HOLIDAY GREETINGS FROM THE STAFF AT THE NURSERY
Freshly cut Vancouver Island CHRISTMAS TREES will be available Dec 1. Also WREATHS lovingly made by our staff and bundles of greens and holly for your decorating needs.
While it’s still only November, I decided to put my Mason Bees to bed early. I hoped that maybe my precious pollinators would have fewer mites if I got them cleaned earlier in the season. Any time between October and January is prime time for cleaning cocoons, and I’ve usually done this task in January.Our cold and damp springs of late have caused the local mite population to proliferate, and in damp neighborhoods such as mine, they positively thrive. They literally hitch a ride on the backs of the female bee as she carries her cargo of pollen into the bee house to sustain her young. Sadly, the mites are there in the chamber as she seals it; sealing the fate of her egg as well.
Each year I’m astonished to see yet more mites in residence. This year there were several cells with nothing but mites, obviously they consumed the egg before it could even develop. In spite of the mite infestation, the number of mature cocoons is greater than last year; the warm summer enabled the bees to stay alive long enough to make literally thousands of trips from blossoms to bee house, again and again, laying eggs for another generation of Mason Bees.
Cleaning the cocoons is now easier with Brian’s method of using sand to scrub them clean.
I actually went through the whole process twice this year, to make sure they were thoroughly clean. Scrubbing them in the slurry more than a few times, I then rinsed them several times, and when they were dry on the paper towels, inspected it very carefully for any sign of debris. Once nice and dry in the cold garage, they will go into the fridge for winter hibernation, wrapped in paper towels then into a zip loc bag.
Over the past several years we have posted several articles on our website, detailing our own journey to making our gardens more welcoming to these friendly garden helpers, and providing tips on how to keep them healthy. For more information, see the section marked Mason Bees in the Notes section of our website menu.
Isn’t it fun to think of the thousands of bees all of us have nurtured, and the delicious fruit they have provided?
Getting the veggie garden ready for winter entails just a few simple tasks. The first really hard frost of the season is upon us; we need to prepare now for the winter that lurks nearby.
First of all, the soil needs to be protected from incessant rain, which leeches out nutrients and compacts the ground. All bare soil benefits from a 2-4” mulch of fluffy leaves, and if you have seaweed available, add it now as well.
What not to put on your garden now? Compost! Winter rains wash the nutrients away, and the microorganisms are sleeping anyway, so save your compost in the bin, and cover it with a loose blanket of plastic to keep it relatively dry and warm(ish). Be watchful though, last year I found suspicious little rat-sized tunnels in my protected compost.
When to lime? Yesterday! The recommended amount is 1 pound of Dolomite lime per square yard; simply measure one pound, and mark it on a container.
If you got your Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts planted in time, then you will have tall, slightly top-heavy plants now. They will need staking against the winter winds, but otherwise are quite hardy; just some leaves stuffed between the plants to protect the soil will suffice.
Seeded in early May outside, my Lacinato Kale is tall and gorgeous now, so I loosely tied it to a stake as well.
Root crops such as carrots and beets will also want some leaf mulch to cover their shoulders, which may have pushed themselves above the soil surface.
Chard and spinach, having more delicate leaves, will also appreciate a bit of cover or protection in very cold spells. If they do freeze hard, not to worry; just let them thaw outside, and they’ll be fine. Don’t bring them in when still hard though, or they’ll look very sad when thawed in a limp pile.
In the berry patch, you should have already cut back the raspberries; this year’s fruiting stems of summer-bearing varieties (eg Tulameen, Latham) should be cut right down, and everbearing (eg Fall Gold, Heritage) ones can be cut down only half way, to allow sprouts to form from them, giving a summer crop as well, hence the name everbearing – summer and again in fall.
Strawberries also need cutting back, remove all old leaves then cover the crown with leaf mulch for protection. Being acidic, shredded oak leaves are great for strawberries.
Early next spring when your food crops are producing bountifully, you’ll be happy that you took these few steps to keep them at their best.
