Archive for the ‘How To’ Category


The latest from Edible Vancouver: A Reformed Slacker’s Guide to Garden Planning
Andrea Bellamy |

Once the holiday rush has rushed by, maybe we’ll have time to dream of spring and new gardens. Plan yours with help from my latest Edible Vancouver article, “A Reformed Slacker’s Guide to Garden Planning.”

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How to make a DIY seed packet

If you’ve ever wanted to save seeds from your garden for next year, now’s the time. Many vegetable, flower, and herb seeds are easy to save, and they make great gifts when packaged up in a pretty little seed packet. Here’s how:

Step one: Collect seed heads or pods from the plants you wish to save. Choose the healthiest and heartiest of your plants; no point in perpetuating a dud! Poppies, calendula, nigella, beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, dill, and cilantro all have easy-to-save seeds.

Step two: Download a free, pretty seed packet template, like the one on my freebies page, print it out (plain ol’ 8.5″ x 11″ printer paper is fine), and cut along the solid lines.

Step three: Fold along the dotted lines and get out your glue stick. Glue all but the top flap.

Step four: Write the seed info on the packet. Sort your seeds on a piece of paper, removing any debris. Use the paper to create a funnel and tip the seeds into the packet.

Step five: Seal the packet and store in a cool, dry place. Or give as a gift. Ta da!

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How to start seeds indoors
Andrea Bellamy |

March is prime seed-starting month for many gardeners. Not only can we direct seed (plant outdoors) some of our cool-season veggie crops like arugula, Asian greens, broad beans, corn salad (mache), collards, kale, peas, spinach, and radishes, but we can also start many of our warm-season crops indoors for transplanting out once the weather warms.

I started a flat of seeds on the weekend, and I thought I’d share the process with you. I did it all indoors, on my coffee table, and managed to make very little mess. Here’s how:

Gather all your necessary ingredients: potting soil or seed-starting mix (a sterile blend of peat or coir, perlite, and vermiculite), a trowel, a large mixing bowl, a watering can, containers (recycled yogurt containers, homemade newspaper pots, or store-bought plastic cell packs), plant tags, and of course, seeds.

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Garden tasks: how to turn the compost
Andrea Bellamy |

Lila at the compost bin

One of the best ways to get great compost in a hurry is to turn it regularly. Turning (mixing or aerating) your compost pile adds air to the mix, which speeds up the process of decomposition and prevents your pile from becoming stagnant. It also gives you a chance to assess whether your pile is too wet or too dry (it should be moist, like a wrung-out sponge) and amend accordingly.

Worms!

Turning the compost is an easy—if messy—task if you’ve got more than one bin (three is often considered ideal. Add new organic waste to one bin, emptying it into the second and eventually third as it decomposes). But with one bin, you’re stuck trying to mix a heavy, deep, and tall pile of rotting stuff either by using one of those compost aerating tools (I used to have one but found it less than helpful. Then it broke.) or by scooping out the bottom of the bin and putting the waste back in the top. (At least, those are my methods. If you’ve got a better solution, please share in the comments!)

Lila scooping compost

This used to be a task I’d do maybe three times a year—grudgingly. Then I let Lila in on the action, and she took to it like, well, a worm to a rotting Jack o’ Lantern. She loves visiting “her” worms, wood bugs, and millipedes. And she actually helps move the compost from bottom to top with her little shovel.

Scooping compost into the top of the bin

Okay, it’s slow going, but I do love watching—and sharing in—her delight as she discovers the simply wonders of a compost pile.

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A hanging basket story
Andrea Bellamy |

Proven Winners new releases

A couple of weeks back, I received my yearly trial pack of Proven Winners annuals: a giant box filled with six new introductions. Here they are, clockwise from top left: Superbena® Royale Chambray (Verbena hybrid), Golddust™ (Mecardonia hybrid), Lucia™ Lavender Blush (Lobelia hybrid), Supertunia® Pretty Much Picasso™ (Petunia hybrid), Slightly Strawberry™ (Anisodontea hybrid), Superbells® Blackberry Punch (Calibrachoa hybrid).

As I’ve mentioned before, I especially like receiving these boxes of plants because of the surprise factor. Often they aren’t plants I’d seek out in a nursery, but once I find a home for them in my garden, I quickly see their value. That’s been the case with the whole Proven Winners trial program; before I was “forced” (poor me) to find homes for them in my garden, I didn’t see the value in annuals. Now I like them – in moderation – for the instant punch of colour and easy care they offer.

