Friday, September 30, 2011

A photo collection of fall garden images.

Lettuce in the greenhouse for winter

Perdita Rose opening today. That's a team player.

Flower forming on the small sunflower

One of my favorites. Aster.

A casualty of the rain.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The sunflower is looking good

The fallen sunflower is looking really good today. I am going to measure it. It think it may actually be over eight feet. I was looking at the six foot stake we wacked into the ground in the pouring rain and it looks like I've misjudged the height. Stay tuned!

Here is a picture of the patient. Looks pretty good doesn't it. I'm sorry to say the tomatoes around it don't look very good. We had a lot of rain and the plants were pummeled and the tomatoes have split. You win lose some. I see a project for this coming weekend.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sweet Pea and the Great Hawaiian Rescue

A lot of my readers already know the story of Sweet Pea. There has been a lot of interest since I posted her picture here, so I thought I would just move her story from my website to this garden blog. Doesn't even make sense, but people with pets are rarely rational. So here in this garden blog is the story of Sweet Pea's big adventure.

Sweet Pea came into our lives on February 17, 2011. Feral cats are everywhere on The Big Island of Hawaii. There are an estimated half million. There are many people volunteering their time feeding and spaying and neutering is done courtesy of Advocats on the Island. We have seen the general condition of the feral population improving in the 11 years we have been going. We were putting feed bowls out at the condo we were staying in, and a very small emaciated 'kitten' came to the bowl one day. She seemed very shy, timid and hungry. She ate quite a bit and drank a lot of water. Her side of the island is very dry and lava covered, so very little water to be had. We were worried about her. You could see her hip bones sticking out. We discussed this and called Advocats to see what we could do.

The following day we did not see her at all. This concerned us. The following morning she came back to our food bowl. We were relieved. Until she turned around. Something had taken a large bite out of her hip. A large patch of fur was missing as well. We were mortified. At this point we started talking about a rescue mission in earnest. The first step was finding out what we would need to do to get her into Canada. It seemed quite straightforward. She would need a rabies shot and certificate and a certificate of health. We made a vet appointment at 2 pm Saturday, and started the process of trying to catch her. We borrowed a trap from Advocats and it turns out that Hawaiian feral cats are a pretty clever lot. We didn't catch a single one. We did however catch a mongoose. They look like squirrels. Yeah, they look adorable until they are caught in a trap. They make a screeching sound and lash out in every direction. They have red eyes and jaggedy looking teeth. We started calling them 'diablo squirrels'.

The only thing we could think of, was to lure her into the condo and close the door. The luring part was pretty easy as she was so hungry that the smelly tuna we were using as bait was irresistible. She came into the condo about 5 feet and I pushed the screen door. Both the screen door and the glass door made a lot of noise. As soon as she heard it she ran out. That night we purchased a can of WD-40. I oiled that door within an inch of it's life. The whole trough was full of oil. Next morning. Sweet Pea came out of the bushes. My dear sister Jessica applied a coating of stinky tuna to her hand and started baiting Sweet Pea into the condo. I sat very nonchalant in the corner with my hand on the screen door. Feral cats are very smart and she kept checking me out. It took about 10 minutes, but she made her way through the screen into the condo. I waited until her head bowed into the food bowl and 'slam'. She was startled but went and sat in a corner. Jessica and I both teared up.

It took my husband Allan and I about 45 minutes to catch her with a towel and stuff her into the only thing we had which was a diablo squirrel trap. We ended up pushing the whole hula girl bright orange towel into the cage as well, leaving Sweet Pea about 10 inches of space. Off to the vet where we had an appointment in about 10 minutes. The vet, Dr. Maria Jose, took Sweet Pea by the scruff and she did not seem to mind at all. Dr. Maria gave her her Rabies shot, took her temperature to see if she had an infected hip, checked the injury, gave her an oral dose of a flea killer and implanted a micro chip. Dr. Maria checked her teeth and much to our surprise found that this kitten was actually 2-3 years old. She has a broken off rotting tooth that will need tending to. Sweet Pea took this all in stride. Dr Maria commented on her being the most docile feral cat she's ever seen.

