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Blind Luck

Sometimes, when I think about where I am today, I feel like I’m a million miles away from my childhood. Our lives can take so many crazy, unpredictable twists and turns that it almost seems as if we’re ruled by chance.


Luck has certainly played a role in my life’s journey. Yet in many ways, we make our own luck, by recognizing the right paths when we come to them. Looking at it that way, my real luck began with my parents. The outlook and ideals they instilled in me have helped me to make good choices throughout my life. For instance, when chance sent a young fellow named Ted Hole my way, I was able to sense that he was the man for me.


Growing up in the tiny town of Buchanan, Saskatchewan, I often imagined the kind of man I would marry. Like any young girl, I continually changed my image of the perfect man, depending on how old I was or what movies I had seen that week. However, I knew exactly what I didn’t want in a husband. I always told my mother, “No matter what, I’ll never marry a farmer.”


To me, farms seemed like the lonliest places on earth. I much preferred the feeling of being surrounded by people and activity, even though Buchanan wasn’t exactly a bustling metropolis. Once, when a friend’s mother convinced me to come for a holiday at their farm, I ended up crying myself to sleep for four nights straight. I wasn’t invited back.


No, the husband of my dreams was definitely not wearing bib overalls. But then I met Ted.
In 1950, Ted was in the middle of his Bachelor of Agriculture program at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. I was involved with a person that my mother called “a good prospect,” a dashing, responsible young man who had a managerial position with Trans Canada Airlines. As far as my mother was concerned, I had it made. I was pretty happy with my young man, too. My future seemed set.


But fate intervened. My friend Sheila, a nurse, happened to be friends with Ted and had promised to be his date for a Faculty of Agriculture dance later that week. But she got called in to work at the last minute and couldn’t attend.


She didn’t want to leave Ted without a date, so she offered to set him up with one of her friends. Before Sheila could open her mouth to make a suggestion, Ted said, “Sure. How about that blonde one…Lois?” Ted had seen me a couple times in passing, although I have to admit that I hadn’t noticed him at all.


Sheila had been about to name another friend but she couldn’t see any graceful way to refuse Ted’s suggestion. “All right,” she replied, “I’ll ask her.” And so I received a phone call shortly afterward.


“Well, sure I’ll go,” I said agreeably.


Those simple words sealed my fate. Ted turned out to be a pretty handsome guy—I thought he looked like Charlton Heston. I could tell right away how sincere and honest he was.


After a few more dates, he told me that he wanted a farm as soon as he graduated, that even though he had a trade as a plumber, he felt a deep connection to the earth, that he couldn’t imagine a better life than on a farm. He spoke with such passion that I found myself being caught up in the romantic notion of marrying a handsome farmer—despite my childhood vow.
Ted brought me out to the property he had in mind, a small patch of land on the banks of the Sturgeon River.  Because the farm was so close to Edmonton, my childhood fears of isolation were crowded out by other, much happier memories.


As a girl, I spent countless helping my mother in the garden. Though I didn’t always realize it, they were some of the happiest times in my childhood. For my mother, gardening was more of a pleasure than a chore, and she instilled the same feeling in me. If I helped her weed the carrots or water the tomatoes, it wasn’t because she made me do it. I did it because I wanted to. As I looked at Ted, it suddenly seemed to make sense for me to build my future life around growing things.


My mother also gave me a love of music. She was an organist in our local church and played the piano at home almost every day. On days when I was less than enthusiastic about helping in the garden, she’d say to me, “Why don’t you go inside and practice the piano?” As a teenager, I became the church’s substitute organist, and eventually I earned a diploma from the Toronto Conservatory. Ted wasn’t a classical musician, but he loved to play the saxophone—and sometimes even got paid for it! If I ended up with him, I knew there would always be plenty of music in my life.


I also thought of my father. He was a strongly principled man, with deeply held convictions. He raised me to look at life with clear eyes: to judge for myself what was right and what was wrong and to act accordingly. He also showed me, through his example, the value of good, hard work. Standing next to Ted, I sensed the same kind of strength in him.


A few days later, I faced the awkward task of breaking up with my Trans Canada Boyfriend. Mom was not amused.


