Category Archives: Vegetable Gardening

Rhubarb

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

It is early May and my husband has been watching the rhubarb emerging with great anticipation.  I like rhubarb, he loves rhubarb and it will soon be time to start harvesting the stalks (petioles)!

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum), native to central Asia,is an easy, hardy, and edible perennial.  Technically a vegetable but treated as a fruit, it is long-lived, easy to care for and bothered by few pests and diseases. 

Rhubarb is sold by ‘crowns’ or perhaps you can get a division of a plant from another gardener.  Spring and early fall are the best times to plant it.  Rhubarb likes a well-drained site with full sun (6-8 hours minimum).  Give your plant plenty of space to grow, about 3m2.  Rhubarb is a heavy feeder so mulch around your new or established plant with compost or well-rotted manure.  I generally give mine a spring dressing of compost as it starts to emerge in the spring.  Rhubarb should be watered deeply during times of drought.

A new rhubarb plant will need a couple of years to get established before you start harvesting it.  Don’t harvest any stalks the first year and then very little the second year.  The plant needs those large leaves to develop to provide energy for the roots and crown to grow.  Over the growing season, flower stalks will start appearing and these should be cut off at the base to reserve energy for the plant.

Rhubarb is ready to harvest when the stalks are 25 – 40 cm long.  Grab the stalk part way down and pull or twist to the side.  When I pull rhubarb, I come prepared with a paring knife and cut off the leaves after pulling the stalks and leave them as mulch.  Rhubarb leaves are toxic as they have high levels of oxalic acid, however they can be safely composted. 

Rhubarb is a cool weather plant so as the season warms up growth may slow down.  Let your plant rest so the crown can recover.  If you have an established plant that doesn’t seem to be as vigorous as it was, it may need division which should be done in early spring.  Dig up the whole plant if possible.  Rhubarb has a very deep tap root but if you capture enough, you can divide the plant making sure each division as at least one or two buds.  Plant your divisions with the buds 4 – 5cm deep, gently firming the soil.

The only other job to do is weed through all the tempting rhubarb recipes.  Enjoy!

https://extension.psu.edu/rhubarb-be-patient-and-you-will-be-rewarded

Why Do We Garden?

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” Audrey Hepburn

If you’re like me, you love to garden. Time in my garden provides me with joy on so many levels — emotional, physical, social, creative — and connects me with the outdoors and the environment. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down, one of the silver linings is that we’ve seen a renewed interest in gardening and its benefits, whether you’re working in a large garden or a few containers on your balcony. So I thought I would explore some of the top reasons I think we garden.

Physical and Emotional Health

Gardening is physical. As a low to medium impact exercise that requires both strength and stretching, you’ll see increased muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness over time, as well as improved sleep and diet (if you grow your own produce). On the emotional side, gardening reduces stress, anxiety, and depression and improves self esteem.

It’s good for the mind — gardening calms me down and helps me be more patient with myself and those I interact with on a daily basis. It gives me time to contemplate as I go about my tasks, up to my elbows in soil. Even weeding is cathartic, pulling out those little terrors by the root!

Just visiting gardens helps to calm the mind, bringing a sense of contentment and tranquility from looking at beautiful landscapes, flowers, or just colour and texture.

Building Relationships

While gardening can be a solo activity (some of my favourite moments are just by myself in my green oasis), it’s also a fabulous way to connect with people, whether they be family or strangers!

Teaching people how to nurture a living thing and to be responsible for a little bit of the environment is a lesson and gift we can share with others. Gardening knowledge is shared through generations — I love hearing about plants handed down from grandparents, or children working with their parents to grow seeds for the first time. It’s a great way to pass on critical life lessons — about patience as plants and vegetables grow, responsibility as they look after their care, and loss when flowers die at the end of a season.

Beyond family, gardening helps us connect with the broader community. Whether you plant too many tomatoes or zucchinis and end up giving them away to neighbours, or participate in a community garden plot, gardening can be a very social activity and a chance to learn from, and share your bounty, with others.

Learning Life Values

Gardening teaches you important life values like patience, determination, caring, and hard work. It also makes you very humble as you realize that there is always something new to learn. You need to observe the seasons and the weather, and this puts you in contact with the natural world. I love that I can get dirty and do this very physical activity, working with seeds and plants and seeing growth in all I do.

Growing Your Own Food

Gardening provides benefits for your wallet, your nutrition, and reduces your environmental footprint. By growing your own food (either from seeds or small plants), your food is automatically more sustainable simply because you are doing it onsite or in a community garden. If you control the ‘inputs’ and do it well, you can save a lot of money.

