Herbalicious!

The trays have come out of the basement, the mini greenhouse assembled and installed in the kitchen window, the potting mix mixed, and the seeds planted! 

Seeding decisions this season were based on a combination of trial and error from last year, the seeds that were still kicking around from last season, and an attempt at effective time management for what is shaping up to be a busy spring!

What this means is, I decided not to attempt tomatoes and peppers with which I had little success last year, and which require a lot of extra lovin’ in order to thrive in our climate.  I decided instead to focus on the things that thrived in my mountain garden last year, that were the tastiest,  most versatile and most attractive.   

Herbs and edible flowers! I seeded nearly 20 different varieties :
Calendula (beautiful, abundant, good in salads, great as a medicinal for skin, dried or tinctured or oiled), Marigold (edible, colourful and a great insect and pest deterrent in the garden), Prairie Coneflower (tap root bringing up nutrients, and highly medicinal as a pain reliever and fever-reducer…used by plains Indians dried as a medicinal tea), Hyssop (tall purple flowers, anise flavoured, great in teas, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and a sacred plant in Judaism), Borage (delicious, honey-suckle flowers great in salads, great companion plant for legumes and brassicas), Evening Primrose (tall, robust with yellow flowers, shoots and stems can be eaten, but I dried the whole plant at the end of the season and used in teas – lots of medicinal uses! astringent, sedative, anti-asthmatic)…
and a bunch of culinary herbs: cilantro, korean mint, spearmint, tarragon, thyme, oregano, several different kinds of parsley, lemon bergamot, lemon balm and dill.  mmmmmm!

For lots of info on culinary and medicinal uses of herbs, and info on how to grow them, check out:
http://mightyherbs.blogspot.com/
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As a potting mix, I followed (and then adapted) a recipe from Eliot Coleman’s ‘The New Organic Grower’:
Coleman’s recipe:
3 buckets brown peat
1/2 cup lime
2 buckets coarse sand or perlite
3 cups base fertilizer
1 bucket soil
2 buckets compost

My adaptation:

1) The function of peat in the mix is to absorb and retain moisture, and it’s also a source of nitrogen.  But it’s a bit acidic, and so the recipe calls for lime to balance the pH.
Home Hardware didn’t have peat moss, and so I discovered Cocout Coir – a byproduct of the coconut industry, it’s just the otherwise unused husks.  The label on the product suggested it’s more sustainable than peat (it takes AGES for peat bogs to re-grow as we over-harvest them), but I squirm a little bit at the distance that it travels to arrive in the rocky mountains, just about as far away from Coconut habitat as possible. Anyways, I used it. It’s pH neutral, so I didn’t add the lime.

2) I used sand as it’s abundantly available here, and I didn’t have to buy it.

3)Base fertilizer: (from Coleman: Blood Meal for nitrogen, Colloidal Phosphate, Greensand as a source of broad-spectrum micro-nutrients) … I used Blood and Bone Meal for both nitrogen and phosphate, and Kelp meal instead of Greensand because I happened to have some and Coleman suggests this serves the same purpose

4) Soil

5) I substituted worm castings for compost, again because I had some from my worm bin.  The more composted the better as unripe compost or castings can burn the seedlings.
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And lastly, but very importantly, I coordinated my seeding with the moon cycle to optimize production!  So I seeded on March 23rd in a Scorpio Moon, and will wait till April 1st to do the rest of my herb and veggie seeding in the last of the Pisces Moon .

I followed the recommendations of this calendar that I found online:
http://ccechenango99.squarespace.com/garden-resources/

For info on the how’s and why’s of lunar planting:
http://mightyherbs.blogspot.com/2008/10/moon-calendar.html

Happy Seeding!

It’s Official!

Spring is here! A relative term in the Bow Valley, I know, but the days are long enough for our seeds to start germinating, and occasionally warm enough for some of the snow to melt!

Some inspiration over the weekend:

Calgary’s Seedy Saturday drew it’s biggest crowd ever!  Although I wasn’t able to make it, the vendor lineup was impressive, and fellow garden enthusiasts have said that there were a lot of great seeds and ideas exchanged.  A  backyard greenhouse operations doing starts for backyard gardeners,  seeds coming from the prairies to the west coast….some to check out: Calgary-based Harmonic Herbs, Slocan-based Mountain Seed Co., Kootenay-based Stellar Seeds,  and from the coast, West Coast Seeds, and Salt Spring Seeds.

Other interesting stuff to come out of that event: Green Calgary is hosting a Rain Barrel and Composter Sale on Saturday May 14th, 9-11am in 3 different locations: Crowfood LRT parking lot, Ikea (8000 11th Street SE), and Anderson LRT parking lot – greencalgary.org

I had the pleasure of attending the first weekend of the Permaculture Design Certificate Course offered by Rob and Michelle Avis of Verge Permaculture, and of course, have come back to the mountains bursting at the seams with ideas and inspiration.

I was delighted to meet a few individuals involved in various community gardens in Calgary.  It was interesting to compare the processes of establishing gardens in different communities, and I am reassured by the similar strategies, designs, and challenges that all these gardens face.  I am also reassured by the fact that our budget is on par with gardens in the city!

Just some thoughts here, but….permaculture is a whole systems design technique that looks at all the elements in your system and connects them in ways that they support one another, so that you don’t need to do a lot of work, and so that waste is eliminated.  Approaching our wildlife issue from this perspective offers a very different lens through which to view the relationship between the garden and the animals.  With regards to the bunnies (not actually wildlife, and very much a consistent element to consider at the Hospital site), I wonder if there isn’t a way to harness their potential as nutrient cyclers, by collecting and composting their turds.  Once composted, this could be a great fertilizer for our garden!  In this way, the rabbits would be supporting rather than threatening our garden… Just thoughts! Feedback always welcome!

Just around the corner…!

Well it warmed up just enough yesterday to remind us that spring is around the corner.  Then the blanket of fresh snow this morning reminds us of the nature of spring in the Rockies… At least our gardens will be well hydrated!

In anticipation of warmer days, we’ve started preparing our seeding trays for some early starts…mostly herbs, some experimental tomatoes, nasturtiums, calendula, marigolds and other edible flowers…we’ll probably try some cabbage, pak choi, and even start some kale and chard just to get a jump on things!

Some exciting news is the involvment of Club Green at the Canmore Collegiate High School in community gardening endeavours this season.  After spring break, Club Green students will be starting some seeds in the greenhouse at the high school for the community garden this summer!

These enthusiastic students will also be collaborating with CCG in organizing a fundraising event for the community garden.  We will be screening Food Inc. and hosting a silent auction in the theater at CCHS during the month of may.  Stay tuned for more info!

Till then, stay warm, stay safe and enjoy the powder !