Thursday, 29 September 2016

How To Start Composting

When we first bought our house, the previous owner had constructed a huge compost pile in the middle of the yard. So, we began composting right away. Since then, we have relocated the compost pile from the middle of the yard to a slightly more concealed corner. Composting is amazing. It is so neat to watch scraps turn into something extremely useful. Now that I have been composting for a number of years, I would like to show you how easy it is, so you can start your own compost pile!

Composting is a great way to amend the soil in your garden and give your veggies, annual flowers, and perennial plants a nutritional boost! It's basically fertilizer, but for free! It's also a great way to prevent food scraps, yard waste, and other compostable refuse from going to the landfill. 

In the past, I have tried 2 types of composting. Closed container composting and open composting. Of the 2, I found that an open compost worked better for me as it's very simple and it's always open and ready to be turned or added to. So today, I will teach you how to start your own open compost pile.

And yes, in case you're wondering, you can use your compost pile all year round. I live in Canada, where the ground is frozen solid and covered in snow for half of the year, but that doesn't stop me! I still add to my compost pile religiously all throughout the winter. The new additions just stay in a frozen limbo until winter is over. And that's fine by me. 

So, the first thing you will want to do is decide on your location. If you live in the city, I think it would be a good idea to place your compost pile as far from your house as possible. A corner along the backyard fence works well. Compost piles can be smelly sometimes and they may attract flies and possibly even vermin. So, the farther away from your house the better. Now, I hope I haven't scared you away from composting with that vermin remark. If you religiously turn your compost pile, it is unlikely that you will have vermin infiltrate it. 

Next, you will need to build a structure to house your compost pile. You can use a few layers of bricks to build a bottomless rectangle or nail together 4 pieces of plywood into a bottomless box. Or you can even go rogue and start a pile without any sort of structural support. Personally, though, I wanted my pile to stay contained. I used 2 layers of cinder blocks to build my modest 3 foot x 2 foot compost pile. Make sure to choose an area where there is no cement or gravel. The compost needs to be in contact with the soil in order for worms to get to it.

My little compost pile. I have cherry trees on both sides, which conceal it slightly, and scarlet runner beans planted in the open cinder blocks.

Now that you have created your structure, you will also need a container inside of your house to place your kitchen scraps in for composting. I use an old dishwasher detergent pail lined with a grocery bag. I keep it under my kitchen sink beside my recycling bin. I keep the container open and exposed to the air, as I found that when I put a lid on it, the contents turned mouldy very fast. I take my kitchen compost bin out to my compost pile and dump the contents about 3 times per week. I discard the grocery bag and replace it with a new one every time I dump it.

Compost bin on the left, recycling bin on the right.

Now, what should you put in your compost pile? I will list off the most common things that I put into my compost pile.

Wet Items AKA Greens

Fruit Scraps
Vegetable Scraps
Dead Flowers
Bread Products
Egg Shells
Grass Clippings
Green Leaves
Garden and Flower Bed Plants
Tea Bags
Coffee Grounds

Dry Items AKA Browns

Brown Leaves
Dryer Lint
Dog Hair
Human Hair
Nail Clippings
Vacuum Canister Contents
Muffin Liners
Dry Grass From Power-Raking/Dethatching

I'm sure there are a lot more things that can be composted. That's just a list of the things that we compost at our house. I would not recommend composting grease, fats, or meat. These items may encourage vermin. I also wouldn't recommend composting bones, shells, and sticks as these items take an extremely long time to break down. 

I try to keep my compost moist but not wet. If your compost feels too wet, add more items from the brown category. If your compost feels too dry, add more items from the green category. Don't fuss over it too much, though. The red wiggler worms that find their way to your compost do a very good job turning all of those scraps into rich, fertile compost, or black gold as I like to call it.

Once you have some stuff in your composter, you will have to start turning it. I turn my compost once a week. The best tool for this job is a pitch fork. It works much better than a shovel, so it's worth investing in one. 

I begin turning the compost on one side, by taking a big pitchfork full of compost and turning it over in its place. I continue until all of the contents have been flipped over. 

Turn, turn, turn.

When turning, you will likely see a lot of red wiggler worms. These worms are the powerhouse of your compost pile and are responsible for turning all of your scraps into compost, so be thankful and treat them kindly! 

A young red wiggler!

Black Gold!

I hope you enjoyed this post and that it motivates you to get outside and start composting!

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Thursday, 22 September 2016

How To Remove Bugs From Potted Plants Before Bringing Them Inside

If you're anything like me, the idea of watching a prized potted plant die this fall just makes you very sad. For me, it's a succulent with pretty pink flowers that I just had to have!

