Gardening in Almonte: Getting ready for winter

David

A visit to the Augusta Park Community Garden on Saturday offered some stark contrasts between plants that can deal with freezing temperatures and those that cannot. As shown in the following photos tomatoes, peppers and beans are clearly finished for the season.

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Many other vegetables, including chard, Japanese greens, kale, beets, leeks and Brussels sprouts have much greater resistance to frost and colder temperatures.

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The same is true for many of our herbs such as parsley, sage and thyme – the following photo shows parsley still growing vigorously. In fact, parsley will generally over-winter and still be great for harvesting in the spring.

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The next photo shows a sharp contrast – black-eyed Susan, a hardy perennial, is still blooming; a hardy currant bush is preparing for winter dormancy; and very tender cannas have been frozen.

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It always amazes me that many plants have so much built-in tolerance and actually thrive in cold conditions while many others have little or no resistance. Apparently some plant species have evolved to survive freezing temperatures by suppressing the formation of ice in living cells or by allowing water to freeze in plant parts that are not affected by ice formation. p

The implications for gardening are all-important. We need to know the growing requirements of vegetables and how they fit with the realities of the Almonte climate. Plan to take some workshops with the Almonte Library and the Neighbourhood Tomato in the spring as experienced gardeners share their knowledge and experience.

The Fall Clean-upp

I am always in favour of doing as much clean-up as possible in the fall – we have had some reasonable days for spending some time in the garden – and our spring is such an incredibly short period of time to get all of the gardening chores done – especially if you hope to observe some of the spectacular migration of the returning birds in the spring.

The tomatoes, peppers, squash and basil are long gone for the season and their spaces can now be cleared, spread with compost and spaded to be ready for next season. It is almost November already and it is amazing how many vegetables can still be harvested from the garden. They include Swiss chard, sorrel, kale, salad greens, spinach, Brussels sprouts, carrots and beets.

It is also time to do a bit of clean-up in the flower beds. Some of the perennial ornamental plants are best if they are cleaned up in the fall. The leaves of hostas become very mushy and are easier to clear in the fall. Other perennial flowering plants are worth leaving as they are over the winter – those with strong erect stems that will show nicely against the snow (depending on how much snow we get of course…) and remember to leave upright stems with seed pods such as coneflowers as winter feed for the birds.

Don’t forget to dig and bring inside the summer bulbs and tubers such as dahlias, gladiolus and cannas – they will not survive the winter in the ground! Dahlia tubers can be dug with a spading fork with the stem snipped off. The tubers need to be dried and then stored in vermiculite in a cool and well-ventilated place. Cannas can also be handled the same way. They multiply very rapidly and you soon find that you are producing more surplus tubers than you can give away. Storage is very similar to dahlias except they need somewhat warmer temperatures.

Planting Garlicp

Last week my focus shifted to planting garlic. I always find this such a symbolic activity, planting in anticipation of a harvest next August. While most of my vegetable garden is winding up the annual cycle of growth and harvest, the little garlic cloves will be growing up to ten cm of roots this fall and will be ready to produce strong green shoots when the snow has barely gone next spring. While garlic is pretty flexible as to when it is planted, I usually aim for mid-October and have had excellent results for the more than thirty years that I have been growing garlic.

I first prepared the growing bed by adding some of my own compost and some well-aged horse manure from my closely guarded secret source and then worked it up with a spading fork.

I then broke apart the garlic bulbs into the individual cloves, planting the large ones and saving the small ones for culinary purposes. The variety I plant is called Music – I have found that it is the most versatile garlic for my purposes – it is reliable and easy to grow, it is very winter hardy, it produces large cloves, stores relatively well and has a very pleasant pungent garlic flavour.

I plant with the pointed end up 15 cm apart in rows 20 to 25 cm apart (I plant three rows on my raised beds that are about a metre wide). I push the cloves into the soil with my fingers until they are covered with about four cm of soil and then use the back side of a steel garden rake to level the bed and fill in the space over the cloves. A light tamping with the rake and the garlic is planted! Once we’ve had a couple of hard frosts I will cover the beds with about ten cm of straw as a mulch to protect the garlic from winter thaws.

Saving Seedp

When clearing the garden beds I carefully check any remaining bean and pea vines for any dry seed pods that I may have missed when I was picking their fresh produce. In amongst the tattered plants some dried seed pods are easy to pick out.

 

These seed pods may be cracked open and the bean seeds collected, dried and then stored for planting next spring. Saving seeds of peas and beans is one of the easiest ways to start on the path to seed saving. Peas and beans have self-pollinating flowers, those in which the flower accepts its own pollen, with or without insect intervention, so the possibility of cross-pollination with other plants is greatly diminished (by 95 per cent or more). Most other vegetables are either wind-pollinated (corn, beets, spinach, Swiss chard) or insect-pollinated (most of the rest). Cross-pollination only occurs within a species but can result in very surprising results. For example carrots readily cross-pollinate with Queen Anne’s Lace, a common ‘weed’ but a very close relative – the resulting seed would probably produce long white skinny inedible roots.  And of course cross-pollination does not affect this year’s crop, only the seed that is produced and that will be planted the following year.

Build a Mountainp

The next big community-wide campaign to support our local food banks has been announced! Town and Country Chrysler in Smiths Falls, along with participating media partners, Metroland Media, TV Cogeco, Lake 88 Radio, and Town and Country TV (TCTV), have joined forces to support area food banks to help fill the shelves this holiday season.

Again this year, the Town and Country Chrysler Build a Mountain of Food Campaign will take place in 11 local towns and villages in support of local food banks. The communities include Almonte, Carleton Place, Perth, Lanark, Smiths Falls, Westport, Elgin, Portland, Merrickville, Athens, and Delta. Over its nine year history Build a Mountain has collected over 550,000 pounds of food and over $260,000.

A number of food blitz days are scheduled at area grocery store locations to help ‘Build a Mountain of Food’. Town and Country Chrysler will be on hand with Dodge Grand Caravans, and along with participating media partners, will be asking people to help Ram the Vans with food to help support our local food banks. All food and money collected in the community stays in the community.

Build a Mountain comes to Patrice’s Independent in Almonte on Saturday November 12 from 9am to 4pm with all donations of food and cash going directly to our local Food Bank.