat.  Some suggested flowers include Chives, Cilantro, Calendula, Cosmos, Dill, Marigolds and Yarrow.  Don’t forget to make sure they have a water source. Attracting Ladybugs

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Bees & Wasps – it is best to plant native plants and heirlooms to attract bees and wasps as hybrids are often sterile and therefore of no use to pollinators. They like blue, violet, yellow and white flowers and would require a constant source so it is best to plan your garden to have early spring blooms through until late fall.  And like lady bugs they need a bee bath and water source, and don’t do well with insecticides.  Create a Bee-Friendly garden

Ground Beetles – these insects dine on slugs, asparagus beetles, corn ear worms and much more so they are considered a friend in the garden.  Provide a place for ground beetles to call home with flat stones or boards, or mulched perennial plants.  Once again do not use pesticides as ground beetles are highly sensitive to them – which aren’t allowed at Cedar Grove Organic Garden. You can also find ground beetles in or near rotting logs and move them for release into your garden but first make sure you create a friendly space for them.  Ground Beetles are Helpful Garden Insects

Next Week: Community Events

OMG – It’s May! – Time for some serious planting

Okay it is actually May! Not sure when that happened but that means the bulk of your garden clean-up should be done and time to focus on getting some flowers, herbs, and veggies into the ground if you haven’t done so already.

This is the time of the year to plant marigolds, calendula, California poppies, cosmos, nasturtiums (both flowers and leaves can be added to salads as well), sweet peas, yarrow (great for the bees), and wildflowers to add a little splash of colour to your garden in the next few months.  For tastier treats beans, carrots, beets, collards, storage onions, peas, and swiss chard to name just a few to get put into the ground.

I listened to a recent gardening podcast (A way to Garden with Margaret Roach) and she said something that really stuck with me and that was before planting something know what the end game will be.  What she meant was before you plant anything know what you’re going to use it for: ornamental, fresh consumption or for winter storage, or just to try something new.  By knowing the answer to this it will help your choose not only the right veggies, herbs, and flowers but the right varieties that you will get the most use out of.  There is nothing worse with having an abundance of garden goodies and no idea what to do with them or they are the wrong variety for storage and now you have too much for fresh consumption.  Many herbs can be easily frozen for use during the winter months (I did this with chives & parsley this past winter with great success, I also did with Sage but still haven’t figured out what to do with the abundance and even though I already gave one sage plant away this spring i still have three in the garden – let me know if there are any takers!).  Other great advice can be found at A Way to Garden – her podcasts offer a wealth of information and interesting factoids from a lot of different knowledgeable professional gardening or gardening related experts.

May is also the time to start hardening off your seedlings for transplant (if you haven’t started already).  I’m lucky in that I get a decent amount of sunlight on my balcony and it’s covered with glass inserts with narrow openings to limit the amount of wind.  This provides a transitionary environment for my seedlings so they get exposed to the outdoors after being in the climate controls of my grow light but still protected from the rain and some of the wind as they get adjusted to new temperatures. After they have been out on the balcony for 24hr periods for about a week sometimes more I move them into the garden so it less of a full shock to their system.  Here are some tips from Gardening Know How on hardening off your seedlings.  I have also seen many gardeners successfully use row covers and plastic mini-green houses till their seedlings are strong enough to handle the environmental ups and downs that are typical of garden life.

If you are an indoor seed starter this is also a great time to plant your squash and cucumber seeds inside for June transplanting.

Let’s remember the constant in an organic garden stay on-top of those weeds before they get too established and spread all over.  If you are part of a community garden like Cedar Grove this means that being neglicant on weeding can also have an effect on your plot neighbours ability to stay ahead of weeds in their plot. The dandelions between the plots also need to come up or at least be deadheaded when you see them in the common areas.

