A Morning Walkabout

A beautiful May 30th morning here in the Creative Garden Patch.  It really is starting to feel like summer is close and the piles of snow are long behind us.

The pictures of the morning walkabout shall speak a thousand words!

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Have a wonderful day in the garden.

Tom and Di

Raised Rows, Straw Bales, and Plum Blossoms

Well it has been a cold, wet spring here in New Brunswick.  Yesterday was very cold with wet 031snow in the afternoon!  Despite all the bad weather, the orchard is sweet with the aroma of plum blossoms.

Today hit 24C and at last the lower garden (old section) is dry enough to start some planting.  Later than previous years, but beets, carrots, turnip and onions are all in the ground.  We also added twelve new strawberry plants to the strawberry patch.

The new section of the lower garden now has new raised rows, two planting mounds for our squash, pumpkin, and zucchini.   The straw bale experiment is well under way and ready for planting this week if the weather forecast holds.

Blog Garden 022The planting mounds are constructed as “compost heaps” right in the garden.  Brown material, (leaves, dry grass clippings, old straw) plus finished compost were piled up and will be covered with straw mulch before transplanting the winter squash, pumpkin, and zucchini.

The “new section” of the lower garden is wet ground.  Last year the area was completely covered with straw and black plastic.  This spring the black plastic was removed and the raised rows were constructed with alternating layers of straw, compost, shredded leaves, garden soil and top dressed with more compost.  After planting the rows will be mulched with straw.    The method was successful last year despite the wetter soil under the raised rows.  The straw and leaves may have acted as a “wick” to draw the moisture as well as the plant roots seeking the moisture.  Either way it was not necessary to water any of the rows last year.  A major plus to a low maintenance garden!005c

The straw bale experiment is set up in the new section as seen in the picture.  The ten-day “conditioning” routine was completed using blood meal as the nitrogen source.  The use of a weeping hose made the process less painful.  In the future, we think we would prepare the bales in the fall for use the following spring.  We will keep you updated through the summer on our SBG experiment.

In the upper garden, a new asparagus bed, new cucumber trellis, and finally grids for Square Foot Gardening.Blog Garden 002

We have been posting relevant gardening information on the Creative Garden Facebook Page.  Mainly the re-posts are articles that we have found useful or interesting and want to share with you.  If you are not following on Facebook, please check the page out and follow for more gardening information.

Looking forward to planting this week. Time to get your hands dirty everyone.

Tom and Di

Great Tomato Tips and Tomato Hygiene

grow healthy tomatoes: staking and pruning

Margaret Roach – A Way to Garden  (you can follow Margaret for more wonderful garden information)


Tomato trial fields at High Mowing Organic Seeds, with staked and pruned plantsI HAVE ALWAYS CAGED my tomatoes, but many experts agree that staking–and regularly pruning and tying the staked plants as they grow–is the most space-efficient and also most hygienic tactic of all, helping manage the potential for disease while yielding plenty of fruit. With tomato-transplant time just ahead here, I’ve been studying up with experts like Tom Stearns (that’s his High Mowing Organic Seeds tomato trial field, above) on how to stake and prune tomatoes, and other tips for producing a healthy, bountiful crop. 

Staked plants will ripen faster crops of generally larger fruit. Stakes must be at least 1 inch thick and 6 feet high, inserted a foot into the ground.  Adding supporting twine between stakes (as in the photo above) helps add stability; some gardeners lash horizontal cross-pieces of bamboo between stakes instead. Either way, as the plant grows you continue to tie it to the support with twine or twist-ties. Remember: Staked plants require a commitment to ongoing pruning, keeping the plant to one or two main stems of vine-like, not bush, habit. All small suckers that develop in the crotches between the leaves and the main stem must be removed.

good ‘tomato hygiene’

WHAT’S MOST APPEALING to me is that staking can help with disease prevention. (Read More at A Way to Garden.com)


What is the Best Way to Grow Your Potatoes?

A Simple Way to Get High Yields of Potatoes

Thursday, May 07, 2015 by Barbara Pleasant – Categories: mulch, potatoes, containers
Potatoes in straw mulch

It’s no secret that I love growing veggies – potatoes in particular – so it upsets me that so many people are getting sad results when they try growing potatoes in novel ways. I just spent an evening watching videos of people who planted potatoes in various enclosures, grew beautiful plants, and then harvested two handfuls of small, knobby potatoes.

It was not their fault, because this is what usually happens when potatoes are given growing conditions that are much warmer and drier than would occur under normal circumstances, normal being the consistent cool, moist conditions six inches (15cm) underground. I learned this twenty years ago, when growing potatoes in towers made from old tires became a passing fad. The soil-filled black tires heated up so much that the plants lost interest in making potatoes (I harvested five), which never happens in my garden.

