Category Archives: hot box – early planting

Spring Again! Already?


How can a year go by so quickly? My last post was complaining about the snow, on April 3rd. 2017 and guess what, one year and a few days later, that same post still holds true. We had another snow fall the other night! But not to worry, temperatures are rising and it’s definitely time to be planting some seeds! If nothing else, this is one of the best antidotes I know for fending off the April snow-lows.

Snow Mold

While on the topic of snow I want to share some interesting info. I only recently heard about – there’s such a thing as snow mold, and dogs (especially) can develop an allergic reaction to it, given their habit of snuffling along the ground. I met a wheezy dog who told me all about it, as interpreted by his owner, who’d been clued in by a vet. Apparently, spores which have become trapped under the snow are released as the snow melts. Useful to know, especially if Fall allergies seem to have returned with a vengeance.

mache or corn salad

The sweet nutty flavor of mache or ‘corn salad’ is especially welcomed in the spring and these smallish plants are tough, tough, tough! Seeds are usually marketed under the name ‘mache’ but I prefer to use the German name Rapunzel as it relates to the Grimm’s fairy tale.

I am way behind schedule as usual. Could have had first hardy greens out two or three weeks ago but Hey! I do what I do and life is good ūüôā At this time of year, with so much to be done, I do believe it’s very important not to panic or feel overwhelmed. Plants have an endearing habit of catching up and forgiving, even if they would have preferred to be put in the ground a little earlier than they were.

hens in hen poster

Hens hard at work making the Best Compost Ever!







Will be spicing my soil up with The Best Ever compost from the hen poster. Constructing a hen poster is much like the first project in rough carpentry 101. Simply nail eight boards into a square, two boards high and add chickens. It’s so totally worth constructing one of these, even if you only have a few chickens. My girls seem to think of it as their special treat spot and they run out each morning to check on the day’s offering of kitchen scraps. As they dig, scratch and rummage – and yes, poop – they produce a soil mix that’s truly magical. And while on the subject of compost, Note to Self – time to start turning the other compost boxes. Self has been slacking on the compost turning and needs to start paying a bit more attention!

a winter's worth of goat bedding gets piled up as the goats watch on

We spun all that straw into manure!

Shoveling seems to be the activity of the month! All the animal sheds need to be cleaned out. Yikes! Where’s a woofer when you need one? On the bright, but still smelly, side, a bit of hot manure added to the compost will spark it up in no time. *My yearly warning to anyone who might just be starting out on their gardening adventure – don’t ever put hot (fresh) chicken manure on your garden beds because it will burn the tender shoots. Chicken manure is brilliant, my fave, but it really does need to age, preferably for a year, and definitely for at least six months.

finer organics such as leaf mold and manure are layer on top of the twigs

Memories of setting up the hugel in the ‘Secret Garden’ We’re still feasting on the squash that grew in it last Fall and presently it is sprouting a goodly crop of garlic!

Dodging in and out between torrential rains and sneaky little snow squalls, I’ve been tidying up my ‘secret garden’ – a smallish space tucked away on the north side of the goat pasture. It has its own little micro-climate and is often ten degrees or so warmer than the rest of the property. It’s not quite wild zone, not quite food forest, but a perfect spot for unobtrusive, single-harvest crops such as berries and garlic. This is where I built my first fedge, which has developed into a robust live-fence and also where I constructed a heart-shaped hugel bed, using all the surrounding deadfall – planted squash and pumpkin in the hugel last year and we are still feasting off them. Seriously! Also put several five-gallon pots with potatoes planted in them, which did remarkably well. It’s amazing how much food came out of this innocuous little space. With that in mind I’ve decided to develop a small lasagna bed here to maximize on this little pocket of higher temperatures.

starting to build a lasagna bed

cardboard first keeps underlying weeds out of the bed.

I’d laid some cardboard down to put the potato pots on last year and it in turn seem to suggest that a small lasagna bed would fit perfectly between the two butternut trees we planted a few years ago. It’s really quite easy to throw together a lasagna type bed for early greens – first, a layer of cardboard to prevent any virulent weeds from forcing their way up from below, then a thin layer of fresh chicken manure – I know, that sounds like a complete reversal of what I said earlier, but not so. If the ‘hot’ manure is buried below the level the delicate roots will reach down to, it will act as a source of heat to warm the soil up and also to aid in the breakdown of the other organic elements layered on to of it. The important thing to remember is to create a generous buffer zone between¬† the hot manure and the roots of the plants by adding sufficient¬† layers of organic material on top of the manure.

collection of organic materials gathered to create a lasagna bed

very fresh (very hot!) chicken manure to left, seaweed to right with barn bedding – not very pretty yet but will make wonderful soil

My layers consist of hay bedding from the goose shed (including one very old goose egg which smelt truly disgusting when it exploded:-(¬† leaves from last year, a bale of moldy hay, seaweed washed ashore in the latest¬† couple of storms, compost from the hen-poster and a couple of barrows of soil, mixed with rabbit poo and a bit of sphagnum. When building soil like this, I’ve found it’s quite feasible to laydown fairly narrow trenches of additional soil, couple of inches deep, where the seeds are to be planted, rather attempt to cover the bed entirely, as this often results in a thin skim of soil, that leaves roots needing more.

farm dog at rest

Being a farm dog is hard!

