carrots

Teaching Kids to Grow

Teaching Kids to Grow

By Lois Hole

Every year, I give away thousands of Tiny Tim tomato plants to children
who visit the greenhouse with their parents. There are a couple of reasons why I do this: one, it keeps idle hands busy, and two, it gets kids excited about vegetables and gardening. After helping bring one of these plants to fruition, children are actually eager to eat the vegetables they’ve grown. Fresh vegetables are so much tastier than those bought at the store that your children may never develop the distaste for vegetables that so many kids have.

I think that it’s very important to be aware of every child’s initial level of interest in gardening. If all they want to do is water and watch the plant grow, for example, then let their involvement stop there. There’s no sense in trying to push. When my mother introduced me to gardening, she never forced me to weed or water. She let me discover the joy of gardening gradually. Children like to explore on their own, so give them the freedom to do as much or as little as they want to in the vegetable patch. Let them observe you as you weed or lay down mulch; curious children are sure to ask why you’re doing certain things. That’s your opportunity to give them a chance to try tasks out on their own.

You don’t have to give a child a tomato plant to start them down the garden path; any easy-to-grow vegetable with interesting characteristics will do.

Try kohlrabi; it’s probably the weirdest-looking vegetable around, with its otherworldly collection of stems growing from a green or purple globe. Raw kohlrabi tastes like water chestnuts, a light taste that won’t upset picky young taste buds. It’s also easy to grow.

Carrots are another good choice. They, too, are easy to grow, requiring minimal attention to produce a heavy yield of tasty vegetables. Pulling carrots out of the ground was a special joy of mine when I was a child; there’s something delightful about unearthing the long, orange roots.

If carrots aren’t of interest to your little ones, give peas a try. They are a little more difficult to grow, but in my experience, peas are the one vegetable that kids love to eat more than any other. It’s lots of fun to pry or snap open the pods to discover the sweet seeds within. Plus, their meandering growth habit is fascinating to watch, whether they sprawl over the earth or wind their way through a supportive trellis.

Pumpkins and squash are ideal choices for more patient young gardeners. The sprawling vines and huge leaves make finding the bounty quite a treasure hunt come harvest time; my grandchildren love to join me when I go out to track down the ripe fruits. Squash can grow so quickly that you could measure the fruit each day and see a real difference in size! Both pumpkins and squash require a lot of space, though, and they have a long growing season, so keep this in mind.

I know they’re not vegetables, but if you’ve got the space, sunflowers may be the best plants of all to have your children grow. We had dozens of sunflowers spring up in our garden this year; I just love them. The flowerheads are bright and beautiful, and kids can look forward to a harvest of delicious seeds. As an added bonus, these flowers also attract birds.

When I was a little girl in Buchanan, Saskatchewan, my mother set aside a space behind the house for me to grow some sunflowers. Before too long, the plants were much, much taller than I was—big beauties with flowers more than a foot across. Mom and Dad used
to cut off the flowerheads for me; I’d walk around with one of these huge things in my hand, eating seeds from it like I had a bag of peanuts. I got pretty good at cracking open the shells with my teeth, spitting them out, and swallowing the tasty seeds within.

Sunflowers are easy to grow. Seed can be sown in the early spring; just give them a sunny spot, water regularly, and watch them shoot up to the sky. Smaller varieties like Big Smile feature full-sized flowerheads on shorter, 1 m plants, making them more accessible to children.

There are many leisure activities open to kids today, and that’s a good thing. However, I can’t think of an activity that provides healthier, purer fun than vegetable gardening.

Plants I Recommend for Children’s Gardens

  • Beans

  • Carrots

  • Kohlrabi

  • Peas

  • Pumpkins

  • Squash

  • Sunflowers

  • Tomatoes

Carrots: New Twists on an Old Favourite

Carrots: New Twists on an Old Favourite

As a garden staple, carrots are familiar and well-loved for their crisp, snappy flavour and texture. Though some gardeners find them most delicious when eaten right out of the ground, those who like to experiment in the kitchen will find that a little imagination can lead to great culinary rewards.


Carrot Cake

2 cups (500 mL) flour
2 cups (500 mL) white sugar
2 tsp. (10 mL) cinnamon
1 tsp. (5 mL) allspice
3 cups (750 mL) finely grated carrots (approximately 2 lbs.)
1/2 tsp.(2 mL) salt
2 tsp. (10 mL) baking soda
1 cup (250 mL) vegetable oil
4 eggs

Sift dry ingredients into bowl. Add oil. Stir well. Add eggs one at a time and mix well after each for approximately one minute. Add carrots. Blend well. Grease and flour 9” (25 cm) cake tins. Bake at 350° F (180° C) for 40 to 50 minutes.

Puree of Turnips, Parsnips and Carrots

1 large turnip, sliced
2 med. parsnips, sliced
8 med. carrots, sliced
3/4 cup (180 mL) 2% evaporated milk
6 tbsp. (90 mL) butter

Cook the turnip in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Add the parsnips to the turnips and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the carrots and cook until all are tender, about 10 minutes more. Drain well.

Puree 1/2 of the mixture in the blender. Add 1/4 cup (60 mL) evaporated milk and 2 tbsp. (30 mL) butter and whirl.

