Gardening in Mississippi Mills: Every year is different!

David-Hinksby 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 10cm high when we had a late snowfall of 20cm. 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. Micro-climates are often the best location for sensitive heat loving plants – a perfect spot for tomatoes or peppers for example. The following photos show a couple of spots where the snow was gone last week – on the west side of the house and on the south side of a grove of trees.

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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. 2014 was much, much later – it was the tenth of April when I planted that first row of peas. Who knows what this year will hold? I’m afraid that it is going to be similar to last year. 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.

It’s time to check over the trays that have been planted in the last few weeks and see what I have learned.

The parsley is growing very vigorously but a glance at the next photo shows that far too many of the very fine seeds found their way into each little cell in the tray. The plants in each cell will be thinned so that only about three plants remain in each cell. If the plants are lifted gently to keep the roots intact (I use an old steak knife) they can be transplanted into additional cells – they will suffer very little setback and extras can be given to gardening friends or perhaps to some of the Neighbourhood Tomato gardens.

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The onions and leeks are getting floppy so I will cut them with scissors to a height of about four cm and will keep doing that every week or so – I find it results in a much more robust seedling and as a bonus the trimmings can be added to my salad. The following photo shows a healthy box of onions and leeks.

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In perhaps a foolhardy step I planted tomatoes way too early this year. My plan is to keep transplanting up into larger pots so that I will have very early tomatoes and perhaps be able to sell some at plant sales.

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The following photo shows some pretty scary looking globe artichokes. Artichokes are grown as an annual in our climate as they don’t survive our winter. These as well will probably need transplanting into larger pots.

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I did visit the very helpful folks at the Five-Span Feed Store in Pakenham last week and was very fortunate to pick up my annual supply of 5-inch‘Cow Pots’. I have used these the last couple of years very successfully – they are made from the composted solids of cow manure and are marketed as breaking down very easily which indeed has been my experience Many of the seeds that I will be planting in mid-April 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, squash and cucumbers. I find that this size is great for these very fast growing plants and they also make optimal use of a 10 by 20 inch tray. You may also see instructions on other seed packets that the plants do not like to have their roots disturbed.

I was also able to confirm that they will have Sweet Potato slips available. 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. 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.

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 or place your order with Five Span Feeds for 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 organic 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; on March 7 Master Gardener Gerda Franssen lead a workshop on hot-weather vegetables. We will be jointly leading a workshop this coming Saturday, March 21 at the library looking at a variety of gardening techniques such as mulching, composting, transplanting and disease and pest control. April 18 (note the change in date from April 11) there will be a hands-on transplanting workshop. Seating is limited so if you wish to attend please register first with Library staff – the first two workshops have been sell-outs.

This Saturday March 21 is also the official launch of the library’s seed library at one pm – come and check it out – refreshments will be available (I’ve heard a rumour that it includes carrot cake).

Planning is underway for a major local gardening event to be held in early June which will include tours of the Burnt Lands Alvar and our local community gardens. This will be organized by local Horticultural Societies and the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists Club (MVFN) and an invitation will be extended to the twenty Horticultural Societies in Eastern Ontario. There will be opportunities to volunteer with this event through the Almonte Horticultural Society and the MVFN.