Seed Basics: A Q&A with Lois and Jim Hole

Is it better to grow my annuals from seeds, or should I just buy bedding plants?

Lois—Let your interests be your guide! Growing annuals from seed is a great pastime, especially if you’re eager to start gardening while there’s still snow on the ground. However, some varieties are easier to start from seed than others. We had a heck of a time growing bells of Ireland from seed until we discovered, quite by accident, that they require a cold treatment before they will germinate. If they hadn’t been set down on a cold concrete floor, we never would have discovered what were doing wrong!

Jim—Mom’s right. There’s nothing more frustrating than planting a tray full of seeds only to be faced with a barren pack even after weeks of care. To avoid disappointment, choose easy-to-germinate seed like marigolds and nasturtiums, and buy bedding plants if you want to grow the more demanding annuals like begonias and alyssum. Of course, if you like the challenge of growing the picky species from seed, by all means, give them a try. Just take the time to learn a little about their needs.


When should I start my seeds?

Lois—It depends on when you’re going to transplant your seedlings outdoors. For example, here in St. Albert the average last spring-frost date is May 6. We transplant our pansies outside 3 weeks before that in mid-April. Pansy seedlings take about 14 weeks to grow from seed, so we start the seeds in mid-February. It takes a bit of planning, but it’s worth it. By May last year, I had pots filled with pansies on my deck, and they received rave reviews.

Jim—People spend a lot of time worrying about frost. They don’t realize that many annuals need to be outside and growing in the early part of the growing season. More plants are finished off by heat and drought in the summer than by frost in May! In our experience is actually better to put annuals like pansies outside and cover them than to leave them indoors and have them stretch out from being too hot. There’s really no substitute for planning. Read your seed packets carefully, check on the average last spring-frost date for your area, and do the math for yourself.


What are the easiest annuals to start from seed?

Lois—By and large, the bigger the seed is, the easier it is to grow. If you start off with larger seeds such as sweet peas, nasturtiums, and marigolds, you’re almost guaranteed success. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you can move on to smaller seeds, which tend to be more challenging to grow.

Jim—The sweet pea is the easiest annual to grow from seed. Not only is a sweet pea seed big, it’s nearly indestructible! It doesn’t mind if you give it too much water or too little. It’s disease resistant and easy to handle because it’s so big.  On the other hand, tuberous and fibrous begonias are among the trickiest annuals to seed.  The seeds are almost as small as dust particles. You can barely see them, let alone pick them up with your fingers. These seeds require consistently warm soil, and just the right amount of fertilizer; otherwise they starve. Raising begonias from seed is definitely a challenge compared to the easygoing sweet pea!


What do I need to grow my own plants from seed?

Lois—First you need the very best-quality seeds. My mother-in-law, Grandma Hole, always said, “Only the rich can afford to buy cheap things!” If you start off with inferior seed, you might as well not even bother. Also, you’ll want to give those seeds a good home, so be sure to buy a professional seedling mixture.

Jim—You can start with as little as seeds, potting soil, flats, and a sunny window. If you’re ready to get a bit more serious, though, it’s worth investing in the right equipment

Basic equipment checklist
• the best available seed
• the best-quality soilless mix (Seedling Starter Mix)
• a mister bottle
• clean plastic flats
• grow lights
• covers (plastic or fabric)
• fine-textured vermiculite to cover your seedlings
• a thermometer with a probe (an oven meat-thermometer works well)
• heating cables/mats
• fungicides (optional)
• Earth Alive Soil Activator
• tags to label the different varieties


Do I need a special kind of soil for my seedlings?

Lois—Yes! Even though you can get reasonably good results from regular potting soil, you’ll have better luck if you use a special mix for your seedlings. I always use Seedling Starter Mix. It has just the right components for healthy seedlings.

Jim—I agree wholeheartedly. For the best seedlings, you should always start off with the best soil. Spend the few extra dollars and invest in a professional seedling soil. Regular potting soil is too coarse and variable to risk using on your seedlings.


What are hybrid seeds?

Lois—There are many different kinds of hybrid seeds. One hybrid seed tends to be very similar to the next, unlike non-hybrid seeds, which sometimes surprise you when they bloom! Hybrid seeds are more expensive than their non-hybrid cousins, but the extra pennies are worth
it! Plants that grow from hybrid seeds tend to have all kinds of bonuses, like bigger and more colourful blooms, greater disease resistance, and better growth habit.

Jim—Development of hybrid plants is a complex procedure that ultimately, if everything goes right, results in very uniform varieties.


Can I plant the seeds collected from hybrid plants?

Lois—You can, but only if you’re prepared for unpredictable (and often downright unsuccessful) results. Hybrid plants don’t make good parents!

