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Al’s Flower Pouch

Al's Flower Pouch™ ready for use

Has anyone else tried this? I’ve used a similar kind of bag before that I bought from Thompson & Morgan a few summers ago, and had very good results. My sister and I have been playing around with container gardening in our deck for some time now and due to the obvious space issues, we’ve had to find other ways of plunking down leftover plants without purchasing another pot. The first time we used Thompson & Morgan’s Flower Pouch™, the petunias literally exploded out of the bag:

Sometime near the end of June 2009. TM's Flower Pouch™ can also hold strawberries

I can’t exactly remember but I might have bought the pouches at TM’s website at the end-of-the-season sale the year before we used them in 2009. We were a bit skeptical about whether the bags would even last a month on our deck, which gets a  lot of wind due to the weird wind tunnel effect caused by the way our building sits right on a busy alley intersection. They held up very well, even surviving a few nasty thunderstorms and a freak hale storm (TM’s Flower Pouches were very sturdy but the petunias, understandably, took the beating from nature before they sprung back to life).  The only drawback that I had with these bags is that they left the plants susceptible to a dry spell, so the plants would need a lot of watering in order to avoid drying out. TM’s Flower Pouch came with a sachet fertilizer to mix in with the potting soil, so that was a nice bonus. Also, there were granules in that fertilizer that helped with moisture retention, so the soil didn’t immediately dry up. We live in a region that gets really hot and humid summers, so those water-retaining granules helped somewhat. In our case it didn’t completely stop the water from evaporating, so we still had to water at the end of the day.

Posterior view of TM's Flower Pouch hanging on the deck rails (Summer 2009)

It’s been awhile since we’ve used a flower pouch for container gardening, so this time around I’m trying out Al’s Flower Pouch™. I first came across one of these at a cousin’s yard in Toronto last summer and since then I could barely, uh, contain myself from starting a few of my own. The same principle works in setting these up, so we had ours hanging on the deck rails in no time. It’s already survived its first gale-force wind when a really strong storm swept past the city, so I think it’ll hold for the rest of the summer. I was a bit worried about the kind of plastic material that was used for Al’s Flower Pouch (TM’s Flower Pouch is made of a similar kind of material that is used for those sacks of Jasmine rice sold at Asian food stores… Very sturdy and substantial material). Al’s Flower Pouch has this funny stretchy quality to it. They did stretch a little when we hung the bags on the rails, but so far everything looks good. Unless squirrels come and chew off the handles, I think the bags will be okay.

Al's Flower Pouch(es) at rest

The thing about these flower pouches is that once the plants start to grow in the bags, the effect is quite striking. As I’ve mentioned before, our building sits right on busy alley intersection, and our deck overlooks this intersection. It could get a bit awkward while tending to the plants on the deck when people are gawking up at the flower pouches. There was that one time when passing cars held back the traffic that formed on the alley because the drivers and passing pedestrians were too busy looking up at our flower pouches while my sister and I watered our container garden. It took a while to get used to that kind of attention but if it meant putting a bit of color on an otherwise dingy and stinky alley, so be it.

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About two weeks ago my family and I decided to celebrate both Mother’s Day and our mother’s birthday in Ottawa, Canada. We’ve been planning on another road trip back to Michigan for months ever since we found out about the Tulip Time Festival in Holland (Michigan) after visiting Mackinac Island last summer. I was helping with the planning when I came across the Canadian Tulip Festival on the internet. We’re pretty familiar with Toronto because we have relatives that live there, but we’ve never been to Ottawa and have always overlooked the city in favor of Montreal or Quebec City. We then decided that we would go to Ottawa’s tulip festival instead of the one in Michigan. We figured that it was a good way for the entire family to visit Canada’s capital city and enjoy the scenery while celebrating Mother’s Day and our mother’s birthday.

Ottawa plays host to the annual event, said to be the largest tulip festival outside of the Netherlands which began after Canada provided safe haven for the Dutch Royal Family during World War II. After the war, Princess Juliana presented 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa in appreciation for what Canada did for the royal family, as well as for Canada’s contribution to the war efforts in liberating the Netherlands.

