“Cool” Gardener’s Sale

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The cool damp day and the need for down jackets, hats, and mittens for the May 27th gardeners sale didn’t dampen the energy of this Chester Garden Club annual event.

click on picture for slide show…

No matter what kind of gardening; armchair, indoor, herb, vegetable, annual or perennial, quality plant and accessory choices temped all those who attended.

Coffee and muffins were served, new entrepreneurs were welcomed, tools were sharpened, instructions were given, questions answered and ideas were planted for new adventures (bees anyone).

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Although this wasn’t an ideal day for the sale, there were many smiles, conversations shared and satisfied customers, thanks to all who participated and supported the event.

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Gardening Like Our Great Grandfathers

downloadFor generations, coastal dwellers have gathered seaweed off local beaches for use on their crops. Gardeners still gather “sea manure” or “goémon” – the seaweed mixed with shell and sand that has been torn loose by wave and storm action.

Bear Cove Resources, in East Berlin, Queens County has been collecting and marketing wrack seaweed products since 1994 and operates with 3 permits from the province of Nova Scotia to operate equipment along a designated stretch of shoreline along Liverpool Bay, to seasonally remove controlled amounts of wrack seaweeds and to operate a compost facility.

IMGP4902On the third Monday in May at our regular monthly meeting Betsy & Bob from “Bear Cove Resources” explained the Storm -cast process with the assistance of a visual presentation. IMGP4901 (2)Storm lookout, carefully gathering the wrack seaweed with respect for the principals of sustainability during the winter months, to turning piles, finishing the 100% fully composted sea wrack for outdoor garden uses and the sterilization for indoor plants were all explained. Storm-cast, which is a complex mix of brown & red algae and the small organisms which live on them supplies trace nutrients and contributes organic matter, and is teaming with beneficial micro organisms. It enhances the germination of seeds, increases the uptake of plant nutrients, imparts a degree of frost resistance and enables the plants to better withstand insect pests and some fungi.

It’s labour intensive, it’s smelly work. The results are an excellent, odour free fertilizer/conditioner to use when splitting perennials, planting bulbs, refreshing soils around berry plants, re-planting trees, and any general garden use.

Thankfully for us, Betsy & Bob from “Bear Cove Resources” handle all the work and the smell.

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Clean Up Brings Rewards

On April 24th, a dedicated group of Chester Garden Club Members worked to ensure summer rewards from the Parade Square Garden.

Following the morning efforts, lunch was shared at Heather’s. Thanks to Pam D. we have these pictures that tell their own story.

Happy Spring, everyone.

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Why not plant a garden craft this year?

Birdhouse or bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria) are one of the thick-skinned gourds that are mainly grown for crafts or decoration.IMG_2014

One year at our Gardeners sale Sherry Chandler. sold both natural and beautifully decorated bottle necked gourds. Sherry tells me growing birdhouse gourds and then preparing them as a bird’s next prime realestate or a piece of decorative art is a garden project that anyone can do.

 

The birdhouse gourd is the white-flowering gourd species that produce the hard-shelled fruit mainly used for crafts. Birdhouse gourd seeds can be purchased from local nurseries or seed catalogues. Sherry purchased all her seeds from Northern Dipper, Barrie ON due to the many varieties to choose from. It’s preferable to get them into the ground as soon as the last frost date has passed since they can take anywhere from 125-140 days to mature. Because of this Sherry starts hers indoors in April. If they do not mature they will simply rot.

Birdhouse gourds can be grown on small “hills”. However, because they are a long-season crop, they may end up sitting on the ground for long periods and could become rotten on the side touching the ground. One way to avoid this problem is to use 3” or so of mulch around the vines and under the fruit and/or place a piece of wood under each gourd. Some gardeners grow them up trellis’s, fences or cages. A suggestion for doubling up on space is to plant another veggie like peas right up the trellis or fence with the gourds. The nice thing about peas is that they are a legume, so instead of stealing nitrogen from the growing gourds, they actually fix nitrogen into the soil.

When starting the seeds indoors, clip the top corners and soak the seeds in water overnight to give them a leg-up on germination. They need plenty light and warmth. Plant the seeds in their permanent spot as soon as the last frost date has passed. Plant 3 to 5 seeds per composted hill about 5” apart. When seedlings begin to take off, thin them to one seedling per hill.

IMG_1815If you want to train them up a trellis or fence, plant the seeds about 2 – 3 feet apart (intersperse pea seeds in between if you’d like). The larger gourds, due to their size and weight. need to stay on the ground. Birdhouse gourds like well- drained soil and some compost or  composted manure tossed in there once in a while. Sherry suggests protecting the seedlings from slugs, deer and rabbits.

