Through the Seasons in a Quadra Food Garden: Blog #5

The remay cover is made on a 2 x 6 frame on the ground with GI Cable’s old coaxial cable screwed to the wood frame & bent over. They were selling this cable at the last Garden Club meeting.

By Valerie Barr

The weather is an important factor in gardening: too cold, too wet, too hot, too dry, and then rain again at the end of the season. Outdoor work was my occupation for decades – I watched the weather to prepare for the day ahead. Before internet or even television on Quadra, I had a barometer that I checked daily through my seasons. Now I check Weather Network frequently and it has become a habit in my life.

For years, I have believed that the weather changes with the phases of the moon. I often see a change for better or worse, especially at the new and the full moon. This might sound crazy, but emotionally I am convinced it is something to watch. April 7th is our next full moon. I will be watching to see if the weather does change. I never see any pattern of what to expect other than just a change.

After a fantastic week of warm sunny weather, we have rainy days and I am waiting for the nights to warm up. I want to plant my sugar snap peas in the garden – they are ready but I think it is still a bit too cold at night. The peas are holding outside on the deck during the day. This Spring is late, as I watch the Salmonberries slowly begin to open. In our garden the Forsythia is not yet blooming – more than a week behind the normal. After the new moon, the 25th of March, I hope to plant out our first crop of veggies, with a Remay cover. In moon talk, this will be planting with the waxing moon two weeks before the full moon.

Liming Garden Soil

We live in a rainforest and have soil that is suited for the percolation of water down and away from the surface. Nature has developed our soil like this so that the surface does not flood. The rainfall in our winter is heavy on the coast, and it removes the nutrients from our soil and changes the pH to acidic. Inland soil where rainfall is much lower causes the soil to be alkaline.

Only discussing acid soil, we know we have to add lime to keep the soil sweet. Neutral pH is rated on a scale of 7 out of 14. Below 7 is acidic. When our soil is too acidic, the nutrients can not attach to the soil molecules (this has to do with ion exchange) and then the plants cannot absorb enough nutrients. Most experts recommend liming in the fall so there is more time for the lime to work. It is okay to lime now if you have not limed recently.

When I was landscaping, I would lime first and wait 7 to 10 days before applying fertilizer. The fertilizer stayed in the soil longer if the pH was higher. This was most often done for special lawns. Grass and bare soil seem to allow for more percolation than shrub beds: a result of the depth and mass of the shrubs’ roots. Many of our local garden shrubs do well without lime because they prefer an acid soil.

Which type of lime you use depends on the state of your garden soil. If you are starting a new garden this year, then ask the store which lime works fastest. Don’t use quick lime: it is a caustic material not meant for the garden.

There is a processed powdered lime called Dolipril that is coated to give controlled slow release. On virgin soil, Dolipril may get you started because it does make a quick change in the soil chemistry. I never liked using Dolipril, partly due to the cost.

‘Lawn and Garden Lime’ is a simpler powdered lime without the coating. Sold in most garden centres, it is the least expensive of the fast working limes and is a good alternative.

I like to use crushed Dolomite Lime, which combines Calcium carbonate with Magnesium and these two elements working together are easily absorbed by the soil and then into the plants. This is a rock like substance crushed to small fine pieces. I am comfortable hand-broadcasting Dolomite onto our garden soil, which I do in the Spring each year. I put a light sprinkling over the whole area and I am careful not to put too much on at once. This rock substance might take a year to decompose into the soil, which is okay since we have had no symptoms that the soil is too acidic or too alkaline. If you are applying lime remember to wear a cloth mask so the dust does not burn your sinuses and wear gloves.

Egg shells add calcium to the soil less efficiently than lime. They are added as compost and I don’t notice any egg shell residue the next year.

There are labs that analyze your soil to find the pH level and what the nutrient levels are in your soil, with recommendations for correction. Quadra Island’s Ryan Nassichuk specializes in this service if you are interested in getting an analysis done. It can also be a DIY project. Figure out which lab to mail a sample to (Google it) and follow the online instructions on how to take your samples.

