Gardening in Mississippi Mills: Calling all Tomato Heads

David-Hinks

Just what is the Neighbourhood Tomato?

It is a community gardening phenomenon that owes much to the support of the Mills Community Support Corporation, to the creative and promotional inspiration of community developer Jeff Mills and to the dozens of committed volunteers in our community that toil long and hard every summer. The Tomato started in 2011 with the construction of a few raised gardening boxes at group homes and at the hospital.

Mississippi Mills was very fortunate to be awarded a grant from Tree Canada in 2012 in the amount of $3,000. That year 75 apple and pear trees were planted in the two towns and three hamlets that comprise the municipality of Mississippi Mills. To date we have only lost a couple of trees which is remarkable considering the extended drought in the summer of 2012. Volunteers in each of the settlements continue to be engaged with the maintenance of the trees which began to bear fruit last year. Overall responsibility for the trees has been assumed by the Neighbourhood Tomato, advised by local tree guru Ron Ayling.

In 2013 more raised beds for growing vegetables were installed at many locations around the municipality including several at Augusta Park.

In 2014 a 6,000 square foot community vegetable garden was created in Augusta Park. Approximately one-half was divided into individual allotment gardens; the other half was gardened as a community collaborative garden with the produce mainly going to our local food bank, the Lanark County Food Bank. The Tomato led Mississippi Mills to an easy victory over Carleton Place and Beckwith in the ‘Veggie Grow-off’ which was a friendly challenge to see which community could donate the greatest amount of fresh produce to the Food Bank. The Food Bank was the recipient of over 2800 pounds of fresh produce.

The Tomato’s program last year also included weekly mentoring and teaching opportunities and several community potlucks. Other associated events included the five concerts at Augusta Park in July and private gardening initiatives by friends of the ‘Tomato’.

Planning for this year is underway; tentative plans include:

  • A possible mobile container garden
  • More potlucks and community celebrations (the first pot-luck of 2015 took place March 2 at the Old Town Hall with most of our local municipal politicians in attendance)
  • Twice weekly hands-on opportunities to learn about vegetable gardening
  • Putting the final touches on the community garden in Augusta Park which hopefully will include a shed, water barrels connected to the shed roof, a path through the garden that connects with the bridge and the street, water service to the garden, completion of the raised wooden beds to 24 inch height, fence around the garden completed, beds planted and pathways mulched, soil and compost added to some of the beds, berms augmented and planted with edible shrubs, signage posted and a teaching area with decking and a couple of tables.

All of this will require money and people power but to date a lot of interest has been expressed ranging from new gardeners to volunteers that are currently distributing flyers to the neighbourhood. Keep tuned for more information about how to volunteer.

I plan to stop in and visit the very helpful folks at the Five-Span Feed Store in Pakenham this week. One of the things that they were able to obtain for me last year was ‘Cow Pots’. Many of the seeds that I will be planting do not like to have their roots disturbed when they are transplanted into the garden – this is particularly true for vining plants such as melons and cucumbers (I will be starting these around the middle of April). You may also see instructions on other seed packets that the plants do not like to have their roots disturbed.

For these plants I like to use pots that allow me to put the plant and its pot directly in the garden. I use a pot that is biodegradable and will break down over time as it lets the plant’s roots grow through the pot wall. There are three possibilities for pots that I am familiar with – peat pots, coir pots and CowPots. I have used peat pots very successfully in the past but some gardeners are opposed to them as they use a non-renewable resource. Coir pots are made of Coconut husks – I have used them the last few years but found that they did not break down as much as I had hoped in the soil. The last couple of years I tried CowPots – they are made from the composted solids of cow manure and are marketed as breaking down very easily which indeed has been my experience.

The other topic I will be asking about is the availability of Sweet Potato slips. Unlike regular potatoes where the tuber is planted in the garden, Sweet Potatoes are started by planting either shoots (called slips) or vine cuttings in the garden. Slips can be purchased by mail order (one Canadian source is Mapple Farms in New Brunswick) or can be grown by placing tubers in water or moist peat moss 4 to 6 weeks before slips are required for the garden.

The key to successful growing of Sweet Potatoes in this area is choosing a variety that will produce a good crop during the relatively short summer. DO NOT try to grow slips from a tuber purchased from a supermarket. The varieties found there generally require 120 days to produce a crop compared to the 90 or so days of hot weather available to the local gardener. Georgia Jet is by far the best variety that I have found for the local climate, having excellent taste and producing many large-sized tubers. Last year Five Span Feeds was able to obtain Georgia Jet slips grown by a local market gardener.

Currently the Almonte Library in partnership with the Neighbourhood Tomato is offering a series of four vegetable growing workshops. On February 21, I had the pleasure of leading a workshop of over 30 enthusiastic gardeners on starting and growing cool-

weather vegetables and this past Saturday Master Gardener Gerda Franssen lead a workshop on hot-weather vegetables. We will be leading a couple more workshops March 28 and April 18 (note the change in date from April 11). Seating is limited so if you wish to attend please register first with Library staff – the first two workshops have been sell-outs.

Keep watching this space for news about tours of the Burnt Lands Alvar in early June, organized by local Horticultural Societies and the Mississippi Field Naturalists Club.