What’s Growing On

So right now I’m noticing a huge difference between my home plants in containers, and my raised bed plants at the community gardens. My home plants are just thriving. My herbs have really filled out the terracotta planter well, and my tomatoes are really taking off, especially my yellow pear. Unfortunately, the plants in my raised bed are really struggling. After three weeks they look the same as they did when I transplanted them.

Yellow Pear tomato, (marigold trying to sneak out of picture)

So, I fed them last week with an organic liquid fertilizer, (4-2-3), and I’ve still seen no difference. I used the same fertilizer at home too, and everything here is growing great. So, I’m going to blame the soil. Unlike my containers, I did not fill those beds. I don’t know where that soil came from, but I have been told by one woman who gardens there, the one who planned the garden site, that the soil is seriously depleted in nitrogen. Everything growing in the communal beds is also struggling. There is no compost on any of them, and I doubt anyone has been fertilizing. When I look at them I’m reminded of The Grapes of Wrath. I call them the dustbowl beds.

We have a compost area set up, and I was told someone is in charge of that, but it doesn’t look very promising to me. It is full of sod and weeds; no vegetable scraps, no egg shells, no coffee grounds. So, I’ve started bringing my compost from home to supplement it.

I have a lot of plans for salvaging my bed for next year, but I can’t afford to do those things on as large a scale as the three communal beds. I imagine other people have been implementing their own startegies, as a couple people have lush growing beds there. I’ve been thinking of talking to one of our local chicken farmers. I’ve heard that chicken manure is very high in nitrogen. Part of the problem is that I still have no communication with my fellow gardeners. There hasn’t been a meeting. Apparently there is an email list that I am part of, but I haven’t seen any emails, and I don’t know how to post to it. I’m trying to stay patient, but I’m getting frustrated by this.

Three buildings have been built on the site now, though. We have an office, and two storage sheds. Plus the gazebo has a roof on it, and we have two picnic tables. So, at least something is happening there. I am very excited to have the opportunity to garden there. I guess I just wish it seemed more like my fellow gardeners were equally excited.

Do any of you have suggestions for ways to amend depleted soil?


Here Be Slugs…

I woke up from a nightmare recently that left me lying awake for over an hour afterward. It was a vivid dream of a large slimy green slug balanced on the lip of a container eagerly stretching out towards my vulnerable bush beans, its antennae twitching with anticipation.

I lay awake afterward remembering how I hadn’t put the slug trap back in place, and should I go outside to do so. This would mean opening the sliding glass door, which could wake Joe, since our bedroom is right above it. I lay awake contemplating whether his possible lack of sleep was a justifiable sacrifice to save the remaining plants. You see, I recently have had three vibrant beautiful bush bean plants eaten down to the very base by slugs. There are now three short green stubs, still covered in slime, where once grew lush plants full of promise and potential. I imagine they don’t come back from that, and I will need to reseed.

Since then I’ve been looking into methods of slug control. I tried the popular beer trap. I filled a cottage cheese container with beer, and dug it a little ways into the ground. Unlike the earwig trap, you don’t want it flush with the soil as then you risk drowning ground beetles, which apparently eat slugs. I knew I liked ground beetles. I read that the traps are effective within a 3′ radius, so you may need a few depending on the size of your place. So after one night this little trap caught 9 slugs. It has caught a few more since then. This isn’t enough to keep my plants safe; however. I added crushed egg shells to the soil around the base of my plants. If slugs travel over them they are cut and then they die of dehydration. (Diatomaceous earth does the same thing, but eggs are cheaper.) To their credit, I think most of them are smart enough to avoid this, as I have never seen a dehydrated slug or snail.

I am happy to report that no more plants were eaten to the ground after this; however, they were taunting me by hanging out on the lip of my container and eating all the leaves they could reach from there. So, I started looking for copper slug tape. Apparently, if slugs or snails pass over copper it gives them an electric shock, so it’s something they naturally try to avoid. After searching many local garden stores to no avail, I finally found some at Canadian Tire. It is made in Victoria, B.C. too, nice and close. I must admit I am disappointed in the small local garden centres that sell slug poison, and slug pellets, but no copper tape that is made here on Vancouver Island. One woman even went to so far as to tell me it was only available in the states.

If you happen to find copper slug tape, ket me warn you to wear gloves while handling it. I have many itchy paper cuts on my fingertips right now. Since I’ve applied the tape to my containers, my beans and other plants are safe. My beans are even thriving now that I’ve removed the fennel too. This is something else I’ve learned. Most plants don’t like to live next to fennel, and it actually inhibits the growth of beans. I planted the fennel in there after reading somewhere that slugs don’t like fennel. Well, that may be so, but perhaps you should mention to gardeners that most of our vegetables don’t like fennel either. Small rant aside, the beans are doing great the fennel was only in there two days, so it seems no lasting damage was done.

So I’m happy the tape has worked for my containers, and it would work well for raised beds too, but what about the rest of the yard? I won’t even plant hostas, because I think it would just be cruel to them, and feed the population I have here. What are  your methods for slug control in your garden? Good luck in your battle against slugs.

Catching Up

For those of you who have been reading from the beginning, I have been posting about notes I have taken in the past. In this post, I hope to catch up on everything I have not yet mentioned, as briefly as possible, so as to allow me to post what is currently going on with me. I feel like I’m doing so many things that I want to share.

So, I planted arugula, and radicchio in containers. I used bone meal and green sand in that mix. The arugula sprouted in 4 days, and the radicchio in 5. Something’s been eating the arugula, so yesterday I added a seashell mulch to the container, hoping that would help. I need to get more of this; I’ve run out.