Feeding calcium to the soil and therefore into plant tissues will help with fruiting – many vegetables are technically fruit. With adequate calcium, fruit cell walls will be obviously thicker. The plants need moisture in the soil to allow the plants to pick up nutrient, so keeping your soil to some degree moist in the late part of the season may be important in your garden.

As an aside, Epsom salts, available in local stores, are a cheap source of magnesium. I use it on my Roses and on acid loving plants that get chlorosis or yellowing of the leaves. If you have a Rhodo with yellow leaves and it does not look healthy, drop a small amount of Epsom Salts on the root area of the soil and you will likely see a change in about one week.

We all need a little beauty in our gardens. The flowers are Glory of the snow Chionodoza luciliae.

Self Sowing Greens in the Garden & Starting Lettuce Seeds

We have several greens in the garden that perpetuate each year from seed dropped in previous years. One is New Zealand Spinach which grows in one area of the garden and does not spread. Not like the spinach we purchase at the store, it is a coarse, hairy leaf on trailing stems. A friend gave us a couple of seedlings more than five years ago and we will have it forever, which is good. Mostly I stir-fry it but sometimes put it raw in salads. I only harvest the leaves since the stem is not palatable. The second early volunteer green is actually a burgundy colour: Giant Red Mustard leaf. We purchased seed and planted this 20 years ago, and we will have it forever. The small leaf is very nice in salads but as the plant matures the leaves get bigger and the flavour gets hot and spicy. Sometimes I add the large leaves to stir-fry in small quantity. Anything our friends with chickens can use for feed is usually passed on as the plants mature past the edilble stage – I am not sure the chickens like the purple mustard though. We also have self sowing Borage. We do not eat Borage but allow it to grow for the bees’ sake. On early summer mornings, before the sun is on the garden, the bees cannot wait for the world to warm up and the flowers are covered with bees. Russian Purple Kale is also a self seeder and very popular at our house. There are many gardens on Quadra where this type of Kale is an annual favourite. The last self sower that we love is large or Mammoth Dill. We eat it, dry it for winter and use it as an herb when canning pickles. It has been in the garden forever. We need to leave enough of these plants each year to allow them to drop their seeds into the ground for next year. None of these recurring plants are invasive and are easily removed when weeding – although they can be prolific.

I have started two kinds of lettuce this week in the house. I like a red leaf lettuce and this year I used Red Sails seed that is two years old. I find old lettuce seed does not germinate as well as younger seed. Red Sails is an open leaf lettuce that is slow to bolt and slow to taste bitter. I plant the lettuce in the coolest area of the garden, in the shade close to our large plum tree. It does well in the afternoon shade and only starts to bolt in July. The second type of lettuce is a Romaine called Coastal Star from West Coast Seeds. This is a new variety for us and I am looking forward to some yummy Romaine salads. The West Coast Seeds’ description says it is early maturing, so I hope that does not mean early bolting.

Karen Dunn who grows lettuce most of the year, has a post on this Blog called A Surefire Way to Grow Lettuce.  It has a detailed description of how she starts lettuce. She mentions how she cools the seed for at least 12 hours in the fridge before putting the pot under the lights. After talking with her, I have tried this method with one pot (out of three) with both varieties of lettuce mixed in the same pot. A little experiment to see if the cold treatment works this time of year, to get a faster better germination rate. All of the lettuce is now under the lights and I am watching for the seeds to stretch up.

Update on Previous Posts

Yeah!  I have eggplant seedlings up so the heat mat has worked. The seed required 24C plus to germinate.

Winter hardy leeks are being hardened off on the deck and the two varieties of onion will be put outside during the day to start hardening them off soon.

We put new Remay on our home-made row cover which we have used for 10 years (see photo). This is used for the carrots in the summer to protect from the Carrot Rust Fly, but does double duty this time of year to keep the ground a bit warmer for a few weeks. If you have raised beds with walls (24” height necessary) the carrot rust fly will not fly high enough to get into you soil.

Next Post I will start two types of Kale, two types of Cabbage and Zinnias.

Grant Hayden and Val Barr are happily retired to play in their garden as they like.  Val worked in horticulture for almost 45 years and started her first food garden at 18.  Grant grew up as a prairie farm-boy and his last occupation was in forestry.  He has planted thousands of trees and cut quite a few down as well.


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