The Problem With Growing Potatoes in Containers

Indeed, researchers in tropical climates have found that when soil temperatures rise above 75°F (25°C), potato plants signal their

Potatoes in bags

roots to stop making tubers. Instead, the plants may rev up other reproductive strategies, like developing more fertile flowers, or popping out little green potato-like organs on the main stem. Daytime heating of roots is one reason why potatoes grown in above-ground containers may fail in warm summer climates. Potatoes can take warm air temperatures, but when the roots warm up too, productivity plummets.

A second problem with growing potatoes in towers, pots or bags is the dwarfing effect caused by the containers. The plants sense that they are growing close together, which makes them produce numerous small tubers rather than a few large ones. Large containers or broad bins relieve this crowding a little, but consider: When the Master Gardeners of San Francisco, CA (a potato-friendly climate) compared the productivity of ‘Carola’ potatoes grown in beds, bins, bags and pots, these are the numbers from the final weigh-in:

Growing Method Average Yield Per Plant
Mulched raised bed 2.38 lb (about 1 kg)
Wire bin 0.70 lb (0.32 kg)
Plastic pot 0.62 lb (0.28 kg)
Potato bag 0.58 lb (0.26 kg)
Burlap bag 0.25 lb (0.11 kg)

You can follow this link to see the thoughtful work done by Canadian garden blogger Isis Loran, but spoiler alert she has not found a potato growing method to rival the hill-and-mulch method, which involves simply growing potatoes in the ground, and mounding loose soil and mulch around them each time you weed. “I loved that I could just rake up or hill up more soil & straw as the plants got bigger. It was much easier in my opinion than trying to add soil to the pallet container or rolling up the burlap bags,” Loran writes.


Loran gardens in a cool maritime climate like that of the British Isles, where potatoes tend to prosper no matter how they are grown. Research by the Royal Horticultural Society has found that variety does make a difference when growing potatoes in containers. When 21 different varieties were grown in 40-litre (16-inch diameter) green plastic potato bags, these varieties were the strongest producers: ‘Casablanca’, ‘Golden Nugget’, ‘Sharpe’s Express’, ‘Maris Bard’ and ‘Lady Christi’.

The story is the same in the US. In Wisconsin, potato lovers involved in the Kenosha Potato Project have found that ‘Calrose’ and ‘Charlotte’ tend to produce larger potatoes than other varieties when growth in soft-sided pots or bags.

How to Mulch Potatoes

Any biodegradable mulch is a good mulch for potatoes, though once-popular straw can be a problem because of price and pesticide contamination. I use both grass clippings and weathered leaves since that is what I have, and I especially like the way leaf mulch keeps the potatoes’ root zones cool, moist and free of weeds. A recent research project from Rutgers University showed that plants produced prettier, more uniform tubers with leaf mulch, and it’s fine to combine materials when mulching potatoes, for example by layering leaves with grass clippings. The important thing is to keep a light-blocking blanket of organic material between the shallowest tubers and the sun.


The best time to start mulching potatoes is when the plants are ankle high and in need of their second weeding. Use a sharp hoe to nip out weeds, and then mound loose soil around the plants so the crown of the plant becomes snugged in with an additional two inches of soil. Then start layering on the mulch, and keep adding more until the plants begin to fail.

At this point you can feel around beneath the mulch for some tender new potatoes, and start harvesting all of the potatoes from your most advanced plants. As I pull individual plants, I often move the mulch to the centers of neighboring plants that are still growing and in need of as much mulch as I can muster.

When it comes to growing potatoes, the simplest method is the best.

Barbara Pleasant

The Raised Bed Decision – Pros and Cons

The Garden is Only as Good as the Soil

The quality of the soil determines the success of your garden.  We have been working on our soil for several years by continually adding organic material.  The lower garden has presented some challenges as it is situated at the bottom of an old orchard and the water drains to the garden.  The solution chosen, raised rows, and last year half of the garden was a success.  This year the other half is being prepared for the season.  This half is very wet and drains poorly.  Before we install drainage, we will be experimenting with straw bales and more raised rows to raise the plants out of the wet soil.  As the bales compost down we are hoping to create the raised rows that will solve our wetness problems.

The straw bales are in place and conditioning started today.Garden 031

Whenever we come across good information to share with you we will post it.  The following article is re-posted from The Gardening Channel and can help answer questions about common soil problems.


Top Soil Problems and Helpful Tips

Whatever plants you are going to grow in your garden, you need the best quality soil possible. It should be well drained and aerated, with an ongoing supply of good quality nutrients. This may mean bringing in extra top soil; it invariably means adding compost and fertilizers to the soil.

Soil compaction

If you are establishing a new garden after building a new home, chances are you will have not only have lost a lot of your precious top soil, but what top soil there is left has been heavily compacted by all the machinery and building equipment on site during the building operation. Even construction of small garden buildings and features, or construction of amenities like decks, paths, walkways and patios can result in damage and compaction to the soil.

If soil is compacted, you can bring in an aerating machine that will open up small holes. This is particularly useful if the ground already has an established lawn on it. If the ground is bare, you need to get as much organic matter into it as you can. This will not only help to overcome the problems associated with soil compaction, but organic matter will also improve and increase the water-holding capacity of sandy soils and it will improve drainage of heavy, clay soils.

