Planting in Egg Cartons

This year I decided to try a new technique for planting my lettuces and other leafy greens: egg cartons.

I filled a supply of paper egg cartons with sterile gardening soil and planted 2 to 3 seeds in each of the twelve cups. My theory is that as the plants establish themselves they should be able to break through the paper carton and ultimately grow as any other plant would in the garden.

Why bother? Well, it sure was pleasant to sit at my table in the sun planting the seeds rather than crouched over the dirt trying to sow a straight row. As I filled a carton or two, I’d walk them over to my garden bed and immerse them in the soil. A little water and they were good to go.

This technique also gave me control over the quality of the soil that they were started in. I used a Miracle Grow container soil with a small amount of 5-5-5 fertilizer.

Within a week I had signs of spinach and lettuce in the egg cartons, and in another week I’ll thin them out to give them plenty of room to grow.

Only time will tell if this technique will produce healthy plants, so watch for an update later in the summer.


Carmine Jewel Cherry: A True Jewel of a Fruit Tree

Carmine Jewel Cherries

I was laying in my hammock earlier this week breathing in the sweet scent of cherry blossoms from my Carmine Jewel cherry tree. Enjoying the warm afternoon in my hammock is one of the primary joys of creating a private oasis in the city.

I planted my cherry tree two years ago, and I have visions of it growing to be it’s full height of 3 meters and shading the hammock with it’s long waving branches. This cultivar can be grown as a bush – it’ll grow to about 6 feet tall and 6 feet wide – or it can be trimmed to a more tree-like form. Mine was carefully pruned by the growers (Bylands in British Columbia) to create an appealing shape that will some day provide not only a beautiful display of white springtime blossoms, but a productive and attractive shade tree.

The Carmine Jewel (Prunus cerasus ‘SK Carmine Jewel’) was developed at the University of Saskatoon in Saskatchewan, Canada. A cross between Mongolian Cherry and the Tart Cherry, it’s hardy to zone 2a and has done well for its two winters here with me in Edmonton. It’s self-fertile, so I don’t have to worry about it being pollinated by a like-minded cherry elsewhere in the neighbourhood.

It will have tart cherries by mid-July which will mellow into a smoother tasting fruit by mid to late August. I prefer to pick them later on for eating fresh, but earlier for making jellies. I’ve heard they make great pies.


Carmine Jewel Cherry Jelly

Recipe:   Carmine Jewel Cherry Jelly

6 cups cherries

1 cup water

1 pkg powdered pectin

4 1/2 cups sugar

Wash and stem cherries and place in saucepan with water. Bring to a boil and simmer 15-20 minutes until soft. Mash fruit to press out juice and strain. Combine juice (approximately 3 1/2 cups) with pectin crystals. Heat on high and stir until boiling. Stir in sugar and bring to a vigorous boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Pour in sterilized jars and seal.

Carmine Cherry Blossoms

Carmine Jewel in Blossom

The Herb Spiral

An herb spiral is a raised circular bed designed to provide herbs with a variety of growing conditions. They’ve been around since the middle ages and are once again in vogue among gardeners, especially those who practice permaculture.

Herbs that prefer drier conditions are placed near the top of the spiral and those that prefer more moisture are placed near the bottom. Micro-climates allow for some plants to have access to more heat and others less. Shadier spots near the north side favor herbs that prefer less direct sun.

I began building my own herb spiral last fall. Early this spring I transferred my sage, oregano, thyme and chives from other locations in the yard and planted some garlic. I seeded cilantro and parsley and they are well on their way.

I was given some spearmint but left it in a pot alongside, as it can become very invasive if planted directly in the soil. In the fall I’ll bury the pot to the rim and that should allow the spearmint to over-winter.

I bought basil and  rosemary from the garden centre and planted them this week. I’ll use an empty juice bottle to cover them overnight for the first few weeks until all risk of frost is over. I also added a dozen pepper plants – red hot cherry and jalapeno.

Building the herb spiral:

This was a fun project. I picked a location close to my back door and began by laying out a pattern using a garden hose. I dug up the grass around the herb spiral and saved the sod. On the circular area where I planned to put the spiral, I placed cardboard over the grass to kill it, then placed the clumps of sod upside down on the cardboard to build volume.

I placed landscape fabric over the area surrounding the circle and defined the spiral with pavers and bricks. I filled in the surrounding zone with cedar chips and small flat white stones. I added soil and created a spiral pattern with stones, and left it for the winter.

In the spring I added more soil and raised the spiral an additional foot to create a greater difference in height. I then transferred my plants and seeded some of the others. I bought a few bedding plants to fill out the spiral and in the end I was very happy with the outcome.

Square Foot Gardening is Anything but Square

For the past three years I’ve been utilizing the square foot gardening techniques outlined in the book, All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.

I plant my vegetable garden in raised beds which are ten feet long and five feet wide. Ideally, a square foot garden should be planted in a four by four raised bed to allow for easier access to the plants, but I had these raised beds already built long before I switched to the new system of planting.

The concept of square foot gardening is that you can more efficiently use the space in your garden by planting each individual foot separately in an organized pattern. For example, you may plant one cabbage in one square foot, four lettuce, nine spinach or sixteen carrots in another.

As the plants mature and are harvested, the square can be replanted with another crop. So a radish square may become a lettuce square in it’s second go-around.

The look of the square foot garden is what initially attracted me to it, but I did some math and calculated that it also saves space and produces more. Weeds are easy to keep at bay because they fall outside the pattern of the plants and can be easily identified and plucked.

Every year I enhance my soil by adding a combination of vermiculite, peat and compost. The raised beds tend to settle with each season, so I add the mix to compensate.

I made the grid in my garden using recycled blind slats from the ReStore, and I use a set of cardboard stencils to plant my seeds; a quick and tidy method. In some of the squares I plant flowers to add some panache.

Conveniently, when you are ready for more space you can simply add another raised bed wherever you like. A four-by-four raised bed near the back door is ideal for an herb garden.

Setting up the Grid

Early in the Season

Further Along in the Season

Enjoying the Fruits (and Veggies) of my Labour