The one-stop crack distribution depo of the Canadian gardening world recently opened a store in downtown Toronto, and… ummm… I have been there twice in two days. I want to state for the record that prior to this I have never purchased a Lee Valley product, somehow managing to walk past the booths at garden shows and peruse the catalogue with barely a gleam in my eye. But something about stepping into the store where catalogue shopping meets department store released a deep-rooted nostalgia for the long retired Canadian institution Consumers Distributing.
I need an intervention.
And it doesn’t stop with me. I went in on the first day for a peek and came home with almost $100 worth of miscellaneous gardening implements — this coming from the person who preaches gardening on a dime. Then I went home and glanced through the catalogue on my own time, realizing that it was necessary that I go back for at least one additional item. This time I brought Davin along with me who was immediately taken in by all the fancy wood turning blocks, safety goggles, various glues, and build-it kits. He can’t shut up about the massive selection of fancy door locks. Because really all our apartment requires are a few new/old skeleton key locks to launch it out of its current bad 80′s renovation pickle.
Here’s a few of the items I bought. I plan to review these when I finish testing them.
- Windowsill Seed Starter - I pay $20 for styrofoam so you don’t have to. The first problem I noticed was no tagging system. I fixed that by fashioning tiny tags that don’t interfer with the dome using toothpicks, sticker paper, and an indelible marker. So far I don’t mind it as it fits perfectly on my narrow windowsill and I haven’t had to even think about watering for days. However, seedlings are only just starting to emerge and my suspicion is that the real challenge will come as they near transplant size.
- Rootrainers – Interesting idea but I can’t test it since it did not come with a bottom tray and the sizing is awkward. I’ll have to wait until it warms up to try this one outside.
- Quick Row Covers – Right out of the box I can tell you these things stink. My community garden plot is too tiny for the traditionally-sized row covers so these are a lame compromise.
- Upside-Down Planter – I have attempted this feat on a few occassions with a found bucket but I can’t get it to work out. My last bucket broke and smashed to the ground only minutes after hanging it. I’ll let you know how the pre-fab product works out. I suspect it will be a success, but it makes me feel like a failure to cough up $20 for plastic, foam, and tenting material.
Phase 1 of “Project Deck Garden 2006″ was enacted yesterday afternoon. It was inspired by a sunny day and a headache that wouldn’t quit, which not surprisingly, was abated after a few hours in the fresh air. I won’t bore you with the details as Phase 1 involves large helpings of gardening’s lesser joys; clean-up, pot shifting, and organization. Instead I will list the enjoyable activities:
- Planting the “fancy”, or as I like to call them, the ‘Not 99 Cent’ pansies I bought last week. You know you’re shopping at a chi-chi garden store when they give you a paper bag for a couple of pansies.
- I then proceeded to cover the ‘Not 99 Cent’ pansies with several water bottle cloches (I’ve graduated to 4L bottles) as the flowers had all been snatched off. For years I’ve been blaming raccoons and squirrels but it turns out the thieves are my beloved starlings! WHY? Are the generous quantities of seed not enough? Can’t bargain with the birds. And incidentally the pansies do have a nice flavour.
- I planted two kinds of peas: a dwarf variety called ‘Tom Thumb’, and a sugar/snow variety I am trying for the first time called ‘Carouby de Maussane’. I decided on these instead of sweet peas as the flowers are purple and the peas are edible.
- Greens Galore – Mizuna, red mustard, several different lettuces, orach, purslane, and mache. I planted up just about every container that is currently empty, including some that will hold hot weather veggies since I’ve got nearly six weeks before the transplants go in and I will just remove some of the lettuce at that time. I’ve got a lot of seeds to use up. However, I just realized I’m out of arugula seeds! Ack!
- Radish Challenge 2006 – I can’t recall planting radishes this early in previous years which may say a lot about why I have rarely succeded in growing a decent, edible radish. The rooftop deck is windier than a ground floor garden, but it also gets very, very hot. The season is always a bit accelerated up there, resulting in lousy radishes (but early tomatoes!). This year I will grow a decent radish if it kills me. [Shakes fist in air]
- Carrots – I planted just a couple of the ‘Purple Haze’ in the container where the beans will go as an experiment. It really is impossible to think about this variety without singing the song… or imagining dudes with tie-dyed head bands dropping liquid acid onto their eyeballs. Just saying.
And then Davin showed up to help and informed me that in the tradition of bizarre, unexplainable things that happen around the street garden, someone had left a plastic wrapped cauliflower in the garden as a gift. But it seems, in an even stranger twist, that in exchange, they took the large paper bags that were holding the compostables that were waiting to be put out for city collection. Yes, they left the plant bits sitting on the sidewalk, but took the completely dilapitated and unusable bags. Huh? I REALLY have to get on making those signs I’ve been meaning to make since 2000.
Another seed order arrived in the mail from Greta’s Organic Gardens. I need to get on these asap as time is ticking. The bulk of these are tomato varieties I am testing out on the rooftop this year.
- Tomato ‘Golden Delight’
- Tomato ‘Principe Borghese’ – A paste tomato
- Tomato ‘Gold Nugget’
- Tomato ‘Black Seaman’ – An early variety.
- Red Pepper ‘Fatalii’ – I HAD to get them!
- Red lambsquarter
- Shungiku – There was a problem with the order. They accidently sent me hot peppers (a chili) but the replacement is on its way. I won’t use these hot peppers as I have a few other varieties on the go. The first Canadian to ask is welcome to them.