Outside plants harbor insects that when brought indoors can become quite a nuisance, particularly those little flies called fungus gnats that live in plant soil here in Canada. They buzz, fly up in your face, and multiply rapidly.

What if I told you that there is an way to easily debug your outdoor potted ornamental plants so that you can bring them inside without worry. Well, it's true! It only takes a few minutes, doesn't require any harsh chemicals or special products, and it's dirt cheap. Hehe, get my pun? Nothing better than a little gardening humor to get the project started.

Without any further adieu, let's clean some plants!

What you will need:

A large and tall pail (I used a clean 5 gallon pail)
Clean water
Mild liquid soap like Ivory, plain Dawn, or Dr. Bronners
A potted plant


Fill your pail with water that is the same temperature as the air outside.  Add a few squirts of soap and mix well.

Carefully lower your potted plant into the soapy water. Try to cover all of the leaves.

If the plant is too tall, use a cup to ladle water carefully over the leaves as if you were giving it a gentle bath.

Allow the plant to soak in the water bath for 10 to 15 minutes. This will kill any insects on the plant.

When the time has passed, remove the plant from the water and set aside.

Dump out your pail and rinse it. Refill with clean water. Submerge your plant again for 5 minutes to remove soap residue.

After the time has passed, gently lift out your plant and allow it to drain, either outside or in a sink.

Once the water is finished draining, repot the plant if it appears to be getting too large for it's pot, then find a nice sunny spot for it indoors.

Looking stunning after her gentle
bath and repotting.

Repeat this method for any other plants that you would like to bring indoors.

Also, I should note that this method will also work for houseplants that have become infested with bugs!

I hope you enjoyed this quick and simple tutorial. Now, don't delay, we only have a few more days before it freezes, at which point it will be too late to save your plants!

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Thursday, 15 September 2016

How To Acquire Free Canning Jars

I was recently shopping at my local grocery store and they had a large display of canning supplies. ‘Tis the season, I suppose. I checked the price for 6 mason jars and was shocked to see that they were $12.00! That’s right, $2.00 per jar! This price was simply too much for me to spend on jars, let alone any newbie who has just begun to dip their toes into the world of canning. On a positive note though, the store did have large containers of pickling vinegar on sale for half price, which was a steal of a deal, so I stocked up on that!

Personally, I've never spent a cent on canning jars, and frankly, spending money on empty jars seems kind of strange to me. If you open my canning cupboard, it's packed with various canning jars, and one would assume that I either inherited them, or spent a fortune, but neither are the case! Let me share with you my simple tips so you can grow your canning jar collection too by acquiring some mason jars for free!

Mason Jars and Corningware. Be still my beating heart.

Now, I have found success in procuring free canning jars in a few different ways. The first way is by simply posting a wanted ad on a local buy and sell website, like Kijiji. A very nice lady actually delivered me 24 antique canning jars, free of charge. They are my pride and joy! They even came with glass sealer tops. It only took about one week from the time I posted my ad, until I received my free jars. Now, this way of procuring free jars is pretty hit or miss and is simply relying on the generosity of others. I just happened to luck out. It never hurts to ask!

The second way to acquire canning jars is a bit more interesting. Have you ever noticed that the Classico pasta sauces that are sold at grocery stores across Canada are packed in jars that resemble canning jars? Well, it’s no coincidence. Simply put, they ARE canning jars. They even use the same size sealer tops and rings as any standard canning jar!

Classico Pasta Sauce Jars With The Labels Removed

So now, all you have to do is wait until your local grocery store puts Classico spaghetti sauce on sale, and you can stock up. I have often found this pasta sauce on sale for around $2.00 per jar! That’s the same price as the empty canning jars, but you get the bonus of free pasta sauce!

Or, if stocking up isn’t your style or not in the budget, you can simply just wash and store your sauce jars as you acquire them throughout the year. By the time canning season rolls around, you will have saved up a handsome stockpile of canning jars ready to use!

To remove the labels from your classico jars, just soak them in warm soapy water for an hour or so and the labels will fall right off. Once the labels are removed, you will be pleased to see a lovely, graduated Atlas canning jar that is perfect for all of your hot water bath canning needs.

Now, just a quick note, you will have to purchase some standard size canning rings and sealer tops to use with your jars. It is not recommended to attempt sealing with the Classico lids. I think it’s worth purchasing new rings and sealer tops to ensure a good seal and well preserved canned goods that are safe to consume.

These Classico jars also work perfectly for Pinterest projects and other DIY projects calling for Mason or canning jars! I have personally used them to make some very pretty hanging lanterns!

The final way to acquire canning jars is to simply save them when friends or family give you canned produce as gifts. I have saved several canning jars that I received as gifts for Christmas, my birthday, and from wedding favors. Also, if you shop at the farmer's market, preserves are usually sold in canning jars, so save them!

