Archive for the ‘Organic Gardening’ Category

Getting the Garden In

Monday, May 25th, 2009

As we come into summer, it really is time to get most of your planting done.  Digging the soil thoroughly with a good garden fork and breaking up any clumps of soil goes a long way to ensuring better growing conditions.  It is also a good idea to add an inch or two of compost or composted manure to your beds and work this in before you plant.

In May I like to  direct seed a small section of salad greens (about 6 x 4 feet) as well as bush beans, dill, and coriander.  It is also the last time you can plant green garlic – cloves of garlic that have been pushed into the ground about 1″ and that are harvested like green onions.  Garlic senses the decreasing light levels after the summer solstice and starts putting its energy into the bulb.  Anything planted later in the summer will not grow to more than an inch or two.

I also plant transplants of lettuce (8), endive (6-8), green onions (80), swiss chard (2-3), and beets (24).  The green onion and beet transplants are in what I call multiplant transplants – that is there are ten green onions and four beets for each transplant cube, you plant this as one group and they grow apart from each other, reaching full size.  So in essence there are only 8 green onion transplants with 10 seedlings in each (total 80) and 6 beet transplants with four beets in each (total of 24).  When planting the transplants need enough room for the clump to grow so give the green onions 6-8 inches and the beets a foot between each multiplant transplant.

May is also time to plant carrots and parsnip.  Both of these vegetables take about 2-3 weeks to germinate so it is good to get them in the ground while there are still fairly consistent rainy spring days.  The best way to grow good carrots and parsnips is to double dig the bed that you are planting them in.  This ensures that the soil is dug deeply and is loose and free of clumps.  Garden forks are far more efficient for digging than shovels – look for a fork with long times – 10″ – rather than the shorter ones with 8″ tines.  Push the fork into the bed as deeply as you can go and turn over the soil.  Then use the fork to smash the clumps apart as best you can.  Pull any weeds, remove any rocks, and use your hands to crumble any remaining lumps.  Doing this a second time makes a huge difference, and your carrots can grow straight and deep without interruption.

I try to start a tray of seedlings every month, so that I have a continuous supply of some sort of salad vegetable.  Whatever seedlings you start in May will be ready to harvest in mid to late July – since this is a time when all sorts of other vegetables are ready – cucumbers, zucchini, beans, the first tomatoes – I do not do too many salad vegetables.  My tray is over half basil, with maybe 3-4 each of lettuce, green onions, fennel, and endive.

Happy gardening!

Edible Landscaping

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

I attended an excellent workshop at St. Lawrence College in Kingston this weekend.  It was given by Ken Taylor of Windmill Point Farms in Ile Perrot, just west of Montreal.  Ken has been growing and developing fruit and nut trees for the past thirty years.  He specializes in finding and developing varieties that require very little attention , are disease resistant, and that survive our Canadian winters.  He has an incredible wealth of knowledge gained through years of experimenting and self-teaching.

Of the many fruit trees Ken sells, it seems he is keenest on the Asian Pear.  He says he planted  a line of trees 20 years ago at 4 foot spacings, assuming many would die and he would end up with the correct spacing of 10 – 12 feet.  Today, these trees have all survived and produce bumper crops of nearly perfect fruit despite never having been ‘pruned, weeded, watered, fertilized, or sprayed’.  The Asian Pear originated in China and tastes something like a pear-apple cross, they store far better than apples and maintain their crunchy texture and delicious flavour for many months.  The trees tend to be small, manageable for picking, and produce fruit in two years.  Other interesting varieties included a plum that was resistant to black knot disease, an apricot variety developed from a several hundred year old tree he found near Georgian Bay, and a Japanese walnut that is hardy, delicious, and extremely productive.

Windmill Point Farm also sells small fruits and berries, Ken recommended the mulberry tree, black raspberries, several grape varieties,and something called the Albion strawberry, the best everbearing strawberry variety he has ever seen.  He believes, like I do, that many of us can grow a great deal of our own food, and in so doing, significantly change our systems of food production.  He works hard to make it interesting, successful, and easy for all of us first time fruit and nut growers.

