Sunday, 24 March 2013

Grapevine Pruning 2013

A couple weekends ago, when we had a couple of days of faux spring, so I decided to prune the grapevine along the garage.  Last year's growth was extremely vigorous so there was lots to remove.

I wrote a post on last year's pruning (here).  Last year I left 2 buds per spur in addition to the bud that pops out at the base of the spur (i.e. 3 buds per spur).  This resulted in tons of shoots and tons of grapes....but the grapes tended to range from small to average in size.  The shoots that grew from the basal buds, did produce grapes.

This year I was more aggressive with my pruning and left only 2 buds per spur including the basal bud.  We'll see if this make a difference in the size of the grapes.

This past winter was a tough one...long stretches of -20°C temperatures.  As a result, at least 60% of the wood on the pruned shoots was dead and could not be used for propagating.  Nonetheless, I was able to start the propagation of ~20 cuttings and also give a good number to Fred for root stock for his vineyard in Osgoode (see the blog link to the right).  Here is my post on propagating.  I was happy with the technique I followed last I'll give it another shot.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Hello Everyone.

I started planning my garden this week.  Yes I know it is the middle of winter but I wanted to purchase any new seeds this weekend so, therefore, I had to start planning.  Below is a not-to-scale schematic of my garden beds; a photo of the bed layout can be viewed here.

A few notes about the layout:
  1. The beds labelled 1 to 5 are 5'x12'.......beds 2 and 3 are probably about 4'x12'.
  2. The sqaure beds are 5'x'5'.
  3. All beds are raised.
  4. Red dots are individual plants or groups of plants.  Red lines are rows.
  5. I spread a generous helping of composted horse manure on each bed in late October after everything was harvested and the beds cleaned out.
 Some changes of note for the upcoming season will include:
·         A complete crop rotation. 
·        Planting corn and beets for the first time.
·         More carrots.
·         Less beans.
·         Protection of the peanuts after seeding.  I got a big fat zero last year.  I think it was the chipmunks and not the dogs.
·         Adding Brandywine tomatoes.

The reason I purchase my seeds early is to ensure I get the exact variety of each vegetable I want and …… it’s kind of fun going to the garden centre (even if there is 3 feet of snow outside).

Friday, 8 February 2013

Homer and Laryngeal Paralysis

Hello Everyone.

Last fall I indicated that Homer had some breathing issues.  Even while resting he was not only excessively panting but seemed out of breath.  Walks were gradually reduced to light strolls around the yard and swimming became just too taxing.

After a couple of vet visits and doing my own research, Homer was diagnosed with Laryngeal Paralysis.  In a nut shell, his larynx would not open to let air through causing his body to forcefully move air in and out in order to breathe.  So, our vacation to San Francisco turned into surgery to fix the problem.  Homer’s vet team and the surgeon did a fantastic job.  When Homer came home that evening, his breathing was 1000% better already.

·         His breathing is normal.
·         To slow his eating and prevent hacking, we now add a bit of water to the bowl.  All treats must be placed on the floor to force him to chew instead of swallowing them whole.
·         Our walks are back to the normal distance although the pace is often slower than we remember.  Prior to the surgery he did not stop and sniff very much because he would lose his breath.  Now he stops and smells every last yellow patch of snow!
·         He still barks but there is no sound.  All you hear is air escaping when he barks.  It’s kind of sad until you realize that he still ‘barks’ as much as he used to and it’s a lot quieter.
·         No more swimming.  Yes you read it correctly.  I got several professional opinions and they were all the same – no more swimming.  With his larynx permanently opened, he cannot close off the opening to prevent water from going into his lungs.  This is going to be a tough-sell considering that the only thing he likes more than swimming is eating.  But by my definition, wading in shallow water is not swimming.  The boat rides could be tough though.

Today he is as normal and bad as a 12-year old lab can be.  The trip to San Fran was a good trade.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

We're Back!

Hello Everyone.