“Lois, Ted seems like a nice boy, but really, didn’t you always tell me you would never marry a farmer?”


“Well, yes, Mom, but…”


“You always said that farms were the loneliest places you knew.”


“I know, but…”


It went on that way for a while. Ted was hard to resist, though, and he won Mom over soon enough. Dad was even easier to convince: he’d always backed me in whatever (or whomever) I chose to pursue. “Marry the one you love, Lois, whoever that happens to be.”


Ted’s father, on the other hand, presented more of a challenge. Mr. Hole was an impressive figure, and I trembled a little the day he invited Ted and me home for a “chat” about our future plans.


“How are you going to handle farm life, Lois? You know it’s not easy. How are you going to help make ends meet? Are you prepared for a lot of backbreaking work?” The questions came thick and fast. Mr. Hole paused only occasionally to take a puff from his pipe.


To this day, I wonder whether he simply didn’t think a city girl was up to the challenge or whether he was trying, in his own gruff way, to warn me about the hardships that might lie ahead. Was he remarkably insightful about the important role that women play on the farm or simply chauvinistic? Still, I found it ironic that I was getting grilled, even though Ted was the one who wanted to pursue this whole notion of farming.


It was quite an ordeal, but I kept my composure and answered honestly, determined to prove that I was “right for the job.” At the end of the interview, Ted’s father seemed reasonably satisfied. Ted and I breathed a sigh of relief. With parental barriers hurdled, all that remained was the wedding.


When the big event arrived, it was the happiest day of my life. Everything went exactly according to plan—until after the service.


Rather than a car, Ted and I were to drive off in a horse-drawn carriage. We were sitting at the back of the cart on a couple of bales of hay when something startled the horses, causing them to leap forward suddenly. I lost my balance and felt myself tipping over backwards, my feet flying into the air. Several people gasped, sure I was going to crack my head open on the pavement.


But like a knight in shining armour, Ted came to my rescue. He scooped me up in one arm and kissed me, as everyone applauded and cheered.


After the wedding, Ted’s mother came up to me and said, “Lois, you’re very lucky to have married my son.” I could only smile and nod. “You’re right…Mother.”


Thanks to luck and good judgement, not only did I marry a farmer, I became one.


And together, Ted and I have been growing great things ever since. 

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer

 

Grow It From Seed!

written by Lois Hole. Originally published February 1, 1999

Quick, which would you rather have: an ounce of gold or an ounce of begonia seed? Gold at it’s current market price of around $300 [sic] an ounce is mere pocket change compared to a series of tuberous begonia seed called “Charisma” that rings in at an astounding $200,000 [sic] an ounce.

Mind you, an ounce of begonia seed does contain anywhere from 1.5 to 2 million seeds and, in all fairness, only the world’s largest plant propagators would ever buy an ounce.

Thankfully for home gardeners, growing your own plants from seed is substantially less expensive. It can also be an incredibly rewarding experience, but at other times it can be downright frustrating.

I remember when my husband Ted and I first got started in market gardening back in the early 1960s. We needed a large number of tomato transplants and obviously that required a greenhouse, so we built one—a small, plastic-covered, wood-framed structure.

Having very little seed experience, I rationalized that if I sowed double the recommended number of tomato seeds I should, at the very least, get half to grow and therefore be pretty darn close to my target.

After about a month, not one seedling had emerged. Of course, I blamed everything and everyone, including my husband, for this abysmal failure, but it wasn’t until Ted decided to check the soil temperature that he was finally exonerated. The soil temperature was a rather frigid 50°F (that was in the pre-metric days) and tomatoes, being warm season plants, prefer a nice warm 70°F, or 20°C to germinate properly. Installation of some heating cable solved that problem for us, but for many gardeners, poor control of soil temperature is still the primary reason for poor results.

Each year more and more gardeners are starting their own seeds, which I’m sure has been fuelled in part by the tremendous satisfaction derived from successfully nurturing a plant from seed to maturity.

Undoubtedly, the adventure of trying the new, the improved, and the unusual is a strong motivator as well, and never before has there been such an extensive selection of seeds.
Yet for many gardeners, there still exists an unwarranted fear of growing seedlings. So to minimize the trauma of starting seed, here is the seed starter’s primer in one highly condensed, non-technical paragraph.

