cucumbers

The Black Thumb's Guide to Containerized Vegetables

The Black Thumb’s Guide to Containerized Vegetables

By Earl J. Woods

Using Your Imagination

Some culinary containers can get pretty wild—you’re not limited to potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and the other standard vegetable crops. While working on Herbs and Edible Flowers in 1999, we mixed edible nasturtiums, fuchsias, parsley, calendula and pansies in one huge hanging basket. It looked and smelled great, and provided plenty of flowers for garnishes and salads. 

I confess. Even though I’ve been working at Hole’s for almost four years, I’m still not a successful gardener. In fact, if I were a comic book super villain, I’d have to use the name “The Black Thumb,” malicious murderer of all things green and growing.

But as a thirty-something bachelor who usually alternates between pizza, cold cereal and microwave dishes, I do appreciate the fresh vegetables that Mom and Dad bring from their bountiful garden. A steady diet of fast food will numb your taste buds as quickly as it expands your waistline, and biting into one of Mom and Dad’s tomatoes is an all too rare treat.

So I’ve made a resolution—I’m going to start growing my own vegetables in balcony containers. One of the advantages of working at Hole’s is that I have a good head start on how to proceed.

Rule One: ­­­Big Pots

Lois Hole drilled into my head a very important rule of container gardening: always, always, always use large pots. The bigger the container, the more space there is for water, soil and roots. That’s not to say that you can’t grow a perfectly good pepper plant or two in a 25- cm pot, but for really impressive yields, go for the large pots.

Rule Two: Good Soil

Always use the best quality potting soil, never garden soil. Quality potting soils are free of weeds, pests and the most serious diseases. They are light and easy to use. Garden soils are much too heavy, and get compacted easily (besides, living in an apartment, I would have to steal garden soil from someone’s yard in the dead of night. It’s far less of a hassle to buy a bag of the good stuff).

Rule Three: Grow What You’ll Use

Any singles attempting to change their lifestyles must know their limitations. I love potatoes, tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce, so it makes perfect sense to pick up tubers and seeds for these. On the other hand, the only use I’d ever have for eggplant (gag) would be to toss it off my balcony at innocent bystanders below.

Start small. There’s no sense in growing far more than you can use. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with growing extra produce to donate to charities or local food banks and Grow A Row charities.

Rule Four: Quality Seed

Make a point of tracking down the best varieties. Quality seed is more expensive, but well worth it in the end. Germination is much better and the plants will be more vigorous.

Rule Five: Water Daily and Fertilize 

Vegetables in containers are like pets: they depend on you to provide for their every need. This means you need to tend to your plants with far more frequency than, say, you vacuum the carpets. Give each container a good daily soaking of water and add some 20-20-20 fertilizer to the watering can once a week. This will keep your plants healthy and increase the bounty you harvest. If the weather is hot, sunny and windy, you should probably soak the containers heavily in the morning and again in the evening.

From Black Thumb to Green?

Growing vegetables in containers is really quite simple. In fact, I’m almost convinced they’re bachelor-proof. Maybe it’s time for “The Black Thumb”— to turn green—after all, even super villains have been known to turn over a new leaf.

Vegetable Virtue

Vegetable Virtue

‘Sweeter Yet’ Cucumber

The search for the perfect cucumber is one step closer to completion with the introduction of ‘Sweeter Yet.’ This new variety garden cucumber has all the great characteristics of the Long English types, which are normally confined to greenhouses. ‘Sweeter Yet’ is very sweet and juicy with no bitter aftertaste, plus it’s burpless and thin- skinned, so you don’t have to peel it. It’s an excellent performer, with good disease resistance and it’s suited to trellising and can, therefore, be grown in a container.

Tip

Cucumbers are heat-loving vegetables—grow them in the hottest spot in your yard.

‘Rapid Star’ Kohlrabi

Everyone was surprised when Jim harvested this massive ‘Rapid Star’ kohlrabi last summer. He took it to the Hole’s lunchroom and served it up like watermelon, slicing generous portions for over a dozen people.

‘Rapid Star’ has a very sweet, juicy taste, with tender green flesh. Of course, one shouldn’t overindulge—Hole’s graphic designer Greg Brown did so and paid the price. “I was burping all afternoon, and all I could taste was kohlrabi!”

Tips

  • Seed kohlrabi outdoors from early spring to midsummer. Don’t be afraid to plant early; the seedlings can survive a late frost.

  • Kohlrabi is easy to grow and has a very unusual appearance, making it a great candidate for children’s gardens.

  • Kohlrabi is delicious when eaten raw with a vegetable dip or cooked in a stir-fry.

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

Words To Live By

The “Golden Rule” might be the most important sentence ever written. It’s such a simple thought, so eloquently stated: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If we could just root our society in that good soil, the world would be a much better place.

But the golden rule isn’t much good if you apply it only to your friends and family. It goes for everyone. Likewise, in business, you should treat the newest member of the staff with the same respect you treat the CEO.

Whenever there’s a complaint at our greenhouse, we tell our staff to err on the side of the customer. As a result, almost every problem gets dealt with quickly and pleasantly. Every once in a while, however, there’s an exception.

Early in our gardening days, a neighbour named Laura Henry came to work for me. At first, she’d just stop by once in a while and say, “Can I give you a hand?” She’d help out for an hour or two, and I’d go off to eat my lunch. Gradually, I came to rely on her so much that I hired her permanently.

Laura was a great person to have around when things got busy. She could really handle customers well. When she was in a hurry, however, she did make the occasional mistake—which was easy to do on those old dial scales.

Once, after she had sold a fellow a bag of cucumbers, he came back to her terribly annoyed. He threw the bag onto the scale and snapped, “Weigh that!” She weighed it and was so far out it was terrible. She apologized and gave the man his refund.

Even though I felt bad about the blunder, my sympathies were with Laura. The situation could have been just as easily resolved without anger. “Excuse me,” he could have said, “I think there’s been an error.” The saddest part is that the man knew Laura. It was an honest mistake, yet he treated her like a criminal.

In the vegetable business, scales are finicky things and are continually out, but we lost more often than the customers. We’ve always tried our best to fix the mistakes, but in the end my staff is there to serve, not to be subservient.

Treat people the way you expect to be treated: let your example say it all.


-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:

watermelon-vista-hybrid-seeds-edmonton-stalbert

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.


watermelon-rainbow-sherbet-seeds-edmonton-stalbert

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!


waltham-butternut-squash-seeds-edmonton-stalbert

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!


tricolor-pattypan-squash-scallop-edmonton-stalbert

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.


cucumber-hybrid-cool-breeze-edmonton-stalbert

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.


cucumber-bush-slicer-edmonton-stalbert

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!


lemon-cucumbers-seeds-heirloom-edmonton-stalbert

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!

 

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.