National Tree Day was September 25, and it seems fitting to acknowledge this by paying tribute to the elders of our plant world, the lofty and noble tree. We as a species simply could not exist on Earth without trees.
Most people know that trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. But it’s way more interesting than that!
DID YOU KNOW….
*One acre of trees consumes annually the amount of carbon dioxide produced bv driving an average car 26,000 miles, approximately the circumference of the earth. The carbon is stored bv the trees as wood fibre.
*This same acre of trees also produces enough oxygen for 18 people to breathe, every day.
*Trees actually improve air quality by capturing airborne pollutants, filtering them through their leaves, stems and twigs. When trees are present, there is up to 60% less particulate matter in the air. Gaseous pollutants are absorbed by the stomata on the leaves’ surface. Ever notice how good the air feels in a forest?
*Trees cool the air and ground by their gift of shade, and recycle the water they take in through their roots. Evaporation of the water held in leaves causes humidity to rise, eventually to fall again as rain.
*Trees provide shelter and food to all manner of wildlife, from birds and insects to giant carnivores such as bears.
*Tree roots stabilize soil, preventing erosion. Their falling leaves renew the soil every year.
Now it gets even more interesting….
*People in hospitals and sickrooms who can see trees from their windows rather than blank walls actually heal faster! They have fewer complications, and require less pain medication. http://www.pdx.edu/sustainability/event/health-benefits-nearby-nature
*The Japanese practice of ‘forest bathing’, or Shinrinyoku, is claimed to reduce stress and boost the immune response to cancer and other illness. Breathing in the essential oils emitted by the trees has been given scientific scrutiny, but it doesn’t take a scientist to see how good we feel after spending time with trees. For more info on Shinrinyoku, see http://www.hphpcentral.com/article/forest-bathing
It is said “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, but the next best time is today”. When you sit under a tree today it’s because someone planted a tree a long time ago. Habitat for wildlife, air and water for humans, and care for the Earth; trees are pretty wonderful, don’t you think?
While the vegetable harvest is still fresh in your mind, fall is a good time to take stock of what grew and what didn’t. Thanks to a nice warm summer with lots of sunshine, most of us had a bountiful crop. Here are some of our observations:
* We did some trials of potting soil here at the nursery and in our home gardens, and we found the Organic Potting Soil amended with compost to be the most productive for crops grown in containers. We started equal plants in My Soil, and while they got off to a faster start, those grown in either Organic or Growell caught up. Brian did a taste test of his tomatoes and thought those grown in Organic Potting Soil had the best flavour.
* Veggies in the garden beds as well as those in containers did best when we stuck to a regular regime of liquid fertilizer. Last year I neglected this, and the results were obvious. I also had very positive results with compost tea this year.
* The beds built using the Lasagna Gardening method have remained my most productive beds. This year I’ll be adding layers of manure, straw, compost, leaves and seaweed to my other beds as well, topping them off with a layer of soil, like icing on the cake.
Some specific crop observations:
Started Sugar Snap Pole (Pacific Northwest Seeds) and Tall Telephone (West Coast Seeds) in vermiculite, in seed trays in the house, March 8. Once they were up, I moved them to an unheated greenhouse, but any bright, protected place outdoors where the rodents and birds can’t get them, would be ok. Planted densely outside when 4” tall, the 7’ tall vines were laden with peas for weeks.
Leeks started in March will produce all year. Unique, from Full Circle Seeds, (a local company) is a hardy variety that I’ve enjoyed them all summer. They are still in the ground for winter harvest. Another good one is Bandit (WCS).
Two varieties, Nantes Coreless (PNW) and Purple Haze (WCS), my new favourite carrot, were seeded outdoors in a raised bed on April 24. They grew very well and were harvested all summer. Started more on July 4 for winter harvest. Covered them with ProTekNet as soon as they germinated, to foil the Carrot Rust Fly.
I direct seeded Early Wonder Tall Top (WCS) on May 16 but this was too late. Only a few were ready for summer harvest, but they are still in the ground for winter eating. I also seeded some on July 4 specifically for winter. Sue was served a dish made with Touchstone Gold (WCS), and her review was so fantastic, I seeded them, in a large cedar planter, in early July for winter use. I have had problems this year with leaf miners in my red beet leaves, next year will cover with ProTekNet.