The first thing to do is purchase only high-quality seed (which is typically a little more expensive). Place the seed in a tray on top of pre-moistened soilless seedling mixture. Cover the seed lightly with horticultural grade vermiculite (that’s the small stuff). Mist the seed tray several times with a pump bottle. Cover the tray with a clear or opaque plastic cover and place the whole apparatus on a heat register or heating cables as close as possible to a south-facing window. Inspect the seed daily and mist as required.

That’s all there is to it. Most seed fits rather neatly within these parameters, although, of course, there are those seeds that deviate somewhat. Some like the soil a little warmer or a little cooler, some like a little more or a little less moisture, but the same basic principles still apply.

Still, there are some plant species, particularly a few perennials, that can be rather obstinate. Some perennial seeds require a treatment in moist soil to break the seeds’ self-imposed dormancy. Other perennial seeds must be scarified, which is essentially a delicate cutting or etching of the seed coat to allow germination, allowing water to be drawn in.

I remember a few particularly stubborn perennial seeds that I’ve tried to germinate in the greenhouse. One in particular was the Himalayan Blue Poppy.

After my disappointing experience with tomato seed, I must admit that I leaned on the warm side for starting all other seedlings, including poppies. After about six weeks of tender care, the poppies, like the tomatoes, had failed to emerge. So in frustration I just pulled the trays off the heating cables, left them on the cold floor, and forgot about them. Inadvertently,  I had provided exactly what the poppies wanted—a nice, cool spot—and within days the tiny seedlings were popping up.

If you have seed left over when all of the spring seeding is said and done and you’re wondering just what is the best way to store it, just remember the rule of 100. Any combination of relative humidity percentage and air temperature that exceeds 100 will reduce seed storage life. For example, if the air is 60°F (sorry, this rule only works in Fahrenheit, not Celsius) and the relative humidity is 40%, you’re in the correct range. However, if the relative humidity climbs to 60%, then the air temperature shouldn’t exceed 40°F to maintain the 100 rule. The lower the number drops below 100, the better.

If you have a bright window, some heat, and a little patience, give starting your own seed a try. Remember, all that glistens is not gold.

– Lois Hole The Best Of Lois Hole

 

Location, Location, Location

This past week, I chatted with a group of ladies who were all frustrated with their failure to get tulips to grow in their yards. All of them were great gardeners, but none of them could get a single tulip to poke out of the soil, let alone bloom. 

After I asked the ladies the standard tulip questions, it was quite apparent that they had done everything correctly, and there was no apparent reason why they shouldn’t have had a glorious bed of tulip flowers.

Finally, I asked where they were growing their tulips thinking, perhaps, that they were growing them in a container and that the bulbs were freezing solid during the winter.

But the answer to that question was the last one I had expected. One of the ladies looked me in the eyes and simply said: Jamaica. 

Jamaica? This one word answer instantly solved the problem.

Since tulips require several weeks of near freezing temperatures before they have the capacity to bloom, tropical Jamaica cannot provide the chilling required to transform a bulb to a flower. Since chilly weather in Jamaica is anything below, say, 20C, the bulbs were simply incapable of flowering. 

In countries that lack cold weather, aficionados of plants like tulips have few choices but to place the bulbs in refrigerators for a number of weeks so that the chilling requirement of the bulbs is met. Once the bulbs are placed outside after their big chill, they will develop leaves and flowers as they would in more northerly climates. However, while the pre-chilled bulbs in growing in tropical climates emerge from the soil, the tropical heat shortens the blooming period and they never last as long as they do in more northerly climates.

I explained to the ladies – with tongue firmly in cheek - that, unfortunately, Jamaica didn’t have a very good climate. 

Funny, they didn’t share my point of view.


~Jim Hole

Trial by Fire

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When we were just starting out on our new farm, everything seemed extraordinarily precious to us. We often lost sleep over the health of our crops and livestock, fretting about how we would pay the bills if things went wrong.

That sort of feeling is natural, but you just can’t get too caught up in material concerns. If you lose sight of what’s really important, even for a few seconds, you can end up acting like an idiot.

