Archive for the ‘gardening’ Category

It’s been asked enough that I wanted to share some of the places we have used to buy our plants and garden supplies locally.

These are all places we personally use and I’m sharing my own opinions with no support or endorsements from anyone here.

Colour Paradise. They are our go-to place for most of our annual food seedings. (they also have a beautiful range of flowers, tropical plants and planters) Their prices are great, the plants have always been healthy and they have the best range of choices we’ve found in the region. While we’ve always enjoyed wandering through the greenhouse, it has been amazing this year that they are offering online ordering with curbside pickups. 100% worth the longer drive!

Cozyn’s Garden Gallery Our favorite garden place in Stratford. They cover all the garden needs. Fertilizers, soils, seedlings, tools, trees and shrubs and seeds. My go-to for organic pest control options as well. (I use bt for the roses and we had an iris borer problem a few years ago that was successfully dealt with by nematodes) In addition to all this, they also have a beautiful gallery full of garden decor and gift options. (later in the year, they also have garden themed holiday decor!)

Whiffletree Farm They are specialists in cold hardy fruit trees and shrubs. A whole chunk of our permaculture food garden has come from them. They sell bare root plants, mostly, and all we have bought have been large and vigorous. The selection is really wide and they have options for pretty much any level of grower from starting hobbyist to full on commercial. It’s a bit late in the season for them since we often have to order by February to get all our specific wants, but they are still filling orders and may even still have their end of season clearout sale in June!

Lee Valley Tools We love this place for lots of types of tools and small equipment but it is also great for garden stuff. I can’t even list all the garden supplies we’ve bought over the years but their tomato spirals are something I use every year and still find incredibly useful. They were also where we got the bird-safe netting I’m using to protect the haskap bushes. While we miss wandering the store, the catalogue is almost as much fun!

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It looks like we might actually really be at true spring. The weather has been not only cold but very dry so I’ve decided to go ahead and get my bee “fountain” up and running.bb1

We have a concrete birdbath that I used as a planter for years but it was fussy and I never really had a combo of plants for it that I liked for it. In drought periods it was also one more thing to water. Lots of work but it didn’t even look good! When I heard about bee fountains I decided to try converting it to one since I want to do all I can to support our pollinators.bb3

The main part of the basin was filled with clean sand. A large vintage china platter rests in the centre and is filled with a mix of glass beads and marbles. The glass pieces provide places for bees to rest and get a drink. The parts are all easy to wash and it’s shallow so it’s easy enough to fill when I’ve watering the pots on the old well head. (we are on a well so I don’t have to worry about water treatment chemicals) It’s also shallow enough that it won’t host mosquitoes.

A few of the smaller garden sculptures and some pretty rocks are accumulating around the edges. I’m not sure how much it helps but it’s worth a try and I like the new look.

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This past weekend, we’ve been hit by a freakish, (is anything this year not extraordinary?) cold snap. The polar vortex has swung south so a deep freeze is giving us lows I’ve never seen in May while we’ve been here.asparagus1

I’m still holding out hope for some of the fruit trees and my haskap bushes to pull through, but there are some things that I knew would not be able to withstand that level of freeze.

The biggest was the asparagus. While it’s been a bit slow, (lack of rain has helped keep it down as well as the milder bouts of cold) we were getting tips coming up. Thing is, asparagus is a total frost diva. More will come up later, but anything that is above the ground will be killed if it freezes. I think part of the issue is how juicy the spears are. At any rate, once we had confirmation that frost was coming in, I just took everything. At least it was tasty!

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In spring here, one of the first things up is a herb garden MVP, lovage. It’s an older, perennial herb that I’ve found many people haven’t heard about. That surprises me a little because it has a number of different uses and is SUPER easy to grow but it seems to have fallen out of common knowledge. It’s so hard to kill that it actually borders on being a weed, but, on the positive side of that issue, isn’t very invasive. (Well, it is invasive, just very, very slowly. My chunk came out of what had been kept from an abandoned garden plot. In 10-15 years, the lovage had become a solid block in about half of it’s 10’x20′ bricked bed. While it will slowly hulk out, it also can be dug out fairly easily, just make sure you get most of the big carrot-like taproots)lovage1

Fully grown it looks like a giant celery. (Flower heads can top out over 7′ !) They are related but lovage is much more pungent. That is it’s most common use for us. We’ll use a few finely chopped leaves to replace celery in soups, stews and other savoury dishes. It can easily be overpowering when fresh so you have to be careful with amounts but it mellows greatly when cooked. It’s so much easier to just clip some from garden than have to keep buying fresh celery for the few stalks we would use.

