Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Bringing in Your Plants

Autumn is just around the corner! It's September now. The days are getting shorter and the nights cooler. It's time to bring the houseplants back inside.

Trays for the plants have always been a concern for me. I bring in a lot of geraniums and so forth from the garden and start many plants indoors early in the spring. This year I am going to use boot trays under the plants! It's an idea that just came to me while shopping at Home Depot today. I bought this one there. It's the only thing I could find that is big enough for this pot but it works perfectly. I can add other pots to the tray as well and use them in front of the patio doors too! I love the idea! It will solve a lt of problems for me.

I planted most of my plants directly into the garden in June this year, so will have those to dig up and plant into pots with fresh soil shortly. I will have to look carefully to make sure there are no earthworms, earwigs or other insects coming in with them.

I'm buying more boot trays today!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Cannas from Seed

I have successfully grown canna lilies from seed for a few years now and am always on the lookout for more canna seed. I love cannas! They are so tropical looking and perfect for filling in holes anywhere! 

Dwarf Yellow
This past winter I started many different canna seeds that I received in a trade. The above pic is a few that I grew from those seed. Some turned out to be large flowering dwarf yellow ones, very nice! One tall peach, beautiful! Several tall with very small yellow flowers but large tropical leaves and, so far, one dwarf gold colour. I will put the ones with small flowers together in bare spots in the new large flowerbed at the front. The nicer ones will go into the courtyard, the pond and various pots. 

I have developed a technique that usually works well. Canna seeds have a coating that has to be opened to allow water to enter and germinate the seeds. This is not so easy to do. Many seeds need scarification (as this is called) but cannas are particularly difficult. The first year I tried several different methods but the only one that worked for me was using a rasp in the drill on high speed and holding the seed to it with a pair of needle nose pliers. This year I have a whet stone that I used with success. 

The seed only needs a very small and very shallow opening in the black coat to germinate. I don't want to harm the seed inside or it will not grow. After this step, I soak them overnight in warm water before planting. If done correctly, they will germinate in about 2-3 weeks in warm temps in potting soil indoors. Many that I have started in this manner in Jan-Feb have grown to bloom in the same season, even in Ontario, especially the dwarf varieties which don't need a long growing season. 

One Peach Canna
Growing cannas from seed is very rewarding! I like all the tender bulbs that go into cold storage for the winter. I can put them where I need them in the spring, filling in holes and covering dying daffodil leaves as they age. Dahlias are another favourite for the same reasons. 

This coming winter I want to grow more cannas. I would love to trade for canna seeds that are not yellow. I have only yellow cannas now. I would like some with red leaves and some with fancy striped leaves and some with large red flowers. If you have seeds from these varieties and would like to trade, please contact me. My seed list will be on my exchange page at Gardenweb, after I have had a chance to update it this fall.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Pumpkins and Squash

These are the pumpkins we are growing this year! They are Halloween pumpkins but we are also growing some squash for eating.

These are our butternut squash plants, Growing fast and healthy with many blooms. Butternut squash makes great soup! We will revisit these squash when they are ready to eat in the fall with soup recipes.

These are our sweet dumpling squash plants. As the name implies, sweet dumpling squash is very sweet. They are tiny apple sized squash that are easy to fill and bake for one person. All of our squash plants are so green and healthy!

We are also growing some Hopi Black squash. It's an old rare heirloom once grown by the Hopi natives. It has a great sweet flavour and is darker with more beta carotene. It has a lovely flavour, a lot of meat and a smaller seed cavity, making it good for baking and making into pies.

We have one more type of squash growing in our garden. It's a cushaw or mixta variety, usually grown only in the deep south but we are trying it here. We only have the one plant but it's doing very well. It's large, green and healthy!

We will have all of these squash seeds for sale this winter! (Provided they produce fruit that matures and the seeds get saved properly, of course.)

We plan to sell the Halloween pumpkins in the fall and to roast the seeds. The squash seeds can also be roasted and eaten in the same manner.