At this point Jessica entered the room with the airline legal crate that we needed. She said 'I have some bad news. They need to take pets out of crates at the airport to check the crate and the animal for explosives etc. and they don't have a room we can do it in, it has to be done in the open.' This airport does not have walls. She had purchased a harness and leash so that we would have that on her in case she bolted.

I did not sleep again after this revelation.

Allan and I drove to the Kona airport and I started talking to everyone who would be involved the following night. The check in counter seemed straightforward enough. We had everything we needed. Then we proceeded to talk with the TSA person. He basically reiterated what my sister had said. The cat would have to be removed from the crate and there was not a room to do it in. And they also had to check the cat over. I kept saying, she's feral, this won't work. Then the tears started. Not him, me. He immediately said, I'll go get my supervisor. Chicken. So an angel in disguise, Sue, came out and after much discussion, she said we could use the Ohana (family) washroom. I have never been so relieved in my life.

The following day Jessica told me that Dr. Maria was willing to come to the airport to assist. Sweet Pea seemed to have a guardian angel looking over her.

We arrived at the airport on Sunday night at 8 PM for our 11 PM flight. There waiting for us was Dr. Maria. With a cold no less. We went to the ticket counter and there was a glitch. Their system said that Canada required a document stating that the animal was coming from a country that had been rabies free for at least six months AND a rabies shot and certificate. We had been online and knew that Canada required either a rabies shot and certificate OR a certification that the country was rabies free. The United Airline site told them that we needed both. I asked Maria if she had such a I asked the agent if she knew where we could get In an inspired moment of clarity, I asked if Dr. Maria could just certify in writing on the Rabies Certificate that Hawaii is rabies free. She said yes!! We then went to meet with Sue to take Sweet Pea to the Ohana washroom for the crate search. Dr. Maria assisting through everything. They were very thorough. When the crate was done including every grain of litter, she said she had to pat down Sweet Pea. Yes, Sweet Pea was strip searched.

On our flight to San Francisco, Sweet Pea rode with a celebrity. Well, we may not know him in Canada, but at the Kona airport, you would have thought the Beatles were there. In fact it was Newt Gingrich. I will say he was really lovely to all the people asking for his picture and to shake his hand.

I had decided that if they needed to check/search Sweet Pea in San Francisco, I was leaving the airport with her, renting a car and driving home. I called this my Plan B. Fortunately nothing else happened and we arrived home safe and sound at about 1 PM Monday.

Oh I need to back up a bit. When I wheeled Sweet Pea's crate to the Canadian customs booth at the Victoria Airport, the gentleman said "What do we have there?" I said "A Hawaiian cat" He asked "Do you have any papers for her?" What made that very funny, was the whole crate was covered with documentation. You actually couldn't see through the grate for all the hanging documents on the door. I said "Yes I do, there's all that (pointing at the crate) and anything else you need?" I pulled out my manilla envelope full of papers. He just looked at me and said, "Oh it's okay just go ahead."  After all that and he didn't even need to see it. I really wanted to make him look at it all, just on principle, but Tim Horton's coffee was calling me from the other side of the door. Coffee won!!

I put Sweet Pea's crate in our bathroom until I could get her to my vet and make sure she was free of leukemia and feline aids before she was near my other cats.

Her vet appointment went very similar to the first. She was so well behaved it was amazing. Her injury was healing beautifully. We gave her a high dose of antibiotics in a shot just to be safe, she was wormed and blood was taken. She is disease free!!!

Sweet Pea is now looking better and better each day. Yesterday she let me pet her with a full scootch around the neck. I ran my hand down her spine as I do every day, and I felt a thin layer of fat. She is gaining weight. I have cats that are about three times the size that Sweet Pea is, but she is eating about twice as much as any of them. She also sleeps a lot. I doubt she ever really got to do either.

I am waiting a bit to do the spay and tooth removal that will be done together. I want to make sure there is no infection and that she has a chance to get a bit stronger. Probably within a few weeks.

Update: Sweet Pea not only lets us pet her, but was actually purring for the first time. I think Sweet Pea is in the home stretch toward a wonderful new life.