But ultimately there is nothing more rewarding than planting and maintaining your own vegetable garden and harvesting (and sharing) your results. And we all know how much better homegrown produce tastes versus conventional produce at the grocery store. If you have too much produce, then you can just share the love with others!

Connecting With Nature

I think this is one of the best reasons why people have a garden — the sunshine on your face, hands in the dirt, and feeling connected to nature. The garden is so much more than just plants and flowers — it’s the birds, the bugs, the bees, the spiders, the snakes and all the small mammals. I feel like I am establishing a little ecosystem in my own garden and that I am trying to give back for all the benefits that I receive.

Working in the garden also gives you that sense of wonder, accomplishment, and reward. To grow plants is to give life. It keeps you busy but reminds you to be one with the earth. To see the results of something growing from seed to six feet tall is just incredible.

Exploring Creativity

I find gardening to be an incredibly creative activity. Finding the right plant for the right spot, mixing colours, and making sure there is interest for every season — these are real challenges. I’ve spent much of the past few years learning about new plants to consider in my garden, especially natives.

Helping The Environment

Finally, gardening is so important for our planet. Even though we create our gardens (so they are human made) they do represent natural environments, with trees and shrubs and plants that are all taking in carbon and releasing oxygen. The plant roots stabilize the soil and filter water, and the plants themselves support our pollinators.

We live in a symbiotic relationship with our gardens. We give back by planting and maintaining them, but we receive so much more from them than we give.

Why do you garden?

Cool Season Crops

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

It is that time of year where we turn our attention to thoughts of what we would like to grow in the coming season.  Because of the pandemic, many of us have dabbled in sowing some seeds indoors. It does require time, space, proper lighting and the patience to check your seedlings every few days for proper moisture levels or any signs of disease.

Author’s Seed Catalogues for 2022

Begin planning your garden early.  Now is a good time to browse through the seed catalogues and decide what crops you want to grow based on your own likes and dislikes, as well as how much of each you will need.

If you don’t have the time or desire to start seedlings indoors, there are many vegetables that can be seeded outdoors in the very early spring. They are known as cool season crops.

I look forward to getting out into my garden in the early spring, however, we should not start digging too soon as there are many beneficial insects and native bees that overwinter in the soil or under leaf litter.  They all need time to emerge from their long winter nap.  By growing cool season crops, I get to play in my garden early and benefit from a good supply of fresh vegetables.

Courtesy of Pixabay.com

All the following vegetables can be seeded outdoors as soon as the soil is workable.

LETTUCE & GREENS

There are so many varieties of salad greens such as leaf, mustard, arugula and mesclun. Lettuce is generally a cool season plant, but newer varieties have been developed that will grow happily in the summer.  Salad greens can bolt quickly when the weather gets really warm, however, there are varieties that are more bolt tolerant.  I usually choose seed that I can sow early in the season.  These particular varieties can withstand some shade in the summer so I plant the seed behind a larger vegetable such as kale so that they get the protection they need from the hot sun. Be sure to check the seed package to understand when to sow, how to harvest, and how quickly the lettuce will bolt.

CARROT

Carrots need good drainage and work very well in raised beds.  They work best when planted as soon as the soil can be worked. They require plenty of sun.  The cultivated carrot originated in Afghanistan and was purple.  According to William Dam Seeds, they believe the orange carrot was developed around the 16th Century.  There are many different varieties and some of my favourites are the Nantes and I had great success last year with Nantes Napoli.

KALE

I find Kale a very easy vegetable to grow and it will last well into the fall.  It likes well drained soil.  It is best to harvest the young leaves as the older leaves will get quite tough and stringy.  It is rich in Vitamin C and frost will actually improve its flavour.  I really enjoy Vates, which is ruffled with a medium dark green leaf.  By using a row cover, we were enjoying kale in our salads well into the fall.

RADISH

Radish is amazingly quick to germinate.  I think they add the perfect crispy, peppery taste to a salad. If you plant the seeds early, it will be one of the first vegetables ready for harvest. Radishes also work well for Succession Planting.  Radish varieties have evolved over the years and there are now several different sizes and colours.  I enjoy the French Breakfast varieties.

PEAS

Homegrown peas, whether cooked or raw always taste amazing.  Taller varieties do require some kind of support and will benefit from a fence or string for the vines.  Dwarf varieties are ideal for smaller gardens and don’t require support.  They do need lots of sun but will tolerate some shade in the summer.  Smaller peas are tastier than larger ones, so be sure to harvest often.  The edible garden pea dates back to 16th century England.  I will admit not to have a lot of luck with peas.  I may be getting them planted too late in the spring and with instant summer heat, they do not do well! I am determined to try again this year.  My favourite are sugar snap peas and I would like to try one called Sugar Ann, that matures in 55 days and is a dwarf variety.

