Gardening in Almonte: Will we reach two tons?

[David Hinks]We are rapidly closing in on the final weigh-in of the Veggie Grow-off. Last year the total was over 2800 pounds. The latest tally is over 3000 pounds – I believe that two tons or 4000 pounds is a definite possibility. The weigh-in takes place at 11 am on Saturday October 10 at the Almonte Farmers Market. Join fellow gardeners and local dignitaries as Lanark County Food Bank Chair Karen Lomas presents the coveted Veggie Grow-off trophy to the winning community. Mississippi Mills won by a broad margin last year – will we hold onto the trophy for the second year?

The kick-off of the second annual Veggie Grow-off took place in Carleton place on Saturday on May 1st, Workers’ Day, in Carleton Place with gardening Guru Ed Lawrence planting ceremonial tomatoes at the community gardens 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 squared 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.

If you can’t make it to the market on Saturday you can still bring your baskets of surplus produce to the Lanark County Food Bank at 5 Allan Street in Carleton Place. Make sure that it is weighed and credited to Mississippi Mills. The Food Bank is open Monday 5pm to 7 pm, Tuesday 9am to 1pm, Wednesday 7 to 9 in the evening, Thursday 9am to noon and Friday 9am to noon. Try to drop it off early in the week if possible – greens in particular if stored over the weekend when the Food Bank is closed do not look very appetizing by Monday. One other option is drop off your produce at the Almonte Library during regular library hours and volunteers will transport it to Carleton Place.

Harvesting the late potatoes

Readers may recall that I experimented with a very late crop of potatoes. Vacant growing space had been created at the Augusta garden where the garlic had been harvested as well as early carrots, onions, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. After a bit of searching we were able to locate a fifty pound bag of Irish Cobbler at Five Span Feed in Packenham which they gave to us at a great price. Three beds at Augusta Park were planted July 23. The beds were treated to composted manure that was spaded in, a trench was created with a rake and the potatoes spaced about eight inches apart and then covered. As shown in the following photos I harvested on Sunday a reasonable amount of potatoes from one bed, considering that a great crop of garlic had already been harvested this year from the same space. Sixty square feet of garden real estate yielded about 12 pounds of fresh organic potatoes.

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I had also planted a couple of beds of potatoes in my garden near Clayton. In this case the variety I planted on July 27 was Yukon Gold. I had also worked in a lot of well-aged horse manure. As shown in the following photos I also harvested these two beds on Sunday. I got about 47 pounds of potatoes from about 110 square feet of garden space.

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Why was the yield so much better in the Clayton garden? There are so many variables that it is hard to tell – both locations had lots of compost added and neither was watered. However the Augusta garden had more weed pressure and was possibly dryer because of the very shallow depth of soil. Also the Clayton garden has a nice sandy loam that potatoes love.

Many gardeners are planting their potatoes late in an attempt to escape the ravages of the Colorado potato beetle. The adult beetle over winters in the soil, emerges early in the spring and then lays eggs on newly growing potato plants. If you plant potatoes late they have hopefully moved on to your neighbours. This approach was initially endorsed by a gardener in Middleville who swears by this approach. This year she harvested about 45 pounds of potatoes from a bed of about 90 square feet that she had planted July 11. She has made me a believer!

Feeding the soil

Intensive growing makes it even more important to focus on the health of the soil. Crops such as potatoes take a lot of nutrients from the soil. It is critically important to replace these nutrients as well as adding decaying organic matter to maintain the tilth or structure of the soil. Any composted manure of composted material from the garden will meet the bill. Gardeners who have a source of aged horse manure guard the secrecy of the source almost as fanatically as my buddy Michel protects the secrecy of his best fishing spots.

 Gardeners are not the only ones to benefit from the Augusta community garden. A rather dull Sunday morning was brightened by the cheerful chatter of colourful American Goldfinch flitting and feeding among the ripening sunflower heads.

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Ahead by a Century?

Unbelievably to me this is the one hundredth column that I have written for the Millstone. Apologies to the Tragically Hip – not sure that all the lyrics are appropriate – particularly smoking out the hornets (we need to encourage all of our pollinators). But I especially like the line “No dress rehearsals this is our life”.

I appreciate all the feedback that I get in town from my loyal readers (Both of you – you know who you are!!) Over the three years my column has morphed from being strictly a how-to gardening blog as I now embrace topics related to community gardening and to food security issues and more particularly to activities of our local Food Bank. I plan to continue in this vein writing about vegetable gardening as well as food security issues but will probably take a break of a couple of months in the winter.

Over the next few weeks I plan to write about a Hoop House adventure that I have been involved with this year. The potential for local food production and food security is amazing. So far this year from a 1500 square foot unheated green house a group of a dozen gardeners have harvested armfuls of fresh produce for their own use and have been able to donate close to 1000 pounds of vegetables to the Food Bank.