Update 2: Sweet Pea has had her spay and tooth removal. It turns out she didn't have a uterus and the dental work was much more than anticipated. She is resting comfortably with a pain patch and antibiotics. She is a trooper.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Today is all about the wind...and rain

On the west coast we are expecting winds up to 100 km per hour. Three hours ago my seven foot tall sunflower looked fine. Now it looks like this.
7 foot sunflower resting on it's side

Note the graceful arc over the garden
The wind and pouring rain were a great excuse to work in the greenhouse. Really just an excuse to hang out in there for a while. Beamer, our tuxedo cat who was abandoned at a farm, came out to hang with me. It seemed like a good time to plant the lettuce plants I bought a week or so ago. I just snugged them in with basil. I found only two slugs in the greenhouse and did my usual catch and release.
The cauliflower in the lasagna garden have almost been annihilated by slugs. None of the plants in the raised beds have been touched. This reminds me of the basil experience of this past spring.
Slugs vs Erin.
Sweet Pea. A really cute cat!! If you want to read the story of her rescue in
Hawaii, click here.
Really cool fungi that literally came up over night

PS We have driven a six foot stake into the garden and tied the sunflower back up. I'll update you in a few days as to whether it worked.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

It turns out gardening is in my blood

In Loving Memory
Uncle Harvey
Yesterday I went to the funeral of my Uncle Harvey. Uncle Harvey was my fathers brother. There were cousins there I haven't seen for 45 years. We sat together at the reception and reminisced and shared stories. My grandmother (Harvey's mother) was the 'most beautiful person that ever lived on the planet'. She was an incredible gardener. She had a beautiful flower garden. My other uncle, Orrie, is a builder of birdhouses. I didn't know this until last year. My sister and I are each the proud owners of Uncle Orrie's birdhouses now. I will treasure it always. In pictures of my grandmothers garden there is an incredible birdhouse. White and green. Many, many levels and holes. I think she said it was a Purple Martin house? I found out Orrie built it. Orrie is approaching 90 and still has an immaculate yard that he gardens himself. He cuts his own huge lawn and everything! My grandfather had a vegetable garden. You walked through my grandmothers garden, through an arbor and into the garden. It must have been an acre. He grew the most delicious vegetables ever. I don't remember EVER seeing a weed in either of their gardens. I grew up eating perfect vegetables, but really hated fruit and veg as an adult. It took me decades to realize that store bought, were just not good veggies. I had been spoiled.
Talking to my cousins yesterday, I realized that most of my family has been bitten by the gardening bug. It runs in the family. Even though we left Ontario at a young age, it is in our DNA. The other trait that runs in the family is a love of animals. Jess and I were very touched that Uncle Harvey was an animal lover. There was a picture of him as a young teenager with his arms around a small cat. His daughter, my cousin Debbie, is a real lover of not only cats, but any animal it seems. In her backyard she has special feeders, just like grandma had, for the squirrels. She feeds a seagull, about 15 raccoons, all manner of birds, and I gather pretty much any animal that happens into her yard. Inside her door is a cat post, feeder, food and anything a cat could want. She does not have a cat. This is all for the neighborhood cats who may not get the food or attention they need. Two were lying in her yard basking in the sun. So it seems, that the intense love of animals that Jess and I share, is in our DNA as well. All in all, it was a wonderful day. Even though we were there for such a sad occasion, I feel so connected and such a part of a grander design than I knew. When I got home, I came in the front door and went straight out the back. Feeling connected to my garden in a way that wasn't there the day before yesterday.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Is it possible to kill a rhubarb plant?

My rhubarb looked like it was thriving, then it's two remaining leaves
turned reddish yellow and they were no more. Is it dormant or dead?


