wild garlic

We had a great soil science class today!  I learn more from Bill than any other teacher combined.  First we took a look at the Green Roof Irrigation Trials that Niagara Research and the 2nd year students are working on.  Seems like the line system is working better than the ring system but I'm really not a fan of the growing media they're using.  Adding some organic matter would really help with capillary action and seedling establishment in the gaps where nothing is growing.  Then we got our hands dirty doing pH and EC soil tests all over campus.  

Guess what else we found all over campus?  Wild Garlic (Allium vineale)!  These tiny bulblets are only found  in the Niagara Peninsula but here they grow in fields, vineyards, roadsides and near woods (exactly where we found them!)   At first I thought it was clumps of bright green grass but some further digging  proved otherwise  :) I chewed on some shoots during class  it smells incredible and its delicately mild and tasty.  I'm gonna keep growing the bulbs and see what happens, apparently it grows bulblets instead of flowers!

Great Wild Garlic Soup recipe from Demuths can be found here
OMAFRA Wild Garlic Info Sheet can be found here


Amy Butler's Fabric Necklace (Free Pattern!)

I was inspired by Amy Butler Design to make a fabric necklace out of a falling apart old tie that I cherish.  It looked easy but I modified the template (the tie was already sorta a tube, I just hemmed it) but it didn't turn out quite as well as hers.  I think the styrafoam balls I used were too large, but since its just simple overhand knots I can take it apart and try again :) 

Free pattern (courtesy of AmyButlerDesign) can be found here.


pizza yeast

I discovered a new product when I went to the grocery store (that's a rare occasion - I shop mostly at the farmers market).  We make pizza almost every day and most often from scratch including the dough.  My least favourite part of making pizza dough is waiting for the dough to rise (I'm incredibly impatient) so I was delighted to discover Pizza Yeast by the good ol folks at Fleischmann's!  It's essentially quick rise yeast with an even shorter rise time and dough relaxers to stop the edges of the pizza from snapping back when you're shaping the crust.  Less than half an hour from fresh ingredients to fresh pizza!


native plants vs resistant plants (Blue Rug Juniper vs Blue Carpet Juniper)

I spent all day studying for my Evergreen Ornamentals class with Wayne and it got me thinking about Junipers.  These are definately one of the most commonly planted groundcovers, probably in the world as they're native to just about every continent and habit.  However, not a ton of thought is usually put into which Junipers are planted.  

There's been a big trend lately towards planting native plants and Ontario native plant reccomendation lists are published by various individuals from landscape companies such as Plant World (Toronto) or environmental organizations such as P.O.W.E.R. (Halton).  These are both great lists and I would highly reccomend consulting them for any native planting projects.  

I'm a big believer in planting using local species, but I've noticed a problem in the push for native plants and that is the belief that using exclusively native plantings is the most environmental solution.  If authentic natural restoration is your goal then using only natives is your best bet... however I believe that moderate use of cultivars that are custom suited to site specific conditions (in combonation with native plantings) can have a greater reduction in net environmental impact than using native species alone.

 Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) 'Blue Chip'
For example: both native plant lists I just mentioned suggested the same few Juniper species: Common Juniper (Juniperus communis), Creeping Juniper (Juniper horizontalis), and Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana).  These are all lovely native Ontario junipers but they are all very succeptible to two common Juniper fungal diseases: Juniper Tip Blight, a common problem on Creeping Juniper is caused by fungus forming on wet foliage in the springtime and Eastern Redcedar is prone to infection by Cedar Apple Rust an orange gooey fungal disease that can also be transmitted to Apple and other fruit trees.  These diseases are cosmetically disastrous, can potentially kill the trees and pruning or anti-fungal treatments can be expensive and environmentally detrimental.