Jim—Seeds taken from hybrid plants don’t grow “true to type.” You can collect and sow hybrid seeds, but only half of the resulting plants will look like the variety that you collected the seed from. The other half will be divided evenly—the two quarters resembling the two parents that gave rise to the hybrid.


What other factors are important for good germination?

Lois—Even though I always emphasize the importance of watering, oxygen is just as important for your seeds. If you keep your flats saturated with water, your seeds will drown. You also need to check your seed packets to see if your seeds require special conditions to germinate.

Jim—Oxygen and moisture must penetrate a seed’s coat in order for it to germinate.  Apart from that, different seeds have their own requirements. For example, the smallest seeds (like alyssum, begonia, coleus, and petunia) generally require light in order to germinate. Other seeds, such as larkspur, phlox, and verbena, prefer to germinate in the dark.

Some seeds actually need a little abuse to get started! In one process, scarification, the seed coats are cut or abraded in order to allow water and oxygen to penetrate. In another process, stratification, the seeds are stored in a cold, moist environment for several weeks or months, to simulate the passing of winter.


What things can contaminate my seedlings?

Lois—Take the time to practice good sanitation. You must be careful to work in a clean space with clean tools. And wash your hands, too!

Jim—Disease can enter the picture at several points.

• Containers or other tools. Rinse your tools, plus any previously used flats or trays, in a 10%-bleach solution.

• Improper sanitation. Listen to Mom! Always wash your hands before working with your seedlings. Tobacco carries the mosaic virus, while certain foods like lettuce carry damping-off diseases.

• Unpasteurized soil.

• The seeds themselves. Some diseases live in the seed or on the seed coat itself. Buy only the best-quality seeds.

• Dirty water or dirty watering cans (tap water is fine, provided it’s not high in salts—sodium in particular).


Do I need to use pesticides to grow seedlings?

Lois—No. Pesticides are not the answer. Ted and I used to grow our seedlings without using pesticides, and to this day, we still do. The key is sanitation, sanitation, sanitation! If you keep everything perfectly clean, you won’t have to rely on chemicals.

Jim—I agree. You don’t need pesticides to grow your seedlings, especially if you use a professional seedling mixture. This is the key—garden soil introduces many unwanted potential problems for seedlings. Fungicides, on the other hand, can be an important investment. Even with the best sanitation, fungal diseases can occasionally find their way to your seedlings.


Planning an event? Rent a patio planter!

Save money at your next event! Hole's Greenhouses rents patio planters for your wedding, anniversary or other special event.

Here's how it works:

  1. Visit Hole's Greenhouses 7 days before your event.
  2. Pick out the planters you would like. We recommend snapping a picture of the planters with your phone.
  3. Email our Information Centre at questions@holesonline.com and include contact information, rental dates, location, number of planters required, indicate pick up or delivery and include the pictures of the planters if you are able to. 
    • If you prefer, you may place your order over the phone at 780-419-6800 (9am-4:30pm, Monday-Friday; excluding holidays.)
  4. Our Information Centre will respond within one business day. Weekend enquiries will be answered on Monday. 
  5. Once confirming your order, we will tag your planters and have them ready for you to pick up or for delivery!

Rental Fee: 25% of the retail price of the patio planter/per day

Delivery & Pickup Fee: $100*

*subject to additional fees depending upon special requirements such as location, delivery times, venue restrictions, site preparation, size of order, etc.

Payment Terms: patio planter retail price must be fully paid along with Delivery & Pickup Fee, should delivery and pickup be required. Upon return, 75% of the patio planter retail price is credited back to the renter. Damaged planters will not be given full credit.

Visit Hole's today, or contact our Information Centre (9am-4:30pm, Monday-Friday; excluding holidays) by emailing questions@holesonline.com or by calling 780-419-6800 during specified hours.

"Bulb Empowering"

When I hear the term "forcing" bulbs, I usually envision someone holding a flower bulb over a compost bin and yelling, "This is your last chance dammit! Bloom or I’m dropping you in."
But the term "bulb forcing" really hasn’t arisen out of any ill feelings towards bulbs. It’s used simply to describe a technique where one schedules flower bulbs to bloom within a particular time frame.
Amaryllis, Narcissus and Hyacinth are examples of forced bulbs that are commonly grown in our homes. At the greenhouses, we have a bunch that are quite content to sit dormant in boxes on our store shelves and wait patiently for customers to pot them for forcing indoors.
Each variety of forcing bulbs has its own "weeks to flower" schedule, based largely on its genetic make-up. Bulbs like Narcissus bloom quickly once potted-up, while Hyacinth and Amaryllis take a bit longer to display their gorgeous flowers.
Flowering times can be sped-up or slowed-down, somewhat, by manipulating temperatures. Cool temperatures delay flowering while warm temperatures reduce the time to flower.

