Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Is it SPRING yet?" she said with some desperation in her voice.

No, not yet.  My daughter got confused because it was actually quite warm on the weekend and we had alot of melting.  But now it has been snowing for three days straight.  Which is not really that unusual for Calgary - March is always our snowiest month.  Other places get spring rains, but since Calgary is so close to the mountains and at a higher elevation than most places, the spring rain turns to snow.  Oh well, at least it isn't too cold.  And at least the thrill of shovelling snow hasn't faded entirely!

But to help pace the winter months I do what must gardeners do - I start my seeds and I dream! Oh, the places the garden will go this year.  This is the year - the garden will be fantastic. I have been drooling over my design books and updated my garden plans - here is a drawing of my backyard as it is.  I would like to add a focal point to the back garden this year, but I'm not sure.  I have fantasies of getting an apricot tree.  I read somewhere that there was some new variety from Manitoba (who seem the make all the prairie hardy plants these days) that would survive in Calgary?  We'll see.  I'll keep dreaming.  Anyway...

You can see that the patio is quite large - but usually I fill it with pots and planters.  Besides he kids still have too much fun riding their bikes and scooters around and since we don't have a driveway, it is quite handy for chalk drawing.  But what to do with the expanse of grass?  Again the kids really like to play games on the grass and the square shape does encourage many games of soccer.  I'll keep thinking about it.

On a side note I came across a really cool site.  For as long as I can remember, my sister has loved the Unicorn Tapestries - only I didn't know they were called that.  I was following some links about two extraordinary mathematicians who were trying to delve into the mysteries of pi.  They are known as the Chudnovsky Brothers.  It is really cool if you have any interest in mathematics.  Anyway it turns out that they were instrumental in figuring out a way to merge the digital pictures that were taken of the tapestries.  This lead me to a site about the tapestries themselves.  Apparently these tapestries give some of the most detailed and colourful botanical diagrams from that time - showing the plants that were common at this time.  Here is the link.  It is really interesting that most of them are very familiar.  And also that the selection is rather limited.  We are so used to all of the different varieties of plants that are available from all over the world so it is really interesting to see what was around in England 500 years ago.  They really are beautiful. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bring on the worms!

The Brentwood Community Garden had an Open House this past weekend.  It was nice to get out of the house and visit with some of our neighbours - sometimes over the winter it seems like everyone goes into hibernation mode and we'll go months without seeing even or close neighbours who live down the street.  So it was really nice to get out and do something in the community.  There were a number of tables set up with information about the community gardens and gardening in Calgary.  There were talks going on and a silent auction.  I only stayed for a few of the talks, but they were really interesting. The kids had a great time too.  They got to have hot dogs for lunch and they played in the kids zone for quite a while.  They had a few crafts, some colouring pages and the kids got to plant a bean seed.  But the highlight of the event (from my kids point of view) was the vermicomposter!  It had worms!  It was very exciting.  Barb Longair from the Nosehill Library discussed vermicomposting, how to do it, what supplies are needed, and where to get the worms.  The presentation was excellent and even the kids learned alot.  My three-year-old came home talking about how excited he was going to be when we get our new pet worms!  I have been thinking about vermicomposting for a few years, but I've aways been intimidated by how complicated and expensive the setup seemed to be.  But Barb shared with us her inexpensive and easily constructed home-made vermicomposter.

As you can see from the pictures, it is made from a large, sturdy bin with a simple household air vent added to the top.  She also labelled each side with a 1 or 2.  Then she had a small label attached to the top of the bin to indicate which side to "feed" the worms - 1 or 2 or a rest week.  She lets the vermicomposter rest once every four weeks.  She discussed the bedding required and how big a vermicomposter would be required for a family.  The one she showed takes about a cup of compost per week.  Here is a useful website that has lots of information.  She also discussed where to get the worms since you need red wiggles which are not native to North America - not the regular earth worms we find in the garden since they eat earth, not compost.  She recommended Worms at Work as a local source for the worms.  Vermicomposting in Calgary means that we can continue to compost through the winter months.  It is very difficult to compost in the winter - between the frozen trek out to the compost bins to the piles of garbage that thaw in the spring after being frozen all winter.  In fact composting in Calgary is a slow process since winter lasts at least five months and then even in the summer it is very dry and cool.  So in comes the vermicomposting!  One excellent book to read if you want more information is Worms Eat my Garbage by Mary Appelhof.

Heading home after all the fun...still lots of snow - but look at the puddles!  It is melting!

**Oh, and we learned a new vocabulary word...Do you know what a group of worms is called?...A squirm of worms!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Yeah! It's time to start my seeds!

Just when I thought the winter blahs couldn't get any worse I realized it was time to start my seeds!  One of my favorite winter activities!  A few weeks ago I finally organized my collection of seeds.  They have a special little shelf in the fridge.  Usually I harvest a few seeds from my garden in the summer - mostly from plants that easily reseed.  I like the idea of collecting seeds and it is fun to spread some of the extras into new parts of my garden.  This year I had a few baggies filled with various seeds (after letting them dry in paper bags of course) - poppies, delphinium, tagetes, columbine.  Last year I had wanted to make little seed packets and organize my seeds, but I never got around to it, so this year I decided to make sure I found the time to do it.  I found a website with some cute (free) templates to print out.  You can find the link here
Don't you think my seeds look so happy in their new homes!  So pretty!
As part of the seed organizing I also made my seed starting list.  I included all of the seeds I have this year and an approximate date for when I want to start them as well as if I'll start them inside or outside.  I have a feeling that summer will be rather late this year, so I pushed back some of my dates.  It can get really annoying having so many plants ready to go outside and still have freezing temperatures at night.  I'd also like to try some winter sowing of some of the varieties - I'll let you know how it goes.
So here is a list of my plans for this year (organized by seed starting date):

Feb. 24
  • Pyrethrum - Giant Robinson Mix
  • Armeria - Morning Star Rose
  • Delphinium - Belladonna Mix
  • Primula Denticulata (Drumstick Primrose) - Ruby
Mar. 15
  • verbena bonariensis- Finesse - winter sow
  • nicotiana - Only the Lonely - winter sow
  • impatiens - Xtreme White
  • lobelia - Riviera Marine
April 1
  • gomprena - QIS Purple - winter sow
  • tagetes - Lemon Gem - winter sow
  • coleus - Sonatina Gold
April 15
  • sweet pea - Ocean Foam
May 7 or 15 (depending on the likelihood of summer)
  • zucchini - Golden Dawn III Hybrid
  • corn - Honey Select
  • morning glory - President Tyler
  • pumpkin - Small Sugar
May 15 - Outside
  • peas - Laxton's Progress
May 24- Outside
  • sunflowers - various
  • poppies - various
June 1 - Outside
  • carrots - Nantes Express
  • beets - Detroit Dark Red
  • beans - Scarlett Runner
  • dill
  • cucumber - Muncher
Of course there are just a few more that I'd like to get, but I may have to wait until next year.  This will be the first year that I've tried to grow cucumbers, but the kids and I are very excited to make our homemade dill pickles again this year!