Wednesday, November 29, 2006

2006 - November - Winterizing part 2

So far our fall has been warm and nice so I left off the last part of preparing my containers for winter. Even though they are calling for above normal temperatures it is now time to finish the winter preparations.

I moved all of the containers to the east side of the back yard. There are two rows of planters. The back row is for planters that I don't have anything of value in and I don'tmind if they don't come back next year. The front row are the ones I am interested in. Specifically the top layer of planters. The two I am wanting to keep is the winter savoury and the sedum (left hand side of the photos). I placed a cover of burlap over these to help keep various bits of debris off, but, allows water to flow through.

During the winter we keep shoveling snow out of the rest of the yard and cover the planters in this snow. This allows us to protect all of the plants using what nature provided us for free. I try to keep at least 75 cm (2.5 feet) of snow on the top and about 50 cm (1.5 feet) as a border around the outside perimiter. The only problem is when we don't get a lot of snow. I normally go outside the back fence and pull in a few loads of snow to keep the plants covered.

This is what we have been doing in the back yard for the past eight years and it works for us. It is simple and easy to do. The only expense was for the burlap. In the spring I wait until all of the ice has melted before uncovering the planters and set them out along the window well and wall to take advantage of the spring sun and heat.

It is hard to tell, but, on the right hand side of the photos we have a large green garbage pail. For the planters that we didn't want to over-winter we dumped the soil into this pail. The upside is that we let the soil dry out a bit and then put the garbage pail lid back on. In the spring we have a ready source of dry soil that we can then top dress the various planters that over-wintered. For the soil that we didn't keep we did not throw it out. The soil that didn't get saved went to the side of the house to top dress the grass and we put it around the Spirea that is outside the fence. All soil is used and we don't ever throw it out.

Monday, October 09, 2006

2006 - October - winterizing step 1

For the last couple of nights we have had a bit of frost. That is our hint that winter is not far away and we should be starting the clean up and winterizing of our container garden.

2006 Last tomato harvestThe first major task was to remove the tomato plants and harvest what we can. We picked three containers of tomatoes (photo 1). The removal of the tomato plants and cleanup is a semi-dirty job. If you have a pair of work gloves I would recommend that you use them or you will be having fun cleaning the green stain from your hands afterwards. The rootballs were quite small and it took only minimal effort to remove from the planters, it also helped that this year we mixed a lot of peat moss in the soil mix too.

2006 before tomatoes removedThe yard is now starting to look a bit bare with our 'jungle' removed. Next year we will not be putting in tomatoes again. As much as we like them the space they take up can be used for a lot of other plants and/or herbs/spices.

2006 after tomatoes removed
This is the first step we take to prepare our planters for winter. The next step later on is to physically move all of the planters to the east side wall (along the fence in the last two photos) and then cover them up for the winter. A future blog will be written (with photos) to show what we do to protect our plants from the effects of an Ottawa Winter.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

2006 - Photos part 2

I am finally getting around to indexing all of my photos for the year and putting them into the proper folder. The biggest part is naming all of the photos and then going into GIMP to edit/crop the ones that I really like. I leave the original shots alone so that I have something to go back to if I totally mess up the new image.

The first image is Emily beside the tomato plants holding some of the Roma tomatoes. To give you an idea of scale she stands 130 cm (4 foot 3) in height. She is also holding about 6 tomatoes.

The next shot is me holding some of the tomatoes. The plant is now slowing down in its production. Since August I have been harvesting at a minimum of one dozen tomatoes per day. There are still a large number of green tomatoes that are on the plant (picture 3).

Green Roma tomatoes

Friday, September 29, 2006

2006 - Photos

I have finally gotten around to looking at some of my digital photos and re-editing to fit here. Many of the shots really are not of much interest, I took them to document the garden.

Photo 1 - North WallPhoto 1 (384x480, 186K) is a shot of the north side of the yard. If you go back to my earlier diagram you can see the arrangements of all my pots.

