Parsley is a hardy biennial herb, meaning that it goes to seed in it's second year. Typically, it starts to bolt in the springtime as temperatures warm up; it puts it's energy into producing gangly, woody stems and see heads, instead of its tasty emerald leaves. And like clockwork, that's exactly what happened to my abundant overwintered parsley. Instead of cutting it down and composting it, I took off the best sprigs so that I could dehydrate them for future use. I ended up packing a whole salad spinner full of nice looking sprigs.
Making dried parsley is easier than you think. You can dry leftover parsley that you buy at the store, or, better yet, dry your own homegrown organic parsley from your garden! The taste and colour difference is striking. You will certainly notice it right away.
You can make your own in only a few easy steps:
1) Wash your parsley and pat dry with a tea towel to remove some of the surface moisture.
2) Remove any larger stems.
3) Lay in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Place cookie sheet into an oven on the dehydrate setting (or as low as possible, around 150 degrees).
4) Check parsley after an hour. If it easily crunches and crumbles between your fingers, it is ready. If not, check it in this manner after every half hour.
5) Gently scrunch the parsley by closing it in your palm. Don't overdo it or you'll end up with dust.
6) Let it cool to room temperature.
7) Seal in sandwich bag with air removed, or in air-tight container.
Voila! Easy peasy! And there you have it. Dried parsley at home. If you went through the trouble if growing this versatile herb at home, you definitely don't want to waste it. Dried parsley will last for months and hopefully you will have fresh parsley growing by the time you run out.
For less than $15 and under and hour, you can make your own DIY trellis. This project is easy and inexpensive, and the resulting product is sturdy and will last you for years! This trellis also makes a great privacy screen when planted with your favourite climbing fruits, veggies, or flowers.
You only need a few supplies which are easy to find at most hardware stores. One remesh panel can make one large trellis (3.5'x7') or two narrow panels (1.5'x7'). We chose to make two narrow trellises, which worked out to be less than $15 per panel.
And that's it! Easy peasy. Now you have a trellis panel (or two) to grow vertically in your garden, saving precious square footage for getting the most out of small spaces. Remesh is very strong and can hold large veggies like cucumbers or even mini squash. If you need some trellising inspiration on vertical fruits and veggies, check out my trellising edibles post. If you are looking for other trellising materials or ideas, I have a post for that too!
I understand that some gardeners find sunflowers a divisive choice of bloom. It is a happy-go-lucky flower that may seem out of place in formal, simple, or highly structural (*ahem,* serious) gardens. I can respect the care, effort, and planning that is invested in formal garden design and have a deep appreciation for the many magnificent historical gardens of Europe. I, however, do not have a formal garden and I thoroughly love it that way. My beds change and evolve as I decide my plantings for the year or I decide that I like of dislike elements as my taste changes. One thing that I love to include is sunflowers, and here's why:
1) They're happy!
First of all, can you think of a happy bloom in a garden? Sunflowers are bold and bright. Their traditionally lemony yellow colour is like sunshine in flower form (hence the name). The enormous Large Russian sunflowers are comically huge. They're guaranteed to put a smile on the faces of passersby.
2) They're easy to grow.
Sunflowers are actually happiest when they're directly sown in the soil. You don't need to fuss with indoor sowing or frost protection. Actually, if you try to transplant larger varieties, they may flop and require staking. Simply push a seed into the soil and it's ready to go! Seeds are easy to come by and inexpensive. They're also pretty tolerant of a range of soil condition, but they're happiest in full sun. You don't need to fuss to much about watering either, they really like the dry heat!
3) Different sizes for different growing areas.
While you may think of most sunflowers as tall and imposing, they actually come in a variety of sizes. You can find ones that can work in the fronts of beds and borders, and some even work well in containers. The largest obviously need more space and can be obstructive if not placed properly. I like the large ones in the back of my beds or the farthest point in my yard to draw your gaze to the distance.
4) Easy to harvest seeds.