Case in point: the day I ran into a flaming building to save a flock of turkeys.

We were raising about 200 of them that year, in a makeshift shed heated by a small wood stove. Ted was away working as a plumber in the city, leaving me alone to tend the farm during the day. I was pregnant at the time, as big as a house.

One morning, I happened to glance up through the kitchen window, and saw flames shooting out of the turkey house. A pipe had overheated and ignited the wood around it. I raced across the yard and threw open the door to let the birds escape. But naturally, being turkeys, they just sat there.

So in I went, half blinded by the smoke, to shoo them out the door. Unfortunately, there was a second smaller opening, built for the turkeys. You guessed it: as I chased them out the main door, they simply marched around the building and came back in the small door. I finally blocked the opening and managed to get almost all of the birds out. We ended up losing only about half a dozen.

Later, as I watched the flames devour the shed, the realization of what I had done began to sink in. I had taken and absolutely terrifying risk. I could even picture the headline: “Pregnant woman dies rescuing turkeys.” What a way to go.

It seems absurd now, but in the heat of the moment, I didn’t even think twice. Those turkeys were our livelihood. What would we do if we lost them all?

The answer, of course, is easy. We would have picked up the pieces and moved on. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world.

Except, that is, for the turkeys.


-Lois Hole, I'll Never Marry a Farmer

Let Kids Be Kids

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Child labour is a hot topic these days, as well it should be. All over the world, young people are robbed of their childhoods by unfair and exploitative labour practices. Of course, when Ted and I farmed, we relied an awful lot on kids. If they hadn’t helped us so much, we would never have been as successful.

Work can and should be an integral part of growing up. Children gain a strong sense of satisfaction when they’re given the chance to contribute, and they build habits and attitudes that will stick with them long after they’ve grown up. You just have to find ways to keep the work fun and ensure that it doesn’t interfere with other equally important parts of their lives.

When they were young, Bill and Jim were always bringing friends home from school. Their buddies from town loved the chance to be out on a farm. It felt like a different world to them, even though their homes were only a mile or two away.

As the spring evenings lengthened, they’d be up in the field transplanting seedlings. They’d hoe the rows throughout the summer, and they’d help out as the vegetables became ready to harvest.

Sure it was hard work, but the kids wouldn’t have kept coming back if they weren’t having a good time. It wasn’t even the fact that we paid them—although they never complained when I handed out the cheques. When I’d take drinks or popsicles up to them, I felt like I was walking into the middle of a rather sweaty social occasion. The radio would be blasting away, competing with a steady stream of jokes and conversation.

I have to admit I pushed them a little from time to time. As their energy started to flag, I’d go out there and say, “Come on, kids, just five more minutes!” Ten minutes later, I’d go back out and say, “Just two more minutes!” Somehow though, when the break finally arrived, they always seemed to find the strength to pick up a football and start an impromptu game.

Their parents, naturally, were thrilled at the idea of their children coming out to our place. The kids were happy and healthy, they were earning a few bucks of their own, and if they were tired out at the end of the day, that was a bonus.

I’ll never forget one afternoon, though, when a man drove out to the farm, his poor teenage son slumped in the back seat of the car. Something about this man’s manner put us off, even before he opened his mouth. He told us, “I want you to put my boy to work. He’s a lazy kid, and I want you to show him what real work is like. Straighten him up.” The boy had gotten drunk one night, and his father wanted to teach him a lesson. I guess he thought we were running some sort of boot camp.

Ted and I were appalled that this man would think of farm life as punishment. Clearly, he was the one who needed straightening up, not his boy. I don’t imagine he ever thought of sitting down to talk with his son, although it was obvious he was very mad at him. I wonder, if we had taken the boy, could we have helped him? But when you’re not the parent, when you’re only there for a short period of time, there’s not much you can do.

If you talk to the kids who worked for us over the years, I don’t think you’ll hear many complaints. Sure, they’ll joke about how we made them slave all day under the hot sun, but they’ll also talk about all the good times they had together. Many of them still come out to visit us from time to time, and we’re always thrilled to see them.

As a matter of fact, a few of them still work for us. And, if I’m not mistaken, they’re still finding a way to have fun on the job.