Photo 2 (600 x 480, 246K) is a continuation of the first, but, showing the east side fence. The large mass of green on the right hand side is two tomato plants. The one at the back is the roma tomato. The one in the front is a regular tomato plant.

Photo 3 - Ratibida ColumniferaPhoto 3 (600 x 480, 115K) is a shot of the Yellow Mexican Hat. This was a good as it got all year.

As I get more shots up that look half-decent I will post them so you can see what the plants actually look like along with reading how they actually did here in Ottawa.

I didn't get very fancy for the camera. It is one my wife gave me several years ago and is a 1.3 megapixel Centrios. It is simple and easy to use and almost idiot proof. All of the images are stored on a 'smart media' card and I have a number of these. I have two options for getting the photos onto my computer. I can plug the camera in and Linux will detect the camera and offer to download the images for me. The second one is to take out the card and use my 'smart media' reader (again using Linux) and download the photos. The nice thing is that I don't need Windows to do this and Linux makes it look like another hard drive that I can read from (and write too).

I did a bit of retouching on the photos only in that I resized the pictures to fit on the screen to a maximum size of 640x480. This keeps the image size down as not everyone has high speed internet. FYI, Photo 1 was originally 630K, Photo 2 was 511K and Photo 3 was 473K and all were 1280x1024 in dimension.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

2006 - Year in review

It is almost fall now and the garden is now winding down. The tomatoes are still producing a bumper crop. The Roma is putting out about ten to twenty tomatoes a day. Right now I am tired of them, but, our neighbors are loving it as they get all of the tomatoes that they want. I figure that we will have at least another four to five weeks before a frost so they will have their fill. I will also be making more pasta sauce and freezing that. The Roma tomatoes make a wonderfull pasta sauce.

Here are my observations of the other plants for the year:

The Snapdragons are doing great in the ground. They don't mind poor soil conditions and I have that in the back yard. I planted them where there is crushed brick, stone dust and clay and they are thriving. I will be picking the seeds from them this year and spread them out again next year. Our favourites are the ones where the flowers look like velvet. The others are nice, but, not as dramatic.

The Basil was a major disappointment this year. Almost as soon as I planted it in the large pot it bolted to flower almost immediately. The soil conditions were almost perfect. I made a mix of black earth and peatmoss. It was put down by the door so it got the sun all morning, but, by the afternoon it was shaded. It got watered twice a day and fertilized every second week. I did cut it back almost to the soil and it is now growing back and it is almost 20 cm in height.

The Dahlia's did not like being in small planters curing the hot and dry weather. They did survive the summer, but, didn't flower very much. Now that it is cooler they have started to flower again.

Astoria's definitely do not like being in pots. One pot was in full sun and the other was in partial shade and neither did well this year.

One plant that did well was the winter savoury. This plant thrived in the heat and tolerated drying out. If you cover the pot up during the winter it will even survive the worst weather that Ottawa can have. I used a burlap cloth that is used to protect trees and this allowed this pot (and others) a bit of protection, but, still allowed some air flow.

This is the third season for the Sedum Spectabile and it just gets better each year. At this time it is almost one meter in height and the flowers are starting to turn a wonderful pink. The plant is another variety that does overwinter very well even in Ottawa's climate.

This is the last year for Achilea, Physostegia Virginiana, ratibida Columnifera and 4 O'Clocks in our back yard. I suspect that it was several things that caused the disappointing growth this year. The first is that the soil in the planters is about three years old and they need a richer mix. The other thing is that they may not tolerate being in planters and the last thing is that this summer was long, hot and dry and these plants prefer a more moderate climate.

The sweet peppers were nice and had a vigorous growth. The one thing I did learn is not to plant them too near the tomatoes. The tomatoes over-grew the pot where the peppers were in and affected the crop. The peppers were about the size of a fist and were very sweet and tender. This is a crop that I intend to plant again next year.