An international friendship between the two countries is evident in the annual tulip festival, and in the various socio-cultural and economic exchanges that persists up to this day. The actual tulip festival was an idea proposed by world-renowned photographer Malak Karsh, and it was first held in 1953. Since then the event is celebrated every spring (around the time when tulips bloom) and held in many parts of the National Capital Region. Queen Juliana and Princess Margriet (who was the only Dutch royal baby born in Ottawa. The Canadian government temporarily granted a kind of extraterritoriality to a hospital room for the Netherlands to guarantee Princess Margriet’s Dutch citizenship) have also been repeat guests at the tulip festival. The tulip is Ottawa’s official flower and is also a symbol of the lasting relationship between the peoples of Canada and the Netherlands.

We scheduled our trip to coincide with the opening week of the tulip festival. Average daily temperatures were in the upper 50s and 60s Fahrenheit with slight chances of drizzle. A cool breeze constantly circulated through the area, but it was comfortable enough to simply walk around with a light sweater. The sun didn’t set until well past 7PM, and nighttime temperatures dipped to about 30s and 40s (Fahrenheit). I wouldn’t exactly say that we had high expectations about the tulip festival, but we were pretty excited about seeing the tulips in Ottawa. So when we finally arrived on a bright, sunny morning… The tulips had barely begun blooming!

Tulips by Dow's Lake

We were told that Ottawa had been having a cooler-than-usual spring, so the tulips were not yet in full bloom for the festival. I didn’t really know how to feel about the non-event of the tulip festival– Mother Nature is notoriously unpredictable and boy, can she put a damper on one’s enthusiasm or what! There were a lot of other bemused visitors who also came for the festival’s opening week and were somewhat disappointed at the less-than-spectacular showing of the tulips. But in any case, the beautiful city of Ottawa more than made up for the trip.

And here’s where I’d like to write a few words about Ottawa. It’s a fantastic pedestrian-friendly city, not as big and assertive as D.C., but just as historic and picturesque with a distinctly European feel to it (From across the Ottawa River on the Quebec side, Ottawa looks a lot like Prague when the lighting is just right…) Ottawa is populated by around 900,000 people, and the city is still growing.  Because of its moderate size and the ease to which one can easily navigate through the streets, there’s actually a small-town feel to the whole city. It’s a lot smaller than Toronto, small enough that my family and I ran into Governor General Johnston twice— Once when he was jogging in Rideau Hall, and the second time when he and one of his daughters jogged past us by Major’s Hill Park. I was pretty impressed by the laid-back attitude of the Governor General. On both occasions I didn’t spot a single security detail jogging with him (Or maybe they were that good that they’re as stealthy as ninjas). The second time we saw the Governor General, we heard someone good-humoredly ask if he was training for a marathon (He wasn’t. I think the Governor General just wanted to have a good jog around the neighborhood). I can’t help but compare that kind of easy access to the Governor General to my city mayor (I usually see my mayor jog with his bodyguards on TV. And I suspect that has more to do with brushing up on his public image than the actual act of keeping in shape).

But for me the best thing about Ottawa is its people. Ottawans are friendly enough (or, as friendly as people can get in a city). And for a bilingual city its size and location, Ottawa has a very diverse demographic. I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many languages being spoken by so many different people from all over the world in one relatively small area. I’m not exactly clear on the percentage of young adults in the area, but it was interesting to see a lot of them socialize in Rideau Centre. The only beef that I have with Ottawa is the absence of a more extensive train system. They already have the O-Train, and I believe there’s a plan to build a light rail of sorts in the future. I could be wrong on my assumptions since we did more walking than commuting by bus. I actually like the convenience of OC Transpo, but I think Ottawa and its immediate suburbs would greatly benefit with the installation of a modest train or light rail system similar to Portland’s MAX Light Rail Service that will run through the downtown core of the city I solemnly swear that Ottawa and Portland aren’t paying me for the bits that I just wrote.