Beyond their beauty, what I really like about forced bulbs is that they require so little care. The growers who have carefully nurtured them have already done most of the work. All I that I have to do is drop them into pots, add water, and enjoy.
Come to think of it, given that potting up a bulb is such a gentle and nurturing activity, coupled with our modern sensitivity to labeling things, perhaps its time to replace the harsh term "bulb forcing" with something like "bulb empowering".
Maybe "bulb emancipation" is an even better phrase, since we liberate the bulbs from their dry packages and transplant them into warm, moist, potting soil. Or perhaps consider "Manipulation of florogenesis of geophytes" if plant science is your thing.
Hmm… with some sober second thought, I think "bulb forcing" sounds just fine.

~Jim Hole

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

The Seedling Boogie Woogie

Dad loved to sow bedding plant seeds. His first "sowing machine" was a hair clipper that Mom used to cut Dad’s hair. Dad attached a V-shaped piece of aluminum to the cutter end and would simply dump some seeds onto the "V", turn on the clipper, and the seeds would jump and separate so that they could be evenly distributed into the seedling flats. Dad had a really good eye for getting the seeds spaced just right in the flats, and he would check them every day to see how they were growing.

For the most part, Dad had great success growing seedlings with his "high tech" seeder and steady hand, but I remember one day when things got out of hand.

It was a March morning many years ago, when Dad decided that four flats of seedlings had grown to just the right stage for transplanting, so he gathered them up – two balanced on each arm – and was moving them to the transplanting area. He looked proud of the great job he had done – and justifiably so – because the germination was near perfect and the seedlings were tough and stocky. 

But as Dad was cautiously carrying the seedling flats to the transplanting area where Mom was waiting, he inadvertently stepped onto a greenhouse floor drain that should have had a metal grate over it, but for whatever reason, didn’t. The moment his foot hit the drain, Dad did a kind of, how shall I say, "boogie woogie" move somewhat reminiscent of a young lady trying to balance on impossibly tall high heels.

 The flats went flying in all directions and hundreds of valuable seedlings were scattered everywhere! Dad was unhurt but he was so angry with himself at the devastation that when Mom tried to calm him down he just got more angry. 

However, when Dad noticed that one seedling flat had escaped most of the damage by landing right side up on the floor I could see Dad’s demeanor change from rage to complete calm. He walked over to the unscathed flat, gently picked it up with his thumb and index finger on each side of the plastic flat. I thought, wow, what great composure Dad had after losing so many valuable seedlings. 

But then Dad did something that I didn’t see coming. He delicately threw the remaining good flat into the air much like a professional punter would do with a football, and kicked the flat as hard as he could. For a brief moment I was in shock, but within seconds we were all laughing at the absurdity of watching the flat spiral through the greenhouse.

Dad’s philosophy was that if you are going to do a job, do it to the best of your ability, but if you’re going to screw it up, then you might as well really screw it up! Whenever, I screw something up – which is not a rare as I would like it to be – the imagery of Dad and the flats always comes to mind. It is, strangely enough, very comforting.

~Jim Hole

Thoughtful Husband

This past weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to sold-out sessions on one of my favourite topics: vegetable gardening.

Given, the large number of people who attended the weekend sessions, I think 2016 will be the "year of vegetable gardening" in Canada. Let’s face it, with vegetable prices sky high in grocery stores, there is a pretty good chance that lawns may be sharing a portion of their real estate with lettuce!

If you missed last weekend’s talks, don’t worry. We are running them again in the upcoming weeks. The sessions are free but you do need to register. And keep in mind that even if you don’t have a penchant for vegetable gardening, I always leave plenty of time at the end for answering any gardening questions from turf to trees. It's always a favourite among attendees. 

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. And I must confess here and now that I couldn’t put together an attractive flower arrangement if my life depended on it. I might have peaked early - in grade 1, I think - when I gave my Mom a bouquet of dandelions!

Now-a-days, I rely on our skilled Floral Studio to assemble beautiful Valentine bouquets for my wife, and I’ve even gone one step further. I am on the "Unforgettable Bouquet" program that, essentially means our Floral Studio puts together a floral arrangement for me every month that I can take home. The flowers are spectacular, brighten our home and, for the most part, keep me in the "thoughtful" husband category without me having to remember to bring flowers home. Monthly bouquets are fabulous, but at the very least, they are terrific for the important dates that you can’t afford to miss like birthdays, anniversaries and, of course, Valentine’s Day.  

~Jim Hole


For more information on our Unforgettable Bouquet program,
please give us a call at 780 419 6800

One Big Brother On The Roof, One Little Brother On The Ground.

When I was a teenager, my older brother bet that I couldn’t catch a 30lb pumpkin if he lobbed it from the roof of our farmhouse. I took the bet, and I did, in fact, catch it – sort of. The pumpkin split in two right across my knee, and I was splattered with rind, seeds, and pulp. My brother, naturally, nearly laughed himself off the roof.

