Harvesting Tomatoes

  • I think tomatoes have the best flavour when they are picked just before they’ve reached their colour peak. At this stage, they are still firm and will last several days on your kitchen counter. Tomatoes that are already slightly soft will be at their best for only a day or two after picking.
  • Red tomatoes left hanging on the vine will not taste as good as those harvested earlier, because the primary flavour components, sugar and acid, start to decrease.
  • I always recommend that gardeners write on their garden calendars which varieties they like best. This certainly helps me out, because I sometimes find it tough to remember from year to year which of the new varieties are best.
  • Harvest ripe tomatoes by gently breaking the stem just above the fruit at the knuckle. Always try to keep this bit of stem attached so that tomatoes will keep longer after picking.
  • If you plant has an entire truss (branch-full) of ripe tomatoes, cut the whole thing off with scissors. An intact truss of tomatoes lasts longest of all!
  • Pick often to encourage the production of more fruit.
  • If any of your tomatoes have developed blossom-end rot, pick them anyhow. Just cut off the rotten parts after harvesting—the remainder of the tomato is fine for eating.
  • A good friend told me of a “harvesting” method which allowed her to keep on picking ripe tomatoes until early December. Try this if your container-grown plants are still bearing fruit at the end of the season. Move the entire pot into the garage, soil plant and all, and don’t do anything else to it, other than pick off ripe tomato as you need them. Don’t worry about water or light. The plant will soon begin to look terrible, but tomatoes will continue to ripen on the vine.

Healthy "Pest Controlled" Plants

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Over the years I have answered thousands of gardening questions. I enjoy helping people out with their "plant issues" and I know that they appreciate the advice.
 
Most of the questions are pretty straightforward and revolve around insect and disease pests.
 
Once I identify a particular plant pest for a gardener, the question that often follows shortly after is, "How do I get rid of them?" Now this is a pretty logical question to ask but "getting rid of them" is really not an option. The correct strategy is not so much  getting "rid" of, but rather figuring out how to control them.
 
One of the biggest differences between home gardens and commercial horticultural businesses (other than size, of course!) are the strategies for dealing with pests. Commercial horticulture deals with pest problems proactively while home garden pests are, largely, treated reactively.
 
In commercial horticultural, each operation has a list of pests that are virtually guaranteed to show up each year. A particular crop can be kept pest free in a particular growing but every grower knows full well that the battle will begin again the following year.

In home gardens, being proactive is just as critical to success as it is in commercial horticulture, but I know that it is often tough for gardeners to achieve. Recognizing some pests is relatively easy while others are darn near impossible to identify without a lot of training and the right diagnostic equipment. Still, getting on the problem early by monitoring the plants is the key to success.

So, here is my shortlist for having a garden full of healthy "pest controlled" plants:

Start with healthy plants

Sounds simple, but it’s tough to turn around a plant that has pests on it already. It’s always a lot easier to keep clean plants clean rather than to try and clean up "dirty" plants…and a lot cheaper!

Provide a healthy growing environment for each plant

Plants can’t run away but must stand and fight pests. An excellent growing environment means that plants can produce stronger structures and chemicals to fight-off pests.

Ensure that pests are correctly identified

Applying a fungicide for insect control or an insecticide for a disease simply won’t work. I can’t begin to count the number of times that a disease has been mistaken for an insect or vise versa.

Monitor your plants regularly for pests

If you inspect your plants every few days, you can often catch pests before their populations explode. Let’s face it, if you find 10 aphids on your plant and get 90% control with a pest control product you are left with 1 aphid. If your plant has 10,000 aphids and you achieve 90% control, that still leaves 1000 aphids. Battles can be lost before they even start.

Use only registered pest control products

I know that the web offers a myriad of concoctions that will control pests. But whether they are so called "organic" or "chemical" remember that are a number of things to consider before applying either. Approved pest control products have been thoroughly tested and approved by Health Canada.  Correct rates, pests controlled and minimum number of days from application to harvest are just some of the critical information on each registered pest control product. Each label must have a PCP (Pest Control Products Act) number on the label that assures the end user that it has been government tested and approved. Look for it on the label and don’t use anything with a PCP number.

Know when to concede

I’ve seen many examples of dead and dying trees that should be removed because they are severely decayed from fungal diseases. If a tree is precariously leaning over a house or playground it should be removed because of safety concerns. Sometimes, with the correct pruning tools, you can remove a diseased limb or tree but if you cannot prune or remove the tree safely, call in a professional arborist.