I bought some seeds in Japan last year; Komatsuna, Leaf Mustard, and Bekana. In March I started them indoors under lights, and moved them outside on May 8, which was a bit late. I have started more for winter, and they have grown very large very quickly, and will soon be planted into large pots. Any of our seed companies are good sources for these greens.
Everyone can grow kale. I always grow Lacinato from seed, directly in the ground in a raised bed. Started April 24, they grew well all summer and will continue all winter. I kept them under the netting with the carrots to avoid the Imported Cabbage Worm, so the only pest I’ve had is aphids, which seem to arrive no matter where you plant them
Bright Lights (PNW) chard is a consistent winner whether grown from seed or starts. This year the leaf miners have been bad, so like the beets, chard will be started under ProTekNet next year. Last winter I had spring-planted chard growing both inside the greenhouse and outside in the ground, and both thrived. I was picking leaves the following spring.
For me, spinach will only be a winter crop from now on. It bolts in spring with lengthening days, so by the time it can be seeded, it’s almost time to bolt. Seeding in late August ensures a crop all winter. While spinach grows well outside in our winters, my small greenhouse has produced Samish (WCS) spinach that almost gleams – green perfection.
Beans were started May 6 in vermiculite. To save space and have a longer harvest time, I grow only pole beans. Fortex (WCS) is the tastiest bean of all, in my opinion, and I grew this in a large, deep pot with tall cedar stakes for support. Harvest was good, but not great. Next year I’ll use a raised bed. Purple Peacock (WCS), grown in one of the lasagna beds, produced copiously. The purple pods grow rapidly once they start, and usually got ahead of me, becoming larger than I like. More vigilance required next year!
Were grown in large cedar planters in the greenhouse this year, but next year I will have some outside as well, to keep the season going longer. Favourites are Sweet Success (WCS) and Lemon Cucumber (WCS). Watered and fed well, given support to climb, these were total success crops.
I grew one plant for my family of two. Partenon doesn’t need pollination, so every flower produced fruit; just enough. Seeds from William Dam Seeds; don’t worry, I’ll get enough next year to start plants for sale at the nursery!. (Sue agrees, one plant is all you need!!)
Since I have a small garden with limited sun, I grow potatoes in huge containers, layering good compost with soil and straw. I lapsed a bit with the watering, but will do better next year (really). Banana and French Fingerling, both small gourmet types, do well for me.
I started several varieties from seed indoors on March 21, then moved up to 4” pots in greenhouse on May 11. They should have gone into these larger pots sooner, but the weather was cold. Principe Borghese (good for roasting) and Graham’s Goodkeeper (good for longer term storage, ripening over the fall) are old favourites of mine, both from Seeds of Victoria. This year they didn’t produce as many tomatoes as I’d like, but they were grown in a bed that needs more amendments. I’ll layer some good organics such as manure, straw, compost, seaweed and leaves onto this bed to overwinter.
I trialed the mycorrhizae fungi (Myke) additive, and found no difference at all, so I won’t try that again. I also trialed the red plastic trays from WCS supposed to reflect some special light rays, but these also didn’t overwhelm me.
Sungold produced generously, as did my grafted (Mighty Mato) Black Cherry. Brian counted 225 tomatoes on his Black Cherry! I’ve been disappointed with Oregon Spring, but the Sweet 100 in the Grow Bag produced plentiful, tasty fruit. The indeterminates should have been pruned earlier to remove the suckers, I turned my back and there were 6 stems.
My best and most valuable gardening practice has been keeping good records of when and where I start various crops. There is lots of room for improvement here, but by looking back on the current year’s crop, and learning from mistakes while building on successes, next year can only get better.
Happy gardening to all!