This year’s box of plants arrived once my garden was pretty full up, so I decided to put all my eggs in one (hanging) basket.

hanging basket: before

This is the first time I’ve made a moss hanging basket from scratch (as opposed to planting into a plastic or wooden hanging basket container). Moss hanging baskets are usually made using a wire frame lined with peat moss, coir, or an artificial liner.

hanging basket: during

I used a Supamoss liner, which was clearly too small for my jumbo frame, but with a little added moss, it managed to hold in the soil. I don’t have more detailed photos of the process because, wow, was it messy. In a nutshell, starting near the bottom, I poked holes through the liner, inserted the plants, and topped up with soil. I worked my way upward, poking, planting, and filling, until I reached the top. Then I stuck a ‘Tumbler’ tomato in the centre, because apparently I can’t plant anything without it containing an edible.

I wasn’t thrilled with the look of the faux liner (especially with the gap at the top), so I covered the entire thing with moss. And damn, it looks fine.

hanging basket: after

Ta da! Can’t wait to see how it fills in.

Have you made a hanging basket this year? Share your photos on my new Facebook page!

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Pilfering my archives: Christmas gifts you can make now!
Andrea Bellamy |

It’s snowing like mad right now (a rare treat here on the Wet Coast), which has nudged me, grudgingly, into thinking about the holidays (I know, I’m a little late to the party). I’m thinking, specifically, about crafting and decorating, and about the different ideas I’ve covered here over the years.

Here’s a roundup of garden-related gifts you can DIY:

It’s not too late to make an evergreen wreath. This step-by-step guide shows you how.

I would still love to make this gourd birdhouse. If only the gourds were easier to come by. Next year I might have to grow my own.

Alice from NoussNouss gave me this idea. Seedballs as Christmas gifts! One afternoon cranking them out and you’d have all your gifts covered. Here’s the low down on how to make them.

Finally, Martha’s stone plant markers would also make fabulous stocking stuffers.

What are you making for the holidays?

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How to ripen green tomatoes
Andrea Bellamy |

Ready or not! Here I come…

The rain started today, signalling the end of what was a beautiful stretch of sunny days. Figuring that my tomatoes had probably seen the last of the warmth, I harvested the lot of them.

Did you know that placing a ripe banana in a paper bag with your green tomatoes will help them ripen quickly? There. You learned something today.

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Growing shiitake mushrooms

girl with a drill.jpg

Me, the day before Lila’s birth, preparing to drill holes for shiitake mushroom plugs. (I also lifted rocks and pushed a car that was out of gas that day; I figured that at 12 days overdue, it couldn’t hurt).

I’ve been wanting to grow my own mushrooms for a long time now, even listing them as one of my Growing Challenge edibles, but never quite got around to buying the necessary supplies. So when, at Seedy Saturday a few weekends back, I saw local mushroom company Western Biologicals (no website – call 604-856-3339 or email westernb@shaw.ca) selling mushroom plug spawn and indoor mushroom patch kits, I knew it was time to live the dream. 

mushroom plug.jpg


This is a mushroom plug, a wooden dowel colonized by shiitake mushroom mycelium. Actual size is about 1″ long by 1/4″ diameter. For $15, I got 150 of these guys – enough to do six logs.

I chose to go the plug spawn route, in which you inoculate a log with mushroom spawn-laced wooden plugs. The other option I considered was the indoor patch kit method, in which you buy a bag of mushroom-spore infused growing medium. While that would provide almost instant-gratification, the patch kits don’t produce mushrooms for as long, and, well, I couldn’t really picture mushrooms growing in my living room. Plus I thought shiitake mushroom-covered logs might look kinda cool in the woodland garden.  

birch logs.jpgThe first and toughest part of this whole project is finding the logs you want to use. The guy from Western Biologicals recommended fresh-cut alder with a diameter of between 4-10″ and a length of no more than 4′. I don’t know about you, but there aren’t too many fresh-cut alders hanging around my neighbourhood. Luckily, my parents live out in the sticks, and there are plenty of government-owned lots to pilfer scrub alder from.

Once we had our logs cut, the next step was to drill holes for the plugs to nestle into. Using a 5/16″ drill bit, we drilled holes 2″ deep and no more than 4″ apart, creating a spiral pattern on each log.
 
inserting the plugs.jpgNext, you just pop the dowel plugs into the holes you’ve created.

hammering in the plugs.jpgGive them a gentle tap with a hammer if necessary. The plugs introduce the mushroom mycelium into the log and will, over six months to a year, colonize the wood. Once the logs are colonized, mushrooms will start to appear, popping up from cracks or channels in the wood.  

mushroom log goop.jpg
Finally, you seal the plugs with melted cheese wax or other appropriate sealent to protect against other fungi and bugs, then stack or lean the logs in a shady area, watering during dry weather. Then you wait – for as little as six months, but more likely a year – until your little fungi friends appear. Then you make omelettes. Yum.