Beans are a very hardy plant, but, even they were stressed by the summer heat and lack of rain. I suspect that they would perform much better if they were not in a pot. We plant these as our youngest likes beans and it is a excellent way to introduce children to gardening as this is an easy plant to get to grow.

The onions and carrots are a very hardy plants and they seem to thrive in planters. Again, this is a great plant for children to start with as they are easy to plant and care for. Every Sunday our youngest would go out to the back yard and pick several for our Sunday dinner.

Geraniums are almost idiot proof. They thrived throughout the year and had continual blooms. The only thing we had to do was remove the dead blooms and fertilize every two weeks. The heat didn't affect the plant in any way that we could observe. These plants will keep on flowering until a hard frost.

Salvia is most definitely a plant that does not tolerate being in planters, especially in full sun. Even watered three times a day they would show signs of stress. The colour was nice and I suspect that if planted in a regular garden with partial shade it would be a very spectacular addition to any garden.

The double petunias are just as hardy as the geraniums. The other nice feature is that they tend to spread out a bit. We planted them in round pots and they flowed over the sides and the colour combination of red brick, green foliage and their colours were a restfull combination on our eyes.

We are now in the process of cleaning up the garden and preparing it for the winter. Like I mentioned earlier on I will be using a burlap cloth to cover up the planters. I move all of the planters I want to survive to along the east fence and then cover the tops with empty planters. Planters that don't have any plants I keep the earth in and place in front of the planters at the back. I cover the whole thing with burlap and then place a few planters on each corner to anchor the cloth. During the winter I make sure that the whole thing is covered with about one meter of snow to protect everything from the coldest part of Ottawa's winter. During the spring I then dig out the plants and let nature takes its course.

I have a number of photos that I will need to resize and then post in a later blog so you can see how the garden actually looked like.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

2006 - Garden Layout

The 2006 planting year is now almost over now that it is in September. We should still get about two more months in our yard before there is a killer frost. I have started cleaning out some of the planters that I won't be keeping next year and a few of the annuals.

The garden layout is on the right hand side. Pots 8, 9, 10 and 11B were cut out and will be replanted next year with something new. They were much less than spectacular and didn't do well in the pots this year. Pots 21 and 23 were annuals and I removed them. Pot 14 was never planted as the space was needed for the tomatoes. More on the contents of these pots will be written up along with our observations on how they did and their proper names (when known).

This year I will try to remember to convert all measurements into metric. For those of you who are not familiar 2.54 cm = 1 inch.

Plantings by pot:

Pot 1 and 3 - Not really pots. We planted snapdragons on the ground around the north, east and south side ground. The soil itself is a mix of broken brick, crushed limestone and clay.

Pot 2 - Rosemary and Lemon basil. 61cm round pot.

Pot 4 & 18 - Dahlia. 15cm x 50cm planter.

Pot 5 - Astoria. 30cm round pot.

Pot 6 - Winter Savory. 61cm x 61cm planter.

Pot 7 - Sedum Spectabile. 61cm x 61cm planter.

Pot 8 - Achilea (Summer Pastels). 61cm x 61cm planter.

Pot 9 - Physostegia Virginiana (Rosecrown). 61cm x 61cm planter.

Pot 10 - Ratibida Columnifera (Yellow Mexican Hat). 61cm x 61cm planter.

Pot 11 - Four O'Clocks. 23cm round pot.

Pot 11B - Helenium (Rotgold). 61cm x 61cm planter.

Pot 12 - Red, Green, and Yellow sweet peppers. 61cm x 61cm planter.

Pot 13 - Roma Tomatoes. 61cm x 61cm planter.

Pot 14 - empty. 61cm x 61cm planter.

Pot 15 - Carrots. 15cm x 50cm planter.

Pot 16 - Yellow beans. 15cm x 50cm planter.

Pot 17 - Green Onions. 15cm x 50cm planter.

Pot 19 - Carrots. 15cm x 50cm planter. Planted in late August.

Pot 20, 22, 24 & 25 - Geraniums (Rocky mountain Red, White and coral). 15cm x 50cm planters.

