Gardening in Mississippi Mills: What will this year hold?

David-Hinksby David Hinks

All of a sudden it’s summer – temperatures that are 5 to 10 degrees above average along with very dry conditions – will it be very dry like the great drought of 2012 or a cool moist summer like the last two have been – who believes in long term forecasts anymore??

Hold off on planting any of those heat loving plants that are very sensitive to frost! We could still be in for colder temperatures that could kill frost sensitive vegetables. The Victoria Day 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.

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 Victoria Day 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. Notwithstanding this advice, gardening Guru Ed Lawrence was busy planting tomatoes at the launch of the second annual Veggie Grow-off in Carleton place on Saturday. Ed may know a few things that I don’t!!

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The kick-off took place on May 1st, Workers’ Day, in Carleton Place at the community gardens next to St. Gregory’s School at 176 Townline Road West in Carleton Place. This is a community challenge between the towns that use and support the Lanark County Food Bank. Again this year, the communities of Beckwith, Carleton Place and Mississippi Mills will square off to see which community can grow the most produce for the food bank. Last year the three communities donated 2830 lbs of healthy fresh food to the Food Bank. Many local celebrities (as well as several noted local politicians) spoke at the event.

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What I am planting in the garden this week are vegetables that prefer cooler growing conditions and that are relatively frost-hardy. Last week I planted one bed of Yukon Gold potatoes a relatively early variety. This week I planted a bed of root vegetables that are relatively frost hardy – parsnip, carrots and beets. I used the back side of a steel rake (I could have used a hoe instead) to dig three parallel rows about a cm deep. I then planted three rows on my metre-wide raised bed – one row of parsnips, a row of carrots and a row of beets – then drew the soil back over the seeds and tamped it down lightly with the bottom of the rake.

Some early weeding should now be done. The garlic that was planted in October is now 20 cm high – a quick pass with a hoe or small cultivator will soon dispatch the weeds that are now germinating. Weekly weeding at this stage of the season will save a huge amount of work later in the season. The other option is to apply a mulch of straw – not only will it suppress the weeds it will also help to conserve moisture.

IMG_6681When you are preparing your garden it is important to know what types of weeds you are digging out when you are preparing your planting beds. Some like dandelions have a long tap root – if you are able to get the whole root the plant will not come back – however any piece of root left in the ground will regenerate. Perennial grasses are difficult to eliminate as they have long horizontal roots that may stretch half a metre or more. These are best removed with a spading fork. A rototiller will break those roots into little pieces, every one of which will send up a new plant.

IMG_6677It’s now time to start getting some of the seedlings ready for planting outdoors in the garden. It is necessary to harden-off your home-grown seedlings before planting them in the garden. Plants that have been grown indoors are relatively delicate and can be burnt by the sunshine which is much stronger than indoor light. They need to be given gradual exposure to outdoor conditions, an hour or so the first day, a couple of hours the second until they are outdoors full time in a week or so. Protect from wind and avoid full sun for the first few days. Make sure they don’t dry out – check two or three times a day. You may have to protect them from squirrels – they like to dig in the pots. Transplanting outdoors is best done on a calm, cloudy day. In the photos are onions and leeks in Styrofoam containers and a mixed tray of broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale which are just starting the hardening-off process.

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Neighbourhood Tomato Gardens

More than a dozen happy gardeners were busy last Wednesday getting the Neighbourhood Tomato gardens in Augusta Park and behind the Library ready for the growing season. A delivery of well aged horse manure arrived on Thursday and is ready to be worked into the growing beds. Keep posted for a notice of the next work party!

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IMG_5973The Neighbourhood Tomato Community Gardens in Augusta Park and behind the Library will again be 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.

Every Plate Full May 2-8

Also happening this week is a special series of events to help our Food Bank, and the people that depend on it for emergency food assistance, over the summer period when people are busy and donations really drop off. Every Plate Full will run from May 2nd to 8th, and a number of local events are planned to help rally the residents of Beckwith, Carleton Place, and Mississippi Mills to help feed our communities. The first of these events was a Hike for Hunger, Saturday May 2nd at the Goodwood Marsh Nature Trail in Beckwith Township, Participants hiked the very level 3.5 kilometer trail on a gorgeous spring day (with no bugs) before partaking of hot dogs and hamburgers prepared very generously by the Knights of Columbus.

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IMG_6037Also this week many of your favourite restaurants will be partnering with us for the week – as they fill your plates, they will help fill ours. Look for feature items or specials that indicate a portion of the price will be donated directly to the food bank; donation jars will also be placed in many restaurant locations during this time.

A number of the schools will be holding spring food drives in response to our Every Plate Full call, and these donations will be collected during the week of May 4-8 in an effort to replenish our warehouse stocks. As well, we see this week as an opportunity for schools to encourage conversations in the classrooms around food security issues to raise awareness, and help eliminate the stigma that coming to a food bank represents.

The week will wrap up with a Community Dinner at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, 39 Bridge St. Carleton Place, on Friday, May 8th from 5-7 PM. Board members and volunteers will prepare and serve a delicious, satisfying, affordable meal – one that could be made using the ingredients in our food hampers, challenging the idea that eating on a budget has to be boring or limited. Tickets will be available in advance and at the door. Cost is $15 per person, $10 for seniors, $7.50 for children ages 6-12, with kids up to age 5 eating for free; vegetarian option available. Come join us as “the food bank feeds the community”.

Almonte Hort: Plant Sale May 9 and Burnt Lands Presentation June 1

Please remember the Almonte Horticultural Plant sale Saturday May 9 in the Almonte Library parking lot 9am until noon. Gently used garden related items will be available as well as many perennials, annuals, herbs, books and containers. 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!