edible gardening

The Container Grocery Store

The Container Grocery Store

Whether you’re a young couple that’s just starting out or a couple facing retirement, you know that you often have to stretch your budget to cover all of your expenses. You may need to move to larger accommodations, there’s furniture to buy, there may be student loans or a wedding to pay off. Well, you can cut a lot out of your budget, but everyone needs food to live that’s one cost you can’t eliminate. However, you can make a dent in your grocery bills by growing fruits, vegetables, and herbs in containers.

Containers are great because you can use them whether you’re living in an apartment or a house; plants will do just fine in containers perched on balconies or sitting on patios. Just make  sure to put them in a location where they’ll get as much sun as possible; vegetables need at least six hours of direct sunlight per day to develop properly, and herbs need five. A south-facing location is best, but if that’s not possible, a west-facing one is almost as good.

Vegetables growing on east- and north-facing balconies and patios will still provide some produce, but the yields won’t be as high. Herbs growing indoors should be cultivated close to the windows that get the most sunshine; it’s also important to grow them in high-humidity areas, like the kitchen.

Choosing the right pot is crucial. For vegetables, I never use pots smaller than 25 cm wide for container vegetable gardening; 30 cm wide is preferable. These plants need space to grow, and pots smaller than this just don’t provide enough volume. For materials, I prefer glazed ceramic, plastic, or fibreglass; all hold water well and are easier to handle than clay pots. Large hanging baskets and troughs are good choices for patio or balcony vegetable gardening, too; even whiskey half-barrels will work. I’ve seen people use all kinds of cheap but effective containers—old milk cans, toilets, bathtubs, trash cans, even washing machines. Just make sure that whatever container you choose has enough volume to provide the plant with enough room to grow. Herbs can be grown in pots that are slightly smaller, though; feel free to keep them in the 10 or 15 cm pots that you buy them in for a while. When they’re big enough, move them to larger pots or a trough. You can plant more than one plant in a large pot; stuffing half a dozen herbs into a 30 cm container or a long trough would be a fine way to grow them, as long as you’re careful not to mix aggressive herbs with the less competitive varieties.

Potting soil is the root medium of choice for potted plants, chiefly because it doesn’t compact like garden soil does—potted plants need rich, well-drained soil to promote healthy root growth. Potting soil has another advantage: it’s free of the soil-borne diseases and insect pests common to regular garden soil. I incorporate a controlled, time-release 14-14-14 fertilizer that will feed the plant for many weeks. This non-leaching fertilizer becomes a reservoir backup that prevents the plants from yellowing and cuts down on maintenance.

I always say that watering is the most important job a gardener has to do. It’s a simple task, but that doesn’t mean that it can be done without thought. Since containers can’t hold much water, you may need to soak your plants twice a day during heat waves—once, thoroughly, in the early morning and once more, if needed, in the evening. Hanging baskets should be checked more often for moisture; the wind can dry them out quickly. To seal in moisture and keep down weeds, you can cover the soil with a mulch of shredded bark. As for fertilizer—I usually just add a pinch of 20-20-20 to the pot each time I water and give the plants a heavier feeding once a week. All vegetables need these extra nutrients, especially heavy feeders like tomatoes and cucumbers, so don’t skimp.

Speaking of tomatoes and cucumbers, just what kinds of plants should you be growing in containers? I’ve drawn up a list, and there are a couple of products that merit special attention.

The first of these is mesclun. This is a mixture of “instant salads” created by the French that’s really catching on in North America. The idea is wonderfully simple: a number of different greens are grown together in one pot. Sound complicated? It isn’t. All you have to do is buy a packet of mesclun seed, sow into a container, and watch the greens spring up. Every two or three weeks, when the plants reach a few inches in height, all you have to do is take a pair of scissors out, cut off the greens, and throw them into a salad bowl. You should leave about two inches of growth in the pot, since mesclun can be harvested several times. Over the course of a growing season, you can expect to harvest five or six meals—meals big enough to feed three or four people, so plan to invite another couple over each time you harvest.

The second item of note is the potato barrel, a British invention that I think is the best way to grow container potatoes. It’s a Victorian style barrel made of polymer with sliding “windows.” Instead of digging up the soil to harvest the potatoes, all you need to do is slide open a window, reach in, grab the spuds, and slide the window shut. Sweet potatoes or other tubers can be grown in this innovative device, too.