At the end of the season, you can collect your own seeds for planting more sunflowers next year! You will have an endless supply of sunflowers to keep and share if you collect your own seeds. Simply let the seed heads mature on the plant. You will be able to brush the "fluff" off the maturing seeds which will look like they're turning colour. Remove the head and let it dry completely before removing the seeds. I let mine seeds dry further after they've been removed by placing them on a tray in my warm laundry room.
5) Eat the seeds.
Depending on the variety that you choose to grow, you may have a tasty snack by the end of the season! Not only will you get to enjoy beautiful flowers in your yard during growing season, but you will get a tasty treat when they're all done (after you've saved some seed for growing next year, of course).
6) Eat the heads.
I bet you didn't know that you can eat the heads too! Yes, if you pick the buds before they bloom, you can cook them sort of like an artichoke. You can steam or sautee them, and trim them like an artichoke heart. I have yet to try this myself as I enjoy the flowers so much, I hate the idea of cutting them off before they bloom. However, I have planted enough sunflowers this year that I am hoping to finally give it a try.
7) Feed the birds and the bees.
This one should not be undervalued. Bees are perilously at risk right now and we should be putting more efforts into supporting their health. Sunflowers provide an excellent food source to native bee populations and there are few sights more heartening than a a few busy bumblebees on a large sunflower head. After summer has passed and the flowers start to put their energy into their seeds, the bird start to take notice of the fading plants. If you leave the seed heads in the garden, you will attract birds foraging for food in the fall. You can also remove the spent flower heads with the seed in place and hang it elsewhere in the garden to create a natural bird feeder.
And there you have it. I hope that I have convinced you to tuck a few sunflower seeds into your garden this spring; you might be thanking me when they bring a smile to your face this summer. Or, you might find that the birds and the bees are the ones thanking YOU.
So you might already know from my previous posts that I'm not a huge fan of lawns. They are not great for the environment; the water, fertilizer, pesticides, and other chemicals that people pour into their grass is unfortunate. You might also know that we scraped off several inches of our whole front yard and we have been working away at creating an edible landscape.
After much deliberation, we decided to dedicate part of our yard to a... lawn. I know, I know. I'll say it - hypocrite! Before you give me a hard time, hear me out. We have two young kids who spend lots of time playing outside in our garden. We have a sizable suburban front yard which makes for a great place to play. So, we had space to fill and kids who need somewhere to play close at hand. If we were going to do a lawn, we needed to have an environmentally-conscious approach. We already did not use pesticides or fertilizers on our previous lawn, so we didn't need to change our approach in that respect. We also didn't water our lawn either. We let it go brown in the summer (oh boy, did it go brown). We did have concern that the invasive chafer beetle was closing in on our neighbourhood, having ravaged the lawns of other adjacent municipalities. We had two concerns - a prickly dead brown lawn and the chafer beetle. Who knew that we could solve both problems at the same time?
We found a lawn seed blend that combines tall fescue and microclover. This combination does not form a layer of thatch that other grass blends create. The layer of thatch is what helps critters peel back the top layer of grass to eat the juicy chafer beetle grubs hiding underneath. The thatch is also inviting to the chafer beetles which see it as a good place to lay their eggs.
Some people may cringe at the idea of deliberately putting clover into their lawn, but clover is a natural nitrogen fixer, which will help to keep the tall fescue green and healthy. The clover will die back in the winter but re-emerge in the spring, with the fescue remaining green year round.
Tall fescue is a type of grass which grows tightly together, not leaving much space for the chafer beetle to enter and lay eggs. it also forms deeper roots which allows it access to moisture deeper below the surface of your lawn, meaning it will stay greener for longer.
As a bonus, between the microclover and the tall fescue, this blend is suited to both full sun and part shade!
Here's the catch. This type of lawn seed blend is best applied to bare soil which has been prepared for grass seed application. This mix does not lend itself to over-seeding. We were fortunate that we decided to make the change to this blend when we had no lawn at all.
So here's how we did it:
1) We removed several inches off the top of the previous yard/lawn, removing the grass and some of the clay with it. The clay was not conducive for growing anything at all. When our yard was dry, we had no shovel that could pierce through the rock-like surface.
