A (not so) brief garden update....

It’s been a busy couple of weeks both in the garden and out and I’m long overdue for an update.

To start, we have the straw bales which, unlike last year, I’m conditioning this time.  I picked up 5 new bales about a month ago but am also going to try re-using the ones from last year.  The old bales are still holding together pretty well, likely because they didn’t really get going until the 2nd half of the summer.  To help them stay upright, I sank some u-posts around the bales and wrapped them with chicken wire.  I decided to do the same with the new bales to see if I can get 2 seasons out of them instead of one.

New Bales
The instructions for typical bale conditioning recommend using grass fertilizer.  Well, I’m going organic of course, so I’m using a combination of bloodmeal and soybean meal to condition the bales, both of which have high levels of nitrogen that are released fairly quickly.

I had read on various sites that the bales would smell for a while, but reading about it and actually experiencing it are two very different things.  Oh my God, they STINK to high heaven!  I mean, P.U.!

My nose may not be happy, but the flies are...
The only thing I can liken it to is the smell of dead fish at the beach...a LOT of dead fish.   The smell drifts and you can start smelling it even up to 50’ from the bales, depending on how the winds are blowing.  Not a huge deal as our lot is fairly big, but if you have a city-sized lot, you better warn your neighbours & keep your windows closed.  I know I kid a lot, but in this case..I kid you not!

Now, I’ve just finished the “heavy dosing” of the bales and the amount of fertilizer is being cut in half for the next few days, after which they only need to be watered.   The smell is supposed to dissipate and I’m just hoping that’s sooner rather than later.

The squash that is going into the new bales has just been sown as I was a bit late to start conditioning because of our trip.  Since the old bales don't need to be conditioned, I did start some seeds a few weeks ago for those:

Squash seedlings for old bales -
These are due to be hardened off this week
The asparagus is doing well and I’ve been able to resist the temptation to pick any:

Every crown survived their first winter - hurray!
The blueberry bushes, however, are not looking that great.

Unfortunately there was no good way to take this photo as the
blueberry bush blends in pretty well with the pine mulch
Well, they didn't look that great until I read my comments when I received them through mail order last year..."The bushes are TINY - even smaller than twigs!  I would say that each branch is only about 0.25cm & no more than 3" long".  So all things considered, perhaps they don't look so bad after all.

The allium beds are all on the hilltop this year.  The garlic is doing really well; I side-dressed it with some organic fertilizer a couple of weeks ago & I’m hoping that will impact favourably on the size of the bulbs.

Garlic Bed
The garlic doesn't need to be covered, but the onion beds do otherwise I have issues with onion flies.  This year, I covered the beds with the taller netting right from the start so that I don’t have a squished onion situation like I did last time.  It does look like I’ve had a few casualties in the onion bed, due to the dry weather while we were away, but there should still be plenty to last us the year.

Onion seedlings transplanted on April 24
They look so tiny right now - it’s hard to imagine that they will achieve any real size.  I tend to think that every year, but once they get going, they REALLY get going.

The onion bed also contains the perennial bunching onions.  They survived the winter just fine and I transplanted them from the old onion bed to the new:

Nebuka Perennial Bunching Onions
I transplanted them into the new bed for 2 reasons - firstly, I like to keep all the alliums together, which makes crop rotation easier.  Secondly, this gives me the chance to divide the plants into smaller groups so that they have plenty of space to continue multiplying.

Once I dug them up, I separated them and spread them out in a 2x4 section of the new bed.  This is what  they looked like a couple of days ago:

Transplanted Bunching Onions
As you can see, they are sending up flower stalks.  I cut them all off after I took the photo and we will see how they do.  I’m also trying a different variety this year called White Welsh and the seedlings were planted just behind the transplanted ones.

I’m still not completely sold on perennial bunching onions but I want to make sure that I give them a good trial before I make a decision as to whether or not they are worth it.

Also on the hilltop is the potato bed which was planted up on April 17.

Potato bed laid out and ready to plant
Last year, I dug a trench, planted the potatoes and only covered them with a couple of inches of soil, adding more soil as the plants grew.  This time, I'm try something different - I decided to simply bury the potatoes deeply, topping them with the full amount of soil and straw right from the start.

I decided to give this a try because last year I noticed that none of the potatoes I harvested were in the “hilled” layer of soil – they were all in the lower portion of the bed where the potatoes were originally planted.  Mark wrote an inquisitive post about this as well and, from the comments he received, hilling the potatoes may not be worth the bother.  Also, hilling the soil in a raised bed is trickier than on open ground so if this works out, it would save me a lot of hassle.

The potato plants have started to poke out from beneath the straw, but unfortunately, the first ones to make their appearance ended up getting nipped by frost:

Frost bitten potato plant
But I do see some new growth underneath so that's encouraging. Those that were slower to the gate are not damaged at all.