You can order mushroom plug spawn and other mushroom growing necessities from a number of online shops. Google “mushroom plugs” or try Fungi Perfecti if you live in the US.

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Soil pH and nutrients: amending your soil organically
Andrea Bellamy |

NPK test results.jpg

Ever wonder what these funky little kits are for?

Before planting in the spring, I like to do a quick soil test for pH (soil acidity or alkalinity) and nutrients (your basic NPK, or, nitrogen, phosphorous and potash [potassium]). I just use an inexpensive testing kit from a local nursery, although if you want a more detailed soil analysis or suspect you have serious problems with your soil, you can have it tested in a lab. In the US, your cooperative extension office does this. In Canada, try this.

I don’t really need a kit to tell me what’s up with my soil; Vancouver soil is typically acidic and nutrient deficient (perhaps because the rain leaches the good stuff out?). Despite regular amendments with compost, I’m always fighting those underlying traits. I like to do the test anyway, partially because it’s fun in a nerdy Grade 8 Science kind of way, and partially because I just want to double check.

This year’s test didn’t reveal any big surprises. Again, my soil was borderline acidic, so I’ll add a bit more lime. If your soil is alkaline, try granular sulphur, coffee grounds, or pine needles.

As for the nutrient test, my soil was low in phosphorous, and even lower in nitrogen. Typically, other than amending with compost and manure, bone meal and blood meal are suggested as organic soil supplements for these deficiencies (blood meal is high in nitrogen; bone meal in phosphorous). I’ve used both in the past, but this time I decided to look for alternatives to these slaughterhouse byproducts. No, I’m not a vegetarian, nor am I concerned about contracting BSE through the use of bonemeal. But in the past year I’ve stopped buying commercially-raised beef, so it would just seem wrong to use a byproduct from that industry. And I also question how blood and bone meal can be considered an organic amendment, when they aren’t likely produced from organically-raised beef. Plus, well, let’s face it: spray-dried blood is just icky.

Thankfully, there are vegetarian alternatives to blood meal, bone meal and fish fertilizers:

Instead of blood meal or fish emulsion, try alfalfa meal* or alfalfa pellets (sold as rabbit food) to raise your nitrogen levels. With an NPK ratio (the percentage of available nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potash (K)) of about 3-1-2, alfalfa is a green manure that also provides a dose of phosphorus and potash. Because it heats up in the soil, (making it a great compost accelerator) be careful not to burn your plants: don’t add it to the planting hole.

Cottonseed meal*, with a NPK ratio of approximately 7-2-2, is another good nitrogen source. Available at your local feed store, cottonseed is acidic, so unless you’re trying to lower your soil’s pH, avoid it or use in combination with lime.

Soft-rock phosphate, with a NPK ratio of 0-3-0, will raise your phosphorous levels and is a good slow-release substitute for bone meal.

*In the interest of full-disclosure, it seems unlikely that these products would be sourced organically-grown plants, unless otherwise noted. Is that why the organic gardening guidelines developed by Garden Organic (following standards set by the British Organic movement, the UK
government, and the EU) don’t endorse the application of any fertilizer, organic or otherwise?

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DYI minimalist birdhouse
Andrea Bellamy |

gourd_birdhouse.jpgCheck out this gourd birdhouse by Courtney of the craft blog Two Straight Lines. Inspired by the Polynest featured on Design*Sponge, but not loving the birdhouse’s use of not-so-natural polystyrene, Courtney decided to make her own.

She says, “We often see gourd birdhouses, but they are usually left unpainted, or are
painted decoratively. How about just a simple coat of non-toxic
paint? Add in a little twig perch.”

Here’s how you can make your own:

*  Buy a pre-dried, cleaned and drilled gourd. (Martin gourds seem to work best. You can buy them here.) Or grow your own and preserve it yourself. 
*  Paint the gourd. Courtney ended up using leftover latex interior paint. You could also try non-toxic or low-VOC paints.
*  Drill a hole for the twig perch. Courtney says, “the size of the hole for the perch is dependent on the size of the twig you’re using. It needs to be a bit smaller than the twig so that it is “press fit”– meaning tight. I also brush on wood glue.”
*  Attach the cable (or whatever you’d like to hang it with). You can buy steel cable by the foot at any hardware store. Courtney says, “you will also need little aluminum crimping fasteners that can be hammered closed (one to make the top loop, and one to make the bottom loop.) They are found with the cable.”

Hang outdoors or in (I’m thinking this would be lovely in the woodland nursery!).

Thanks Courtney!

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