2) We put down a layer of turf blend (50/50 sand and compost mix) to help with drainage and hopefully break up the deep, heavy clay underneath. We put another layer of bulk garden soil on top. This wasn't perhaps the best idea, but it was the least expensive option we had. We also need the soil to form the beds we were making. There were lots of bits of wood and bark that I raked out to the best of my ability.
3) I fluffed up the top layer and levelled it with a levelling rake.
4) I seeded the soil, then raked and levelled it again.
5) I did an extra sprinkle of the seed mix, just for good measure.
6) With daily sprinkling of watering to get it started, it was showing clover and fescue growth within a week! Now, I'm hoping that the spring rain will take it from here.
Voila! That's it! I will keep you updated to let you know how it looks over the summer once it becomes established.
UPDATE 2022: Not only did our lawn stay lush and green through the heat dome and drought, but it looks like it will bounce back just fine after our fierce winter. I've noticed more lawns in the neighbourhood getting damaged as a result of chafer beetles, which is another reason I'm glad that we went with this blend.
So, you want to get started gardening and quick. There has been a lot of talk about food security lately with the pandemic unfolding. People are snapping up seeds and picking up their shovels since they are stuck at home and wondering where their food is going to be coming from in next few months.
You have a number of options for getting started with a new bed. Berms with sheet mulch, raised garden beds boxes, in ground beds. These are all relatively inexpensive ways to get started but they require time, planning, and materials. My favourite solution for an instant garden is... a container! Not just any container, but the largest used nursery pot that you can source out. Many nurseries sell or give away used containers. Try calling around to your local garden centres. My newest two beds are enormous used bamboo nursery pots that are probably around 100 gallons in size and 4 feet across.
Since I didn't need the full depth of the container, I filled the bottom with empty milk jugs and smaller upside down nursery pots. I covered them with landscape cloth and added my soil to the top. Voila! Instant raised bed. And since these pots are being upcycled, they are eco-conscious as well.
Start asking around for old nursery pots - you may be pleasantly surprised that your instant garden is easier than you think. I'm a big fan of container gardening. They offer instant space and there is a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that are suitable for container growing.
Now you're ready to dig in!
The radish contenders: Cherry Belle, French Breakfast, Crimson Giant (pictured above)
Since my new DIY polytunnels gave me an extra early start in my garden this year, I was able to get my radish seeds into the ground in early February. You may notice when reading the seed packets, that you will often see a number which indicates the number of days to harvest. This number can be deceptive because it can depend on conditions such as temperature, moisture, and light. While radishes do like cooler weather, it can take longer that the estimated 30 days (give or take) they would take in optimal conditions, That said, in about a month and a half, I was able to harvest three rows of radishes last weekend. Because they grew in the polytunnels, they were my most beautiful radishes EVER! They were large and mostly unblemished. I planted one row or each radish vareity that I had on hand from last year; Cherry Belle, French Breakfast, and Crimson Giant. I decided that I would try some of each to find out which were my favourite. It can be hard to remember one week to the next what the flavour of a particular variety is, so I wanted to make sure this was a side-by-side comparison. I LOVE radishes, so I was really looking forward to this exercise. So, here we go...
If you have ever been to your local garden centre looking for mason bee supplies, you'll know that they can be quite cost prohibitive. Buying the bee cocoons themselves is generally about $20CAD for 10. Your new bees will want someplace to live after they emerge, of course. You will be tempted to buy them a fancy house with reusable or disposable tubes, but the price tags on those can be astronomical. You might be dissuaded from getting any bees at all!
Last year, I attended a mini workshop on keeping mason bees. The instructor was from a local nature conservation group and she assured us that bees are not looking for a fancy bug hotel. You can use supplies that you already have on hand!
After I shelled out too much money for cardboard tubes and a reusable bee house, I decided to try a much more economical approach to mason beekeeping.
Let's Get Bzzzy!
Last year was my first year as a real, honest to goodness beekeeper. Maybe not honeybees, but I started my first colony of mason bees and I had a nest of big native bumblebees move in shortly afterward. One day I would LOVE to have a honeybee hive, but I am happy with my mason bees and bumblebees in the interim.
