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.

Quick and Easy Earwig Trap

photo by Gilles Gonthier

I don’t know about the rest of you, but my small yard is teeming with earwigs. The problem with earwigs is they eat indiscriminately. So, they eat not only plant-eating bugs, but beneficial insects as well, and your plants. They’re really just looking out for themselves, but what really bothers me is the way they crawl up my laundry rack, and hide in my underwear waiting to jump out at me when I fold my laundry. It’s definitely enough to make me do the squirmy dance, and let’s face it, as upset as I may get about them eating my plants, it’s not enough to make me make me shriek and squirm on the spot.

So, I happened upon a pretty nifty DIY earwig trap recently. I don’t happen to remember where I read this, but I’m passing it on. You take a small plastic container, like a cottage cheese container, and punch several holes in the lid. Into the lid you stir up equal parts soy sauce and oil, any liquified oil like olive oil or canola would be fine. Snap the lid in place, and bury it in the ground up to the lid of the container. The earwigs are attracted to the soy sauce, and crawl in, but because of the oil they can’t crawl out. Just dump out the container and refill as necessary.

I haven’t tried this yet, myself, but I’m eager to. Let me know how it works, if you happen to try it, or if you have any cool pest traps of your own.

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