Posts filed under ‘green gardening’

Ripening tomatoes, the last of summer’s fruit

ripening_tomatoesIn mid September I shared an image of the most perfect (and just about the only) tomato to come out of my garden. My doting on the little red fruit must have stirred something within the plant, because not long after, much fruit sprang forth. Well, about a dozen green tomatoes appeared on the vine. And that’s how they remained, until I picked them a week ago, fearing frost.

I tried ripening the tomatoes by wrapping them in newspaper. I tried leaving them in mild sunlight. Finally, I tried wrapping them in newspaper, then putting them in a plastic bag. Presto, they began to ripen overnight. And as this University of Minnesota fact sheet says, “To speed up ripening, place green or partially ripe fruits in a bag or box with a ripe tomato.” That’s because ripe fruit emit ethylene gas. Yes, I think the first to ripen will lead the way for the others.

Did you have some fruits and veggies left on the vine as the temperatures began to drop? Did you find a way to ripen them for one last summery feast?

October 27, 2009 at 11:12 AM 4 comments

Cities Alive tour showcases green roofs

I just found out about a tour of green roofs on in Toronto this week, part of a program called Cities Alive. The tour is part of a push to show how helpful green roofs can be in reducing resource use.

Green roofs and green walls absorb heat (reducing cooling costs in summer), insulate (reducing heating costs in winter), capture carbon dioxide, emit oxygen, and even create a sense of serenity among the hard surfaces of urban landscapes. While planning a green roof may be easier in creating new buildings, the Cities Alive tour features the YMCA’s green roof retrofit project. Thanks to a $250,000 grant from TD Bank, as well as thousands of hours of volunteer time, the YMCA was able to build a new green roof as part of their running track at the Metro-Central YMCA at 20 Grosvenor Street, Toronto. YMCA members will be able to go for a run or take a yoga class on the green roof, a little green oasis in the city!

To read more on how the YMCA green roof came together, have a look at the project blog.

October 21, 2009 at 12:07 PM 1 comment

Fall planting: blowing in the wind

iStock_milkweedOut for a walk in the Thousand Islands area last weekend, I noticed what looked like a light snowfall drifting across my path. Except it was around 10 degrees C outside. Much (much!) better than snow, it was wafts of milkweed silk, seeds in tow, tumbling across the tops of the shrubs and grasses.

Considering how much anxiety goes into planting fall bulbs (when I do it – how deep should they be? How do I protect them from squirrels?) it amazes me that milkweed’s lofty white drifts result in well-planted seeds. But, having seen telltale bits of the white fluff attached to people, pets and most anything that moves, milkweed seeds do get around.

And that’s a good thing, considering that milkweed is a principal source of food for the monarch butterfly. As I noted in an earlier post, I didn’t see many monarchs this year. I resolved to plant some milkweed in my garden in an attempt to be a small part of the solution. So right now, as the milkweed pods dry out and pop open, releasing their tufts of silk and seeds, it’s time to put some of those seeds in the ground. I planted several seeds this weekend, and of course a few got away.

I hope the neighbours don’t mind. After all, with “weed” in its name, perhaps milkweed isn’t valued by everyone. But it does produce bright pink flowers – and entice our orange and black friends.

Have you tried to help out birds, butterflies or other species? For more tips on doing just that, check out this article on Homemakers.com.

October 19, 2009 at 9:46 AM 2 comments

The perfect home-grown tomato

My perfect tomato

My perfect tomato

This is the most perfect tomato in the world. Everything about it is ideal. It’s just the way I want it. If only it had more friends. After a spring of careful seed starting and a summer of nervous watering, this German Strawberry grape tomato is one of about 20 tomatoes I’ll harvest from my tomato plants.

I learned a few things from my first attempt at growing the saucy little red fruit:
– Sunlight. Lots of sunlight. Don’t bother with a partly shady location!
– Water. Lots of water.
– Apparently human water is good too (see earlier post)
– Fertilizer. Compost. Don’t be stingy
– Pruning / pinching off. I didn’t know that the tomato’s leaves compete with its own fruit for livelihood. I did not know that to have fruit-laden, disease-free plants I needed to pinch off some of the little branches. Once I did that, tomatoes sprang forth.

Do you have any tomato-growing tips to share?

September 15, 2009 at 12:44 PM 3 comments

The Lady Bug: Old friend or foe?

The seven-spotted lady beetle

The seven-spotted lady beetle

I thought I saw an old friend on the weekend, but now I’m not sure I ever knew her at all.
After years of seeing orange lady bugs (I think I’m supposed to call them Lady Beetles), which I learned were an Asian species, I was out in the garden watering plants when I saw a bright red, black-spotted lady bug. I froze, afraid of shooing it away. I think it’s been about 10 years since I’ve seen on of these, and it was like seeing a friend I didn’t know I’d lost.

I looked up ladybugs online, hoping to learn what had happened to my red-shelled friend. But to my surprise, I learned that the iconic beetle is the seven-spotted lady beetle, a species introduced from Europe in the 1970s to control aphids. That childhood friend was not a native insect, not a part of the landscape as I had thought! For a picture of the lady beetle native to Ontario, the pink-coloured Spotted Lady Beetle, click to see the explanation from the University of Guelph.

Apparently all forms of lady beetles are helpful in controlling aphids, and also feed on dandelion pollen. They do not munch garden plants.

Are there insects you like to have in your garden? Are there others you’re trying to control?

