Sunday, 24 June 2012

Sprouting Roots from a Cutting

Lemon Balm cutting

I've done this a number of times, often with success; I've cut a branch off of an existing plant, put it in a glass of water (in partial sun), and in a few weeks there're usually some roots sprouting, and I can plant the cutting as I would any other plant. I found it relatively easy to do this with basil - one little plant from the grocery store became many, big plants! I've read that some plants just won't start this way - they only grow from seed - and that certain plants take to this method better than others. I guess basil is one of those.

What I learned from my mom about this procedure is that you want to choose a healthy little side branch, not a piece of the main stem; that you want it to be several inches long, and not have too many leaves (it's advisable to take off the lower leaves, so that they are not submerged in water, leading to rot or drowning or just generally hindering the root-growing process), but you want to leave some leaves on the cutting so the plant is still able to absorb sun for energy. Too many leaves though and the plant will use most of it's energy to grow and maintain the leaves: you want most of the energy to go into the sprouting and growing of roots.

Well. Recently, my boyfriend decided he wanted to grow some ivy plants from the giant ivy that covers our house, so that he could have the plants growing inside. I said, sure! Easy. We'll cut a bunch of shoots, put 'em in water, wait a few weeks and be good to go! Hm. Ivy not going as well as basil did.

The ivy-jar line-up
So, for the sake of this blog and these lil ivy shoots, I decided to read up on the subject! (Novel idea, don't you think?) What I kept reading over and over is that people keep their cuttings in water for a few days, then put them right in the soil! Before there are any roots! What?!

A few things:

- Make the cutting relative to the size and type of plant you are cutting from. For small or delicate plants, a cutting about 3 - 6 inches will work best, whereas cuttings from a bush or tree or woody sort of plant can be much larger, closer to a foot in length.

- It is preferable and advisable that you leave a 'node', or knot, on the stem, which will be submerged in water and then in the soil. A node to me is best explained as where a new growth is or will be sprouting out of the main stem, where growth is sprouting between the main stem and a side branch. Often the roots will sprout out of these nodes like leaves would have, or the roots will appear under or near this place.

- Flowers will also suck energy from the root-sprouting, just like an excess number of leaves. Remove any flowers from your cutting.

- It's all trial and error, really. Some plants may work best sprouted in water, some may have an easier time sprouting roots in really good potting soil. Be patient (It can take weeks), keep the cuttings/ soil moist (or keep the water topped up if that's how you're going about this), have faith in your plants!

- For cuttings in soil: After a week or two, give your cutting a *gentle* tug...if there is some resistance that means roots have started to sprout! Give your plant a little time to establish its roots, gain some strength, and then do your transplanting (if that is your intention).

-What a great (and free) way to increase your plant population, and a nice simple way to share and trade plants with friends.

Baby ivy cuttings trying out the soil.

I also potted some black tomato plant 'suckers'. Supposed to leave them in water for a few days, then plant.

Getting the wee greens out of the direct sun, this is definitely very important.

Hoping for the best, I'll do a follow-up at some point soon and let you know how this experiment is going!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Can you spot it?

The first strawberry blush! This morning it was still all white, though I thought I saw a slight tinge of pink...and over the course of the day, that blush deepened! So excited for these strawberries.

I really love spending time each day just looking closely at the plants. They are so beautiful and the ways that they all develop and grow are pretty magical. Here are some close looks at some little big events going on in the garden right now.

Little cucumber developing! And many more blossoms opening and closing in overlapping succession as the days go by.

Say what! Yes. There was a maple key lying on the surface of the soil in the little pot, and I suppose with the sun and the rain this guy was able to germinate! Unbeknownst to me, that is, until I saw it a few days ago!

Here it is today, along with a little Nasturtium that I was able to sprout from seed.

And another little maple invader! I'm amazed that these little trees were able to grow simply by lying on soil and taking in some water and sun. That boosts our tree count up by two! Going to have to get some more soil and pots, I think.

Morning glories reaching and twining....I keep wondering which of these little buds/ ends might be flowers. We haven't had the first flower yet, but I'm sure some morning soon we'll walk out and it'll be there, just like how that first strawberry pink snuck up outta nowhere!