~Jim Hole

10 Helpful Houseplant Tips

Here is my 10 point checklist for those who have never grown a houseplant…well, to be honest, it really applies to everyone who is growing plants indoors.
 
1/ Choose plants that you like. This seems rather obvious but sometimes in the haste to buy an indoor plant, it really wasn’t the right match for you. Fortunately, there are many choices in houseplants. Do a little shopping before you settle on a plant or plants.
 
2/ Know your sunlight. Sunlight duration and intensity decline in intensity from summer to winter in different spots in your home. Some plants can endure the change while others can’t. For example, an orange tree might look great in the living room during the summer only to, literally, fall apart in the same spot in the winter.  
 
3/ Keep grow lights handy. Grow lights are the great equalizer if you have very little sunlight. They are also great for getting houseplants through the short, dark days of winter. Good grow lights are one of the best investments you can make.
 
4/ Select the best potting soils. The additional few dollars spent on high quality potting soils are worth it. The correct blend of coarse-fibred peatmoss, coarse perlite, lime, wetting agent and fertilizer will help to keep the plants in great shape. Never skimp on potting soils.
 
5/ Choose only pest free plants. A $10 "bargain" plant that requires $40 worth of sprays to control insect pests really isn’t much of a bargain. In fact, some of the nastier pests are not only extremely difficult to control on the bargain plant, but they can often spread to others in your home.
 
6/ Choose the right pot. Pot sizes and shape have a large impact on plant health. Shallow pots drain poorly. Tall pots drain best. It’s pure science. Water is held in shallow pots due to capillary action of the mix on water, whereas water in tall pots is less affected by capillary action and is pulled down and out of the pot by gravity.
 
7/ Ensure pots have drainage. Water must move out of the soil mixture to prevent roots from drowning and to allow movement of excessive salts out of the root zone.
 
8/ Pick an attractive pot. There’s no point in buying an expensive dress and then wearing rubber boots to the ball. A gorgeous houseplant in a poor-quality plastic pot is no different so always choose attractive pots to complement your plants.

9/ Fertilize - but only when necessary. A little fertilizer is great but more is not better. I use nothing but Nature’s Source 10-4-3 on all of my houseplants. Its oilseed based and won’t burn provided the soil is not really overdosed. Fertilizer should only be applied when houseplants are actively producing new foliage.

10/ Don’t expect a houseplant to last forever.  You don’t expect your car to last forever so don’t expect every houseplant to last forever.  I know of one person who has a Christmas cacti that is over 100 years old, but each plant is different and when they lose their aesthetic value, it’s time to replace them. When your fig tree is down to a handful of leaves, it’s time for it to hit the compost heap.


~Jim Hole

Lessons In Weeding

When I was growing up, weeding was the job that required more time than did any other job on the farm. Some of the “tricks” that I learned over the years sound very simple and straightforward but are sometimes forgotten in the battle against tough weeds. Here are a few:
 
Lesson #1
Remove the weeds from the garden before you plant.
This sounds rather obvious, but sometimes we get so engrossed in sowing seeds and transplanting that we fail to notice the weed seedlings and shoots popping up.
 
Lesson #2
Have the right tools on hand.
I wouldn’t be without a long-handled and short-handled stirrup hoe. These tools are indispensible for the war on weeds, and the thin blade on these makes weeding so easy.
 
Lesson #3
Have the tools sharp and ready to go.
A good file is just as important as a good hoe. If your tools are dull, they will not work as well.
 
Lesson #4
Never let tough perennial weeds like thistle and quackgrass get the upper hand.
Once these tough weeds get established, eradication is nearly impossible with chopping and pulling.
 
Lesson #5
Keep some good weedkillers like “Bye Bye Weeds” on hand when you forget
 
Lesson #4
Judicious use of weedkillers can be really valuable when tough perennial weeds get out-of-hand. Understanding how and when to use them properly is critical for control.
 
Lesson #7
Don’t let weeds “go to seed.”
 A single, mature Red Root Pigweed can produce well over 200,000 seeds! Timely removal of weeds like pigweed can save a lot of work in the future.

Also, keep in mind that some weeds can be eaten. Mom would occasionally steam Lambsquarters leaves for supper. Lambquarters is a member of the beet and Swiss Chard family and the leaves have a similar taste.
 
