It’s a disaster, it’s Skywalker we’re after…

Earlier in the month I removed an old aluminum shed and
foundation from the corner of my yard. The shed was up against the house
and the property line, and dug partly into a slope from my yard to my
neighbours yard. There will be a new shed going in, further out from the
property line and house, but that left a big gaping hole. So I filled
it with loam ( only 4 cubic yards, not much… ) and made a bit of a hill. This was done on advice from no less then five people, all whom pointed out that having the corner of our house foundation exposed was probably a bad thing.

A bit of a short, steep hill was put in place that wrapped around the exposed foundation bits, and a grade was pulled back from the foundation into the yard proper. Unfortunately the grade where the shed used to live was a bit steep out of necessity. It’s not steep enough for a retaining wall, and it’s just a bit too steep to leave alone for long.

Then the rain came, hard and heavy, and overflowed the eaves trough
and sent a deluge of water into the freshly compacted loam, promptly
washing some of it into the neighbours formal and tidy garden space. Our neighbour likes things in her life clean, so this was a disaster. I got all hyper stressed out about it and raged a bit, mostly because I hate being a bad neighbour. I’m already the weird guy on the block who doesn’t cut his lawn and is turning his back yard into a vegetable patch… last thing I want to add into the mix is being the guy routinely washing a couple kilograms of soil into the yards down hill from me.

So began the quest for ways to prevent erosion on really small but unfortunately steep slopes in the shade. In the end I went with a burlap/jute ground cover staked in with bamboo stakes instead of metal. Mainly I want everything to eventually biodegrade, since once plants establish some roots in there the hill isn’t steep enough or long enough to worry about anything going awry. I did double layers and added hand-made berms of soil/compost/peat moss to break any water that decides to flood down the area again. ( I tested with a hose, it works like a charm ).

I’m turning it into a shade garden, slightly terraced by the berms. I’ve tossed a bunch of random perennial seeds I collected last autumn, I think they are some form of phlox, but they may be something else. I also spread some annual seeds around the area, some sort of random wild-flower mix I had sitting around the house. For a more permanent and immediate solution to holding the soil I’ve planted 3 golden leaf creeping jenny, and 3 regular creeping jenny. I’m familiar with them, they are pretty tough plants and take the shade decently. They also form a nice dense mat of green once established, so next year it should fill in really well.

While I was at Golden Acres Garden Senter ( their spelling, not mine! ) the helpful staff pointed out some fiddle-head ferns that were on stupid sale ( because it’s way past time to plant them ). So, being daring and a sucker for a deal, and always questing for plants to add into the yard that I can eat, I bought six. I think I will go back and get another half dozen or so for under the lilacs along the side of the house. The lady in the perennials section of the greenhouse said that the ferns form hefty root systems and make a good erosion control. Plus, fiddle-head greens in the spring! So I’m going to put in a big patch of them, and hope that I can get some tasty stuff out of that part of the yard, which is largely useless for veggies anyhow.

Garden Slope Shots
Garden Slope Shots
Garden Slope Shots
Garden Slope Shots
Garden Slope Shots

Carrots, Onions, and Peas… oh my.

Dirt caked fingers, soil smudge into my palms

Stray bits of wood in finger loosened soil
Onions and carrots yesterday
Peas, radishes, spinach today
Crocus peek out from the corners,
Stand tall in the lawn,
Marking the graves of dandelion tap roots.
Purple, cream, bright golden yellow,
Oh bounty, come grace my garden,
That hides from snow and wind.
Oh God, help feed my family,
With gifts from your creation.
Not ownership,

Oh magic 8-ball, is it spring?

My sources say: Try Again Later.

I was really hoping to get out in the garden and distract myself by putting together my planned cold frame. Instead another weekend of snow.
So the sproutcount as of now is:
8/16 Green Onion ( they get another 4 days to finish sprouting or they meet the bin )
5/6 Cabbages ( booyah, that’s more then I need )
6/18 Tomatoes ( I was aiming for 6 total, but my record is horrid. )
The tomatoes and cabbages are getting “leggy” ( means long and spindly, usually because of poor light, the kind you get when it’s always cloudy and snowing for example ). I’ve added in a second light source to Sarah’s old LightBook. She says I get it for 2 weeks, then it’s going to be used for a lightbox to photograph the endless piles of yarn making their way to our house.
On my Mom’s advice I have put the sprouts into peat pots ( 4 inch ) and for the leggy ones I’ve buried their stems about half way. She says they’ll shoot roots out of the stems if they are under soil. Hopefully all goes well… otherwise I have to start more cabbages and tomatoes.
On the docket this weekend: Lettuces. Crisp Mint ( Romaine ) and Bronze Arrow ( leaf ).

