Category Archives: Growing Fruits and Vegetables

How to successfully grow fruits and vegetables organically for food.

Soil Testing

A thriving garden starts with knowing your soil type.  Plants require food (nutrients) to thrive just as we do, promoting healthy growth and giving us that colourful display or bumper crop of fruit or vegetables we desire.  For the better matched the plant is to the growing medium the healthier it will be, helping to avoid disease, insects or fungus.

It is never too soon or too late to test your soil composition and is so easy.  I purchased a soil kit from Buckerfields country store for under $30.  It comes complete with everything you need.  Everything is colour coded, including the comparator films and capsules for easy use.  Also included is a plant pH preference list for the gardener.

Soil should be tested periodically to ensure there is a balance of nutrients to support plant life.  It is especially important in the spring before you plant to see if you need to amend the soil for better growing results.  If your current garden is showing signs of stress then it is equally important to test it, after you have eliminated other problems that could correlate to plant stress.  eg…poor soil drainage, insufficient sunlight, insects or disease.  These issues will also cause leaf discolouration and stunted growth as well,  so rule them out first before you conclude it is the soil.  Most gardens do require amendments periodically as the nutrients are used up by plant consumption and nutrients leaching out from natural seasonal changes, such as seasonal rains.    A periodic soil test will let you catch nutrient deficiencies before they adversely affect your plants.  Besides indicating nutrient deficiencies, a soil test can also provide information on soil acidity, the percentage of organic matter in your soil, and your soil’s texture.

Proper testing = True Validity of Results

The results validity depends on your soil sample collection.  If you are testing your lawn area then only take samples from the lawn.  Do not take samples from the vegetable or flower garden areas as the soil could and probably is different.  To test your lawn, use a shovel and slice through the grass up to 6 inches deep.  Roots naturally grow 4 to 6 inches deep so digging this deep will give you a true picture of the nutrient base.  Make sure to take several samples throughout your lawn area and mix them in a clean container.  A typical soil sample requires 1 cup of soil so mix your samples together and add bottled, distilled or spring water.  Do not use treated tap water as it will skew your test results.

If you are testing your vegetable or flower garden area, then repeat the above instructions and yes, these samples can be added together to give you an accurate picture of your soil composition.   Making sure to discard stones, sticks, insects or other debris in your samples before you test.

At the very least, test your soil’s pH, which is a measure of how acidic your soil is. If the pH level isn’t in the correct range, plants cannot take up nutrients in the soil. You should also test for phosphorus and potassium because plants require both of these nutrients in relatively large amounts. A complete checkup would include tests for nutrients that are essential but needed only in minute quantities, such as iron, manganese, and zinc. If you regularly enrich your soil with an abundance of compost and other organic materials, micro nutrient problems are unlikely.

pH testing – to ensure an accurate test result do not touch the soil with bare hands.  Add soil to the pH compartment container to the fill line.  Then add the PH test powder capsule to the container and add water to the fill line.  Shake it and let it sit for a minimum of 30 minutes.  I try and leave it overnight for up to 24 hours to let it settle.

The other three test compartments are for testing Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potash.  For these tests with the remaining soil test samples you have mixed together, add 5 cups of water.  Use the 1 part soil to 5 parts water as a basis for true test results.  Shake or stir well to ensure it is well mixed and then let it settle until the sediments have settled to the bottom.  I try and leave this mixture to settle overnight to give a true result.   Use the dropper provided and add the liquid only from the soil and water mix to each compartment matching it to the colour coded capsule.  Add the capsule to the test compartment and shake throughly…it will settle within 10 minutes and allow you to read the colour coded results of your soil.

The test kit comes complete with easy to follow instructions and easy colour coding to read the results.  Knowing your soil composition correlations to a happy growth for any lawn or garden area.  It takes the guess work out, saving you time and money and helping to ensure your plants have the nutrients they need.

pH – Plants need the correct pH level (which is a test of its acidity/alkalinity) which controls how well the plants will utilize the nutrients available in your soil.  All plants have a pH preference so it is important to know your ph reading in order to either amend the existing soil or match the correct plants to the pH soil level.

P – Phosphorus is required for growing plants…it is the major constituent of plant genetics and seed develop0ment.  A deficiency causes stunted growth and seed sterility.  It aids the plant in maturity, increase plant yield and maturity, increases vitamin content and aids in staving off pest, diseases and winter kill.

