Living rural in the city is great – you can do it, too.

Category: Gardening (page 2 of 5)

10 tips for an urban homestead garden in Montreal

“Can an urban homestead work in Montreal?”  This was the query of someone who found my blog once upon a time. “Yes, of course.”

But. (There’s always a qualifier!) You need to have sun, and then you need to have space. If you don’t have sun, you can’t do it (unless you go to step #2, community group part, and then it’s a garden, not a homestead, but that’s OK).

If you have sun and space, then the only other thing you need (than water), is to be ready and willing to put up with the learning curve and the occasional need for help on any of the following things:

1. Start your seedlings indoors in March (some as early as February). That means now! Many require eight weeks before planting.

2. Try not to spend more than $250 on the initial effort. Every new venture — and this is a work of pleasure and a cost-saving measure— should be started with a minimum of capital until it looks promising. If you invest too much and your plans fail, you won’t be happy at the end of the growing season, or if you spent more for your harvest than buying it from a CSA. Sure, you’ll benefit from the experience of gardening, which is therapeutic, but you need to derive value or success from it to make it an ongoing thing.

  • If you worry about failure, join a community garden group, where the power of people and experience will help you derive what you need from it until you’re sure you can succeed. (Just make sure you show up for all your shifts, for your own sake as well as others.)

3. The growing season in Montreal starts with a huge leap of growth – but you need city soil to be well-amended to take advantage of it. Here’s how:

  • Test your soil as soon as you can! Make the necessary pH corrections with lime. Think about the future productivity of the garden; unless your soil already is acidic enough to support an acidophile plant with minimal sulphur, don’t plant blueberries. (If you soil is acidic, then plant all the acidophiles you like, and add more sulphur if needed!). You will need to dig in your soil amendments, not top-dress them.
  • Take a day in April if you can, or early May, to procure (the Ville gives it away by borough in May) and dig in your compost. It’s better to dig the compost in several days before the plants go in, not after, except on top as mulch. Compost can burn seeds and roots of young plants.

4. When the plants go in, install a grow fence (plants go up) or exclusion fence (keep animals and humans out) —you’ll almost certainly need to. The fence should still allow wildlife to get around or through at safe points, because otherwise you’ll trap them (neither nice, nor good), or they will destroy it anyway. Also keep in mind: if the fence is too rickety or fugly, neighbours might complain. Cute counts.

10 tips urban homestead
The pickle barrel rain barrel bought from the Eco-Quartier for less than $50, since replaced with a fancy Home Depot version.

5. Buy a rain barrel (cheap if you get one from an EcoQuartier) and a seeping hose from any garden centre. Obtain permission from landlords and neighbours to get water from their downspout, if necessary. Montreal is prone to having an early heat wave beginning with the Victoria Day / Fête du patriotes weekend, just when the growth is getting going. This causes lettuce to bolt and other plants to stop growing. Rain barrels with seeping hoses are the way to keep the ground just moist enough for highly transpiring plants during the growth phase. And mulch!! — but just enough to cover the soil. Don’t smother it like a blanket!

6. The late June-to-July and then the August heat waves happen in this climate zone. If you come from a different zone, or you are just learning, read up on strategies in the garden and the varieties of fruits and vegetables to plant. We are in Plant Hardiness Zone 5a, but due to the urban heat island effect from too much paving, not enough green space, and people using air conditioning (especially in their cars), the city is more like 5b and even 5c, depending on the direction your building faces and the amount of sun it gets. You probably won’t need to shade anything, but water, early and often — and also be aware of our Mon-soon-treal moments, where we get a deluge. (Hence, rainbarrel, and put out pots to catch even more!)

7. Put a net over top of the delicate leafy things as they get started, because house sparrows love them. They and, yes, the occasional rat (don’t panic!) predate on seedlings, and very young plants do not often get the opportunity to unfurl their 4th and 6th leaves – they are often gone by the first two. 
Which brings me to say: Squirrels don’t care about your plants, they’re going for the disturbed soil. Wherever they see fresh dug soil, they have to investigate: “There’s a nut in there, I just know it!” So try to plant your seedlings after they’ve gotten “big enough to defend themselves,” and cover up the soil with mulch. Replant them if they get lifted out in search for food. Once the delicate things are hardy, you’ll need the net to stave off the squirrels going for your fruits. Though the next point is critical about that:

8. Put out a water dish for wildlife. Fruits growing on a plant are just a convenient Capri-Sun pack of hydration for a passing critter. They go for your cucumbers, tomatoes, and other fruits just to have a drink of water. Provide them a water bowl, and change it consistently, and they’ll come to know your place as they place to get a drink. Be their oasis, not their Veg-Capri-Sun convenience store.