A couple sketchy layouts of, and some original artwork from, an info-sheet I'm working on (for fun)! Last November I saw that on the fence of the main community garden in my neighbourhood were a whollllle bunch of dried morning glory seed pods, just waiting to be taken! So, I took some pods, removed the seeds and put them in an envelope until this spring, when I sprouted them, after doing some research into how best to grow them. I found that I had to go to many different pages to get all the info I wanted to find, and thought that it might be helpful to other people in the future if I put some sheets like this together, after I do research on certain topics that I'm interested in. I'm liking the first (top) one, I think, for it's simplicity. Always, I welcome heartily any comments or suggestions you may have!!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Trellis Talk

Looking a little bit droopy out there...

This balcony we've chosen to put our plants on gets a LOT of sun. From about 12:30 in the afternoon til the sun sets behind the trees around 6:30 or 7, this porch gets pretty much full exposure. I've been hoping the plants could hack it, that if I gave then enough water they'd thrive...I mean, most of them come with the instructions "full sun". But despite the fact that we had rain yesterday, and I gave then water this morning, before the sun came round the house (as I felt it was going to be a bit of a scorcher), there were some definite wilts and droops out there today. So, I decided to take action!

Here's what the area looked like before:

The trellis seen against the wall there is actually two sheets of trellis/ lattice work I found on a neighbouring street. With wire I attached the two to make one very tall trellis - as I was/ am expecting great things from our morning glories! I had been thinking, sort of vaguely, about some sort of way to make use of that trellis to provide sun protection, and with that sun beating down I just went for it. A few minutes of untwisting, and then retwisting wire, and voila:

Little bit of shade anyhow! I am hoping that the morning glory will grow up and over to provide additional shade, and also I have brought that little bough of ivy over to the trellis (attached a woody stem of it to the trellis gently with wire), hoping it will twine about and grow over top! This ivy on our house is a force to be reckoned with, I tell you. I'm sure it will be taking over that trellis in no time.

I think this is also an opportune time to talk about the trellis used in the companion planting workshop I went to. It was quite a neat little set up that we made. Working with a bed maybe three feet by five feet, we planted cosmos, various lettuces, mustard, cucumber, radishes, dill, marigold and sweet alyssum. (I should mention that all the credit for this plan here goes to our Companion Planting instructor, Helene! I'm just passing on what I learned/ observed.)

I'm going to use the little sketch-diagram I did at the workshop to show how it was all put together. Only the most highly-technical illustrations, of course! (wink wink.) Okay, here goes. To clarify the areas I'll be talking about, I've got the "outer bed" outlined in green, and the "inner bed" coloured yellow.

Starting with the inner bed, we planted cosmos, maybe a dozen or so spread out. These are flowering plants which serve to attract pollinators, which will be necessary for the cucumbers. The idea is for the cosmos to grow through and above the trellis before the cucumber has a chance to cover it over. This way the attractive flowers will be more obvious and accessible to the pollinators, and also so they can continue to get some good sun! We used already-somewhat-grown plants in this case, I think probably either doing this or planting the cosmos seeds before anything else is advisable here.
Then, various lettuce seeds and mustard seeds were scattered liberally over the inner bed, and covered over with more earth. If the lettuce grows too thickly, you just thin it out and eat the thinnings. A good reason to purposefully plant thickly!

Cosmos shown here in dark green, sometimes with pink flower; lettuce and mustard shown in light green and yellow.
Next we travel to the outer ring; the outer bed.

On each of the four corners we planted dill, because it is delicious, because it attracts pollinators and also beneficial predators. Again, the plants you eat together are often companions in the garden. Neato.

Next, the cucumber seeds were planted. These are intented to grow over the trellis once that is in place, which gives it a structure to grow on, and the plant will in turn give shade to the lettuces below. Apparently lettuce has a tendency to "bolt" with too much sun exposure: it will very quickly send up a big stalk, go to seed/ flower, and then die. Our instructor said that you could either plant cucumber on one side, or on both sides of the trellis, depending on how thickly you want it to grow, and how many cucumbers you're looking to have!

We then planted little rings or semi-circles of radishes around the cucumbers, for radishes will deter the pesky cucumber beetle. And, they are very tasty!

Dill shown here in light green, cucumber in dark green, radishes in red.
 Next were the lovely flowers: marigolds between the cucumber plants to attract pollinators and beneficial predators, and to repel some pests. Sweet alyssum was planted in two solid rows on the open ends of the trellis tunnel; this lovely little plant will also hopefully attract pollinators, and most importantly it acts as a living mulch - it will help retain water in the soil, and apparently may also keep the whole under/ inside of the trellis hoop cooler.

