Buried in snow

tiny tough SnowdropsIt is a northern gardener’s life to be unable to garden outdoors for half the year (or more). Just one of gardening’s many great lessons: patience. That and learning about cycles. Cycles of seasons, light and shadow, decay and rebirth. Of noticing migrating birds when they leave, and when they return again. When the massive queen bumblebees emerge and drowsily look for new dens to start this year’s hive, eliciting alarm as they buzz close by ears and again reacquaint us to the sound of buzzing creatures. And of the tenacious determination of green growing things, pushing through the soil and sometimes even, through snow.

This is what makes me so happy to plant flowering bulbs. I adore spring bulbs because I do it every autumn – almost – and they perk up into a spring-thawing but otherwise brown garden just when I need it most. March! Okay… April, but by March I’ve got some forced mini-bulbs growing indoors and am busy planning a tea party luncheon, but I digress.

Even in those years when autumn rushes right past in the blink of an eye, because Mother Nature was in a hurry and flung us from late summer right into winter with a massive September snowfall (like this past fall), I can rely on spring flowering bulbs to keep coming even if I fail to add to their numbers. If we gardeners select a zone-appropriate bulb that is resistant to grazing (ie: tastes unpleasant to animals) and plant it at the correct depth in the right location (read: if they’re ‘happy’) bulbs will continue blooming and even multiplying year after year with no further assistance from us, except maybe a handful or so of good compost and leaving their leaves alone. And of course to be remembered where they are and not get accidentally dug up!

But their greatest gift to me, as a northern gardener enduring far too many months of frozen lifeless ground, seems to happen to me every year around this time when I am feeling weary from the short daylight hours and not enough time spent outdoors, I find comfort in simply knowing they’re out there. Tiny little bundles of hope buried under the snow and soil… just waiting for the perfect time to brighten the world. My world. My yard.

I celebrate spring blooming bulbs! Tulips (which survive in a corner of our back yard with a high fence, not in the popular-for-grazing front), Chionodoxa ‘Glory-of-the-snow’, Narcissus ‘Daffodils’, Muscari ‘Grape Hyacinth’, tall purple Allium… plus their rhizome-cousins Crocus, Lily and Iris… your very presence brightens my heart. Even unseen, just knowing you’re there and that your bright faces will be blooming soon makes me happy on dreary winter days.

Luckily we can all buy them already blooming in containers to grace our kitchen table or bedside (talk to your florist and try to buy organic). And after having read that planting previously ‘forced’ bulbs in our gardens to be a lost cause, I’ve found that to be untrue. I had mini-daffodils and grape hyacinths forced in containers and once they were done blooming I put them in the garage, forgot about them for a couple of YEARS and then threw the pot contents into a wild corner of our backyard. They actually took root and grew! I now have a little patch of Tete-a-tete daffodils and Muscari that come back every spring. How cool is that? So if you have a patch of ground, throw those spent bulbs in and they may or may not come back, but why throw them in the garbage when, sometimes, they come back? Mind you bulbs hate to be ‘naked’ for long and the dormant ones I mentioned were in a dry pot of soil. I’ve tried this with bulbs I’d had left over in the package for a while without the same success.

Of course I adore all my perennials, shrubs and trees – in my own yards and everywhere – but nothing better beckons the coming of spring than the early-blooming bulbs.

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Magnificent Kale

KaleALL HAIL TO KALE!

If you haven’t already, let’s all bravely select this curly, dark green, leafy veggie at the market and give it a go! There are so many ways to prepare this plant that you’ll not run out of ideas. Plus, if you have fussy eaters, you can hide this nutrient-rich plant into smoothies or sauces. They won’t even notice! However if you’re just jumping on the Kale-bandwagon please take it slow to avoid upsets to your digestive system.

From Wikipedia: Kale or borecole is a vegetable with green or purple leaves, in which the central leaves do not form a head. It is considered to be closer to wild cabbage than most domesticated forms. Wikipedia

Huffington Post “Kale Recipes: It’s Not Just For Chips and Smoothies”
http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/05/28/kale-recipes_n_3347713.html
Excerpts: “So when did kale become even cooler than cucumbers? It’s been called the superhero of veggies, the new beef, the queen of greens, and even — seriously? — crazy sexy.
All that fuss is understandable when you find out for yourself how good it is for you. Kale is loaded with nutrients including antioxidants, iron and fiber and is said to be a natural detoxifier and immunity-booster.”
Check out their link to view a great slideshow and learn Dozens of ways to use kale with these yummy and healthy recipes’

Quick Serving Ideas: It’s genuinely delicious! Sauté with a little olive oil until wilted, then add a pinch of sea salt, almond slivers and dried cranberries, and sauté for a few more minutes. Serve with brown rice and voila! The perfect low-calorie, high-nutrition lunch!
~Braise chopped kale and apples for a few minutes in broth or water. Just before serving, sprinkle with balsamic vinegar and chopped walnuts. Delish!
~Combine chopped fresh kale, toasted pine nuts, and crumbled feta cheese with (hot, just drained) whole grain pasta drizzled with olive oil. Healthy and amazing!

Benefits:
Kale builds better bones
Kale builds a better immune system
Kale builds better eyes
Kale builds a better body
Read more here

Nutrient-Rich Kale:

KALE Percentage of NutrientsConcerns:

Kale and best friend lemonIs there anyone who shouldn’t eat kale?