Information about the farm is available both at the Windmill Point website and at his nursery website All sales are through the nursery.  As well, the spring 2009 edition of Canadian Organic Growers features  an article entitled Forbidden Fruit which is written by Ken Taylor and is on growing pears.

April Gardening

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Spring is in full swing here, with its mix of very hot and very cool days.  All of my April planting is finished, including a bed of mixed salad greens, some radishes, and peas.  I also planted a flat with spinach, green onions, beets, endive, and lettuce that I started in late March.  All of this is under a section of floating row cover – this is a light almost interfacing like fabric that I rock down over my wide beds.  The plants grow up underneath it and it allows 80% of the light through, all of the rain, and adds 4C of warmth to the bed.  Since soil temperature is the biggest factor in growth rates in the spring, it does make a huge difference.  I would say it speeds up the maturity of all that I plant in April by two to three weeks.  The cover is available through many seed catalogues but there are many different weights so you have to be a bit careful – you want a weight that does not need hoop support.   I found that Stokes Seeds had the cover that I wanted in 50′ sections and a width that works for my four foot wide beds.

For anyone who really wants to grow their own food, it is nice if the work can be done quickly and efficiently.  Keeping your garden to a manageable size is really important – I would recommend nothing bigger than 500 square feet to start.  Another time saving idea is to dig your pea seeds in, rather than making trenches and seeding by hand.  It is a random seeding but it works.  I count out about 10 pea seeds for every square foot of garden that I want to plant and then scatter them evenly over my bed.  I then take my garden fork and quickly turn the soil- some seeds end up a bit deep, some too close to the surface, and the rest come up nicely.  This really does save a great deal of time.

I like to work with transplants if possible, I find it easier to start seedlings indoors on a monthly basis and then plant them out into the garden when they are three to four weeks old.  For my May bed I have started a flat with spinach, lettuce, green onions, fennel, and Swiss chard.  I also have a flat with tomatoes and peppers that I started in March.  Both of these I keep outside in a small mini-type greenhouse that I made with 2 x 4’s and second hand glass.  It works very well and means I don’t have to use my light table any longer.

Moving My Transplants

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

After a few days of cold, wintry weather, spring has returned to southern Ontario.  I did plant some salad greens last week and I am sure that they survived the small bit of snow that we got and will start to germinate this week.  I have covered them with a double row of floating row cover as an experiment to see if the extra warmth results in an earlier harvest.  I am hoping to eat my first salad before the end of this month.  Will keep you posted!

I set up my little mini greenhouse today and moved my spinach, lettuce, green onion, beet and endive transplants outside.  The greenhouse is made of 2 x 4’s and four second hand windows, its about 2 feet tall and 6 feet long and has glass on the top and the front.  I made it 2′ tall so that it could hold my tomato transplants that will go out in late April or early May.  The flats I moved out today are already 3 weeks old and will have to go in the garden within a week or two.  They are all hardy vegetables and can survive a few cold nights, though if the forecast calls for several degrees below freezing, I will probably bring them in for the night.  It feels good to get them outside and the natural light will help them to toughen up a bit before they go in the garden.

March Transplants

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

I like to start my first transplants on the first day of spring – it feels like a good way to celebrate the new season.  I start a tray of peppers and tomatoes, far more than I need but I have a few friends that I share with every year.  Also I make a large tray of spinach seedlings and a mixed tray with lettuce, green onions, beets, and endive, about a dozen of each.  Butterhead lettuces have a wonderful taste and buttery texture but really only do well in cooler weather so I like to include them in this planting.   Everything is up and growing under my light table, it really does feel nice to watch them grow and to baby them along.

Seedlings are quite hardy but they should not be overwatered and they should have sufficient air circulation to do well.  If either of these are a problem, you can get a fungus that erodes the stem of the seedling – this is called damping off.  It is a good idea to check your flats on a regular basis and make sure they are thriving.