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry a Farmer

Beat The Summer Garden Heat!

The weather is heating up outside in Alberta, and taking the risks of sun exposure and heat stress seriously, and protecting yourself from these dangers, is just as important in the garden as at the beach or on a construction site. Here are a few consideration and precautions from the Prudent Gardener that you should take when gardening in hot weather. 

The human body is amazingly adaptable, but it doesn’t happen immediately. Air conditioning allows us to live our lives in comfort, but keeps our bodies’ natural cooling ability “rusty” because it is not often used. If you spend much of your time indoors, be especially mindful of gradually training your body to work in hot weather. Spend a little time each day moving and sweating outdoors so that by the weekend it won’t be such a shock to be hot for a few hours at a stretch.

Avoid Gardening In The Hottest Part Of The Day

The best time to work in the garden is the last two or three hours of daylight. At that time, you can do any chore that needs to get done without having to endure the brutal midday Alberta sun. Early morning is nice too, if you don’t mind being dew-soaked.
 

Stay Hydrated

You can’t sweat/cool yourself if you are low on fluids. It is important to begin the day hydrated by drinking two cups of water before heading into the heat. While working, drink another 1/2 cup every half hour. Your urine should be transparent (and plentiful!).

Cover Your Skin

Wear long sleeves, long pants and a broad-brimmed hat to shade your ears. You can also keep a wet towel on the back of your neck as well to help you stay comfortable. If you just can’t stand the long clothes, be sure to use SPF 30 or higher sunscreen.
 

Take Breaks

Work hard for an hour at a time, but make sure you take at least a ten minute break in the shade (with a cool drink) after each hour of work. This will allow your body to cool and your muscles to recover for a more productive, less injury prone day.

Garden With A Partner

Two gardeners can watch out for each other’s heat safety by drinking and breaking together. They can also watch out for signs of heat stress, and administer first aid if necessary. If you go it alone, make sure someone who will check on you knows you’re out there.
 

Know The Signs Of Heat Stress

Heat exhaustion is a serious warning to cool yourself, and is closely linked to the heat index. When it’s hot and humid, sweat doesn’t evaporate easily, making it difficult for your body to cool itself and so the risk of heat exhaustion increases. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Confusion
  • Dark colored urine
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle or abdominal cramps
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Pale skin
  • Profuse sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat

If you experience one or a combination of these symptoms, get into a cool place as soon as possible. Loosen any restricting clothes. Drink cool water. Take a cool shower. Symptoms should abate within fifteen minutes or so.

Heat stroke, also known as sunstroke,  is a medical emergency, requiring immediate medical attention. It often occurs as a progression of untreated heat exhaustion. Symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness/light-headedness
  • Lack of sweating
  • Red, hot, dry skin
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat (either strong or weak)
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Behavioral changes (confusion, disorientation, staggering)
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

For cases of suspected heat stroke, immediately call 9-1-1. While awaiting arrival of paramedics, administer first aid to cool the victim’s body temperature. Cooling tactics include: cool water immersion (or an ice bath); placing ice packs on areas where the blood vessels are close to the skin such as the back of the neck, armpits, groin and back; and fanning the victim while wetting the skin.

Win $500 Worth Of Patio Planters from Hole's Greenhouses!

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Help us spread the word and win! Refer a friend to sign up for our newsletter, and each of you will be entered into our four weekly drawings to win $500 worth of patio planters from Hole's Greenhouses! 

Entering is easy:

1. Enter your email, and a friend's email into our contest form HERE.

2. A confirmation email will be sent your friend. Have them click the link inside to confirm.

And that's it! You're both entered!

The more referrals you make, the more entrees you get! 

Espalier

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

Rain Barrels

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When my brother and I were kids, we loved to jump into the old, 45 gallon, metal rain barrel that sat at the southwest corner of our farmhouse. The water was a bit rusty (because of the corroding metal!) but it was always nice and warm thanks to the barrel’s sunny location.

Since our well water was high in sodium, and therefore not suitable for use on our plants, the slightly rusty, rain barrel water was great to have on hand, and Mom used it on her flowerbeds during dry spells. Of course, one needs rainfall for a rain barrel to be of any use, but even fairly brief showers filled up the barrel rather quickly.