I prefer eating beet and Swiss Chard leaves but, hey, lambsquarters are free and I’ll stick my neck out and say that they will never be on the endangered species list!

~Jim Hole

Fast Fruit Drive-Through

One of my greatest childhood memories of growing up on the farm was "grazing for fruit".
 
It worked something like this: If I was riding in the back of our ½ ton truck, and my brother was driving, I would get him to slow down and swerve close to the chokecherry and pincherry trees in the shelterbelt, to hit the "fast fruit drive-through"...so to speak. It wasn’t a particularly dangerous maneuver, however, getting slapped in the face by branches was often the price one paid for these "mobile" snacks.
 
But while chokeberries and pincherries were fun to grab from the truck or seat of the tractor, they were still at their tastiest in jams and jellies. The best grazing fruit we had came from the bushes that surrounded our vegetable garden. When Mom would send me out to the garden for a head of cabbage or some beets for supper, I would always take the circuitous path, which usually involved a quick visit to the Nanking cherries, followed by a walk through the raspberry patch, and with a final stop at the Saskatoons. On the way back to the house, I would always grab an apple and finish it before I left the field and then toss the core into the corn patch.

Yes, Mom did have plenty of bowls filled with fresh garden fruit on the table during the summer, but I think that the majority of my fresh fruit consumption during the summer occurred while walking, or while in the back of a truck, or on the tractor.
 
Today my fruit consumption is much more civilized…but a lot less fun!

~Jim Hole

Benefits of a Healthy Lawn

Turfgrass is vilified, on occasion, because it is deemed to be a bit of a water hog. Some people, who know, have undertaken the drastic measure of removing their lawns entirely and replacing them with landscape fabric and rock. Of course, water isn’t the only thing they save when they rip up their turf. I’m sure that getting rid of the lawn mower might have a lot to do with it.
 
But while it’s true that the pursuit of the "perfect" lawn demands a fair bit of water, the newer grass varieties use much less water and are amazingly drought tolerant. They look pretty darn good even after fairly long bouts of dry weather.
 
Beyond mower and water concerns, grasses provide a surprisingly large number of benefits that we often don’t think about.

Here is a partial list:
 

Recreational

  • Tough to play catch on a marigold patch. Turf solves that problem like no other category of plants.

Ornamental

  • Lawns are attractive and provide a nice "frame" for flowerbeds. Curving swaths of grass can be amazingly beautiful

Erosion Control

  • Grass roots hold soil in place drastically reducing soil movement into rivers, lakes and ponds. Soil is one of our most precious resources and it needs to stay put

Water Purification

  • Well-managed lawns purify water almost equivalent to that of tap water

Oxygen

  • A well-maintained lawn of 250 square metres provides sufficient oxygen for a family of four during the growing season.

Dust, mud and air pollution

  • Mud and dust problems are reduced by grassed areas around homes, factories, schools and businesses
  • Grass blades also absorb many different air pollutants

Cooling

  • Water evaporating from grass blades acts as nature’s air conditioner on hot days. On a hot day when sidewalk temperatures rise above 40°C, the surface of the grass remains around 24°C.

Soil quality

  • Grass adds organic matter to the soil as roots, stems, and leaves breakdown. Soil "structure" is improved dramatically as grass roots penetrate soil and eventually breakdown.

 
Lawns certainly aren’t a substitute for a vegetable garden, fruiting shrubs and trees, nor ornamental beds. But given the many benefits of lawn grasses, I’d say that they deserve their place in the sun.

~Jim Hole

Eight Varieties, Two Trees

If you’re a bit indecisive or simply like the idea of having a number of different apple varieties on one tree, multi-grafted apples are the answer. 

Just by planting two multi-grafted apples you can harvest 8 different apple varieties and have a continuous supply of fruit beginning in August and continuing right through into October – weather permitting, of course.

One suggestion that I would make is to use metal tags to label the trees, or at the very least, take some notes and photographs of your apples so that you know which apple varieties are which. Most of us believe that we will remember the names of the apples and where they are located on the tree, but – if you are like me – your memory might not be quite as sharp as you think it is from one year to the next!

Multigraft Tree #1


Parkland
•    Compact variety with yellowish-green fruit that is washed with red. Good for both fresh eating and cooking. Usually ready to eat in August.
Collett
•    Light green fruit with red stripes. Discovered in Manitoba and super cold hardy. Great fresh and cooked.
Battleford
•    Smaller fruit. Pale green striped with red. Good for fresh eating and cooking. From Battleford Saskatchewan
Harcourt
•    Yellowish-green skin with bright red blush and stripes. Mildly sweet fruit. Very good for fresh eating. Matures in late August.
 