Improper or badly timed pruning is often the reason that flowering shrubs bloom poorly or not at all. A little insight into a plant’s growth and flowering habits can be used to plan how and when to prune. Only a few pieces of key information are presented here, so consult a good pruning book for more detail. Highly recommended: Christopher Brickell’s Pruning & Training (republished in 2011) and Cass Turnbull’s Guide to Pruning).
These old favourites often suffer from pruning improprieties:
Abelia: Is a pretty summer flowering shrub that more often than not is planted in a spot that is too small for it. It has an open arching habit and sends up long new shoots from the base in the spring. Abelia flowers on new wood and when these new shoots are cut off in an attempt to keep the plant tidy, you are left with the older branches that don’t flower well. Ideally the older branches should be cut out after flowering, and the new ones allowed to develop in their place.
Chaenomeles: (Flowering Quince) Flower best when ‘spur pruned’, just like apple trees. (A spur is short bit of branch 0n which most of the flowering and fruiting buds are concentrated.) Encourage flowering spurs with pruning in late spring or early summer. Free standing specimens bloom best when new growth is cut back to five or six leaves. Cut back side shoots on espaliered or wall trained shrubs to 2-3 leaves. Cut back any shoots that develop later in the season the same way.
Erica: (Winter Heather) Heathers should be sheared back, every year or two, right after flowering. For a more natural look use secateurs. They won’t break from old wood, so only cut into wood that still has leaves on it. The next year’s flower buds start forming by late summer, so late pruning will reduce flowering.
Hydrangeas: Know your hydrangeas! There is no simple rule for hydrangea pruning. If you know the cultivar name of your hydrangeas Google can be very helpful in trying to figure out what to do with them. In general, older varieties of macrophylla types (mophead or lacecap) bloom on old wood. Spring pruning should consist of cutting out weak growth and cutting some of the oldest stems at ground level. Cut back remaining stems by about 12″ to pairs of fat buds. Some varieties bloom only on buds produced at the very tips of their branches, so be wary of cutting them off. A lot of the newer varieties of hydrangeas bloom on both old and new wood and can be pruned as needed to keep the size in check. Paniculata and arborescent types bloom on current season’s growth and can be cut back hard to a main framework without losing bloom. They can also be pinched back a couple of times early in the season to make them bushier.
Philadelphus: (Mock Orange) Blooms on previous season’s wood. Flowering diminishes on stems more than four years old. Cut back about ¼ of the older stems right to the ground every year to keep the plant young and floriferous. Trim side shoots to improve the shape.
Syringa: (Lilac) Prune after flowering. Cut off old flower heads and cut back long leggy growth. Before cutting woody branches look carefully at the pairs of leaves on the branch. Leaves that are directly opposite each other have flower buds in their axils. Leaf pairs that are offset from one another don’t. Cutting just above the flowering buds will encourage more blooms.
Wisteria: The main reason that wisteria doesn’t bloom is that it is not pruned properly. It also blooms on spurs that are developed by pruning. All that long whippy growth that comes in over the summer should not be cut out completely, but should be cut back to about 5-6 buds. In the winter cut those same stems back again, this time to 2-3 buds. These will become the spurs that produce the next year’s blooms.
For taste and pleasure, growing delicious ripe berries in your own backyard has to be the ultimate treat. The Big Three of Berry Heaven would be strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. There are many others of course, and aficionados of gooseberries will likely argue with my assessment, but who can argue with a juicy, red strawberry? Read on For Practical Advice on How to Grow Berries
STRAWBERRIES are super easy to cultivate in the home garden.
There are two main categories, ever-bearing and June-bearing:
Everbearing produce an intermittent crop of berries from late June right through to October. Tristar is the most popular of this type, and is a vigorous and disease-resistant plant with large, tasty fruit. Totem produces its crop in June, and then it’s done for the year, but the yield is large. June-bearing plants produce more runners, so space accordingly.
Strawberries prefer acid soil, so don’t lime this part of your garden. They also appreciate a mulch of straw once the soil warms up, which keeps the berries clean and relatively slug free. Growing in containers is a great plan because the berries can hang down, ready for easy picking.
