Category Archives: Vegetable Gardening

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.

Trench or “Hole” Composting

By Suzanne Seryck,  Peterborough Master Gardener

After squirrels chewed through my black plastic compost bins 2 years in a row, I decided it was time to try something new. Trench or hole composting is a relatively simple, easy and cheap way to compost kitchen and yard waste. The plants are fed at the roots, where they need it the most, producing healthier plants with strong root systems.

The rules of what materials you can compost using this method are similar to that of a compost bin or pile:

  • Dead leaves
  • Kitchen Scraps
  • Newsprint
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Paper
  • Fresh Garden Waste
  • Wood chips
  • Vegetable waste
  • Corrugated cardboard
  • Fresh grass clippings
  • Sawdust
  • Manure
  • Corn Stalks
  • Hay
  • Dry Straw

For more information on what to use look at this Planet Natural article

In just 2 years of composting using this method I have already noticed a difference in the health of my soil, my plants and especially in the number of earth worms.

Trench composting works well in larger vegetable gardens and involves digging a trench approximately 12 to 18 inches deep, filling it with roughly 4 to 6 inches of yard waste and/or kitchen scraps and then back filling with the soil you removed. Trenches can be used either in a rotation cycle, where you would divide the garden into zones, an actively growing zone, a path and a trench composting zone. Each year you would rotate the zones, allowing you to compost the whole vegetable garden in 3 years. The second method is to dig trenches in between the vegetable rows, this method works well if you grow your vegetables in evenly spaced rows. Over time as everything breaks down the compost will then nourish the plants nearby.

compost-trench

However for my small city garden, I found the trench composting system did not work well. I don’t plant in rows and whilst I do practice crop rotation (which is a method of rotating your crops each year to manage soil fertility and help control pests and diseases) I like to use almost every available space in my vegetable garden. Instead I practice “Hole composting”, which works in all types of garden, vegetable, perennial and shrub, just about anywhere where you can dig a 12 to 18 inch hole.

It is especially good if you do not have room for a composter or do not have a sunny location to place a compost bin or pile. Basically you dig a hole, put in the kitchen and/or yard waste, again about 4 to 6 inches and fill the hole in. It really does not get any easier than that. Over time the waste is turned into decomposed organic matter or humus along with millions of microorganisms and there is nothing better for your plants. This type of composting is invisible, does not produce odours, takes very little effort (you don’t have to turn and layer as you would using a compost pile), it costs nothing, and you don’t have to buy other soil amendments or plant fertilizers.

2012-04-03_13-24-52

During the active growing season, I dig holes in my perennial garden and bury my kitchen and yard waste. However, in the fall after I harvest the vegetables I also practice this in my vegetable garden, in particular the areas where I have grown heavy feeders, like corn or squash. The following spring most of the material has decomposed and you are ready to plant. In just 2 years of composting using this method I have already noticed a difference in the health of my soil, my plants and especially in the number of earth worms.

Additional information on trench or hole composting here

 

Frost Dates and Pushing the Limits

By Chris Freeburn, Master Gardener

Many of us have grown up with the rule of planting the vegetable garden on Victoria Day (May 24th) long weekend. With the changing weather, hardier plants and stretching the limits, we have realized that many plants can go into the ground well before that date, while others do need the soil to be warmer.spinach-3368254_640

Cool Weather Crops

Cold weather crops like lettuce, spinach, pea, beet and carrot seeds can be planted well before that mystical date. They actually like a cooler temperature to germinate. If you plant them the first week of May, you should have sprouts coming up by the time you plant other seeds.

Warm Weather Crops

Ground temperatures need to be warm for beans and cucurbits such as squash, pumpkin, cucumber and zucchini. Mid May to early June is probably best for putting actual plants in the ground, if you are in an area that does not get frost. Check your weather network for overnight lows. If the temperatures drop and the night sky is clear, chances of frost are better than on a cloudy night. If the air is still, colder air will settle close to the ground and damage plants. If your property is on a slope or higher ground, the cold air will settle around you in the valleys and you may not be touched by a light frost. Being closer to water often draws the cooler air away. If you have planted tomatoes and peppers and there is a frost warning, go out and cover your tender plants with sheets.

Basil and cilantro do not like cool nights, so leave these tender herbs in pots to bring in overnight or do not plant until June.

Annuals

pansy-3373732_640Some annuals such as pansies, dusty miller and english daisies are cold tolerant while others like potato vine and impatiens do not like temperature changes. Do not plant the latter 2 choices into the ground until all danger of frost has passed and the soil temperature has warmed. If the nights temperatures are dropping, bring your pots into your garage or cover with an old sheet to protect.

Perennials

Perennials have survived the winter frozen in the ground so a bit of frost will not hurt them. If you are buying perennials that have been grown and forced in a hot greenhouse, they will need to be pampered by slowly introducing them to seasonal temperatures. This is called hardening off. To harden off any plants that have been living in a warm greenhouse, put them outside in a shady area, protected from the wind for a few hours over several days. Bring them back into the warmth of your home or heated garage for the night. Increase the number of hours they are outside each day, until they are used to the outside temperatures.