Pot 21 & 23 - Salvia (Victoria Blue). 15cm x 50cm planters.

Pot 26 - Tomatoe. 61cm x 61cm planter.

Pot 27 - Astoria. 30cm round.

Pot 28 & 29 - Double Petunias. 39cm rounder planters.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

2005 - pots twenty-five to thirty-two

Pot: 25 = Size: 40cm x 10cm
Plantings: Dahlia
Observations: Nice flowering plant, lasted over the summer. Didn't like drying out in the planter too much.

Pot: 26 = Size: 20cm round
Plantings: Rosemary
Observations: Great growth. Tolerated weekly pruning and didn't mind the soil drying out. Kept growing until a killer frost.

Pot: 27 = Size: 60cm round | Location: Corner by gate
Plantings: Ornamental grass
Observations: Grew quickly to a height of approximately 175 cm. Didn't over-winter well.

Pot: 28 = Size: 50cm round | Location: Corner by gate
Plantings: Double petunia
Observations: Great flowering plant. Vines spread out and continuous growth until a killer frost.

Pot: 29 = Size: 50cm x 15cm | Ground near entry
Plantings: Carrots
Observations: Grew very well. Tender roots and quite light in taste.

Pot: 30 = Size: 30cm round | Ground near entry
Plantings: Marigolds
Observations: Nice flowering plant, lasted over the summer. Tolerated the pot drying out slightly.

Pot: 31 = Size: 60cm x 60cm | Location: Along window well
Plantings: Yarrow.
Observations: Nice flowering plant, lasted over the summer. Does not like the soil drying out very much, but, recovered well. Overwintered well and is blooming again in 2006.

Pot: 32 = Size: 30cm round | Location: Corner
Plantings: Rosemary
Observations: Same as pot 26.

Friday, August 11, 2006

A short break before starting again.

I have been off on vacation for the last week. Since the weather has been so nice (not hot & humid) I took some time off to enjoy the backyard and the plants. The two tomatoe plants have been growing like weeds. I had to chop off about 45 cm from the end of each branch, not a problem as one of the plants is almost 175 cm after the pruning. They are just loaded with Roma tomatoes and regular tomatoes. Now that it is later at night I can start doing the postings on the next set of planters.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

2006 - So far this year

It has been a less than wonderfull year for plantings in the back yard. First it was cold and wet and then extremely hot and dry. Most of the plants are under stress even with tri-daily waterings. The spinach went almost straight from seed to flowering and the leaves were small and stringy because of the heat. During the first part of the summer the hangers on the fences tended to be water logged from the frequent rains and now with the heat need watering more than three times a day. Fortunately the geraniums are a very forgiving plant and seem to survive despite of the extremes.

The basil plant was not so lucky. I planted it in a circular pot that is about 70cm across with Rosemary. The plant was very spindly and even with watering didn't produce much in the way of quality leaves. It quickly flowered and despite pruning it didn't bush out. I removed the plant totally and the Rosemary is now taking over that space. The Rosemary on the other hand is thriving despite of the heat and I should be getting a good bumper crop this year.

The two pots (60cm x 60cm) of tomatoes (one cherry and one regular) and also thriving. Both have been propped up with stakes and now are 1-2 metres in height. I don't know if this is because they are in planters or the soil I use or the fertilizer (miracle grow) used every week. I have already had several cherry tomatoes with a large number of green tomatoes on the vine. The regular tomato plant has approximately 1 dozen green tomatoes on the vine and I am looking forward to a good crop there.

The carrots are also thriving and Emily has had three dinners with her carrots. The onions are thriving too and we use them for salads and cooking. They are quite mild and have a pleasant taste. Our next project is to take the planter from the spinach and replant them with carrots to see if we can get a second crop for the fall.

2005 - Pots nineteen to twenty-four

Pot: 19 = Size: 60cm x 60cm | Location: Corner
Plantings: Digitalis Mertonensis (Strawberry Foxglove)
Observations: Nice flowering plant, lasted over the summer. Didn't over-winter well.

