edible gardening

Edmonton Frost Warning - What to Harvest, What to Cover, and What to Leave Alone

Edmonton Frost Warning: What to Harvest, What to Cover, and What to Leave Alone

A frost warning is in effect and we've received a lot of phone calls and emails from people asking about what can stay outside and what needs to come in.
Here's our quick guide:

 

  • Apples: A light frost will not affect the apples and may even make them sweeter. Barring a severe September storm, leave your apples on the tree until they are ripe (mid- to late- September for most late bearing apples).

  • Beans and Peas: Will not tolerate frost. Harvest these guys and eat them up!

  • Beets, Carrots, Onions, Parsnips, Potatoes: Protected underground, these vegetables do fine in a light frost and their flavour will likely improve with the cold. That said, harvest them before the ground freezes.

  • Chard, Kale, and Cabbage: These plants should all survive a light frost. Cold temperatures will even intensify the colour and flavour of chard, and may sweeten cabbage.

  • Corn: Corn is frost sensitive. If your corn is ready, pick it now. If it is not yet ready to harvest, cross your fingers and hope for the best. A hard frost will reduce the shelf life of corn to 3 to 4 days.

  • Lettuce and Salad Greens: Cold will affect the look and texture of lettuce and salad greens, but they can survive a light frost. If you’d like, harvest the tops of the lettuce and see if they come back afterwards.

  • Strawberries: If they're ready: harvest them, if not: cover them. Frost can affect the texture of the berries.

  • Tomatoes and Peppers: Harvest any ripe tomatoes and all peppers. Unripe tomatoes are bit more complicated. If you’re feeling cautious and would rather not deal with any stress, harvest them all now—ripe or not.

    If your tomatoes are in containers and you’re feeling daring (and if the forecast cooperates), you may be able to get away with moving and covering your tomatoes. Bring the tomato vines close to the house (preferably on the south side of the house) and cover them with some light fabric to protect them from the frost.

    However, if the forecast dips below -2°C, the tomatoes will probably end up covered in frost anyways even with these precautions. Keep an eye on your local temperature, and harvest the unripe tomatoes if necessary. Green tomatoes can be ripened inside on sheets of newspaper.

  • Pumpkins, Squash, Zucchini, Cucumbers: Cucumbers, zucchini, and summer varieties of pumpkin and squash should be harvested now, wiped dry, and cured in a hot, dry room for a few days to improve shelf life.

    Properly cured, they may store for a few weeks. Avoid storing these fruits on concrete or metal surfaces as it can cause them to rot.

    Thin skinned cucumbers will not store as well and should be eaten within a few days.

    Some pumpkins and squash are "winter varieties" and can store very well if properly cured. Harvest any mature “winter variety” gourds before a frost (they will have a nice tough skin when mature) and do your best to protect the immature ones by covering them with a sheet. Immature gourds will not ripen off the vine or once the vine has died, so protecting them and hoping for the best is the best strategy. Be careful not to crush the vines.

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For protecting your plants, our best product recommendation is frost protection blankets. NuVue's Insulating Winter Blanket is great for long garden rows as it is already cut at 42 inches by 25 feet.

For square & rectangular gardens, use DeWitt's N-Sulate Frost Protection Blanket which is 12 feet by 10 feet. 

You can also use Crop Cover Fabric to protect sensitive plants. While lighter weight, Crop Cover Fabric protects against insects, freezing rain, frost and snow damage, while allowing air and moisture to reach the crop.

Getting Rid of Cabbage Worms

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August is the peak month for harvesting garden vegetables. It is also peak cabbage harvesting month.

Cabbage butterflies are the number 1 enemy of plants in the cabbage family which includes cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprout, kale (both edible and ornamental) and—of course—cabbage.

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The bright-white butterflies (seen on the rleft) lay eggs on susceptible plants and—very shortly thereafter—voracious larvae (cabbageworm) emerge and chew large holes in the foliage.


I’ve battled cabbage butterflies for years and they are the category of insects that I find the most irritating. When I finally get my broccoli to the point where it can be harvested and eaten, I have zero tolerance for worms concealed in the crowns. Green worms and cheese sauce are a very disgusting combination!

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The solution to cabbageworm control is a weekly application of a product called BTK (Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki). BTK is a bacteria that specifically targets cabbageworms and their relatives and is very safe to apply. It is best to apply BTK in the early morning or evening because the bacteria don’t like hot, dry weather during application.

Black Thumbs

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I have many people who tell me that they have black thumbs. Now, I don’t really believe that anyone truly has a black thumb, but if you are one of those people who is convinced that there isn’t a plant on this planet that you can keep alive, I have the answer: they’re called microgreens. Basically, if you can spill seeds out of package, then you can grow microgreens.
 
Microgreens are simply edible plants that are grown from seed to the seedling stage and then eaten in salads, sandwiches, or soups. The seeds are scattered onto a damp mat sitting in a plastic tray, covered with a transparent plastic hood, and then lit with a growlight nestled on top of the cover. In as little as 4 days, you can go from seed to edible microgreens!
 
I’m offering a workshop on microgreens on Tuesday, September 22nd which will include a “Nanodome” kit which has everything to get you from seed to seedlings very quickly (including a mini greenhouse and growlight).
 
If you arrive with a black thumb, I guarantee that you will leave with one that is a lot more verdant!

  
~Jim Hole 

If you're interested in learning about how easy and fun growing microgreens can be, and can't make the full workshop,, I'll be doing a free talk this Thursday the 17th at 6:30 inside Hole's. Feel free to stop by!