Some healthy, green growth on potatoes that were slower to emerge
Back in the main garden, the peas and favas are up, some of them doing better than others:

Golden Sweet Snow Peas

Shelling Peas
Germination on Aladdin (front) is much sparser
than that of Sabre (Rear)

Sugar Snaps (front, left) & fava beans in the rest of the bed
I’m using concrete remesh for the sugar snaps, which worked out amazingly well last year.  The gap you see just past the peas is an area I just sowed yesterday with more sugar snaps in an effort to see if succession sowing is worthwhile.

The Ianto’s favas (left, rear in photo) will also be grown against the mesh, but for the shorter Extra Precoce Violetto (right side of photo), I created a grid support using rebar, bamboo & twine.  I didn’t do a great job of supporting them last year, so I’m hoping that this sturdier setup works better.

Supports for short favas on left; tall favas & peas on right
In the rest of the garden, things are puttering along although not at the rate they should be because of the below seasonal weather we had earlier this month.  Overall, that's not a huge deal, except for one particular bed:

Rapini in the front with a variety of early greens in the rest of the bed
The bed pictured above is one of the tomato beds and my plan was to get a round of early, quick growing brassicas in and out before the tomatoes needed to be planted.  Well, our very cool spring has put a bit of a crimp in my plans as these “quick” veg are not growing nearly quickly enough:

Claytonia (front, left); Arugula (rear); Radishes (front, right)

Baby Choy
The radishes are just starting to size up so that’s good, but whether or not I’ll be harvesting any of the other veg before the tomatoes need to go in is questionable.

There are a few other beds planted up in the main garden including lettuce, chard, brassicas such as broccoli and Chinese greens, etc., but I’ll leave updates on those for another post.

I gave both the cherry & plum tree a good trim this spring.   The cherry was trimmed more to control it's height than anything else as I had a very hard time netting it last year.  There are still a couple of long, wonky side branches on it, but since I took so much off the top this time, I decided to forgo trimming them.  Those can wait until next year.

Cherry Tree
The plum tree was similarly pruned, but in this case, I concentrated more on the length of the branches.  Some were so long that they almost reached the ground.

Plum Tree
Just like the cherry, it still needs another go-round with the pruners, but I took so much off already that I was hesitant to keep going.  This is a 5-in-1 plum tree so I don't want to prune any one section too severely or I risk losing a harvest for that variety.  As you can see from the photo, only half the tree is flowering.  The other half flowered back in late April.  In each case, it seems that 2 varieties flowered at the same time, so I'm hoping that bodes well when it comes to pollination.

You have heard me complain infinitum about the weather this spring, but I can’t help worrying.   Both of these trees were in flower when we had a series of up and down temperature swings including snow pellets in the middle of May.  Hopefully the few frosty nights & heavy pruning didn't put the kibosh on our harvest this year.

And what's in bloom around the garden right now?  Quite a bit!


Weeping Siberian Peashrub

Bachelor Buttons (Cornflower)

Eastern Redbud



Purple Leaf Sandcherry


And last, but certainly not least is this guy:

Granny Smith blossom
This tree was planted last spring and I already had to pinch off a couple of baby apples that formed last summer.  It pains me, but I'll be doing that again this year so that the tree can send all of its energy into developing a nice, big root system.

That's it for today...but before I sign off, a little spoiler alert - I'll be back on Harvest Monday :)


  1. Everything looks to be doing really well and it's nice to see the flowers on your plot as well as the veggies this time. I'm always amazed how onion seedlings actually grow in to onions, they're finer than a blade of grass when they start off. I planted my potatoes in the same way as you're doing when I grew them in the ground, much easier than hilling up, it saves a lot of work, and I couldn't see a difference in what was harvested.

    1. And when it comes to hilling potatoes, that's what the consensus seemed to be when folks commented on Mark's post - a lot of work for seemingly little reward.

      We do have quite a lot that blooms throughout the season, but I often get so focused on giving all the veg details I forget to slip in ornamentals - I'll have to do a better job of that!

  2. I enjoyed your garden update. I am not sure I could resist picking the asparagus. It looks amazing. Straw bale gardening intrigues me and I will be following along for updates. I hope the smell goes away quickly as the bales cool down.

    1. The smell is a killer, that's for sure! It's obviously the bloodmeal that's causing it, so people that use synthetic fertilizers won't have this issue but I think it's worth it to go organic. Fingers crossed that *all* the great squash I'll harvest from the bales will be worth the initial stench ;)

  3. The garden is looking great. You are starting to see a lot of progress. Are you planning a trellis for the Golden Sweet peas? Those get at least 2 meters tall.

    1. Thanks David! I just put up a trellis for them this morning. Since it's such a small spot - only 2' in length - I don't have remesh that is narrow enough, so I'm trying cotton twine. Hopefully that works out better than when I tried the jute!