Having survived that ordeal, I retired from pumpkin catching but I still think that of all the vegetables pumpkins are the most fun to grow and the seeds are a true delicacy. 

Pumpkin seeds are surrounded by pulp but are fairly easy to extract if you put the pulp in a large water filled bowl and slosh the mixture around. Pumpkin seeds will float to the top and can then be transferred to a bowl. Toss in a bit of oil, swirl and then lay the seeds on a cookie sheet and bake. Few things are as tasty and nutritious as baked pumpkin seeds!

One word of caution. It’s better to remove the top of a pumpkin and scoop out the pulp to get to the seeds. The "one big brother on the roof and one little brother on the ground" technique is largely frowned upon today due to safety concerns.

~Jim Hole 

The Honey Wagon

Fall is a great time to improve your soil with the addition of organic matter. During the spring, the mad rush to get things planted often means that there is precious little time to ensure the soil is in top shape.  Right now, there is a good window of opportunity to add products like SeaSoil (composted fish waste and forest fines) to the garden which improve tilth (soil workability) and increase nutrients for all of your plants.
Growing up on the farm, once the fall harvest had been completed, we would concentrate on building our soil for next year’s crops. And one thing that I could always count on in October, were a few visits from the "Honeywagon".  Now, anyone who has grown up on a farm knows that Honeywagon is just a euphemism for a wagon that carries rather unpleasant smelling manure.
Mr. Raven, a farmer to the north of us had thousands of chickens (laying hens for egg production, to be more specific) and he would have thousands of gallons of liquefied chicken manure that he would spray onto the vegetable fields after harvest. Chicken manure is particularly "pungent" to say the least, but it was terrific stuff for maintaining the organic matter in our soil.
Whenever I would complain about the smell, Dad would always educate me about the importance of maintaining good soil tilth and fertility.

"Besides", Dad would state, "if you have a cold, nothing clears the sinuses better than the smell of chicken manure".
I quickly got used to the "sweet" smell of the Honeywagon at a young age, but as residential houses rapidly expanded toward our property line, I know that the arrival of the Honeywagon early on Sunday mornings wasn’t exactly the best way to kick off Sunday brunch.
But as the saying goes, "You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs". Then again, there wouldn’t be any eggs to break without healthy soil to provide grains for the chickens to eat.

~Jim Hole

Stirring The Soil

Gardening offers many pleasures, but weeding isn’t one of them. Most successful gardeners develop their own special tricks to make the job easier, and if you coax them a bit, they’ll share their secrets with you. The best weeding trick I’ve ever learned, however, didn’t come from a friend or a book.

One spring day, Ted seeded an enormous patch of carrots, with 85 beautifully even rows. A few days later, while we were eating lunch, Ted and I noticed that our pigs seemed a bit noisier than usual. Gradually, a horrible realization sank in: the pigs were loose. Sure enough, when we looked out, we saw the whole bunch of them, rolling around in the soft, moist soil of the carrot patch.

I was just sick. Ted put on his bravest face and said, “Oh, Lois, don’t worry. I’ll re-seed it tomorrow.” Well, of course, the next morning, rain set in and didn’t let up for days. Ted never did get back to re-seeding.

A week later, I walked out to the garden. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were rows of seedlings, as neat and straight as could be. And any place that the pigs had rolled, there were no weeds, while the places they had missed were full of tiny emerging weed seedlings.

I was ready to let the pigs out again!
When I thought about it, it made sense. While those pigs had been having their fun, they were exposing thousands of tiny weeds to the elements. Meanwhile, a half inch below the surface, the carrot seeds remained safe and sound.

It’s called “stirring the soil,” and you can use the same approach even if you don’t have pigs. When you plant your garden, say in early April, go out with a rake about two weeks later. Turn the prongs up to the sky and go over the entire area you planted. Just move the surface soil around. You won’t do any harm to your garden, but you’ll kill so much chickweed, you won’t believe it.

When you seed again a couple of weeks later, you should wait only seven or eight days before raking, because the soil has begun to warm up and the seeds will germinate more quickly. By late May, wait only four days. With just a few minutes’ work, you can save yourself literally hours of weeding.

Ted took this trick a step further. He always harrowed the potato field just before the plant emerged, to kill the competing weeds. He’d hitch spring-tooth harrows to the Massey Ferguson and drive along at about ten kilometres an hour, disturbing the soil as much as possible without damaging the crops. It was a great time-saver in the long run.

It goes to show you, if you pay attention, you never know what you might learn, even from pigs.

About fifteen years after the “pig incident”, I gave this tip to a group of farm women. I had always thought it a remarkable pearl of wisdom. But that afternoon, an elderly woman came up to me and said, “Lois, my grandmother did that, my mother did that, and I’ve done that, and it works like a damn.”

