Category Archives: Vegetable Gardening

Becoming the Caretaker of your Garden

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I first heard the term to be ‘caretaker of your garden’ at a permaculture course a few years ago. It has resonated with me ever since and has changed both the way in which I garden and also the way that I perceive my garden. Being the “caretaker of your garden” means that while you own the land that your garden is on, it is only temporary. You are, in fact, simply looking after that piece of land for a relatively short period of time before passing it on.

For me, being the caretaker of my garden makes me consider the longevity of the garden, what takes away from the health of the garden and what gives back to the garden; how to feed not just my family but also the wildlife whilst providing safe habitats; how to make the garden more self-sustainable reducing my time spent pruning, weeding, and imposing my unnatural demands on the garden thus allowing myself more time to simply enjoy the garden. For most of us, we are already doing the groundwork for this change already–it is simply a shift in the way we view ownership of our garden, or more specifically, the plot of land the garden sits on.

The following are some of the practices that I follow:

  • A healthy garden always starts with healthy soil. I amend my soil annually with leaf compost. I have 2 large leaf composters in my back garden which I fill with bags of leaves I collect from neighbours. I also mulch up approximately 20 bags of leaves and spread these liberally over my vegetable and perennial gardens in the fall.

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  • I cut back very little in my garden in the fall mainly just anything that is diseased. In the spring I cut everything up into 1-2 inch pieces and drop them back on the garden. This also acts as a mulch as well as amending the soil.
  • Plants that have multiple uses are important to me. This may be because I have a small garden; multiple functions can include fix nitrogen, use as a fertilizer, be edible or medicinal etc. as well as aesthetically pleasing.
  • Including vegetable plants in the perennial bed. I will often do this if I run out of room in my vegetable beds, however a lot of vegetable plants have amazing foliage and are great to line paths and place in the front of beds.
  • Recently I have made efforts to increase diversity in my small garden, increasing the number of native plants. Native plants are generally hardier, more adapted to our climate and require less maintenance; they also tend to attract more wildlife and pollinators.
  • I try to water as little as possible using rain barrels as much as I can.  I must admit that any plants that do require more water, or in fact more maintenance of any kind, tend to be replaced fairly quickly.ironweed suzanne

For anyone who has not heard of permaculture, it is a set of guidelines, principles and practices for sustainable living and land use. When you narrow down permaculture to your home garden, you are in effect looking at a more sustainable, natural method of gardening mimicking that found in nature to create a cohesive garden, in which all elements benefit, nurture and interconnect with each other. Whilst that does sound like a fairly lofty aspiration, the good news is that just by implementing or adding a couple of permaculture practices can have a significant impact on your garden, but that sounds like a blog for another day.

For me the term ‘being caretaker of your garden’ and the reasoning behind it align with my passion and concern regarding climate change and environmentalism. Whilst the changes I make may only have a small impact these type of changes can add up and often lead to something bigger.

For further information on permaculture:

Comfrey Tea

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I have just finished making a couple of batches of comfrey tea which I will use as a liquid fertilizer on all my pots, vegetables and anything that looks like it needs a pick-me-up. Comfrey is by far my favourite plant to have in a garden, although I should just add that in my garden, my comfrey plant is relegated to an area at the very back behind the leaf composter, as you can see in the following picture:

seryk picture 1

Comfrey is a plant that should be in every garden. In my garden I use it strictly for either mulch or as a fertilizer, which is why the location of the plant is not as important. However comfrey has many more uses; it is an amazing multi-functional plant meaning that it can take on many different roles in a garden. It attracts both bees and other beneficial insects with its pink and purple flowers. Traditionally comfrey (once called knitbone) was used for wound healing, with poultices made of mashed leaves being used to heal cuts and scrapes. The long, large tap root can be used to break up hardpan and heavy clay soils. In addition the tap root is very efficient at ‘mining’ the soil for minerals and nutrients, which is then stores in its leaves–this is known as a dynamic accumulator plant. The leaves can be cut and simply laid on the ground as a mulch wherever they are needed or even added to the composter, or they can be used in a tea form.