There are other benefits to growing your own vegetables. For one thing, there’s something very arresting about vegetables growing in containers; they make great conversation pieces, especially for repeat visitors who can see the plants slowly come to fruition. Plants like cucumbers have long vines that can be trained to grow around balcony railings, adding some life to your apartment.

If you’re really adventurous, you can try growing peanuts on your balcony, or figs, dwarf lemons or limes, or even coffee indoors. These are novelty crops—you’ll be lucky to grow enough beans for one cup of coffee, for example—but they’re fun to have around. The most important thing is that you enjoy yourselves, whatever you choose to grow.

Vegetables (and one fruit) That Grow Well in Containers

Cucumbers
Tomatoes
Potatoes
Eggplant
Leaf lettuce
Spinach
Peppers
Beans
Garlic
Mesclun
Bush-type melons (in large patio containers only)
Strawberries

Herbs That Grow Well in Containers
Basil
Chives
Marjoram
Oregano
Thyme

Try growing oregano, marjoram, thyme, and chives in the same container as your tomatoes—these plants grow quite well together, and broiled herb tomatoes make a delicious snack.

Edible Flowers That Grow Well in Containers

Pansies
Nasturtiums
Daylily flowers—especially new multiple blooms, e.g. Stella d’Oro

Food For Thought, By Lois Hole

I believe very strongly in education, so whenever I’m asked to speak at school, I do my best to come—although I must admit, sometimes I leave my preparations until the last minute.


One warm June morning, I visited a grade five and six class. The only topic I could come up with to talk about was “Watering in the Greenhouse”. When I got there and saw how tired the kids looked, my heart sank. “Oh crum,” I thought, “they aren’t going to listen to a word I say.”
Just then, my eye caught a pair of familiar, brightly smiling faces. Two little Italian boys, who often came out to the farm with their parents and grandparents, were sitting in the front row. With a flash of inspiration, I realized I didn’t have to talk about watering after all.


“Let me tell you a little story,” I said. “Years ago on our farm, we didn’t grow very many different kinds of vegetables. We had never grown broccoli or zucchini. Then, one day, some Italian customers came out to our farm and told us how to grow it and even how to cook it. The next year, we planted some. It was wonderful.”


The Italian boys sat there, beaming with pride. I began to look around at the other faces and realized that practically every ethnic group was represented in that classroom. So, I carried on with my strategy.


“We had German customers who taught us about growing big cabbages and making sauerkraut. Lebanese folks told us that vegetable marrow was especially delicious when picked small—they called it kousa. East Indians introduced us to hot peppers and showed us different ways to cook with them.”


I noticed one small boy in the back. I couldn’t see him very well without my glasses, so I tried to guess. “The Chinese people told us about using vegetables in stir-fry.” The boy didn’t bat an eye. “Darn,” I thought, “I made a mistake.” So I tried again. “And the Japanese showed us daikon and all the different ways they cook vegetables.” Still no reaction. Finally, he put up his hand and asked, “Mrs. Hole, what did the Koreans teach you?” Fortunately, I had recently tried kim Chee, Korean pickled cabbage, so I talked about that.


By now, the rest of the kids were jumping up and down, their hands waving in the air. “What about the Yugoslavians? What about the Hungarians?” Of course, I didn’t have an example to give each and every one of them, so when I was stumped, I simply asked, “What did you have for dinner last night?” When the child answered, I replied, “That’s it!” and made a mental note to add those dishes to my vegetable repertoire.


When I tell this story, I always add a fictional kid who asks me, “What did the English teach you?” I say, “Not much!” My husband, who’s of English descent, gets a big kick out of that!
But you know, those kids made me realize something. If it hadn’t been for new Canadians introducing us to all kinds of different, wonderful vegetables, our business wouldn’t have been nearly as successful. Because we were able to offer so many kinds of produce, people came from miles around to shop at our place.


I like to think of that phenomenon as a reflection of Canada’s success. Our diversity is our greatest strength.

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer

Food For Thought

I believe very strongly in education, so whenever I’m asked to speak at school, I do my best to come—although I must admit, sometimes I leave my preparations until the last minute.


