Gardening in Mississippi Mills: Looking Forward to Spring!

by David Hinks

An early start outdoors is essential for plants that do not tolerate heat. Spring in the Ottawa Valley 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 – well-drained soil that has been amended with lots of compost in raised beds will be the first areas to warm up. 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 - bucket of soil

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 or second week of May. Celery, parsley, onions, leeks and globe artichokes benefit from a ten to 12 week head start indoors – they were started 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 until mid-April.

IMG_0749 -seeding pots

Currently the Almonte Library in partnership with the Neighbourhood Tomato is offering a series of organic vegetable growing workshops. We have had a very successful trio of workshops with the forth scheduled for April 18 (note the change in date from April 11). This will be a hands-on transplanting workshop. Seating is limited so if you wish to attend please register first with Library staff – the first three workshops have been sell-outs. The library will be scheduling further workshops through the summer and fall including seed saving workshops.

This past Saturday March 21 was the official launch of the library’s seed library – the rumours were true – it did include a very delicious carrot cake as well as many other healthy goodies prepared by volunteers. There was a good crowd in attendance and the intrepid reporter from the EMC was there to record the event for posterity. If you want to find out more about the seed library or about what is happening at the library, I highly recommend that you check out their website and follow their Facebook postings.

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 our local Horticultural Societies. There will be opportunities to volunteer with this event through the Almonte Horticultural Society.

Circle the morning of April 10 on your calendar. The Friends of Augusta Street Park are planning a simple get together in the park for Friday April 10th at 10. It is called a “Rubber Boot Tour of Augusta.” It is hoped to bring many of the proposed projects within the park to completion this spring by engaging with

  •  Contractors (the guys who at one point or another have suggested they could help and these guys have backhoes, trucks etc) and with
  •  Service clubs who have suggested they’d like to help by financing different elements in the park.
  • The general public to sign up for a garden plot; offer to assist with the 5 Wednesdays in July concert set up and so on.

While there are many non-gardening components in the park, such as the bridge and the basketball court that are not connected with the Augusta Park garden many of the other elements such as the walkway and the water service are of critical importance to the garden. A reminder that the improvements that we are hoping to achieve in the garden this spring 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. Come on out on April 10 and learn how you can help make these dreams reality.