By cutting down the plant to about 12 inches, this will trigger the plant to regrow. I typically cut mine back 2-3 times per year. In my last garden, I used comfrey in the orchard where I would plant 3-4 plants around each fruit tree. The comfrey attracted pollinators and other insects to the orchard and I cut the comfrey down using the leaves as a mulch around the trees.

The following picture shows my comfrey plant just after I cut it back:

seryck picture 2

Making compost tea is easy, however I should add that it does smell really bad, so you just need to be aware of this when choosing a place to let it sit for the 2 weeks or so it requires. All you need to do is cut the plant down and add the leaves and stems to a bucket of water. I put mesh over the top of the bucket to keep away the mosquitoes, and leave it in an area of the garden where it will not be disturbed for approximately 10 days to 2 weeks. After that time, strain all the decomposing material off straight to the composter and you have your undiluted liquid. I use this at about 1 part manure tea to 10 parts water, and mix straight into to a watering can.

The following photo shows the comfrey tea after I have strained out all the leaves:

seryck picture 3

There are many videos you can find online showing different ways to make the tea. Here is one that is easy to follow:

I have been using comfrey tea as a fertilizer for roughly 10 years, if not more, and have never had any plants that have had an adverse reaction to it. It is not a miracle grow; it will not double the size of your plants, but it is free, you know exactly what is in it, you have the knowledge that you’ve made it yourself, it is all natural and organic, and for plants in pots, raised beds, or greenhouses you are feeding those plants with nutrients that would normally be present in the soil found in your garden.

GreenUP Ecology Park Spring Sale

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

GreenUP Ecology Park Spring Sale – Saturday May 18th 2019

The GreenUP Ecology Park  has often been called a hidden gem, it has been in Peterborough in its current location for 25 years, but many people are still unaware of its existence. I first discovered the park approximately 8 years ago when I was researching native plants. At that time I wanted to plant a large perennial bed filled exclusively with native plants. I spent all winter researching the plants I wanted and where I could buy them locally and came across the Ecology Park and better still discovered they were holding a spring sale.

I dutifully arrived on the day of the sale 5 minutes after opening only to discover a very, very long line of people all carrying totes, boxes, bags, anything that could be used to carry plants. Even though it was incredible busy I was able to find almost everything on my list with help from the many knowledgeable volunteers and staff that were on hand to help. I was quickly and efficiently processed through the payment line, and was soon on my way home to start planting. The quality and choice of plants was extensive, and I knew then that I had found something special. I have been returning to the Ecology Park every year since either as a customer or as a volunteer.

plantsalecourtesyofGreenUpFBpage

Native plants are plants that grow locally in a particular area. Whether you are planting an entire garden of native plants or simply planting one or two, the benefits are numerous. Native plants tends to be more hardy to the local conditions, needing less watering, and next to no pesticides or fertilizers. They can improve air quality, help in managing rain water runoff and maintain healthy soil as their root systems are deep and help prevent soil from compaction and erosion. Native plants provide both habitat and food sources for wildlife, as many native pollinators rely on native plants. There are numerous interesting articles on the internet detailing the benefits of planting with native plants – I have listed a few below. There are also links to two other native plant nurseries (in addition to Ecology Park).

Why Native Plants Matter
Benefits of Native Plants
List of Native Plants in Ontario
(from Ontario Wildflowers – a comprehensive list)

Native Plants in Claremont
Ontario Native Plants (online only – ship from Hamilton)

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This year the GreenUP Ecology Park Spring Sale is being held on Saturday May 18th from 10 am until 4 pm. As well as trees, shrubs and wildflowers you can also buy vegetables and annuals at the sale along with compost, mulch and wood chips, but make sure you bring your own containers to hold the compost or mulch. A list of available trees, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses is available on the Ecology Park website.