August 31, 2009 at 1:24 PM Leave a comment

OK, I needed help with garden slugs and snails

It's for a good cause

It's for a good cause

A couple of days ago I mentioned that I’ve been hand-picking slugs and snails from the plants in my garden. But after spending the worst mosquito hour of the evening plucking slugs off of my basil, I decided I needed a little help.

I broke down and bought this easy-on-the-earth slug and snail trap from Lee Valley. Talk about killing with kindness: the trap basically contains three sunken pools you fill with beer. Like a hapless teenager drawn to a kegger, apparently the little garden munchers can resist neither lager nor ale. I lifted the lid after just 24 hours, and there were seven slugs and a snail caught in the trap’s clutches. I’m not sure this will eliminate my problem, but every little bit helps.

Do you have garden pests? How do you deal with them?

July 29, 2009 at 12:01 PM 3 comments

Saving water with rain barrels

Let it rain

Let it rain

We’ve had some sunny, dry weather in the past few weeks and I’ve had to water our garden a few times, even though I’ve tried to train the plants to deal with dry spells (sorry, stunted tomatoes!) Over the rainy weekend, I found myself a bit obsessed with collecting water. My partner and I installed a rain barrel in our back yard last week, but we hadn’t had much rain to see how well it performs. Well, we got our wish — on Saturday it rained so hard that we could have filled several rain barrels. The overflow valve on the barrel shown here was spewing water for most of the afternoon, even after I filled up juice containers and other vessels I found by mining through our recycling bin.

The rain barrel sits on a wood bench that’s mounted into the edge of our deck, perfect for use with a watering can. We reworked the eavestrough a bit and added a new piece of downspout so it would sit on top of the rain barrel and direct water through the barrel’s screened top. Next time the barrel is empty I’ll have to put some spacers under it so the bench doesn’t rot!

We bought this 190 L barrel from Canadian Tire. I like this one because it has a flat back, so it can sit against a wall. I plan to put another one of these barrels in my front garden, positioned against the house. I bought a gravity-feed watering kit from Lee Valley to connect to that front-garden rain barrel so that when the soil dries out, I can just open the spigot and let gravity do the watering.

How do you water your garden?

July 27, 2009 at 10:43 AM 1 comment

Organic gardening technique: hand-picked snails and slugs

iStock_garden snailIt’s interesting how my plants get a bit slimy every time it rains. As the earth gets saturated, small invaders seek refuge from the water by crawling up the stems, and that’s when I nab ’em!

When I enthusiastically began working in my garden this spring, I thought snails were kind of cute. After all, their stripy shells add a little colour to the garden. Oh, the naivety. Snails, and their blob-of-flesh friends, slugs, are making a lot of holes in my plants, causing a lot of damage.

During the past week it has rained a lot here in Toronto, so the earth is quite wet and the garden invaders are out of their hiding spots, especially after dark. A couple of nights ago, I put on my much-loved pair of thick, lined rubber gloves I use for gardening (I’m not afraid to pick up anything when I’m wearing those) and headed out into the rain. There was just enough light from the house to see slugs and snails clinging to the tops of my plants. One by one, I gently nudged them off my plants and into a box of soapy water, according to a technique described on this helpful website on coping with slugs and snails.

According to this article on CanadianGardening.com, applying diatomaceous earth around your plants is another helpful slug and snail management strategy.

For more earth-friendly gardening techniques, have a look at this article on Homemakers.com.

Do you have slugs or snails in your garden? Do they create problems for you?

July 24, 2009 at 10:50 AM 3 comments

In my garden, the strong survive

Black-Eyed Susan

Black-Eyed Susan

This morning I greeted my garden to the sight of an upturned pepper plant, soil spilling out of the pot, sole, hard-won pepper broken off and lying on the grass. I don’t know if it was a raccoon (see my previous post about my standoff with the raccoons), a cat or a strong gust of wind that did it. What I do know is, unless I cheat and buy a more mature plant at a garden centre, I can forget the dream eating home-grown peppers this summer.

Many of the plants in my garden have been doing well, but whenever something withers away, I’m trying to replace it with a hardier alternative – hardy to the weather and soil conditions, and also hardy to me. Last week my mom came for a visit and helped me weed my garden, since I wasn’t sure what belonged (native plant, hardy plant, attractive weed) and what did not (plants that take over, weeds). She did a beautiful job of weeding and mulching, even making room for a few more plants. So we went to a garden centre that promises a selection of native perennials, and picked a few plants that seemed to fit that description. I’m particularly excited about the black-eyed Susan, and looking forward to its big yellow flowers popping up sometime soon. In choosing native plants, the Evergreen native plants database is very helpful.

What’s particularly hardy in your garden?

July 15, 2009 at 10:31 AM 2 comments

You have it in you to make garden fertilizer!

Watering the garden

Watering the garden

Have you ever been to a country wedding, where male guests were instructed to “go behind the barn” when nature called? (And some of those guys needed no encouragement?) Well, I have. Turns out those boys were doing right by all the plants back there.

I was listening to CBC Radio’s “The Current” this morning, and host Mellissa Fung was doing an interview on declining availability of phosphate for fertilizing purposes. Later on in the show, Fung brought in Jim Hole, co-owner of Hole’s Greenhouses and Gardens in St. Albert, Alberta, who has a small-scale solution: put pee on your plants. Calling urine “yellow gold,” the gardener explained that urine is Number One when it comes to sustainable ways to add phosphorous to our own gardens.

So there you have it. But men, feel encouraged to tell your partners what you’re up to before she catches you with your pants down “watering” her herb garden.

What do you think, is this simple and natural or kinda icky?

July 10, 2009 at 11:28 AM 4 comments

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