This one is an early bloomer for its kind

As I was saying about Ottawa’s tulips, the festival is actually spread out in specific parts of the city and Gatineau in Quebec. Some are easily accessible on foot or by bus commute, so there were plenty of options for us if we wanted to do some sightseeing along the way. There were some tulip beds all around Ottawa that were blooming during the first week, so the slow start of the festival wasn’t a complete disappointment. Dow’s Lake on the historic Rideau Canal seemed to have the most number of blooms in all of Ottawa and it’s a scenic area to people watch both locals and visitors. The weather actually began to really warm up on, wait for it, the last day of our visit. On the day that we checked out of our hotel, we spent the entire lunchtime strolling along Dow’s Lake and taking some pictures of the tulips before hitting the road for the long drive back home. Only about half of the tulips were blooming in their beds, but it was easy to tell how spectacular the tulips would become when they finally bloom.

Tulips just behind someone's backyard on Dow's Lake

I suppose the most important thing about our ill-timed and regrettably short vacation was that our mother, the Birthday Girl, thoroughly enjoyed her birthday. She actually wanted to stay home and spend a quiet birthday with family and friends like we usually do every year, but my sisters and I wanted to do something a little different for her this year. We thought that taking her to a tulip festival would be fun for everyone. Tulips are a family favorite especially for our mother, and we’ve struggled to grow our own in our garden because the squirrels always got to the bulbs before roots could even set in. So the tulip festival for us is something of a novelty and an occasion for us to really enjoy one of the few things that my family and I collectively share a fondness for. We weren’t especially bothered that the tulips were not yet in full bloom when we arrived in Ottawa because there were so many other FREE things to see and do in the city. I’m sure Canada’s Tulip Festival turned out to be a success, and perhaps the one important lesson that we learned from this trip is, uh, to schedule the next trip to the Canadian Tulip Festival near the end of the event. There’ll be tulips blooming left and right, for sure!

After visiting Ottawa’s tulip festival, we’re thinking of paying a visit to Michigan’s own tulip festival just to see how they celebrate their festival next spring. The Dutch heritage is the main focus that is being celebrated in Holland (Michigan), as opposed to the post-war international friendship that was forged between two nations. Not really sure what to expect, but I will personally try to keep an open mind like I did with Ottawa’s tulip festival.

One last thing… The city where we live doesn’t officially have its own tulip festival. But guess what was waiting for us when we finally got back from Ottawa:

Hi there, human. Where have you been?

Yeah, I don’t even know anymore. It was pretty chilly at home when we left for Ottawa. Then when we got to Ottawa, a warming trend happened in the States while Ottawa’s average temperature barely hovered out of the 60s. So, while we waited for the tulips to bloom up north, the tulips back home were having some kind of fiesta. I guess mom was right, but at least we got to see Ottawa, eh?

So far so good

I want to simplify the garden this year, so the plan is to only start seeds that I know will yield garden crops that have been the staple favorites of the family. When I first started vegetable gardening a few years ago, I used to be indiscriminate about the kinds of vegetables that will go into the garden. The results have been more positive than negative, but the garden usually gets very crowded. Some plants eventually become overwhelmed by their stronger neighbors, and those plants end up having smaller (and rather unhealthy) yields or they die off earlier. That’s a lot of wasted time, energy and resources, and the risk of some kind of plant disease running rampant in the garden increases.  I have a tendency to collect seeds, so with that came the irresistible urge to plant whatever I have in my collection. But not this time!

For the first time since gardening I actually made a list, and this will  include vegetables that are the family favorites and plants that I want to experiment with this year.