Children are welcome, even encouraged. While you shop there is a large children’s play area complete with a willow trail and cedar maze to keep them entertained. Be sure to check out the latest addition to the park, the new children’s education shelter which has been built using sustainable practices.

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And finally, the Peterborough Master Gardeners will be on hand wearing their red aprons between 10 am and 2 pm to answer any gardening questions you might have. Be sure to stop by and say hello!

The Peterborough Garden Show

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

It’s coming in 25 days.  It can’t come soon enough.  In our city, “The Garden Show” is a true sign of spring.  It’s an occasion that brings together speakers, workshop leaders, vendors, horticultural society members, master gardeners, exhibitors and many others for one reason:  “For the Love of Gardening”.PGS-logo-small

This year marks the 19th fantastic show: 
April 26 – 28, 2019 (Friday 5-9pm, Saturday 10am-5pm & Sunday 10am-4pm).

And there’s great news ! The show has MOVED – to Fleming College’s brand new Trades and Technology Centre on Brealey Drive with lots of FREE parking and a $10, one-price ticket so you can enjoy the show all weekend.

The Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners will have a booth at the show, and will be happy to answer any gardening questions that you may have. Watch for our red aprons!

The theme “Coming Up Roses” is reflected in several of the amazing speakers along with educational and fun workshops and demos.

This award-winning show was honoured in 2017 with both a “Canada 150 Garden Experience”, and “Garden Event of the Year” by the Canadian Garden Council, so come and see what all the fuss is about.

You will find many of your old favourite vendors along with some new ones.

…and don’t forget the popular “Little Green Thumbs” Children’s Garden that is always teaming with liveliness and action! There are learning activities, face painting, crafts and even a take-home project. Their theme this year is “Miniature Gardens for Elves and Fairies”.

All the show profits go back into our community to fund scholarships for post-secondary students studying in horticulture-related fields,various local projects & Community Gardens.  Since 2002, the show has put over $200,000 back into our community.

Please save the date, visit and and learn why “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” in 2019.

Learn more about the incredible speakers, workshops, bus trips, places to stay and tickets here: peterboroughgardenshow.com.

 

Plants of the Year

By Lee Edwards, Master Gardener

In a few months, gardeners will happily be heading back into the garden.  Along with planting native plants friendly to pollinators, this year, gardeners may also want to include one or all the National Garden Bureau’s plants of 2019; the perennial salvia (Salvia nemorosa), the annual snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus), Dahlia bulbs, and or the edible Pumpkin.  There’s also the perennial plant of the year, the betony (Stachys moneri ‘Hummelo’) chosen by the Perennial Plant Association.  Each one of these plants represent different classes of plants that are fairly easy to grow and are also relatively low maintenance.wild-sage-141575_640

Belonging to the mint family, Salvia nemorosa is a striking, hardy, ornamental variety of sage.  A full-sun, compost loving, easy to grow, drought-tolerant plant, it prefers moist, well-drained soil to produce tall, multi-branched, spectacular spikes of blue-violet flowers starting in the summer.  Once the blooms fade and the stems brown, cut back the plants size by two-thirds to encourage more blooms throughout the season.

snapdragon-20809_640Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) are making a comeback with their fragrant, large, tubular, dragon-shaped flowers in a multitude of colors and heights.  Considered an annual in cold temperature countries, these early spring blooming plants can interestingly withstand cold weather and slow down flowering during overly warm temperature.  Great in containers, snapdragons require constant deadheading to encourage more blooms and often need staking.