 

You can start the seeds indoors in April (remember to clip edges and soak them first) before the last frost date, but plant them in peat pots so you can plant them directly into their permanent beds without disturbing their sensitive roots. Then go ahead and plant them outdoors after the last frost date.

Sherry hand pollinates her gourds to ensure a good crop. However, where pollinators abound this is not necessary.

At maturity the gourds will tolerate a light frost, so let them ripen on the vine as long as possible. The gourds will be ready to harvest when the stems turn brown, but as I said, if Jack Frost has brought more than two suitcases, he’s there to stay so go ahead and bring the gourds inside.

Handle the gourds carefully because they bruise easily at this stage. Wipe off any moisture and keep them in a cool and airy place to dry. It’s hard to say exactly how long it will take for them to fully dry, but suffice it to say; the smaller ones will be ready faster. If mould appears just scrape it gently off with a knife and then wipe with a soft cloth. If any of the gourds get soft or mushy- toss into the compost pile.

During the curing process, the gourds could go from pale ivories, rusts, beige’s or mottled grey colors: each one will be unique. Bottles that are fully dry or cured will be light weight (nothing like when you first harvested them). The seeds inside will rattle when you give the bottle a shake. Now they can be made into a birdhouse or decorated for a special person or occasion.

So, you plant your gourd seeds. They grow and flower. The flowers lure beneficial insects to your yard, helping to give you a great food harvest. The gourds grow and dry out and you then get your crafty hat on and create a masterpiece for a gift or a home for the birds. The next growing season, you have birds using the condos and acting as vegetable sentries as they eat thousands of bug pests in your garden. Once again, you harvest a bountiful food crop.

The plan is simple, but gardening always brings compelling evidence of how everything on earth is connected.

Thanks to Sherry C. for her help with this post. Pictures are Sherry’s and Brenda’s.

 

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Little Treasures

There is much more to those little buzzing creatures than meets the eye and more of them than many realize. Sue Westby, bee specialist and also a member of Chester Garden Club had members and guests complete attention as she discussed how to recognize native species of bees, their role in the environment, and how to keep them content in our own gardens.

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There are more than two hundred different species in Nova Scotia which are dependant on plants for their entire livelihood. They are hairy, have two pairs of wings, and elbowed antennae. The main bees discussed were: leafcutter bees, bumblebees, digger bees, mason bees and sweat bees.

Leafcutter bees are solitary bees. They range in size from fly size to honeybee size and nest in holes in wood.

Bumblebees are a large size social bee. Like most native bees, they carry pollen on their legs. Leafcutter bees and mason bees carry pollen on the underside of their abdomens.

Digger bees are a solitary, small to medium sized species that reside in the soil. They are rather specific when choosing plants and can be identified by their unique velvety area between their eyes.

Mason Bees are medium sized bees that don’t sting and are sometimes mistaken for flies. 250 female orchard mason bees can pollinate an acre of apples.

Sweat bees are a small bee, some species are social but most are solitary and live in the soil or soft wood.

Most bees are not picky when choosing which flowers they visit and move from bloom to bloom as the season goes on. Some bees however, are specialists and live exclusively on one plant species.

Reproduction habits vary among species. For example: Bumblebees colonies last all growing season but in the fall, new Queens emerge, mate and find a place to hybernate underground over winter. They are the only ones to survive the winter. When it is warm enough they emerge from their den, find a nest site and begin to gather pollen. They lay a few eggs which develope into workers. Those workers then help feed the young from eggs the Queen continues to lay. These young develop quickly and become more workers for the colony which continues to grow this way until there are just about 100 workers supplying the colony. Towards the end of summer/early fall, males and new Queen develop, emerge and mate with the new, mated Queens overwintering to start the cycle over again.

Leafcutters make brood chambers inside a long tube shaped cavity, fill them with pollen and lay one egg per chamber. Throughout the rest of the year, the young develop in the chambers, until they overwinter as fully formed adults, ready to emerge by chewing their way out the next growing season.

Different bee species emerge at different times during the season. There are early, mid and late bee species from each species that emerge and live 4 to 6 weeks, pollinating flowers in bloom at that time.

Pollination in both natural ecosystems and human managed is critical for food production and human livelihoods, and directly links wild ecosystems with agricultural production systems. The vast majority of flowering plant species only produce seeds if pollinators move pollen from the anthers to the stigmas of their flowers. Without this service, many interconnected species and processes functioning within an ecosystem would collapse.

Current understanding of the pollination process shows that, while interesting specialized relationships exist between plants and their pollinators, healthy pollination services are best ensured by an abundance and diversity of pollinators.

In order to support bees in your garden you need to ensure there are blooms to support them throughout the seasons. There needs to be enough plants and a diversity of flowers within the garden as not all bees can use the same flowers. Also, providing water and nesting sites or commercially or home made homes is helpful.

