Today was a dry and mild reprieve from the awful cold, wet and sometimes windy late fall weather we’ve been enduring here in Southern Ontario — a good day to do some garden work. I have found frozen water in the trays underneath the containers on the roof a couple of times recently increasing my concern about getting everything cleaned up in time. You can pretty much forego cleaning up in-ground gardens (I know because I have) and expect minor plant loss, however container gardens in these parts can’t be ignored. The heaving caused by freezing and thawing conditions will crack and destroy terra cotta and some plastic containers. I’ve got A LOT of containers out there and would like to keep the collection I’ve cobbled together for as long as possible.
Here’s what I do to clean-up the container garden:
- Bring houseplants and plants that are still producing fruit indoors – I did this back in September well before the first frost.
- Harvest remaining produce – I found a couple of missed tomatoes, sweet potatoes, hot peppers, and a few small red onions.
- Remove all plant matter from terracotta and small containers – Cut them into manageable pieces and compost. If you don’t have a composter put them into garden waste bags for city composting.
- Remove stakes from containers and pile together.
- Dump soil from pots that will be stored away – I dump all of my soil into the large, plastic garbage cans that are used for growing tomatoes. They stay outside for the winter.
- Hardy perennials can be safely overwintered in large planter boxes – I sometimes add a blanket of mulch or dried branches, but they do just fine regardless. You can prune them back if breakage is an issue, but the plants in my boxes are so tough I leave the stems for added interest. The birds like to perch on the branches on mild winter days searching for seeds to munch on. They also collect dried grass bits for their nests come spring.
- Soak and scrub all terracotta pots and containers that are too fragile for outdoor storage – I wash mine in hot soapy water to which I add a couple of splashes of oxygenated bleach (aka hydrogen peroxide).
- Over-turn, stack, and store your pots somewhere sheltered such as a garage, basement, or shed. I don’t have any of those so I stack mine on shelves in our hallway and tuck the treasured containers away in the back of kitchen cupboards.
Related: Preparing Your Garden for Winter
Guest post by Emira Mears
The only remaining bulbs I had on my list to plant for the Fall was my garlic. Planting out the garlic required a bit more preparation as I had to clean up some space in my veggie beds getting rid of finished beans, cukes and some arugula that had bolted and I swear was making a run for the basement door, before I would have room to put the garlic in.
This will be my first time growing garlic and so far I’ve already learned a lot. For starters, I ordered way too much (so if you’re in Canada and would like some lovely garlic to plant let me know via ourdomicile at gmail dot com and perhaps we can work something out in the way of a trade) getting a bit confused by the whole bulb vs. clove business when I placed my bulb orders. You see, it was obvious to me when they arrived, but for some reason not so obvious when I placed the order that five bulbs of garlic meant five bulbs full of a bunch of wee cloves that then get broken up and planted individually. But I was thinking more along the lines of 5 bulbs = 5 bulbs to plant like with my tulip order and so foolishly ordered 10 thinking that was quite conservative. I now have planted about 40 cloves of garlic and have some extras for those who are interested.
Anyway. I woke up to another sunny day yesterday and decided I would use the opportunity to get my garlic in the ground. I did a bit of web searching and discovered that there are all kinds of opinions about what one has to do to grow good garlic. Many of the web sites I read stressed the difference between “growing garlic” (which is apparently easy) and “growing good garlic” which is apparently trickier. I followed the advice of a few handy tips I read online and soaked the cloves in a mixture of baking soda (1 heaping tablespoon for one bowl containing the cloves of 5 bulbs) and water for a few hours to make it easier to slip off the skins and apparently to help kill any fungus that might be on the cloves. I also read suggestions to add liquid seaweed to this mixture to help feed the garlic but I didn’t have any around the house and I was feeling mighty impatient (and like this may be my last sunny Sunday of the season). I then prepped the soil, turning it over well and adding some compost. After that I undertook the very laborious task of peeling the skin off all those cloves which took a fair while, and then drained the baking soda liquid off to replace it with a quick soak in some 100 proof vodka. This was recommended as a further way to ensure any fungus on the garlic was killed, and given the wiff of garlic/vodka I got as I was planting these little nuggets I’d say that was successful.
I planted them at a 2″ depth about 4″ apart and was careful to mark all my spots so I don’t dig them up again next Spring. I’ve also read in numerous spots now that applying some mulch to the ground for the winter is a good idea to help keep them warm. I had been planning on mulching my veggie beds anyway to help keep weeds down and add nutrients so now I’ve got an extra incentive. If even half of my garlic comes up we’ll be doing pretty well, which is great as I use a lot of it in the kitchen and even more when I’m preserving in the Summer. I’ll let you know how it goes and if I suspect any of these tips were useful, but I’m afraid you’ll have to sit tight for a good six months or so to find out.
I made a discovery while turning the compost heap at my community garden last week. It turns out that someone had stashed away all the ingredients needed to turn our pathetic pile into a reasonable bin — someone just had to make it. And so using what I had on hand: a shovel, a ball of jute, bricks, broken pieces of concrete, and muscle power, I managed to cobble together a solid compost bin.