- Purple Millet ‘Purple Majestic’
Can you believe I have one more small order on its way? Yikes. And now I have to get some arugula! Yeah and did I mention the seeds I impulse-bought off a rack last week?
- Nicotiana ‘Indian Peace Pipe’ – These are by far my favourite nicotiana. They are huge (5′ tall) with fragrant, elongated blossoms.
- Marigold ‘Lemon/Tangerine Gem’ blend – I grew these last year and was so impressed, I’ve been promoting these like crazy since. They are incredibly prolific bloomers, the flowers are tiny with lacy foliage. And they really do taste like tangerines and lemons! They did really well in containers on my hot rooftop but keep in mind that the plants get to be quite large and rotund.
- Quinoa ‘Brightest Brilliant Rainbow’ – 2006 seems to be the year of hippie plants. Pretty and edible. I can not resist.
- Nasturtium ‘Mahogany’ – I have tasted enough nasturtiums to know that the red ones have the best flavour.
So they’re not very stylin’, but these self-watering planters made from junked pop bottles are pretty handy for the well-intentioned but forgetful gardener. The bottom watering system keeps cuttings and seedlings on the right side of moist without the discipline (and hassle) of routine dampness patrol.
There’s more talk and experimentation with this concept in the forums.
This year will go down in history as the year I not only started seeds on time, organized all seeds by category (direct sow, indoor starts, and never-going-to-grow-it-so-trade-it-already), AND managed to draw up some kind of “plan” beyond casual (and quickly forgetten) mental lists. I rule. For now. We’ll see what happens when transplant buying season begins. I have a little problem with plant-related impulse buys that completely throw well-made plans out the window.
Regardless, bear witness to my awesomeness.
Nine containers were washed, filled with seed-starting mix and planted up with nine carefully chosen veggies:
- Hot Pepper ‘Fish’
- Sweet Pepper ‘Pepperoncini’
- Eggplant ‘Turkish Orange’
- Tomato ‘Broad Ripple Yellow Currant’
- Tomato ‘Sunrise III’
- Tomato ‘Silver Fir Tree’
- Tomato ‘Black Pear’
- Tomato ‘Ceylon’
- Tomato ‘Costoluto Genovese’
Two smaller 4-cell packs were washed, filled with seed-starting mix and planted with annuals:
- Nicotiana sylvestris
- Pansy ‘Can Can‘
The humidity dome pictured is actually a used plastic container that once held salad mix. I just flipped it over, making the lid my tray, and the container my dome. Good-sized take-away containers also work well.
I also transplanted the African violet seedlings that were grown from leaf cuttings. Some of the original leaves had good-sized stems so I recut them and started again.
The weather was beautiful a few days ago so I headed off to the community garden and popped in a few sugar peas ‘Carouby de Maussane’ (sweet peas with ornamental, purple flowers).
And finally, my newest seed shipment arrived this week along with a few recent trades. I couldn’t resist a pack of ‘Baie Vert’ pole beans from Colette’s stand at the Farmer’s Market this week. I am easily enticed by the words “rare heirloom” and back stories that involve trades between Acadians and Native groups. I just put in two additional seed orders today. The only thing I didn’t manage to get on my list was ‘purple mizuna‘. Regardless, if the stacks of seed packets are any indication, all of my bases are pretty much covered.
My 12 year old cat Voltron is a determined plant nibbler – in fact most cats have a natural curiosity about their surroundings and tend to enjoy a little taste of fresh greenery now and again.
Unfortunately many common houseplants are toxic so it is worth familiarizing yourself with both your plants and your cat’s tenacity. Many houseplants can cause some form of digestive upset or nausea, and some such as dieffenbachia (aka dumb cane) and philodendron can even be fatal. I’ve included a short list of dangerous common houseplants to avoid [see below and sidebar for further resources]. A little bit of plant material, even the inert stuff can make kitty throw up a little. However, symptoms such as excess vomiting, diarrhea, and a lack of appetite can suggest poisoning and should be taken seriously.
Before rushing to throw much-loved houseplants into the compost heap, try out a few tricks that have worked to create harmony among the species in my own household. Keep in mind that every cat is different and some are just a whole lot more persistent than others! Consider:
Make a cat-curbing spray using a “tea” of seeped cayenne pepper flakes and spray on your plants’ leaves or soil surface. NEVER spray your cat directly with this kind of tea. Cats hate strong smells especially citrus. Place citrus peels on the soil surface.
Some cats are agile climbers and won’t be deterred by high bookshelves or furniture obstacles. Use hanging baskets to keep enticing grass-like plants such as spider plants out of reach. In addition placing plants grown just for kitty in accessible spots will train him to distinguish between his plants and your plants.
Plants for Kitty
Rather than going to war, grow a plant or two that kitty can safely chomp. “Cat grasses” such as wheat, rye, and oats are easy to grow in a shallow container. Alternatively try grasses with a bit of flash such as blue fescue or lemongrass. If neither you nor kitty jive with grasses try herbs such as valerian, catnip, lesser calamint, or Persian catnip. Don’t forget that chemical pesticides and fertilizers can be toxic too – grow organic!
- Corn Plant
- Easter & Tiger Lily
- Dieffenbachia (aka Dumb Cane)
- Forced Bulbs – Daffodil, tulip, amaryllis