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Don’t Plant Winter Rye Until You Read This!


Winter rye might not be the solution to all your problems.

Last winter I was looking for a solution to help my soil due to some root knot and poor soil. You can read about it here.

In looking at all my options I deemed that a cover crop would be the best solution to the problems I was having.

I went looking for a pea, vetch and buckwheat blend of crop cover as I had done a lot of research on them and they looked like a great choice, but all I could find was winter rye.

In researching the pea, vetch and buckwheat it appeared from articles and videos, that you planted them and they would suppress weeds, the buckwheat would die out and you just needed to cut the peas and vetch and turn over the ground and plant.

Legume Cover CropsSource

The peas and vetch would then die and be composted into the soil fixing nitrogen in their wake.

So… when all I could get was the winter rye, I thought why not… should work the same as all other cover crops.

Boy, was I wrong!

Even after planting I didn’t do any research until this spring when I went to plant some crops. I cut down the rye and turned the soil. The soil was like butter and turned easily just with a push of the garden fork. I even wrote an article about how pleased I was with it.

But then I noticed a couple of things. The roots were matted like if you had pulled up a chunk of grass and the soil didn’t shake off the clumps. You had to really work with a shovel and hoe to break the clumps apart.

At this point in time, I figured I better do some additional research on what to do with winter rye and found that it’s a bit of a different process than other cover crops.

Winter Rye


  • Grows well in winter
  • Quick growing
  • Makes your raised garden look like little chia pets
  • Have long roots that break up the soil and make it easy for other things to grow
  • You can use the cutting as mulch or dig it into the soil to add more nutrients
  • Weed suppressor


  • It doesn’t die if you cut it before it flowers
  • It doesn’t die if you turn the soil over
  • It’s like grass and will continue to grow

Should have read about the cons first.

But even in my readings, there was a lot of misinformation. Some people say to cut it when you want to plant and till the soil and other say to wait until it flowers.

I finally was reading a blog of a gardener who’s newsletter I’m on and after reading her account and emailing her this is what she said. This is a person who actually has personal experience with winter rye.

“Heather, if I had to turn under rye I would never be able to use it!! 

My strategy

In order for the rye to die, you have to cut it when the pollen is on the seed heads or it will keep growing.  Leave the biomass on tops of the beds.  Dig a planting hole for a warm weather crop (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, or whatever) and plant it. The roots of the rye die out and decay during the summer.

It is NOT the cover crop that I would use if I wanted to plant early crops in that bed (onions, lettuces, etc.)”

You can read an article that she wrote about winter rye here.

Based on all that information now, it looks like I’m going to have a very interesting garden this year.

Onions – already planted (you can read about them here)
I cut the rye, turn it over, chopped the clumps, hoed, planted and covered with the cutting from the rye.

In the same bed, I planted radishes and lettuce so we’ll see how they fair. So far the radishes are coming up and the onions are doing fine.

Potatoes – already planted (I will write an article on them later)
I cut the rye, turn it over, chopped the clumps, hoed and planted. Didn’t have any cuttings left for the top so it looks like the rye will continue to grow in that bed.

Have two other beds that have been turned over and am waiting to rototill them.

All my other beds are growing rye by inches every day. Grows fast when it gets a little sunshine and warmth.

So here’s the plan. Where I’m not planting seeds I’m going to let it grow until it forms heads and starts to pollinate.

winter rye

In the meantime, for the squash, corn and other seedlings, I’m going to dig holes (which I normally do) and plant them. Then when it’s time to cut the rye, I’ll carefully cut around the plants and use the rye as a mulch.

When planting seeds, I’m going to cut, turn and rototill the soil and weed the rye as needed. As I said before… it’s going to be an interesting year in the garden. I’ll keep you updated.

Since this post, I have done some further soil testing that you can read about here.

Anna’s Hummingbird – Same Time… Same Place


There is one spot that an Anna’s Hummingbird returns to year after year with precision timing.

I am so fortunate to have found this little bird in plain sight on one of my walks. People jog by him, walk by him, run dogs by him and he ignores them and holds fast to his territory.

The strangest thing is of all the people that walk by him, very few notice him. I’ve never heard anyone say “look at the hummingbird” unless I’m taking a picture, and then they pause to see what I’m looking at. It’s like he’s invisible to the world at large.

During the winter this little bird disappears and yet every spring he shows up to claim his piece of property and to woo his girl.

Sometimes it’s the same bird, and I know this because, for two years running, the bird that came had a hooked beak at the end.

Anna's hummingbird with hooked beak

But this year, it’s a different bird or else he got a beak straightening when he was down south. What is amazing is that the birds come to the same location and roost on the same trees at the same time each year

How do they know? What impels them to claim the same spot year after year?

There is nothing special about the place. It’s a well-walked path that sees lots of traffic every day and the hummingbird hangs out at four different spots.

It claims two trees (shrubs actually) about 7 feet high on the left side of the path and another two further down the path on the right-hand side.

This area is all open with no real place to have a nest but day after day he defends it against all trespassers. There are no houses around, so he’s not coming to a hummingbird feeder, but like a spawning salmon returns to the same place each year.