Pot: 20 = Size: 60cm x 60cm | Location: Backing onto fence
Plantings: Litatris Spicula (Kobold)
Observations: Nice flowering plant, needed some support as it tended to fall over at times. Didn't over-winter well.

Pot: 21 = Size: 60cm x 60cm | Location: Backing onto fence
Plantings: Pimula Denticulata
Observations: Nice flowering plant, short height in container and tended to disappear beside the Kobold and tomatoe plant. Didn't over-winter well.

Pot: 22 = Size: 60cm x 60cm | Location: Backing onto fence
Plantings: Cherry Tomtoe
Observations: Very agressive growth. This plant grew over the fence and was at a minimum 3 metres in length. It also grew over 3 metres in width. This is a plant that needed agressive pruning on a weekly basis to keep it at the size previously mentioned. Once it started to flower it produced approximately one small container of ripe tomatoes every day until October.

Pot: 23 = Size: 50cm x 15cm | Location: Backing onto fence on top of a 'bench' approximately 1 metre high.
Plantings: Double petunia
Observations: Nice flowering plant, it grew in a trailing vine approximately 2/3 of a metre in length. Flowered until a killing frost.

Pot: 24 = Size: 50cm x 15cm | Location: Backing onto fence on top of a 'bench' approximately 1 metre high.
Plantings: Onions
Observations: Liked the height when growing. Needed frequent watering as the location tended to dry out.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

2005 - Pots thirteen to eighteen.

Pot: 13 = Size: 15cm round | Location: Hanger on fence
Plantings: unknown
Observations: This was a pot of flowers my daughter picked out and we didn't have the tag for. It flowered well and did tolerate drying out.

Pot: 14 = Size: 60cm x 60cm | Location: Ground in front of window well
Plantings: Winter savoury
Observations: Excellent plant. It spread quickly during the first year and filled the pot. Tolerates bi-weekly cutting for the herb. When it did flower they were small and a light white colour. This pot did winter over and survived to 2006!

Pot: 15 = Size: 60cm x 60cm | Location: Ground in front of window well
Plantings: Sage and varigated sage
Observations: Grows fast and tolerated heavy cuttings on a bi-weekly basis throughout the season. It kept growing until a killer frost late October.

Pot: 16 = Size: 60cm x60cm | Location: Ground in front of window well
Plantings: Sedum spectable
Observations: Good bloom, lasted until killer frost. This plant grew to almost 60cm in height. The pot did winter over and the sedum survived for the 2006 season.

Pot: 17 = Size: 60cm x60cm | Location: Ground in front of window well
Plantings: Argyranthemum Butterfly
Observations: Lacey leaves and prolific flowers. Lasted from July until September for the flowers. Again, this is one of the pots that wintered over well and survived for the 2006 season.

Pot: 18 = Size: 60cm x 60cm | Location: Ground in front of window well
Plantings: Lobelia Cardinalis
Observations: Good bloom, lasted until killer frost. This pot didn't survive the wintering over.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

2005 - Pots seven to twelve

Pot: 7 = Size: 15cm round | Location: Hanger on fence
Plantings: Geranium
Observations: Good bloom, lasted until killer frost.

Pot: 8 = Size: 15cm round | Location: Hanger on fence
Plantings: Baby breath
Observations: Good speading, nice flower, likes frequent watering.

Pot: 9 = Size: 15cm round | Location: Hanger on fence
Plantings: Baby breath
Observations: Same as pot 8.

Pot: 10 = Size: 50cm x 15cm | Location: Ground by back door
Plantings: Double petunia and Geranium
Observations: Petunia spead and continuously flowered until killer frost. Geranium flowered full season until killer frost.

Pot: 11 = Size: 50cm x 15cm | Location: Ground by back wall
Plantings: Yellow Beans
Observations: Grew to about 45 cm in height. Excellent crop of beans, does not like soil drying out and needed watering several times a day.

