Gardening in Almonte: Yes, you may start your tomatoes!

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David

Back in the middle of February I wrote about whether it was time to start some seedlings indoors under lights. At that time I suggested that it was not too early to start seedlings of celery, parsley, onions, leeks and globe artichokes which benefit from a ten to 12 week head-start indoors but that it was far too early to plant tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.

When starting seedlings, timing is very important – currently we are about eight weeks away from the Victoria Day outdoor planting date for frost-sensitive plants. Peppers and eggplant can grow for ten weeks indoors or so and be healthy vigorous plants ready to plant in the garden in late May. On the other hand tomatoes need a maximum of eight weeks; otherwise they will be huge ungainly plants long before it is time to plant them in the garden. So the time is perfect to start these heat-loving plants!

When I mention the number of weeks growing indoors this is calculated by counting backwards from the time that the seedlings can be planted in the garden. If my goal is to have onions and leeks in the garden by the first of May and parsley and celery planted a week or two later (they have some frost hardiness so can be planted in the garden considerably before the May 24 frost-free date) then the calculation results in an indoor seeding date of mid-February. Tomatoes are somewhat hardier than peppers and eggplant – I will be planting the tomato seedlings in the garden as much as a week or ten days before the peppers and eggplant – depending of course on weather conditions towards the end of May.

So, it is now time to get planting tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.  I will wait until mid-April to plant basil, some bedding flowers and vine crops such as squash, melons, pumpkin, gourds and cucumbers.

The first step is to pre-moisten the growing mix –I am using a commercial soil-less mixture that is about two-thirds peat moss so it takes a bit of effort to get it moist. I dump the bag into a large container adding about a watering can of water as I go and mix vigorously. The final product should be moist but not wet (water should not run out if you squeeze a handful).

So I’ve filled the pots (I am using new plastic inserts – 25cm x 50cm plastic trays with a 32 pot insert) with my seeding mixture, planted one or two seeds in each pot (following directions on the packet as to seeding depth), and then covered with a clear plastic ‘green-house’ lid (which I remove as soon as the seed has germinated).

I find that some seeds such as peppers and eggplant benefit from bottom heat that will encourage germination. I use a seed-starting heat mat that fits under the standard plastic tray. The 17 watt, 120v water-resistant mat will elevate the temperature of the growing medium five to seven degrees above room temperature.

Remember to make a chart or put labels in the tray – many of these little seedlings will look very similar when they start growing. I find it is important to maintain charts of what I have planted – both indoors and outdoors – I supplement this with labels but I find that these get lost, move or fade. No job is finished until the paperwork is done!

One last thought that I want to emphasize is that I am speaking only from my own very personal experience. What I am starting and growing is for a small garden that doesn’t take a lot of resources. Growers with large greenhouses have very different approaches. There are many different ways to do things with equally good results. My goal is to share my approach and let you know how it works – other approaches may work equally well – plants are very adaptable and forgiving.

Rejuvenating the Carleton Place Community Garden

The last couple of weeks I have written about a $4,700 grant that has been awarded to rejuvenate the community garden next to St. Gregory School on Townline Road in Carleton Place. This project is being spearheaded by the Lanark County Food Bank (aka the Hunger Stop) in collaboration with existing gardeners at the site and in consultation with local Master Gardeners. The Hackberry Men’s Shed group has agreed to design and build the shed and other structures. Circle the dates April 29 and 30, the last weekend in April. Construction will be in full swing at the community garden on Townline Road next to St. Gregory School, starting at 9 in the morning and going until dark (or until we drop). Bring your wheelbarrows, shovels and rakes!

The Gardening Calendar – Ed and me

Beginner vegetable gardeners often get the impression that the whole vegetable garden gets planted on the May 24 weekend. No!!! Victoria Day is not sacred.  In fact, long before Victoria Day, over half of my vegetable garden is planted.  By then I am even harvesting and eating some of the early crops, such as lettuce, radish and spinach.

The Victoria Day rule for planting the garden in this part of the continent is still an important rule for heat-loving and frost-sensitive plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, pumpkins, melons and cucumbers.  However there are a large number of vegetables that can be planted in the garden as early as the first week of April.  Some years I have planted peas, potatoes, onions, lettuce and spinach as early as the last week of March – not gonna’ happen this year!!

A gardening workshop will be held Saturday April 8 from 10 am until noon in the Boardroom on the ground floor of the Carleton Place Arena. I will be presenting a few slides on the Community Garden project as well as some slides on the gardening calendar, talking about which vegetables like cool growing conditions and the ones that need heat. I am delighted that Ed Lawrence, our very own gardening celebrity, has agreed to join me to answer your gardening questions!