We’re not big cocktail drinkers but I’ve heard it can be a useful mixer from friends. (and the hollow stems can become Bloody Mary straws) You can also use the leaves under fish that is being roasted or steamed to infuse the scent. I haven’t done it myself, but this year I’m going to harvest the seeds since they can also be used and they’ll be handy to have over the winter! You can even roast the roots, but again, I haven’t tried it myself.

Overall, it’s something that I recommend adding to any herb bed and a little chunk will grow as big as you let it with no care and in questionable ground. It grows tightly packed enough that you don’t even have to weed it. The biggest drawback (aside from the Triffid tendencies) is the strength of it’s scent. Some people REALLY dislike it and any handling leaves you perfumed!

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A few years ago, after chatting about food gardening with some visitors, I was kindly gifted with another perennial food plant. It was a good chunk of Egyptian or walking onions.

I had never run across them but they are a perennial onion and, while a bit strange looking, they have lots of uses.


There is a main bulb that very much looks like a shallot and grows in a cluster. Allium standard, hollow, leaves grow out of the bulbs and then, later in the season, harder stem-like ones grow and they develop little bulb clusters on their ends. These get bigger and eventually pull the stems over until they reach the ground. They then root and form new bulb clusters, hence the “walking”.


So far, they are great. Hardy and extremely low maintenance to grow, they need almost no care. The regular leaves work just like green onions but can be continuously harvested. (and I love that they are completely organic, at least here) I have yet to do more than try a single main bulb because I really want to get a large patch established before cutting into my capital, so to speak. The taste was great on the one I tried and the little tip bulbs also have a nice onion flavour. They also root easily and make it super easy to share plants since simply handing over some gives a fast and clean transplant-ready starter.

Overall, a big winner and easily near the top of easy-to-grow food garden options!

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Since I’ve been sharing a bit of what I’ve learned about growing haskap, it makes sense to also talk about how to use the harvest! IMG_0861

Haskap are honeysuckles and while the fruits are a similar colour to blueberries they are significantly different. They have a flavour all their own. Raspberry crossed with blueberry, tart with a hint of wine is the best I’ve come up with to try and explain it. The berries are longer and less dense. The skins are much softer and will completely break down in a blender with none of the chunks you’ll often get with blueberries. This is probably why their expected commercial use in North America is in smoothies. Now that I’ve let the berries fully ripen, I agree that they are terrific in them. They are easy to freeze individually, hold well in the freezer and give great colour and flavour to any breakfast or snack smoothie.IMG_1159

They can be a bit intense on their own and it can also be difficult to get the sweetness balance right in large amounts, such as a pure berry pie. What we’ve found works better is using them as an add-in. muffin1

Fruit and custard pie, muffins or pancakes are all great ways to use them! You may need to slightly increase the called for sugar, or, in the case of pancakes, a bit more maple syrup does the trick! You can totally use them this way from frozen, but they are a bit messier.custardpie1

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In 2012, I planted a bunch of small, very sad haskap plants. More were added in 2015 to make a fairly large patch along our driveway. They had gone into terrible soil that really wasn’t improved at all and while they grew, it was slowly. In the years since, we’ve had a small amount of fruit come in but I’ve felt that a chunk of their value was that they are very early in flowering and provide an important food source for the emerging bumblebee queens on our property. The bumblebees aren’t doing well generally so I’m glad to have anything that helps keep the ones we have happy and fed.bb2

In 2018, we got a couple of yards of good manure compost and used it to fertilize a bunch of our flower and fruit beds. The haskap were among them for the first time. (yes, I know I should have done it before then) It made a huge difference and many of them put on close to a foot of growth that year! The flowers set on the second year wood so the combination of a good dose of fertilizer and a spectacular 2018 weather season meant that 2019 had the best flower and fruit set on them we had ever seen.

The fruit are very early, often starting to turn colour in early June. In the years before, we had been picking them shortly after they changed colour and we had found them too tart for much fresh eating, but quite decent in baking. We had also noticed a geometric increase in the number of cedar waxwings that would show up to eat them. Scouts would show up and then larger and larger flocks would arrive and clean us out.cw1

Over the winter of 2018, I had found out that we’d been picking too early, and the berries really need to hang on the bushes for around 2 weeks after changing colour to really ripen! With such a heavy fruit set, and knowing how the birds will strip the bushes, I decided to try netting them for the first time. We had a couple of bird-safe ones and I covered the section of older plants, since they had the bulk of the berries. It worked really well and I was able to let the berries get bigger and more tasty than we had ever managed before. I could uncover each bush I wanted to pick and then leave the rest protected until I had time to harvest. We got around 16-20 pounds and several disgruntled cedar waxwing scouts who were clearly unimpressed with being denied our berry crop!


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I’m a few years in now on with growing the hardy kiwi and wanted to share some more of what I’ve learned. (this is my first post about them)

The biggest issue so far has been that bunnies really like the taste of them. I didn’t have trouble for the first couple of years but have been hit hard most winters since then. One has been killed and another 3 have been eaten back enough that they are basically the same size they were when I got them.


