Whew! The heat has been overwhelming sometimes this summer. Think what our plants must be experiencing under a hot, hot sun. Of course, in some countries of the world it is quite normal to have such heat in desert regions. But so few plants grow there for the dryness and heat. Sun can mean pleasure, or a great danger. Just as we protect our skin from the sun’s rays to prevent burns, sometimes we have to readjust the way in which we garden as circumstances change.
Here in Ontario, end of July 2022, rain arrived for a couple of days dropping the temps slightly below 20C (68F), but it will rise again. It was 35 C the other day on my deck. Without air conditioning, that was a tough day inside fighting the heat with ice cubes, ice packs, and wet cloths on fans, and windows covered to block the sun, and several showers to cool the body. That has passed and fall is approaching rapidly.
As a senior I had to leave my lovely outdoor garden on a farm and come into the city. I now find solace on my balcony with gardening in planter boxes, urns and pots. It had been a new learning experience, but gives me a lot of pleasure and comfort. There is such beauty in nature, and I am creating that surrounded by plants and other things. My theme colour this year is pink, white, deep purple and light blue and that colour blend is soothing and delightful.
The plants are signalling, by fading flowers, that they want to produce seed for another generation. Cut those dying pods off if you want to prolong the flowering season, as another flush of blooms may appear. Doesn’t fit every flower, but the main ones like Marigolds and Geraniums really help extend the season.
For vegetables, such as cucumbers, harvest a bit early consistently if you want more produce. If one cucumber makes fully developed seeds inside one cucumber, the plant will be satisfied and stop producing flowers to pollinate for more of the delicious produce. I still get a nice size on the cucumbers before doing so, but a new discovery. Never even thought about this when gardening outside.
My cucumbers are climbing up a trellis, but I did make a mistake of putting them this year in a planting box with marigolds, which has slowed their climb and overall vigor. So make sure to give them a deeper amount of soil so roots can expand downward, instead of sideways. A five gallon plastic pail or 14 to 16 inch pot with rich soil, is a suggestion. Last year I had cucumber vines all the way to the top of my bird feeder pole. I have this year’s crop now moving sideways along the top railing of the deck having reached it from the box below.
Quite all right, but comparing years, I can see a better way of doing things. I am wanting to close in the glass enclosure to have some privacy, and am using raised planter boxes to do it. Sitting them between urns of flowers in one area, and hidden by vines and a sign on the opposite side. Using taller, flowering plants in those higher placed boxes. Affective. I love my privacy but still have a view of folk walking by if interested.
My planter boxes are mainly for vegetables, but I added some dwarf marigolds in two of them as a companion plant to protect against hurtful bugs. Great success doing that, only the marigolds don’t fit my colour scheme. Left over from last year’s red/white/gold colour scheme. Bolder, but this year I wanted more calming influence, not stimulation. Amazing how colour does that. I explain that in the posting about creating a Memory Garden.
Tomatoes are not so touchy I find. I am enjoying reddened fruit from the Early Girl variety and Sweet 100 tiny tomatoes. I have four varieties growing this summer on my deck garden but the others have green fruit. Flowers on most of them means more fruit to come. The plants need shaking for pollen to drop, so I do that by hand if there is no wind. I have to hand pollinate most things as I am so high up from the ground. A bee finally arrived this week, and loves the Marigolds the most, not visiting the other flowers for nectar just yet.
Tomatoes like deep, rich soil. I noticed both my cucumber and two tomato plants had leaves turning slightly yellowish, so I have increased nitrogen fertilizer, and had good success in watching the leaves return to a deeper green. I also am starting to add the coffee grounds after brewing to the top of the tomato pots. Apparently these grounds contain lots of nutrient good for the plants. First time doing this. I plan to work the coffee ground into the soil at end of harvest when I close down for the winter, and mix the soil all together and empty the pots and planting boxes. That won’t be until October, a long ways off yet. Our winters arrive in early November.
My best crop of all was green peppers. Each of the seven plants in one long box produced two to four lovely green bell peppers on each plant, which I am now enjoying in the kitchen. I did have to hand pollinate the flowers, and if only two fruit on a stem probably means I missed a few. No more flowers, and the peppers are getting larger, and eatable now. I slice them fresh into various dishes, but will freeze most of them at summer’s end. I left a few to turn red much later.