It's been about 5 months since my last post.  I got really busy with work and other stuff but my schedule has stabilized somewhat so I will now begin posting again.  There's lots to catch up on so stay tuned!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Dock Diving at Avalon Ranch

So we went to the Avalon Ranch again this past weekend to introduce Cosmo to dock diving during their 'fun day'.  Lots of dogs, big and small, young and old showed up.  The day was truly designed for teaching as the Ranch owners permitted ample time for the dogs to get use to the dock and ramp.

Unfortunately, Homer was not allowed to participate -- doctor's orders.  Due to some breathing issues our vet has said NO to swimming.  I did lobby my wife on his behalf but that didn't get anywhere.

Nonetheless, Cosmo took to diving rather naturally as you will see from this little video.  His best jump was about 10 feet which is a far cry from the distance obtained from the younger experienced dogs jumping up to 3 times that distance.  But like the majority of the dogs, all they're focussed on is getting the toy!  It's the humans who become fixated on the distance.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Garden Update

Wow.  August just flew by.

I'm overdue to give you a run down on how the garden faired through the drought-like summer.

Cantaloupe – Simply the best year for cantaloupe ever!  I harvested about a dozen of these beauties.  Normally, I only get few melons but with this many I was able to spread them around to the neighbours and take a bunch to work.  Their taste was off the charts.

Carrots – I planted 'rainbow' varieties of carrots this season.  When BBQ'd and carmelized, they are simply the best I've ever eaten.

Colourful carrots along with yellow zucchini and green cucumbers.

Tomatoes – Overall, a top notch season for tomatoes.  Large yields of heavy and juicy fruit.  The winner in the tomato grouping is definitely the black cherry variety.  So plump, juicy and sweet.  The Italian beef steak variety are pretty impressive too.  We’ve been eating tomato salads at least once, and often twice, per day for almost a month now.  I was disappointed in the taste of the Italian roma variety but that was only until my wife used them to make a pasta sauce that was soooooooo good.

Of course Homer thinks the tomato harvest was a good one too.

Large beef-steak and black cherry tomatoes.  Note the size of the peeled onion beside two cantaloupe.
Beans – I planted two rows of beans this season, one green and one yellow.  We had such a large harvest giving away over a full garbage bag of beans after we had our fill.  Needless to say next season we will only be planting one row.

Peppers – A very good year for peppers located beside the garage.  Most of them are red bell peppers and we’ve been eating them for almost a month now.  There is a problem with them though – earwigs.  Earwigs have burrowed their way into some of them creating a localized rot (typically on the bottom).  It’s unfortunate because we often have to pick them before they're ready in order to salvage the pepper.  They are good though.
Red and green cherry bombs with some red and green bell peppers.  Nice looking basket of cherry tomatoes too.
Garlic – I plant garlic after Halloween each year using cloves from some of the largest bulbs of the season.  This year the practice really paid off.  I had 99% success rate and the harvested bulbs, as a whole, were fairly large.

Onions – We planted red and white Spanish onions from small seedlings purchased at the Parkdale Market.  As usual, we are harvesting some really large bulbs.

Cucumbers -- Lots.  I really like how the cucumber cages worked out permitting the plants to grow vertically and allowing easy harvest.

Zucchini -- We ended up with plenty of zucchini for the two of us.  With four plants though I was expecting more though.  The plants developed some powdery mildew fairly early which stunted the plant's growth.  I'll have to look into this in more detail prior to next season.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Avalon Ranch

We went to the Avalon Ranch just outside of Renfrew on Saturday morning to check out the Dock Dogs competition they were hosting.  I was just curious if this would be something I could get Homer and Cosmo into.  I have to come clean and admit we left Homer and Cosmo home because of the +30°C temperatures (Homer doesn't do well in the heat), not to mention their mother is a bit embarrassed at their public conduct around other dogs.  But I digress.

The ranch was very clean, spacious and dog friendly.  The event was professionally run and very organized.  We got there just as they were getting ready for the start of the competition. Although there were many dogs around I noticed it was rather quiet.......until the first dog jumped and made a splash.  Then many dogs waiting for their turn got excited and started barking knowing they would soon be in the water (my boys do the same thing).