Squash - Well Worth the Effort

We always left squash in the garden as late in the fall as we could, to get the best growth possible.

While preparing for bed one night, we heard on the radio that a severe frost was expected. So we raced out to the field, using the headlights of our pickup trucks to light our way. We ran through the rows, searching for ripe squash, trying to save as much fruit as we could.

We actually managed to save most of the squash, despite stumbling over each other in the dark. Although it was fun, I generally recommend more conventional harvesting methods.

My grandchildren Kathryn and Michael never need to be forced to help us harvest squash. They love to scavenge under the leaves to discover the fruit hidden beneath—like a treasure hunt. Perhaps the many different shapes and colours of squash are what they find so appealing.
 

Ready to Harvest

Summer squash should be harvested when it's young and tender, since it tends to lose its rich flavour at maturity. Harvest summer squash regularly to keep the vines producing; I often harvest twice a week. Summer squash doesn't keep well, so eat it as soon as you harvest it.

It's easy to tell when winter squash is ready: if you can't piece the skin with a fingernail, it's time to pick the fruit. You can also harvest it when all the vines have died, or after the first light frost. Cut the vines with a butcher knife, leaving some stem on the fruit. (Without some stem, the fruit won't keep and will quickly rot.)

Winter squash can be stored on a shelf in a cool, dry place, but it should never be stored in an unheated garage or on a cement floor: storing squash here will lead to rot.

Be careful when cutting the tough-skinned winter squashes. Ted uses a cleaver to open squash, since we once broke a knife trying to cut one! After you get to the delicious inner flesh, though, you'll be glad you made the effort. I cook squash by steaming it between two layers of tin foil on a cookie sheet in the oven—it's a lovely treat. Our family eats a lot of squash—we feel it's a vastly underrated vegetable. Ted and I will even eat the skin, if it's been prepared properly. 
 

Zucchini

Zucchini is a summer squash that's finally getting its due. I say bravo! It's about time! Pick zucchini when it's small, young, and tender—it's at its best when it's no more than 20 cm long. When you can pierce the skin easily with your nail, you've got a nice, ripe zucchini.

Commercial growers harvest their zucchini every other day, since this vegetable becomes oversized and inedible quicker than any other. The best size for zucchini is about the same as a small sliving cucumer. In fact, at the wholesale level, zucchini pices plunge as the fruit gets larger—to the point where it beomes completely unsaleable. 

My daughter-in-law Valerie likes to cut zucchini lengthwise, into long, thin strips. She adds cheddar, salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of chopped green onions, heats it in the oven, and serves. It's a simple and tasty treat that she says "even men can make."

-Lois Hole, I'll Never Marry a Farmer

Funky Potatoes and Uqa

This past month, my wife and daughter traveled to Yurac Yacu, Peru, as part of an assistance program by the Sombrilla International Development Society, based here in Edmonton.

Sombrilla’s mission is to "improve the quality of life by addressing food security, clean water, health care and education so that communities may become self-sustaining." The main focus of this particular mission was to work with the people of Yurac Yacu to build stoves from adobe bricks.
  
Since Yurac Yacu is waaay up in the Andean mountains (at an elevation of just over 3000 metres) the air was a little thin, making the job of transporting and assembling the stoves a little challenging at times. But, apparently, the friendliness and appreciation displayed by the indigenous Quechua people more than made up for the sore backs!
 
Beyond all of the stories of the wonderful people of Yurac Yacu, Sombrilla—and, of course, the spectacular scenery—I was anxious to hear about how the Quechua people cultivated potatoes at such a high altitude. Peru is the potato epicenter of potato cultivation. Most of the potato varieties that we enjoy today originated in Peru. But there is an enormous diversity of potato varieties in Peru which makes our North American selection look rather boring by comparison.
 
At the high altitude of Yurac Yacu, daytime temperatures rise into the low 20’s but nighttime lows often dip below freezing, even in the summer. The foliage of potatoes in our part of the world would die from the sub-zero temperatures, but the Yurac Yacu varieties shrug-off freezing temperatures because the parent species are well adapted to frost.
 
Besides being tough, the Peruvian potatoes are fascinating with their wide variety of shapes and colours. However, some interesting "potato" varieties that my wife and daughter noted as being particularly sweet were, in fact, not potatoes at all but a sweet tuber from the Oxalis family. They kind of look like a funky potato tuber but are really Oxalis tuberosa known as "uqa" by the Quecha. The tubers are apparently sweet (yam-like flavour) and also very colourful, ranging from yellow, orange, and red to apricot and pink. 

My daughter snapped a photo of the selection of potato and uqa tubers that the Quecha prepared for their meals (see above). Absolutely fascinating!
 
I know what you're thinking, "Jim, why can’t you guys get a hold of some of those cool tubers?"
 
Well, there are some pretty strict regulations on importation of plant material into Canada because of pest issues and, of course, sourcing a supplier is difficult. But given the rave reviews of the indigenous potato and Oxalis varieties of the Quecha people maybe—just maybe—a uqa or two might find its way into Alberta gardens in the not too distant future.
  
~Jim Hole

Planting Garlic and Irises in the Fall

Not everyone thinks of September as the time to plant things (most people are too busy harvesting their vegetable gardens), but for spring flowering bulbs, September and October are THE time to get things into the ground.

Irises are one of the fall bulbs that benefit from being planted first thing in September and we have some great new varieties available. Here are a few of our favourites on our shelves right now.

"Blue Suede Shoes" is a rich, gorgeously coloured, blue bearded iris. Blue flowers are hard to come by whether they are annuals or perennials, so to have a bulb that will come back in blue year-after-year is a pure delight.