Botrytis, that nasty mold that ruins crowded berries, can be avoided by spacing well, removing excess runners (leave 2 or 3 per plant and allow them to root before cutting from parent plant), and giving good air circulation. Keep the crowns above soil level, and clean up the foliage in the fall. Don’t water late in the day. Pests? Slugs and birds will be your main competitors, foiled by Safers slug bait and netting.
RASPBERRIES take a lot of room, but are deserving of a special place. Of my three raised beds, one is devoted solely to raspberries, and I’ve never regretted this lavish use of space. They need strong supports, and a permanent structure of strong wires strung between solid posts is well worth the initial investment of time and money.
Everbearing, such as Fall Gold and Heritage, will have two crops a year if you are careful with pruning. Cut the fruiting canes down only half way when dormant, and these canes will reward you with an early crop, new shoots emerging in April along the half cane remaining from last year. I already have raspberries forming on my Fall Gold on last year’s canes. Once these two-year old canes have fruited, they can be cut to the ground. Allow only 5-10 new canes to develop from each plant; they will produce berries on the top third of the cane, from September onwards. I’ve had them produce right up to December.
Summer-bearing, such as Tulameen will produce a heavy single crop that goes on for several weeks in the summer. Fruiting canes should be cut back to the ground when plants are dormant; be careful not to cut down any of the new canes, which will fruit next year. At this point, tie up the new canes before the winter winds lash them around, and when spring comes, your raspberries will be ready for the crowds of bumble bees that love to pollinate them for you. Just like climbing roses, horizontal branches of cane fruits produce more bloom and hence more fruit, so keep them trained along the wires as close to horizontal as possible.
Raspberries need good drainage but lots of water and fertilizer. Amend the soil liberally with aged manure, compost, seaweed and fish emulsion.
BLUEBERRIES are as beautiful as they are delicious. The fall colour on a blueberry bush is rich in reds, gold and orange, and the red twigs in winter light up a dark day. As an attractive shrub, they can be grown in containers if re-potted every 2-3 years
While blueberries are actually self-fertile, they will crop better with at least 2 different varieties grown together for cross-pollination. Some of the well-known varieties are Bluecrop, Duke, Patriot, Northsky (a half-high hybrid), and Chandler.
Blueberries need rich acid soil, so don’t lime nor add bone meal. If your soil isn’t acid, add peat moss, leaf compost or sulphur. Top dress with more acidifying organics such as bark mulch or sawdust to control weeds and conserve moisture.
Pruning is simple; remove any dead, diseased or crossing branches when the plant is dormant, and open up the top structure to let the sun shine in. In late winter the fruiting buds are easy to spot, they are the fatter buds; consider this when wondering what to remove. When the plant is much older, start removing one or two of the oldest branches to the ground yearly to allow for new growth.
Just add sunshine and protect from hungry birds! Remember that they aren’t necessarily ripe when they first turn blue; let them darken further and enjoy the added sweetness of a fully ripe blueberry.
But why stop with the Big Three? The variety of berries is bountiful, and right now is the time to try something new. Consider the following, to expand your eating and growing pleasure:
HONEYBERRY Lonicera caerulea
Also called Haskap, this mighty little morsel has very high levels of Vit. C and anti-oxidants. Very hardy and easy to grow, it ripens early and has a complex flavour reminiscent of grapes, raspberries and black currants. Needs cross-pollination, so plant more than one variety. Allow them to fully ripen; about a week after skin turns blue the flesh will also change from green to purple. Several of ours have fruit already!
KIWI This one needs both a male and female to pollinate properly. Even the Issai, which is billed as being self-fertile, will fruit more productively if there are two plants near each other. It’s easy to grow in a sunny warm area of the garden in moderately fertile soil rich in compost. Avoid over-feeding with nitrogen and give support to this climbing vine.
THORNLESS BLACKBERRY Ok, it’s a Canadian tradition to pick blackberries by the side of the road, but imagine having your own crop and no thorns! The Chester variety is very hardy and productive. Likes lots of sun in a rich moist soil amended with compost.