Alas, possibly yes. If you’re taking any kind of blood thinner (like warfarin), check with your doctor before eating kale because it’s high in vitamin K which helps blood to clot and eating it could interfere with the drugs.
Also, kale also contains oxalates, naturally occurring substances found in plants, animals, and human beings, which can keep calcium from being absorbed properly. When oxalates become concentrated in body fluids they can crystallize and cause health problems.
For this reason individuals with existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating a lot of kale. Nutrition experts recommend not eating kale at the same time as calcium-rich foods.
Please click link for more information, as the risks are moderately small and do not outweigh the tremendous benefits.
http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=38#safetyissues

Kale Recipe Post from a delightful blogger I enjoy following:
http://healthyfrenchie.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/lunchbox-tuesday-kale-and-lentil-salad/

For Peat’s Sake!

Gardeners! For Peat’s Sake ~ say no to peat.

As a lover of nature and all things ‘bio diverse’, as soon as I learned about the damage that draining and removing peat bogs does to our global environment, I forcefully changed my gardening habit away from using peat.

This requires reading labels of soil mixes carefully and avoiding ones that contain peat. I’ve discovered that making my own mix is easy and cost-effective, and more than anything I use organic compost to enrich regular garden soil.

Lee Valley PotMaker
Lee Valley PotMaker

Avoiding the purchase and use of peat also means releasing that old habit of buying little peat-pots for starting seedlings. Now my washed plastic seedling trays are re-used for years. Another peat-pot replacement idea is coir, a natural by-product of the coconut industry. It’s a renewable resource, unlike peat bogs which take centuries to develop. However it may travel far to reach you so that has to be considered as well. A great idea, if you have access to old newspapers or other waste-paper, is a wide dowel pushed over a couple of squares of paper atop a round plant-pot or other cylindrical shape. This can make a fine temporary (decomposable) home for a tender seedling. (Visit LEE VALLEY link here for more info on their excellent PotMaker)

Why not use peat? 

“Peat moss develops in a peat bog or “peatland,” which is a special type of wetland. Peat bogs are as important and fragile as rainforests… [They] are home to rare wildlife, including untold numbers of highly specialized native plants, many of which may be endangered and found only in the peat bog. They are also Nature’s water purifiers, contributing to healthy watersheds and, in some areas, to safe drinking water. They also provide effective flood prevention. Destroying a bog destroys these benefits. Peat bogs are also ‘global coolers’ helping to fight climate change.” – source: Natural Life Magazine

“Large areas of organic wetland (peat) soils are currently drained for agriculture, forestry, and peat extraction. This process is taking place all over the world. This not only destroys the habitat of many species, but also heavily fuels climate change. As a result of peat drainage, the organic carbon that was built up over thousands of years and is normally under water, is suddenly exposed to the air. It decomposes and turns into carbon dioxide (CO2), which is released into the atmosphere.

Peat deposits are found in many places around the world, including northern Europe, and North America, principally in Canada and the northern United States. Here, too, occur some of the worlds largest peatlands, including The West Siberian Lowland, the Hudson Bay Lowland, and the Mackenzie River Valley. The amount of peat is smaller in the southern hemisphere, partly because there is less land, yet South America has one of the world’s largest wetlands, the vast Magellanic Moorland, with extensive peat dominated landscapes. Peat can be found in New Zealand, Kerguelen, and the Falkland Islands, and Indonesia (Kalimantan and Sumatra). Indonesia has more tropical peat land and mangrove forests than any other nation on earth, but Indonesia is losing wetlands by 100,000 hectares per year.”

Bogs occur where the water at the ground surface is acidic and low in nutrients. In some cases, the water is derived entirely from precipitation, in which case they are termed ombrotrophic (rain-fed). Water flowing out of bogs has a characteristic brown colour, which comes from dissolved peat tannins. In general the low fertility and cool climate results in relatively slow plant growth, but decay is even slower owing to the saturated soil. Hence peat accumulates. Large areas of landscape can be covered many meters deep in peat. Bogs have a distinctive group of plant and animal species, and are of high importance for biodiversity, particularly in landscapes that are otherwise settled and farmed.” ~ source: Wikipedia

Additional Reading:

Tree Hugger: for Peat’s Sake, by Jasmin Malik Chua
http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/for-peats-sake-a-renewable-replacement.html

Natural Zeolite Products: Peat Moss Replacement
http://www.zeoinc.com/ecosand4.html

Peat Bogs Should Be Preserved, by Matthew Sparkes, Apr 10, 2007
The National Trust in the UK: protect the countries peat bogs.

Why And How Every Gardener Should Go Peat Free, by Sami Grover
The Chelsea Flower Show may have declared its intentions to go peat free, and peat alternatives for the garden may be increasingly available, but many gardeners continue to use peat despite the fact that peat mining is stripping vital habitats at a far faster rate than they can regenerate.

Emma Cooper at Permaculture Magazine lays out a passionate argument for why and how every gardener should go peat free: “I have also encountered gardeners who justify their peat use by explaining that the amount used in horticulture is minuscule compared to the amount burned in power stations in the countries who still have sizable peat reserves left (we don’t). This smacks of a juvenile, playground response – ‘he started it!’. As rational adults we should take responsibility for our actions, which includes making informed choices.”

Peat Has No Place In Your Eco Garden, by Natural Life Magazine
http://naturallifemagazine.com/gardening/peat-moss-has-no-place-in-your-eco-garden/

[Gina’s Note: I first released this ‘For Peat’s Sake’ article as a sub-Page under my Page ‘Gardens’ in 2012]