SPINACH

A favourite cool season vegetable to grow is the vitamin-rich spinach.  Spinach can be eaten cooked or raw and is full of vitamins and minerals, especially iron and calcium. They mature quickly.  As the plants grow, harvest the outer leaves often to encourage fresh leaf production, but pull the plants before they bolt. Once the flowering process begins, spinach quickly turns bitter, so don’t wait to harvest. Row covers are advisable to protect the plants from leaf miner.  Many varieties have been developed to resist Downy Mildew.

Resources

A good resource for seed planting is Planting Chart Cheat Sheets – Square Foot Gardening

To understand your first and last frost date and when to plant, check out the following on-line tools OMAFRA Frost Dates

Growing Vegetables

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

I am not a vegetable gardener but I love eating fresh vegetables so … I am a vegetable gardener.  I learned how not to grow vegetables from my wonderful Dad.  He liked to grow veggies in rows and hand weed those rows.  This meant that my sister and I were tasked with hand weeding  those never ending rows.  Despite Dad’s best efforts, this was not “fun”.

I first learned about growing vegetables in raised beds from a fellow Master Gardener.  Gardens that have few weeds, are up off the ground to help save my back and look neat and orderly and even kind of pretty … what more can you ask for?  And the best part, the plants are edible!  Since then we have installed several raised beds close  to our house for easy access to watering and harvesting.  They are made of 2” X 8’  untreated spruce lumber.  Some of my beds are 5 years old and the lumber is still going strong.  We staple chicken wire around the beds to keep out the rabbits.  The beds were filled with a combination of perlite, to minimize soil compaction, peat moss, to help retain water, and soil.  Note that peat moss is a non-renewable resource so I would rethink it’s use for the next time.  My composters are in the middle of the garden to make it easy to annually add the finished compost to the beds.  Soil needs to have organic matter replenished regularly in order to feed your plants.

We use straw in between the beds to keep the weeds down and to create clean walkways.  Hay tends to be full of weed seeds.  Shredded bark mulch is used to mulch the vegetables although straw would work for this as well. 

Grow what you eat but try something new each year too!

Beans – using an old ladder as a trellis. Author’s garden.

Some Basics

Most vegetables prefer full sun – 6-8 hours/day, regular water – 1” of moisture per week and heat.  The necessary nutrients are pulled in through water absorbed by the plant’s roots from the soil. 

Most years, we  grow cucumbers, squash, kale, beets, spinach, lettuce, garlic, parsnips, brussels sprouts and onions.  We are usually successful but not always.  New to us, this year, is turnips.  Sometimes nature throws out a challenge like an unexpected late frost or an insect pest which can quickly destroy or damage your crop.  Try to visit your garden each day to stay on top of problems and to harvest those ripe veggies. 

For more info on growing veggies in Ontario check here.  Also check the Peterborough & Area Master Gardeners resources page here for fact sheets on growing lots of different kinds of vegetables.

I am not a vegetable gardener but I have learned how to grow vegetables because I love to eat them.  Have fun and enjoy your vegetables!

Tomatoes – cages in raised bed with shredded bark mulch. Straw used in walkways.
Author’s garden.

Winter, when a gardener’s thoughts turn to Spring

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

So now it’s wintertime. Our plants are sleeping quietly beneath a bed of wonderful white snow, and although we hibernate and rest to a degree, a gardener’s thoughts turn to springtime. I’m exploring some new ideas for my gardens for next spring, and thought I would share them with you.

Credit: Joseph Tychonievich; cartoon from https://www.facebook.com/FineGardeningMagazine/photos

No I didn’t get a greenhouse for Christmas…yet.

RAISED BEDS FOR GARDENING

But I do have a wonderful husband who knows how to make his wife – the Master Gardener – a happy person. His Christmas 2020 gift to me was to create some raised beds so we will be doing that this spring. I have been wanting to do raised beds for a few years since seeing Tara Nolan do a presentation at the Peterborough Garden Show, and I guess dropping those significant hints finally worked 😉

So we did a little research. Have you been thinking of creating raised beds for either vegetable or other gardening? They are great to extend the gardening season, be able to control soil quality, provide accessibility for older gardeners or those with disabilities, create a garden for special purposes (youngsters or horticultural therapy), increase yields, reduce weeds, and keep critters at bay. They also work well for condos and rooftops in our urban centres. Here’s some great sites I found for those interested in the idea.

One of my favourite gardeners with a similar climate to mine in Central Ontario – Erin Schanen in Southeastern Wisconsin (zone 5) – The Impatient Gardener. She has several good articles on growing in raised beds, from layout through to construction.