According to the Farmers Almanac, the last frost date for Peterborough is May 14th, however the full moon is on the 28th. If the night of the full moon is clear and cool, we could see frost. Beware!

Preparing your garden beds for planting vegetables and annuals

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

It’s spring. You’ve got a lot of the clean-up well underway. You’re starting to look at your annual and vegetable beds to get them ready for bedding plants and seeds.

bannerpick

If you work the soil too early, it could be too wet and end up compacted. To test if it is time to prepare the soil, pick up a hand full and squeeze it into a ball. Then drop the ball from a height of about a meter or break it up with your fingers. If it shatters readily then it is ready to be worked. If it stays in clumps, then it is too wet and you need to wait a bit.

Can’t wait? Use a large flat board or two to step on. Move them around as you work. The board will distribute your weight and not compact the soil as much.

Remove any weeds that have sprouted over the winter.

If the soil is nice and light and easy to dig into, then all you need to do is add a good layer of compost and let the worms in the soil do the mixing for you. A healthy soil is moist, dark and crumbly with lots of organic matter. Compost is is full of all of the the nutrients the plants need which are released as the plants need them.fresh-2386786_640

Mulch the soil with some straw for the vegetable beds or shredded bark for the flower beds. This will discourage weeds and conserve moisture in the soil until it is time to plant. All you will need to do is to pull the mulch back, plant your plants, and put the mulch back in place.

For more information about soil check out this site:
https://www.planetnatural.com/garden-soil/

Happy Gardening!

Benefits of Gardening for Kids

By Amy Woodward, Master Gardener

Spring is upon us and summer is fast approaching…what a great time to introduce children to gardening.  During the spring, children can start planting seeds indoors or plant cool weather crops outdoors.  In the summer children can continue to plant and maintain the garden.  During the fall children can harvest and enjoy what has been sown.amy

As I child I can remember countless hours spent outside in the garden.  In this electronic age, many kids spend time indoors hidden behind a screen or television.  This summer, encourage your kids to limit the amount of screen time and get outdoors and try gardening.  Gardening is a healthy, fun activity that has many benefits for kids.  I would encourage anyone who has considered planting a garden with children to do so.

Why kids should garden:

  • Creates more family time
  • Reduces stress
  • Encourages children to eat more vegetables
  • It is educational & healthy
  • It is good exercise
  • Helps reduce waste
  • Teaches responsibility

Getting Children Interested in Gardening:pansy-2173208_640

  • Give children their own space such as a square foot garden or their own container
  • Supply children with their own tools
  • Plant flowers that attract insects
  • Grow interesting plants
  • Promote composting

Gardening activities:

  • Convert a sandbox into a garden
  • Set up a worm farm or make a bat house
  • Use eggshells to grown plants in
  • Plant in old rain boots
  • Make garden markers from rocks
  • Create a fairy garden
  • Make a small greenhouse

Recommended Gardening activities for kid’s websites:

https://kidsgardening.org/garden-activities/

https://www.kcedventures.com/gardening-with-kids

https://www.parenting.com/family-time/activities/10-inspired-gardening-projects-kids

Seeds: All of the Dirt

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

Spring is almost here!

rucola-salad-plant-leaf
Home gardening by Kaboompics, 2015, used under CC0 1.0.

The seed catalogues have arrived and been perused. Seed varieties have been chosen and ordered. Or not. It’s not too late. It’s almost never too late to buy and plant seeds as different things can be planted almost throughout the growing season.

In addition to Canadian gardening catalogues, you can buy seeds at hardware stores and garden centres. If you are looking for something different, Seedy Saturday or Seedy Sunday is a good option. In Peterborough, it is held on the second Sunday in March at the Emmanuel United (formerly George Street United) Church basement. Many local growers grow their own seeds including many heritage varieties and share/sell the extras they don’t need. There is also the Peterborough Garden Show in April where you can buy seeds not generally available elsewhere.

Let’s get started:

You can buy soil specially prepared for starting seeds. It had the best texture for small seeds to be able to put down roots. The soil should be damp like a wrung-out sponge. Using clean containers, fill them with the potting soil. Read the package carefully for the needs of the seeds. Label your seeds carefully so you will know what you are growing.

Spread the seeds on top of the soil, and then add a dusting of the soil mixture using a sieve to the recommended depth on the package for small seeds. Larger seeds can be pushed gently into the soil. Gently pat the soil, so the seeds are in good contact with the soil. Spray the top of the soil with water. Place a plastic cover lightly over the seeds, allowing for some air circulation.

Some seeds need light to germinate, others don’t. Again, follow the directions. Seeds germinate best with a little heat. The top of the refrigerator is a good place to put them. Once the seeds have their second pair of leaves they can be transplanted into bigger containers. The nice thing about starting seeds indoors is that it can extend the growing season for you and give you many vegetables (or flowers) earlier than you would otherwise have if you just planted them directly. Other plants like tomatoes and peppers need to be started early as they have a longer growing season for them to mature before frost takes them.