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer

The Dog And The Turkey

Sometimes it’s wise to keep your mistakes to yourself.

One June, the daughter of one of our close friends was getting married. When there’s an occasion like that in a farming community, everybody naturally pitches in. Her family was planning to hold the gift opening on the day after the wedding, and I offered to roast the turkey.

I must say I was pleased with myself when I took it out of the oven. I’d never seen such a glorious-looking bird: it had to be 35 pounds if it was an ounce.

I transported my creation out to the Laurentian, opened the passenger door, and set it onto the floor. As I ran back to the house to grab my purse, the heavenly aroma of the roast turkey wafted through the air.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought it smelled good. As I came back out, I saw our dog’s backside sticking out the door of the car. And boy, was her tail wagging! When I screamed blue murder, she took off, a drumstick clamped defiantly in her mouth.

I was filled with dread as I ran to the car to assess the damage. My heart sank at the thought of all those guests trying to make due with nothing more than rolls and potato salad. But thankfully, the rest of the bird was untouched.

What else could I do? I carefully sliced away the damaged part, climbed into the car, and drove to the reception. By the time I arrived, I had my story straight. “Ted just loves a leg of turkey,” I explained, “and I thought you wouldn’t miss it.”

Ted has laughed about the story ever since. But do me a favour: if you happen to bump into my neighbours, don’t tell on me!

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer

Mark About Town

Mom had a tremendous love not only for gardening but also for politics, current affairs, symphony and opera. As a result, I grew up listening to CBC radio because its programming closely matched Mom’s areas of interest. Even though I had a love for Heavy Metal music – which definitely wasn’t a part of the CBC’s programming - I soon grew to appreciate the programming that CBC offered. I later realized that Mom’s love of CBC radio was coupled with her desire to get me to love Handel as I did Hendrix!

Well she succeeded – for the most part. At home, my radio is always tuned to CBC and I do like classical music, but Hendrix will always be a part of my music library.

This Thursday, October 1st CBC will really be hitting close to home because CBC’s Edmonton AM show will be broadcasting from our Glasshouse Bistro. Host Mark Connolly will be doing his monthly ‘Mark about Town’ right in the bistro and we will be providing free Iconoclast coffee and delicious amandine croissants and cinnamon Brioche buns (sponsored by our friends in the Enjoy Centre – Averton Homes) which will be available from 6am -8:30am so pop on down and say high to Mark Connolly and me. 

There will also be draws for Bob Dale gardening gloves, Mom’s Bulb Books and a complete Microgreen, mini-greenhouse growing kit.  And please join me on a tour of our greenhouses. You can see how we grow poinsettias with water captured from our roof.

See you Thursday!

~Jim Hole 

Now available on eBook: Jim and Lois Hole's Canadian Vegetable Garden Favourites!


Written by renowned market gardeners and greenhouse owners Jim and Lois Hole, this eBook goes over how and when to plant some of the most popular garden vegetables.

From asparagus to zucchini and everything in between, this guide includes harvesting and storage info, as well as fixes to common edible plant problems. Also included are some of the most popular vegetables such as kale, tomatoes, eggplant, and sweet potatoes—and even garden fruits such as strawberries.

A handy resource for any gardener, the advice in this book can also be applied to square foot gardening, raised bed gardening, container gardening and even market gardening.

Available in our online shop for only $4.99!

Corona Shovels

Well-made tools save time, energy, and money. We carry brands like Corona because their tools are known for their quality and everlasting durability. They've proven their worth by standing up to our demanding use that sends lesser quality tools to an early retirement. If you invest in your tools, you'll see first-hand the difference that quality makes.

At Hole's we carry a large variety of Corona tools to help you get the job done right. But if you're unsure which is the proper tool for you, here's a handy guide explaining the different types of shovels we carry:



Closed-Back Drain Spade

A drain spade or drain shovel, is perfect for digging or planting in a narrow space, such as between a walkway and your home’s foundation. Spades have long, rounded and slightly cupped blades, and are typically used to dig deep, narrow trenches (such as for installing drainage tiles or irrigation lines). A spade is also great for tackling heavy soils.

The 48" long Northern Ash wood handle gives added leverage for easier breaking of dense, heavy soils; while the closed-back design protects the handle from mud and dirt build up.


Hollow-Back #2 Square-point Shovel

Square point shovels are the perfect shovels for lifting and moving loose material. The flat design of the shovel makes it easy to pick up material and to scrape off small debris from a flat surface, such as a patio. 

The shovel is also equipped with large, forward-turned steps. This not only helps by adding a place to drive the shovel with your foot, but it also prevents material from spilling off the rear of blade.

