Gardening in Almonte: Mayor urges caution

David-Hinksby David Hinks

What I am noticing mostly about the weather this spring is the wild swings in temperature and the paucity of precipitation. I had the pleasure of chatting with Mayor Shaun McLaughlin Saturday at the Almonte Farmers’ Market and after discussing the state of our rural roads we naturally turned to gardening. Shaun expressed concern about the cooler temperatures forecast for later this week and whether it was too early to plant frost-sensitive plants such as tomatoes and peppers. I was more optimistic, choosing to doubt the accuracy of the weather prognosticators, however as the week is evolving it looks like the danger of frost is a real probability later in the week, particularly in the rural areas where it is often a few degrees cooler than in town.

And speaking of the Farmers’ Market! It was a great opening day on Saturday with many new vendors. There were lots of plants available including many varieties of heritage tomatoes and they were flying off the shelves. But hold off on planting any of those heat loving plants that are very sensitive to frost! We are still in for colder temperatures that could kill frost-sensitive vegetables. The May 24th (and who decided that May 24 should fall on May18 this year?) rule for planting the garden is still an important rule for heat-loving and frost-sensitive plants such as such as peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and all of the vine crops such as pumpkin, squash and cucumbers. Basil is also extremely frost sensitive. Many gardeners wait until June 1 to plant eggplant and basil.

Some gardeners try to get a head start on the season with relatively tender plants such as tomatoes. I may plant a few tomatoes two or three weeks before May 24 but I spread my risks by planting the main crop when it is warmer and am prepared to cover them up if we get cold weather.

And many kudos to Shaun for his plan to grow more than he needs when he plants his garden and donating the surplus to the Food Bank. He thus contributes to the Great Veggie Grow-off and hopefully leads his community to a second straight victory in the Grow-off challenge to see which of Mississippi Mills, Carleton Place or Beckwith can donate the greatest weight of fresh produce to our local food bank.

I’ve also been busy the last few days transplanting the vegetables that will withstand some frost such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts. These join many of the other early frost-tolerant vegetables such as onions, garlic, lettuce, spinach and potatoes that have been planted several weeks ago in most cases.

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Some of the Kale has also been added to the decorative herb garden in the front yard. This is an heirloom variety of kale named Nero Di Toscana that is described as producing long, dark green blistered leaves.

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One concept that you may want to include in your gardening plans is that of crop rotation. This is an important control method for insects and disease as many pests are specific to one type of plant and may over-winter in the soil. It also may help to avoid soil degradation as different crops use varying amounts of nutrients, for example peas and beans may add nitrogen to the soil whereas most green leafy vegetables are high users of nitrogen. It is important to note that rotation plans have to apply to vegetable families as members of the family are generally vulnerable to the same pests – plant vegetables in family groups and then move the family to another area next year. The family groupings of most common vegetables are as follows:

  • Solananaceae (Nightshade) – includes eggplant, peppers, potato and tomato
  • Brassicaceae/Cruciferae – includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, mustard, radishes, and turnip
  • Cucurbitaceae – includes cucumber, melons, pumpkins, squash, gourds and watermelon
  • Fabaceae/ Leguminosea – includes beans, peas and peanuts
  • Liliaceae – includes chives, garlic, onions and shallots

I believe that the soil has warmed up sufficiently to plant bush beans and beets. I am planting two rows of beans and three rows of beets on my metre-wide beds. I am planting a 53-day green bean named Oceanis that is described as a European filet bean and a beet named Kestrel which also takes 53-days to reach maturity. Beets can be eaten earlier as baby beets or beet greens or allowed to mature to full size. I prepared a raised bed about a metre wide and three or so meters in length. The first step was to dig over the area and get rid of any weeds. I then added some compost – some of my own and a bag of composted sheep manure. I then mixed it up a bit with a spading fork and was ready to plant. Just as I was finishing turning over the soil I turned my back and a big robin swooped in to gobble up a fat white slug that I had exposed – I am choosing to interpret that as a good omen for the growing season! I used the back side of a steel rake (I could have used a hoe instead) to dig parallel rows about two cm deep. I then planted the seeds, then drew the soil back over the seeds and tamped it down lightly with the bottom of the rake.

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Another concept that is useful for vegetables such as beans and beets is succession planting. Rather than plant all of the beans at once plant part every two weeks or so thus spreading out the harvest over an extended period. This can continue over the summer. The average bush bean takes about 50 days from seeding until harvest (beets 55 to 60 days). Given that the weather will likely start to cool off considerably by mid-September, I will want to plant my last crop of beans around the first of August. This also creates the opportunity to have more than one harvest from the same plot of land – I will be planting my later plantings of beans and beets in areas where I have harvested lettuce, spinach, peas and early onions and potatoes.

Neighbourhood Tomato Gardens

The Neighbourhood Tomato Community Gardens in Augusta Park and behind the Library are again a mix of individual allotment plots and collaborative community plots (where we will be growing food primarily for our Food Bank). While we have many gardeners looking for individual allotment gardens this spring, there are still a few available and there is absolutely no charge. If you would like to have an allotment please let Jeff at Mills Community Support know that you’re interested. Jeff can be reached at jmills@themills.on.ca .

We are expecting that gardeners with individual beds will also join in and help with the collaborative community gardens. The next work party is scheduled for Friday afternoon May 22 from 4 to 8pm. We plan to finish preparing the collaborative beds by completing weeding and adding compost and will then transplant our remaining seedlings and time and resources permitting we will finish the perimeter path. Bring tools and a wheelbarrow if you have one.

We had a great work party on Saturday where many TomatoHeads showed up to work on their individual plots and then helped to prepare the collaborative plots and transplant the seedlings which have been happily growing since our transplanting workshop April 18. The following photos show TomatoHeads (and butts) happily at work!

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Keep tuned for details on a major work day similar to the original ‘Big Dig’ last May where we will be creating a walking path through the park and using the organic material dug out from the pathway to create a large berm that will be used for the planting of shrubs bearing edible fruit. As you may recall we received some funding from Tree Canada for this project.

Almonte Hort: Burnt Lands Presentation June 1

The next meeting of the Hort Society on June 1 at 7:30 at Cornerstone Church promises to be a ‘don’t miss’ occasion. Naturalist Brian Carson will be making a photographic presentation titled “the Beauties of the Burnt Lands”. Guests are always welcome!