It has been such a warm and early spring here in Southern Ontario that I think I will plant my first section of salad greens today.  I am thinking of trying a double layer of floating row cover for the first week or two to warm up the soil.  I also pulled the straw off the garlic  that I planted last fall and there are plenty of little green shoots making their way above the ground.  These I will harvest in April and May as young shoots that I call green garlic, which I use like a green onion.  They are great in soups, bean salads, pastas, and stir fries throughout the spring and I do several more plantings of green garlic in April and May so I have a continuous supply.  You can plant them anytime now – to plant simply break several bulbs of garlic into individual cloves and push them into the soil, about 1 inch deep and 4-6 inches apart.  The root side of the clove should go into the ground first.  I would recommend planting 30-40 cloves in each planting as  I use 5 or 6 at a time in my cooking.

In the Garden

Monday, March 16th, 2009

It is really beginning to feel like spring is just around the corner here in southern Ontario. I just sent off my seed order and am excited to start some transplants. This year I ordered the bulk of my seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow, Maine. They really do have some of the best quality seeds that I have ever used and they make a real commitment to supplying untreated and organic seeds and supplies. There is no duty when you order seeds from the United States, which helps to keep them affordable. I also rediscovered a yellow bush bean called ‘Dandy Gold’ that I have not been able to find for several years. It is a flat podded Roma bean and it is probably the best tasting, butteriest, yellow bean I have ever grown. T & T Seeds in Winnipeg, Manitoba is the only seed company that I know of that carries ‘Dandy Gold’.

For all of you planning a garden for this year, it is time to make a garden plan and to order some seeds. You can buy small seed packets from local grocery stores or gardening supply centers, but seed catalogues really have a much greater selection – both in terms of varieties and packet sizes. Also you are much more likely to find seed that has been organically grown. There are many medium sized Canadian seed companies that offer good quality conventional and organic seeds as well as an ever increasing number of smaller companies that specialize in heirloom varieties of seeds that are organically grown. There is a seed company called Aimers from Hamilton, Ontario that sells packets of organically grown seeds at a local Kingston gardening center, but for the most part I would recommend that you go online and order yourself a few seed catalogues (most of them are free) and do some winter browsing.

At the same time, try to make a realistic garden plan because it is just too easy to buy way more seeds than you really need! Decide on a size for your garden – if it’s a summer garden designed to give you fresh eating vegetables from May to November, I would recommend between 350 and 500 square feet. That is a very manageable size for a family of 4-6. In From Seed to Table, I give several sample garden plans, these are useful to get some idea of how much to plant and when to plant. If you look at the plans, you will see that I plant in 4 foot wide beds and that I plant small amounts every month from April until September – yes you can plant salad greens in September for a very successful fall harvest. If you would like to grow some vegetables for winter storage, you will need a larger garden and a bigger commitment in terms of time and energy. Plan for between 500 and 1000 square feet for a winter storage garden.

March is the time to start some transplants for both gardens. I will talk more about that later, but if you want to grow leeks and onions from seed, you really need to be starting them now. Both have a long growing season and will not grow to maturity in our climate unless started indoors. You can also buy onion sets – these are onions that have been grown for about two months last year, then harvested and stored for the winter. You plant the small, 1-2” onions straight into your garden in April, and they save you from having to make transplants. I always preferred the transplants, because I could find varieties of onions that are better for storage and also because I found them to be more successful in terms of growing to a good size. I would recommend about 400 onion seedlings and 100 leek seedlings for winter storage for a family of four that does a reasonable amount of home cooking – and that likes onions and leeks!

Seed catalogue links

Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Winslow, Maine

William Dam Seeds, Dundas, Ontario

Vesey’s Seeds, Charlottetown, P.E.I.

Dominion Seed House, Georgetown, Ontario

Greta’s Organic Gardens, Gloucester, Ontario

Terra Edibles, Foxboro, Ontario

Salt Spring Seeds, Ganges, B.C.

T & T Seeds, Winnipeg, Manitoba