Each Corona shovel is made with a Northern Ash wood handle, and an extra-thick, 14-gauge tempered steel blade for maximum toughness.


#2 Round Point Shovel - Closed-Back

Round point shovels handle most digging projects in the landscape. When selecting a shovel, look for one that has a riveted head-to-handle connection. Choose a tempered steel blade that is forged or made with heavy-gauge steel. It should be coated or painted to prevent rust.

Round point shovels have broad, forward-turned “steps” that provide firm footing when you need to rest your full weight on the blade. And the 48" Solid core fiberglass handle adds maximum strength and long service life.

The sharp blade edge of a round point shovel penetrates the ground easily, slicing through small roots or tough soil conditions.


Steel Spade with 15" Diamond Blade

This shovel is designed for the professional who needs MAXIMUM digging and prying power.

The steel spade shovel is made for spading, planting, prying, cutting, installing, edging and digging. Its sharpened blade, closed-back design, and added rubber footpad make cutting through thick roots a breeze.

The steel spade also features a 15" pre-sharpened, heat-treated, extra HEAVY DUTY, 12-gauge diamond blade, 54” steel handle, and a powder coated paint job for a smooth and comfortable feel.


Multi-Purpose Mini Shovel

This shovel is one of our favourites. The multi-purpose mini shovel has all the benefits of a full length round point shovel, but is designed for use in the tightest working conditions or for digging while on your knees.

It's lightweight, durable, and easy to control with the "D" grip handle. It also features a Northern Ash wood handle and a strong, 16-Gauge tempered steel blade.


Light Duty Floral Shovel

Like the round point shovels, floral shovels feature a smaller 6" x 8" round point head design, making it perfect for use in gardens and tight spaces.

Ideal for raised bed gardening, and equipped with a 42" wood handle and 16-gauge tempered steel blade, this shovel will get the job done right. 




Career Day

One spring morning, years ago, I got a phone call from a friend who taught junior high school in nearby Bon Accord. “Lois,” she said, “we’re having a career day. Could you come and talk to our grade sevens, eights, and nines?”

“What career are you asking me to talk about, exactly?” I inquired. And she said, “Well, market gardening, of course.”

“Who else is coming?” I asked, trying to sound casual. She recited the guest list: a doctor, a nurse, a fireman, a police officer, a photographer, a university drama professor – the array of glamorous professions went on and on.

“Margaret,” I asked, “what teenager in her right mind would want a career in market gardening? With all those wonderful people, the kids will never come to hear me.”

“Oh yes they will, Lois,” she replied. “They have to.”

Well, before I knew it, there I was walking down the school hallway. I still hadn’t the slightest idea what I was going to tell these kids. Just then, two girls passed me, and I overheard one of them saying, “If I can just find a way to earn twenty more dollars, I’ll finally be able to buy that dress.” I snapped my fingers and thought, “Now I know what to say.”

As I walked into the room, a very nervous little grade seven girl was introducing me. She said, “ We’re so glad to have Mrs. Holey here today.”

I could tell by looking at the kids that they were already thinking ahead to the fireman. So I turned to them and said, “Hey kids, do you want to make some money this summer?” Every kid was suddenly paying close attention.

I told them, “Go home and ask your mother for half of her vegetable garden. In that half garden, you’re going to plant peas. And make sure you plant those peas nice and thick! And then you’re going to get up in the morning and pick those peas.”

You might notice I left a few details out between the planting and picking. But I had their attention and didn’t want to lose it.

I said, “You’ll pick a great, big bag of peas. Your mother will drive you to the nearest supermarket. When you get there, you’ll march up to the first staff person you see and tell them, ‘I’d like to see the produce manager, please.’ When he comes out, you’ll say, ‘I have this bag of peas I’d like to sell you.’

“He’ll reach over and grab a pod. The peas will be so shiny and squeaky; he’ll know you picked them that morning. He’ll want them so badly. And when he asks you, ‘How much do you want for your bag of peas?’, you will say, ‘TWENTY DOLLARS’.”

I thought the little girl was going to fall off her chair.

I told the kids, “You can sell fresh peas anywhere. Put them in big bags, put them in little bags, go to the City Market, go door to door. People will die for fresh peas.”

Well, the room absolutely erupted. The kids began talking all at once, excitedly throwing out suggestions. Just then the bell rang and I had to move on to the next class. I thanked the kids for their enthusiasm and began gathering my things.

A little girl in the front row raised her hand. “Mrs. Hole,” she begged, “don’t tell the other kids about the peas!”

-Lois Hole, I'll Never Marry A Farmer

A New Way To Water

Best advice on watering: Water in the morning, water thoroughly, water less often.

As you will see when you read this article, nothing drives me crazier than seeing water being wasted. That’s why the development of a new drip-irrigation system gave me such pleasure – at last, an easy-to-use watering method that will help people conserve this precious resource. I hope you’ll consider giving it a try too!