Sunflower from my height of 5'10" looking up

Monday, September 19, 2011

Wow, I can't believe I got the garlic and winter veg all planted

Strawberry bed before

Strawberry bed after. Three rows of three types of berries. Using runners
instead of buying plants. Ahhhh...Patience.
Today was one of the fullest, most exhausting and satisfying days ever. In the bed near the property line I planted two rows of garlic. I went over to Compost Guru Jim's yesterday and he gave us a lesson in garlic planting. I planted about a half inch deep and six inches apart. I actually strung lines for the first time ever, so that the rows would be nice and straight. Jim's Red Russian bulbs he gave me to plant were the largest garlic cloves I've ever seen. Can't wait to see how it goes. I planted a row of Brussel Sprouts and a row of Cabbage to finish off that bed.
Bed with Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage and two rows of garlic.
I then dug up the Strawberries from the first garden and moved them into the new raised strawberry bed. I planted a row of my two varieties and a row of my sisters unknown type. In an empty corner I put an Italian parsley. Then I moved on to the raspberry bed. I put the raspberry dead centre. I filled the bed in with purple kale, cauliflower and Bright Lights Swiss Chard. the first bed, lasagna style, I planted a second type of cauliflower. I dug up the garlics that I had planted earlier to deter bugs. Much to my surprise, about half of the cloves were on their way to becoming really great heads of garlic. so, instead of composting them, I strung the string back up and made a nice straight row of Thrifty Foods generic garlic! I planted the new larger Rosemary, Greek Oregano and Savory in the herb border.
The newly planted Meeker Raspberry. In the bed, cauliflower, Bright Lights
Swiss Chard and Purple Kale
There is a very straight row of Cauliflower right behind the baby lettuce's and the
generic garlic that I had intended to compost are right by the carrots.

Marigold Nursery rocks

Just a fashion shot of my perennial border. LOVE asters.
Jess and I went on a little winter veg buying trip to Marigold Nursery. We had such fun. Jess purchased a flat of violas. Then we carefully selected the basic herbs. Thyme, garlic chives, Italian parsley, sage and a rosemary. She planted the herbs in her hanging baskets and surrounded each herb with the little edible violas. We knocked on her landlords door to see if he could come out and play. He could and did. He dug up some parsnips for me. I pulled some beets and he gave me some chard.
What we really wanted was to have him show us how to plant garlic. So, Jim helped Jess plant all the garlic. I carefully observed. Then he helped her plant her cauliflower. Jim cultivated each row with a cool blade tool he made. He made a trench about three inches deep. The garlic was placed to be covered with about a half inch of soil. He had an interesting way of planting the cauliflower. He would dig the hole. Then he would pour in some water. He called it making mud. Then he put the plant in the muddy hole, filled in the soil, pushed each of the four corners of the plant plug firmly in and watered.
Greek Oregano
For my new veggie gardens I got two six packs of cauliflower, one broccoli, one bright lights Swiss chard, romaine lettuce, one pack of Brussel Sprouts, a new large rosemary to replace the small one that hasn't grown, a savory, Greek oregano, an Italian parsley...hmmmmmmm...I'm sure there were one or two more, but I can't think right now. I did pick up six more bags of compost. Now I'm set to get the Meyer Lemon.
New and much improved (bigger) Rosemary

Feeling like projected frost dates are relevant. I saw people in coats today.

For those cold autumn days I highly recommend a latte made with
a Nespresso machine. I got mine at Muffet & Louisa in Sidney. Best
kitchen shop in the world!!
In Sidney BC our projected last frost date is April 19 and our first frost date is November 5. Funny, up until very recently I didn't realize that there are charts that tell you such things! This newbie is learning!

Note: This was written a couple days ago. Just not posted until today.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Gardening community at Blotanical and Fig Preserve day

I have been very pleasantly surprised to find that there is a very tight, interesting, committed and sharing community of Urban Homesteader/Organic Gardeners. Through Blotanical, I have been introduced to a huge number of blogs, several that I now follow regularly. I have even had people offer to send me seeds when I express an interest in a beautiful vegetable. I have chatted and asked and answered questions. If you love gardening blogs, there are almost three thousand listed in Blotanical. I follow 55 every day (they are listed in the My Favorite Blogs over to the right!) and many of them were found on Blotanical.
You can find Blotanical at

This evening I made my first batch of fig preserves. It took a couple hours to reduce it, but it really is quite easy. Allan was a huge help as an extra set of hands. I can't wait to dig in and try some. On the weekend!!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I worked so hard today, I've tweaked my neck...but it feels so good to be done...for now

