Montreal Melon

This week’s most exciting garden development: the melon is making melons.

melon

A friend gave me some seeds for Montreal Melon last year; it was too late to start them, so I designated them this year’s project.  I had never considered growing melons.  I grow all my veg in containers, and pack the containers fairly close together to maximize my tiny yard space; I wasn’t sure a melon plant would be happy under such conditions, as they require a lot of room.  I decided to partly address the problem by growing my melon on a tomato cage, so it could grow up instead of out.

melon cage

The plan is to create little hammocks, out of old tights, for the fruit as they get heavier.  Not sure what I’ll do about the raccoons, but so far they haven’t been a major nuisance this year; I will consider constructing a cage as the melons mature, but I might just take my chances.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the Montreal Melon was a hugely popular garden fruit and considered an exquisite delicacy.  However, it was labourious to grow and did not ship well, and so all but disappeared until recently, when, starting with a few forgotten seeds in an American seed bank, one intrepid gardener managed to grow a plant and harvest the seeds.  Since then, local supporters of the melon have made a project of bringing it back.  You can read a detailed history of the Montreal Melon here.

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June 16, 2014: The State of the Garden

This week’s most exciting development: the peas are flowering!  I thought I’d planted them too late, but here they are.

peaflower

I had also given the strawberry plant up for dead, but the few sad little sprouts seem to be hanging in there, so maybe I’ll get a few berries out of it after all.

strawbplant

I’m pretty chuffed about the beans.

beans

The raspberries have done flowering and the berries are on their way.

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The cucumber looks great, but does not seem to be fertilizing itself; the little cukes are not growing up.  I have tried to help it along by hand-pollinating it with cotton swabs, but so far, no luck.

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The little zucchinis are popping up just fine, although I’ve already had to start battling powdery mildew.

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The peppers and tomatoes are flowering nicely, and are looking bushy and beautiful!

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I’ve seen the first slugs, and the standoff with the leaf miners continues – they lay eggs, I remove leaves with eggs, they lay more eggs, nobody’s happy – but I’m loving the way the greenery is filling the yard and the first flowers and fruit are peeking through.

The horrible winter now seems like last night’s dream.  (I almost wrote “a distant dream,” but that would be untrue.  It feels shadowy, but very, very close behind me.)  In Montreal, if we get to experience “late spring,” at all, it usually lasts only a day or two, so I’m trying to enjoy every second of this surprisingly long reprieve: it feels like summer, but you can go for  a run in the morning without risking heat stroke, and you can vacillate about whether it’s time to install the air conditioner.  The garden likes it.  Me too.

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June 4, 2014: The State of the Garden

Despite the slow, late start, things are happening over here.

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In very exciting news: today we have a bell pepper.  Last year, I was unable to produce a single one; I’m hopeful that this is just the beginning. (I took about 17 photos and this is the clearest of them all; you get the idea.  Next on my list of fantasy projects: a garden photography course.)

pepper

This morning, this sage was very bushy.  I gave it a good haircut, and the trimmings are now in the dehydrator.

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The zucchini is also looking promising…

zucchini

…as is the cucumber.

cucumber

I also have my first chive blossoms.

chivebloss

Yesterday, I made the year’s first pot of Total Garden Tea: raspberry leaf and orange mint.

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Look closely at that mint.  Do see that it’s covered with tiny golden baby spiders? They seem to have infested the deck.  I love spiders, but I don’t necessarily want millions of them in/on my house, so I’ve been patiently scooping up nests of them with paper towels and delivering them down into the main garden, where I hope they will grow up to eat bad guys.

The first nasturtium is also looking happy.

nasturtium

Today I cut the first full head of lettuce; it will go into my salad at lunch.

lettuce

The collard greens were my first yield, and I’ve been clipping leaves from time to time, but they haven’t grown as huge as I was expecting.  It’s getting a bit hot for them now, so I might harvest them for tonight’s dinner and plant some more in August.

