Gardening in Almonte: What a difference a year makes!

 David Hinks

by David Hinks

I find that it is fun to compare one year against another – one of the very earliest things that I plant in the garden is the lowly garden pea. They can deal with a substantial amount of cold and snow. One year I had peas that were about 10 cm high when we had a late snowfall of 20 cm. Once the snow was melted the peas were still growing with no problem. Within our yards the spot where the snow melts first may well be a favourable micro-climate. On March 30, 2013 the south side of my shed was free of snow and the frost was mostly out of the ground so I went ahead and planted a ten-foot long row of peas. The year before, 2012, was truly exceptional when I planted my peas on March 18. In both years the peas produced a very acceptable harvest. This year is very different – as the following photo shows there is still a lot of snow and virtually none of the frost is out of the ground – my shovel just bounced off the soil.

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An early start outdoors is essential for plants that do not tolerate heat. The Ottawa spring can be incredibly short, with snow still on the ground at the end of April and 30 degree temperatures by late May. Some plants such as peas, broccoli, cabbage and turnip grow quickly in cool temperatures and practically stop growing in the heat of the summer. Others such as lettuce and spinach will “bolt”, that is produce flowers when temperatures climb above 20C, resulting in bitter unpalatable leaves. One caveat – do not try to work the soil if it is really muddy – the spot where I plant my peas is well-drained soil that has been amended with lots of compost. However my guess is that it will be mid-April before I plant anything outside this year.

It is now time to plant most of the seeds that I usually start early indoors. The first step is to pre-moisten the growing mix – the one I am using 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). The last bag of growing mix that I purchased was from the helpful people at Carleton Place Garden Centre – it is a mix that they prepare themselves and it is already partially moistened so I am finding that it is much easier to work with.

IMG_0742 Timing is important but nature is flexible – currently we are about eight weeks away from the May 24 outdoor planting date for frost-sensitive plants and six weeks or less for plants that can take some frost such as members of the cabbage family that I would plant outdoors in the first week of May. Celery, parsley, onions, leeks and globe artichokes benefit from a ten to 12 week head start indoors – they were planted in mid-February. 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. So the seeds that I am planting today are those of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and collards – they are all in the range of indoor growing time that will result in reasonable-size plants when it comes time to plant them outdoors.

So I’ve filled the pots 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). Everything that I am planting today is in 32 cell inserts. Remember to make a chart or put labels in the tray – many of these little seedlings will look very similar when they start growing. We will wait to plant vine crops, basil and most of the bedding flowers.

IMG_0749 Four weeks ago I planted seeds of several perennial flowers and annuals that are slow to start that included Gaillardia, Helenium, Rudbeckia, Ascepias, Browallia, Snapdragons and Cotton. I had planted them in five-inch plastic pots as I had no idea how successful I would be. Some of the seedlings are now large enough to transplant into individual pots. As shown in the following photo I use a sharp knife and lift them gently out of the five-inch pot. I then separate them carefully and plant in individual cells in a tray that has 32 cells – the finished tray has 21 ‘Indian Summer’ Rudbeckia, 6 ‘Arizona Sun’ Gaillardia and 5 Browallia. If they continue growing successfully I will have been to produce them for a fraction of the cost to buy the plants at a garden centre,

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Thanks to all those who attended the March 18 Tree talk, “Branching out with Ed Lawrence”, at the Almonte Old Town Hall and who took the time to order a rain barrel. It was a very successful event.

However it is not too late to order your rain barrel. They are being sold in conjunction with the sale of trees by the Chamber of Commerce. We are still accepting pre-sale orders for a Fundraising Truckload Rain Barrel Sale scheduled for SATURDAY, APRIL 26 at the Town of Mississippi Mills Municipal Garage, 3131 Old Perth Road, Almonte, ON from 9am to noon. Rain barrels are being sold for $55 each or two for $110. All orders must be placed online in advance at www.RainBarrel.ca/tomato or by calling Deanna at 613-256-7535 or e-mailing deannabarry@storm.ca