Seeds started indoors:

  • Broccoli: Gypsy and Waltham 29
  • Catskill Brussels Sprouts
  • Long Purple Eggplant
  • Tango Celery
  • Kale: Nero di Toscana and Dwarf Blue Curled, Vate’s Strain
  • Peppers: California Wonder, Purple Beauty, Cuneo Giallo F1 Hybrid, Banana Sweet, Early Jalapeno, Cayenne Long Slim
  • Tomatoes: Cuore di Bue, San Marzano Lungo, Costoluto Genovese, Cherokee Purple, Tumbling Tom Red, Speckled Roman, Ella’s Pink Plum, Pink Ponderosa (I think this is what it’s called!)
  • Herbs: Common Thyme, Greek Oregano, Sweet Marjoram, Italian Flat Leaf Parsley, Genovese Basil, Broad Leaf Sage, Mammoth Dill

These will will sowed directly to the ground:

  • Sultana Cucumber
  • Detroit Dark Red Beets
  • Easter Egg II Radish
  • Peas: Wando and Cascade Sugar Snap
  • Squash: Early Prolific Straightneck and Dundoo F1 Zucchini; Hokkori (maybe)
  • Beans: Yard Long Asparagus, Velour, Concador, Maxibel Haricot Vert, Blue Lake 274
  • Carrots: Amarillo, Cosmic Purple, Creme de Lite F1, Nutri-Red, Imperator
  • Swiss Chard: Kaleidoscope, Virgo, Orange Fantasia, Bright Yellow

Others that have either been started indoors already, or are slated to be sowed outdoors:

  • Shasta Alaska Daisy
  • Heavenly Blue Morning Glory
  • Evening Glory Moonflower
  • Portulaca (these will be from seeds I have collected for nearly 6 years!)
  • Petunia (these will be from the same pots that previous petunias have used)
  • Nasturtium: Empress of India, Jewel of Africa, Tip Top Apricot, Moon Gleam, Double Gleam Mix, Whirlybird Mixed, Fordhook Favorites Mix, Jewel Mix, and Alaska Mix
  • Marigold: Tiger Eyes, French Double Dwarf Mixed, Sparky Mixed
  • Calendula: Pink Surprise, Apricots and Oranges

The list looks like a disaster waiting to happen in the garden but I’m also going to be doing some container gardening  in my mother’s backyard, her deck, and also in my balcony. Some tomatoes will end up in the unused pots that have been sitting in the garage, and I also want to try planting the summer squash in a container (I’ve seen some pictures on the internet, and I am very intrigued). There are a lot of plant varieties that will be going in the garden, but I’m only going to put down two to four per plant type. In any case, the majority of the plants that will be planted on soil will be broccoli, tomatoes, peppers and the space-hogging cucumber. The rest of them will be in containers (even the carrots, radish and beets).

Here’s hoping this year will be a good year for backyard/container gardening!

I think I should have also mentioned that I’m not the most reliable person when it comes to updating blogs! Let’s see, the last time I’ve made an effort to make something of this was 2009. It is now 2011. I don’t even have a passable excuse for the lapse. I have effectively neglected this blog, but hopefully this year will be different. I can’t say for certain how often I’ll be able to post an entry, but I will make more effort this year because I want to show pictures of the things that grow in the garden. In any case, the goal for this year is to document the progress of my gardening. Hopefully I can actually do a decent job of posting entries that might be of interest to any passing readers about my gardening experience.

So, let’s begin with what I have going so far. I think I started indoors later than usual, but at least I’ve got something growing. I don’t always pay close attention to which seed would grow first ever since I began growing flowers and vegetables from seed indoors. It’s usually one from the Brassica family, and this year is no exception. The winner of this year’s first sprout was one of the Catskill Brussels sprout seeds that I had plunked down about a little over a week ago:

I’ve never grown my own Brussels sprouts from seed before, so this is one project that I’m really looking forward to growing this year. The last one that I planted in the garden was one that was bought from the local garden nursery that didn’t specify what variety it had been. But it grew very well in the garden, so I’m hoping that I’ll be as lucky with one that I grew from seed.

