Gardening in Almonte: Delicious garlic scapes

 David-Hinksby David Hinks

The flower/seed heads that grow on a long stem from the middle of the garlic plant are called ‘scapes’. They can be snapped off and then minced and used in cooking. They have a strong garlic flavour. Connoisseurs recommend that they be used as soon after picking as possible as they become tough quite quickly.

While there is disagreement over whether tomatoes need to have the suckers removed, there is virtually unanimous agreement that if the scapes are removed the garlic plant will put more energy into the bulb which after all is the part of the plant that we want to harvest. Some gardeners pick it when it has one curl, others wait until it has two; I pick it whenever I get around to it.

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I have had the privilege of being able to visit many allotment/community gardens in recent years as I have held workshops with many beginning gardeners. Virtually all of the allotment gardens that I have visited recently in Ottawa and Carp are laid out in military precision in a grid of wooden boxes. It appears that if one starts with a grass area in a city park or a church property, boxes filled with soil is a common choice. The size of the boxes and their height is obviously a function of the space available and the budget. Generally grass or wood chip pathways between the boxes are the rule. Many schoolyard gardens are also laid out in precise arrangement.

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The approach that we have taken in Almonte is a bit different. Photos from May 2014 show how sod was stripped, turned over, covered with top soil and mulch and made into very low-cost growing beds (although a fair amount of hard labour was involved).

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IMG_1391 I had an allotment garden for several decades before I moved to Mississippi Mills and had always taken a lot of interest in how they are laid out and organized. I was very lucky to have had allotment gardens in the Alta Vista area of Ottawa for many years where the standard garden size was 1200 square feet and it was possible to have several if one wished. There were several locations across Ottawa  developed by the National Capital Commission when it was flush with cash and included such features as tool sheds and water taps every 100 feet or so. Eventually the NCC had to scale back and unloaded its collection of allotment gardens – some to community groups and in the case of the Alta Vista gardens to the City of Ottawa. Most of the NCC gardens were large areas that were worked with large machinery. There were very few raised boxes. Since those halcyon big-budget days most new allotment gardens have been on a much smaller scale – many of the gardens have been in parks where the organizers have opted for raised boxes.

There are obviously many different approaches to creating an allotment garden with correspondingly very different implications for cost, size and attractiveness. This led me to consider what are the advantages and disadvantages of boxes versus in-ground gardens.

The most obvious disadvantage of gardening in boxes is the much higher cost. In a large area, for example a field of several acres, it may be possible to use a farm tractor and equipment to prepare the soil and then divide in into smaller plots. The boxes as well have a limited life and at some point will have to be replaced.

Raised boxes may also be very useful for teaching situations where new gardeners surround the box and are able to see the instructor. My rebel spirit likens it to learning to colour within the lines. But we all need to learn the basics before we unleash the creative gardener! And with the raised box it is easier to control marauding rabbits and invading weeds.

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It may be argued that the raised boxes are much neater and more attractive; however I have seen in-ground gardens that to my eye are more attractive.

Raised boxes are obviously critically necessary for gardeners in wheelchairs and other mobility issues. They are also essential where there is very little space or where there is concern about contaminated soil.

So which way is best? My conclusion is that it is very much dependent on the particular situation.

Continuing Gardening Education

The Neighbourhood Tomato will continue weekly ‘weed and learn’ session every Thursday through the growing season. Join us at Augusta Park from 10 to 12 in the morning or from 5 to 7 in the evening every Thursday for collaborative community gardening sessions as we share our knowledge, mentor new gardeners, weed our new garden and share fellowship. Master Gardeners will be there to help with your gardening concerns for both the Augusta gardeners as well as for any other gardeners in the community and will be doing short presentations on gardening topics at 5 in the evening.

“The Great Veggie Grow-Off”

Remember to bring your armfuls of surplus produce to the Food Bank at 5 Allan Street in Carleton Place and make sure that it is weighed and credited to Mississippi Mills as we compete against Carleton Place and Beckwith in the Great Veggie Grow-off. The Food Bank is open Tuesday 9am to noon, Wednesday 7 to 9 in the evening, Thursday 9am to noon and Friday 9am to noon. Try to drop it off first thing in the morning if possible. Without pandering to competitive fever I have heard through the rumour mill that Mississippi Mills already has a commanding lead over Carleton Place and Beckwith!