I learned that I could have produced a lot more green peppers if I had cut off the main stem after its growth past about four leaves. New stems would have sprouted in those edges, and thus more flowers for fruit. Always something new to learn. Surprise!! I lots more small green peppers thanks to new flowering and the activity of wasps and flies, as my one has disappeared as of end of September.
My hummingbird feeder hangs beside the open bird feeder where I have a tray of water for the little birds. A humming bird arrived Aug 30th to enjoy a refreshing drink but has apparently moved on as of Sept 3rd, last seen the 2nd. There were six brief visits for a drink by chickadees this morning within 15 minutes around 7:00 am, again around 10:30 am, and I expect other times during the day. Last evening drink is around 7:30pm.. It’s the first week in September and I am so pleased to see the birds flitting back and forth from a nearby tree to several feeders around the house and my water source.
I accidentally scared a nuthatch the other day who came to investigate. Two red cardinals love the grain in the bird feeder below, but have not appeared yet at my water source. I am looking for a solar bubbler to help circulate the distilled water. I might get a heater and a solar panel to have an open water source during the upcoming cold season. There is no outdoors electrical plug in on my balcony. But I rarely go out there when the snow is piling up, so probably not. More about this later. More develops in late October.
The Squirrels & Feeding Birds
If I put out grain feeders to attract the birds, I will be inundated by four black squirrels from the neighbourhood. They destroyed two big garbage can lids last winter that held seed, eating big holes to climb through them, despite my attempts otherwise. I tried cayenne pepper and vaseline on the lids to no avail, even sprinkling hot seasonings all around the balcony area, also which did not deter them. So far they are ignoring my place this summer, (thanks to Hydro crew who removed a wire they followed for access). I am very happy about that. I use distilled water in both the hummingbird feeder and little water dish, so it will not pollute very easily.
I miss feeding the birds, but my next door neighbours do so instead. Fun watching squirrels, a chipmunk, three rabbits and other birds scramble for that food that my neighbour puts out daily. Yes, the rabbits are free in the neighbourhood and live under the garden shed. I meet them in other areas on my walks, as they are quite bold in exploring. A fox comes by once in a while, and turkey vultures circle overhead sometimes. We even had a bear in the backyard this last month. In the city? Now two coyotes have been seen crossing the road just two houses away. Yes, but this is a very quiet neighbourhood near the river with lots of trees. More birding in October.
I noticed a black area spreading on tops of some of the peppers with evidence of some black on a few stems. Horrors. Fungus causing this I learned (having never had it before). I quickly cut off all the fruit and stems with any black on it, and tightly bound the infected leaves in a bag to put in the garbage. Then I took the blacked fruit to the kitchen to cut away any sign of it on and sliced the rest of the peppers to freeze. I remembered to dip my cutting scissors also in a disinfectant, so as not to spread the fungus to other plants. Finally I made a fungicide out of baking soda and water and a touch of cooking oil to spray on the remained plants outside to help stop remaining spores. Have to wait for the temps to cool before spraying. Will repeat spraying for several days. Don’t trust my dish soap to add to my fungicide because it may be too strong and damage the plants.
I used to can produce for years and had a root cellar, but don’t do that any more. Remember when the fruit truck would arrive in the fall at the fairs, and we would buy bushels of fruit and more veggies to can to ensure a full pantry of food for our family. Eating for one makes a huge difference in shopping for groceries. But even this type of gardening on a 5 x 10 ft deck gives me a lot of produce in a small space. Had my first yellow beans for supper last night.
Results of This Year’s Gardening
My best flower this summer is Purple Palace Lobelia. An annual, it flowered in blue, and is a mass of blooms. Absolutely gorgeous and the first time I have success with this plant, which always died early on me before. More water I think has helped as I have to do so daily, sometimes twice a day in the heat. I fill my 4L distilled water empty bottles with tap water and then sit them in the kitchen window for the sun to kill the Chlorine in the water. Wish it would kill Fluoride but apparently not. I have been fertilizing those bottles with 10-15-10 liquid fertilizer. It takes two bottles (8 L) every morning to maintain a nice moisture level in the soil….cucumbers and green pepper gobble the water and they are the ones that I have to watch for a later afternoon touch-up. Others not so.