Our craptastic former compost heap.
Having done it wrong many times, and yet having had it turn out right regardless, I can tell you that it does not take a degree in soil-ology to make compost. We have the standard City issue black bins at the garden but never use them. I have TRIED to get those suckers to do something but they just fall apart and drive me nuts. Everyone has become afraid to go near them since a fellow plot member was attacked by a swarm of hornets living in the base of an inactive bin. On the other hand our crappy Pile O’ Stuff with Plastic Cover has been putting out the black gold with little effort. Putting sides up around the pile means we can continue to make easy compost — and more of it! I can’t tell you how giddy that makes me! I walked away from that completed bin dirty, sweaty, with cuts on my hands and punching the air victoriously.
All of that green sitting on top of the pile in this photo is lemon balm that I cut back. Our communal “Herb Garden” has quickly evolved into a “Lemon Balm and Friends Garden.” I’ve decided that the new common name for lemon balm should be lemon BOMB considering it’s highly invasive nature. I really love this herb as it is a gentle, lemony remedy for an upset tummy, but I am fairly certain that our garden has produced more than enough to treat the upset tummies of me, you, and everyone we know.
Here’s the pile after I moved the straw I had purchased for mulch beside it. That is the most beautiful crappy thing I have ever made. Sigh.
Because I am afflicted with the disease commonly known as “Can’t-Walk-Past-Plants, Most-Especially-Plants-on-Sale”-itis and because an entire kitchen garden that was non-existent a few days ago doesn’t seem to be enough today; I done went and bought me some pathetic-looking transplants. But wait, they were only fifty cents! Except the tuberous begonia — that was two bucks.
It went like something like this: I was walking past the Loblaws (Canadian supermarket chain) where I was lured by a sign hanging over the garden centre stating, “The Sales Have Begun!”, to which my mind responded, “I may be able to squeeze a few more plants in. This is last, last call. I can’t NOT see what they have. And I need more soil amender.”
In fact we’re so far into summer that this week is sort-of like last call in a city like Montreal where the bars stay open late followed by another round at a skeezy after hours bar where libations are surreptitiously purchased from some dude sitting on one side of the room and mixers are purchased legally from a station marked “Canteen” on the other side. And to be honest grubby is kind of how I felt buying fifty cent hybrid peppers from the garden centre of a popular chain supermarket when the remaining 99 percent of my plants are homegrown heirlooms or purchased from small, organic growers. But when that last call panic sets in I can be swayed to the dark side by just about any sad looking thing with a sale tag. Plus I am going to save these plants from the dumpster and grow more food! Right?
Here’s what I got:
- Tuberous Begonia – I could have cared less about tuberous begonias until I learned that the petals of hybrid varieties have a sour, acidic taste that makes a juicy substitute for lemons. Now I’m a champion for tuberous begonias everywhere. I chose a variety with golden orange flowers.
- Sweet Pepper ‘Orange Grande’ – This one had a fair-sized pepper on it. When buying sale plants try to avoid plants with flowers and fruit since the stress of living in a tiny pot results in plants that have put all of their resources into reproducing. I chose mine because it had the healthiest, lushest looking leaves of the bunch. The pots were fair-sized making peppers a good choice regardless. Peppers aren’t heavy feeders and can take a bit of abuse. Tomatoes on the other hand were just plain done. I had to pull myself away knowing that nothing was going to save them now.
- Sweet Pepper ‘Sweetspot’ – Okay, how could I not buy a variety called ‘Sweetspot’? I am immature.
- Zucchini ‘Goldrush’ – It didn’t look any worse than the plant I just transplanted from my shady plot so why not?
- Columnar Basil and Genovese Basil – One can never grow enough basil. I am convinced this is true.
I picked the pepper off as soon as I got it home. Part of the strategy behind Project Save the Hybrids is to get them on the road to producing healthy leaves and establishing roots. Allowing the pepper to continue forming would be diverting energy into the wrong place.
And yes I did purchase bags of soil amender; mushroom compost to be exact. Unfortunately it was not on sale.
Growing succulents in the window box on the fire escape portion of my rooftop garden has become a tradition — most likely because they are just about the only plants that can survive the intense sun, heat, and drought. The deck is fully exposed to all sorts of harsh conditions but the fire escape area takes it to another level with black metal railings that absorb the sun’s rays throughout the day. And of course I had to go and make it worse by installing a galvanized metal window box to boot.
I try and mix up the plantings every year with the one requirement that the plants can survive. Plants that make it through both the summer and winter are given an easy retirement in less sunny pastures. I was shocked to discover a lavender from last year’s box still kicking it this spring.
From the Front:
Clockwise from right front: Sedum reflexum ‘Blue Spruce’, a sedum that keeps coming up all over the place, Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’, Sedum acre ‘Golden Acre’, Sempervivum, Sedum spurium ‘Dragon’s Blood’. Hidden Behind: Sempervivum and Sedum album ‘Coral Carpet.
From the Side:
Previous Boxes: 2005, 2004.
Future Boxes: 2007