As a bonus, this is a particularly fragrant iris and will rebloom as well. What more can you ask for? These blue suede shoes will leave you dancing with joy.

Another reblooming bearded iris, "Ancient Echoes" has some beautiful fiery colours. These flowers will add some striking contrast to your garden and will visually pop-out from quite a distance. Great for front yards if your goal is to get the neighborhood's attention!

Finally, a bit more of an elegant bearded iris, this "Bountiful Harvest" variety will also rebloom, making it ideal for cutflowers. Great for a more graceful style, consider this one if you like to have a classically beautiful garden.

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Fall is also a great time to plant garlic.

"Duganski" is a new variety for us this year, and it is fiery! Featuring purple stripes, it has a mellow aftertaste and is a great variety to plant if you like to cook with garlic a lot.

"German Hardneck" is another variety with a milder taste. If you like roasted garlic fresh out of the oven, this is THE garlic variety to use and plant as it roasts beautifully.

Finally, we also have "Elephant Garlic." While this is technically a member of the leek family, you'd never know it as it looks just like a very large garlic bulb and can be used in the same way. It is especially good raw because of its mild garlic taste... so if you're looking to make a pesto, tapenade, bruschetta, or salad, this is definitely a good variety to consider.

Magic Beans

Dependable and easy to cultivate, beans produce rewarding crops in a wide range of climates. Hot, cold, even raw, string beans are versatile in the kitchen and very prolific growing plants in the garden.

Of course, it's the green bean that everyone recognizes as one of the most frequently prepared vegetables. But that's just the tip of the iceberg!  Here are some unique, easy-to-grow and most of all delicious bean varieties for you to try:

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Rich Purple Pod - This cherished heirloom produces a heavy yield of beautiful, deep wine-red pods that are 12 to 17 cm long and about 1cm thick. They are flavourful, high quality, meaty, string-less, and rich in antioxidants.

These crunchy deep purple pods stand out against the green leafy vines, making them fun and easy to pick.

The young pods can be eaten raw or prepared as you would any green bean—we like to stir fry them with garlic, ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil. Or try them the traditional way, steamed and slathered with butter.


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Scarlet Runner - Just as quickly as Jack's beanstalk, Scarlet Runner beans grow into showy, full-leafed vines.

This easy-to-grow bean is both an ornamental climber and edible. It grows to 3-3.5 m high, with brillant red flowers followed by 15-30 cm pods that can be enjoyed young as snap peas, or as dry beans when mature.

These beans also do a fantastic job when used as a hedge, or to decorate a patio or trellis.


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Dwarf Horticultural - Also known as "Speckled Bays" or "Cranberry Bean", this pre-1800 heirloom is a great producer!

Dwarf Horticultural is a shell bean with semi-round, 15 cm long, light green pods that turn a beautiful crimson flecked white as they mature.

An excellent dry bean for use in soups and chili, this bean possesses beautiful colour and texture and is a must for any vegetable garden.


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Golden Wax - These stringless deep yellow wax beans produce excellent yields, and are  the perfect bean for eating fresh, caning, and freezing.

Golden Wax pods are round, straight, 10-15 cm long, tender and meaty. And are great for Northern climates.

These early producing, dependable bushes produce white seed with purple-brown eyes.


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Rolande - A fine French delicacy, Roland is the very best "filet" or 'haricot vert" variety with deep green, truly gourmet beans of delicate flavour and superb quality.

They are sensational simply steamed to server whole with butter and a sprinkle of fresh chopped herbs.

These beans offer gardeners abundant harvests of long, pencil-slim, rounded 15 cm pods on strong, sturdy, disease resistant plants.




Remarkable Radishes

Radishes take very little room to grow, and can be planted to mature during any cool season, making them ideal for Alberta's growing conditions.

They are often used as row markers for slower germinating vegetables like beans or corn, and make a great starter plant for kids.

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If you're thinking of growing your own radishes this year, here are some great radish varieties for you to try!:

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French Breakfast Radish - Also known as "Breakfast Radish", "Flambeau", "Flambo" and "Les Radis Petit Déjeuner", is a popular heirloom variety with bright rose scarlet at the top and white blunt tips. With 5cm long roots that are crisp, mild, and surprisingly sweet, this variety is  perfect for munching and slicing.

French Breakfast radishes are an ideal crop for containers, window boxes and greenhouse borders, and can be sowed regularly for continuous succulent roots throughout the summer.


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Daikon Radish - Minowase -"Daikon” is “radish” in Japanese, so this variety is also referred to as “Japanese Minowase Daikon".

An old-fashioned Japanese favourite with giant white roots that grow up to 60 cm long and  7.5 cm wide! This variety has a much milder taste than it's western cousins. It's sweet and very crisp, and is a delight pickled, stir-fried, steamed or eaten raw.

Daikon radishes are large and require deeply prepared soil. Sow and grow them as you would for turnips, thinning them to 15-20cm apart.


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Round Black Spanish Radish - Black radishes have been grown and savored in Europe since the 1500s. This winter-hardy heirloom is a distinctive black colour on the outside with a milky white and tender interior.

These large 8-10cm turnip-shaped globes have crisp, pungent, spicy pure-white flesh, that packs quite a bite.

The Black Spanish Round radish is considered a winter radish but can be planted in both spring and autumn. They are reliable, they last forever in the garden and in storage, and are one of the easiest things you will ever grow!


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Watermelon Radish - This striking Asian heirloom,  also know as "Beauty Heart" in Chinese, produces 7 to 10cm roots with pale green exteriors and rich rose-red crunchy flesh the same colour as a perfectly ripe watermelon!