LOGANBERRY & TAYBERRY Both are crosses between raspberry and blackberry, with the delicious taste of each. Very sturdy and disease resistant. Logans are thornless. Tays have small prickles along branches. Prune and support as for raspberries.
CRANBERRY No bog needed, in fact THEY DO NOT LIKE SATURATED CONDITIONS. Water as you would other garden plants, dig in damp peat for high acidity. They are rhizomatous plants, ie they send out runners to expand the plant. Give them room to spread, plant in a bed that you can designate for them. Harvest berries when red, don’t allow them to stay on the plant if frost is forecast. Very high in Vit C and antioxidants!
GOJI BERRY Full of nutrients, a little raisin-sized gem for good health, as it contains more carotene than carrots, all the essential amino acids, and many minerals. Gojis have a slight sweet and sour taste, and ripen from August to October. Full to half day sun, well-drained soil, drought tolerant once established.
FIG ‘Desert King’ Best variety for our climate, can grow in a container, espaliered, or as a yard tree in the fullest sun you have. Yummy green figs in late summer, be sure to let them ripen fully. They should be getting soft, looking almost over-done, before eating. Likes alkaline soil; be generous with lime.
JOSTA BERRY Cross between Black Currant and Gooseberry, these tasty, small berries are rich in Vit C; they are self-pollinating, disease resistant, and tolerate a wide range of soil conditions.
GOOSEBERRY This deer resistant rounded deciduous shrub is self fertile, mildew resistant, and thrives in containers if kept moist. Gooseberries do well in full to half-day sun, compost-rich soil, producing lots of sweet fruit with a crisp skin and snappy tang.
SUMMER IS COMING SO BE FRUITFUL, AND GROW BERRIES!
The basic rule of ornamental grass maintenance is to leave them standing over winter and don’t mess with them until they are actively growing in early to late spring. They don’t require much care, but will benefit from some annual grooming and spring is the time to do it. Most of the grooming involves cutting back, and when and how to cut back depends on the type of grass you have.
The first ones to cut back are the cool season, deciduous grasses, and these can be cut back to about 3 inches after temperatures rise above freezing. In Victoria gardens this usually means mid-March, when the new growth is just starting to show.
Cool season perennial grasses include Calamagrostis, Carex elata Bowles Golden, Deschampsia, Elymus, Millium, Molinia and Cortaderia.
Hakonechloa, Imperata ‘Red Baron’ and Chasmanthium are deciduous grasses that start to grow in early spring at which time all the old foliage can be cleaned up.
Cutting back of warm season grasses is not done until late spring, after any threat of frost has passed and before the new growth starts to show. Don’t wait too long to do this to avoid cutting the tips of the new growth with the old. Leaving the old foliage up too long can also delay the crown’s warming and growth by several weeks. All those lovely grasses that provided much appreciated buff-coloured winter structure in the garden need to be cut back to about 6 inches from the ground.
These grasses will gradually start to grow back in from their “hedgehog” look and then really take off with summer heat. A more rounded cut rather than straight across can give a more natural look when growing back in.
Warm season grasses needing this late spring hair cut include Miscanthus, Muhlenbergia, Pennisetums, Panicums, Spartina and Arundo.
There are a few grasses that remain evergreen in our climate. For the most part the only grooming they need is combing. Carex, Fescue, Helictotrichon (Blue Oat) and Stipa usually refresh from a simple comb through with fingers or rake to remove the dead buff foliage which easily separates from the new growth in spring (this can be repeated in summer). Insert re-growing stipa
Some evergreen grasses start to look shabby after a few years or harsh winter and may actually require cutting back. The recommended time to do this is in late spring when the grasses are actively growing. And never cut too low to the base; always leave about one third of the foliage in place.
Anemanthele lessoniana (formerly Stipa arundinacea) (pictured here) seems to need a gentle hand and should be cut back to no lower than 6 inches. Broader leafed Carex ‘Ice Dance’ can be cut back to the ground and kept moist to refresh.
Handy tools for this job include gloves, a bungie cord for bundling, a tarp for gathering and a good saw or shears. A little spring grooming prepares your ornamental grasses for another wonderful show.