A few of my favorite pieces that were given to me for free!

Do you have a stockpile of canning jars? Were they handed down to you from your great grandmother? Did you buy them new, or find them at a rummage sale? Let me know, I would love to hear from you!

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Thursday, 8 September 2016

How To Propagate Virginia Creeper The Easy Way

Virginia Creeper is a beautiful and vigorous vine that grows wonderfully in Canada. It thrives during our hot summers and then dies back and hibernates over our very cold zone 3 winters, only to emerge again faithfully in the spring! It's no wonder why it's coveted by so many people here! 

It looks stunning as it creeps along fence lines or crawls up the side of a building. It's one of my absolute favorites. In the fall, the leaves turn a breathtaking shade of red. Just the thought of it brings forth feelings of nostalgia for hot tea and pumpkin pie. 

Did you know that Virginia Creeper is also very easy and quick to propagate via cuttings? Now, the best time to work with Virginia Creeper in my experience is during the late summer. Late August and early September work well because the nights have become cool and the days are warm, but without the scorching intensity of summer. 

For this project you will need:

- A clean pair of scissors
- A small or medium sized pot with good drainage. I just use the thin plastic pots that annuals come in, from my local garden center. 
- A blend of 50% soil and 50% sand
- Rooting hormone*
- Virginia Creeper vines

*Rooting hormone: Using rooting hormone is not 100% necessary for success with this project, but I highly recommend it. It will exponentially increase the likelihood that your rooting null are successful. It is widely available at garden centers and even hardware stores. It will pay for itself after the first use and one bottle will last for years. I use it numerous times every month.

Alright, now let's propagate some plants! 

Fill your pot with your soil and sand blend. Firm the mixture into the pot and poke 2 or 3 holes into the soil, depending on how many cuttings you plan to take. I highly recommend taking more than one cutting, as rooting plants does not always yield a 100% success rate.

Head over to your Virginia Creeper vine. Locate a healthy piece and then find the end. Measure or estimate a length of 5-12 inches back from the end.

With your clean scissors, cut just below a leaf. Take 1 or 2 more similar cuttings.

Take your cuttings back to your potting station. Locate the leaves directly above where you cut.

Remove all of the leaves from the lower 2 inches of the plant, right above where you cut. 

Dip this section into rooting hormone, allowing the excess to drip back into the bottle. 

Place the cuttings into the pre-poked holes in the soil. Firm the soil around them.

Gently place your pot of cuttings in a safe, sheltered, and shady location. Use surrounding structures to support the vines. I just laid mine against my little decorative wood pile.

Water your cuttings gently. Continue to water your cuttings every day or every second day. Just make sure that the soil doesn't dry out. 

In 10-14 days, your cuttings should look lively and they will have made roots. At this time you can plant them into the ground in the location of your choosing. Be careful when you transplant, as to not disturb the fragile new roots. After transplanting, water the Virginia Creeper. Water daily or every second day for the next week or so until the roots have a chance to take hold.

And that's it! Wasn't that easy? Do you have the propagation bug yet? I do, just check out my workstation. Right now I have 2 pots of Virginia creeper, daylilies, ferns, snow on the mountains, lamium, and hostas on the go! 

Do you enjoy propagating plants? Or will this be your first attempt? Let me know in the comments section below, I would love to hear from you. 

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Thursday, 1 September 2016

How To Dehydrate Chokecherries In The Oven

Do you love chokecherries? I sure do! They have a slightly sweet, yet astringent flavor that I just can't get enough of. If you haven't heard of chokecherries before, they are a berry that grows wild in many parts of Canada. Unfortunately, chokecherries don't have a terribly long shelf life for fresh eating. They will only keep for a week or two if you're lucky in the refrigerator. 

Originally I was planning on turning my chokecherries into jelly. I even had my grandma's berry sieve and pectin out on the counter, all ready to go. However, when I woke up this morning and checked the thermometer, I was shocked to see that it was only 8 degrees outside. Now, I know I live in Canada, but it's only August. We don't expect these types of temperatures until October. That's when I decided that instead of making jelly, that I would dehydrate my chokecherries.

Dehydrating chokecherries is a wonderful way to enjoy the delicious benefits of chokecherries throughout the cold season. It's also one of the simplest ways to preserve chokecherries and many other types of fruit.

Traditionally, chokecherries are dehydrated in the hot sun. But, this year it's simply too cold for that. So, I will be using the oven instead!

Okay, let's get started!

Pour your chokecherries into a pot and rinse them thoroughly with cold water. This will remove any debris that may be clinging to the surface of your berries.

Drain off the water and then gently pat the chokecherries dry with a paper towel or a clean dish towel.