Marigolds in golden orange here, sweet alyssum in purple, green and white.
 Finally, we got down to the trellis itself! It was just a section of springy, curvy wire fencing. We tried to just stick it in the ground, but ended up needing some bricks to hold it down. Here is the trellis, in all its highly-technical-illustration glory (in two perspectives, no less!):


Yeow! Electric Kool-Aid Companion Planting!
I hope you can now picture that! It's pretty neat to see how 8 different types of plants can be placed strategically in this small space and will then help one another to grow and thrive in a whole little working system. And what a bounty this will produce! I'd like to go back later in the summer and see how this lovely little world flourished. This is just one example of how companion planting can be used...with a little research, maybe some wire and some brick, some imagination...the possibilities are endless!

(Final note: allow me to connect you with the blog of the very knowledgeable woman, Helene, who gave the companion planting workshop. It's a lovely gardening blog that she shares with 2 other gardeners.)

Bring on Porch Salads!

I've now had two salads harvested from our little garden!! What we have available for the pickin' right now is some lettuce, some arugula and a selection of 9 herbs...which is quite a bounty if you ask me!

I really enjoyed adding a bunch of fresh herbs to my salad mix: I took some basil, some oregano, chives and parsely along with the lettuce and arugula. The second time I tried adding some mint in there, and it was okay...I think one wants to be more reserved with mint though, depending on what else is in the salad.

For both I put half a tomato, half an avocado, a chopped up green onion and some goat cheese on top. Some pumpkin seeds, fresh pepper, dashes of both olive oil and balsamic vinegar...Heavenly! The tastiest salad mix I've had. And how pleasing to know it all came from our little porch.  

Monday, 4 June 2012

Companion Planting and Our Porch/ Container Garden (& a little bit of a discovery of Urban Agriculture)

So lately I’ve been getting really interested in gardening, as a part of learning about and beginning to practice more-sustainable living...looking at it and using it as a way to be more self-sufficient, as a way to save money, to connect with plants, earth, and just for the simple pleasure of watching things grow. After finding out about a growing Urban Agriculture/ Urban Gardening culture in Montreal, and attending several related events and workshops, I decided to start my own little porch-garden.

The first I heard of Urban Agriculture in Montreal (I’m living in Montreal now) was when my Mom discovered and told me about the fairly new (and super-awesome) Lufa Farms, an urban-farming operation that has built a greenhouse on the roof of an existing office building in the Ahuntsic-Cartierville quartier of Montreal. They grow all sorts of interesting varieties of organic vegetables and herbs, and if you live in Montreal you can sign up for a weekly basket of amazing and highly-local produce from them, supplemented with produce from other local organic Quebec farmers.

A few months later, I heard about the Concordia City Farm School, which really got me excited. It is a very new program (this is the first full year of its operation). The school is a combination greenhouse and outdoor garden where students learn all about the ins and outs of organic gardening. The course runs from March to October, from seedlings to harvest! I would love to take this course. Through the Concordia Greenhouse newsletter I have found out about a plethora of interesting workshops and gardening goings-on in this city.

For example, several weeks ago I attended a ‘Horticulture 101’ workshop organized through the Alternatives Rooftop Gardens Project, which I found through the Greenhouse newsletter. The workshop took place at the Alternatives HQ on Avenue Parc here in Montreal; it was great for a super-beginner gardener like me: I learned all about the basics of soil and composting, and some things about container gardening, and the inspiration to just do it, no matter what your space is like! I think the most important thing I learned in that workshop was the importance of good, healthy soil. “You feed the soil, not the plants!” our instructor said. If you have healthy, well-balanced soil, you will have healthy plants. And compost is key apparently!

About a week ago, I went to a Companion Planting workshop at the Concordia Loyola Campus Garden. It was a beautiful sunny day, so we sat outside under a large tree near the garden and learned a bit about companion planting, and then we did some planting ourselves! (Or, in my case, watched others doing the planting and took notes.)

Some notes and diagrams from the workshop
I’d like to elaborate on this subject a little, give some examples of what companion planting can mean, because I used some of the ideas and principles in making my own garden.

Companion planting is all about knowing and observing what plants have to offer (to other plants), and in what ways they could use some help or support in your garden—in what ways other plants may be able to benefit them. These factors are dependant too on the climate or area they are being planted in: it’s helpful to observe how much wind, sun, shade a given area has, what the soil is like (too wet? Very sandy?) and then plan accordingly how you can set up your garden so that all of your plants can thrive.

Here are some neat ways companion planting is used:

·         Plants can used to support other plants, quite literally sometimes, as a stake for them to grow up against or to curl around, OR plants can act as a windbreak for small or weaker plants.