The sweet, mild to just slightly peppery flesh is perfect to shred into salads for fantastic colour and flavour.

Be sure to seed every few weeks if you desire a steady crop of heirloom radishes out of your garden.  Nothing can be easier to grow!  Consistent watering will tend to eliminate woody roots and make for a better tasting radish.


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Rainbow Radishes - Brighten up your salad bowl with this visually stunning selection of coloured-skinned radishes!

This blend of radish seeds is a custom mixture in rainbow shades of cherry-red, white, plum purple, and rose rink, all with crunchy mild white flesh and strong growing foliage.

Rainbow radishes crispy round roots are fast, simple, gratifying-to-grow signature crop of early spring.

Almost Perfect

I remember a particular lettuce crop that Dad had planted on the crest of the hill on our market garden in early May. It was sown with a "4-row Stanhay" seeder and the germination was near perfect and a lettuce seedling popped up every 15 centimeters thanks to the precision spacing that the seeder provided.

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I liked to drive by the 4 acre field of lettuce a couple of times a day, when I had the time, just to admire how great the long, straight rows of perfectly-planted, rich-green iceberg lettuce looked against the black soil.

But it seemed with each passing day, that the lettuce field just didn't look quite as good as the day before. After about four or five days, I finally got out of the truck and made a closer inspection of the field. Much to my chagrin, cutworms were thoroughly enjoying the perfect field of lettuce, and before I had time to spray the field, half of the field had been chewed-up.

The take home lesson here for gardeners is to be vigilant. Inspect your plants on a daily basis and note anything that looks a bit odd. We have a diagnostic service here if you can’t solve the problem yourself. 

And by the way it… ahem, pays to get out of the truck now and then.

~Jim Hole

 

 

The "H" Tree

When I was growing up on the farm, we always had plenty of space to grow fruit trees. Dad loved planting trees so we had lots of different kinds of trees around in the yard.

Because we had so much space, Dad planted about 20 different varieties of apples so we had plenty of apples to eat starting with the crab-apples in July and finishing with late maturing apples that were ready in late September and October.

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But while we were fortunate to have so much space for growing apple trees, many small, modern, urban yards can only support a single apple tree at best. Yet, all is not lost if you have a small yard and yet want to enjoy a variety of different home-grown apples.

The solution is to plant a single apple tree with multiple apple varieties grafted onto it. We've got one this year that I’m calling the "H" tree.

 Now if you are wondering what the "H" I’m talking about, we have a single tree grafted with the following apple varieties Heyer, Honeycrisp, Hardi-Mac, Harcourt, and Haralson.

So the H apple provides a wide variety of apples to suit everyone’s taste, yet doesn't require a lot of space. It’s the perfect choice for those who have limited space and besides…I just think it’s cool to have so many apples on one tree! 

And, by the way, this H apple also has a "Parkland" apple grafted onto it. Why they put a P with the H’s, I don’t know. 

Maybe the grafter thought the H joke had runs its course.

Before you plant a grafted apple or any apple tree, for that matter, here are a few points to remember:

•    Evaluate the site, and spend some time visualizing what the apple will look like when it is fully grown. If the apple tree is going to block out the sun for your flowerbeds and vegetables, you may want to relocate it, if possible.

•    The apple tree should have at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day for good fruit production. Shady spots are poor choices for apples.

•    If the apple is planted near the neighbour’s fence there may be a concern with the mature fruit drop. The dropping fruit may be of concern to your neighbour and don’t forget that the best apples might be on his side of the fence. 

•    Always allocate some time in the spring for pruning. Healthy apples with strong branches require a bit of pruning each year.

•    Document the apple varieties so that you don’t forget which are which. Metal tags wrapped around branches (loosely!) are great way for keeping track of what’s what.

•    Prepare the soil properly and have the right tools at hand (shovel, pruners, tree supports, Myke, irrigation equipment, tree trunk wrap, etc.)


~Jim Hole


For more information on which varieties of apple trees (or other fruit) we carry, please click here to see our Fruit List for 2015

To learn more about our Myke 5 year guarantee on Hole's trees, please click here.

"Amaizing" Corn Varieties

Corn has long been a popular vegetable and all the more so when freshly harvested. The taste will far surpass anything you'll find in a grocery store! 

As you may already know, corn does best in warm climates and soil. But with a few precautions, growing corn in Alberta can be well worth it.

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Corn needs be planted in blocks of 3-4 rows instead of in a single long row, with each plant at least 24" apart. This encourages better corn pollination, because each plant will have at least three neighbors from which it can catch and retain pollen. The more pollen available, the greater the number of kernels on each ear.

Corn is also a heavy feeder - particularly of nitrogen - and may require several side-dressings of fertilizer for best yields.

If you follow these simple rules, you're sure to get a great crop. All there is left to do is decide which variety of corn you'd like to grow! Here are a few suggestions you might enjoy:

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Peaches & Cream Corn - A perfect blend of luscious, white and yellow kernels that produce two different flavours in every bite! 

Corn on the cob is one of the best, and most highly anticipated summer treats, and is great for grilling with the husks left on. Home-grown corn has amazing flavour and sweetness, so much better than what you find in the grocery stores. This sugary enhanced  hybrid holds its sweet flavor longer after picking.

Peaches and Cream corn produces 20cm long ears with 14 delicious rows of sugar-sweet kernels; an excellent variety for the home garden!


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White Corn - Sugar Pearl - The sweetest, prettiest white corn in the garden—and it arrives super early!