Singleseed Juniper (Juniperus squamata) 'Blue Carpet'
The Solution:  Selective use of non-native resistant cultivars.  Visiting the Niagara School of Horticulture on a field trip last week I came across a lovely Juniper cultivar that is very similar to 'Blue Chip' the most commonly planted cultivar of Creeping Juniper.  Its called Singleseed Juniper (Juniperus squamata) 'Blue Carpet' and along with being resistant to Juniper Tip Blight its needles are a lovely bright blue that discolours to a mottled purple in cold weather and it has an attractive ornamental scaly bark on the upper branches.  In my opinion it looks less scraggly in winter too, but you decide for yourself!


Book Review: Good Bugs for Your Garden

"I’d like people to know that although some insects can be frightening and creepy, they are an important element in the garden, essential for plant reproduction and health. By learning how to properly identify the good guys you can learn to appreciate these wondrous creatures. I encourage your readers to take some time to sit in their gardens and watch the vibrant, vigorous activity that is taking place on and around their plants." - Allison Starcher (LoveToKnow.com)

Good Bugs for Your Garden is a whimsical little gem of a book written by Allison Mia Starcher.  This picture book style guide is perfect for the young at heart gardener who misses the days of illustrated anthologies. 

The charming illustrations bring interest to an important subject - the use of beneficial insects to control pest populations and promote healthy plants.  Allison's book covers a wide range in types of beneficial insects including: predators, parasitoids, pollinators, and soil builders and has neatly divided the insects into their orders.  Allison presents information that is scientifically accurate (I've been checking the information against my Entomology notes) while not imposing on the reader too much technical jargon.  From Damselflies to Nematodes this book is full of helpful information and wonderous critters.  

Available in St. Catharines, Thunder Bay, Guelph, Hamilton and Toronto Public Libraries under the call # 635.0497 Sta

For more information on the author visit: AllisonStarcher.com


mmmmm pineapple sage

I picked up a Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans - isn't that such a lovely latin name?) Sunday at the NC Greenhouse.  Since I just wrote a lab report on the effects of container size on water retention/drainage I decided to put it into a deep narrow container to encourage some vertical root growth before I transplant it into its larger summer container.  I had a mouldy Niagara College travel mug lying around, so I stole the plastic sleeve off the outside of it which makes a perfect container complete with pre-drilled drainage hole!  The clear sides mean I can easily monitor the roots and watch for water buildup that could cause mould :)  I will be so happy if this one grows as large as the one last year!  Of course Mr. Maniac Cat is waiting in the background ready to snack the split second I look away... grr - the pests inside are worse than outside! 


herbs herbs herbs

Another great day at In Your Backyard!  Today I was showing Tori and Vince around  Niagara College and the Greenhouse so I got a chance to check out some of the cool new plants we got in.  

One thing I've always loved is herbs, and man we've got an interesting selection!  I got a Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) at the NC Greenhouse last summer that grew enormous so I grabbed another one of those.  I know regular herbs (parsley, sage, oregano) will be around all spring and easy to find so today I focused on a bunch of unique looking herbs.  Broadleaf Thyme (Coleus amboinicus) definitely caught my eye - and my interest - as according to the latin name it is a member of the Coleus family... strange!  I'm also hoping for a bit more colour diversity in my herb planters this spring so Golden Oregano (Oregano dorado) is a lovely contrast.  I have never seen Pineapple Mint (Menthe ananas) before and it doesn't exactly smell pineappley...

Then my masochistic side came out... I LOVE BASIL: the smell, the taste, the feel of the leaves... but I have never once successfully grown a basil plant without some kind of disaster!  Logic tells me that I should just buy my basil at the farmers market and focus on other lovely herbs, but I was inticed by the wide variety!  Regular, purple, licorice, lemon, cinnamon to name only a few!  Who wouldn't want to grow an herb that comes in so many cool varieties?  It sounds like a mix between an icecream shop and a crayon box!
Local Business Profile:
BUY LOCAL!  The herbs you find in the grocery store don't even compare!  Plus Freeman Herbs definately came through for me on my quest for interesting herbs as the most unique plants mentioned came from them.  Based out of Beamsville, their large scale operation (250, 000 sqft) produces over 100 varieties of herbs!!  Recently joining their neighbours Hendriks Greenhouses they are a growing (pun intended haha) local business that has reached the North American market (largest dedicated herb grower in Canada, top 5 in North America).  They also have a gemstone of information in the form of former owner and current growing consultant: Tim Freeman.  Their products are available from a number of retailers across the province including right here at the Niagara College Greenhouse and even in Thunder Bay!