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For two years in a row now, I’ve had no luck with rapini.  I started some inside and direct-sowed some others at the beginning of April, but the ones that weren’t eaten by squirrels grew into pathetic little runts and then bolted.  The bees like the flowers, so that’s something. I’ll try again in the fall.

rapini

I almost didn’t bother with peas at all, as it was the end of April before I could plant them.  They’ve grown, but haven’t flowered, so I’m not expecting any peas this year.  I’ll wait until the end of June before deciding whether to pull them up and plant something else.

peas

A friend gave me some seeds for the legendary Montreal Melon, a species that was an international sensation in the early 20th century, and that a local group is trying to re-introduce.  I’m a little worried about mine, as it hasn’t been doing brilliantly since its move outside, but it’s started to flower, so my fingers are crossed.

melon

I’m really excited about the carrots.  I took some trouble with them this year in hopes that I’d get something more than spindly little crooked stumps.

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I wanted to buy self-watering EarthBoxes for my tomatoes, but EarthBox doesn’t ship to Canada, and they cost about $90 apiece on Amazon.ca.  I couldn’t find suitable self-watering containers anywhere, so I finally ordered pretty red tomato bags with lovely collapsible trellises from West Coast Seeds.  The chicken wire and netting and clothespins detract from the aesthetics, but the tomatoes seem fine with that.  (You may have noted the yards of netting over absolutely everything.  It’s ugly, but it works; the squirrels are frustrated by it and so focus their energies on other things.)

tomatoes

My husband says he’s always relieved when I begin starting seeds in February, because it means our experiment in home ownership might last another year.  It’s true that everything changes when I can get out in the yard.  Yes, there’s still moisture in the crawl space and windows to be replaced and a shower door that leaks and a mysterious crack in the kitchen ceiling.  But look!  Plants!  Lots and lots of plants!

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The State of the Garden: “Spring” 2014

It’s been the longest, nastiest winter in my memory. It finally seems to be lifting, but even now, after four days of above-zero temperatures, the yards are covered with a thick cobbler of ice and mushy snow.  Once this ice and snow melts, it will leave brick and mortar scree all over our front lawn and garden, residue from our February window replacement.  Needless to say, nothing is growing.  At least, not outside.

The only blessing of this wintry hell (and yes, it’s really gotten me down.  I used to like winter.  Not anymore) is the intensification of my pleasure at 1. watching things grow indoors and 2. anticipating the day they can go outside.  For example, here are my collard greens.

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I started them in February, and they’re happily humming along in the sunny mudroom.  I’m hoping they’ll have time to get outside and grow big and strong before it gets hot around here.

Also in the mudroom, some alyssum and rapini…

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…and the arugula, which I feared was lost when the overnight temperatures dropped to -15 (the mudroom isn’t much warmer than the outdoors).  But no!

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Our new windows have nice wide sills.  The cats and the plants appreciate this.  Here, Cat A stands guard over some thyme, dill, calendula and lovage.

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I managed to coddle some herbs through the winter.  I’m especially proud of the basil, which was quite spindly when it came inside in October.  Look at it now! The marjoram is also hanging in there.

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In the basement, I’ve set up a new grow-light system, and the results have been fabulous. I still have the old purple-bulb-lamps-and-shelf setup for emergency transfers when the main system gets too crowded, but the difference a real adjustable starter light makes is remarkable.  I’ve also bought a couple of heat mats so that the peppers and later the tomatoes can stay toasty.

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We’re expecting more rain today, so I’m hoping that the peas can go in their raised bed tomorrow or Monday, and then I’ll keep my fingers crossed that they can produce before summer descends on us.  I’m very interested to see what this season has in store, as Nature seems to be hellbent on proving that we’re not the boss of her.  (Note to humankind: Could you please stop trying to prove that you’re the boss of Nature, and maybe appease her with some nice new rainforests or virgin sacrifices or something?)

 

 

 

 

 

July 26, 2013: The State of the Garden

I have built an elaborate, possibly futile anti-squirrel fortress for the tomatoes.

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So far, it seems to have been effective.  Before I built it, I found several green tomatoes scattered around the pots, some with bites out of them.  Since I constructed this – a chicken-wire fence, a spiderweb of twine and rubber bands on bamboo stakes, topped with a generous blanket of netting anchored at the bottom with bricks – the plants seem to have been undisturbed.  The trickiest part will be getting at them; three cool days have meant that they haven’t needed to be watered yet, but tomorrow I’ll need to get in there, and it may be quite a process.