Anna's hummingbird with tongue stuck out

This one kept sticking out its tongue. Almost like it was tasting the air like a snake, but it was probably on the lookout for small bugs.

Their tongue is quite a bit longer than their beak and when they have it out fully, it’s like having two beaks in one.

One of the reasons that I so enjoy this particular Anna’s hummingbird is that when it perches, it almost always at eye level with me. As a photographer that means that the background becomes a nice soft muted colour and the bird stands out.

In the picture below, you will only see a little pink at the throat or gorget of the hummingbird and the rest appears black. This is due to the iridescence of the feathers at the throat and I could take a whole page to explain how it works, but this page had already done it for me if you want to read about it.

Anna's hummingbird on branch

What I find is that when the bird looks forward the gorget catches the light and it appears to be pink in the Anna’s case. Other hummingbirds have different colours at their throats.

For me, it’s all about where I’m standing, where the bird is sitting and where the sun is. When all these things line up, then voilà… the iridescence show through and he shines in all his glory.

Anna's hummingbird stretching

This hummer was stretching and preening while it sat on the branch in the wind. I threw out a lot of photos as they were blurry due to the branch and bird blowing in the breeze. I’m so grateful for my digital camera that allows me to take as many photos as I need to get it right.

Who knows if this bird will be back next year, but if not him… someone will take his place… of that I’m sure.

How To Build A Compost Bin Out Of Wire Fencing


Time to build a compost bin.

Last spring our composter fell apart. It was very old and the wood had rotted away. As I only had the one, I was always having to take the uncomposted material off the top to get at the good stuff at the bottom. Not an ideal situation.

So looking for another solution we took a piece off a roll of wire fencing (fencing is called Everbilt  2″x4″ openings) and made it into a circle. Put some landscaping cloth on the bottom and set it on top. Then we put a smaller gauge wire around (half inch holes) it to keep stuff in and hopefully keep the rats from making a nest in the warmth.

After that, we put landscaping cloth around the outside to keep the heat in and also to contain the contents.

It actually worked very well, except for I still only had one compost and the wire around it was 4 ft high. This meant that the only way I could turn or get at the compost was to stand on a ladder which wasn’t going to happen.

And because it was so tall and I couldn’t turn it we put in drainage pipes on rebar. This was so air and water could get down into the compost and keep it wet and aerated.

So in order to get at and use the lovely compost that was made earlier, I was going to have to take it apart and create something new.

First taking off the landscaping cloth and then the small gauge wire, I cleaned up around the edges of the existing compost and put it into a garbage pail.

Then taking off the wire the compost was now free standing. Holds together well.

Taking a small grinder we cut the wire in half and we formed them into two circles 2 ft high and 5 ft in diameter.

One circle of wire went around the existing compost and then we put down some more landscape cloth and set the new circle of wire on it. The circles are just held together with wire top and bottom.

We didn’t use the small gauge wire this time, we just put landscape cloth around each of the wire circles. Leaving some laying on the ground we put bark mulch on it to hold it in and then draping it over the top, attached the ends of the cloth to wire with a twist tie to hold it in place.

Now… I had two composts, one full and the other empty.

With a garden fork, we moved all the top, uncomposted soil to the new bin. It is amazing what doesn’t get broken down. Corn stalks were almost the same composition as when they were put in, and the tomatoes stalks were slow to disintegrate as well.

Taking out the corn stalks entirely, we took the old bin down to where most everything was composted and the new bin was about a third full. Next, we put a couple of bags of steer manure in the new bin on top of the everything just to get it going and heating up again.

What was left is the most compost that I’ve ever had to put on the plants. The black cloth around the outside really held the heat in and the resulting earth is dark and moist and full of worms.

No matter how much things get composted down, there are still a few things that take a little longer so I always screen the compost before I used it.

Remember the garbage pail that I used to put all the excess compost from around the edges of the bin? Well, I took that and screened it as I had a use for it in the garden.

To screen, I have some small gauge wire (half inch openings) on a frame. I have no idea where it came from, but it would be easy to put something like this together.

Getting out the wheelbarrow I place the screen on top of it and then shovel the compost onto it and spread it around. The good stuff falls into the wheelbarrow and the odd bits that didn’t decompose go into the new compost bin.

screening compost

This makes wonderful soil with lots of nutrients and by screening, it aerates it as well so there are no clumps.

If I don’t use it right away, I just put it into an empty garbage pail and keep it on hand for when needed.

It is going to be such a treat to be able to grab the compost right out of the bin and screen it as I need it and to have the option of being able to use one bin while the other is cooking.

Two projects done and completed this weekend. The rose garden and the compost.

Life is good!

Rose Garden… Neglected No More


I have had a rose garden for at 6 years and before that, the roses lived for 3 years in pots. These roses I’m sorry to say, have been neglected, abused and have know thirst and still, they bloom their hearts out.

When they were in pots, I just kept them watered. I never fertilised them and I was amazed that they actually had a nice crop of blooms. Once we finally had a place to plant them, I basically picked a spot that we made a bit of a bed for them and they got put into the ground.

