Earth friendly gardening in the Kootenays region of British Columbia, Canada

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    My name is Danuta, I garden in the West Kootenay, British Columbia, Canada, in the plant hardiness zone 5a, in the area known before as "that dry desert". It is undoubtedly dry here, but it doesn't mean it has to be a desert.

    My soil is sandy and acidic. The drainage is almost too good. Summers are very hot and dry here, winters are very snowy and seemingly without end.  I have about four months frost free, usually since the middle of May through the middle of September.

    In my gardening I try to follow Nature's ways of doing things. This kind of approach is called biomimicry.

    I don't use synthetic fertilizers and don't use herbicides and pesticides. During dry weather I water my gardens about once a week. I try to mulch as much as I can to ensure the soil is cool and moist all the time and the soil temperature even and to provide food and home for soil organisms.

    In my garden I grow vegetables, flowers, fruit trees and berries, especially those not grown commercially.

   I value my garden not only as a source of beauty and healthy food but also as an opportunity for a health restoring, whole-body exercise in fresh air and sun.

My Garden 2012 - snapshots

I find that a real gardener is not a man who cultivates flowers; he is a man who cultivates the soil. He lives buried in the ground. He builds his monument in a heap of compost. If he came into the Garden of Eden, he would sniff excitedly and say: 'Good Lord, what a humus!

- Karel Capek

My favourite videos: What A Wonderful World With David Attenborough What A Wonderful World - 7 Year Old Oleg Aleksandrov


August 21 Of course zucchini and cucumbers
     My Zucchini never disappoints me and my Cucumbers are doing very well, too, for the last several years. I like the white variety, Stallion White. The fruit is big, juicy, crunchy and sweet.

    This year I decided to use some of it to make very popular in Europe lacto-fermented sour pickles. Last year I made kohlrabi kraut and loved it. This year I am getting more bold and besides sour pickles I also made sauerkraut.

    Lacto-fermented foods are considered very healthy. Must be something in them what my body needs since I feel cravings for them as I don't feel for any other kind of food.



August 16 My edible garden

Nature, at whose feet every one who does any gardening must sit and learn, settled the question ages and ages before mankind began to cultivate flowers, by creating the annual as the great filler-in of the vegetable world - the finishing touch to her handiwork. - Benjamin Goodrich

My edible garden - view, fragment


August 06 Time for raspberries
   In my garden August is the time for raspberries. They started producing at the end of July and will continue to do so for a month or longer.

    Thankfully my June bearing Strawberries stopped producing and my ever-bearing variety has slowed down, so I can devote myself almost entirely to picking my raspberries. It takes me on average more than an hour every day. Yes, small berry picking is quite time consuming!

    I eat the fruit raw and use it in coconut milk shakes. The rest I freeze. I like my milk shakes in the winter, too. When it gets cooler I will make some raspberry jam, it is too hot for doing it now,
I chose not to have air conditioning in my house.  



July 20 Thinning and pruning my Pear

    Every year in July I have to remove most of the fruit from my oh so productive Clapp's Favourite Pear. If I didn't do that I would end up with tons of pears too difficult for me to handle. I remove about 9 little pears in 10. My aim is to leave 40 of them, but eventually I always end up with more than 100.

    Clapp's pears are my favourite. The fruit is big, aromatic, sweet and juicy. It doesn't store well, so Clapp's is not grown commercially.

    When thinning the fruit I also remove all new, growing upright shoots. With all this rain we have had here in June, this year it was much more new growth than ever before. Looks like, unlike some other plants, my Pear really enjoyed all this water coming from the sky, 36 cm of it in June alone.




July 14 Strawberries
    Fresh fruit is another reason I have my edible garden. There is nothing like fresh, still warm from the sun strawberries, raspberries or currants. Their size may be inferior to those from the store, but the sweetness and the aroma are unsurpassed. I eat a lot of my fruit raw. What I am not able to devour raw I freeze for making juice in winter.

    I grow Strawberries, Alpine Strawberries, Raspberries, Currants, Blueberries, Blackberries, Honeyberries, Grapes, Sour Cherry, Italian Prune, Peach and Pear.

    On the right side picture one of my Sempervivums in bloom at the beginning of July.


June 25 A bowl of health
    My salads are one of the reasons I grow the edible garden.
I would never and nowhere be able to get a bowl of salad like this, with all the vegetables naturally grown and straight from the garden. No synthetic fertilizers used to grow them, no preservatives to keep them "fresh", no sprinkling with chlorinated water for hours and days to prevent wilting.

    For my salads I use lettuce, spinach, mizuna, cress, purple lamb's quarters, orach and other leafy vegetables, radishes, green peas, kohlrabi, edible flowers. Every ingredient has a different mineral content and nutritional value. Most of the edible flowers also have medicinal properties. They are rich in vitamins and antioxidants. And in the garden they provide nectar and pollen for the beneficial insects.