One warm June morning, I visited a grade five and six class. The only topic I could come up with to talk about was “Watering in the Greenhouse”. When I got there and saw how tired the kids looked, my heart sank. “Oh crum,” I thought, “they aren’t going to listen to a word I say.”
Just then, my eye caught a pair of familiar, brightly smiling faces. Two little Italian boys, who often came out to the farm with their parents and grandparents, were sitting in the front row. With a flash of inspiration, I realized I didn’t have to talk about watering after all.


“Let me tell you a little story,” I said. “Years ago on our farm, we didn’t grow very many different kinds of vegetables. We had never grown broccoli or zucchini. Then, one day, some Italian customers came out to our farm and told us how to grow it and even how to cook it. The next year, we planted some. It was wonderful.”


The Italian boys sat there, beaming with pride. I began to look around at the other faces and realized that practically every ethnic group was represented in that classroom. So, I carried on with my strategy.


“We had German customers who taught us about growing big cabbages and making sauerkraut. Lebanese folks told us that vegetable marrow was especially delicious when picked small—they called it kousa. East Indians introduced us to hot peppers and showed us different ways to cook with them.”


I noticed one small boy in the back. I couldn’t see him very well without my glasses, so I tried to guess. “The Chinese people told us about using vegetables in stir-fry.” The boy didn’t bat an eye. “Darn,” I thought, “I made a mistake.” So I tried again. “And the Japanese showed us daikon and all the different ways they cook vegetables.” Still no reaction. Finally, he put up his hand and asked, “Mrs. Hole, what did the Koreans teach you?” Fortunately, I had recently tried kim Chee, Korean pickled cabbage, so I talked about that.


By now, the rest of the kids were jumping up and down, their hands waving in the air. “What about the Yugoslavians? What about the Hungarians?” Of course, I didn’t have an example to give each and every one of them, so when I was stumped, I simply asked, “What did you have for dinner last night?” When the child answered, I replied, “That’s it!” and made a mental note to add those dishes to my vegetable repertoire.


When I tell this story, I always add a fictional kid who asks me, “What did the English teach you?” I say, “Not much!” My husband, who’s of English descent, gets a big kick out of that!
But you know, those kids made me realize something. If it hadn’t been for new Canadians introducing us to all kinds of different, wonderful vegetables, our business wouldn’t have been nearly as successful. Because we were able to offer so many kinds of produce, people came from miles around to shop at our place.


I like to think of that phenomenon as a reflection of Canada’s success. Our diversity is our greatest strength.

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer

"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.

corn- seeds- popcorn-sweet-peaches-edmonton-stalbert-yeg

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.


Sweet-corn-kandy-korn-seeds-edmonton-stalbert-yeg

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.


popcorn-robust-seeds-kernels-edmonton-stalbert-yeg

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.

 

 

 

 

 

You Can Grow Those Here?

Seeds-Okra-peanuts-edamame-edmonton-stalbert-yeg

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.

Dig In St Albert's Horticulinary Festival

This weekend is going to be a spectacular time to visit Hole's Greenhouse. 

On Friday, we'll be hosting the Opening Gala for the Dig In Horticulinary Festival. The Opening Gala is sold out, but there are still tickets available for the workshops happening all day on Saturday, including 2 workshops that I'm teaching on container gardening [Editor's note: ticket sales for the paid workshops have now closed. Check out the free workshops below though!]

On Saturday, we'll also be offering FREE workshops on the mainstage all day.

  • At 9:00AM, I'll be teaching a free workshop on Companion Planting. In this workshop, you'll learn which plants help each other grow and which plants should be kept far apart from each other.  
  • At 9:30AM, Julianna Mimande from the Glasshouse Bistro will chat about what she learned about Permaculture while visiting Cuba. 
  • Finally, at 3:30PM, we'll be featuring the hottest pepper in the world, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Pepper (grown right here in our greenhouse) in a hot pepper eating contest. I ate a single seed from this pepper a while back, and I'm still reeling from it!

Experts from all over the province will be in attendance, and there will also be lots of other free workshops on honey, oils and vinaigrettes, heritage grains, and much much more!

I'm also looking forward to many of the ticketed workshops. To name just a few of them, there are paid workshops on vertical gardening, sausage making, and even a wineology course! [Editor's note: ticket sales for these paid workshops have now closed. Check out the free workshops above though!]

Whatever you're interested in, we'll have a workshop for you this weekend. I'd love to see you there.

-Jim Hole