Multigraft Tree #2


Honeycrisp
•    One of the very best tasting apples. Honeycrisp are juicy, crispy and grown commercially. They are often found on grocery store shelves.
Hardi-mac
•    This is a hardier cousin of the venerable ‘MacIntosh’ apple. It shares much of the same delicious flavour of the MacIntosh but is tends to be smaller.
Parkland
•    See above!
Norkent
•    One of my favourite apples, Norkent is crispy with a great balance of sugar and tartness and is one of the best dessert apples for the prairies.
Heyer 12
•    Heyer 12 originated as a seedling from Russia and serves as the rootstock. It is very tough and produces yellow fruit that is a bit. Excellent for juice and sauce but its main attribute is cold hardiness.

Nature's Best Pollinators

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When I was growing-up, we had thousands of tomatoes growing in containers in our greenhouses. One job that had to be done daily was to grab the electric pollinators and pollinate the tomatoes.

Electric pollinators were like a glorified toothbrush. A small motor was attached to a battery and when the machine was turned-on, a long metal probe would vibrate. The probe was placed beneath a truss or cluster of flowers, for about a second, to shake the yellow pollen from the anthers and onto the stigma.

Tomatoes are, by and large, self-pollinating, but if the pollen isn’t transferred thoroughly within the flowers, the fruit will often be a bit misshapen. 

But while these electric pollinators were pretty much standard greenhouse equipment, some clever people eventually turned to nature to eliminate the tedious and time-consuming job of hand pollinating.

Today, bumblebees are released into tomato greenhouses and they visit tomato flowers and transfer pollen within and between tomato flowers. Bumblebees are some of nature’s best pollinators and are extraordinarily good at "working" the flowers. 

All that I can say is, "Where were the tomato-loving greenhouse bumblebees when I was growing up?"

I suppose that one could argue that they were always around, but no one was clever enough to invite them in

~Jim Hole

How To Prune Tomato Plants

A funny thing happens when you prune an entire greenhouse full of tomato plants: you become a green thumb—literally. You will also have a couple green fingers, and they will remain green for a few days despite lots of soap and water. Home gardeners, however, do not have the “green thumb” problem because it happens only after pruning more than a few tomato plants. Digit discolouration aside, I like everything about pruning tomato plants, from the distinctive smell of the plants to the hands-on work, and the thought that this was a small effort—a moment or two per plant—will result in an earlier harvest or larger tomatoes.

Which Tomato Plants to Prune

  • Prune only indeterminate varieties—the ones that grow tall and usually need staking. If you do not prune an indeterminate variety, you will have large, sprawling plants with smaller tomatoes that mature slightly later in the season.
  • Never prune a semi-determinate or determinate tomato plant. Pruning them will result in distorted plants with very few tomatoes.

 

How to Prune Tomato Plants

 

  • Pruning tomato plants simply means pinching off the shoots or “suckers” that grow out from the stems, in the joint right above a leaf branch. If you catch shoots when they have just formed, you can simply rub them out with your thumb.
  • Small suckers can usually be pinched off with your fingers; with ones that are a little larger you should use scissors or a sharp knife.
  • If you leave a sucker to grow, it becomes another big stem and takes energy away from fruit production. Tomatoes usually ripen slightly earlier on pruned plants.
  • Tomato plants grow very quickly when the weather is warm. New suckers are produced constantly. Prune at least twice a week during the peak of the growing season.
  • Never prune above the top blossom cluster to avoid accidentally pruning out the “leader” (main growing stem). Removing the leader prevents the plant from adding height and limits the potential yield. This is called “topping” and is useful later in the season, but it is not something you want to do early on.
  • If you accidentally break off the leader or main stem while your tomato plant is still small, get a new plant, because the broken one will never amount to much. When a leader is broken off an indeterminate plant that is already a good size, you can choose one of the suckers nearest the top and let that side-shoot become the new leader. Determinate plants with broken leaders will simply bush sideways.
  • Do not prune foliage, except to remove yellowing or brown leaves at the plant’s base. Tomatoes do not need to be exposed to the sun in order to ripen; rather, it is the sun on the plant’s leaves that leads to ripened fruit.