See the little sunflower right in the centre of the picture on this side. I planted
one on the far side on the same day. It is now about seven feet tall. This one
is less than two feet tall. How does that happen?
I got up this morning, had a coffee, and headed right outside. I can see that our brief heatwave has already come to an end. The air feels cold. It is calling for rain tomorrow, so the last bed needed to be filled with soil. Before we can fill it, I need to know where our property line is. I plan to nudge this particular raised bed up to about six inches from the property line. I was trying to figure out where I could rent a metal detector to find the pins that mark the lot. I mentioned this to my mother and she asked if I wanted to borrow her metal detector. Really? Mom has a metal detector? This reminds me of the posting earlier where Allan just showed up with a long metal tube for the greenhouse. I'm beginning to think that we, my family, could have our own reality show on A&E called Sidney Hoarders. Anyhoooo, we found the property line. It is actually much further towards my neighbors yard than I thought. I had to move the bed about a foot their way.
Measuring to the property line. The bed is on this odd angle because the lot is
at wonky angles. The beds are lined up to be straight in line with the house, sidewalks, deck etc.
I left the string up, so they can see we aren't setting up camp in their yard. Allan got the last load of soil, and we filled it. I then got the rapidly growing dwarf plum Shiro from behind the greenhouse and planted it. I tossed a handful of bone meal in the hole and planted the tree exactly flush with the soil. I then made a ridge of soil in a ring around the tree so that water would all stay inside the ridge and go to the tree. The grower, Bob Duncan, recommended it.
Shiro Yellow Plum, planted today
When Allan returned our friend Rick's trailer, he offered us some figs. There is a God in heaven. Now I just need to get Melinda's recipe for fig preserves, and I'm good to go!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It took a mere three yards of soil to fill two beds

A bit messy, but along the fence is the raspberry bed and the new
compost bins on the right. Note the mint in between. I didn't know
they like shade!
Last night we began filling up the raspberry patch with soil. It took almost two yards to fill the raspberry bed. It is irregular shaped, but one side is ten feet long. Yesterday Amanda and I raked up all the straw that was around the garden. It was put there to kill off the grass and weeds. It didn't work. Where the actual path was, the grass is dead, but the rest of the area was grass and weeds merrily pushing up through the loose straw. We moved the straw into the bottom of the two finished compost bins and in the bottoms of the berry beds. In the raspberry bed, the straw contained pieces of buttercup. YIKES!!! So I put down a double layer of cardboard on top of the straw. Once we filled it with soil, I knew that the straw and cardboard would settle, so I had Allan heap the soil a bit. I'm watering the beds to create more weight to push the straw down. So, I'm going to be patient and wait a few days to put the berries in.
I was thinking that as I only have one raspberry plant in that huge bed, I can get some winter veg to fill the bed for the winter. How fun!!

The strawberry bed. The area will be mulched and will have the Japanese Maples
as a backdrop. I think it'll be beautiful.
In the soil I found a piece of crockery / white china and a broken 4" knife blade. Glad I found that before I worked in the dirt with my hands!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Today was all about compost bins...and ten year old memories

It is hot. Allan spent most of the afternoon working on our three bin compost system. He is filling in the open spaces on the pallets with 1x2's. I think he is going overboard, but I really appreciate the extra effort. He's a perfectionist.

Two of the three bins, with some of the straw now removed from garden area
The Japanese Maples were showing signs of strain. My favorite was turning orange yesterday and today those same orange leaves, were now brown and crispy. I realized that I hadn't thought of their extra water needs during the heat wave. They were just planted this year. I have given them LOTS of water today.

Crispy maple leaves
My wonderful tomatoes in the greenhouse are turning red quickly. Amazing. It seems like they will never ripen and suddenly you can almost watch them change in front of your eyes.
I am getting buckets of coffee grounds from Red Brick Coffee shop in Sidney. Thank you Maureen. I spread around the latest bucket.
Tonight I made a salad with our lettuce, tomato, chive flowers and grated carrot. I added a few macadamia nuts from the Kona Market on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was more wonderful than I can say, to be eating a dinner of food grown by us. Heaven.