Become BEE friendly

Save the bees has been a hot topic lately as more research has shown the continued use of various sprays and pesticides are wrecking havic on the bee population which we count on for a fair amount of our daily produce intake.  Learn more about this important issue at Save Honey Bees or view the documentary here Vanishing Bees

There is a lot you can do to help our bees by educating yourself to be an informed consumer and taking this knowlege into your own garden experiences. When purshasing seeds or plants from your local nursery dont be afraid to ask questions like were the seeds pre-treated and if so with what and were the plants treated with any types of chemicals that will cause harm to my gardens eco system balance. It can often be because of consumer demands and interests in this manner that will lead nurseries to offer more environmentally concious alternatives. The last time I asked a nursery if they had organic, non GMO plants I was told no. I grow most of my herbs, flowers, and veggies from organic, non-GMO seeds and would love to have this option to buy similar plants for slow growers such as rosemary. Just last week I saw an encoraging article that Art Knapp Plantland has told its suppliers it will no longer accept nursey plants treated with neonicontinoids Full Story. Learn more about what they are doing to save the bees Art Knapps Blog

Upcoming Honey events
include Honey, Hives and Poetry at the Vancouver Public Library. Public tours and basic bee keeping classes are available at Honeybee Centre and Hives for Humanity offers a number of workshops and bee services.

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Create a bee friendly garden. This artcile from the David Suzuki Foundation gives some great pointers including one I wasn’t aware of which is to make sure your benficials have a place for a drink (water) close to the plants you need polinated Bee Friendly Garden. Of course planting flowers and herbs that attract all kinds of beneficials will not only make your garden look beautiful but also provide a food source.

Next Week: Upcoming Earth Day Celebrations

More than just dirt!

With 2015 being the International Year of Soil there has been a lot of focus on this diverse topic.  The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines soil health as ‘the capacity of soil to function as a living system, with ecosystem and land use boundries, to sustain plant and animal productivity, maintain or enhance water and air quality, and promote plant and animal health’. Based on this definition soil health it integral to our quality of life and is a non-renewable resource so why isnt this at the forefront? Here are some quick facts about soil and it’s current state around the world International Year of Soil

Often the best way to get involved in helping out the planet is on a more local level and as gardeners we already have a good appreciation of the benefits of good soil. Learn some ‘Secrets of Healthy Soil’, with this community workshop held at the Newton Recreation Centre. In this short workshop, local permaculturist Silvia Di Blasio will introduce us to the wonders of soil.
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Unable to attend this event but still want to learn more about some basics of composting, balancing pH, soil amendments, vermiculture, cover crops, weed control and much more than check out this resource Organic Gardening 101

April in the garden
means spring clean up, seed starting and cool season crops are well on their way. I’ve read a number of April garden checklists in the last few days for zone 7/8 which is what Metro Vancouver is considered and a few things have stuck in my head. First stay on top of those weeds before they get too established (the always invasive horsetail is making its spring apperance). The second one is in regards to snail and slug contol as many sites provide tips on how to get rid of them. However as an organic garden Cedar Grove realizes they play an important overall role in the garden’s ecosystem. These not always favourable garden critters can provide a source of protien for creatures like ground beettles who will in turn also eat aphids. So as long as your garden system is in balance a few slugs and snails shouldnt be considered a bad thing. You could use egg shells (I’ve heard coffee grounds work as well but as a non-coffee drinker I have never tried) around your new seedlings as a deterent or even provide some decaying plant matter nearby which I’ve heard slugs and snails prefer and will in fact help break this down and add some fertilizer to your garden. A fellow gardener who is in a damper location gets his pea sprouts taken out by snails constantly is giving barriers a try havning cut the bottom out of seed starting cell pots and put them over his seedlings as they grow. Essentially you need to experiment and find what works for the conditions of your growing area.

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April also means time to get those potatoes in the ground once overnight temps stay above 6 degrees but make sure the soil isnt too water logged. Here is a how to guide from West Coast Seeds

Next Week: Bees & Honey