How do I know plants are happy and doing well? By looking at the leaves. They are shiny and a nice even deep green. The stems are thick. There is no narrow stretching of stems but lots of branches and leaves. I have pruned a lot of branches from the bottom of tomatoes and peppers to prevent soil born diseases, which begin at the soil level and move upward. Have to watch for white fungus growth soon, as it is so common. I also make a spray of baking soda to neutralize the areas occasionally.
I watch for those tiny bugs on the pots and spray immediately to kill them. They come into the house and create havoc in the garbage. I tried a spray of rubbing alcohol for those recently, as it was something I read. All my yellow fly traps have been replaced with new ones in the pots, and I am glad to report that so far, they have not been needed to catch the various flying insects that bother plants.
Keeping our garden clean of disease and insects takes diligence, as one tries to find the right balance in nature. Bagged potting soil is sterilized, so buying it is far better than digging earth somewhere to fill your containers. I used three different, bagged potting soil companies this year, and there is definitely a difference in fertilizer and compost content in that soil.
My few houseplants are also smiling and content. Three African Violets have filled their containers and are in full bloom again, second time this year. I transplanted the young spider plant into a large pot and new soil, and it is happily sending out those shoots that fall down over the sides and make the plant more interesting. I used to think the plant had to be pot bound to do that, so perhaps this young one has been very vigorous with its freedom to expand its roots in that secret, silent world under the soil.
I noticed the plants are getting about 14 and a half hours of sunlight as July ends. Streetlights are coming on 9:04 to 9:08 pm, all within four minutes and then shut off in the morning between 6:20 to 6:24 am, Eastern Daylight Time. Now these times will change as the days pass, but just another observation. Plants pay attention to the amount of light. It is a recent change in light that triggered the response to set seed. Amazing how in nature, things trigger response also in animals. A few birds are feeling the urge to migrate soon, while others will wait until fall.
It is also time to think about transplanting perennials, cause August is the best time of year to do that. There will still be time for them to recover from the shock and send down roots to hold them in place and provide food. All plants are starting to slow down in growth, so stop fertilizing them as one moves into the month. Don’t push growth much longer because the time for top growth and normal root growth changes to a focus on developing seeds to survive.
Do correct soil deficiency as I had to with Nitrogen. I notice a slight purple colour on a few leaves, warning me that Phosphorus has been leached out with multiple watering, or use by the plants. I need to replace that vital mineral, which occurs as phosphate. Bone ash is a source of this element, and readily found in garden centres.
Some plants cannot transpire fast enough when the heat gets so hot, so not all wilting means lack of root moisture. If you have your plants in large containers, or in the ground, wait a bit to see if they do recover on their own by day’s end. I suggest you think about shading them when this happens, either with some type of cover or moving the pot to somewhere darker. I am certainly doing that myself to escape the heat.
The city street lights come on a half hour earlier than reported, all on by 8:30 pm.
My little garden 2022
I have potted some tulips, wet them, and settled them the under darkness of aluminum foil in my fridge to wait 3 months while growing roots. Their lovely blooms will delight during early spring/late winter 2023. I love Anglique, a fragrant pink tulip that outlasted almost 500 others I planted in the farm garden. It is a double late tulip. Bought them in a package of 20. Due to nasty squirrels who love to dig them up, I will coat them in garlic paste, and sprinkle all over with cayenne pepper as I plant them at Mom’ s grave soon.
Yesterday I harvested the last of my veggies, as a cold snap is in the weather report. Only the flower remain. I am also starting to empty the long planting trays and using a big garbage can to store the soil over the winter. I used a shovel to mix it well. Full, and I may have to get a second one. I will do a write up now of successes and failures, what I learned by checking roots of every plant I pulled.
End of October 2022. I emptied all but two planter boxes, and have two garbage cans full of potting soil. Left soil in two urns and big pot, and turned my attention the birds. So happy things were progressing well and more and more new birds were finding my feeders and water pot. Suddenly, the squirrels, who had left me alone all summer, were on my balcony. They found a way to the roof, and jumped down onto the garbage cans, rooted around in the soil in the remaining pots, and up onto the feeder to shred the sunflower seeds. Infuriating. They have been so destructive in the past and are not welcome. When I open the door to the balcony to chase them away, they just leap off the roof onto a big cedar tree below and escape . Return the next day, What to do?
Gave up feeding the birds at first, as there are four squirrels, and I am amazed how smart they were to figure all this out. If they didn’t bother me, I wouldn’t bother them I say to myself, but this time I will see if I can fight back.