Speaking of first sprouts, had I planted this one at the same time as the Brussels sprouts it would’ve been the first one out:

These common thyme seed sprouts were just planted five days ago. They sprouted this past Friday, and this picture was taken this morning. Now, I’ve only got a few years of starting seeds at home, and I don’t normally pay too much attention to the time it takes for the seedlings to come out, but these seeds germinating this quickly kind of creeped me out (in a good way!). Maybe it has something to do with the soil that I used?

Oversized zucchini and yellow squash

Oversize zucchini and yellow squash

I love summer squash. I like them cooked in any possible way. I really like their mild taste and gourdy texture, and I especially like the fact that they’re dead-easy to grow. I like them a lot. There’s always one growing right under one’s nose, and one hardly ever has to do anything to them. They’re truly the gift that keeps on giving…

So imagine my surprise when I found myself harvesting arm-sized zucchini and yellow squash. Until now, all that I’ve ever been familiar with are those 5 to 7-inch long waxy zucchini or yellow squash that are sold at the supermarkets. I’ve also seen larger zucchini being grown while doing a search on Google, so the ones that are constantly growing in my mother’s backyard aren’t exactly the biggest ones out there. Yet even so our zucchini plants are growing really fast (as in, they churn them out overnight!) and the size of the yields are fairly bigger than average. Frankly, it unnerves me a bit! What in heck is going on in here?!

Needless to say, I was a little freaked out when I harvested these bad boys a few days ago.

Niece and summer squash

Niece and summer squash

I didn’t really know how they would taste after reading up on how some zucchini would taste bitter– I’ve never eaten a zucchini this big before. I certainly wasn’t sure if I wanted to share the bounty with the rest of my family out of fear that these oversize zucchini might just taste bitter and could possibly land someone in the emergency room. But then my mother took one look at them and declared them edible… Then proceeded to filch the best-looking summer squash.

The verdict? They were absolutely delicious!

Progress Notes

The garden as of 07/27/09

The garden as of 07/27/09

The garden in Mother’s house is looking good. It had been my older sister who did most of the grunt work  when we first “broke ground” in the backyard. I also did some digging, and the work took a good part of the afternoon to get just one of the plots prepared. The backyard soil was compacted and predominantly clay, so we had brought in new topsoil and plenty of compost in order to create raised beds after tilling and turning the ground.

What you see in the picture is the current state of the garden. It took us about a week to finish tilling and weeding four plots… Not bad, if one considered that we practically had to use an axe just to make a dent on near-solid soil, and that it had all been done during those freak heat waves that rolled in at the beginning of spring.

We’ve planted a lot more vegetables than we had first planned. We only wanted to plant some broccoli, tomatoes, herbs, and peppers. Somehow the list grew long and now we’ve got a decent amount of produce which includes carrots, celery, onions, peas, bush and pole beans, swiss chard, spinach, peppers, tomatoes, kale, okra, cucumbers, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, parsley, lettuce and summer squash.

So it’s finally come to this… Between a cooking blog or a gardening blog I decided to go with the latter. Mainly because I’m not much of a cook, heh.

Like cooking, gardening has always been an activity that I enjoy very much, and having a small outdoor space to tend to while living in a big city is a venture that I always look forward to doing every summer. But with a recent move out of my mother’s house and into a condo with only a deck for outdoor space, I am now facing the challenge of container gardening on very limiting and windy conditions.

Up until the beginning of this year my gardening experience has mostly centered on watering, and occasionally feeding, my mother’s plants. Before, I have never grown anything successfully from seed, nor have I ever kept a plant thriving for very long (Oops!).  Luckily for me, I found the perfect place to expand my experience and experiment with whatever I want to plant— In Mother’s unused backyard. After much wheedling and with the help of my sister we were able to convert the rest of my mother’s city backyard into a vegetable garden of sorts on the condition that I share half of whatever edible yields that grew (or whatever survives under my care!) to the homeowner.  All this while also maintaining our container garden in the deck.

In light of that undertaking, this blog is born… To document the progresses of both vegetable and container gardening, and to rant about my ongoing (and losing) battle against slugs, bugs and everything in between. Here’s hoping that everything goes well until the end of this year’s harvest season.