Monday, August 3, 2015

Using Electric Fences to keep garden pests away
by Garret K
Early in the garden season of 2015, squirrels seemed to be eating everything I planted. My first plantings of beans, peas, corn, zucchini and cucumbers were lost to these pests. I knew the plants would have been much further along had they been able to grow undisturbed, and I'd would have been spared the extra time and costs of resowing seeds had I put up an effective barrier. Therefore, I decided to team up with Kaven, who owns the plot next to me, and put up a small electric fence. An electric fence, for me was a simple choice as I come from a farming background, and have experience setting up and using these fences. Also, setup of it would be aided by the fact that I am able to use the hardware from the farm to set up my fence in the community garden. So the overall cost, split by Kaven and I, was the cost of a few posts and a couple additional plastic pieces; about $20. For those interested in installing a fence themselves, the real expense is the electrical unit (approx. $100) and the battery (approx. $50) to run it. This cost may vary, as new units can run off of built-in solar panels. I actually hope to use these solar units in the future as they are more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Remembering back to your high school physics course, you might recall that electricity travels from the positive (+) connection to the negative connection (-). A basic electric fence with only one wire sends out a small positive charge across the wire and connects it's negative, or ground wire, to the ground. When the wire is touched, the circuit is completed and a shock is administered through the object touching the wire, through the ground and back to the unit. It feels similar to a static shock. Actually, if nothing is touching the wire (no leaves, plants, weeds, etc. that offer some resistance and decrease the shock voltage) then the maximum voltage of the unit would be 13,500 volts. This can be similar to or lower than a shock one gets from static cling. A static shock ranges between 4000 volts and 35,000 volts. Wearing cotton under a wool sweater is therefore more dangerous than the fence.

Since a garden fence needs to deter squirrels, who can jump, I knew that one wire wouldn't be enough, and that the fence needed to be higher. I also knew, that if the squirrel jumped into the fence, it won't receive a shock unless it was touching the ground - just like birds on the electric wires. So I needed to design a fence that was both tall and that could administer an electrical shock without needing a pest to be touching the ground. The solution to both these problems was to alternate positive and negative wires on the fence, as in the illustration below.  A leaping intruder would receive a shock as long as it touched both the positive and negative wires.
Schematic of the electrical fence designed for use in Sandy Hill Community Garden
So far the electric fence has been successful. The squirrels seem to be repelled by it, that is until they take to jumping onto the tall corn stalks to avoid the fence.  And the ground hogs, that have been making an appearance these past weeks with a ferocious appetite, seem to be scared away too. In fact the success of our plot is all the more obvious when we look at plots to the left and right of our plot and notice the devastation. For example, a fellow gardener Chris lost the better portion of his garden, his mesclun lettuce, kale, chard, and broccoli despite his small chicken wire fence. 
In summary, Kaven and I managed to emerge relatively unscathed the groundhogs and the squirrels since we installed our electric fence. While we've watched squirrels scaling chicken wire, a common garden fence used in our community garden, they seem to be repelled from our fence.  So, with the encouragement and enthusiasm of my fellow gardeners I am writing this blog to share my experience with electric fences for pest control. Thanks for reading,  happy gardening and feel free to ask questions in the comments!
Harvested produce from my plot

Monday, April 20, 2015

Ready, Set, Garden!

All this nice weather only means one thing Ottawa, its time to think about your gardens!
Sandy Hill Community Garden is now officially on its way, and thanks to all the new members and returning members for coming out and setting up our garden this past sunday. Working together we've set up borders, revived fences, and cleared some shrubs.  Some gardeners even planted some onion bulbs and pea seeds.  Kale is also another plant to seed in these next two months (late-April, and May).  Happy gardening!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Memories of gardening in the picturesque Sandy Hill Community Garden

Sandy Hill Community Garden had an excellent year last year (2014) with nearly ever single plot producing its gardeners with plenty of veggies for harvest.  Our biggest crops were kale, radishes, arugula, sorrel, tomatoes and zucchini. Some did well with beats, beans, swisschard and potatoes. Due to the relatively wet summer we had, crop growth was easy. Unfortunately, groundhogs and squirrels were persistent but one gardener by installing a fence around her plot, diligently weeding to keep her plot clear and putting her dog's hair/ and urine around the perimeter kept her garden pest free.

Here are her thoughts:

"My early-morning gardening routine was enhanced by: 

- the sound of birds

- the beautiful view of the river 

-  pleasant and often informative talks with park visitors

ultimately, the  pleasure of harvesting my very own vegetables!" 