Few things irritate me more than the sight of precious water pouring out of the tap and straight down the drain. A childhood spent in a small, drought prone Saskatchewan town taught me how precious water is. Gardens in particular consume plenty of water, especially during hot spells in July and August. Thankfully, reducing our consumptions is not difficult.

When people think of watering the flower or vegetable garden, they usually picture water wands, hoses, watering cans, sprinklers, or rain barrels. What doesn’t immediately come to mind is drip irrigation. Drip irrigation is a very efficient method of distributing water to plants – one drop at a time. This is not new technology, but it is almost unknown to home gardeners; it is much more common in large-scale operations. In our greenhouse, we use hundreds of metres of drip tubes to irrigate crops like hanging baskets and geraniums. In California, thousands of kilometres of drip-irrigation tubing are used to water strawberry fields.

Drip irrigation saves water because the pipes are laid on the ground in rows close to the plants’ root systems. The water has less opportunity to evaporate, since it is not being sprayed into the air and onto foliage, as is the case with overhead sprinklers. Not splashing water onto the foliage has one major side effect: the incidence of leaf diseases is greatly reduced. I remember ruining one string bean crop by aggressively irrigating it with overhead sprinklers. Almost overnight, all of the leaves were covered with bean blight, a rust-like disease properly referred to as Xanthomonas phaseoli. Sprinklers tend to splash mud laden with soil-borne diseases right onto the stems and leaves of plants. When the leaves are left dry and clean, fewer bacteria and fungi have the opportunity to become established.

With drip irrigation, patience is a virtue. Since the water is applied a drop at a time, irrigation in unspectacular and often seems interminable. But it does work, and well. As the water drips out of the emitters, it seeps into the soil vertically and horizontally. (Sandy soils have the least horizontal movement, while clay soils have the greatest.) Drip irrigation is best suited to plants that have been established for several weeks, rather than seedlings, since the root systems of many seedlings are too small to reach the moisture.

Drip irrigation systems are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. The pipe is surprisingly lightweight. I’ve picked up a 150-m roll of pipe and I’m sure it didn’t weigh any more than 5 kg. To illustrate just how simple this stuff is to use, imagine a vegetable garden with dimensions of 6 m by 6 m with 10 rows of vegetables. The drip is laid down along each row, so that there are 10 6-m lengths of tubing. At one end, all of the individual lengths of tubes are plugged or just folded and clamped. At the other end, they are all connected together. Barbed plastic connectors are simply pushed into the tubing. No tools or clamps are required, and even someone who is severely mechanically challenged (like me) will have no problem hooking the pipe together. Connect the system to your outside tap, and voila, you’re on your way to conserving hundreds of litres of water per year. One tip: before you begin, leave the coiled tube in the sun to heat up for a while to make it soft and pliable. Otherwise, it jumps around like an angry snake when you’re trying to install it. Drip tubing is especially convenient to lay down alongside rows of crops like carrots, onions, or corn, or even in beds of annuals and perennials, providing that it’s installed early, before the plants have become too dense to allow tubing to slide in between. Dependable and relatively inexpensive water timers can be attached between the water faucet and the drip tubing to set the frequency of irrigation: once a day, once a week, twice a day, or whatever you prefer. Duration can be set as well: two minutes, ten minutes, and so forth. If you know what the flow rate is in litres per minute and what the water requirements of the crop are, you can calculate exactly how long you should leave the tubes on to meet the plants’ needs. Removal in the fall is simple. Just pull it up, pull off the connectors, and store.

Of course, there will always be times when conventional watering will be more efficient than installing drip irrigation. If I use a hose to water, I always attach a water wand rather than one of those dreadful gun-like nozzles. Water wands deliver a focussed but gentle spray, and if you’re careful and hold the wand close to the plants, little water is wasted. And of course, sometimes low-tech solutions are still effective. Water collected in rain barrels and distributed with a trusty watering can is still one of the best ways to irrigate your plants while also being a conservationist.

-Lois Hole


For more information on drip irrigation systems, please visit us at Hole's Greenhouses

Uphill, Both Ways

In the "old days" we would be in full swing harvesting carrots on our vegetable farm. We began our journey with carrots – as most market gardeners do – by digging them out of ground with a fork and then tying them into bunches with burlap twine. We cut the burlap twine into foot long pieces and then shoved a handful through a belt loop in our jeans so that the strings were readily available and easy to access. The number and size of carrots per bunch relied on a good judgment to ensure that the bunches were relatively uniform.