 

What Lies Below

Over the years, I’ve received thousands of leaf, stem, and soil samples from gardeners who need help figuring out why their plants aren’t growing the way they should, and how to get them back on track.

Often, the diagnostics are pretty straight-forward and simple. If the problem is a large insect - like a cabbageworm - identification is pretty easy and there are a number of good products available for control. 

But many plant problems are more complex than voracious cabbageworms, and a lot of background information is critical when performing the "Plant Forensics”. Good samples of plant parts, lots of good photographs, soil samples, and historical data are really valuable tools for solving the really difficult plant problems. 

Since trees are some of most high-priced and expensive garden plants, they comprise the majority of the plant samples that I receive and they are often the toughest problems to solve. 

The one tip that I will offer those who have tree problems is to spend as much time looking "down" as you do looking "up". Trees are analogous to icebergs in a way. Just as about 90% of an iceberg’s mass is below the sea surface, 90% of the serious problems that I see with trees originate below the soil surface.

And neither ships nor trees fare well when due consideration is not given to what lies below.

~Jim Hole

How To Get Rid Of Apple Maggots For Good

What's worse than finding half a worm in your apple?

For a number of homeowners in the Edmonton area, the answer could be discovering that apples from their trees are infested with Apple Maggots.

Apple Maggots are a type of small fruit fly that attacks apples, blueberries, hawthorn, plums, pears, and cherries, causing extensive fruit damage that renders fruit useless.

Here is what you need to get rid out Apple Maggots for good:

Apple Maggot Traps The Protector Dial N' Spray hose attachment

Apple Maggot Traps

The Protector

Dial N' Spray hose attachment

Step 1: Assemble apple maggot trap red spheres.

Step 1: Assemble apple maggot trap red spheres.

Step 2: Hang apple maggot trap in your fruit tree.

Step 2: Hang apple maggot trap in your fruit tree.

Step 3: Apply warm, slightly melted glue to the entire outside of the sphere with spreader. Spread a roughly 1/16" thick layer.

Step 3: Apply warm, slightly melted glue to the entire outside of the sphere with spreader. Spread a roughly 1/16" thick layer.

Step 4: Open lure pouch. (Do not open the plastic vial, as attractant is released through the plastic) Attach the lure to the hanger using a twist tie.

Step 4: Open lure pouch. (Do not open the plastic vial, as attractant is released through the plastic) Attach the lure to the hanger using a twist tie.

Step 5: Monitor traps for apple maggots.

Step 5: Monitor traps for apple maggots.

Step 6: Once apple maggot have been caught, add Garden Protector to your Dial N' Spray container and attach to your garden hose. Set to number 20.

Step 6: Once apple maggot have been caught, add Garden Protector to your Dial N' Spray container and attach to your garden hose. Set to number 20.

Step 7: Thoroughly spray tree using Dial N' Spray.

Step 7: Thoroughly spray tree using Dial N' Spray.

If needed, reapply steps in 7-10 days.

"Happy Bar Mitzvah, Bernie!"

We once grew – what seemed like – endless rows of field vegetables, and June was always "weeding month". The long, early-summer days were often coupled with frequent showers, which is the magic formula for getting weeds to grow at an astronomical rate. And of course, Father’s Day always arrived when we were in the midst of our fatiguing war on weeds. 

As a result, Father’s Day was rarely relaxing for anyone in our family, particularly Dad. 

Possibly it was the delirium induced by fighting thistle and quackgrass day in and day out. As my brother and I got older, Father’s Day somehow morphed into a "Monty Pythonesque" event. 

When I was in my late teens, I remember picking-up a "special" card for Dad on Father’s Day and handing it to him during dinner. When he opened it up, and read the card, he initially had a bit of quizzical look on his face. The front of the card said "Happy Bar Mitzvah Bernie!" with "Happy Bar Mitzvah Bernie!" crossed out, and "Happy Father’s Day" written below. A black and white "20% off" sticker was highly visible in the lower corner.

Yes, juvenile, weird, and stupid could best used to describe the card, but Dad couldn’t stop laughing. Of course, Mom just shook her head…which just made the three of us laugh louder. 

We also handed Dad a brand new file to help him keep his hoe sharp. 

No doubt the card and file were silly things to give your father on his special day, but Dad, Bill, and I shared the same sense of humour – or lack thereof.

It’s memories like these that truly keep Dad alive in my head and my heart!