Sugar Pearl's fast-growing, vigorous stalks grow just 5 to 5-1/2 feet tall, producing delicious ears of pearly white sweet kernels with that delicate, meltingly tender flavour that characterizes really delicious white corn.

This trouble-free and reliable variety is ideal for short or early season growing, ripening succulent ears before most other white varieties.


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Sweet Corn - Kandy Korn - A sweet corn so delicious it's often requested by name!

Kandy Korn is outstanding not only for its flavour but also for its long, late harvest. It has 16-20 rows of delectable, sweet, golden kernels, and can be harvested just 89 days after planting.

This popular variety grows on tall, vigorous stalks, with plump ears that are fantastic for eating fresh, or freezing and canning.


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Corn - Luscious - If you like your corn sweet, Luscious really lives up to it's name.

With a good balance of sugars and corn taste, the attractive blunt 17-20cm long ears are just what you want in an early mid-season bicolour.

 Luscious is easy to grow, too, with good cold-soil emergence and early vigor.


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Popcorn - Robust - When you think of eating healthy, popcorn may not be the first food that comes to mind. But this dent corn relative is one of the best all-around snack foods around, providing almost as much protein, iron and calcium as beef!

A cup of popped, un-buttered popcorn contains fewer calories than half a medium-sized grapefruit. Popcorn, a whole grain, has as much fiber as Bran Flakes or whole wheat toast. Who knew!

 With Robust, you'll enjoy easy-to-digest, hull-less eating quality of crisp, tender popcorn that has a larger popping volume than old open-pollinated varieties.

 

 

 

 

 

Live And Learn

Ninety-nice percent of the things you worry about don't happen; the other one percent you can't do anything about, so why worry at all? That's one of my favourite sayings: it sums up how I feel about life in general, and gardening in particular.

That explains why I'm always telling people to put their gardens in early. Plants like peas, spinach, and lettuce can take a spring frost in stride. Others might represent more of a risk, but most years it's a chance worth taking. The frost will come if it comes; if it does, you can't stop it, and if it doesn't, you have an early crop.

Of course, when disaster does occur, gardeners must be philosophical. No one can predict the weather with absolute accuracy. When it does take a turn for the worse, there's no point taking it personally.

One spring, we planted an entire acre of tomatoes. It had been unseasonably hot the day we put them in - I remember the boys getting sunburns! The plants were growing beautifully. The nights had been warm, the days sunny, and with the end of May approaching, frost seemed out of the question.

As we stepped out the front door one morning, though, the nip in the air was unmistakable. Ted and I immediately ran to check the tomato plants. Sure enough, when we got to the field, we were greeted by row after row of withered, miserable-looking plants.

Yet the carnage wasn't quite complete. The frost had been strangely selective, killing some plants to ground level while leaving others next to them untouched. Still, we had lost about 85 percent of them.

Of course we were devastated. Our bumper crop had been taken away with one cruel, unexpected blow. By then, even our cautious friends had their gardens planted and like us were shaking their heads in disbelief.

All you can do with an experience like that is try to learn from it. We ended up getting quite a good crop of green tomatoes off the surviving plants, although nowhere near what we had hoped. The plants that had been nipped at the top grew out bushy and wide, and eventually bore some fruit. Even some we thought were completely destroyed somehow grew back from the roots, although, with our short season, they barely had time to flower before fall.

The experience also made us take a long second look at where we were planting our tomatoes. Because they were at the top of a hill,  they were far more exposed than they should have been. They lay at the mercy of spring frosts and summer winds.

At the same time, we decided it was time to upgrade our operation. That summer, Ted set to work on a new greenhouse, where the tomatoes were grown from then on, so we would never again have to take that kind of risk with such a large crop of tomatoes. If you plant a half dozen tomatoes in your back yard, you can easily cover them if you're hit by a late frost. If you have a whole acre, however, the bed sheets aren't nearly big enough! I like taking risks, but there's such a thing as being foolhardy.

The most important lesson we learned from those tomatoes, though, was the truth of that old farmers' adage: "There's always next year." Sure enough, we survived to try again.

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer

Good Gourds!

Now is the time to start your cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squash indoors. But with so many different varieties to choose from, it can be a tough decision!

Here's a few suggestions to get you started:

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Watermelon - Vista Hybrid (Citrullus lanatus) Big, sweet and reliable! The Vista Hybrid is a true classic. Its reddish flesh is firm, dense, extra sweet and crisp with that exceptional old-fashioned watermelon flavour.

These large oval fruits average a whopping 8kg, and have a light green rind with pronounced dark stripes.

Watermelons do best in areas with plenty of warm weather, which doesn't exactly make the Canadian prairies the most ideal place for melons to grow. But that doesn't mean it can’t be done! Placing a clear plastic covering over the melons for the first several weeks increases temperatures and can help immensely, allowing the melons to reach the same sizes available at the grocery store.


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Watermelon – Rainbow Sherbert – This variety is actually a mix of the early-maturing “icebox” varieties Yellow Doll, New Orchid, and Tiger Baby watermelons. Creating a fantastic mix of colours, sure to impress at your next picnic or barbecue.

These extra fancy beauties weigh-in at only 1.8 to 3 kilograms with thin, green-striped rinds and dense, crisp flesh.

Their party colours and refreshingly sweet, sherbet-like taste make them wonderful everyday treats or gorgeous summer desserts!


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Squash – Waltham Butternut (Cucurbita moschata) – An old favourite! Waltham Butternut Squash develops light bronze-coloured, easy-to-peel skins and deep orange, sweet, finely textured flesh that melts in the mouth.

