by David Hinks
All of a sudden it’s summer – but hold off on planting any of those heat loving plants that are very sensitive to frost! We could still be in for colder temperatures that could kill frost sensitive vegetables. The Victoria Day rule for planting the garden is still an important rule for heat-loving and frost-sensitive plants such as such as peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and all of the vine crops such as pumpkin, squash and cucumbers. Basil is also extremely frost sensitive.
Some gardeners try to get a head start on the season with relatively tender plants such as tomatoes. I may plant a few tomatoes two or three weeks before Victoria Day but I spread my risks by planting the main crop when it is warmer and am prepared to cover them up if we get cold weather. As always it is important to watch the weather network for the trend for the next few days and adjust your planting plans accordingly.
What I am planting in the garden this week are vegetables that prefer cooler growing conditions and that are relatively frost-hardy. Last week I planted one bed of Yukon Gold potatoes and one of Irish Cobbler, both of which are early varieties. This week I planted a couple of more beds. This time I planted the later maturing varieties Red Pontiac and Russet (which is a baking potato). Once again I bought my seed potatoes at Tru-Value where they dump the seed potatoes in bins and let you pick out the ones you want. I prefer to find potatoes about the size of an egg if I can.
I also planted a bed of root vegetables that are relatively frost hardy – I planted parsnip, carrots and beets. I used the back side of a steel rake (I could have used a hoe instead) to dig three parallel rows about a cm deep. I then planted three rows on my metre-wide raised bed – one row of parsnips, a row of carrots and a row of beets – then drew the soil back over the seeds and tamped it down lightly with the bottom of the rake.
The vegetables that were planted last week – one row of a mesclun mix of a variety of greens, a row of carrots and a row of spinach – are poking their heads through the ground and wondering what happened to the cool weather.
Some early weeding should now be done. The garlic that was planted in October is now close to 30 cm high – a quick pass with a hoe or small cultivator will soon dispatch the weeds that are now germinating. Weekly weeding at this stage of the season will save a huge amount of work later in the season.
Another crop that is swinging into full production is asparagus – nothing more succulent! It also is relatively easy to grow as I pointed out last week. Asparagus will thrive in the garden for 20 or 30 years or more if the planting bed is well prepared, if the plants are given some time to get established (with asparagus this may take three years), if some compost is worked in around the plants in the spring and if you are able to keep perennial weeds such as grasses and thistles from getting established in their patch.
One thing that I failed to mention last week is that it is important to know what types of weeds you are digging out when you are preparing your planting beds. Some like dandelions have a long tap root – if you are able to get the whole root the plant will not come back – however any piece of root left in the ground will regenerate. Perennial grasses are difficult to eliminate as they have long horizontal roots that may stretch half a metre or more. These are best removed with a spading fork. A rototiller will break those roots into little pieces, every one of which will send up a new plant.
It’s now time to start getting some of the seedlings ready for planting outdoors in the garden. It is necessary to harden-off your home-grown seedlings before planting them in the garden. Plants that have been grown indoors are relatively delicate and can be burnt by the sunshine which is much stronger than indoor light. They need to be given gradual exposure to outdoor conditions, an hour or so the first day, a couple of hours the second until they are outdoors full time in a week or so. Protect from wind and avoid full sun for the first few days. Make sure they don’t dry out – check two or three times a day. You may have to protect them from squirrels – they like to dig in the pots. Transplanting outdoors is best done on a calm, cloudy day.
Now if you follow all of these instructions precisely you will probably have to take a week off work. The reality is that if you start on a weekend and baby the plants for a couple of days they will probably be ok. The important thing is that they not be exposed to direct sun for the first few days. In the photos are onions and leeks in Styrofoam containers and a mixed tray of broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale which are just starting the hardening-off process.
The second workshop sponsored by the Neighbourhood Tomato Education Committee took place on May 4 from 2 to 4 pm at 252 Clayton Road just outside of Almonte. About a dozen people got really dirty learning how to transplant seedlings and other plants. The next workshop will take place on May 25 when we will be demonstrating planting techniques and discussing how to deal with pests.