Line a couple of cookie sheets or pizza pans with parchment paper. Cut the parchment paper to fit your cookie sheets. 

Arrange chokecherries into a single layer on the prepared cookie sheets. 

Preheat oven to 135 degrees Fahrenheit and make sure your oven rack is in the middle.

Place berries into the oven to dehydrate. Check on them in approximately 6 hours. Taste one, it should be as dehydrated as a raisin. If it has not yet reached this level of dehydration, leave them in the oven for 1-2 more hours or until the correct level of dehydration has been achieved. 

Achieving the correct level of dehydration will ensure that your chokecherries are well preserved and will not go moldy, so don't take them out too soon! Believe, me, they're worth the wait.

Once your chokecherries are finished dehydrating, they will have a sweet, chewy texture. They're quite fun to eat, kind of like eating sunflower seeds, but in reverse, as instead of spitting out shells, you're spitting out pits!

Have you ever dehydrated fruit in the oven? How did it turn out for you? Let me know in the comments below, I would love to hear from you.

And, don't forget to like Keen Koala on facebook for instant access to the latest posts, exclusive content, and contests. Just click HERE!

Thursday, 25 August 2016

How To Collect Marigold Seeds

Summer has officially begun its inevitable descent into fall. The long days of summer are noticeably shorter and the nights have become cool. Perhaps you have even begun to notice tinges of red and yellow highlighting the leaves on your trees and shrubs.

This time of year always makes me think of seed saving. Seed saving is an easy and frugal way to ensure that you will have a beautiful garden the following year. 

Marigolds are one of my favorite annual flowers. They are simple to grow, don't require much care, and they help to repel insects! 

If you wish to save seeds from your marigold plants, make sure that you don't remove any dying flowers, as this is where the seeds are. If you have been religiously dead-heading, stop what you're doing and just wait a few weeks for some of the blooms to die back.

A marigold flower that has started to die back

Head out into your flower garden and inspect your marigolds. The flowers that we are the most interested in today are the ones that have completely died and turned brown. the petals may still be attached but will be very dry.

With your fingers, carefully pop off a few of the marigold heads from their stems. Do not pull from the petals, pull from the base of the flower.

The Flower Head Should Pop Off With Ease
Dry Flower Heads

Bring your flower heads inside and set them on a clean paper towel. Pick up one flower head. With your right hand, gently grasp the petals with your pointer finger and thumb. With your left hand, gently grasp the base of the flower. 

I am holding the petals with my right hand

Pull these two pieces apart. The seeds and petals should come away from the base very easily. Set the base of the flower aside. 

Petals and seeds after removing the base of the flower

Now, what you have in your right hand is a bunch of marigold seeds attached to petals. To detach the seeds from the petals, grasp the seeds with your left hand and the petals with your right hand and gently pull the seeds away from the petals. Again, they should come apart very easily.


Place the petals and flower bases in your compost. 

Repeat the process for all of your marigold heads. When you're finished you will have quite a nice collection of marigold seeds. 

An Up Close View Of The Seeds

Make sure to store your seeds in a cool, dry place until you're ready to plant them next year!

Do you save seeds? What are your favorite seeds to save? Let me know, I would love to hear from you.

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Thursday, 18 August 2016

How To Collect Seeds From Green Onion Plants

Green onions are awesome perennial plants. They die back and hibernate during the cold Canadian winter and emerge faithfully every spring. Along with rhubarb, they are one of the first plants to shoot up in the spring garden and are always warmly welcomed by Canadians after a long, cold winter bereft of garden fresh vegetables.

One way to propagate green onions is by collecting and planting the seeds. It's fairly easy to do and a great way to share your garden with friends near and far.

Seed collection can be accomplished starting in mid August in Canada. Keep an eye on the flower heads at the top of your green onion plants. You will know that it's time to begin collecting once the seed heads become brown, wilty, and begin to open slightly. The black seeds inside will become visible.

With a clean pair of scissors, collect as many seed heads as you would like. Just snip them off at the base. Don't take them all as you should leave some to help replenish your existing crop Next year.

Lay out your seed heads on a clean paper towel. If they are moist from rain or dew, allow them to sit and dry out in a safe place for a few days.

Once your seed heads are dry, place them in a clean paper bag and fold over the top.

Shake the bag vigorously to release the seeds from the heads.

Open the bag and take a look. You should see a plethora of non-uniformly shaped black seeds. Remove the now empty seed heads and compost them.

Pour the seeds onto a clean surface and remove any superfluous plant matter from the seeds.

Here is what the seeds look like close up.

Store your seeds in a cool, dry place. Plant the seeds the following spring once the threat of frost has ended. Sprouts should come up in 10-20 days.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Happy seed saving everyone!

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