Rest in Peace victims of 9/11. You will never be forgotten.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Everyone is talking about the weather...and the earthquake

I really wish I had my camera tonight. I was driving home from the store and the sunset was the most beautiful I've seen on the west coast in a long time. It was that orange glow like a creamsicle gently changing to blue above it. Those sunsets always foretell a very hot day tomorrow. Everyone is talking about the heat. Funny, as it's only about 25 degrees. In a normal year that is simply a nice summer day, but this year, we're all running for air conditioning as if it were 35.

Tomatoes all seemingly ripening at warp speed
We had quite an earthquake in Sidney today. A 6.3. We got a phone call from Amanda who was working about three blocks away, asking if we felt the quake. Apparently they had noticeable swaying and we heard that cans fell off the shelves. We didn't feel a thing. How is that possible?

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A great day in the yard

It was beautiful today. Hot, sunny...perfect.
The White Rabbit in the Japanese Maple garden
Allan and Noel helped me move the raised beds to their new locations. Everything is pretty set, so we just need to start filling them. I planted the strawberries my sister gave me in the garden, but by noon it was getting pretty hot and they were wilting...badly. So I dug them up, put them in pots, gave them lots of water and moved them to the shade. I expect they'll perk up over night. The fig however took to it's new pot perfectly. I actually moved it to the full sun. We noticed that there are actually more baby figs on it. Unbelievable. Cut the basil back to about five inches. I ended up with an armload of it. Whipped up a batch of pesto. The organic fertilizer is perfect. The leaves on the basil are huge. I've never had such huge plants. After the rocky beginning, it is very satisfying.
Freshly cut basil

Sunday, September 04, 2011

We sure can't take the heat this summer

My strawberry, step away and no one gets hurt
 It's only 23 degrees, but it feels like 30 when you're out working in it. We have had such a cold year we just can't take the warmer weather. We're soft. We did a lot of work on the compost bins. I washed out the huge pot that will hold the Meyer Lemon. I spread a huge bucket of coffee grounds in the garden and sprayed dandelions with vinegar. I took my wonderful little Peters Honey Fig out of the one gallon pot and put it into a five gallon pot with compost and some organic fertilizer. I could swear the little fig on it has grown a bit already.
Peter's Honey Fig

Fig tree now has 3 little figs
I laid down some landscaping cloth in the place that the fruit trees will go. I am thinking that with this heat, maybe the hot black cloth may fry the grass underneath. We'll see.
My sister sent me home tonight with several of her strawberry runners. She swears they are the best strawberries.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Played hooky, picked blackberries, ate goat cheese and fig preserves and got reacquainted with a dear old friend

Meyer's Lemon
Today I had two objectives. Go to Melinda's to pick up a huge pot to put a Meyers Lemon in. And to have lunch with my sister. It actually shook down like this. My sister Jess came to the store and we had lunch together. Then I headed over to Melinda's to pick up the huge pot. On the kitchen counter she had a loaf of French Bread. She offered me bread with goat cheese and topped with her fig preserves. OMG. It has been a week of delicious food experiences. It was so good. She then gifted me a jar of her raspberry and lavender jam. Melinda doesn't use pectin. I am going to try that. Then we went for a walk with two containers to pick blackberries as we walked. It is such a great blackberry year in this area. We found some ripe rose hips too. It was a beautiful walk with a beautiful friend. At the end, she gave me all the blackberries. So generous. I will try the no pectin way of making jam!! When we returned to Melinda's house, she made a pot of tea for us. She had some local honey for my tea. Yum again.
As I was preparing to leave to go back to the store, she gave me a lovely bouquet of Sweet Peas.
I drove off feeling very content. I turned at Wain Road which takes you past Meadowoak Nursery. I thought, I'm just going to pull in and see if they have any Wooly Thyme. They did! I got several to put in the dead patch of lawn at the front. I spotted what looked like a small fig tree. She confirmed it was. It was not a variety I was familiar with. She asked what I was looking for. I told her I was looking for a Peter's Honey Fig. She said she had some that weren't out yet. She brought several out and I chose one. It is quite small. It's about two feet tall and it has the tiniest little fig on it. It thought if it could make a fig at that size it would be a prolific fruiting tree.
I returned to the store and was looking at the fig as I got out of the car. Which led my brain right to 'now all I need is the lemonnnnnnnn....oh no.....I forgot the pot. Damn.'

Peter's Honey Fig