    On the top-right picture a Bumble-bee collecting nectar, on the bottom-right Lettuce var. Sangria and Violas.



June 11 Fun with Sempervivums


    Sempervivums differ from other plants in many ways; in their shape, colours, the way they multiply and spread.

    The scientific name comes form Latin semper - for ever, always, and vivo - to live, be alive. For-ever-live. They multiply by producing their own clones. This way any given specimen has the potential of living for ever in its clones. They do that successfully, the experiment didn't work for people, though.

    Their common name is Hens and Chicken. This comes from how they look, like a hen surrounded by her chicks.

    Another common name for Sempervivums is Houseleeks. At the times when people lived closer to nature Houseleeks were believed to protect

houses from lighting and fire and were planted on roofs. They store a lot of water in their leaves, so that belief agrees with the common sense.

    Sempervivums are fun. The same single clone can look very different under various growing conditions and at different times of the year. Through the season they change their appearance and colours like chameleons. I enjoy watching them. The only problem is that they became overcrowded quickly and every few years they need replanting.

    The one on the right-most picture below is very special and unique. It doesn't have the usual Sempervivum rosette shape but something like tubes instead. I've got it many years ago, more than ten, from Bob Switzer who founded the Castlegar Heritage Garden Club in the early 1990ís . This one is very slow in spreading. I wish they were all like that.



May 26 Under attack
    I have little uninvited guests dining in my garden this year, voles. I first noticed them last fall. One evening when I came to my edible garden I saw a little furry animal, the size of a mouse, but fatter, darting between my vegetables. Later I noticed that something had been chewing on my carrot and beet tops. I put two and two together.

     During winter I almost forgot about voles. In spring, however, I noticed that my lawn in many spots had been damaged. In the garden the Swiss Chard I had left to over-winter, instead of starting to grow, started to disappear. I didn't like all this, but it was still possible to live with. But when my heirloom Snow Peas, that just started to sprout, and my newly planted  Lettuces and Cabbages all disappeared I finally understood I had a real problem.

    First I tried to protect the plants with plastic rings. It works, but is only a temporary solution. When the Lettuce gets bigger I will have to remove the protection and voles will have even better and bigger dinner. Besides, it is not possible to protect everything in this way. So I set a nice, big, humane trap to catch them. Ha, ha, ha, it is probably how they laughed at me! Yes, they went inside, yes, they ate everything, and after that, full of vigour, they chewed a hole in the bottom of the trap and escaped!

     I didn't like doing that, but I finally decided to use poison to get rid of them before they multiply even more. I also discovered that very small humane traps are more effective. Hopefully, all this will work.

    A rabbit is a different story. It first showed up a week or so after Easter. I think someone got it as a present for Easter and let it go, or it just escaped. Again I set a big, humane trap to catch it, but the rabbit just ignored it. It didn't get into my edible garden, though. Being an experienced gardener I have it already well fenced. It had just been eating plants growing in my flower beds. Thankfully, I haven't seen it for a week or more now. For a rabbit, living here, with a lot of hungry dogs and coyotes around, is a very dangerous thing.



May 09 Time for Tulips  

    Those on the S-W side of my house already in full bloom     Those on the N-E side getting ready to blossom


April 25  First flowers  

    Sweet Violets. As a matter of fact, the sweetest of them all, old fashioned, with a very intense aroma. With one tiny flower you can perfume the air in a whole room.      Harbingers of spring, Crocuses. They are first to display their rich colours after the long period of colourless wintry weather.

    Anemone blanda variety White Splendour.  The name Anemone comes
from the Greek word anemos meaning
wind. Hence their common name: Windflowers.
    Grape Hyacinth. In southern Europe the bulbs are eaten pickled. I didn't try that yet, don't have enough plants.
April 17 First harvest

    First harvest this year. Today I dug up my parsnips left in the ground to over winter. They look fresh and juicy.



April 13 Spraying

    Most of the snow has melted away and finally I have access to my edible garden. Despite of  very long lasting snow cover and cold weather the buds on many plants are ready to open very soon, on some they are already breaking. A very high time for dormant spraying.

    So, taking advantage of a rare this spring sunny day I sprayed my Pear and Peach trees with a mix of horticultural oil and lime sulphur, an organic spray to control over wintering insects, eggs and fungus. It kills whatever is attacking my Pear tree (I am not sure if it is thrips or may be pear blister mite). I also hope it will help with the peach leaf curl fungus on my Peach tree. I also sprayed my White Currant and some of my ornamentals for aphid control.

    This is the only spraying I do.