Bunching carrots in the field was a tedious, labour intensive job that we all dreaded, and after many years, and thousands of bunches, we invested in a carrot harvester and packaging facility. While I was lucky to bunch a wheelbarrow full of carrots in a hour, our new two-row carrot harvester could dig, top, and dump 5 tons of carrots into our tractor-pulled-wagon every 30 minutes! The only downside to mechanically harvested carrots was that they didn’t look quite as attractive as bunched carrots. But none of us carrot bunchers were complaining!

Today, the vast fields of carrots and equipment are long gone. Now I grow carrots in a raised bed in my yard that is a couple of metres long and a metre wide. My kids pull the carrots straight out of the ground, shake-off a little bit of the potting soil that clings to the roots, give them a quick rinse, and eat! 

When I tell them that when I was their age I spent my summers bunching endless fields of carrots, they always respond with, "And how far did you walk to school?"

Aah, I get no respect.

~Jim Hole

Happy Canada Day!


Every Canada Day, I'm reminded of the rows of maple trees that lined the dirt road on the hillside across the road from our farmhouse.
Dad planted them both for their inherent beauty and because they provided a bit of a windbreak for our strawberry and cucumber patches.
Our maples were Amur maples, not the huge sugar maples whose leaves are featured on the Canadian flag. And while the leaves of our Amur maples lacked the outline of the more stately sugar maples, they were equal to the sugars in developing blazingly red foliage in the fall.
Sugar maples are hardy in our region although they rarely reach the magnificent height of the eastern Canadian maples thanks to our drier and colder climate. However, at maturity, sugar maples are far too large for most yards, while Amur maples are suitable for even the "postage stamp" yards.
Although Amur maple is not an indigenous plant, it is tough, resilient and beautiful. Sounds pretty Canadian to me.
 Happy Canada Day!


~Jim Hole

Unconventional Packaging

Bug Container.jpg

On average, during a typical day in June, I will about half a dozen  ‘plant diagnostics’ sheets will land on my desk. Most queries are about identification of a particular bug that is attacking a garden plant followed by recommendations on how to control them.

I find the world of bugs fascinating, and I’m not repulsed by zip lock bags full of writhing caterpillars. But some of the bug samples do arrive in some unconventional ‘packaging’.

Just this past week, bugs were delivered to me in a blue surgical glove, a vodka bottle and Credit Card receipt with the bugs smashed onto the paper.

I don’t mind the different ‘containment’ devices that gardeners use for their pest samples, although bugs that are smeared on paper are rather tough to identify!

However, live bug samples wrapped in Saran wrap or enclosed in paper have a history of occasionally escaping and wandering about my office. As I mentioned, I don’t get creeped-out by bugs, but some people who pop into my office aren’t big fans of these ‘free range’ critters.

Now, if you are curious about a particular bug or disease pest in your yard, proper identification of the critical first step. 

Just remember that if you are submitting a bug sample to us through our Professional Diagnostics Service, an empty Vodka bottle makes a better vessel than does a few layers of Saran wrap…although drinking an entire bottle of Vodka to make room for a bug is NOT a good idea.

~Jim Hole

Mr. Appleseed


My Dad was a bit of a "Johnny Appleseed". He loved nothing better than planting trees (not just apples) and planted thousands of them over his lifetime.

Before he moved to the farm, back in the '50s, the land he purchased was pretty much stripped clean of trees to make way for crops like alfalfa and barley. But Dad knew that trees were invaluable for trapping snow during the winter and providing shelter for heat loving vegetable crops. He also knew that trees reduced soil erosion and provided habitat for wildlife. 

Today, while most of that farmland has been converted to houses, some of Dad’s shelterbelt trees remain, providing shade and beauty for residents and visitors alike.

People would often ask Dad about which tree was his favourite and he would just say, “All of them”.

 And all of them was a heck of a lot of trees.

~Jim Hole


I had the opportunity to visit a yard that had two espalier apple trees. Espalier is simply a method of training fruiting trees, like apples, to grow in a fan pattern along wires or along a fence. For example, a common espalier technique is to string 4 wires between two solid posts, plant an apple midway between the posts, and then train the branches to run along the wires. Since there are two branches per wire, a total of eight branches are trained along the wires and secured with loose-fitting, foam covered ties.

Espalier is a fabulous way to maximize yield in a small amount of space. Besides, it just looks really cool! The other great thing about espalier is that each leaf has much greater exposure to sunlight, which means that these little ‘solar panels’ are maximizing their output of photosynthates (fancy term for sugars etc.) to the tree’s fruit. Many lower, and interior, leaves on regular apple trees rarely receive full sunlight and therefore are unable to contribute much to fruit development. On the other hand with espalier, virtually every leaf is fully engaged in fruit production.

Espalier is not difficult to do, and great for those of us who love homegrown apples, but don’t have the room for a broad, 15 meter tall tree.

 And if nothing else, for me at least, just saying the word espalier makes me sound a whole lot more sophisticated than I am.

~Jim Hole