In the meantime, the cabbage worms ate my kale.

chewedkale

I’ve put in some collards and lettuce for the fall; I’ll plant some more lettuce after the worst of the summer heat has passed.

collardslettuce

The balcony herbs are doing pretty well.

balconyherbs

balconybasil

However, the Moroccan mint has been developing brown spots on its leaves.  I’ve moved it into more direct sunlight to see if that helps.

mint

The squirrels have not been entirely deterred by the netting on the strawberries, but it seems to have prevented total decimation.  That said, many of the berries have developed brown spots and, after a few delicious ones in the beginning, the rest have been bland and bitter.  I haven’t determined what’s causing this; maybe you have some ideas?

strawberryjuly

I’m looking forward to some more dill.

dill

The cress is not happy, but the chocolate mint is doing fine.

cresschocmint

The zucchini has gone through a couple of traumas, including falling over and battery by thunderstorms.  It looks fairly happy now, but it hasn’t fruited much for the last couple of weeks.  I’m hoping it’ll pull itself together, especially if we get some hot weather again soon.

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The cucumber is doing GREAT right now, and the nasturtiums are making everything cheerful.

cucumbernasturtiums

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I’m looking forward to a second crop of beans.

beanflower

However, a couple of bean plants have developed these spots on their lowest leaves.  I’m not sure whether this is something to be concerned about.

beanspots

One poblano fell from the plant during a rainstorm, so I chopped it up to fry in a peppers-and-onions dish and it added a lovely spice.  I can’t wait for this one to fully ripen.

bigpoblano

I’m hopeful that August will bring a big pepper crop.  The bell peppers have been struggling but are starting to flower more profusely now, and the poblanos in the shadier part of the garden are showing signs of maturity too.  I’m thinking chiles rellenos.

bellpepperflower

And finally, after a struggle that began in January and has seen the death of many seedlings, it seems I’m able to grow a catnip plant.

catnip

Next year, I may try to scale back a bit.  (Do I really need four tomato plants?  My husband can’t eat tomatoes.  Two zucchini plants in one pot is overkill.  Seven poblano plants – what on earth?)  However, I suspect that in January, when browsing seed catalogues will be my only way to feel like a gardener, plans may change.

Even if everything keels over tomorrow, my garden has been a godsend this year.  In the moments (many of them) when I feel that owning a house is too much for me to handle, I look out at the back yard and remind myself that none of this would have been possible in our cozy second-floor Outremont apartment.  Wandering through the pots every morning, coffee in hand, cats hiding under the foliage, has turned every day into an adventure.

Maybe next year I’ll start caring about the flowers in the front a little more.  I expect the neighbours will appreciate that.

I’m trying to see this whole process as an education.

Warm-weather Crochet

The annual heat wave has arrived.  It went up to 43 degrees (109 Farenheit) yesterday.  I haven’t left my air-conditioned living room in two days.

I thought I’d be spending this week plowing through the stack of novels I gathered at the library, but I got sidetracked.

crochet

Yes, when it’s hot enough outside to melt iron, my perverse instinct is to play with yarn.

I’ve knit for many years.  (Poorly.  Obsessively.)  The first time I dabbled in crochet, however, I thought: This is really a more sensible way to make things.  It’s a thousand times quicker and puts much less strain on my poor, worn-out right arm.

Something in me resisted.  I read a lot of knitting books and blogs, and they are often dismissive of crochet.  The speediness of crochet inspires snideness  in some knitters.  But when I dutifully tackled my Learn-to-knit Afghan again this winter, I found myself bogged down and resentful.  I’d bought all this beautiful yarn, but it was taking so long!  I’d never finish this damn thing!

So a few days ago, when I found myself itching for a hands-on crafty project (probably because it was far too hot to spend any time in the garden), I remembered an online impulse buy from several years ago: a few bags of worsted-weight cotton yarn buried somewhere in my stash.

yarn

If you want to crochet something but barely know how, and are armed with only Crocheting for Dummies and a lot of pretty yarn, granny squares are your best bet.

grannysquares

I strongly recommend picking up Crocheting for Dummies if you’re an absolute beginniner (or Knitting for Dummies if that’s more your scene), but if you have some knowledge of basic crochet stitches, here’s a good granny square tutorial.