Tara Nolan’s book Raised Bed Revolution emerged at a time when this idea was gaining a lot of traction, and it’s an excellent source of information on size requirements for constructing raised beds, height suggestions, types of materials you can use, and creative tips for fitting the maximum garden capacity into small spaces—including vertical gardening. The Toronto Botanical Garden also wrote a great review. We also have a copy of Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening, which focuses on growing more fresh produce in less space, and is very complementary to the raised bed philosophy.

For some general information on raised beds try here and here.

ORDERING YOUR SEEDS

Maybe it was just the crazy rush (and delay on delivery) for seeds this past spring, but we just ordered our vegetable and flower seeds for the 2021 season. There are lots of seed companies to choose from, but please try to shop from Canadian companies and especially those local to you. Although COVID-19 meant the cancellation of Peterborough’s wonderful Seedy Sunday, the organizers did post a list of all the vendors who would have been there, and it’s a great resource, as is the Seeds of Diversity site.

ESPALIERED FRUIT TREES

Espaliered fruit trees (espalier – to train a tree or shrub to grow flat against a support or wall) have been on my garden wish list for several years, and I missed an opportunity to pick up a mixed apple espalier tree several years ago which I have been kicking myself for ever since. I saw amazing espaliered fruit (English style) in the Victorian Kitchen Garden at Meadow View Gardens (just north of Cobourg) on a Master Gardener tour several years ago, and was entranced (well I’m entranced by owners Julie and Garry Edwards’ entire English-inspired gardens, but that’s another story).  

Although they can be any kind of fruit they are most often apples, and the key to doing it well is understanding how to prune the trees. Garden Therapy has an excellent article on how to grow these edible gardens, in ways that can accommodate both small spaces but be decorative. There are many different shapes that can be done – cordon (branches straight out to the sides), fan (branches fanning up and to the side), candelabra (like a cordon but the branches turn at a right angle to form the shape of a candelabra), lattice (multiple trees with crossing branches), and “Y” shapes. Maybe this is something you can try in your garden as well? The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) has a list of nut and fruit tree nurseries. I know one company I have dealt with is Silver Creek Nurseries in Wellesley, who specialize in fruit trees, and they offer the following advice on their website:

“Spur bearing varieties are recommended (rather than tip bearing), such as Cox’s Orange Pippin, Winesap, Fuji, Belle de Boskoop, Calville Blanc, Sweet 16 and many more. Apple and pears are generally the easiest fruits to train, but other species may be espaliered with varying degrees of difficulty.”

Grow a Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning Techniques for Small-Space, Easy-Harvest Fruit Trees is also recommended as a resource (although I haven’t read it).

I’ll be in touch with them once spring rolls around, which should be in 82 days or so (but who’s counting?). Enjoy your winter garden dreaming, and spring will be here soon enough.

Year in review: part 1

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

It is a beautiful fall day as I’m writing this blog, blue sky and temperature around 20 degrees. I have just finished the last jobs before putting my garden to bed for the winter. The last of my 30 or so bags of leaves have been mulched and put onto the gardens, apple trees have all been wrapped to prevent rabbits and squirrels from eating the bark off of them, and I have emptied the rain barrels onto the trees, shrubs and fruit bushes.

Time for both a well earned rest and for me to put together my garden review list for this year. All season long I jot down notes of anything that is working, not working or something that I need to concentrate on or remember for next year and then I compile it into one list. This year I’m going to share my list in this blog, although the list is a little long for just 1 blog so I’ll split it in 2 parts.

I don’t plant many annuals in my garden–a couple of urns out front with 2 hanging baskets, and some large pots at the back. I love the colour that annuals provide all season, but they typically need more watering than I like to do, and I find them expensive. Last year I overwintered some cuttings I took from both my coleus and sweet potato vines as well as overwintering the purple fountain grass. All the cuttings worked great, and in the spring after hardening off I was able to plant them into my pots and urns; they grew really lush and full. The green potato vine was much stronger and more robust all season than either the purple or copper plants, however the purple fountain grass grew back very slowly never really getting the vibrant purple colour back. This year I’ve taken even more cuttings from my coleus along with the green and purple sweet potato vine. However, I decided that I would rather spend the money on new fountain plants each spring.

Urn in author’s garden

I have 2 large compost piles that I use all year, filling to the top with leaves and then burying food scraps the rest of the year. This year I religiously turned the one pile every couple of weeks starting as early as I could and was rewarded with compost all gardening season. In the second pile though, a couple of errant zucchini plants started growing producing lush growth and lots of flowers and I thought ‘why not leave them?’. I’m sure you can guess the rest, not a single zucchini and I was not able to use any of the compost all season. Note to myself if anything accidentally grows out of the compost next year, turn it back in.