9. Hang a house for solitary bees, just in case. Leave a messy corner in your yard for others, especially for ground-dwelling bees. Offer them every form of hospitality, because we’re dependent on them. Assume an insect is beneficial first, and then learn to identify and only be deadly towards those that actually cause harm. Sugar ants, stinkbugs, wasps, hoverflies, and all kinds of bees, ladybugs, spiders, centipedes, or sowbugs—all have a part in our great chain of biodiversity.

10. The season here goes to the end of October. Get a good gardening book that tells you the stages for successive plantings, and keep going with planting new seedlings until mid-to-late August for an autumn harvest. Peas, spinach, and Swiss chard are cool-weather crops you can enjoy until the snow flies. Or even after, if you put them into a cold frame.

Give it a go, and good luck!

A seed library catalog at the Westmount library

Once upon a time when I was at the Westmount Public Library, I saw something to get excited about: they’re reusing their old card catalog, situated near the main circulation (borrowing) desk, as a Seed Library.

I spoke with Daniel, who is responsible for it. It started in May 2016, and last year they reopened it in April 2017, when they learned that’s way too late for most gardeners. So this year, they’re opening the seed library on Monday, February 26. The quick explanation of what it is? “Free seeds for members for more than 50 varieties of plants. ”

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Butterflies to see and links to share for Pollinator Week

It’s said that birds, bats, bees, butterflies, beetles, and other small mammal pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of our food. Pollinating flowers is a serious job. For this reason, the Pollinator Partnership organization created an event called Pollinator Week, every year around the third week of June. Its aim is promote and support pollinator abundance and diversity.

In 2019, it’s June 17– 23. The blog post for this year is Creating Lawn Habitat for Endangered Bumblebees, which includes two citizen-science initiatives that you can contribute to by sending in your bumblebee sightings.

In 2017 (the year of this post), it’s June 19-25.

In 2013, I blogged about it with a bonus DIY Mason Bee house project.

It’s very important to give honeybees and native insect pollinators as much habitat and food as we possibly can, because of Colony Collapse Disorder. In absence of remedies to prevent this disease from killing the honey bees that pollinate our non-native food crops, only natural resistance, the kind where survivors (in particular, survivor queens) go on to create new hives, will improve the survival rates of beehives. In addition, honey bees are very competitive with native pollinator species, so we need to make sure that the natives get a fair crack at food sources – specifically native plants, which honey bees are less adept at pollinating.

So, to inspire people to do something to appreciate or even help our pollinators, I found a few links to share. Nature herself also motivated me: the cover photo for this post came from my recent trip to the Adirondacks, where I found a bunch of Eastern Swallowtail butterflies mud-puddling on the beach.

Why do butterflies mud-puddle? Well, it’s an easy way to absorb minerals, sodium in particular, from the solution it makes in water-logged soil. For this reason, other insects also congregate around mud puddles.

What more can we lawn-owners and gardeners do to help bees and other insect pollinators, such as butterflies?

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Climbing vines on the shady side 

My house is almost famous for the green wall of vines I have growing on it – which you can see in on our Facebook page. Of all the neighbours, the only others who have vines are those on the end on a row, with a big wall to cover.

My Virginia creeper is now about six years old, and for two years, I also  let one climb out back, on the  shady eastern side. At the same time, I nabbed a real ivy plant and planted it in the same place, but I suspect that Virginia creeper inhibits other plants, as it failed to thrive.

This year, out back, I dug out the creeper and planted a climbing hydrangea in its place, as I wanted the flowers, and a climber that thrived in the shade. Little did I know, but it also released the ivy, which has since taken off.

It’s inspiring me for next year, where I’m going to remove the creeper from the front of my house (except the garage wall) and plant ivy in its place, because it spreads nicely and is less rambunctious.

It is not true that climbing plants damage your bricks. They help shade your home so that it’s cooler, they look nice, and they also give wild birds a place to hang out, and berries and insects to eat.

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