Bonus benefits of this project:

1. Knitting 100% cotton yarn is terrible, because cotton yarn sticks to needles and doesn’t stretch.  Crocheting it is a breeze; the little loops hold their shape and the technique itself is stretchy enough to free up your movements.

2. My husband is allergic to wool.  Acrylic blankets are nasty.  Cotton blankets are awesome.

3. A small granny square takes about 45 minutes.  I can switch yarns after every square.  Satisfaction + stimulation = less chance of abandonment.

4. I can just keep making squares until my yarn is all gone.  If I don’t have enough squares for a blanket of the size I want, I can go get a bunch of cotton yarn in a compatible colour and weight and make more.  Then I can get another yarn to stitch it all together.  Buying yarn is super fun.

5. Small cotton squares are totally appropriate for hot weather.  No one wants to be touching swaths of wool when the world outside is boiling in its own juices.

The only problem is that I keep feeling that normal people leave the house and do things, even when it’s hot, and I have no desire to leave the house or do anything but make squares.  I’m telling myself that once things cool down I’ll take my squares to the park or maybe even leave them behind to walk to the grocery store or something.  But even if I don’t, what’s the harm?  There are cans of beans in the pantry that can be made into dinner, and at the end, I will have a thing that I made.

How do you entertain yourself when leaving the house seems like too much of a challenge?  Do you have reliable “it’s-too-darn-hot” activities?  Do you have feelings about knitting vs. crocheting?  Will all this air conditioning give me brain damage?

They Grow Up So Fast

Over the last few days, there have been all sorts of exciting garden developments.  Some have been good!  Some have not.

In the bad news:

1. Zucchini down!

zucchinidown

At first, I blamed the cats.  Then the squirrels.  In the end, though, I think the zucchini was too big for its britches.  Which is to say, its container.  Next year, I will rig up some support.  I was tempted to fiddle with it, but after much agonizing I decided to leave it alone, and it’s recovering:

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2. The savoury plant seems to be a perpetual victim.

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This is the second time it’s been knocked off its perch.  Not sure who to blame, but the cat looked guiltier than usual.

3. A couple of the tomato plants have bad cases of leaf roll.

tomatoroll

After doing some research, I think this is due to cool temperatures and high humidity, and nothing dire.  They are still producing like crazy and, although some leaves have a mild black speckle, there is no sign of spots.  Some of the lower leaves, however, are looking chewed, so I’m keeping an eye on them.

4. The beans and the kale are also getting munched.

chewedbeans chewedkale

I’m not too worried about the beans – they are otherwise fine, and production doesn’t seem to be affected.  The kale makes me sad, though.  Some of the basil plants are getting it too.  I expect it’s slugs, but am investigating other possibilities.

5.  I don’t know if this guy is bad news or not.

firefly

The best I can tell, he’s a diurnal firefly, and therefore a) benign and b) cute! and c) a firefly, albeit without the glowy stuff.  If he’s something else, that’s a different story.  I’ve solicited opinions.  Including yours, please.

In good news:

1. We harvested the first green beans!

beanharvest

I steamed them and made them into a salad with some zucchini and blossom refrigerator pickles I’d made earlier in the day.

2. So far, the netting seems to be keeping the squirrels out of the strawberries.

strawberriesprotected

We ate one of these yesterday and it was INCREDIBLE.  However, I just surprised a squirrel sitting on top of the hanger, chattering at the top of his lungs (“I’M STEALING YOUR STRAWBERRIES I’M STEALING YOUR STRAWBERRIES!”) so we’ll see if the net does its job when I’m not there.  (He also knocked over the collards I’m sprouting, so I’m starting to think he’s responsible for the savoury fiascos.)

3. The calendula is blooming.

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4. The peas did well, and yesterday I harvested the last of them.  Today, I pulled them up and planted some more carrots in their place.

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Not sure if it’s a good idea to put carrots in after peas – too much nitrogen in the soil – but we’ll see what happens.

5. We now have two – count ’em, two – poblano peppers.

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6. The basil and sage on the deck are looking great.

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7.  It’s a funny little garden, but it’s full of good things, and I grew it all myself.

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