We are growing these particular varieties because most of them do not cross with the others, being from different squash families (there are 4 families of squash). The seeds will be pure and we can use them to grow the same ones next year, except for the pumpkins and sweet dumpling squash. Both of these are of the c. pepo family and will be cross pollinating, so we won't be using those seeds for planting next year. We will just buy more seed next year for these varieties, if we wish to plant them again. 
You can also prevent them from crossing by using the tape method described here, "Preventing Cross Pollination".  It also describes simple hand pollinating which can be done to provide more squash. It's not necessary to use the tape if you are not concerned with keeping your own seed.

Squash can replace pumpkin in most recipes and many people like it better. We will post some great squash recipes when they are all ripe in the fall. 

In addition to the pumpkins and squash in our garden, we are also growing some heirloom tomatoes which you can see in some of the photos above. Unfortunately, these were planted a bit too close to the pumpkins...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Growing Grapes

I have learned a lot in the past year about grape culture. I read everything I could get my hands on about growing grapes as soon as we came here last summer and I have learned a lot more with experience this year.

The above is a picture of what our grapes look like now. It's about 500m of wine grapes growing on a fence in a straight line, more or less. Approximately 1/4 of them are dark purple, the rest are green. These are specifically for making wine and jelly, not for eating, as they have thick skins and seeds. The dark purple ones make fantastic grape jelly!

When we arrived here last summer the grapes were one big mess! 500m of a 10' x 10' ball, all the way down with many side shoots and lateral shoots from the ground and all over the trunks. It had been ignored all season and for who knows how long.

Grapes are pruned in the winter when they are completely dormant. This past February I cut them all back to just 2-3 large trunks each. That is all that a grape root can handle. You really only need one main trunk that divides into two horizontal pieces (called cordons) tied to a wire about waist high, but because single trunks sometimes die, it's safer to keep two or even three, growing if possible.

Early Spring Growth
The winter pruning also consist of leaving just two buds at each growth spot along the cordon. These will produce the next years long stems. The long stems are tied to the high wire as they reach it and trained to grow along it, above the grapes hanging from the waist high wire where the cordons are. Only the tendrils are tied to the wire. You can choke and damage that vine if you tie the main stem. I like to use tin ties for this because I can undo them and move them around as I check the grapes. 

It's important to plant your grapes on a fence going north and south. This way you can remove leaves to give them the morning sun fully but keep the west side shaded. 

The hot afternoon/evening sun will burn the grapes making them not as good for making wine and jelly. The grapes form near the buds on the cordon so they are shaded by the top vines and leaves growing on the above wire, (see pictures).

East Side of Grape Vines
Only two clusters of grapes are allowed to remain on each stem. More than that will make smaller grapes. I continually remove any others growing higher on the vine. Once the grapes form, I remove any leaves on the east side that grow to shade the grapes. 

All green growth below the waist high wire with the cordons growing on it will get rubbed off or cut off as the season progresses. Nothing should be growing below the grapes. In the spring and early summer this is almost a daily job.

Every morning in the spring, less in late summer, I walk along the grapes, removing low sprouts, removing leaves shading the grapes on the east, arranging the grape clusters to hang freely as they grow, pulling the few weeds too close to the grape trunks to be sprayed with weed killer. The new strong vinegar weed killer works very well! As the long clusters develop I will also remove the few grapes growing at the tip. This will encourage large grapes on the cluster and ensure that they all ripen at the same time. 

I love puttering along the grapes in the early morning. It's a quiet and stress relieving activity that I look forward to.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

We Have Baby Apricots

I have learned how to prune fruit trees and grapes in the past year. It's a valuable resource that I can use when I need a job in the future, maybe. In the meantime I will probably use it a lot here, where we have orchards of fruit trees and vineyards of grapes.

We also have many lilacs of various colours, all in bloom now. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring Is Here! What's Growing at Our Place.

It's spring here! Finally! We do still have some cold nights, however, so the tender plants are indoors under lights or in front of the south patio doors for now. The hardier perennials and shrubs are starting to grow in the garden so those things are being planted out now, like primulas. Big, beautiful primulas are being sold for $0.99 everywhere! I plan to buy a lot of them. I love primulas for those small, shady areas on the north side  and underneath things. I have a jug full of primulas in several different varieties, wintersewed on the balcony. 