For the first time this season I grew Sicilian zucchini, now I didn’t actually realize I had bought this variety until it started growing up the espaliered tree fence and growing 2-3 foot long zucchinis. I’m definitely going to grow them again next year, although in a different location. When the frost finally killed off the plants and we pulled them off the fence, the wires were no longer taut and needed some tightening. Another point to note is that the zucchinis were consistently eaten throughout August and September when they were barely an inch or two longer. I’m not sure why that only happened later in the summer, maybe the squirrel or rabbit population doubled when I wasn’t looking. I’m thinking of placing bags over the fruit as it is growing, hoping by the time it gets to a foot or more it won’t be quite so attractive to predators.

I tend to leave my perennials to self seed as I love growing plants from seed; it is probably one of my favourite things to do in the garden. I have set aside a nursery plot and any seedlings I find in the garden I move into the nursery. Unfortunately this year I noticed a definite increase in the number of swamp milkweed, verbascum and New England asters seedlings. Now I love these plants, but they are taking over both my garden and my garden paths. I grow Verbascum nigrum which is a beautiful stately plant with either yellow or white flowers. It tends to be a short lived perennial but as it grows profusely from seed, I always have a few plants in my garden. Swamp milkweed is a host for the monarch butterfly; in my garden I have both pink and white flowering plants. They prefer moist to wet soil and because my soil is dry, they are also short-lived. Not so the New England aster; this is a native aster which grows 4 to 5 foot with beautiful purple blue flowers, however it can get very large in just a couple of years. Next year I have to dead head these plants, leaving only a couple to go to seed, which I can then harvest and plant in a specific area of the nursery.

Verbascum in author’s garden; this one plant bloomed all summer.

On the positive side, I was surprised by an abundance of aquilegia (commonly known as columbine) in my front garden that I was not expecting. I had left the seedlings thinking from a distance they were meadow rue, only to be surprised by this showing:

Aquilegia in author’s front garden

Aquilegia are one of my favourite plants, but I tend not to grow them as I find in my garden they are eaten by slugs. One day I have a beautiful plant in full flower, and the next day just a few stems still standing. I’ve slowly been replacing them by meadow rue, which for me has a similar lacy look, which I like when paired with hostas and brunnera. Slugs don’t seem to like meadow rue, but for some unknown reason this year, they also left the aquilegia alone. Based on this I have since ordered some seeds from the native aquilegia, Aquilegia Canadensis, which has beautiful red and yellow flowers and also likes sun to part-shade.

And finally the dreaded creeping charlie in my lawn. I have a small lawn which I have been overseeding with clover in my attempt to make the lawn healthier and more low maintenance. Clover has a lot of great benefits in a law including growing in poor soils. Clover is a nitrogen fixing legume, so it will improve the health of the soil and the surrounding grass, needs less watering and mowing, attracts beneficial insects, and crowds out weeds. Unfortunately though it does not crowd out the creeping charlie and actually seems to co-exist with it harmoniously. The recommended solution in a lawn is to hand pull the creeping charlie and because it grows by rhizomes which then root into the soil, removing all parts of the plant can be very time consuming. I have heard that it is easier if you soak the ground first or weed after it has rained. Note to myself, recruit an army to help me after each rainfall in the spring, either that or learn to love it!

Garden Myths

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Gardeners have been passing down tips, tricks, and knowledge for generations. Some of this advice is science-based and works, but much of it is a mix of folklore and superstition. While some of it is benign, some of it may actually harm your gardens or have you spending money when you don’t need to.

Here are five of my favourite garden myths – there are hundreds out there – just google ‘garden myths’ and you’ll see what I mean.Picture1

I think social media has intensified the problem – in the past information spread through word of mouth, often handed down through generations. Now anyone with a computer can claim to be an expert, and provide inaccurate information that others will share.

Part of my reason for becoming a Master Gardener was to expand my gardening knowledge and share my passion for growing with others using solid, science-based information. We offer our services to the public in many forms – through presentations, advice clinics, answering email queries, and publishing blogs like this one!

The Master Gardeners of Ontario (MGOI) website shows where all the Master Gardener groups are located – find yours and their website and take advantage of their knowledge and expertise. If they don’t have the answer they will go research it for you.

MGOI also has a great Facebook page where you can post questions to Master Gardeners. And I highly recommend The Garden Professors Facebook page for science-based gardening information.