K – Potash strengthens the plant, it helps form carbohydrates and promotes plant synthesis…better tasting fruits and vegetables, more vivid flower colours, aids in early growth, aids in maturity, stem strength and cold hardiness.  Plants deficient in potash are usually stunted in size, growth, poor yields, have poor root systems and may have leaves that are spotted, curled and/or dried out.

N – Nitrogen is synonymous with plant nutrition.  It is directly responsible for producing leaf growth and green leaves.  A deficiency cause yellow leaves and stunted growth.  Too much nitrogen causes overabundant foliage with delayed flowering; the plant becomes subject to disease and its fruit is of poor quality.

Plants are very forgiving and will recover quickly from deficiencies if caught early.  The best way to ensure a healthy plant is to test before planting and/or test regularly.  Organic amendments regularly will help to ensure a natural balance in the soils.

See you in the garden or the garden centre! 🙂

 

 

 

 

Complimentary Landscaping for a Country Wedding

Last year an unfortunate accident took place that I am sure many of you have experienced.  I dropped my phone in water and had to have it replaced.  Lost were many garden photos…563 to be exact.  I replaced my phone the next day and left the old one sitting in rice.  After a few days I put it in my desk drawer and forgot about it.  Moving in the fall, the old phone stayed in a box until yesterday.  I charged it and like magic it took the charge and I accessed all of the 563 pictures.

Each year I volunteer landscaping hours…sometimes I advertise free landscaping for seniors and other times the job just seems to appear.  I believe it is important to give something back.  In my lifetime so many many people have helped me on my journey; I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today without all of those helping hands and hearts that have reached out to me.  I believe one of the reasons we are on this earth is to help each other out along the way.  The intrinsic rewards are priceless for me.  For me no amount of money can replace the feeling of helping others.

A few years ago while gardening for one of my regular customers I was introduced to Les.  He was a very kind man as is his wife Lorraine.  He owned a small farm near Cedar BC where he grew garlic for the local health food store.  He offered me some work, helping him with his garlic crop.  Which I was happy to oblige, not only for the work, but the knowledge I would gain.

I was very blessed to meet him and his lovely wife Lorraine.  Wonderful people…so caring and so down to earth.  That first garden season after meeting them, they offered to let me grow a garden along side the garlic.  It was a God send to me as I was living in a suite with no garden area.  That season was so busy I had to rely on Les to let me know when my garden needed watering.  We watered my garden and the garlic regularly.  I grew many vegetables and herbs that year…eating and canning everything I could.  There is such a sense of accomplishment that comes with eating an entire meal from your own garden, which I did enjoy many times that summer!  Thank you Les & Lorraine 🙂

Tragedy struck 1 1/2 years ago when Les passed away from an unfortunate accident; leaving his wife and a daughter who was engaged to be married.  The bride, Heather had her heart set on a country wedding.

So we set to work.  The property is a beautiful farm over looking the Nanaimo River.  It is a place where time seems to stand still.  The farm is 10 acres,  complete with a large home, detached garage, detached shop and a barn overlooking a meadow.

I was so busy last summer that I did not even get to the farm to work until 3 weeks before the wedding so it was a stretch…one that I was not sure I could fulfill.  Lorraine had worked tirelessly year after year gardening and had beautiful gardens everywhere.  There were beautiful rhododendron gardens surrounding the house where she had incorporated peach trees, raspberries and other edibles into the garden space.  The gardens just needed some elbow grease to get things in order.

The driveway was a winding lane over a 1/4 mile long from the road to the house with fruit trees on one side and a fenced pasture lined with black berry brambles on the other.  Years previous had seen the addition of a rock garden along the driveway closer to the house.  It was beautiful but overgrown with weeds and grass.

The bride had her heart set on getting married on the lawn and then having her wedding photos taken near the barn and pasture.  There was a considerable amount of work to be done.  The area where the guests would park was overgrown with weeds and grass also.  And work we did.  There were dozens of volunteers that helped every step of the way.  The landscaping was my expertise and thankfully I met the challenge and finished two days before the wedding.

Driveway before

 

Driveway after

Lorraine seeded the lawn area where Heather wanted the ceremony and watered daily for the lawn to thrive.  I added my landscaping touches weeding and mulching everything in sight.