Not only are mason bees non-aggressive and they have no stringer, they are a pretty bee to watch coming an going in the garden. They are a dark, almost black, iridescent blue. Don't expect to see the usual stripey bee zooming around the garden.
I purchased several mason bee cocoons from a local nursery early last year and kept them in the fridge until there was a reliable food source for them. We have a few large fruit trees in our yard and were hoping that they would help with pollination. We weren't disappointed! And who doesn't love the company of a bee? It was wonderful to watch them come and go from their little tube homes. I purchased a set of cardboard tubes to start me off on the right foot last year. The bees started to fill them with mud right away to protect next year's cocoons. Having never raised or handled bees before, I went to a workshop on how to keep mason bees. This gave me the confidence to open the tubes up at the end of the season , pull out the cocoons and clean and store them for setting out this year. It was actually easier than I expected.
Starting my colony (2019):
1) Purchase bee cocoons early spring. Keep them refrigerated until they are ready to be set out. It should be when there are plenty of blossoms opening or *just* beforehand.
2) Create a place where they can nest. I used a large coffee tin with a small coffee tin nestled inside. I place my cardboard tubes in the small tin. This set up was EAST FACING, which apparently is important. It must be warm but protected from being overexposed to the elements. You can see the arranged cans in the picture below that shows the white painted tin; I've reused the same set up this year which was great.
3) Place the container in or around your new bee house when their food source is ready to flower. Make sure that the container that they came in is protected from the elements. Mine came in an empty perscription bottle which I set inside the large coffee tin.
4) Wait for your bees to emerge from their slumber. They will chew their way out of the cocoon and get right to work. There's really nothing else that you need to do. They will make an source their own mud, you don't need to buy any gimmicky (and expensive!) mud for them to use.
5) Late in the season when they have gone dormant, but before the harsh winter sets in, you might want to consider bringing in your bees for their own safety. This will prevent any critters from eating them, mites or pests from invading the tubes, or extreme weather from harming them. Although in many areas they are native bees, they are now your friends and garden pets, so you'll probably want to give them some extra TLC. In October, open up the tubes and remove the cocoons. Proceed to the next step immediately.
NOTE: If you see something that looks like little grubs in your mason bee tubes, DON'T PANIC like I did. I thought whatever little creatures they were, that they were surely going to devour my precious mason bees. Well, after some internet sleuthing, it turns out that they were actually resin bees, which are also a solitary bee. If you can leave them where they are and minimally disturb their portion of the nest, that will help them to overwinter in place.
6) You will want to sanitize your mason bee cocoons with a mild bleach/water mixture. Soak them for five to ten minutes, then rinse them thoroughly. I very gently massaged each cocoon between my thumb and index finger as was recommended to me in my class for removing debris. Leave them to dry on a paper towel.
7) Store them in a sealed container in your fridge. Again, an old prescription container should do the trick.
8) Return to step 1 and bring them out in the spring when the timing is right!
You may get as many as 10 mason bees for each one that you initially start with. If you take care of your bees, your colony is going to grow. You may consider selling or sharing your bees year-to-year with others. Bees nee all the help they can get!
Buying mason bee supplies can be expensive, but you don't actually need anything fancy to help them feel at home. I purchased a clearance end-of-season plastic bee house to use every year which is easy to clean and remove cocoons since I plan on storing them in my fridge every year. Those little cardboard tubes are another product which is a popular and easy solution, but they are WAY more expensive than they should be. I have used large coffee tins screwed to the posts of our deck with the housing inside. Instead of cardboard tubes, this year I have rolled half pieces of used computer paper around a pencil to make a long tube, and then fold it in half. It is important to have one end of any tube closed for them, whether it is a pre-formed nest, a cardboard tube, or a paper tube. The paper tube solution was recommended by our local nature conservation organization, so I look forward to seeing what sort of results I will get this year.
I can already see that the bees are emerging and they are actively using my new plastic bee tube house. I will update you to let you know which worked best!