by David Hinks 

The weather has changed with a vengeance and we are facing over-night temperatures that can kill frost sensitive vegetables. As I mentioned last week, 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, all of the vine crops such as pumpkin, squash and cucumbers and amongst the herbs rosemary and basil.

The perennial garden plants such as rhubarb and asparagus are continuing to grow quickly and certainly welcomed much-needed rain. The following photo shows a healthy clump of rhubarb. The plant is sending up flower stalks no doubt triggered by the recent hot weather. I generally pull off these flower stalks (using the same technique as used to pull leaves – a bit of a twist at the base of the stem that I learned as a summer student harvesting rhubarb many decades ago) so that the plant continues to put its energy into the production of leaves and roots. I have on occasion left one of two of the flower stalks which grow into a dramatic one and a half metre tall garden feature.

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The onion sets that were planted three weeks ago are now almost 20 cm high and look very handsome after being cultivated. Now if I can just figure out who to blame for the bit of a curve in my rows.

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The hardy herbs are growing very rapidly and as show in the following photo of bloody dock and salad burnet (an old-time salad plant) are very attractive and decorative plants suitable for a flower border.

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I have also planted bunches of chives in combination with a clump of lovage (an old-fashioned extremely hardy herb that grows to a metre in height and has a strong celery taste), Together I think that they make a suitable accent for a front-yard garden.

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What I am continuing to plant in the garden this week are vegetables that prefer cooler growing conditions and that are relatively frost-hardy. This week I planted one bed of onions and leeks seedlings that we had started to harden-off last week. These had been grown indoors from seed that had been planted February 24. The onion variety is “Red Wing’, a red slicing onion. The following photos show the prepared bed, the onions and leeks laid out in the bed and the final product as the seedlings have been planted to the same depth as in the growing box. Luckily the day was very cloudy so the seedlings did not dry out in the process. The garden bed was watered after planting was completed.

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The mesclun mix that was planted two weeks is growing very happily as it prefers the cooler temperatures to the recent hotter days. The following photo shows a succulent mix of lettuces and other salad greens.

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Early weeding should be done on a regular basis probably once a week or every 10 days – a quick pass with a hoe or small cultivator will soon dispatch the weeds that are now germinating. Another technique that cuts down on the amount of hoeing and weeding required is the use of mulch particularly in the pathways between the growing beds. Hay or straw is most commonly used in this area. I generally use straw as I find that it has much fewer weed seeds than hay. Any seeds of oats, barley or wheat that germinate can be easily pulled by hand or dislodged with a cultivator as they are shallow rooted. I apply a layer of 10 to 15 cm which often approximates one ‘slice’ in a bale of straw. By the way I am talking about the old fashioned bales of straw weighing 15 to 20 kg – not the large round ones that can only be lifted by a tractor. The use of mulch also helps to reduce moisture loss. I find that if I’m using on the growing beds amongst the plants that it is best applied early for cool-loving plants, such as broccoli and later  once the soil has warmed up for heat-lovers such as peppers. Plants such as tomatoes that require an even supply of moisture through the growing season especially benefit from mulch. The following photo shows a beautifully weeded and cultivated bed of garlic with mulched pathways on both sides of the bed. In a couple of weeks the straw in the pathways will be topped-up and brought up on the shoulders of the bed.

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The third workshop sponsored by the Neighbourhood Tomato Education Committee will take place on May 25 when we will be demonstrating planting techniques and discussing how to deal with pests. Keep tuned for more details.