They LIVE!

Tomatoes: 5/6 from batch three sprouted so far, 4 at two leaf stage.
Cabbage: 4/6 from batch two sprouted so far.
Green Onion: 4/18 from batch one sprouted so far.
Looks like things are starting to germinate, based on the advice my Mom gave me about letting the Jiffy pods dry out a bit more and leaving the lid off the starter for 8-9 hours a day. So far so good!
Also found this website ( ) which is a pretty decent place to track your garden supplies and activities. It’s a bit rough, but way better then any of the apps I could find on the iTunes store. It is semi-free ( you get a stripped down version for free ). Pretty good so far. Cost for premium tools was only a yearly fee of $15 – $50 depending on how much karma you want.

Cabbage Fail

So the Jersey Wakefield cabbage seeds aren’t germinating either. I took them out of the Jiffy tray and used a knife to open up the Jiffy peat pod. Looks like most of the seeds were at a depth of 1/2″ or so, which is about double the depth they should be at. I’m not sure if I just planted them too deep or if they settled in the peat, the former is my guess since I wasn’t using a planting gauge at the time.

The seeds looked like they had softened up a bit, I cut them all in half ( because at this point I’m doing science! ) and the shells were softer then the raw seed, and they had swollen up some. Not rotting, but not germinating either.
I’ve started a new batch, we’ll see what happens. Should sprout by Friday/Saturday if I’m lucky, or Wednesday the 20th. I was hoping to stage them out some so I could get cabbages at a couple times, but I suppose getting them to sprout is the proper first step.
The snow is almost melted off the yard again, but I hear vile rumours of snow showers or sleet this coming week…

April Snow, Rotting Tomato Seeds

So it’s still snowing, in April. Not a big surprise here in Calgary I suppose, but I’m ready to be done with the snow so I can get out in the garden. I plan to start by building some row covers / cold frames for our first veggie bed. I think I’ve settled on a design, I’m modifying the setup I found on The Garden Hound to fit my bed, and run width wise rather then length wise in case of random snowfalls. This would be over-engineered in most cases, but the weight of a surprise spring snow will be covered better. Should also allow me some frost protection for spinach/lettuce/radishes in the late summer, and maybe let me push growing season into early October. Fingers crossed. The design also doubles as a way for running rabbit protection from the hordes of hares that live in our area, and I can swap out the cold frames for trellis for the climbers.

I have started the adventure of indoor seeding. So far: epic fail.
My first batch of tomato seeds rotted out. After waiting 16 days for germination, I pulled one out of the sort-of-heated Jiffy seed starting tray and cut it open. I found a partially germinated seed and a brown root that clearly succumbed to root rot. Scrap attempt one, start attempt number two. It looks like I’ve been a bit overzealous with the water.
This bodes poorly for the cabbage seeds I planted last Friday. The green onions ( or bunching onions if you will, or scallions if you won’t ) have been a bit too damp, but only for about 3 days. They aren’t nearly as wet as the others. I’m leaving the lid off the starter bed to allow the glorious semi-desert air of Calgary to suck the moisture out a bit. Fingers crossed I didn’t lose the cabbage seeds. Thankfully still lots of time to try again, given that winter refuses to leave…

Yay! My seeds are here!

So I made the call on my seeds for the next gardening year. Since this is the first time we are doing a vegetable garden I had to get all new seed stock, so instead of getting some species named with a serial number I went to Heritage Harvest Seed ( ) and Johnny’s Seed ( ).

Heritage Harvest Seed is out of Manitoba, and specializes in rare and hard to find heirloom seed stock. A bit more expensive then getting seeds at Home Depot, but I’d rather support a smaller operation and use seeds that have some sort of legacy on the prairies. Johnny’s Seed is out of the US, and were the first hit on Google in my quest for funky looking pattipan squash.

I tried to pick plants with short growing times, since here in Calgary the weather is rarely cooperative with early springs and late frosts. Given that this is a La Nina year, I may be embarking on a bit of a disaster garden, but fingers crossed something survives! Experiments are fun! All in all I got -WAY- too much seed for my 40 sq feet of veggie patch, but I have no clue what will work and what won’t in my yard’s micro-climate on the north-west side of Calgary.

When ever possible I erred to something the Amish liked to grow, or things that were recommended in Gardening Under the Arch. ( A must have for Chinook zone gardeners! ) Sadly in the case of my summer squash and patty-pans I sort of guessed and picked based on pretty shaped or coloured fruit.