Beautiful, tuberous, tender perennials, Dahlias thrive in full sun, well-drained, warm, dahlia-3964712_640slightly acidic, and moist soil blooming from mid-summer to late fall.  Outstandingly showy and dramatic, dahlias need to be fed often with organic matter once the plants begin to grow and deadheading is needed to promote blooms.  Flowers can grow from two inches to 15 inches depending on the plant variety.

pumpkins-457716_640Pumpkins are healthy edibles high in fiber and vitamins to name just a few health benefits.  Related to melons, squash, and cucumbers, plant pumpkin seeds indoors to start, then directly in the ground once the soil has thoroughly warmed up.  Pumpkins require constant watering, pollination by bees to fruit and take from three to four months to mature.  Like many other edibles, they must be replanted every year.

Betony (Stachys moneri ‘Hummelo’) is a herbaceous perennial that blooms in late spring to early summer, showing off its bee attracting, upright, purple flower spikes atop mounding, dense, clump-forming, dark green leaves.  Stachys moneri ‘Hummelo’ likes a sunny location with a little afternoon shade and evenly moist soil.  It makes a striking display when mass planted.

Reference:  National Garden Bureau (“Year of The,”  2019). Retrieved February 18, 2019, from https://ngb.org/year-of-2019/.

Have Fun Gardening!

 

Facebook Groups for the Green Community

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Two weeks ago, I wrote about iPhone and Android apps that can help you to identify plants & trees, know where/when/how/what to plant and also help you to connect with like-minded people for discussion.  Facebook groups serve similar purposes.  At this time of year, these groups are eye-candy for the green community as they often remind us how few days are left until spring, where to attend local (indoor) green/gardening events, and how to care for those houseplants that need a fb groups bloglittle TLC.  During the gardening season, these groups magically transform to become a forum for a little bragging for those inclined to share pictures of the results of their hard work, and also a forum for those needing a little help.  I’ve posted a plant picture to one of them, and had a definitive answer to an identification question in literally less than ONE MINUTE (Thanks, Jeff Mason!).

Here’s a list of some of the (mostly local) groups that I’m a member of.  There certainly are a lot more!  Most are public, but don’t let the ‘closed group’ label scare you.  If anything, closed groups are completely welcoming to gardeners!  They just may ask you to answer a few simple gardening questions to make sure that the group doesn’t get infected by spammers.

Over the Fence with Peterborough Master Gardeners (530 members)

A local group specializing in plant identification, local events, and gardening questions answered by knowledgeable Master Gardeners. Novice, expert and professional gardeners are encouraged to join and post freely.

Ontario Gardeners (3, 571 members)

This group is for us Ontarian’s to post, chat or ask about plants we have in the yard, pond or house. Check out our files section newly created Oct.2016 and will be added to over time. Happy Gardening!!!

Canadian Gardeners (10,443 members)

This group is for anyone that wants to discuss flower gardens & vegetable gardens that live in Canada. Help others with tips, share your gardening secrets and stories and maybe learn a thing or two yourself! Lots of gardening links, self help and diy posts. Share your favorite gardening books, tools, websites and photographs with your fellow Canadian Gardeners! Add your zone to aid in advise, tips and to give your fellow Canadian Gardeners the idea of conditions you garden in 😊

GardenOntario (2,026 members)

To reach, connect and help educate all members through gardening related articles, videos, live broadcasts, activities and events happening with our societies across Ontario. Affiliated with the Ontario Horticultural Association.

Canadian Succulent & Cactus Hoarders (2,166 members, closed group)

A community place for Canadians who are addicted to collecting succulents and cacti. Ask questions and show off your collection! For now buy/sell/trade posts will be allowed until the group grows big enough that it warrants a separate group.

Plants for Peterborough Canada (657 members, closed group)

Peterborough Ontario Canada – A place to share plants for free. Upload pictures, share tips, get help thinning your gardens, get advice, play the *What on earth is growing in my garden game* offer plants, get plants, swap plants, its allllllllllll about plants! We encourage FREE share. Please save the selling of plants for kijiji. We also encourage you to share photos of your gardens, and upcycling ideas to beautify them!

Garden Deals for Peterborough, Canada (208 members, closed group)

If you know of a good deal on plants or gardening material in the Peterborough, Ontario, area – please post it here. Also – please share if you find unique plants that people may be interested in!!