  4. Hi Margaret, I thought about trying straw bale gardening but decided it was too much work and expense. LOL I didn't plant potatoes this year but when I did I think I planted them 4 inches deep and still had to hill them. How deep did you plant yours this year? Nancy

    1. Straw bale gardening can get expensive, especially organically as you have to add a lot more and the fertilizer also costs more, so it's a double whammy! My potatoes are probably about 6" deep - I would have planted them deeper if I could, but just didn't have the soil to add to the bed at the time.

  5. I do use blood meal here and there but the smell is terrible and I try to avoid being around the plants for a few days once I've applied it. I tend not to use anything other than soaking with water to condition my bales - this year I'm even lazier as I plan to just plop some soil on top of the hay, plant the seedling in the soil and the bale will condition as the season goes on.

    And I'm with you on the potatoes. I just dig a big hole, place the potato then fill the hole halfway. Once the plants start to show, I fill the rest of the hole and that's pretty much it.

    Your gardens all look wonderful which is quite a feat as our weather has been so dry lately, hasn't it?

    1. I've never used bloodmeal before, so even though I was "warned", the extent of the smell still surprised me.

      I'm encouraged to hear that not hilling potatoes has worked out well for you - it's definitely much easier then hilling so I hope that I have similar success. And this dryness is horrible - a few patches of our grass are already getting "crunchy" which is something that I don't expect until July!

  6. I don't know how you resist those asparagus. Heck, I'm a somewhat honest person and I'm tempted to raid your garden. Good thing we're not neighbors!

    As for hilling, I just read the other day about the origins of that.
    Seems the settlers couldn't DIG that prairie, so they chopped out big chunks, turned them over, and planted on those "hills". That's the origin of that. Interesting.
    I have always buried my potatoes--filling up the hole as they grow....and then adding straw when they reach the level of the rest of the bed.
    Love love love those tulips!
    Have a great week

    1. Oh - so funny, Sue! It is difficult, especially now as some of them are ferning, but others are still coming up. I keep thinking, well, I've let most of them go, what difference would picking one little spear make. But then I talk myself out of it :)

      That is very interesting about hilling potatoes - it's good to know the origin of a practice as sometimes the reason for doing it that way no longer exists!

      I hope you are enjoying this gorgeous weather - today it was actually a bit too hot for my taste!

  7. You've got tons of lovely Baby Choy plants, maybe they'll reach their full potential in just a couple weeks. When do you normally plant your tomatoes and peppers?

    And I can't get over how big bunching onions get. And it looks like there's lots of peas and fava beans in your future. So great!

    1. Thanks Phuong! I technically should be planting out the tomatoes/peppers this week, but with the unpredictability of the weather and the cold spell that ended only a few days ago, I decided to wait until now to start hardening them off - if all goes well, they should be in the ground by next week.

  8. You have been super busy in the garden! I'm really curious to see how your straw bale garden works out. I've thought about trying it but it seems like they would take a lot of watering which would be a challenge in our rainless summer and autumn.

    I've got a problem similar to yours, my favas need to be finished by the end of the week so I can move the trellis that I used to support them over to the tomato/pepper bed. The Extra Precoce Violettos are right on time, I just harvested the last of them yesterday and cut the plants down. But the Robin Hoods are just hitting their peak and may not be finished in time for the move this coming weekend. BTW, my EPV favas get to be about 4 feet tall, perhaps that's because they grow all winter long here, but I find that they need some sturdy support.

    The tulips are beautiful. I love them but don't bother to try to grow them anymore, they are basically annuals here since it doesn't get cold enough to get them to bloom a second year. Periwinkle, on the other hand, is a pernicious weed here, I dig and pull at it constantly and can't get rid of it, even when it doesn't get any water in a drought year!

    1. I REALLY hope the bales work out - it would be a fantastic way to grow space hogs like squash as you can place the bales anywhere and just let the vines sprawl. But you are right - I've heard that they do suck back the water which I suppose makes sense as they are exposed on 5/6 sides. I'll be hooking up a soaker hose for them, so we shall see how that goes.

      Wow - 4' tall? I think my "tall" fava variety grew that tall but the EPV's only got to about 2'. I have a feeling you're right - they probably love your cool winter weather and just keep going and going. I have no idea if my supports will be ok, but they "look" like they will be ok - famous last words, right?

      You know, periwinkle is an invasive here too BUT when I mentioned that to Helen from Toronto Gardens in an "argh...now I'm going to have to rip it all out" sort of way, she told me not to worry since my patch was located in between my house and our brick walkway. Around here, if periwinkle is contained in this way, it doesn't spread...No need to tell me twice when it comes to NOT having to do a lot of hard, tedious work :)


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