~Jim Hole

Application Tips to Eliminate Ant Hills

Although different ants have different behavior patterns, they are all annoying to people for the same reasons: once they take up residence in your home or garden, they quickly reproduce, eat all the available food sources, and can be very difficult to dislodge. In general, ants themselves are not considered a health threat to people or pets, but they can contaminate food and destroy vegetation in the house and garden.

Here is what you need to permanently get rid of ant hills in your yard:

  • Doktor Doom Foaming Residual Ant Nest Eliminator
  • Doktor Doom Residual Spray
  • Rake
  • Garden Fork or Dandelion Weeder
  • Garbage can lid or plywood
Step 1: Locate the ant hill.

Step 1: Locate the ant hill.

Step 2: Using a rake, spread out the ant hills to make the soil easier to penetrate.

Step 2: Using a rake, spread out the ant hills to make the soil easier to penetrate.

Step 3: Use a garden fork (or dandelion weeder, screwdriver, etc.) and plunge deep holes into the nest to spray the foam into.

Step 3: Use a garden fork (or dandelion weeder, screwdriver, etc.) and plunge deep holes into the nest to spray the foam into.

Step 4: Inject the Foaming Residual Ant Nest Eliminator into equidistant holes throughout the nest until the foam comes out the top of the hill. 

Step 4: Inject the Foaming Residual Ant Nest Eliminator into equidistant holes throughout the nest until the foam comes out the top of the hill. 

Step 5: Feather the yellow residual spray away from the hill on the sod for a good 2-3 feet. This creates a buffer zone where the queen is most likely to pop up.

Step 5: Feather the yellow residual spray away from the hill on the sod for a good 2-3 feet. This creates a buffer zone where the queen is most likely to pop up.

Step 6: Cover the ant hill with a sheet of plywood or a garbage can lid with a rock on it for a few days. Repeat application if nest returns. Always use these sprays early in the morning or later at night, and hold off if you are expecting rain within a few hours of the treatment. 

Step 6: Cover the ant hill with a sheet of plywood or a garbage can lid with a rock on it for a few days. Repeat application if nest returns.

Always use these sprays early in the morning or later at night, and hold off if you are expecting rain within a few hours of the treatment. 

The 10 Health Benefits of Peppers

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Roasted Peppers and Feta Salad Ingredients: * Approximately 150g of feta cheese, cut into cubes or broken into small chunks * 3 small bell peppers (red, green & yellow) * 1 small red onion, finely sliced * Small handful of kalamata olives * 1 clove of garlic, finely sliced * A few sprigs each of oregano & thyme * A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil * White wine vinegar/white balsamico   Method 1. Roast the peppers (dry) in a very hot oven until the skins have blackened. Pop them into a plastic freezer bag, seal , then leave them to ‘steam’ for a few minutes to help loosen the skins. 2. Peel the peppers, remove the seeds, and cut the peppers into wide strips (approx. 1 inch). 3. Arrange the salad ingredients on a large flat plate, sprinkling with the herbs and garlic. 4. Drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil and a little white wine vinegar/white balsamico. 5. Allow the salad to marinate for 30 minutes before serving.  

Roasted Peppers and Feta Salad

Ingredients:

* Approximately 150g of feta cheese, cut into cubes or broken into small chunks

* 3 small bell peppers (red, green & yellow)

* 1 small red onion, finely sliced

* Small handful of kalamata olives

* 1 clove of garlic, finely sliced

* A few sprigs each of oregano & thyme

* A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

* White wine vinegar/white balsamico

 

Method

1. Roast the peppers (dry) in a very hot oven until the skins have blackened. Pop them into a plastic freezer bag, seal , then leave them to ‘steam’ for a few minutes to help loosen the skins.

2. Peel the peppers, remove the seeds, and cut the peppers into wide strips (approx. 1 inch).

3. Arrange the salad ingredients on a large flat plate, sprinkling with the herbs and garlic.

4. Drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil and a little white wine vinegar/white balsamico.

5. Allow the salad to marinate for 30 minutes before serving.

 

A Dahlia By Any Other Name...

The Dahlia is the national flower of Mexico - and for good reason. They are indigenous to Mexico and I’m sure when the Mexicans first saw them in full bloom they knew they were worthy of national recognition.
 
Given their spectacular floral display, I always say that if you want to make new friends, plant some large Dahlias in your front yard. Pedestrians will be unable to resist stopping for a chat and checking out your spectacular plants.