Even Sheeba, the family pet helped by chasing the rabbits away!

The pasture needed to be cut down around the barn and beyond for the wedding photos.  I used a weed eater to get it down to about 8 inches…cleaned the area of all rocks, trees and branches, then I took the lawnmower to it twice…the last time two days before the wedding.  I also trimmed and pruned all shrubs and trees giving each a hair cut to tidy things up.

The three weeks flew by…I cleared my calendar of other jobs to finish this one…at the exasperation of some of my customers…it wasn’t that their gardens weren’t important to me…it was that this was something I had to do…and the wedding turned out beautiful.  A gorgeous summer day for a beautiful bride & groom!  In total I put in 49.5 hours and am so very grateful that I could do something nice for this family!

Congratulations Heather & Ray!  Have a wonderful life!

 

 

 

 

Being a Landscape Gardener!

work-play

Growing tomatoes in December on Vancouver Island

tomatoes-in-december

Yes folks, they are ripening outside in December.  For those of you who are not from Vancouver Island and many who are, it might come as a shock but this is growing right now.

I recently was hired by new clients to do a fall clean up in Saltair.  Stan and Doris are long time gardeners and lovely people and I am blessed to work for them.  On my first day at their house way back in September, I saw these incredibly healthy tomato plants they were growing in pots against their house.  Each visit, I have watched these plants and am amazed myself.  The plants are still flowering….almost 9 months after planting.  Yes the plant has slowed down with shortened days but it is still flowering and ripening.  Who would ever have thought this would be possible in December.  Stan said they are still eating ripe tomatoes a couple days a week and the plant was loaded with flowers when I was there on December 2nd.  Wow!!!

Happy Gardening…see you in the garden or the garden centre! 🙂

Cheers!

Top Dressing Raspberries

There is nothing like a bowl full of sweet plump juicy raspberries fresh out of the garden.  For me, they are the cream of the crop when it comes to fruit.  So there is nothing more disheartening then raspberry canes that are not doing well.  These canes are two years old and have thrown many new shoots but are sickly with yellowing leaves, especially at the bottom of the plant.  Even the leaves further up the cane are not the deep green they should be.  The smaller new shoots will not produce and are taking nutrients away from the larger, older canes.

The first thing I did was to thin out the smaller shoots.  I left only the healthiest deepest green of the new shoots and only a few.  Then I worked up the soil around the base of the remaining plants and pulled all the weeds.  I also checked to ensure that there were no aphids or other pests living off the plants.  Aphids are a common problem for raspberry plants. These insects feed on the sap of raspberry leaves, preferring the tender leaves of new growth. Over time, they cause the leaves to curl and turn a yellow-brown. If the infestation is too severe or the plant is too young when infested, it may not fully recover. Natural pesticides include a water and soap mixture of 16 parts water and 1 part soap. Ladybugs  also control aphid infestations as they enjoy eating them.

Raspberry bushes enjoy well-drained and loamy soil that is rich in nutrients and organic material. Poor soil conditions can lead to yellow leaves. Raspberry bushes perform best when soil pH ranges from slightly acidic to neutral. Mixing in compost and conducting a soil test before transplanting can help diagnose deficiencies before they become a problem.  Using an organic mulch at the base of your plants will not only conserve moisture, but it will also reduce the number of weeds that take root. Mulch provides extra nutrients as it decomposes over time.

It was obvious that the problem was the growing conditions.  The soil needed amending in order for the raspberry canes to not only survive but thrive.

Soil Amendment – 3 parts organic soil, 1 part peat moss,  2 to 3 cups of bone meal, 1 handful of dolmite lime.  The organic soil will continue to feed the plants throughout the seasons.  The peat moss will help to retain moisture.  The bone meal will add the needed levels of potash and phosphate to the soil.  and finally the dolmite lime will help to sweeten the soil so to speak because it is very acidic.  Once it was well mixed in the wheel barrow I worked it into the soil around the raspberry canes about 2 to 3 inches deep.  Then I added more soil to the rest of the garden doing the same thing…working it in 2 to 3 inches deep and then I thoroughly watered it.  Raspberries once established have very deep roots and only need about 1 inch of water per week.  But they must be well watered during transplanting so as to establish that deep and healthy root system.

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raspberries 5 peat moss manure lime bone meal