Repeat above step twice more with remaining vegetables. Place all in a well-buttered, 2 quart (2.5 L) casserole dish. Dot with butter and refrigerate until ready to bake. Bring to room temperature. Place in preheated 350° F (180° C) oven and bake for one hour. Note: Puree may be prepared the day before serving.

Carrot Orange Cookies

1 cup (250 mL) grated raw carrots (2 medium small or 1 large)
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) all purpose flour
1/2 to 1 cup (125 to 250 mL) sugar
1 tsp. (5 mL) nutmeg
1/2 cup (125 mL) butter or margarine
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. (7 mL) grated fresh orange peel
1 tbsp. (15 mL) orange juice
3/4 cup (180 mL) chopped walnuts or pecans

Grate carrots and sift flour with baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Cream butter with sugar until fluffy and beat in egg, orange peel and juice. Stir in flour mixture alternately with carrots until dough is well mixed. Blend in nuts. Drop by overloaded teaspoon onto greased cookie sheets. Bake at 375° F (190° C), 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly tanned. Remove to wire racks to cool. Store in tightly covered container. Makes 5 to 6 dozen cookies

Carrot Slaw

2 cups (500 mL) shredded green cabbage
1 cup (250 mL) shredded raw carrots
2 finely chopped green onions
salt
pepper
buttermilk dressing (see below)
2 tsp. (10 mL) sugar
1 tsp. (5 mL) Dijon-style mustard
chopped salted nuts (any kind)

Mix cabbage with carrots and onion. Season with salt and pepper and toss with about 1/2 buttermilk dressing, flavoured with sugar and mustard. Chill. Top with chopped, salted nuts when ready to serve. Makes 4 servings

Buttermilk Dressing
Combine equal parts buttermilk and mayonnaise and stir until smooth and creamy. Add herbs, garlic, parsley, chives or other seasoning. Also tastes good without herbs.

Lois Hole’s Cream of Cold Carrot Soup (Delicious hot, too)

2 medium onions
3 tbsp. (45 mL) butter
1 tsp. (5 mL) curry powder
1/2 tsp. (2 mL) dill seed
2 lbs. (1 kg) carrots (about 12 medium carrots)
5 cups (1250 mL) chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg
1 1/2-2 cups (375-500 mL) heavy cream
fresh parsley or dill (for garnish)

Chop onions into coarse chunks. Sweat onions in saucepan or stock pot until translucent. Stir in curry powder and dill seed and continue cooking for 2 minutes. Slice carrots (reserving 1 for garnish). Combine carrots and onion mixture and add chicken stock. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. (Use salt sparingly if you’ve used bouillon for stock.) Cook over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Puree the mixture in a separate bowl in 3 or 4 batches. Chill thoroughly. Just before serving, stir in cream, adjust seasoning and garnish each bowl with a carrot curl and a sprig of parsley or dill.

Variation: If served hot, add the cream gradually to pureed carrot mixture and heat
gently, without boiling. Serves 6-8

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.

frost-and-winter-protection-covered-garden-with-support.jpg

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.

NuVue_Insulating_winter_garden_blanket_frost_protection_cover.jpg
DeWitt_N-sulate_frost_crop_cover.jpg

Early Sowing

The earliest that we ever sowed seed in our field on our vegetable farm was March 18th. As you know, for our Canadian Prairie location, this date was extremely early!

We were under the influence of an abnormally warm weather phenomena called "El Nino" back then, which provided us with a very mild winter and early spring thaw.

Our decision was to sow a field of Nantes carrots because carrots are frost tolerant, plus they were one of our most popular crops. Now, we knew it would be quite likely to see a good dump of snow after we sowed the carrots, but we weren’t worried because snow melts slowly and provides beautifully even moisture for the seeds.

The snow did come but the biggest challenge we faced was that the soil was desperately dry for weeks before the snow came in early April, resulting in some pretty spotty germination – about a quarter of what it normally would have been. On the positive side, we were eating those spotty, fresh, carrots by late May!

So was the early sewing worth it? Absolutely. The cost of the lost seed was more than offset by an early harvest. Of course, we sowed several more plantings of Nantes carrots in April and May and had much better germination and ended up with a bumper crop.

The lesson that I learned, that year, was that when Mother Nature tosses you an El Nino and allows you to gamble with a bit of early sowing of cold tolerant vegetables – go for it.

 2016 may or may not allow for an exceptionally early sowing. But if the opportunity arises, I always remember that one March along with my Mother’s advice to gardeners concerned about early sowing in general.

She would always say, “The seed costs a few dollars, take a chance and live dangerously!” I could not have said it better.

 

~Jim Hole

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

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

One of our customers woke up to this today! Did you get snow in your area?

One of our customers woke up to this today! Did you get snow in your area?

A frost warning is in effect and we've received a lot of phone calls 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, Potatoes: Protected underground, these vegetables do fine in a light frost and their flavour may even 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.
     
  • 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 you’re feeling daring and if the forecast cooperates for the next day or two, you may be able to get away with bringing the tomato vines close to the house (preferably on the south side of the house) and covering them with some light bed sheets 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.