Dahlias aren’t tough to grow. As the saying goes, "If you can grow tomatoes, then you can grow Dahlias". Give them plenty of sun, fertilize with 10-4-3 and water them regularly.
 
The selection of flower colours, patterns, and heights is almost unlimited. Dahlias range from foot tall plants to those that are eyeball height.

The most challenging things with Dahlias are twofold: Deciding which varieties to plant is number one. Second is choosing how to say the word Dahlia. The correct pronunciation is "doll-e-uh" after the Swedish botanist Anders Dahl. But many people call them "day-lee-uh". I confess that I use both the correct and incorrect names depending on my mood. Even though "doll-e-uh" is absolutely the correct pronunciation, I hate correcting people who say "day-lee-uh" – sounds rather pretentious.
 
So you say "po-tay-to" I say "po-tah-to". Who cares? Enjoyment of your Dahlia flowers is the most important thing. I can say with certainty that how you pronounce Dahlia will have no impact on its beauty.

~Jim Hole

Holy Hydrangeas!

I would have to rank hydrangeas near the top of the list of my favourite shrubs. They aren’t subtle when they bloom, producing spectacular – and often huge - flowers that range from pure white to pink and blue.

Today there are more than a dozen fabulous prairie hardy varieties. Some of my favourites are the pink-flowered "Invincibelle Spirit", the small almost pure-white "Little Lamb" and the lemon-coloured, conical-shaped flowered "Limelight". 

Still, I never get tired of the huge, white, mop-head "Anabelle". I don’t think summer would be the same without this old time favourite in its full glory!

If you are planning on growing hydrangeas the best location in your yard is a spot that gets plenty of morning sun but is protected from hot, afternoon sun. That’s not to say that hydrangeas can’t be grown in sunnier spots, but the leaves and flowers will be smaller, and the flowers won’t last quite as long as hydrangeas that get just morning to early afternoon sun.

Hydrangeas demand rich soils for best performance. Work some Sea Soil into your flower bed before planting or spread some Sea Soil around the base of hydrangeas that are already growing in your garden.

At last count there were over a dozen varieties that we can grow in our region, so there is a hydrangea that is perfect for anyone who wants a dramatic floral display in their garden this summer.

~Jim Hole

Hanging Basket Care

Hanging baskets are gorgeous additions to anyone’s yard and really add a tremendous splash of colour. But a couple of the biggest challenges that people face with hanging basket plants is keeping them well-watered and well fed. 

Keeping hanging baskets well hydrated has a lot to do with having a sufficient volume of potting soil in the basket to ensure that there is an adequate supply of water at all times, which is tough to do with small baskets. For example, while the difference in soil volume between a 10” hanging basket and a 14” hanging basket may not seem to be a lot at first glance, a 14” hanging basket holds a whopping two and a half times as much soils mixture as a 10” basket! And that extra soil makes a huge difference when it comes to plant performance, so it’s always a good idea to get the 14” hanging baskets if you have the space.

This year we have incorporated a slow-release fertilizer into our hanging basket soil. We’ve found that far too many people are under-fertilizing their baskets and not getting the season-long performance that they want. It’s still a good idea to fertilize your hanging baskets with Nature’s Source 10-4-3 fertilizer weekly, but at least if you forget, you have some "back-up" with the slow-release fertilizer. 

And I’ll be the first to confess that I sometimes forget to fertilize the baskets at home, so I need a back-up as much as anybody!

~Jim Hole

Succulent White Flesh: Cauliflower

There are sometimes disadvantages to growing and preparing your own vegetables. Some years ago, the family sat down to eat dinner, which included cauliflower in a rich, creamy cheese sauce. It smelled wonderful and everyone was about to start eating when Valerie found a cabbage worm in her cheese sauce. Worms occasionally hide in the cauliflower’s many nooks and crannies; we’d obviously missed this one when we were washing the vegetables. It had been cooked in the sauce and was perfectly intact, bright green and rubbery. Bill and Jim made fun of Valerie’s concerns—after all, it was just one little worm. “Just pick it out, it won’t hurt you,” Bill told her. Ted was amused: “Go ahead and eat it, it’s good for you. More protein.” While Valerie excused herself to dump the cauliflower in the garbage, the rest of us continued to eat. However, it wasn’t long before we discovered that Valerie’s worm was not the only one swimming in the cheese sauce, and soon a heap of infested cauliflower lay piled at the centre of the table. To this day, Valerie won’t eat cauliflower without inspecting it very carefully first.