I started a lot of canna lilies from seed this year. You can see some small ones growing in the top picture. They are doing very well! I started one back in Dec. It's about 2.5 feet tall now and I assume it will bloom this summer. These were started in late Jan. Some of these may bloom this year too. I have had a few bloom from seed the first year. Cannas are great plants to grow from seed as they are very expensive to buy, but you don't know what you are going to get when growing them from seed. It's always a mixed blessing.

Canna lily seeds take some special treatment before they will germinate. You have to wear a small opening in the hard seed coat and then soak them in warm water for a few hours before planting. The first time I did this I tried many methods of penetrating the seed coat. The last was using a rasp on an electric drill while holding the seed with needle-nose pliers. That finally worked. It's very hard! This year I did it by hand with a stone sanding block. 

You can also see some of the flowering portulaca that I grew from seed this year, growing with the small cannas It's for our very hot, south, rock filled bed. It's hard to get flowers in that area because of the heat and dryness and also because of the poor soil which I plan to fix this year. Portulaca will thrive and bloom their little heads off in a rainbow of colours in the poorest, dryest, hottest locations, as long as it's dry. They don't like too much water or soggy feet. They are succulents, much like sedum, which I also have in that bed. I grew a lot of these from seed thinking that I would use them for hanging baskets because they need little water, but I think I will put all of these into the south, hot bed instead. I have a new drip irrigation system for the hanging flower baskets. 

Our tomatoes are all up now! It only took a few days and the seeds are three years old! I'm thrilled. I had some doubts about the viability of the seed but they have been properly stored, so I should have had more faith. 

These are all heirloom varieties that I plan to sell in our seed store in the fall. Our own 'Portugal' tomato seeds are big sellers. You can see why (left)!  I planted the 'Portugal" tomatoes, Reverend Morrow Long Keeper, Ailsa Craig, San Marzano, Matt's Wild Cherry and a Ailsa Craig x San Marzano cross that I have been working on for a few years. 

This cross is unnamed, as of yet, but is rapidly becoming our favourite little tomato! Its a small salad tomato like an Ailsa Craig with a pointed bottom. These little crosses are so sweet! The flavor is unbeatable and they are meaty like the roma San Marzano. I don't know if we will offer the crosses for sale this year or wait another year or two to stabilize it. 

I also planted some Manitoba tomato seeds. These are not heirlooms but are also non-GMO and organically grown. (Some people confuse the the terms "heirloom", "organic" and "non-GMO" which all have different meanings.) They are a strain developed for the short growing season in northern climates and are a good sized, sweet tomato good for slicing.

This is my one passion fruit seedling. I bought a package of seeds, soaked them in a little lemon juice, as recommended and planted them properly but only one came up out of about a dozen seeds. I have heard that they germinate better if planted with the very ripe fruit itself, rather than the dry seeds. I think that's why the lemon juice is recommended. The seeds need the slight acid to soften the coating. At any rate, I will have one vine, if it does well. Whether or not it will produce fruit here is another thing, but the flowers are worth growing for themselves! 

I also have a small pot of Virginia Gold tobacco coming up! I am only going to grow a couple of these for seed this year in the flower bed. We don't harvest and dry our own tobacco anymore, but we used to. It's a sweet, mild tobacco if cured properly. 

These make a stunning addition to the back of the flowerbed, whether you harvest the leaves or not. They get about 6'-7' tall with large pink flowers on them most of the summer. You need an especially long growing season, or lights to start them indoors very early, to get mature seeds before the fall frost kills the plants, but the flowers are worth growing! 

I'm glad to see that these seeds are still viable after three years, as well!

I have a balcony full of wintersewn seeds, some of which are sprouting now. the viola johnny jump ups and the liatris/gailardia are up! The peony poppies are up in a wintersewn jug! Surprising, since they are annuals. I think I'll bring that jug in at night if it dips much below freezing again. The jug will protect them from frost but not from freezing solid. You can see my list of wintersewn seeds in an older post "Winter Sewing". 

I considered planting the winter squash indoors early since that is what I did with them in Ontario, but I don't think it's going to be necessary here. I think I'll wait and just plant those directly in the garden. I'm looking forward to growing our favourite squash here this year. I hope those three year old seeds are still viable too, especially since they are so rare a variety! We grow Hopi Black Squash

I'm going to plant my primulas and my tray of sweet William seedlings out into the garden today! I planted two urns full of pansies last week and they are doing very well! 