Here is a video compilation of some of the dogs.  The last dog is Taz, the current world record holder for the longest jump (+30 feet).  The final shots are of him wearing a really neat Canada-flag jersey.  The ranch's web site also has some great videos. 

Would this be a fun thing for Homer and Cosmo?  Absolutely.  Dogs of all shapes, sizes, ages and breeds took part.  From a very small mixed breeds to dogs of all ages, this sport can be competitive or just a way to let your dog have a great (and safe) time.  I almost forgot about Mollie.  Molly just loves to jump in after her toy and does so without hesitation.....but getting her out of the pool took some see, if you stay in the pool you can swim around with your toy and no one can take it away.  Very funny.

Monday, 30 July 2012


The cantelope just love the heat!  This year I've trained them up tomato spirals which they seem to like as well.  I must have about a dozen cantelope that are the size of softballs and much larger already.  For the ones that are hangind, I've had to make little baskets (or bras, heh) to help take the load off of the vines.

Here is a quick video from a week ago.  The cantelopes are much larger now even though the video was shot on July 20.  Liz and Dorathy stopped by yesterday and can testify to their awesomeness!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Tomato Hornworm Infestation

Two evenings ago I noticed the tell-tale signs of tomato hornworms on my tomato plants.  The most obvious sign was that some of the branches were stripped of their leaves which stood out because I visit my garden everyday.  Closer examination also revealed a few small tomatoes that were munched on.  Hornworms are a serious predator that cannot be ignored as they will do a lot of damage to the plants in a short period of time.  We haven't had an infestation like this for three years.

The hornworms are huge and thick (up to 4 inches long and 1/2 inch thick).  They can be tough to see because they have the same green colour as the tomato plants.  Friday evening I picked off about sixteen and a further half dozen on Saturday morning.  I use gloves when picking them off because they often excrete a green fluid as well .... just gross.

The most effective way to get rid of them is to pick them off.  You can find them by closely searching the damaged areas of the plant.  They like to hang upside-down on branches and leave small clumps of feces on leaves.  I also noticed that they sometimes make a clicking sound (not sure why)....which led me to more than a couple of them.  I will also check my pepper plants tomorrow.
Tomato branch eaten by a hornworm.  In the lower right corner of the photo you can see the guilty insect.


Feces from a tomato hornworm.

Friday night's harvest.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Daisy Came Over

Home and Cosmo's cousin, Daisy, came for a visit for a few days again.  While she was getting some shade in the shadow of the pea plants, Homer was hogging the soccer ball.  Usually it's Cosmo who hogs the toys so he wasn't quite sure what to do.

Victory is sweet!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Grapevine Update

Hello Everyone.

Here is a link to a video I made showing the concord vine next to the garage....Homer makes an appearance (of course) at the end.  Here are is a photo of the grapes.

My little vineyard is fairing nicely even in this very hot, dry weather.  I did mulch around each vine with wood chips which I think are saving the day.  Nonetheless, I have watered them a couple of times.  I also put in some extra stakes so I could put a little fence around each to ward off a couple of hunger little deer that have been hanging around.  The vines that they did snack on are coming back just fine.
The vineyard showing signs of the very dry conditions.

Newly sprouted leaves after the deer snacked on the original leaves.

Friday, 6 July 2012

A New Watering Hole

After a suggestion from my wife's hairdresser, we decided to take the Homer and Cosmo to a sand quarry relatively close to home (less than a 5 minute drive).  The quarry is filled with clean, aqua-coloured, spring-fed water.  As you can see the boys think it is just awesome.  I even took a dip last weekend.

Here is a link to a video as well.

Homer has a much easier time swimming from shore than off the boat.  Climbing the doggie ladder on the boat is kinda tough when you're 12.  He is also calmer when swimming from shore...when jumping off the boat he becomes hyper-excited with a 'high-on-crack' look in his eyes.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Munch, Munch, Munch

It was probably inevitable but a couple of my grapevines in my mini-vineyard have been stripped bare by some deer.

The two that got stripped are concords and had a good root base.  Small leaves are starting to sprout so I don't think they will be right offs. 

I will have to put up some simple fencing in order to protect them from any more munching.