When planning your garden Sue provided suggestions that encourages us to think like a pollinator:

Go Native-Pollinators are “best” adapted to local, native plants.

Bee friendly-Create pollinator friendly gardens.

Bee aware-observe pollinators and notice which flowers attract.

Bee Bountiful- Plant big patches of each species for better foraging efficiency.

Bee Diverse-Plant a diversity of flowering species. Use single form varieties ( roses, hollyhocks,dahlias)

Bee Showy-Flowers should bloom in your garden throughout the growing season.

Bee homey-Provide hollow twigs, rotten logs with wood boring beetle holes and leave stumps and old rodent burrows and fallen plant material for nesting bees.

Bee a little messy-most of our native bees (70%) nest underground so avoid using weed cloth or heavy mulch.

Bee Sunny-Provide areas with sunny bare soil that’s dry and well drained, preferably with south facing slopes.

Bee Gentle- Most bees will avoid stinging and use that behaviour only in self defence. Males don’t sting.

Bee Patient-It takes time for native plants to grow and for pollinators to find your garden.

And Bee Chemical Free-Pesticides and herbicides kill pollinators.

Let’s keep our native Nova Scotia Bees happy.

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Helping Winter and Early Birds

If your garden appeals to you year round, it probably appeals to your feathered neighbours, too.

8-waxwingsMany of the birds people long to see and also help during the winter and early spring are seed eaters. You know them, you love them; northern cardinals, American Goldfinches, chickadees, blue jays woodpeckers – the list goes on and on.

 

Happily for gardeners, these birds often prefer the seeds of some of the most common backyard plants. Well known favourites are sunflowers, purple coneflowers, zinnias, coreopsis and black-eyed Susan.

Front yard, backyard, container – it doesn’t matter. To entice birds to your place have feeders, flowers, water and trees and shrubs for shelter. Group them all together and you’ll have a winning combination.

Plant these garden favourites in spring. Sunflowers and many other annuals are easy to start from seed at the beginning of the growing season. For perennials you might spend a little extra money on established plants, but they’ll attract birds all year round.

Many of the plants birds enjoy are native which means they offer more than beauty. Most of them provide nectar for hummingbirds and bees, attract butterflies, have fruit for overwintering species and are low maintenance.

Resist the urge to deadhead the spent flower heads as they dry out in the fall. Leave them up, and before you know it the birds will be swooping in for the seeds, especially during hard and unusual winters.

Even in gardens that are full of bird attracting plants, it’s always a good idea to keep a bird feeder well stocked for those times when the snow is deep or the ground is frozen solid. Black oil sunflower seeds are relished by most species, even insect eaters. Hanging out a suet feeder and a tube feeder with Niger seed will cover all the basics. Be sure to check water sources daily in cold weather since ice forms quickly.

All the effort will say “Welcome” to the birds.

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Smitten with Succulents

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I recently took a good look at the plants that have gained permanent residence inside our home. Other than two violets which belonged to a dear friend, the rest belong to the family referred to as succulents.

Succulents have a supernatural ability to survive in nearly any climate from growing across a rugged terrain to sprouting up inside a dainty teacup on a windowsill. These plants prove their toughness by storing water in fleshy leaves, fighting long periods of drought and producing new roots and rosettes. Today, the popularity of the desert dwellers arise from their resiliency, ease of propagation and exquisite formations.

Succulents grow well together in larger pots, but they are equally admirable in smaller individual vessels. Adding to their secret superpowers they won’t outgrow small containers, making them thoughtful accents for a home or office windowsill.

Succulents, which include cacti, grow both in non draining and draining containers. For pots with no holes you might be tempted to add a layer of rocks to the bottom to create a drainage layer. While this sounds good in theory expert Debra Lee Baldwin , writer of “Succulents Simplified” and “Succulent Container Gardens” advises against this practice saying that a layer of rocks provides an area for bacteria to grow. Under watering is actually a better solution. She says to use well aerated soil designed for succulents and cacti and top the soil with pebbles or gravel for a finished look.

For indoor growing select a bright location, preferably near a south or east window. Windowsills make a lovely perch, but check to make sure the plants aren’t getting too much sun, especially if they are young and newly planted. The concern is that UV rays, magnified by window glass, may sunburn the leaves.

The number 1 secret for succulents is to not over water them. Give them a good soak and wait for them to dry out. And keep in mind non draining containers such as mason jars, stone mugs and tea cups require lighter showers.

Once you start experimenting with the endless style combinations that succulents have to offer don’t be surprised if you start rummaging through garage sales or thrift shops for interesting vessels. It is nothing more than a sign that you, like me have become smitten with succulents.

Posted in Gardening, House Plants, Succlents | 1 Comment