One Bad Potato

Around mid-September, we would always keep a close eye on the forecast to figure out the best schedule for harvesting our vegetables. Squash, pumpkins and tomatoes had no frost tolerance so there was always a bit of panic to get them out of the field before temperatures dipped below freezing. 

At the other end of the spectrum were vegetables like rutabaga and parsnips that could not only tolerate hard frosts, but actually tasted better when they were hit by a hard frost. These vegetables were always the last to be pulled from the field. However, I do remember a few years when we would get caught by an unseasonably early snowfall and these frost hardy – but not winter hardy vegetables - remained in the field all winter.

The one vegetable that always worried me were our potatoes. A light frost would kill the potato foliage that, in turn, would cause the skins of the tubers to "set". Without the tops being killed, the tuber skins would remain thin and slippery and were only capable of storing for a few weeks rather than throughout the winter. 

But the problem with waiting for a hard frost was that cold air could penetrate down through the cracks in the soil and damage the odd tuber that was near the soil surface. The old adage, "One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch" applied equally well to potatoes.

I remember storing huge piles of potatoes in our barn one year where just a few tubers had been exposed to frost. These small pockets of frost-damaged potatoes did spoil the "whole bunch", and the following spring I remember literally pumping potatoes out of our barn. 

 Imagine wading into the middle of a huge pile of rotting, stinking, "potato soup" and dropping a sump pump in the middle. It’s a vivid memory that sticks with me to this day.

OK, sorry about that imagery! You won’t have to contend with any potato storing disaster like this but keep in mind that garbage-in equals garbage-out. Store only high quality vegetables and use those that don’t quite make the grade within a few weeks. If you don't adopt this strategy, I think it is safe to say that you need to keep your sump pump on standby. 

Perish the thought.

~Jim Hole 

Live And Learn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer

Early Spring Sowing


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

~Jim Hole

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

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


Also Read About: Spacing Your Vegetable Seeds