They were happy campers and bloomed even more. Still no fertiliser or chemical sprays and in the heat of the summer they sometimes forgot to be watered.

Remembering back, I might have had black spot once or twice, but nothing too problematic and they still bloomed wonderfully.

I buy my roses based on smell and the aroma they put out is aromatic when picked. The ones I like the best are hybrid tea rose and I have 4 of those and 2 that were miniature roses but they’ve grown much bigger and I’m not sure what to call them now.

My sister gave me my fourth tea rose last year for my birthday and it sat all summer in a pot, so I decided that finally, it was time to plant it and fix up the rose garden, giving the roses a little love.

rose bed with weeds

I had to extend the existing bed as I didn’t have enough room for the last rose, so got some old bricks we had laying around and made a wall at the end of the garden.

brick end of row

Then I weeded the entire bed as it was full of unwanted plants (weeds) coming into bloom and dug a hole at the bricked end for the new rose.

rose out of pot

Pulled the rose out of the pot and took my handy dandy little tool that I can’t live without and proceeded to attack the compacted root system. Breaking all the roots apart I put steer manure into the hole and planted the rose making sure to keep the crown out of the dirt.

break up roots on rose

The tool that I’m using I purchased at Lee Valley and I believe it’s called a long handled Ho-Mi Digger. It’s really sharp, great for between plants and cutting out weeds.

Then we decided to finally finish off the rose bed. Dug a trench and put in a 15 ft board by 2 inches thick from the sawmill at the back of the roses with some landscape cloth underneath to stop the dreaded weeds. Then stealing dirt from another garden I did a little backfill and finished off the other end of the bed with another board to make it a complete box.

trench for plank

Having some extra steer manure I cover the bed for some much-needed fertiliser. The roses are not going to know what happened with all this tender loving care.

manure on roses

Taking more landscaping cloth I covered the top of the bed, cutting around where the roses were and the tulips that I never planted. I’m waiting to see what colour they are.

landscape cloth on roses

I got the first two pieces of landscaping cloth down and it started to rain buckets. So I ran and got some bark mulch to quickly hold down the corners and came in for a rest.

covering with bark mulch

Between rainstorms, I succeeded in finishing off the cover and topping with the bark mulch and I’m so happy to get it all done.

rose garden finished

Six years really isn’t all that long. I have other projects that have waited much longer and someday… I’ll get to them too.

Easter Trilliums


Seven little trilliums all lined up in a row
Seven little trilliums all wondering where to go

All shiny white and new, like a beacon in the dark
Only blooming once a year in spring and in the park

It’s Easter time the earth proclaims, peace will reign today
Trilliums reflect the light that makes you want to pray

Pray for peace, hope, or God – take a moment to reflect
On kindness, laughter, joy-filled days, insights and respect

Trilliums may not discern but I know what they mean
Present at this time of year in order to be seen

No questions, expectation, desires do they seek
Their quiet gentle nature is down to earth and meek

Claiming their place amongst us they only look for sun
To light the way before them until their day is done

Seven little trilliums all lined up in a row
Seven little trilliums now knowing where to go

 – Heather

Psst… Want To Know A Secret? Learn How The Best Wildlife Photographers Got Their Start!


Sorry for all the drama, but people seem to think that there is a magic wand to taking spectacular wildlife pictures and I’m sorry to disillusion you, but there’s no wand.

In the beginning, there is no “best” camera, tripod, settings or time of day.

The way all wildlife photographers got to where they are today is by using what they had and practise, practise, practise.

Use up all the space on your memory card, whether you’re in the backyard photographing a butterfly or in the wilds of Africa, don’t be afraid to take a picture. You don’t have to get it perfect the first time out!

When I first started I thought my pictures were pretty good and that was with the camera on auto (big no, no) but when you’re starting out you need to begin somewhere.

Then I learned that different settings on my camera did different things and I practised some more. I now look at the pictures I took last year that I thought were wonderful and toss them.

As I go forward… my process is getting more fine-tuned as I learn what to do in the different light situation and with what speed and get to know my camera’s limitations.

I found I needed help with the next step and took a workshop with Nature Photographer Glenn Bartley.

This helped tremendously in moving my photography forward but it also got me stuck in the sense that I felt that I needed to do it a specific way.

So I practised some more, took some online courses and found my own style.

I go out just about every day to shoot pictures and will come home with 1500 plus shots. After sorting through them I will maybe keep 30-50 of them and a few days later will take them down to about 15 when I’m not so attached to them.

Wildlife photography is a process and we all start at the beginning. You don’t expect to be a track star overnight without putting in the training to get there.

Begin where you are. Take the best pictures you can.

Learn some more, take more pictures and find some great subjects.

As you progress you will get to the point where you want a new camera, and when you first use a tripod, you will see a real difference between your handheld pictures and ones on the tripod. At this point, you’re hooked and there is no looking back.

So, don’t be hard on yourself if out of the gate your pictures don’t look like a pro’s. Enjoy the process and know with each shot, you up your skills.

This is where all professional wildlife photographers started and you have so much to look forward to as you follow along in their footsteps.