Gardening in Almonte: Let’s make it a ton!!

David Hinksby David Hinks

The end of the Great Veggie Grow-off is coming up fast! The final weigh- in and crowning of the victor will take place October 11, at 10:30 am at the Carleton Place Farmers’ Market. It is the final day of the market and it corresponds with World Food Day. To date over 1,000 pounds of food has been donated to our local Food Bank. Many gardeners are now harvesting potatoes and squash – I am sure that 2,000 pounds is attainable!!

The launch of the Veggie Grow-off took place May 1 in Augusta Park in Almonte. The Neighbourhood Tomato Community Gardens in Mississippi Mills, and the Community Gardens at St.Gregory’s Next Door in Carleton Place, challenged the towns of Beckwith, Carleton Place, and Mississippi Mills to see which town could grow the most local produce for the Lanark County Food Bank in 2014.

Bring your bags and armfuls of produce to the Food Bank at 5 Allan Street in Carleton Place and make sure that it is weighed and credited to Mississippi Mills. The Food Bank is open Tuesday 9am to noon, Wednesday 7 to 9 in the evening, Thursday 9am to noon and Friday 9am to noon. Try to drop it off first thing in the morning if possible. Mississippi Mills has a commanding lead however that could turn around quickly as more and more vegetables are ready to harvest and rumour has it that Carleton Place is poised to harvest a very large potato crop.

I do as much preparation of the soil and garden as possible in the fall – our spring can be very, very short. Now that the weather is getting cooler I find that I have more energy to do more of the heavy gardening duties such as spading or turning over the growing beds. I use a long handled round-nosed shovel and leave the bed with lumps and clumps intact as shown in the following photo. I believe that the soil should not be worked up finely or raked as this will destroy some of the structure that we have worked hard to establish by adding compost. Let the freezes and thaws of winter break down the clumps naturally.

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This is also the time of year to review your composting set-up. A good compost pile needs four elements: some carbon-containing material, some nitrogen containing material, oxygen and some moisture. One recommendation is that the amount of moisture is slightly damp, about as damp as a wrung-out sponge, however in my experience it can function quite well with a higher level of moisture.

The set-up can be as simple as four pallets wired together or any of the ubiquitous black plastic but generally the pile should be no more than three feet in any direction. It is important to balance `wet` materials such as vegetable and fruit scraps, that are high in nitrogen with `dry` materials such as dead leaves and straw that are high in carbon – aim for 1 part wet to 2 parts dry. When composting kitchen scraps over the winter, make sure

that you have ‘dry materials’ available. There are lots of free materials such as leaves in the fall – I store several old garbage cans (with a lid on to keep them dry) full of leaves and throw in a couple of handfuls after I dump kitchen scraps in the winter.

Don’t try to compost a lot of wet green material that is tightly compacted such as lawn clippings. This mess is likely going to smell bad and will make composting an unpleasant exercise for both you and your neighbours. Always mix 1 part of wet greens with at least two parts of dry materials such as leaves and add a scoop of garden soil. If your compost starts to smell bad, add more dry material.

To turn or not to turn? Oxygen is necessary for decomposition to take place. This is why people turn their compost piles. Turning the compost pile once a week can produce finished compost in 8 weeks or less. I believe that if you successfully layer the dry and the wet, turning is probably not necessary but it may take longer. Other strategies would be to layer with course materials such as sunflower stems or to insert pipes into the pile that will act as conduits for oxygen.

Some gardeners like to have a perfectly clean garden in the fall but I have learned to be a bit more relaxed about it. One thing that we can do to help our feathered friends to survive the winter is to leave any plants that have gone to seed and that have stiff stems so that the seeds will be above the snow. The following photo shows an American Tree Sparrow feasting on coneflower seeds in January. This could just as easily be radish or lettuce plants that didn’t get pulled and were allowed to go to seed.

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