Make sure to follow the Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners through our
Weekly Blog (by clicking on ‘Follow’ in the left column on the homepage)
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Twitter or reach us at contact@peterboroughmastergardeners.com

Myth: You Should Stake A Newly Planted Tree

Truth: Unless it’s top-heavy or in an especially windy site, your tree does not require staking. Some movement is actually good for young trees. I loved this description “Just as our muscles grow larger with exercise, tree trunks grow thicker and stronger when they’re allowed to move.”

The response of trees and plants to wind is called thigmomorphogenesis (yes that’s a word!). The buffeting from winds releases ethylene gas, a growth mediator that triggers the formation of wood-strengthening lignin.

While staked trees tend to grow taller, their trunks are skinny and weak, so if you decide you must stake, stake as loosely as possible and only for a short time (no longer than six months). Make sure to use something soft against the tree bark to keep from cutting into it. But best to practice tough love – your tree will appreciate it.

P1030592-e1555428966560
Photo used with permission of The Garden Professors  http://gardenprofessors.com/

Myth: Gravel in The Bottom of Containers Improves Drainage

Truth: This myth will not die. We’ve all been told to place stones or pieces of pot at the bottom of our containers “for drainage”. The reality is that added gravel or rocks to the bottom of your pot will actually accelerate the potential for root rot, rather than preventing it. Water is pulled down through the container by gravity and builds up near the drainage hole. A layer of gravel at the pot’s base serves as the drainage hole and collects water in the same way. So gravel actually moves the pool of water higher up the pot, where it damages your plant.

As long as there is a hole in the bottom of the container, water will find its way out without the need for stones.

Myth: Add Epsom Salts To The Soil Helps Tomatoes Grow

Truth: You would think it was a miracle cure for everything
“It helps seeds germinate”
“It makes plants grow bushier”
“It can prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes” (see bonus information at the bottom of this blog!)
“It can prevent transplant shock”
“It results in more flowers”
“It increases chlorophyll production”
“It deters pests, such as slugs and voles”
“It reduces the total amounts of fertilizers needed”

Magnesium sulfate, or Epsom salt, is a naturally occurring mineral consisting of magnesium and sulfur (MgSO4). Magnesium is a necessary element for plant growth but adding unnecessary salts to your soil will destroy your soil structure over time. You are better to simply add compost or worm castings to the soil. There are decades of research that has documented damage done to both plants and soil with overuse and misuse of magnesium sulfate. Want to read more about it? Check out this peer reviewed study by Washington State University’s Extension Center (click here for more of their excellent science-based studies). The best thing epsom salts can be used for is a nice hot bath after working hard in your garden all day.sphynx-1521190

Myth: You Can’t Grow Anything Near A Black Walnut Tree

Truth: This one is a personal favourite, since I have extensive flower and vegetable gardens in the vicinity of two almost 150-year-old black walnuts. While the roots of black walnut (Juglans nigra) do release an allelopathic chemical known as juglone that inhibits the growth of some plants, the idea that nothing grows under a walnut started gaining traction in the 1920s when a Virginia researcher saw his tomatoes were suffering and just assumed the nearby trees were at fault based on folklore he had heard. Washington State University put out an excellent peer reviewed paper in 2019 explaining the history of walnut allelopathy.

Enjoy your walnut trees! Not only are they robust landscape plants but they provide food and habitat for wildlife and birds. Here’s my lovely perennial garden under my walnut tree (and featured in Linda Chalker-Scott’s paper mentioned above) and my previous blog specifically on this topic.

BP4

(Bonus – information on Blossom End Rot)

Research has shown that calcium deficiency is not the cause of blossom end rot. Egg shells won’t correct it. Epsom salts (which are magnesium sulfate) won’t correct it. Nor will coffee grounds, Tums, calcium sprays, dairy products, or any of the other things that are usually recommended for it. It just corrects itself. It’s not caused by a fungus, bacteria, or virus. It’s not in the soil. It’s an internal condition of the plant. The cause appears to be simply environmental: low temperatures at night, fluctuating temperatures, watering too often, etc. Ammonia fertilizer is linked to it, so some forms of plant food can be a problem. But basically: just pick off the fruit that are affected, water more deeply and don’t allow the plant to get severely drought stressed (daily watering is probably not necessary unless you have unusually fast-draining soil or are growing in a container). The next fruit will probably be fine. It’s usually a problem with the first tomatoes, peppers. and squash that set in the season and the rest come along fine.

Gardening is Not Cancelled – Continued…

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Just 3 short weeks ago I shared my thoughts on the impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on our gardening activities, shortly after the World Health Organization declared it to be a pandemic.