Monday, 25 June 2012

A Better Day Boating

We had a better day boating yesterday.  The wind was no where near as strong which made for a smoother ride.  We went swimming at Constance Bay.  This video shows the boys in the boat.  Homer (in front) and Cosmo sitting back.  Although the water did get a little rough, it was far better than last Sunday with 3 ft swells.  The boys are a bit scruffy looking because we were swimming about 1/2 hour earlier.  We didn't get shots of them diving off the boat this time but will try next time..

Friday, 22 June 2012

Cucumber Cages

A couple weekends ago I scored some farmer's page wire fencing from my brother-in-law.  This type of fencing is 4 ft tall and has large 5" squares.  Perfect for cucumber cages.

I cut them into 45 to 50" lengths and made round cages.  I placed them over the cucumbers and secured them to a stake.  The plan is for the plants to climb the cage and not spread out over the garden.  The benefits will include:  a) space savings; b) increased air flow (reducing the change of disease); and c) keeping the cucumbers clean and off the ground. 

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Boating for the First Time (this season)

I've been kinda busy lately and haven't made the the time to post as frequently as I was.  Since it was a beautiful day this past Sunday, we decided to take the boys boating and swimming.  Besides, dogs need weekends too.

Although it was a nice day, it was terribly windy which made for a very uncomfortable and unpleasant ride.  Although I jumped in the water for a few minutes it was just too rough for the dogs.  Some of the swells were as much as 3 ft high and some even swamped the boat.  It was so windy that a catamaran overturned and the owner had a hell of a time righting it.  This was the day that a bi-plane overturned at the Rockcliffe airport.

As you can see from the photos below, the dogs really get into their boating (when it is relatively calm).  Next time we'll go swimming and I'll take some photos or even a video to show off their doggie ladder climbing skills.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Watering #2 – The Main Garden

Very early this spring I redesigned my watering system for the main garden which involved burying all the waterlines which would permit me to mow and whipper-snip without damaging or moving any – making for a cleaner, tidier garden.

The redesign actually started last fall when I installed an outdoor tap on the side of the house, closer to the garden.  This meant installing a new ‘T’ into the watering system in the basement.  The T was placed after the sulphur-removing aerator but before the water softener – a neighbour recommended bypassing the softener in order to reduce my consumption of softening salt.

From the outdoor tap I ran a small piece of flexible rubber hose to some ½” PEX water line which connects to another tap for better access and convenience.  I installed a T with a ball valve which leads to a buried ½” PVC (75 psi) trunk line.

The water line runs to a central spot in the garden where it comes out of the ground to another tap.  I again installed a T with a ball valve which runs back down to a buried ½” PVC distribution line.

Using more T’s and elbows, the water is distributed to each bed coming to the surface in one of the corners.  Since the final delivery of water is through ¼” soaker hoses, there is still sufficient water pressure even after all of the valves, elbows and T’s.
I just love using the 1/4" soaker hoses for my plants as they release the water relatively slowly letting the water really soak deep.  Also, watering the roots and not the plants keeps the plants drier helping to reduce the risk of diseases.

The picture to the left shows my four juvenille potatoe plants.  The total length of the soaker hose is about 24".  It's not much put over the coarse of an hour or two, plenty of water is released.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Ah Crap!

Trailer full of fresh horse manure.
Last weekend we went out for dinner to my wife's brother's hobby farm south of Ottawa.  I took out a few pieces of junk for him and came back with some gold.....but not the Texas-T variety.

He has three horses and lots of fresh horse manure.  Thinking ahead to next year, I brought back a trailer load of horse manure right out of the paddock.  I'll let it compost throughout the summer.

Layering old plants and straw and the manure.

I shovelled it into my compost bins and layering it with the brown plant material I had already accumulated.


Manure and plant material.

I can report that just five days later the compost piles are cooking away nicely and have reduced in height by at least 1 foot.  I'll try to get a photo of the pile steaming in the morning.

Due to poison ivy poking up here and there around the compost bin, Homer and Cosmo were relegated to staying on the least for a while.  I'll hit these plants, and a ton of others, with Round Up on the weekend.
Poison ivy popping up next the compost bin.....Round Up time!