Butternut squash matures in 110 days, so when growing your own, patience is key. But the payoff is well worth the wait! 

Because these 3 to 4 pound vegetables store well for up to two months, they can be kept for winter dishes like creamy butternut soup or spiced butternut bread. Or, season them with mixed spices and roast them, or wrap them in foil and grill them over an open fire at your next summer barbecue!


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Squash - Summer Scallop (Cucurbita pepo)  Here’s one of my favourite looking squashes. These unique flat fruits with scalloped edges resemble little flying saucers!

Squashes need full-sun, rich fertile soil, and warm temperatures. So make sure to plant them only when spring weather is warm and settled.

 These summer squashes can be treated a lot like a zucchini. However, they don’t contain as much moisture as a zucchini, which makes them perfect for kabobs and grilling.


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Cucumber – Cool Breeze (Cucumis sativus) – Here’s a cucumber that is really different.  Cool Breeze is a parthenocarpic variety bred to set perfect fruit without cross-pollination.  No male pollen is needed, so even if bees are scarce you'll still get a great crop!

A French “cornichon” (or gherkin) variety, Cool Breeze is intended for making those tiny cocktail-sized pickles, but the fruits are just as delicious when allowed to reach full size and eaten fresh.

If you’re short on space, these cucumbers can also be grown on a fence or a trellis for uniform straight fruit.


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Cucumber – Bush Slicer (Cucumis sativus) – Speaking of being short on space, Bush Slicer cucumbers are perfect for container gardening!

The straight 15 to 20 cm-long fruits have smooth, tender skin with small seed cavities and sweet, crisp flesh. The sturdy hybrid vines yield strong crops in both cool conditions and real summer heat.

Enjoy this space-saving cucumber in delicious salads from your own patio this season!


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Cucumber – Lemon Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) - Don’t be fooled by this heirloom's unusual shape-these bright yellow balls are excellent for salads and pickling. They have a clean, crisp taste and are never bitter!

Lemon cucumbers effortlessly produce loads of pastel yellow fruit the same colour, size, and shape as pale lemons.

Very young lemon cukes are delicious eaten right from the garden like a fresh crispy apple!

 

Brassica Oleracea

Brassica oleracea is a remarkable species. You may not know it, but members of this single species all-star team include: cabbage, cauliflower, kale and collards, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, and broccoli.

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These cool-weather loving plants are perfect for our Alberta climate. Here are a few of our favourites to grow:

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Cabbage – Charmant (Brassica oleracea F1) – If you love to eat heathy (and who doesn’t?) then this is the vegetable for you! Cabbage holds the esteemed position of the vegetable that contains the least amount of fat per serving. And, as an excellent source of vitamin C and antioxidant phytonutrients, cabbage is a great defender against cancer.


Charmant Cabbage is a sweet and flavourful summer harvest cabbage. The 15-20cm dense heads are blue-green in colour, and weigh 1.5-3kg.


Cabbage is a hardy cool-season crop that does best under cool, moist conditions. It can be direct sown or grown as a transplant, with most heads being ready to harvest in 66 days.


Excellent for home-made slaws and sauerkrauts!


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Cauliflower – Cheddar Hybrid (B. oleracea L. var. botrytis) – While this cauliflower doesn't actually contain any cheese, it does have 25 times the beta carotene of regular white Cauliflower, for extra nutrition in every bite!


The eye-catching orange colour intensifies when cooked, adding fantastic colour and bold flavour to any dish it’s added to. And are also great  cut raw for snack trays and salads.


Cheddar Cauliflower is just as easy to grow as its white variety, and grows from seed to plate in 5 weeks.  It prefers moist soil, lots of sun, and is great in Alberta summers since the cooling temperatures enhance the flavor of this vegetable.


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Broccoli - Waltham 29 (Brassica oleracea  var.  italica) – Broccoli is one of the great treats of summer.  Known for producing large heads and long stalks, this long-time favourite is excellent for cooking fresh, frozen, raw or steamed.

The vitamin-rich head is actually a cluster of of tiny flower buds. After the head is harvested, it "sprouts" numerous smaller heads.

This cool-weather relative to cabbage is easy to grow, producing a large head filled with tightly packed florets. It grows best in mostly sunny locations during the cooler parts of the growing season, and prefers rich soil kept fairly moist.



A-peeling Potato Varieties

Delicious and nutritious! Nothing beats the taste of your own home-grown "spuds". There are hundreds of potato varieties to choose from but here are a few great choices:

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A) Yukon Gold Potato (Solanum tuberosum) - Plant these in your garden and you will have a goldmine of yellow-skinned, yellow-fleshed potatoes ready to harvest in 100 days. Yukon Gold is widely acclaimed as the star of golden-fleshed potatoes, and for good reason! Sporting a thin golden skin, it is renowned for its outstanding flavor and dry texture. These potatoes are excellent for baking, boiling, roasting, and frying.


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B) Purple Magic Potato (Solanum andigenum) - Here’s one of my favourites. These potatoes feature dark purple skin with an attractive, deeper purple flesh. “Purple Magic” has the same flavour and nutritional value as regular potatoes, and as a bonus, they contain as much antioxidants as spinach or kale! A real gourmet treat! The potato is a high-yield variety and these multi-purpose tubers are ideal for chips, roasting, frying, or in potato salad.


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C) Rosemarie Potato (Solanum tuberosum cv.) - What a colourful potato! This mid-season fingerling has bright red skin and deep red flesh. These gourmet, nutritious fingerlings are ideal for baking, boiling, or potato salad.