So many events have been cancelled – garden shows, seminars, Seedy Saturdays (and Sundays) – that even the cutest cat photos are not making us feel any better. (yes these are my two cuties – Lulu and Roxy).

girls

Although garden centres and nurseries that grow their own stock are permitted under the conditions of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (as an agricultural activity), many of our favourite nurseries have closed their doors to in-person shopping and resorted to online sales with no-contact pickups at their entrances in order to protect staff and the public.

vandermeer
Source: http://www.vandermeernursery.com/

Fellow gardeners are panicking. After all, this is the time of year when we finally get outside again, clean up our gardens, start seeds, decide on our plans, and look forward to purchasing our favourite plants at the stores.

However, gardening is not cancelled. This year will definitely be different, and we will have to adjust.

In these chaotic times, let gardening be therapy, providing a place for you to find calm and peace.

Working in the soil, with the sun on your face, can take away your worries, at least temporarily. You are using your hands, digging in the dirt, taking in the fresh air, watching the birds flutter around the yard and – best of all – all the news and social media is in the house! Your garden is an escape!

For families with kids at home, gardening offers the opportunity to get the kids outside and busy, while building their self-esteem and bringing variety to what has suddenly become a lot of time spent together. For those on their own you are never truly alone in a garden – there are always birds, bugs, plants or other living things to observe all around you.

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COVID-19 is forcing us to re-examine how we live, and how we consume goods and services. This has translated into an increased interest in people wanting to grow their own food, taking us back to World War II, when millions of people cultivated Victory Gardens to protect against potential food shortages while boosting patriotism and morale. victory garden

We still don’t know whether we will be able to get starter plants, so many people are ordering seeds. As a result, seed companies are experiencing a deluge of orders, with many stopping new orders until they can catch up. Your local Master Gardener groups and horticultural societies can help you out if you need some advice on how to grow plants from seeds.

  1. Start some seeds. Just seeing something grow out of the soil is a very positive experience. Hopefully you have some seed starter mix around (or can get some) and you can use anything to grow seeds in – from old roasted chicken containers to yogurt cups to folded up newspapers.
  2. Check out social media gardening groups – there are groups out there for every topic under the sun, from seed starting to plant identification to perennials. Since the pandemic began, I have noticed far more people joining these groups, which is wonderful because gardeners just love to share their experiences.
  3. Plan your vegetable garden – figure out which ones you can grow easily from seeds. Learn from others and search Google for ideas.
  4. Stuck inside on a rainy day? Find some online gardening classes or check out YouTube for some good instruction videos on any number of gardening topics.
  5. Get outside for a walk in nature – while maintaining physical distancing, enjoy getting some exercise and seeing all the plants emerging from their winter slumber.
  6. Repot your houseplants. You might just find they reward you with some lovely blooms once we start getting more sunshine.

Hopefully soon we’ll be able to look forward to getting plants at our favourite nurseries (you can be sure they are working very hard to find safe ways to do this). When we do, make sure you support your local nurseries and #buylocal as much as possible.

Until then, find your inner gardening zen, whatever that may be, and enjoy all that spring has to offer. I know I will be sitting by my garden pond, thinking about brighter days ahead.IMG_6524*For best information on the COVID-19 situation contact your local health unit or the Government of Ontario website. Peterborough Public Health, led by Medical Officer of Health Rosana Salvaterra, also has great resources.

 

 

 

Where Do I Go but Up?

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I’ve just spent a rather pleasant afternoon looking through one of the many gardening catalogues, occasionally glancing out at my snow covered garden; trying out ideas in my mind to create more space. Having had a one acre garden for over fifteen years I am still trying to get used to a smaller space. No longer can I just go out and build new beds, or purchase trees or shrubs without having a space to plant them. No longer can I try out different pumpkin, squash, zucchini or cucumber plants without some kind of a plan. To create more space for all the vegetables and fruit I want to grow, I am going to have to get creative making use of all my available space.

Vertical vegetable gardening is a great way to grow vegetables when space is tight. Supports such as obelisks, trellises, fences, stakes, even other plants can be used as a support for many vegetables. Ensure that you select ‘vine’ varieties of specific crops instead of the ‘bush’ varieties. Certain vegetables such as beans will produce tendrils allowing them to climb up supports by themselves, others such as squash or zucchini will need a little help and can be tied at regular intervals. Supports do not need to be expensive; you can build many yourself using cheap materials or in my case left over materials I find in my husband’s workshop. If you don’t have the time or inclination, there are many different plant supports in catalogues or stores. Fruit trees can be espaliered to a fence, while fruit bushes can be grown either against a fence or up stakes; pruning to keep them from becoming too wide. I grow my currant and gooseberry bushes as double or triple cordons (a cordon is a single main stem growing vertical), which take up less space than a traditional bush shape and for me are easier to pick.