Homer and Cosmo laying on the grass in the shade of a tree like good least for a little while.
Knowing he shouldn't be there, Cosmo quietly lays down in the shade while I work.  There is no poison ivy where he is laying.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


Composting is easy, costs almost nothing and produces a product that can be used even if you don’t have a garden.  I have two composting bins, and with the City of Ottawa’s green bin, my wife and I compost almost everything that is compostable.

Items that we compost ourselves include: a) uncooked kitchen vegetable scraps; b) minor amounts of paper towel and newspaper; c) egg shells; d) dead plants; e) coffe grounds; and f) minor amounts of grass clippings (most grass is mulched by the mower).  All other cooked foods, meat scraps and most of the paper towel go in the green bin.

Our standard black bin composter is located beside the garden nestled among the branches of a pine tree.  All kitchen-related materials go in here.  I will also add some garden waste (Halloween pumpkins, non-diseased vegetable plants) to this bin.

One of four buckets of beauty compost.

Our typical black compost bin and Homer.

Quite frankly the compost that comes from the black bin ranks 10 out of 10 on the awesomeness scale.  Every spring the bin yields about 4 large plastic buckets.  To make emptying the compost easier I put the bin on a concrete patio stone.  Instead of spreading this compost thinly over the garden beds I take a more direct approach to applying it.  When I dig a hole for a seedling I make it extra large in order to add one heaping scoop of the compost to each hole (an extra scoop or two for pumpkins and zucchini).  This way the roots grow in direct contact with the compost.  When you see the large yields I get you’ll be a convert.

Seedling hole with a scoop of black compost.
Back along the edge of the forest I have a larger composter with two bins.  I got the idea for this bin from The Victory Garden book.  I made the frame from scrap, untreated 2x3's and 2x4’s.  The walls are common chicken wire providing ample aeration.  The purpose of having multiple bins is to toss the material from one into the other which mixes and aerates the pile allowing composting to start or reactivate and makes room for fresh material.   Into this bin I put most of the plants from the garden, some grass clippings, straw, and any other large-volume, slower-to-decompose organics.

Our two-bin composter.  The right side is 1/2 full and it's only the spring.

The two-bin compost piles will get fairly big over the summer.  When this starts to compost it gets really hot – I have seen water vapor coming off the pile on a cool morning.  Once I stuck my hand in the middle of the pile while wearing very damp work gloves, it felt as though my hand was burning.  In the fall after the material has composted sufficiently, I spread it evenly over my garden bed or over weak areas of the lawn.

Some simple rules of thumb I follow when composting are:
  • More the merrier.  The more material you put into the bins quicker the bacteria will become active.  Think of it as requiring a critical mass to start up.
  • Mixing the pile frequently. Mixing helps aerate the material and exposes fresh fuel for the bacteria.
  • Watering the pile.  I tend to water my composters if we go two weeks without rain and if the weather turns really hot.  A dry composter = no or slow decomposition.
  • No meat.  The meat will attract animals and take forever to break down.
  • No dog waste.  No sir!  I will put horse/sheep/cow/chicken poo in my garden but not dog poo.
The benefits I experience with my composting are: a) incorporating fresh organic material back into my garden beds on an annual basis; b) hardly ever using fertilizer; and c) large healthy plants with great yields.

A pretty interesting series of Youtube videos regarding composting can be found here and here.  The first guy tends to be a bit long winded but both videos are informative. 

Friday, 8 June 2012

Big Storms....Big Problems?

Today we got a couple of huge down pours as a result of a thunder storm system that rolled through around dinner time today.  With the rain came a fair amount of pea-sized hail.

As you see, today's rains were so hard that most of the plants have been spattered with soil.  I'll have to rinse them off tomorrow morning.

These storms added to a very wet couple of weeks for us with plenty-o-rain and many overcast days.  A few years back we had a similarly wet May and June.  The excessive moisture introduced diseases to my zucchinis, tomatoes and cucumbers which negatively impacted the health of the plants and reduced yields.  I hope our weather dries out for a while.