Greenhouse visit

April 8, 2009


Check out this amazing greenhouse! It’s one of three that David Cohlmeyer of Cookstown Greens uses to grow baby greens all winter long (I took this picture when snow was still on the ground!). I haven’t been in a lot of greenhouses; however, I was amazed to see that David is growing greenhouse plants in soil. All the other greenhouses I’ve seen have featured plants in containers. As a result, most of the mature greenhouse-grown food I’ve tasted hasn’t matched the flavour of foods that do most of their growing in a field.

In David’s opinion, that traditional type of greenhousing poses problems on other fronts, too: “Conventional growers think they know everything that plants require and can mix up chemical concoctions which they mix into a medium (typically based on peat moss) in which to hold the roots. This ‘synthetic soil’ is what you see in most greenhouses. This is quick, cheap, productive, and usually pest and disease free. But the sustainability of this system is questionable.”

For home gardeners, a ground soil based greenhouse isn’t terribly practical since water tubes heated to 30 degrees Fahrenheit are needed to keep the soil warm enough for the seeds to germinate and thrive. What home gardeners and food lovers can learn from David’s soil-based greenhousing is that crops grown in greenhouses can actually taste great and give us access to locally grown food all year round.

Do you buy greenhouse-grown crops often? I admit that I’ve been a sucker for the hydroponically grown bibb lettuce that comes in a plastic bubble container.

Shitty news

March 25, 2009

tomatoseedlingDon’t worry. Everything is fine here! Although I did want to get your attention, I was also being honest about today’s topic: getting your garden soil ready for planting your crops!

Manure is an excellent addition to garden soil because it provides abundant amounts of the three main chemicals your plants need: Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. Nitrogen is especially helpful for helping heavy feeding plants such as tomatoes to thrive. It also is valuable since it helps soil  to hold moisture and promotes easier and healthier root growth. That said, too much nitrogen can limit the amount of fruit your plants bear so long term organic farmers like David Cohlmeyer of Cookstown Greens rarely add manure to their soil as long as they keep up with their composting.

If you add manure to your garden, it’s ideal to have worked it into your soil in the autumn. You can still add it this spring but the manure absolutely must be well-decomposed (or well-rotted). Fresh and semi-decomposed manure is very “hot” and can damage your plants since it contains too much nitrogen (think about those yellow spots cats and dogs leave on the lawn and you’ll be able to imagine what will happen in your garden if you use undecomposed manure).

There is an unbelievable amount of information available about what kind of manure is best for gardens but the most concise guidance I’ve found comes from the Old Farmer’s Almanac which recommends chicken, cow or horse manure for vegetable gardens or cow and horse manure for flower gardens.

For more basic info about soil in general, check out this detailed article that The Pioneer Woman posted earlier this week.

Will you prepare your soil with compost, fertilizer, manure or any other additives before you do your spring planting?

Waiting for spring

March 11, 2009

seedsWell, my untreated, heirloom seeds are ordered from the William Dam seed catalogue and my little greenhouse is assembled (thanks John!). Now all I have to do is wait for spring to hurry up already and get here!

Turns out I’m not alone when it comes to thinking ahead. According to this article in USA Today, seed sales for 2009 are expected to soar to new heights. 

Have you started planning your garden yet? If so, will you start with seeds or plants? I like starting with seeds because there is generally more choice than when you buy live plant stock. (I find it frustrating to be at the garden centre searching for varieties they don’t have in stock.) Besides, it’s so exciting to see little filaments of green popping up through the soil and then, just weeks later, standing tall and fruit laden in your garden!

Likewise, if you are a veggie gardener, what’s your motivation: lower grocery bills, a commitment to locavorism or something else altogether?

Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure gets boxed

August 8, 2008

I thought my pizza garden story offered a fresh idea about vegetable garden design but Josh Freidland of The Food Section (a generally excellent food blog by the way) outlines yet another simple, fun way to make planting and caring for a small garden manageable.

Growing Veggies by the Square Foot

Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure: 5 tips for growing peas

July 4, 2008

Recently I joined a farm tour organized by the Ontario Farm Animal Council. I met the group at Lennox Farm in Dufferin County near Shelburne, Ontario. Bill French, a 5th generation farmer who grows rhubarb and peas, owns it.

Growing 75 to 80 acres of peas a year has given Bill plenty of opportunity to refine his technique. Although my own pea growing efforts are progressing nicely, I wish I’d had the benefit of Bill’s tips earlier in the season. Had I known then what I know now, I would have done quite a few things differently.