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My mother loves scarlet runner beans which are vigorous climbers with beautiful clusters of red flowers. Last year I grew them in 2 raised beds side-by-side, creating a tunnel between the two beds using bamboo stakes. I only used up a 4 inch wide strip in both beds and was rewarded with beans for many meals. A lot of people grow beans on a teepee structure which also works well, with a side benefit of being able to use the space under the teepee for planting lettuce. Beans can also grow up other crops such as corn as in the Three Sisters Guild.

Fences and walls are ideal spots to create living walls, especially if located in sun or part-shade. They are ideal for growing leafy vegetables such as lettuce as well as herbs. There are many examples on the internet showing living walls, examples include using wooden pallets, window boxes and gutters. The photo below shows a gutter bed that I had in my last house that I used to grow lettuce and spring onions. The bed worked really well and was both weed free as well as pest free, and if you have difficulty bending down this makes harvesting pain free. The only thing to remember when creating a living wall is to add drainage holes and use a soil that both retains moisture and provides nutrients.

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As you can see from the above photo, tomatoes are growing upside down in hanging baskets. This method worked really well for me, although I have heard many negative stories about growing tomatoes the wrong way up. Tomatoes work really well grown in pots as does asparagus and peppers, you just need to ensure that you are growing the correct variety when growing in a pot. You can also grow salad greens in pots which works really well if located on the patio outside the back door where they are easy to pick. Again you do not need to buy expensive pots, I have been known to grow many vegetables in recycle bins, see picture below or even in an old laundry sink. Again, you just need to ensure you have drainage holes and use a moisture retentive soil combined with compost.

And finally, one last space saving idea that I am planning on trying this year is a pillar of peppers. This idea is from a newsletter that I receive monthly called ‘Dallying in the Dirt‘. Peppers are grown in a pillar made of heavy wire and landscape fabric. The pillar is then filled with soil, holes cut into the fabric at intervals all around the pillar and filled with pepper plants. I’m not sure my pillar is going to be quite as tall as the example shown, but I like to experiment in the garden and this sounds like an interesting method of growing peppers.

 

Thank goodness the seed catalogues have arrived…

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

“Thank goodness the seed catalogues have arrived… I was about to start cleaning my house!”

It starts with the dream.

There’s no better time than now to  dive into a good seed catalogue and start planning for the upcoming growing season. Seed catalogues can be a great resource for bulbs and unique seeds, and offer a far bigger selection than what you can find in your local garden centre. You’ll find inspiration and will likely discover new plants that you must have in your 2020 garden.

You’ll be the most successful if you pick the seed companies that are closest to where you live, or in the same growing region as you. However, you can still have success ordering from a company farther away, but you’ll have to be careful not to order a plant that isn’t in your growing zone.

Below are some popular seed companies from across Canada, with some that are also in close proximity to the Peterborough, ON, area.

Florabunda Seeds

Whether you are an avid gardener or just beginning to get your hands dirty, Florabunda Seeds in Keene, ON, has a wide variety of heirloom and unusual flower, vegetable and herb seeds. They pride themselves in their untreated, non-GMO, and non-Hybrid offerings. They package generously by measurement and not by seed count.  Download catalogueRequest a catalogue.

OSC Seeds

OSC Seeds from Kitchener, ON, features a selection of high-quality seed packets, perfectly suited for the Canadian climate and ready for planting in your garden. Their full line of products includes 30 herbs, 250 vegetables, 240 annuals and 100 perennials & biennials. Request a free catalogue

William Dam Seeds

William Dam Seeds is a family-run company located just outside of Dundas, Ontario, supplying small farmers and gardeners in Canada with seed for food, flowers and soil building. They are proud to offer a varied catalogue of many different seed varieties that are not chemically treated, and some of the seeds are certified organic as well. You can download their online catalogue, or request a mailed copy via their contact page.

Natural Seed Bank

Natural Seed Bank is an online retailer of garden seeds. They sell various organic and untreated garden seeds. Located in Port Hope, Ontario, Natural Seed Bank is 100 percent Canadian owned and operated. All of their seeds are non-GMO and untreated, and many selections are organic. They’re committed to never selling GMO products.

Richters

Richters is your go-to for everything herbal. Located in Goodwood, Ontario, Richters has been growing and selling herbs since 1969. Check out their online catalogue or request a copy to be mailed out.  Online catalogueRequest a catalogue.

Veseys

Veseys is one of the premier seed, bulb and garden supply sites in North America. Located on Prince Edward Island, Veseys has 75 years of history providing products, services, and advice to gardeners.  Be sure to head over and subscribe for your free catalogue. They put on many fantastic specials, have quality products and outstanding customer service. Request a catalogue.

Resources

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