Here are some interesting websites which including Starting and Planting calendars:
http://littlecityfarm.blogspot.ca/2011/01/annual-seed-starting-planting-calendar.html

http://espacepourlavie.ca/en/seeding-and-planting-calendar-vegetables

https://www.almanac.com/content/starting-seeds-indoors

The Evolution of Gardening

By Amy Woodward, Peterborough Master Gardener

Last year I went to the Master Gardener Technical Update at Toronto Botanical Gardens.  One of the keynote speakers was Mark Cullen and he was discussing how Canadian Gardening has evolved.  The way we garden is constantly changing by utilizing small spaces, composting and appreciating insects and the natural environment.

Gardening Spaces

Many in urban areas are limited to the space they can garden in.  There are numerous examples of minimal space gardens such as in apartments, community allotments, rental properties and new homes with smaller yards.  A change in my gardening pattern has been from the old fashion long vegetable rows to square foot gardening.   Mel Bartholomew, creator of square foot gardening, was disenchanted with long rows that took up too much space and involved too much weeding.  He came up with the square foot method of gardening that takes up much less space, less weeding and minimal maintenance.  This method is very popular amongst our Master Gardener Organization and for those short on space.  Other approaches to limited space are container gardening, rooftop gardening and lasagna layering.

Composting

trees-1789120_640
Leaves 1789120 by pixel2013, 2016, used under CC0 1.0

 

Although composting has been around for many years, we have seen changes in the way people compost.  For instance, in the past, leaves were known as a nuisance and people would rake them, bag them and wait for the municipality to pick them up.  Now it is recognized that leaves are a great addition to the compost pile.  Leaves are rich in carbon and balance out nitrogen rich green material.  You can also use leaves as mulch.  Simply rake leaves onto the garden and the leaves will keep the moisture in and weeds out.  Leafs are also used to improve soil texture and encourage earth worms to reside there.

Pollinators

 

nature-3076891_640
Nature 3076891 by hettyvanderzanden, 2015, used under CC0 1.0 

The public is now more educated and interested in how to save native pollinators such as flies, wasps, beetles, birds, butterflies and most importantly bees. Unfortunately, pollinator populations are decreasing.  A number of steps have been adopted to protect pollinators including choosing native plants, planting milkweed, decreasing pesticides and installing insect hotels.  The critical role that pollinators play is why the public is so concerned and methods of gardening are changing.

 

 

Overall, gardening continues to change and evolve.  It will be interesting to see what our future has in store for us.

The Soil in Your Garden

by Christine Freeburn – Master Gardener

For the plants in your garden to be the best they can be, you need to start with the best soil you can make. Enhancing your soil with compost and manure is the best way to do this.

Soil provides physical anchorage for plants

You need your soil to have enough texture to hold your plants without being so heavy that it strangles them.

You should know what your SOIL TEXTURE is.  To do this, you can try this simple test:

  • fill a quart jar one third full with a sample of your soil
  • dig down into the soil to get a sample
  • fill the jar with water, put the lid on tightly and shake well.

As the soil settles, you will be able to see different layers.  The bottom level is the sand portion.  Next will be silt. Silt has larger particles than sand, but smaller than clay.  Last will be clay.

The amount of each that you have in your soil will determine what type of soil you have….clay, sandy, silty or any combination of these. The best soil is sandy loam, which is about 60% sand and 40% clay.

This will also tell you how your soil deals with water….does it drain well or hold and stay wet longer.

You can amend your soil to improve the texture, but it is a constant challenge. Sometimes it is better to accept what type of soil you have and grow plants that prefer a sandy soil or a clay soil.

Soil supplies water and nutrients to plants

When you water, water the soil and roots of your plants, not the leaf portions. Water is absorbed through the roots and channels up into the leaves.

pH

Another thing you should know about your soil is it’s pH…is it acidic or alkaline. pH has a scale of 1 to 10, with acidic soil have a low number. Most plants like 6.0 to 7.5. This is where they can best absorb the nutrients in your soil. You might have heard that plants like rhodendrons prefer acidic soil, which would have a lower pH.

Knowing the nutrients in your soil is important also. You can send away to Guelph University to get your soil tested, however that can be expensive. You can use an inexpensive soil testing kit also. It will also test for pH.

There are 3 big nutrients and these are Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. You will be familiar with them as the three numbers on fertilizers. Many fertilizers are synthetic, however you can get organic types.

Nitrogen is for leaves and greening of your plants.NPK-01.png

  • fish emulsion
  • blood meal

Phosphorus is for bloom

  • bone meal

Potassium is for roots and overall health of plant

  • wood ash
  • composted seaweed

Other natural fertilizers

  • animal manures – make sure they are well composted or they will burn your plants or be full of weeds
  • manure tea – dilute manure in water, let sit for a week, then water plants
  • comfrey tea – another good nutritional source
  • epson salts – put a tsp in hole when planting

Know your soil, it’s texture, pH and nutritional content

Grow the plants that will thrive in those conditions or be prepared to make amendments

Soil is a living thing which needs to be enriched on a regular basis

Compost and Topdress