Garden Seminars & Workshops: Every Gardener’s Should-Do List

By Lee Edwards, Master Gardener

As Gardeners, we already know that gardening has many benefits including improving our health and connecting us with nature, to name just a few.  That said, did you know that attending gardening seminars and workshops can also improve your health- brain gain, ramp up your gardening skills, get you out meeting others with similar interests, and increase your communication abilities?  Even more, seminars and workshops add new ideas to your horticultural know-how, empower your confidence in gardening, and help to propel you to new gardening heights.

So, what does a gardening seminar or workshop look like?  Well, unlike lectures, they tend to be short, interesting, educational talks or demonstrations usually featuring a speaker engaged with a small group of attendees focused on garden topics of interest to the attendees.  During the event attendees typically get the opportunity to ask questions, participate in hands-on activities if any, learn something new, connect with speakers and increase their existing knowledge.

Indeed, during the cold winter as outdoor gardening slows down, attending a garden seminar or workshop is a great way to break up the long winter months away from the garden while remaining involved in garden goings-on and being amongst gardening enthusiasts.  The lively energy and creative atmosphere that permeates these events are infectious to everyone, worth the time and fee to attend, not to mention downright fun most-times.  Truly, garden seminars and workshops should be on every gardener’s yearly to-do list.  If you’ve never been to a garden seminar or workshop, now may be the time to try one, to investment in yourself, inspire your creative growth and add to your gardening knowledge.

Did you know that the Peterborough & Area Master Gardeners annually present a wonderfully fun and informative gardening seminar called “A Day for Gardeners?”

2019 Save the Date

A Day For Gardeners Seminars by Peterborough & Area Master Gardeners

A day of fun, friendship, food and learning.  Select 3 of 6 seminars presented by Master Gardeners and speakers on topics of interest to both new and experienced gardeners.

Date:   Saturday, March 2nd, 2019
Place:  Activity Haven Centre – 180 Barnardo Ave, Peterborough, ON K9H 5V3
Time:  10:00am – 3:00pm
Price:   $35 – EARLY BIRD (register and pay by February 2nd, 2019)
$40 – after February 2nd.
Includes lunch.  Walk-ins on day of seminars are welcome if room is available.

Have Fun Gardening!

 

Protecting my Tomatoes

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

I love tomatoes, especially the ones I can pick fresh from the vine.

Last week I was anxiously awaiting my first tomato. I could see it slowly ripening. Two or three more days and it would be perfect. When I went to pick it, it had small bite marks in it. I feel the most likely culprit is a chipmunk. The bite sizes were about right.

I read somewhere that  old rose canes cut into short pieces 5-10cm sprinkled on the ground will keep cats from digging in the garden. Maybe they will deter chipmunks so  I put them around my tomato plants. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will work.tomatoes-879441_640

I’ve also seen large bites taken out of the tomato. They were deer size. To keep them away, I’ve put plastic webbing around my tomatoes, making sure none were within easy reach.

Slugs also like to eat ripening tomatoes. I went outside with my flashlight one night last year and the tomatoes, the ones that were just the right colour, were covered with slugs. This year, I’ve been collecting my egg shells to mash up fine. They’re going to be spread on the ground around the tomato plants hoping to keep the slugs off. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

The tomato plants in my raised beds 60-70cm high haven’t seen any critter damage (yet). I’ve also got a couple of plants that came up from seed that aren’t protected. I’m willing to share and hopefully the other plants will come through unscathed.

Back to the Garden…

By Vince Picchiello, Master Gardener in Training

It wasn’t long ago that Joni Mitchell sang about making it to Woodstock. In these last few years though, there is a more serious and vibrant movement when the subject turns to the foods we eat and their genetic composition. Additionally, there are real concerns about the lack of nutrition and vitamins that exist in many of the fruits and vegetables that we purchase at our local supermarkets what with the deteriorating state of soils that are infested with herbicides and pesticides. Hence, the return to our own gardens for fresh organic fruits and vegetables.