Here are Bill’s recco’s for growing peas:
1. Since peas are prone to powdery mildew, plant them in rows that run north and south so that each plant has maximum opportunity for the sun to burn off the dew.
2. Bill also recommends creating raised beds so that rain doesn’t collect around the stems and roots.
3. Fertilize the seedlings with a molasses mixture to raise their brix level. This will make the plants more resistant to disease and the peas will taste sweeter, too.
4. Stagger planting so that you have peas throughout the season. In a farm setting, this means planting a new row every other day for as long as the farmer hopes there are 71 days left in the pea-growing season. In a home garden, you can plant one row and then the next week another and extend your yield time that way.
5. Pick and chill mature peas promptly. On the farm, Bill’s pickers bring peas from the field to the cold storage barn every one and a half hours to preserve the sweet, fresh flavour.

Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure: Dana considers professional help

June 27, 2008

I‘ve learned a lot so far on my big gardening adventure. For instance, bugs eat leaves and seed tape sucks (look to the left). In fact, I think I’ve learned just enough about food gardening to realize how much I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m pretty thrilled to be learning so much about the complicated process of growing food!

I’ve already got a lot of plans about how to improve my techniques for next year. I’ll write more specifically about what I’ve learned not to do later in the year when I’m sure I know what I know (I hope that sentence made sense to you. It seemed pretty eloquent until I wrote it down!).

In the meantime I’m going to do more research of both the hands on and reading variety. I’d love to seek out professional help but I don’t think my schedule or pocketbook can afford the luxury. However, if you’re in a different situation, you might like to spend part of your summer on Mary Jane’s Farm. Although it sounds like a pot plot, it turns out that Mary Jane teaches people like me who want to garden organically how to get great results. It’s like a summer camp for green thumbs!

If you can’t go in person, check out their forums, magazines and books for armchair inspiration.

Grow a peck of peppers

June 20, 2008

The first (and truthfully the only) time I grew sweet peppers, it happened completely by mistake. My brother and I, squabbling all the way, accompanied our mother to the garden centre to buy the salvia, marigolds, dusty millers and other showy annuals she planted every year on the Victoria Day long weekend. In an attempt to re-direct our attention (and preserve her own sanity no doubt) she said we could each choose a plant from a table marked with a large hand-painted sign reading Annuals: 4 for $1. I have no recollection of what plant my brother chose, but my choice was a four pack of unmarked stems featuring lovely, dark green leaves.

Being a preteen who was more interested in talking on the phone than gardening, I unceremoniously plunked my spindly plants into the small holes I made in one of the dry beds at the side of our house. It was the kind of plot in which snapdragons and sunflowers thrived since the sun belted down on it unrelentingly each day. As my grandmother pointed out, it was a place “no nice leafy, green plant like that should be asked to grow.” A year earlier I would have taken her hint and moved my plants to a shadier spot, but that summer I was on the verge of adolescence so I just rolled my eyes and left my plants exactly where they stood.

By some miracle, my youthful arrogance was vilified that sweltering Ontario summer as the mystery plants thrived in their sunny location growing to almost 3 feet high. Crammed as they were between so many flowers, it took quite a while to realize that the mystery plants unexpectedly had produced lovely little green bell shaped peppers. Having no idea what to do with them, they stayed on the vine and soon turned a deep, assertive red that begged for attention. Fortunately their efforts were worthwhile since our Italian neighbours spotted them and, at our prompting, picked the peppers we didn’t know what to do with and enjoyed my bountiful crop.

Tips for Growing Peppers:
Sweet peppers (Capsicum annum) are native to the Western hemisphere so they thrive in any part of Canada where other warm season annuals grow well.

In Canada it’s best to sow seeds indoors and transfer plant seedlings that are 6 to 8 weeks old or at the three-leaf stage outdoors when it’s warm enough. Seeds should be germinated in moist but not soggy soil. Once started, the plants ideally should be planted in soil that is warmer than 65 F and has a PH balance of between 5.5 and 6.8.

If you live in an area where spring comes late, you can accelerate the warming of the soil by loosening and covering it to increase the temperature or by planting peppers in raised beds. Because peppers thrive on restricted root growth, they can also be planted in 8 or 9 –in (20 to 23-cm) containers, which can be moved indoors when the nights are still cool.

Plant peppers about 18-inches (45-cm) apart in full sun and thin the seedlings to the two heartiest plants as they mature. Later, pick a few of the first green peppers that emerge to increase production. Water peppers well during flowering and fruiting and spray the flowers with tepid water in evenings if you can. The entire growth cycle should take between 60 and 95 days depending on both the local weather and the colour of peppers you want.