D) Potato Rake - Yes, there’s a tool for that! The potato rake is more versatile than its name implies. Its tines are sturdy and ideal for digging or harvesting potatoes and similar types of vegetables. It can also be used to transfer manure and loose material or even for general garden clean-up. The potato rake is great as it allows you to dig into the soil and harvest your potatoes without accidentally cutting your potatoes in half (as sometimes happens with a shovel).


E) Potato Bag - Not many people seem to know this, but potatoes are great for growing in containers! If you’re looking to give it a try, Smart Pot containers are a fantastic choice. The Smart Pot is porous fabric aeration container that releases heat and promotes fibrous root growth. The result is a better root structure and better potatoes!

 

You Can Grow Those Here?

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This past week, a teacher from Slave Lake, Alberta told me about the peanut plant that she’d grown in her garden last year.

Granted, she harvested just a single peanut from her plant, but considering that peanuts are heat loving, long-season plants that are more at home in the deep Southern states like Georgia and Alabama, I consider her first foray growing these plants to be a great success.
 
I remember growing another heat loving crop–okra–years ago in our garden. While I didn't get a massive yield, I did manage to harvest a couple of fruit, and they were fun to try. I was also surprised by how gorgeous the okra flowers were.
 
So this year, if you have a nice, sunny, warm spot in your yard try a few "cotton belt" plants like peanuts and okra. And who knows, with global warming, this could be your breakthrough year. Edamame beans (you might have tried them at a Japanese restaurant), I think, will be another fun one to try.

We've actually got all 3 plants growing on our on-display "Big Bag Bed" garden in the greenhouse. They should be popping up in a couple of weeks, and by the end of the season we're hoping for a nice crop of beans, peanuts, and okra.

~Jim Hole

p.s. We have even more seeds in this week, including a large shipment from Pacific Northwest (they have a huge variety of non-GMO seeds). So come on down, pick out some seeds, and start sketching out your garden for this summer.

This is a great time to pick up some of the more interesting and unusual seeds before certain varieties start selling out. This warm sunny weather is also, we find, very inspiring.

Popular Poppies

When it comes to describing poppies “popular” is an understatement. The Poppy family includes a gigantic selection of species, and are native to many parts of the world, including Central and Southern Europe, China, India, and other parts of Asia. The flowers are attractive to pollinators like honey bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. As an added bonus, the home gardener can choose from almost any colour in the rainbow, including black. 

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Since poppies produce seeds so effortlessly, ensuring a continuous supply is easy. Once the flower is finished blooming, each poppy provides hundreds of seeds you can use the following year to keep your garden colourful without spending extra money.


Whether you want large blousy blooms, small delicate dwarf varieties, or elegant flowers that will make a statement, there is always a poppy to suit! Here are a few varieties you might enjoy:

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Hungarian Breadseed Poppy (Papaver spp.) – Baking with poppy seeds is a centuries old tradition. If you’re looking to harvest seeds from your poppies, the Hungarian Breadseed is a great choice.


Hungarian Breadseed flowers will bloom in spring and early summer, and then drop their petals to form fat seed capsule pods. Once the pods get brown and hard, they can cracked open to remove a surprising number of blue-black seeds you can use in your breads, cakes, or muffins.


But seeds aren’t the only thing this poppy is good for. This heirloom strain also has beautiful white or pale lavender-pink petals with contrasting dark centres, perfect for planting in rock gardens, windowsill planters, or in containers on your patio or deck.


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Oriental Brilliant Scarlet Poppy (Papaver orientale) - Oriental poppies are the most striking of the perennial poppies. With eye-catching cup-shaped flowers, textured like crêpe paper, these flowers are guaranteed to be the focal point in your garden this summer. 


The plant's huge flowers can grow up to 6 inches across on stems up to 4 feet tall! It’s no wonder these poppies are a favourite subject with so many artists and gardeners alike.


Once planted, they require no special care and will last for many years. Their original vibrant red-orange colour is still the most popular for growing, though oriental poppies come in a variety of colours that will match or blend any garden’s color scheme.


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California Orange Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) - California poppies are a perfect choice for hot, dry areas but will grow almost anywhere without a fuss. These golden-orange poppies are perfect for covering a neglected or hard-to-cultivate area, or for a memorable display in a large garden space. 


California poppies boast a single, cup-shaped bloom that, in the wild, range from clear yellow to golden orange through to bronze. The flowers close at night and open as the sun touches them each morning.


These annuals are easy-to-grow and drought-tolerant, providing a carefree spring carpet of bloom in all climate zones. 


With such ease and simplicity, poppies are a welcome plant to all gardens. Once a gardener includes poppies in their garden, they will find it hard to remember a time without them!

 

Early Spring Sowing

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Early spring sowing is a topic that causes many gardeners an inordinate amount of stress and confusion. There are 2 primary concerns, as I see it. The 1st concern is that if you sow seeds too early they will die due to snow, cold, frost or all of the above. The 2nd concern is that if you sow too late the vegetables won’t mature before they are killed by…well…snow, cold and frost.
 
Having grown up in the market garden business, I’ll share what our philosophy and strategy was for early seeding in April: 
•    A few acres of frost tolerant crops were sown as soon as we could till the soil in April.
•    If the soil was too wet, we would wait until we could drive the tractor on it without leaving ruts.
•    Once the soil was dry and regardless of the air temperature (0°C or 20°C)  we would plant a few acres of cool weather crops such as: cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprout, onions, parsnips, peas, Kohlrabi, rutabaga, beets, spinach, Swiss chard and even a few potatoes.
•    After that initial planting we would sow 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th rounds of these vegetables so that we had a continuous supply throughout the year.
 