Oh how perception fills our lives: my perception (I dislike them intensely from experience. I remember a squirrel bit a family member, who got gangrene and died); neighbour’s perception maybe? What is going on, and those poor little squirrels), and even the squirrel’s perception : Look, lady, I’m just hungry and doing what comes naturally to me. You have tasty food, and I need to survive. One of us just got killed on the street the other day.
No one is right or wrong. I just want to feed only the birds safely, without disruption. I like the little birds, and had hoped the bigger ones would go to the lower feeders.
My neighbour below figured it out, and has a short metal pole with two feeders all surrounded by wire, and so the birds have been going there quite happily. The squirrels can get free seed on a neighbour’s concrete pad next door at the backyard. But the man below is upset about the cost as those birds are gobbling a lot of seed. So he has stopped filling the main feeder (so far). Birds don’t like the seed in his second one for some reason.
I removed my two feeders and added no more seed to the open feeder, so now the birds have disappeared, no longer interested.
A couple of days later, I returned the two feeders to the pole, and scraped most of the little seeds from the open feeder to the outer balcony area flooring, where morning doves and pigeons have been visiting. I have been scattering some seed out there for them. Suddenly, the activity of bird visitors leaps, and they are back as busy as ever.
I moved the garbage cans far away from wall of house to see if that will help. Oh the birds love that black sunflower seed.
The Friendly Chickadees are the first back, as usual, but rarely sit very long, as they flit away to a tree nearby to break open the seed and gobble it. Three of them constantly back and forth in about four visits during the day, but often each visit is at least a half an hour.
I am hoping the sparrows and finch will return soon, but they come and go, and are not yet consistent. The Blue Jay leaped into the open feeder and snatched a few bites then flew away. He’s back again and hops up to the feeder on the pole to grab those black sunflower seeds. A dominant bird by size no doubt, but only quick visits.
The red Cardinal and his mate have finally arrived on the balcony. Quite shy I find. Very slow to figure things out about the feeders on the pole. They have made no attempt to come up to the balcony railing to find the water and loose seeds that were in open feeder. A few little seeds remain. Also, other birds have picked up most of the seed on the outer balcony where they walk around briefly. The two Cardinals are gone again very quickly. Nervous? Insecure? Birds seem almost like people in their personalities, I think to myself.
I moved my six foot, artificial Christmas tree out to the balcony and ran several green wreathy material along the balcony edge. Then came the mini lights and an extension chord, so I am all ready for mid November to turn on the Christmas lights. One problem. It will be too cold by then and we may have snow, so I cannot run an extension into the house to the AC plug just inside the door. No power source on balcony. That cold blast from the slightly open door will be too cold for inside.
Hence, I have studied power supplies, especially solar over the last month, even consulting with my brother, who is an Electrician. I asked advice of a local solar company (who did not respond), and have visited local stores to see what they have. None met my need. Cannot use a generator (too noisy) or a solar battery (too expensive and don’t want one). I can put a box out there for protecting equipment from the weather and have a small hole in it to run a chord from, or to it.
So, yesterday I ordered a power bank from Amazon. I will see if it will provide the AC charge for the extension chord for the Christmas lights. I can use it apparently to power my laptop and cell phone in emergencies, which is another focus at the moment.
Concerned about a power loss in the winter months, which has happened for three days in the past. Everything stops: the furnace, no water being pumped through taps; the fridge; the stove; the small appliances; a sleep apnea machine all dead; and place begins to cool down rapidly. Having bigger bottles of distilled water on hand will at least flush the toilet. But how will I heat the place?
If I am forced to leave my apartment go to an Emergency Shelter for heat, food, etc, hopefully I can keep in contact with my family and keep working by using the power bank to top up both laptop and cell and tether both through satellite link (my cell phone provider) to keep an Internet connection going. The power bank would power a modem for awhile, but won’t cable or telephone wires go dead? Would provide power for small things while camping I think, but not doing that any more.
Sounds very techie, but my son used “tethering” to get me an Internet connection link from cell phone to laptop before I had the main one turned on in the house. Lots of you have internet on your cell phone like me, and at shelters there are AC plugins, but not sure I would have a cot beside a plugin. I might not think of taking an extension chord. With more and more travel these days, having a backup power source is very handy. This is a simple route and not too costly.
That’s it for today.