Seeds I picked up from Heritage Harvest Seeds:

  • Early Riser Pole Bean
  • Purple Peacock Pole Bean
  • Lutz Green Leaf Beet
  • Early Jersey-Wakefield Cabbage
  • Danvers Half-long Carrot
  • Purple Dragon Carrot
  • Five-Colour Silverbeet Chard
  • Fordhook Giant Chard
  • Lyaluk Cucumber
  • Bronze Arrow Lettuce
  • Crisp Mint Lettuce
  • Amish Snap Peas
  • Homesteader Peas
  • Longstanding Spinach

Seeds I picked up from Johnny’s Seeds:

  • Flying Saucer Patty-pan Summer Squash
  • Sunburst Patty-pan Summer Squash
  • Zephyr Zucchini Squash

Next steps are to figure out who’s going to get an early start ( I am thinking about converting my wife’s old LightBook into a grow lamp, but it’s small… ), what bits and bobs I still need to buy and build, and figure out a way to keep the rabbits and hares that roam our area out of the garden. Climbing frames for the peas, beans, and cucumbers also need planning, and I’m pondering doing a cold frame setup so I can get soil temperatures up earlier in the year.

Soil, not dirt

So I spent my morning trucking soil ( not dirt ) from the back parking pad into the newly placed raised bed. I mixed the Alberta Gold Soil that Eagle Lake Turf Farm dropped off in my back yard. A cubic yard of soil sounded like a little, it’s not, it’s quite large. I still have about 1/4 of it left after filling the bed.

The bed is only 10 inches high, and I am just laying it on top of the lawn. Most instructions online and in the Square Foot Gardening books I’ve read suggest laying down landscaping fabric beneath your soil. Well that stuff costs money, so I did a poor-man’s solution. I used the Saturday edition of the Calgary Herald, most if it is adverts and stuff about Lindsey Lohan anyhow. The flyers, entertainment section, business section, classifieds, and sports were enough to do newspaper 3 layers deep. Between each layer I sprayed the paper with water. It should make a solid barrier for the grass, and over a year rot away. This way the grass and soil below the bed can be used for nutrients by deeper rooting plants like carrots and beets.

After that is was truck soil back and forth for an hour and a bit. First layer of soil was mixed 50/50 with my compost. Second layer was 30% compost from my bins, final layer was just the soil. I’m not sure what the Eagle Lake soil mix is, looked to be about 1/3 cured steer manure, 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss. What ever it is is very loose, and holds water like mad.

I gave each layer of soil a spray with the hose, and gave the whole works a soak at the end. Mostly I want the weight to mush down any air pockets and lift from the grass below, and to make sure the stuff isn’t bone dry and blowing away.

Artwork Artwork Artwork

The garden experiment begins

It has taken much longer then expected for us to put in anything garden related. Between fixing the problems that come with buying an older home and what can only be called the year of chaos ( or choas ) I’ve not been able to get at much in the yard, let alone start a garden.

But this year I had some spare time between trips to Europe and the hospital. I was able to put together a really super cool 3 bin compost setup ( 81 cubic feet of capacity ). Because I like my neighbours I took the time to stain it all pretty. The bin was up and running in mid July, and the first batch of compost is ready to use. Batch number two is starting to cook.

Compost Bin Shots

Garden Picture
Garden Picture
Garden Picture
Garden Picture
Garden Picture

With Autumn rolling in I put in the first garden bed. I’m going with a modified ‘Square Foot Gardening’ bed. It’s 4 feet by 10 feet, which should give some serious veggies come next year. I’m modifying ‘Mels Mix’ to include less vermiculite and peat moss, and more soil & compost. Still waiting on the soil to be delivered, but the bed should be all ready to go come spring planting time.

Garden bed and proposed layout

Garden Picture
Garden Picture
Garden Picture

Crazy compost…

The compost bin has gone out of control. It is currently eating everything in site, devouring organic matter at a frightful pace. I do not have a thermometer for my composting efforts, but when I pull the lid off the bins I get a wave of warm air, and a little stir of the top inch or so reveals a toasty warm ( and humid ) biosphere that is happily eating kitchen scraps and yard waste.

I really am astounded at how fast it is eating things. It reduces the lawn clippings by 50% in 10 days. I am a bit worried that it may be running too hot, and that the temperature will get too high and the heap will start to kill itself off, it hasn’t been the warmest of weather here in Calgary over the last few weeks. I’m still trying to find out what the best temperature is supposed to be, I think this heap is sitting around 30-35 Celsius, maybe as hot as 40 Celsius in the core. Stirring seems to cool the heap down, and gets the active… ecosystem up into the new items added. Sort of like making sourdough bread, or yogurt, you get the hyped up live sections to mingle with the new food sources and the party starts. Gets some air in there as well.

I think at some point I have over watered, it is really mucky and bog like in the lower-central part of the bin. I’ve cut back on the amount of H2O I add, I now only water when I add a new layer of clippings or yard waste. We’ll see how that goes.