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.