    When I entered the garden I noticed, to my horror, some strange burrowing in one of the beds! So, I have a new enemy - voles! As if deer, elk, bears I have been fighting with so far were not enough! After checking around I noticed the same king of burrowing on my lawn that has just emerged from under the snow. Looks like a big family of voles! So eventually the little things have discovered my garden! I first saw them there last fall, after noticing some strange damage to my carrot and beet tops. I would never dream, though, it will be like this this spring. Have to find out what to do about it and get ready for another war.


April 08 Waiting for spring

    Nice day again after another two weeks of cold, gray weather. There is still a lot of snow on the ground, but it started to retreat from around the house and under the big Evergreens. I still don't have access to my edible garden deeply buried in the snow, but in the flower beds close to the house Tulips, Daffodils, Peonies are already poking through. There is even one little, white early Crocus blooming. Hopefully spring will soon come to stay.

    I did some raking today under my big Pine tree.

    Pine needles, being slightly acidic, are great for mulching Blueberries. Earth worms love them and produce a lot of worm castings when feeding on the decomposing needles. So, whatever's left will be used to mulch other plants in the garden.

    Not much else is possible to do outside. Inside I have my seeds sprouting already. I have also drawn my edible garden plan for this year; what to plant where, where to dig, where not to dig, where to put compost, where to sprinkle wood ashes, where to use a little manure I got last spring but didn't use yet.



March 25 Little friends

    Beautiful day, rather warm, probably about 100 C, may be more in the sun. Hopefully the snow will start melting a little faster. I still have a thick layer of it covering evenly everything, my lawn, my edible garden, flower beds.

    I spent a few hours on my deck today enjoying sunshine and the cheerful  company of my tiny friends, happy having their little bellies full of good organic food I put for them in my bird feeder. It is not completely altruistic, in exchange I expect them to keep my insects in check in the summer. I am sure everyone knows their names, but, just in case, there is a chickadee on the left side picture and a pine siskin on the right.


March 12 Seeds

    My seeds have arrived.  I save seeds and propagate my perennials myself but from time to time feel the irresistible need to grow something new. Thanks to the Internet I could choose what I really like, not just what is on the shelves in the local stores or what one or another company who sent me their catalogue has to offer.

    Since I first saw its pictures I have been dreaming of a yellow beauty, a shrub Rose Rosa xanthina var. Hugonis or Father Hugo's Rose. I have looked for it in the local garden centers and nurseries. In vain. Eventually I decided to grow my own from seeds. The company I choose to buy the seeds from offers a collection of four heritage shrub Roses, so I ended up buying all four. Father Hugo Rose (Rosa xanthina forma hugonis), Father David's Rose (Rosa davidii), Red Leaf Rose (Rosa rubrifolia) and Moyes Rose (Rosa moyesii). Looks like Moyes Rose is as beautiful as Father Hugo Rose, with red flowers instead of yellow. The very bad news is I will have to wait with sowing the seeds till next spring since they require a three months of cold treatment before planting. Something to think about when ordering next time!

    I also ordered heirloom Hollyhock seed mix from the same company. At least with those I will not have to wait. I still have in mind images of Hollyhock in bloom in the cottage gardens in my old country. Nothing can be a substitute for their old fashioned charm.

   I have also bought some heirloom and/or native perennials suitable for my growing conditions and six varieties of heirloom Tomatoes from another on-line seed company.

    Butterfly Weed (Asclepias Tuberosa) and Rudbeckia Gloriosa  I want to naturalize to attract even more hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and other insects to my meadow. Mallow (Lavatera Thuringiaca) and Canterbury Bells (Campanule de Canterbury) I will add to my flower beds.

    This year I am going to grow eight Tomato plants, six new varieties and two old, my own, one each. Last year I grew 16 plants, harvested over 64 kg. of tomatoes and still have my freezer full of frozen tomatoes and tomato juice, enough to take me through next winter. Half of that amount will be enough to plant this year. I am looking forward to huge fruits of Omar Lebanese and sweet, tiny ones of the White Currant. I have also bought Brandywine, will grow it for the first time and see by myself if the flavour is really so unsurpassed. Will also try Siberia for its cold hardiness and early production. Will try Polish Egg advertised as "one of the best tomatoes tested in 2003" with "excellent and unique aromatic flavor" and  Violet Jasper, a "wonderful chinese variety" with "beautiful purple-red fruits covered with green stripes". Will see.

    I also ordered seeds of Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) and Mock Orange (Philadelphus pubescens) from still another on-line seed company. I have already grown Mock Oranges from seeds, so I don't expect any problems there, but with the Katsura, who knows?

    Winter is still in full swing here where I live in the West Kootenay, in gardening zone 5a, and about one meter of snow still covers the ground, but it is time to sow in pots inside the tree, shrubs and perennials. With sowing Tomatoes I will wait until the beginning of April.


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