A friend gave me some plants from his garden for mine. I’ve dug up all the buttercup and dandelion that was plaguing south wall of my tiny yard, and I’ve planted geraniums, ornamental grass, rose campion, foxglove, lady’s mantle, poppies, and borage. There is another plant, that I have yet to identify. I am growing my appreciation of the outdoor space we have.

south wall of my yard before the dig with arugula and radicchio in foreground

south wall of my yard after the dig and transplant.

I planted my garden plot at the community garden. I did this in spite of the rain, as the slugs on my patio were stalking my squash. A couple leaves were seriously chewed before leaving here. In this plot I’ve planted buttercup squash(2), cabbage(3), pumpkin(2), yellow zucchini, green zucchini, delicata squash(3), cayenne pepper, jalapeno pepper, cinnamon basil(4), genovese basil(3), marjoram, smoky fennel(3), and borage, calendula, and alyssum to attract beneficial insects.

I used the Gaia Green fertilizer (4-4-4), 1 C/100m sq. I need to get some more mushroom compost for mulch. There is compost provided here, but after seeing what goes into the compost bins, I didn’t really want to use it. It is mostly uprooted weeds, and sod. No one has been adding any vegetable scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, or any of the other goodies that make compost great.

With Joe’s help, my husband, I got the tomatoes planted yesterday into two large self watering containers made from storage totes. It goes much faster with help. I used the same mix as for the beans and strawberries, and added about 1 C rabbit manure to the rooting area. In one container I’m growing Black Krim and Yellow Pear, in the other Bonny Best and Super Italian Paste. The Bonny Best was a surprise as I thought I grabbed a Green Zebra. Sometimes while searching for a better looking transplant, I grab a completely different cultivar. This also happened with the cinnamon basil. I wanted thai basil, and honestly, I’ve no idea what to do with cinnamon basil, any ideas? Plus, if any of you have grown any of these tomatoes, please feel free to share your experiences in the comments.

Strawberries and Beans

These notes are from May 12, when I constructed my first large self-watering container. I converted a large storage tote. I bought four of them when they were on sale for this purpose. Well, one of them I’m using as a soil mixing place as I don’t have a wheelbarrow, and they’re really quite expensive. Plus, I’ve never seen the need for one, having only a patio. I can move stuff around in the wagon most of the time.

I would recommend for anyone constructing their own containers that they wear gloves. It took quite a deal of finessing and time to make my first one to make sure I didn’t cut the lid too small
thereby making it useless. So, I ended up with quite a blister, due to the tin snips. I took a break and planted the rosemary. I put it in its own container, rather than in the large strawberry planter that I was planning for herbs, because I need to bring it in at winter time. The last time I had rosemary outside in a pot I killed it by leaving it out.

I used the same mix for the large tote, which will be home to strawberries and bush beans, as for the watercress except I added about 1/2 C of bone meal to it. I planted 6 beans, a tricolour mix, with the plan to plant another row after these sprout. The beans started popping through the soil after after 11 days. It was a very exciting moment for me. I love how thrilled I am every time I see something sprout. I think it’s good for the self esteem to know that you’ve helped something to have life.

I bought the strawberries from a local garden centre, and although I love this place for many things I would not buy those little cardboard packages of berries again. There were only 9 in there instead of 10, and two of them were dead. I lost another one after planting. Fortunately by that time, I had purchased lovely large strawberries from a local grower at my farmers’ market. So, I will definitely start there the next time I need to buy some. The strawberries and beans are both thriving now, and I need to plant my second row of beans.

strawberries and beans thriving in a self watering container

The Beginning

Hi there and join me on my journey to lower my grocery bill by growing as much of my own food as possible. I live in a townhouse with a back patio, for which I will be growing in containers, and I recently acquired a plot at a local community garden, which I’m very excited about. I started keeping a journal about a month ago, when it occurred to me I should be sharing this information, and meeting new people with the same interests. So, I’m going to give a brief synopsis of what I’ve accomplished so far, along with what I’m currently doing, over the next few days we should be caught up.

I began on April 29 with my first self watering container. You can go here to find more information on those, including how to make your own.http://www.urbanorganicgardener.com/self-watering-containers/ I filled it with a mix of equal parts coir, (coconut peat), which is a sustainable alternative to regular sphagnum peat, and mushroom compost. (one brick of coir, and half a bag of compost.) To this I added vermiculite and perlite, approximately  3 cups of each, and about 21 T of greensand. I also added some aged rabbit manure. My grandmother, who keeps everything, has been saving this rabbit manure for probably ten years, in a large garbage can. She was very proud that I came around with a use for it; however, the lid blew off some time ago, and the bucket filled with rain water. So, my grandmother no longer has a large bucket of dry pellets, but a large very wet single pellet of rabbit manure. Fortunately, there were some dry pellets left in the hutch. My grandmother is planning to dry out the remainder, but I’m past wanting it, to be honest.


watercress with green onions, and a seashell mulch

I planted water cress in this container with green onions around the side to deter pests. The watercress took 5 days to germinate, and the green onions took 17 days. I used a seashell mulch to deter the rampant slugs around here, and it also reflects the light up to the leaves helping them grow. This is great if you have a lot of shade, which I do.

I’ll just leave you now with a few things I have learned at this point:

  • self watering containers do not keep the surface moist, you need to mist the top to allow seeds to germinate
  • potting mix needs to breathe; don’t keep it in a container with the lid on. It will go mouldy.