In closing, a word of warning to any predators who might be skulking around – our trusty farm dog Juno remains vigilant and on guard twenty-four seven!



S’no Joke!

S’no Joke!

Here’s the latest from Green Grenouille¬†¬†welcoming committee

Green Grenouille

The Green Grenouille welcoming committee are not impressed by the weather!

Grenouille¬†No.1 – No! I can’t look at any more snow.

Grenouille No.2 РI refuse to listen to any more weather forecasts!

Grenouille No.3 РOooops! Did I say that out loud?

Outside indeed it still looks like winter but in the cold frame most of the hardy greens are almost ready for harvesting, despite the fact the¬†lid of the¬†frame collapsed during one of the January storms and the little plants spent several weeks¬†crushed and frozen¬†under the tarp. Goes to show just how hardy tat soi, rapunzel, kale, mizuna and arugula really are! In a¬†few weeks¬†they won’t seem half so special but at the moment all these early greens taste A-maz-ing!

Early greens

Tat soi, kale, mizuna and arugula all growing quite happily in a makeshift cold frame


I’m always trying new ways to extend my harvest of greens and thought I’d share today’s little venture – planting in eaves trough. I salvaged¬†a couple of¬†pieces of¬†eaves trough from¬†a construction dump last year and cut into four foot lengths¬†they gave me six troughs of a manageable size, approximately the same width as my raised beds. I’ve¬†heard of growing lettuce etc. in eaves¬†troughs but have always been a little skeptical, wondering how much watering is required (daily through the summer months I would imagine) and also how much nutrient needs to be pumped into the soil to sustain healthy growth.

items needed to make an eaves trough planter

Eaves trough cut into manageable (four foot) length, duct tape, old towel and some soil is all that’s needed to plant a row of kale

I’m more interested in starting seedlings in troughs indoors and then transferring them as ready made rows, that will slide smoothly out of the trough and directly into a waiting furrow in the garden. Firstly, I closed off the ends of the trough with duct tape. Coconut coir or cardboard would do just as well, I’m sure. I then cut strips of cloth (I sacrificed an old towel) that measured¬†about a foot longer than the trough, leaving enough to allow for an overhang at¬†each end when the strip of cloth is placed along the bottom of the trough.¬†By doing this I hope to ease the transition from eaves trough to garden bed, causing as little disruption as possible to the roots of the plants by simply pulling on one of the end tabs of cloth and sliding the plug of soil directly into the waiting furrow. After I’ve cut away the duct taped end plugs, of course.

Seedlings ready to be transplanted

Kale seedlings ready to be transferred from a recycled commercial salad mix container into a length of eaves trough

I had seeds already started in the house that I’d¬†seeded way too heavily. I should know better by now but I was not wholly trusting of the seed as it is several years old. I wasn’t sure how viable it would be but I think I got close too one hundred per cent germination. One more plus for kale – the seed is very robust and stores really well! I let the soil around the seedlings dry out, thinking that it would be easier to separate the delicate roots if the soil fell away easily. It did, but of course it could be argued that the tiny plants would already be stressed by this drying out and therefore the untangling of roots would be even more traumatic for them. I’ll just have to wait and see on that one.

I want to start peas in a couple of the troughs and I’m hoping this method will work well for that as well. Stay tuned!

Early spring greens growing in a tractor tire

A salvaged tractor tire set up as a hot box provided weeks of super early spring greens

And of course I’m definitely going to set up another ‘hot box’ in¬†the old tractor tire I found washed up on the beach¬† a couple of winters ago. Not sure if I wrote about¬†it last year or not, but here’s a quick recap for anyone who might have missed that post –¬†First a layer of hot manure –¬†I used chicken, well covered with a thick (3-4 inches)¬†layer of organic mulch (straw, leaves, seaweed, etc.) This is to keep the roots of the plants from touching the manure, which is used specifically as a heat source and¬†therefore needs to be ‘hot’ – ¬†which also translates as – much too fresh to consider as a source of nutrients at this time.

Tire with some manure

Hot manure is placed in first then topped with protective mulch barrier before soil goes in

I packed the inner core¬†of the tire with seaweed (eel grass to be specific) and then filled the central hole (where the wheel hub would go) with a rich mix of soil and organic nutrients and then I wrapped the tire in plastic sheeting until the seeds were well sprouted and the temperatures had risen.¬†There was snow on the ground when I was doing this and I really didn’t know if I was pushing my luck just a bit but no –¬†in the earliest days of spring I was able to pick salads from this tire, which kept producing phenomenal greens week after week after week.

Tire wrapped in plastic

The tire didn’t look like much at first!