First and foremost of concern is the introduction of foods that are Genetically Modified Organisms or GMO’s. Genetically modified foods are organisms that have had their characteristics changed through the modification of their own DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). GMO’s have had their genomes (organisms that contain the complete set of genetic instructions) changed in a way that doesn’t happen naturally.banner4-min

In the United States, in large scale agricultural crops, at least 90% of soy, cotton, canola, corn and sugar beets have been genetically engineered. In Canada, canola, soy beans, corn and sugar beet are crops that are genetically modified. However, most of these foods are exported. The lingering issue is whether these foods have any health issues now or in the future. The Center for Food Safety is of the opinion that not enough information has been gathered to deem these foods safe for consumption in the long term. Regardless of the debates, there is an awakening among consumers of the foods we eat.

Obviously, not everyone has access to a garden and some only have room for container plants but the awareness arises from the quality and certainty of the foods we eat. It becomes about choices. We can choose to shop at our local farmers markets whereby we can engage directly with the lovely people who sell their foods. We can ask about farming techniques; whether they use pesticides or herbicides, whether their soil is certified organic or if they use GMOs. Alternatively, for those of us blessed with space on our properties we can slowly begin to amend our soils and start our own self-sustaining journey.

Not to be forgotten through this movement to the garden is our choice of using heirloom seeds in order to preserve some of our declining specimens of fruits and vegetables that have been marginalized by corporate “farmers” in their quest for profitable crops.

Finally, not only is gardening a rewarding endeavour that enhances our health, it attracts nature with the butterflies and bees and the multitude of insects that cultivate our soils, ultimately we get to enjoy the fruits of our labour with pure authentic produce. Back to the garden is a reality that is picking up steam. Why not join us!

Summer Deadheading

by Christine Freeburn, Master Gardener

After spring cleaning in your garden, when you have been weeding and digging and transplanting and prepping flower beds, July gives you time to really enjoy your gardens. But don’t spend all your time sitting in your muskoka chair admiring all your work. Deadheading perennials and annuals keeps them neat and tidy and in many instances, brings back more blooms.

The definition of deadheading from Barron’s Complete Gardener’s Dictionary states “Removing spent blooms before they form seeds. This tends to lengthen bloom season because it encourages many plants to produce more flower buds.”

Deadheading Annualsdeadheading

When taking spent blooms off most annuals, don’t just snap off the blossom. Follow the stem right down to where it meets another branch and break it there. Otherwise you will leave on a stem that will just turn brown and be ugly. Annuals like geraniums, large petunias, marigolds, daisies, and cosmos to name a few, will continue to produce more flowers if they are regularly deadheaded. When plants like alyssum, diascia, bacopa and other trailers have lots of dead blooms, use scissors to trim back, removing the dead parts like giving a hair trim. Coleus grow seed heads which should be broken off to encourage more leaf growth. Most annuals will love it when you cut them back and will bloom again looking bushier and healthier.

In the Perennial Gardensharleenpratt

Perennials also benefit from deadheading. Again, do not just cut off the spent flower head, but go down the stem. If the flowers are en masse, like creeping thyme, take a pair of grass shears and give the plant a hair cut to make it neater. Deadheading also stops unwanted seeds from dropping to the earth and reseeding where you don’t want them.

In the Vegetable Garden

In your vegetable garden, you may want to leave on those peas and beans that got away on you and have become over ripe. You can let these seed pods dry out and ‘harvest’ those seeds to plant next season. Peas plants are a great source of nitrogen, so you can leave them in your garden to die back naturally before you compost, allowing the nutrient to go back into the soil.

When you keep up with the removal of spent blooms, you keep your garden looking tidier, don’t invite disease from rotting blossoms and spread out the fall clean up.

So, grab your wine glass in one hand and get close and personal in your garden to deadhead.