mr. cat is a maniac

Don't let the handsome mug fool you... this cat is a MANIAC.  We're catsitting this cat for the second time (we had him first as a kitten) but this time he's a rowdy adolescent cat who loves to knock over my my plants, terrorize my rats, and bite my feet at night.  He's ever so adorable though... I just can't help but forgive him!



Its finally nice spring weather and I can't tell you how warm and fuzzy it made me to sit outside in the sun watching D and L jump rope (I jumped a bit, but I'm dreadfully out of shape) just like we used to at recess.  Its a very liberating feeling to do what makes you joyful, like a child.  I've been jumping in lots of puddles lately and now we're jumping rope... I think I'm  gonna start myself on a jump-based workout!  Puddle jumping, jump rope, leapfrog, hopscotch... that should get my cardio up :)


early spring flowers

We visited the Niagara School of Horticulture with Wayne's Evergreen Ornamentals class.  It was dreary and rainy and I ended up with a worse flu after I left but the few colourful beginnings of spring definately brightened my day.  Tiny though they may be, these tender beauties tell me that the summer sun is coming soon with many April showers in between :)



I haven't had a haircut in over a year and it was getting pretty long and scraggly so Lisa and Danielle came over to help me out and I must say they did a fantastic job!  I like the blunt cut when its straight and when its curly its much more even than it used to be :)  



I made a double decker hammock for Alice and Bella by tying the bottom of a bandana triangle one rung lower than the higher part.  What I wasn't expecting was for them to transport (all on their own!) most of the shredded newspaper I had put in the lower tray, stuffing the hammock full and creating a really comfy looking chair/burrow.  They really are innovative little critters!  I'm probably going to make another hammock though as Alice is being a jerk... there should be room for 2 if she'd  learn to share but she seems to have claimed this one as part of her territory.  Stand up for yourself Bella!


sensational tastetation

Deliciously tongue twisting is the best way to describe this juice so I picked an equally tongue twisting name: sensational tastetation.  This delectable drink was created by blending all sorts of fabulous fruits and vetgetables in the blender - which was super tasty - but we didn't stop there!  We then juiced the blended smoothie by pouring it through the juicer.  This created a SUPERJUICE and a fantabulously tasty pulp that we used for frozen treats.  Its the two step blend -> juice process that makes the juice so tasty but it also has the added benefit of making the fruit last way longer than it does when you put it straight into the juicer!   
ingredients: apple, banana, carrots, cranberry, ginger, orange, pineapple (and the juice from the can), yellow bell pepper


IKEA: Is It Green?

Considering that most of my furniture (whatever wasn't found curbside) came from IKEA, this article from Inhabitat's Is It Green is reassuring :)  Ikea may only have started working towards sustainability in the last decade, but they're jumping ahead with their mission "low price, but not at any price".
They excel in transparency and positive effort with their  IKEA: Our Responsiblity pages, documenting standards including: People & the Environment, Products & Materials, Climate Change, IWAY/Code of Conduct, Working Conditions, Social Initiative, Partnership, and Naitonal Community Involvement.  I'm impressed to see such a large corporation taking responsibility and accountability for their products in a cradle-to-cradle sense.
Also unique for a big box retailer is setting concrete renewable energy standards: We have set the first step for 2009, where we're going to reach 60 percent renewable energy and 15 percent more energy efficient. Then, based on analysis we are doing right now, we will set the end goals, hopefully during this calendar year. -Thomas Bergmark in an interview with Grist
From simple things like recycling CF lightbulbs, supplying organic lingonberries and flatpacking ethically sourced wood furniture to the larger participation in a collaborative conceptual mindshift IKEA is a company that is reversing the usual corporate approach and accomplishing much while speaking little.