Is it spring where you are yet? 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

DIY Book Sale

I have written a few books in the past few years. Most are the Do-It-Yourself type. Right now I am having a downloadable book sale. You can buy ALL the books I have ever written for $20!

Here is a list of the books included:

"Make Your Own Organic Soap At Home"
"Keeping a Few Chickens At Home"
"Foraging In The Wilderness"
"The Providence Acres Farm Blog Cookbook"
"The Homemaker's Handbook"

- The first three are self explanatory. Clear directions and lots of pictures.
- "Foraging in The Wilderness" is a list of edible plants in the mid-north with pictures and descriptions.
- "The PAF Blog Cookbook" is a collection of all the recipes on our blog with directions and pictures.
- The Homemaker's Handbook" is a large book of tips for the homemaker in every category of the home, with a large section on cooking and recipes. It's more like an extended cookbook. I wrote it 25 years ago but most of the information is still applicable.

You can download all of these books in one .zip file from the DOWNLOAD page of our website. (Yes, its up and running again, although there's not much on it yet.)

If you have any problems downloading the books, please let me know. Feedback on the books would be appreciated too!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Brugmansia and Datura

This photo above is a brugmansia bloom, also called "angel's trumpet". I love brugmansias! I fell in love at a greenhouse many years ago in Thunder Bay. They had one about 15' tall with blooms a foot long! It was unbelievable! I have usually grown at least one since that year.

First I have to say that the pics in this blog are not mine. I don't remember where I got them. Somewhere online during my research on the subject. I apologize if I have used your photo and offended you.  Please let me know and I will gladly remove it.

Brumansias (called "brugs" by growers) come in other colours. I have seen peach and yellow, similar to the one above and red ones with smaller flowers.
The plants are not hardy enough to stay outdoors all winter anywhere in Canada, unfortunately. I treat them like canna lilies, callas, glads, dahlias and bring them into the basement/garage/root cellar after they go dormant in the fall.
They do well in a large pot in the summer or you can plant them directly into the ground. If they are in a pot you can simply use a dolly to wheel the pot into the cold storage area. If they are in the ground they can be dug up, the root ball placed into a garbage bag and then stored for the winter after they go dormant in the fall. When the outside temperature is steady at the same temp as the storage area, they can go back outside to wake up in their own time when the temps are steadily above freezing. You can also bring them indoors, potted, and wake them up early if they are small enough.

It's very important that the roots do not freeze at any time! Your cold storage area needs to be cold and dark and always above freezing! The dark and cold are important to keep them domant for the winter. Semi-dryness is important too. Just a little water every month is all that's needed.  Too wet and they will rot and die.

They can be grown as houseplants through the winter, if you have enough light and space but they usually attract red spider mites long before spring comes and just don't stay very healthy indoors.
It may sound like a lot of trouble to go to for one plant, but if you have ever seen a large one in person, you will understand how truly stunning these really are!

 They are also extremely poisonous so be careful with the leaves and sap and wash your hands well after handling.


These (left) are my current brugmanias. You may have seen them growing in my indoor grow room in the previous post. I got stem pieces in a trade, rooted them and now have several around 2' tall. I grew them to about that height under lights this fall/winter then put them into the basement cold storage to go dormant until I can put them outside in the spring. I needed the room under the lights.

They are super easy to root in water and grow from stem cuttings. The important thing to remember is to keep the water always warm! Never let it get cold. You can often find growers in the fall who have cuttings available since they usually cut them back before bringing inside. 


A close relative of the brugmansia is the datura, also occasionally called "angel's trumpet". You can tell the difference by the flower growth. Brugmansia flowers always hang down and datura bloom always stick up. Daturas are annuals that stay low to the ground and spread, while brugs are woody tree like forms, especially if you remove the suckers. Daturas are true annuals, regrowing every season from seed. It's difficult to keep them over the winter but they are very fast growers!

They come in a few colours, usually variations of white or purple and some blue, with single or double blooms.

Like brugmansia, every part of the plant is deadly poisonous! But they are are beautiful!