David Hinks

by David Hinks

 I don’t know about you, but after a couple of months with absolutely no outdoors gardening I have been developing a case of severe gardening withdrawal. I was sorely tempted to plant some seeds indoors even if I knew it was far too early but fortuitously I happened to come across the January 16 gardening column in the Ottawa Citizen by Ailsa Francis. It was the perfect introduction to winter sowing of seeds in plastic containers and placing them outdoors (yes, outdoors!!). The concept is reported to work for perennial plants and for cold-hardy vegetables and annuals. A good clue is whether the plant self-seeds. It is especially suitable for seeds that need cold stratification (alternate periods of freeze and thaw) or for seeds that have a very tough outer coating. I have had limited success starting perennial plants from seeds so this is an experiment that I am keen to try.

The first step is to pre-moisten the growing mix – the one I am using is about two-thirds peat moss so it takes a bit of effort to get it moist. I dump the bag into a large container adding about a watering can of water as I go and mix vigorously. The final product should be moist but not wet (water should not run out if you squeeze a handful).

IMG_0195So I started with a half-dozen rigid plastic containers measuring 7 inches by 12 inches by 4 inches deep that I had bought at Home Depot for the deeply discounted price of 88 cents each. These are study enough that I hope to get several seasons of use from them.

I then drilled about 8 holes in the bottom for drainage and about 8 in the top for air circulation. I then added about 2 and a half inches of a moistened soil-less seedling mixture, sprinkled the seeds on top, and covered with growing mix according to packet instructions. The seeds I am trying include Helenium, Joe Pye, Little Blue Stem, sweet peas, calendula, stocks, arugula, a lettuce mix, a mesclun mix and onions. Everything was then carefully labelled. The lids were snapped on and I placed them outdoors on a raised flower bed that doesn’t get a lot of sun in full view of my bathroom window so that I can see if the squirrels are unduly curious about them. I’ll keep you posted on how this works out.

IMG_0250 IMG_0252 IMG_0254 IMG_0260 It was also time this week to take slips from the coleus plants that I had started from slips taken from coleus plants in an outdoor garden bed in mid-October last year. Seven of those ten slips were still growing quite happily under fluorescent lights.

First I filled some 4 inch pots with potting soil. Then I snipped off some of the strongest and straightest branches of the healthiest coleus plants, snipped the bottom leaves off, dipped them in a rooting hormone (available at most garden centres), stuck the bottom inch or two of the slip in the plastic pots and then watered them to settle the soil. I will keep them growing under fluorescent lights in a cooler bedroom. It is essential that the part of the stem in the soil contain a node – this is where the leaves join the stem and is the site from which roots will form. It is also possible to stick the stems in a jar of water and let the slips form roots before potting them up – I find the single step easier and just as reliable. The following photos show the prepared slips and the trays of potted-up slips. These will hopefully be healthy bushy plants to set out as bedding plants on Victoria Day. 

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I had written last December that the Neighbourhood Tomato was exploring the possibility of developing collaborative community garden in Almonte inspired in no small part by a collaborative community garden in Perth that provides fresh organic produce for the volunteers as well as for their Food Bank.

The bare bones of the project would include a garden of about 5000 square feet, with a fence to keep out critters, a small tool shed and a three-chamber composter. The aim is to have the garden in a central, highly visible part of town (Augusta Park is currently being considered) so it’s gonna’ have to be ‘purdy’ which does have an effect on materials chosen and the cost of the project.

Mississippi Mills Town Council had been asked for a relatively small amount of ‘seed’ money – volunteers would provide all of the labour and fund-raising projects to cover the rest of the costs are being developed. We are very excited that Council has decided to give us a grant for $1000.

At a meeting last week of the ‘tomato-heads’ the objectives of the Neighbourhood Tomato were reaffirmed as:

  • EDUCATION, providing free intergenerational workshops on different aspects of growing food organically and locally, as well as harvesting, storage, preservation and preparation;
  • EDIBLEGARDENS, supporting / re-working existing gardens, creating new gardens, land sharing, harvest sharing; and,
  • COMMUNITY POTLUCKS, celebrating the abundance of our community by hosting inclusive community potluck dinners

While we are very grateful for the grant from Council, more funds will be required. So we have launched a sale of rain barrels in conjunction with the sale of trees by the Chamber of Commerce.  We are now accepting pre-sale orders for a Fundraising Truckload Rain Barrel Sale scheduled for SATURDAY, APRIL 26 at the Town of Mississippi Mills municipal garage, 3131 Old Perth Road, Almonte, ON from 9am to noon. Rain barrels are being sold for $55 each or two for $110.

All orders must be placed online in advance at www.RainBarrel.ca/tomato or by calling Deanna at 613-256-7535 or e-mailing deannabarry@storm.ca