 

 

Tender loving care

The succulent white flesh of the cauliflower is a fragile thing. To bring it to fullness, this plant requires the utmost care and attention. Preventing yellow heads is a simple, if time-consuming, matter. Once the heads have formed, take some rubber bands or string and fasten the leaves shut over them. This protects the curds from the sun, preventing yellowing. However, the cauliflower plants must be checked daily to see if they have reached maturity. There’s nothing wrong with yellow curds, really: they taste a little stronger, but they are by no means inedible. I often pickle cauliflower if it turns yellow, a much better solution than throwing away the curds.

Many cauliflower varieties are self-wrapping—that is, the leaves form a protective layer over the head. The curds of these varieties stay tight and white, making them the best choice for your garden. Cauliflower curds that don’t self-wrap are also vulnerable to becoming ricey, a condition where the curd turns rough and begins to develop little seed heads.

 

 

Buttoning

Buttoning, or premature curd formation, occurs when vegetative growth is checked, usually when the plant is in a pack. Once a curd starts, nothing can be done; these overgrown, weak plants must not be transplanted into the garden. Buttoning may be caused by a number of factors: too-rapid hardening off, unbalanced fertility, low soil moisture, extreme and continued cold (4C for 10 days or more), or overgrown pack plants.


Keep it cool

Cauliflower, like corn, has a high respiration rate. The curds will deteriorate rapidly if cauliflower isn’t cooled immediately after harvest. We usually put cauliflower in an ice bath as soon as we cut it to keep it fresh.
 

Head of choice: Minuteman

I love this early variety! It’s ready for harvest in August, the succulent heads get up to 1kg, and it has good leaf cover to protect the curds from yellowing. Minuteman is a self-wrapping variety.

Transplant cauliflower seedlings at the beginning of May—like broccoli, cauliflower can withstand a light frost. Each plant typically yields about 1kg of cauliflower, enough for 1 or 2 side-dishes for a family of four. 

 

Fine Art In the Garden

Last year I was doing some landscape consulting for a lady who lives in southwest Edmonton. When I walked into her backyard I was pleasantly surprised to see an espalier apple tree.
 
For those who aren’t familiar with the term espalier, it simply means that trees - like apples – whose branches are trained to grow flat against a wall and supported by a lattice or perhaps some wires attached to stakes. Essentially, an espalier tree looks more two dimensional than it does three dimensional.
 
The apple tree was in great shape and produced outstanding quality fruit primarily because of the increased exposure of the leaves and fruit to direct sunlight. When I chatted with the lady about why she espaliered the apple, she replied that she loved the look and loved the fact that the tree took up far less space than that of a conventional apple tree.
 
This year we are offering some apple trees that are espaliered. And not only are they espaliered but they are "combination" apples that have several apple varieties on the one tree. For those with small but sunny yards espalier may just be the way to enjoy great fruit as well as an apple tree that is truly a work of art.


~Jim Hole

Worth The Risk

I sowed some vegetables in my garden Monday night. I blended our potting soil with Sea Soil (50/50) into a couple of my raised containers and sowed Nantes carrots into one and Cylandra beets into the other. Both carrots and beets grow beautifully in cool weather and shrug-off frost with ease. Last year, I sowed my carrots on April 30th and roasted my first carrots on June 9th. With any luck this year, I might be lucky enough to have a few skinny carrots by late May.

The other vegetable that I sowed was a corn variety called Bodacious. Now, I admit that April 18th is a very early sowing date for corn in our part of the world. But, when I was growing up on our vegetable farm we would often sow corn in late April or early May when the weather permitted. Yes, we will likely get frost in the next few weeks but the corn seed is protected beneath the soil surface from frost and besides if the corn seedlings emerge and then freeze, the growing point remains below the surface and will regenerate new growth show frost hit.

But let’s face it, we could get a bout of very cold weather and the corn could rot in the ground. However, it took me about 15 minutes to sow a three dollar package of corn seed. If the corn dies, I will sow it again. 

My Mom summed it up best when it comes to planting corn. With corn being a long season crop she would often say, “If you plant early you risk a bit of seed but you can easily re-sow.  If you put your corn in late, you’re almost guaranteed to lose it to a fall frost before you can harvest a single cob. What would you rather have?” 

Mom’s words of wisdom are always in my mind whenever I put a seed in the ground.

~Jim Hole