by David Hinks

It has been a great week for the vegetables such as broccoli that like cooler temperatures and a lot of moisture – not as good for plants such as peppers that like more heat and sunshine. This is one of the reasons that I grow a lot of different vegetables. Not everything is going to do well every year but you have a much better chance of at least some successes. The following photo shows broccoli that has put on an incredible growth spurt in the last week.

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Sufficient water is the single most important ingredient for growing a successful vegetable garden.  A minimum of at least an inch of water is required every week for most vegetables whereas average rainfall in Ottawa is about 3 inches a month in the summer. (You do the math.)  As we saw last summer there can be lengthy periods in mid-summer without rain. Last summer this stretched to eight or more weeks with virtually no rain. Be prepared to water if you want to grow vegetables successfully.

I find that many people have no idea how much rain has fallen. People complain after 3 or 4 days of overcast weather with a bit of drizzle that we have had too much rain already. (I would certainly agree that we have not had nearly enough sunshine.) The reality may be that the total amount of rainfall has only been a fraction of an inch. I like to make sure that I have an empty bucket sitting on the patio if I know that rain is forecast so that I can tell at a glance how much water has actually fallen.

As I have mentioned many times, mulching helps to conserve moisture. As well proper soil preparation with lots of organic matter (compost) added improves the structure of soil allowing it to hold much more water. Surface soil that is loose or friable will prevent run-off in a heavy rain and absorb more water. A light sprinkling everyday is counter-productive as it encourages plants with shallow roots that will not have the capacity to withstand dry weather. Soak the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches and do it only once or twice a week. Do not water at mid-day or in the hot sun if you have alternatives.

Try drip irrigation or using a watering wand. If you have a sprinkler that puts the water way up in the air you are going to lose much more to evaporation. Try planting more intensively – shaded soil loses water more slowly. Plants require more water when blooming and in very hot or windy conditions.

So I am very grateful when nature provides sufficient rainfall.

A couple of weeks ago we spread a couple of bales of straw on the pathways between the growing beds. There are now dozens of little blades of oats, wheat or barley sticking up through the straw. A quick pass through with a small cultivator will dislodge these shoots as they are very shallow rooted. They also grow very quickly and actually produce grain heads. Sometimes I leave a few so that visitors can see grain growing up close.

IMG_7133The dreaded Colorado potato beetle has arrived. The adult beetle overwinters in the soil and emerges early in the spring looking for potatoes or its relative eggplant. However it is not going to eat the plants. They will mate and lay their eggs on the underside of the potato plant leaves. When the eggs hatch the pupae are voracious and can strip the leaves off a plant in short order. The easiest stage at which to eliminate the pest is when the adults are first spotted. I have been hand-picking them and tossing them into a bucket of soapy water. It is also worthwhile to flip over the leaves to see if any of the yellow eggs have been laid. These can easily be squished. I find that I have the most success when I patrol the potato patch every four or five days to check for the adults and the eggs. The pupae are small and extremely numerous and by far the hardest stage at which to kill the pest.

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The potatoes that were planted five or six weeks ago are reaching new heights. I am doing a final weeding and then ‘hilling’ them up. This is just simply drawing up the soil on both sides of the row of potatoes in order to keep the new growing potatoes from being exposed to the sun. I don’t do a lot of hilling-up as I prefer to use a mulch of about four inches of straw on the potato beds which is easier than a lot of hilling-up with a hoe. The photo shows the row after hilling it up but before applying the straw.

IMG_7131The Augusta Park Community Garden is in business. There are 8 raised growing beds – four which are 4 feet by 8 feet and four which are 3 feet by 11 feet. There are still a few available and there is absolutely no charge. If you would like to have a garden bed please let Jeff at Mills Community Support know that you’re interested. Jeff can be reached at jmills@themills.on.ca