Pot: 12 = Size: 30cm | Location: Plant holder, 30cm from gound
Plantings: Marigolds
Observations: Bloom continually until killer frost. Fairly drought tolerant.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

2005 - Pots: one to six

This is the first posting of all the plants. I will try to group them in sixes and give my observations on what worked and didn't work. For those of you who are not familiar with the metric system here is a quick summary:

2.54 cm (centimeters) = 1 inch
100 cm = 1 meter
39 inches = approx 1 meter

I try to use metric sizes when ever possible.

Note: The spikes are a plant I cannot remember the name. It grows fairly tall in the planter (About 50cm) and I use it as a contrasting planting in the middle of the flower box.

Pot: 1 = Size: 50cm x 15cm | Location: Hanger on fence
Plantings: Osteosperum, Spike, Dianthus
Observations: Disappointing, other than the spike they were short in height and a short blooming period.

Pot: 2 = Size: 50cm x 15cm | Location: Hanger on fence
Plantings: Osteosperum, Spike, Dianthus
Observations: Same as pot 1.

Pot: 3 = Size: 50cm x 15cm | Location: Hanger on fence
Plantings: Geraniums (red), spike ground cover plant (can't remember the name).
Observations: Nice colouring and the ground cover was fairly drought resistant. The geraniums flowered all season until a killer frost.

Pot: 4 = Size: 50cm x 15cm | Location: Hanger on fence
Plantings: Geraniums (red), spike, ground cover plant (can't remember the name).
Observations: Same as pot 3.

Pot: 5 = Size: 50cm x 15cm | Location: Hanger on fence
Plantings: Geraniums (red), Spike Snapdragons.
Observations: Same as pot 3.

Pot: 6 = Size: 50cm x 15cm | Location: Hanger on fence
Plantings: Ivy Geraniums, Spike, Snapdragons.
Observations: Same as pot 3. The difference in the leaf colouring of the ivy geranium was a nice contract to the other geraniums.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Here is the first page of the basic gardening notes from last year. I keep a written diary of what was planted and where. I also tried to keep some notes on how things went (not too much there). A diary is a great thing as you can record notes on what you did, when, and how things turned out. It allows you to remember how you did things and where things are. It does not need to be a complex thing. My book is just a simpled book, just remember to use pencil. If the book gets wet ink tends to run, but, graphite does not!Diagram of garden area

In total I had 32 containers of varying sizes throughout the back yard area. The yard itself faces south. The north side is our townhouse. To the east and west we have fences about 2.1 metres (7 feet) high. The south side fence is about 1.2 metres (4 feet) high. The base of the yard itself is approximately 45 cm (18 inches) of stonedust topped with large concrete pavers.

There are two bonuses with the yard layout
  1. The direction effectively extends our gardening by about 2 months (Beginning of May to end of October) before we really have to worry about killer frosts.
  2. The stonedust and concrete pavers really retain the heat and keeps the yard warm at night.
The only thing you have to worry about using pots is keeping the pots moist during the hot summer days. Usually we need to water twice a day, sometimes three times. If you are growing plants like tomatoes a minimum is three times a day. Once a week we fertilize each container using Miracle Grow. This is needed as the containers are small and the watering does flush out nutrients from our soil mix.

The soil mix is not a standard mix. Over the years we were using black earth, but, found it too heavy (especially for the pots on the fences). Last year we tried about 1/3 black earth and 2/3 peat moss and found that it was light weight, retained a fair amount of water and was light enough to be easily moved.

Over the next set of postings I will describe each pot and how they turned out.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

My gardening

Welcome to the urban garden. I live in a place with a very small backyard that is completely covered in concrete pavers. I like to garden so I started to purchase containers and grow a variety of plants, herbs and vegetables. For the last eight years it has been growing and I figured that I would share my experiences.

Over time I will detail out my own garden, what works, what didn't and any tips I think may be of use to everyone.