Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Boulevard Garden

In May 2010, I enlisted some digging help and removed sod from 15 feet or so of grass boulevard and extended the garden there. Working by splitting some hosta and asters as the center backbone of the new garden, I was left with either side to grow as well.

I had a few bags of those wildflower garden mix which promise a full and colourful garden. I used two different packs and waited. For the first month it was hard to see much of anything and I couldn't tell which tiny green plant was future flower or weed. Looking for more and faster growth I added more seeds, some zinnia and something else that I forget.

In July the hosta are stated to fade with the heat but there are some small colourful flowers filling in as well as the zinnias that I sowed later. Progress continues and we will see if my wildflower seed mixes perform any better. So far I am not too impressed.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dandy Lion Weeder

Life would be a lot simpler if we learned to love the humble dandelion. To those garden scholars its fancy name is Taraxacum, a large genus of flowering plants belonging to the family Asteraceae. For the rest of us it is that pesky yellow weed that grows everywhere.

As the cost of fresh vegetables rise for the gasoline used to fuel the delivery trucks, we should be considering the many uses for this handy little plant. The leaves are chock full of vitamins and can be used in a salad. Try some hard boiled eggs as an accompaniment.

You have your own free trade coffee when you dry the roots for some home brew. If you need something with a little more fortitude, then try gathering the yellow flowers and become a dandy vintner of dandelion wine.

In spite of all its virtues the majority of gardeners are still opposed to dandelions of their back yard. We all have spent time on our hands and knees with some kind of pointed digger, doing more damage to our backs then the dandelion population.

Over the past few years we have used a Fiskars weeder that keeps the gardener standing up. Each time we have loaned them out, the neighbours try them once and go buy their own. The concept is simple. On the ground end of a three foot handle is a four tine dandelion grabber. Perpendicular to that is a small foot lever. Place the tines over the dandelion and push down. Step on the foot lever and pull the handle towards you. The level action closes the sharp tines and pulls out the dandelion with a good chunk of root. Best used after a rain when the ground is soft, the more root removed the better.

My neighbours think that this is the best invention since sliced bread. What is interesting to note is that this tool concept dates to 1913. Manufactured for a few decades, production was ceased during World War Two when metal foundries converted to making items for the war effort.

Fiskars has made a few versions, each one better than the previous, but all do a great job.

Gardeners of a century ago were just as obsessed with weeds as we are. The text, Agriculture for Beginners, published in 1914, admonished the home agriculturist to nip weeds in the bud as “the best time to kill any weed is when it is very small.” In Muskoka that means that we should try and kill our garden weeds at the beginning of garden season. The trick is to get it done before the black flies and mosquitoes kill us.

One street over is a home with a great lawn. Each spring the owner walks along with his stand up weeder and pulls out the little yellow flower. In addition to removing the weed, the lawn is aerated with the little holes made by the weed puller. Now as the years go on and your dandelion population decreases, you may need to find another way to aerate your lawn, but that would still be a good indication in your success in the dandelion wars.

There are a myriad of hand weeders that dig deep and cut the tap root of the offending Taraxacum. If you like spending hours time your hands and knees getting the close up view of your lawn then by all means give them a try. My neighbours will have some that they will likely be happy to give away now that they do their weeding standing up.

With the weeder in position, this dandelion’s time has come.

This dandelion is plucked and ready for the garbage bin.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Garden Bloggers Tour Buffalo

Having just returned from a great weekend tour of Gardens in Buffalo sponsored by garden bloggers it seemed appropriate that I should get motivated and post a new blog.

Kathy and I had a great weekend in spite of a little rain. We have lots of raindrop enhanced flower pictures to show for it.

The group of people included a handful of friends from Garden Writers group who also blog, as well as many new wonderful people to met.

The gardens were varied from one street of tiny homes originally built for the workers of Buffalo's construction boom to another of stately three story homes. As both were built in the Victorian era we could enjoy both architecture and horticulture at the same time.

One friend we were able to meet again was Anneliese Valdes from Cobra Head tools. Her family run business makes a great weeding/cultivating tool called The Cobra Head. In addition to making a great tool the family are wonderful people, like so many we meet in the gardening world. They have donated Cobra head weeders in the past to us for our project in Kenya and the farmers in Wongonyi village love them (

I was fortunate enough to win their new long handled Cobra Head in the door prize draw. Here are the three of us posing for posterity on Friday night in Buffalo. Anneliese is wearign a necklace that we purchased in Nairobi, Kenya in March. We wanted to offer her a token of our aprreciation for Cobra Head's assistance in our work in Kenya

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Real Power Behind The Tools

It is no secret that I love my power tools. I am one of those old fashioned tool guys who believes that he who has the most tools wins, whatever the contest may have been.

So what am I doing under the hot African sun with a playground to build and not a kilowatt or battery power amp in sight? The answer is getting a sunburn and letting the guys who realy know hand tools to do the work.

This is our second voluntourism vacation in the remote hill village on Wongonyi, in south eastern Kenya. If you climb high enough in the hills here you can see across the border into Tanzania and the famous peak of Mt Kilmanjaro. So far I will take their word for it.

I have work to supervise. The children of Ms Bush's class at Macauley Public School in Bracebridge have spent a winter collecting their spare change and are counting on me to build some play equipment in this barren playground.

On the worklist are three items. A simple balance beam, a see-saw and a large swing set were our goal. As this was my first time leading any type of building team, let alone one on foriegn soil, I arrived early to get my vision clear of our tasks ahead. As my father always said, cogitation is the most important part of any job. Once the crew arrived I have some semblance of a plan for the day.

With fresh cut lumber (read wet) on the ground, my team leader Eddie arrived with his bag of tools and his crew. While we would do the timber construction, the sand and aggregate would arrive for the concrete needed to secure the six legs of the swing unit.

Sand arrives one bag at a time on the backs of the guys who dug it from a stream bed likely some distance (vertical and horizontal) from the top of the hill where the primary school is. The stone arrives in a similar fashion and is crushed into smaller pieces one stone hammer stroke at a time. Once the two piles of sand and crushed stone are sufficient, (at about mid day), these two gentlemen called it a day and I sent them with a note back to my wife, the paymaster, to give them their hard earned wages.

Meanwhile the carpenters started work.