I have had good success with hot box set ups in the cold frames but I think the black rubber of the tire helped intensify both the heating up of the soil and also aided in heat retention. On some really bitter days the temperature of the soil in the tire was usually fifteen to twenty degrees warmer than in the regular garden beds.



And finally, my new book has arrived! The Food Lover’s Garden is now in stores. The people at New Society Publishers have done a wonderful job and I am delighted with the look of this book. It’s in full color and is quite lavishly illustrated. Thirty of the images are taken from watercolor paintings I did of one of my fave. subjects – vegetables – and the forty some other images are all from pictures I took in one of my fave. places – my garden ūüôā

So yes, this book¬†feels quite close to my heart, especially as it’s all about¬†the joys of growing, preparing and eating ¬†good, healthy food. The official launch will be at the Halifax Main Branch Library, April 22nd. at 2.00

The really exciting thing is that all the original paintings, framed, are to be auctioned off on line during the month of May, with all proceeds going to support Soul’s Harbor Rescue Mission and Dartmouth North Community Food Center. Needless to say¬†I’m thrilled to be able to¬†use my art in true permaculture fashion, that is for more than one purpose – to illustrate the Food Lover’s Garden and also to support two organizations which I greatly admire!

Food Lover's Garden bcover

Front Cover of my new book – in stores now





Some Days are Diamond, Some Days are Not


In purely visual terms I suppose yesterday, the first day of Spring, could be classed as¬†‘diamond’, being that for the first half of it everything was coated in a shiny skin of freezing rain, which¬†came after the snow, but before the sleet or the ice pellets; none of which¬†was in any way conducive to Spring-like frolics.

Freezing rain coats window.

Micro greens on the kitchen window sill don’t believe this is the first day of Spring as freezing rain coats the pane… or is that pain


Sylph of Spring

Sylphie Spring takes up her place on the shelf despite the weather!

old man winter

Old man winter was thinking he might stick around

Even so, it was definitely time for Old Man Winter to vacate from his place of honour on the kitchen shelf in favour of the first Sylph of Spring.

The fact is, us gardeners are eternal optimists! How could we believe anything other than that Spring is truly here… well, at least near?

And of course it can’t come soon enough.






I was out on the weekend adding extra mulch to the berry patch and yes, some opportunistic weeds were already showing themselves. These were the ones that¬† had¬†spent the¬†winter¬† developing a healthy root system ūüė¶

So yes, definitely time to¬†renew mulch where needed. It’s also a good time to do a bit of pruning.¬† All my Haskap bushes seem to have fared quite well but there were a few¬† damaged twigs and branches that needed to go.¬†This is certainly the time¬†to prune Haskaps but never more than twenty-five percent should be cut away.

It’s also more than time to be planting herb seeds (inside) and slow starters such as leeks and hardy greens, such as Tat Soi, kale¬†and arugula. Around here (the east coast of Nova Scotia) it’s virtually impossible to predict when the last frost will come. The weather patterns, especially over the past few years, have become so unpredictable that every year is yet another variance on the norm. So much so that, well, what is the norm?

Our greenhouse was trashed¬†by winter storms¬†and is temporarily out of commission, so I’m planning on setting up¬†some early beds with some ‘in-ground’ heating. Here’s the plan: I have a couple of cold frames and a box-type nursery bed that are empty. I’m going to put a layer of super fresh chicken manure down first, then cover it with a generous layer of mulch, which will probably be leaves because that’s what we have most of right now.¬†It’s important¬†to make sure that no roots can access the manure which will be way too hot¬†and will kill young plants,¬†but will generate enough heat to keep the beds a couple of degrees warmer than the soil outside.¬†The manure and mulch will then be topped with a couple of bags of soil. I won’t need too much soil as the plants I’m starting (early greens)¬†are all fairly shallow rooted.

I’m going to start everything inside in recycled food packaging and in a couple of weeks, when everything has sprouted and presumably things have heated up outside, a least a little bit,¬†I’ll move them out side and set them in the soil in the ‘hot box’. I’ve done this before and had great success. As an added bonus to the early start, the manure and mulch and soil gradually rotted down into a incredibly fertile mix that was perfect for a shoulder season crop in the fall. So fingers crossed! I will post an ongoing progress report.

Sitting with a wet hen

Wrapped in towels and held up close she warms up gradually

The other morning my first job (before my coffee even ūüė¶ was to deal with a hypothermic chicken. She had managed to get left out¬†throughout a¬†night of freezing rain. There’s an expression; ‘Madder than a wet hen’ which can now¬†be expanded to; ‘Sadder than a hypothermic hen!’ Sitting by the woodstove cuddling Henmoine¬†brought back memories of when my kids were babies, except they squirmed more and definitely were more vocal when they weren’t feeling well. It also seemed like this might be the beginning of one weird day, or, just another day, down here at QuackaDoodle.

one dry hen

After a couple of hours in the bathroom Henmoine is happy again but determined never to get left out again.