Another problem that often occurs during building operations, regardless of how big or small these are, is that established trees are threatened. If soil compaction around a tree you don’t want to lose is inevitable, or if it has already occurred, you can relieve the pressure, and prevent the roots from suffocating, by drilling holes into the ground from the trunk outwards, to the furthest line of leaves (which is where the roots will extend to). These should be about three inches in diameter and about a foot apart. Fill the holes with compost or with a mulch to which a root-promoting fertilizer has been added. This will allow water and air – as well as the fertilizer – to percolate through the soil and spread beneath the compacted soil and feed the roots.

Soil quality

There are three basic types of soil:

  • Sand,
  • Clay, and
  • Loam.

While sandy soils drain well, they don’t retain the water. This means that you need to water (or irrigate) more frequently, and fertilize more often because the soil won’t have all the nutrients plants need to grow. Also, because the water flows quickly through this type of soil, the water takes what nutrients there are away with it. The best way to improve the quality of sandy soil is to add organic matter in the form of some sort of organic amendment, compost for example.

Clay soils are the opposite of sandy soils because they are heavy and thick, and they don’t drain well at all. You can lighten them by adding compost and some coarse sand. But be sure to add fertilizer for extra nourishment as well.

Loam is the best type of soil, because it drains well and contains nutrients. However this doesn’t mean it will necessarily have all the nutrients you need. For this reason it is always a good idea to test soil to see whether it is alkaline or acid. You can also have a professional soil analysis done to assess what nutrients need to be added to improve the quality of your soil. Or, just add compost to your soil. It’ll work wonders in buffering the pH of soil, and add the nutrients the soil is lacking.

Soil drainage

Roots of just about all plants need a constant supply of oxygen to survive and thrive. When drainage is inadequate, the plants won’t get enough oxygen, apart from which the soil will also tend to become waterlogged. While there are a few plants that will thrive in waterlogged soil – in particular anything that grows well in a bog garden, and a few trees including the gorgeous American sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) – you will have to take some stringent steps to improve the soil. One way to do this is to build mounds or raised beds and to fill these with soil that does drain well. Alternatively, if it isn’t just the soil to blame, you might need to build in a piped drainage system or establish a French drain for water that flows from the garden.

Soil bacteria

All soil contains bacteria (which are single-celled organisms), even healthy soil. While we all fear pathogenic bacteria – the sort that cause horrible diseases – there are many beneficial bacteria. In fact bacteria, along with certain fungi, play a key role in keeping soil healthy. This is largely because they are able to help decompose certain materials.

Soil pollution

Soil pollution is the result of man’s activities that end up with chemicals and other harmful materials leaching into the soil. Polluted soil is not suitable for growing plants and trees. If your garden soil is polluted, you need to identify the source of contamination, rectify this and then remove the polluted soil and replace it with good quality top soil.

Helpful solutions to soil problems

Here are some more helpful hints and tips that will help you solve soil problems.

Soil testing kits are available for you to test how acid or alkaline the soil in your garden is. Alternatively you can take soil samples to a specialist laboratory and ask them to do the soil testing for you. A thorough soil analysis will tell you the levels of all the nutrients in the soil as well as identify the structure of the soil and pinpoint what the pH levels are. It is the pH (which indicates whether your soil is acid or alkaline and just how acid or alkaline it is) that most commonly needs correcting. The scale varies from 1 to 14, and if the soil is neutral, it will appear as 7 on the pH scale. Anything below 7 is acidic, and anything above 7 is acid.

Add lime to correct acidic soils. Add sulfur to correct alkaline soils – or a fertilizer with a good bit of sulfur in it.

Soil amendments range from aged steer manure to mushroom compost. When you prepare a new bed for planting, spread two to three inches of an amendment over the existing soil and then dig it into the soil to a depth of between six and nine inches, so that the amendment and existing soil are well mixed.

Soil preparation before planting always pays huge dividends. If you start with good quality soil, you won’t have problems trying to improve it later. But this doesn’t mean you won’t have to feed and fertilize. Soil maintenance will ensure that the soil quality remains good, and your plants will continue to thrive over time.

Always use compost to improve the quality of soil, whether it is sandy, full of clay, or even if it is a good quality loam. Organic compost has a certain magic that encourages earthworms and various micro-organisms to migrate into the soil. It also works well as a mulch.

If you make your own compost with compost bins, choose a three-bin system so that you have new material, mid-term material and compost that is ready for use.

Raised beds are a good solution for gardens where there is poor drainage. They are more effective than mounds and berms, because they have solid walls (either timber or masonry) that hold the good soil in place. To be effective, raised beds should be at least six inches, but preferably up to about a foot, deep. Drill holes in the base soil (as for compacted ground) before filling with good quality top soil.

Choose healthy plants so that they don’t contaminate the soil in the rest of the garden. Take cuttings from friend’s gardens by all means, just be sure the plants they come from are healthy and not diseased or infested with garden pests.