And while it may seem a little counter-intuitive, we even hoped to get a nice snowfall after sowing because—as the snow gently melted—it provided the perfect moisture levels for the vegetables, didn't compact the soil, and resulted in near perfect stands of seedlings.
 
The reason we don't wait until May 24th to sow our vegetables was simple: we wouldn't be have been in business if we adhered to that date. Early sowing means a much longer harvest season, which is exactly what our our customers wanted, so sowing many of our vegetable crops "early" was just standard practice. 


~Jim Hole

p.s. We've received a lot of calls about whether now would be an appropriate time to prune trees such as apples, maydays, or cherries. This is a perfect time to prune those types of trees! So if you've been thinking about pruning, consider this your sign.

On that same note: March 31st is the last day to prune Elm Trees in Edmonton. After this, the annual ban on Elm Tree pruning is in effect until October 1st. This ban occurs every year and helps prevent the spread of Dutch Elm disease. In the case of trees damaged by windstorms, fires, or lightning strikes, Elm Tree pruning exceptions may be granted by filling out an Elm Tree permission form with your local municipality.

 

Also Read About: Spacing Your Vegetable Seeds

Lettuce Grow

Have you ever tasted lettuce fresh from the garden? I mean really fresh. Picked less than 30 minutes ago? The difference in taste is incredible! You will never settle for shop lettuce again after you tasted a truly fresh garden lettuce.

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Well lucky for you, lettuce greens are so easy to grow (indoors now, outdoors later), they grow so fast, they’re so nutritious and so delicious, and growing them is a breeze. If you aren't already planning on planting lettuce, here are a few reasons why you ought to:

Not everyone has a large garden space, but the great thing about lettuce is that it’s a fantastic vegetable for container planting. With enough water, lettuce will thrive in trays as shallow as 4” and pots or containers of any kind. And I do mean any kind. Your grandmother had it figured out when she used those old dresser drawers to plant her lettuce in!

The trick is not to go overboard. The biggest mistake home gardeners make when planting lettuce is planting one big patch at the beginning of summer. Five weeks later they’re swimming in lettuce. I’m sure you love salad as much as the next person, but trust me on this one: The key is planting a small patch where you have a gap in the garden every 2-3 weeks instead. That will give you a steady (and manageable) supply through the summer.

Lettuce is one speedy vegetable. It goes from seed to baby greens in 4 to 6 weeks and from seed to salad bowl in 6-8 weeks. Because it grows so quickly, lettuce is a great short season vegetable to interplant with other long season vegetables such as peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, or eggplants.

With dozens of different lettuce varieties, each with its own unique colour, texture and flavour, home gardeners have some serious choice. Here are a few interesting varieties you might enjoy:

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Lettuce - Sea of Red – Sea of Red lettuce is a perfect red-wine contrast to your otherwise very green salad. With open loose heads of sword-shaped leaves that colour up to a beautiful and amazingly deep mahogany-red, this lettuce also makes a great addition to planters with ornamentals. And, unlike other red lettuces that fade in the sun, Sea of Red’s colour just becomes more intense.

Harvesting the entire head of Sea of Red lettuce is fine, however if you snip off the young lettuce leaves about ten centimeters above ground instead, it will vigorously re-sprout and provide several more harvests.

Since the leaves grow upright, it makes growing the lettuces tightly together possible. This creates the appearance of a sea of red!


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Lettuce - Garden Babies Butterhead – This lettuce is a salad lover’s fantasy: buttery texture and an outstanding sweet taste. But more than that, they are a gardener’s dream. This lettuce is perfect looking!

Garden Babies were originally developed for the Japanese luxury market, where a premium is put on flavour and quality. The cute perfectly formed little butterhead rosettes are ideal for growing in containers. They are slow to bolt, heat tolerant, and make twelve to fifteen centimeter heads at maturity.

This lettuce is perfect for individual servings, which makes them as much fun to eat as they are to grow!


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Lettuce - Drunken Woman  The honest truth is I chose this variety because I was tickled by the name. Who could resist having a “Drunken Woman Fringed Headed” in their garden?

The best guess is that this fabulous lettuce’s name refers to its frizzy headed look. The Drunken Woman lettuce boasts emerald green leaves tipped in mahogany red.

Unlike the Butterhead varieties this isn't a melt-in-your-mouth type lettuce. It’s heavy on the crunch! With a nuttier than buttery flavour, Drunken Woman is the perfect vehicle for any number of vinaigrettes or toppings.

Enjoy, and may your salads never be boring again!

When to Prune Your Fruit Trees

Now is a great time to prune those long neglected apple, cherry, apricot, pear, and plum trees. 

I know that a lot of people become stressed-out about pruning fruit trees, fearing that they will irreparably harm them.

While it’s true that bad pruning can harm trees, no pruning is often just as bad if not worse.

Here are a few simple rules for pruning your fruit trees:


•    Don’t remove more than a quarter of the branches in any one year
•    Ensure that every branch is attached to the tree at a wide angle. Narrow "V-shaped" branch attachments are weak and can split
•    Remove broken branches
•    Remove crossing branches
•    Never leave a "stub" but never "flush cut" a branch, always leave a "collar" that is a few millimeters deep 

If you are still a little apprehensive about pruning, pop on down to Hole’s, and we can show you how!

~Jim Hole

  Now fully stocked on all Corona pruning shears, loppers, saws, pole pruners, and hand pruners.

Now fully stocked on all Corona pruning shears, loppers, saws, pole pruners, and hand pruners.