- Pictures and caption provided by A. Hartmann

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Edible Weeds Workshop, June 2014

Wait!! Don't toss aside all those weeds! As we learned from one of our gardeners, Isabelle, lots of weeds are very high in nutrients and can be swapped out for things like spinach in a salad or steamed as a side!

We only learned about edible weeds which have no poisonous or toxic look-a-likes, and we also focused on the ones that are prevalent in our plots so there are others out there that you can keep learning about!

Without further ado...

Lambs quarters 
  • use like spinach: raw in salads or cooked in quiche, soups, greens  
  • identified with its alternate, dented leaves, and powdery surface

  •  poor eating quality, good on cuts

  •  a northamerican form of amaranth
  • is tasty as a pot green
  •  fry it up with garlic and serve it as I would in asian dishes ( such as korean bibimbap, thai sour soup, etc).  

Garlic mustard
  •  this grows everywhere....compost pile, along the river and park edges! 
  •  Great in small quantities in salad ( again, put salad dressing early to mellow out), sandwiches ( egg salad sandwich!), garlic mustard pesto, fantastic cooked with beans or lentils.

Wood sorrel
  •  great raw in salad.  
  • Looks like a clover, has lemony taste.

  • delicious and beautiful flowers, young shoots 

  •  delicious raw salad green.  Also delicious sautéed with garlic (I seen it on the menu had good Chinese restaurants).  
  • If you want to grow more,throw the water you used to wash it with into the garden, the tiny seeds will sprout!

Happy Gardening :)

The Garden Coordinators

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Garden Shaping Up Nicely

This year we have a very lush, full garden with tons of committed gardeners. We have just finished up our second work party of the season. Everyone came out on this bright Sunday morning and we got rid of our compost and mulch piles, painted some garden signs to identify plots, and tended to the communal food bank plots. Enjoy the pictures of some of our plots, our resident garden snake (don't worry not venomous!), and everyone hard at work this morning!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Building up the Guard: How to care for our spiny sentries (ie. the raspberries)

Raspberry bushes form our garden's naturalized fence line. We are always trying to extend this fence line and fill in the gaps.  Here is a 'How To' for transplanting the raspberries written by fellow gardener: Winston Gamache.

Raspberries generally fruit once in their second summer and then die the next winter (Figure 1). That means if there are only large, flowering plants in your section of the fence and they are not producing many new shoots, there will be a hole in the fence there next season. If you are  moving raspberries to help build up the fence, it is better to move the smaller shoots at this stage as the larger ones will probably not survive moving now they are fully leaved. They will lose too much water.

 Figure 1: Raspberry Plant Life Cycle

Transplanting Steps:
1.   Prep the Site à Soften the soil where you are planting the younger shoots to a depth of at least six inches to allow some room for the roots to grow in. Mix in some compost at this stage if available.
2.   Get Some Shoots àGet some with good leaves and roots, don’t waste your time with damaged or weak shoots. There are lots in the communal/water conservation plot.
Figure 2: Uprooted raspberry plant
3.   Plant ‘EmàPlant them back at the depth they were taken from. You can usually see that the stem has a white or brown part on it which was previously below the soil line (Figure 2).
4.   Water ‘Em Inà To help settle the soil and remove air that will dry the roots and kill them.
**They should also be checked for water every two or so weeks to ensure they get a good start this year. It is likely that we will get enough rain for them to be healthy though. With proper care, these smaller shoots will reach their full height this summer and help keep out the dogs. 
Mulching and Adding Compost
Another task that would help strengthen our herbaceous helpers, and something everybody can work at, is adding compost and mulch to the raspberry row. The compost can simply be put on top of the soil and mulch be placed over top.
Figure 3: Straw mulch
Ideas for mulch
-Broken up dead sticks/twigs bark scavenged from the bush
-Dead leaves
-Weeds pulled from your plot
-Grass from the path
-Extra wood chips
-Extra straw   


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Kicking off the 2014 Gardening Season

As the last of the snow is melting away, we are busy planning our Annual General Meeting to kick off the season.

The Sandy Hill Community Garden held a seedling starting workshop in March where prospective gardeners could come, see what it's all about, and get a head start on gardening. We will soon be having our AGM as well as a work party to officially open up the garden for growing season.

We are very excited to have filled all of the plots this year - even having a small waiting list! If anyone is still looking for plots in the area you can email to be put on our waiting list in case people don't commit at our AGM or leave in the season. We can also put you in contact with nearby garden spaces that mat have spots. Of course you can always choose to volunteer with us too if it is just the experience or atmosphere you are looking for.

Stay tune for a look at our before and after work party pictures!

Happy Easter :)