While the rabbits prefer first year wood, if they get hungry enough they will strip even older wood and a couple of the bigger ones had chunks taken off their trunk tops. Luckily, all seem to have recovered. This past winter, I put out some rough guards made from leftover pots. (the growth patterns are such that tree guards won’t fit) These helped a bit. Going forward, I plan to make chicken wire tubes for them all this fall.

The damage and slowed growth has been frustrating but on the good side, they are incredibly easy to propagate. They are very vigorous and I’ve been training them to only have 1 or 2 main trunks, (easier to protect) so I prune off quite a bit of softwood every year. After some basic testing, I’ve found that you can get pretty much any section to root. I just trim the lengths so there is at least one leaf and then dip the end in some rooting hormone powder, (possibly not needed but I think it helps) and then put them in a small cell with potting soil. I tried over 60 pieces this way last year and had about 50% root and survive the winter! They got no special care, just regular watering. The males are still a bit more delicate, but you don’t need as many. The ratio of survivors is 4f:1m. I’ve also come across discussions where people have grafted male branches to female plants so they get pollination without a full male taking space. I haven’t graduated to grafting yet, but it might get attempted down the road.

The important thing about this is that if you have at least one of each gender, you can pretty much make as many plants as you want in a couple of years!


We have enough plants that I’m going to put them along our second run of fence this year. I just have to wait and confirm if the ferns we have are the edible ones or not since that will determine if/where they get transplanted to clear the space.

Production is still pretty low, but I do only have 4 females that are big enough to fruit right now. What we’ve gotten is delicious but has been around a pound per plant. In the cooler years, like 2019, they also were late ripening. Frost was predicted while most were still hard so I had to pick it all a bit under-ripe. We were glad to see that they ripen up just fine on the counter so we still got to eat them at peak!



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It has been an amazing season so far for the garden. Everything is growing so well and we’ve been enjoying full-sized tomatoes for over a month, which is the earliest we’ve ever managed.

We’re also getting lots more than is typical since the late blight usually cuts into the peak production. Not only are the large amounts of tomato, the tomatoes themselves are really big! This one is our personal record for size and was 2 pounds, 8 ounces! It’s also the third one we’ve had over 2 pounds so a remarkable harvest. There are so many we’re actually doing some canning but this one will be carved up for dinner!


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The black raspberries have mostly settled in so I thought it was time to talk a bit about the findings so far.


I put in a number of plants in early 2016 and was given another group last spring so we have a mix of 1 and 2 year olds. Last fall was busy so we didn’t do much in the way of care or clean-up on them either. They are planted in bed that has partial shade to almost full sun. It was were the neighbours hooked up to the sewer system so while it was well dug earth, it wasn’t really improved.

This variety fruits on the second year canes so there was only a very light crop last year. This year was a different story!


We’ve been getting an average of 1-2 cups a day for most of the past couple of weeks. There are still some left to ripen but most are finished now. I expect we’ll only get another 6-8 cups.

While they are very productive, getting the fruit is a bit harder than picking the fall reds. The branches are very high, so some easily rise above 5′ to 6′ high in beautiful arcs, and all are equipped with vicious thorns. The light picking last year left my hands and arms really scratched up so this year I made some armour. A pair of older leather gloves had their fingertips cut off and a bit of brown faux leather was used to make a pair of bracers. They may not be pretty but they work. I’m still getting a few scratches around my elbows and some clothing snags, but am otherwise unscathed. To be clear, this isn’t me being overly sensitive, some sort of protection is a requirement. Even the birds have left them alone.


The fruit itself has a surprising, unique flavour that is significantly different from the red. I’d always wondered why “blue raspberry” flavour had no bearing on any raspberry I’d ever tried but it’s clear it was based on fresh black ones. While they are pleasant fresh, they are, in our opinion, best used as a cooking berry. They cook up with solid, yet juicy texture and a deeper, richer “raspberry” flavour. The colour is also lovely. The red ones tend to both get a bit mushy and their red colour can also end up looking grey when cooked and mixed with other things. With the blacks, they cook to a rich purple with deep reddish juice. The smaller, drier fruits also hold together better and they work more like a blueberry in terms of being easy to be mixed in and still hold on to their shapes. They make a lovely pie.


Overall, the black raspberries have made a well timed addition to the fruit collection. They are a great cooking berry and their timing has fallen in a fairly empty period. The strawberries are done and the blueberries are just starting so it gave us a nice bit of small fruit coverage. The plants seem low maintenance. We’ll need to remove this years fruiting canes in the fall and intend to do a deep leaf cover again. While they are extremely well armed, it is possible to pick around them and they have fended off both birds and other berry thieves.

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