·         Certain plants, like the dense, low-to-the-ground Sweet Alyssum, can be used as a living mulch—that is, a plant that covers the soil effectively, eliminating the need for an external mulch to be added. Mulches, and living mulches, protect the soil around other plants, mainly through helping to retain water in the soil, and releasing it slowly to the roots of surrounding plants.

·     The Three Sisters combine both of these ideas...

·         Some plants—like, allegedly, tomato and basil—can be grown in close proximity to improve flavour and growth! (Basil does this for tomatoes apparently.) It’s interesting how veggies and herbs that you normally eat together usually are ‘companions’ in the garden as well.

·         Flowering plants are used in a number of ways. To attract pollinators, OR to disguise the smell of other plants – to confuse potential animal or insect predators of your precious produce! Others, like the marigold, actually repel a number of troublesome pests. Apparently Marigolds are a classic in companion planting...they can be used throughout the garden to benefit many plants.

·         Some plants will bring in the predators of pests that plague another plant.

·         Plants can shade other plants, simply by the nature of their shape, OR if you place a trellis (in a curve usually) over a bed of something you want to be partially shaded, and plant some kind of vine to grow over the trellis, anything from morning glories to cucumbers.

·         Some plants can help prevent disease in other plants: in the workshop we learned that Ash planted throughout a Maple forest will act as a natural antibiotic for the Maple trees.

·         Certain plants are used as “sacrificial plants” draw all of the pests away from your ‘more valuable plants’.


I had hoped to spend very little money on this garden, by finding most of what we needed, but in the end I opted for buying 4 large buckets from the hardware store, and drilling holes in the bottom. I was really happy about finding a big wooden drawer in an alleyway...there were others but the one we took was the only one in good-enough shape to be used as a planting box. We drilled holes in the bottom of this guy too but did not line it...on second thought maybe we should have?? Oh well.

We bought some soil, and the compost we added to each container was free – we were able to get a bunch through Eco-Quartier (an organization in Montreal that—in their own words—“encourages Montrealers to improve the quality of their living spaces and reduce the environmental impact of their way of life. I had put out a query on craigslist looking for compost, and someone got back to me saying that Eco-Quartier would be giving out free compost and various plants in a bunch of locations, in each quartier in Montreal. So, I went out early one Saturday morning, and with highly broken French managed to get a bag of compost, 3 echinacea plants and a mint plant for free, and also bought 2 tomato plants, a “spacemaster” cucumber plant and chives from my community garden).

With a little research of my own into companion planting for the specific plants I had waiting to be put into beds, I came up with a planting plan!
The "Master Plan"!
In the buckets:

1)      Cucumber, oregano, lettuce

2)      Tomato, chives, parsley, lettuce (lettuce was added later, after this shot)

3)      Tomato, basil, lettuce

4)      Strawberry, thyme, lettuce

In the drawer/ box:

Sage, Rosemary, 3 Echinacea plants, Coriander, Mint, and Arugula.

The rest of the plants not acquired at the Eco-Quartier gathering I bought from Atwater Market, though I’d love to do it all from seed next year, way cheaper...and I think more fulfilling!

 I have to say I was so pleasantly surprised at the taste of the Arugula. I’ve only ever had arugula from the grocery store, and always found it very bitter and not very interesting. I had acquired the Arugula mostly for my boyfriend, who, when asked, said he’d be really into seeing Radishes and Arugula growing in our garden. I wasn’t expecting much, but when I tasted this Arugula, it was so...good! So nutty, so delicious!! I couldn’t believe it. I’m excited to have a porch-arugula salad soon.

It’s so fun having all those plants just outside the door, and to monitor their growth each day.
Urban Agriculture is to me very new and exciting, and has so much potential to help heal our bodies, our cities and our world. It seems like a beacon of hope, a way to a bright future where cities can thrive with greenery and self-sufficiency.
I hope I can inspire some people to start similar projects, as I have been inspired. I’m always excited to see urban gardening going on here, and it seems the more I look for it in this city, the more there is to find and discover.

All our lovely conatiners together!
I call this "Peter in the Garden".
I love our vines!
Our Morning Glories. Sprouted these guys from seed. Found that trellis on the side of the road.
Peter's little tree! This little guy has been growing and growing so much lately. Loving the outdoors, the new big pot, and all the attention and love from us, I suspect!
Do you have an urban food garden, or perhaps looking to put one together?