If you plan on getting a rain barrel for you home, don’t go with the rusty type that we had as kids. High quality, UV resistant Gardenware Canada plastic barrels that have a quality brass spigot at the bottom and overflow hose at the top are best. They also come with a mosquito-proof, and more importantly, kid-proof lid.

Yes, I know that I confessed to playing in a barrel when I was a kid, but the danger of drowning was minimal because the top of the barrel came up to my chest. 

Let’s just say that my emotional maturity and physical maturity weren’t separated by a great span of time.

~Jim Hole

Magic Beans

Dependable and easy to cultivate, beans produce rewarding crops in a wide range of climates. Hot, cold, even raw, string beans are versatile in the kitchen and very prolific growing plants in the garden.

Of course, it's the green bean that everyone recognizes as one of the most frequently prepared vegetables. But that's just the tip of the iceberg!  Here are some unique, easy-to-grow and most of all delicious bean varieties for you to try:

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Rich Purple Pod - This cherished heirloom produces a heavy yield of beautiful, deep wine-red pods that are 12 to 17 cm long and about 1cm thick. They are flavourful, high quality, meaty, string-less, and rich in antioxidants.

These crunchy deep purple pods stand out against the green leafy vines, making them fun and easy to pick.

The young pods can be eaten raw or prepared as you would any green bean—we like to stir fry them with garlic, ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil. Or try them the traditional way, steamed and slathered with butter.


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Scarlet Runner - Just as quickly as Jack's beanstalk, Scarlet Runner beans grow into showy, full-leafed vines.

This easy-to-grow bean is both an ornamental climber and edible. It grows to 3-3.5 m high, with brillant red flowers followed by 15-30 cm pods that can be enjoyed young as snap peas, or as dry beans when mature.

These beans also do a fantastic job when used as a hedge, or to decorate a patio or trellis.


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Dwarf Horticultural - Also known as "Speckled Bays" or "Cranberry Bean", this pre-1800 heirloom is a great producer!

Dwarf Horticultural is a shell bean with semi-round, 15 cm long, light green pods that turn a beautiful crimson flecked white as they mature.

An excellent dry bean for use in soups and chili, this bean possesses beautiful colour and texture and is a must for any vegetable garden.


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Golden Wax - These stringless deep yellow wax beans produce excellent yields, and are  the perfect bean for eating fresh, caning, and freezing.

Golden Wax pods are round, straight, 10-15 cm long, tender and meaty. And are great for Northern climates.

These early producing, dependable bushes produce white seed with purple-brown eyes.


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Rolande - A fine French delicacy, Roland is the very best "filet" or 'haricot vert" variety with deep green, truly gourmet beans of delicate flavour and superb quality.

They are sensational simply steamed to server whole with butter and a sprinkle of fresh chopped herbs.

These beans offer gardeners abundant harvests of long, pencil-slim, rounded 15 cm pods on strong, sturdy, disease resistant plants.




You Plant A Tree For Your Grandchildren

About 10 years ago, my neighbour’s spruce toppled in a windstorm and smashed into our fence. The middle section of the fence was obliterated, but at least our house was spared.

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These past couple of weeks I have visited a number of homes that have trees with structural problems. One was an apple that had a large branch snap during a snowstorm. A couple of weeks ago, an acreage owner had a poplar topple during a windstorm resulting in a severely damaged roof. Finally, a young couple with small children, were asking me about what should be could be done about their neighbour’s large poplar tree that was leaning, precariously towards their house.   

As a certified arborist, I’ve seen a lot of trees with a lot of problems. While many people tend to focus on insect and disease problems on the tree’s foliage, the major of a tree’s problems (about 80%) originate in the root zone. Preventing a tree from becoming ‘hazardous’ is not difficult if the proper steps are taken beginning with something as ‘simple’ as transplanting. Incorrect planting depth, poor soil, improper staking, and inadequate or excessive watering are mistakes that are often made during transplanting that have a huge impact on trees years later.

As the saying goes, ‘You plant a tree for your grandchildren’. It’s important that they have the opportunity to enjoy it…safely!

~Jim Hole

 

One Year's Seeding Is Seven Years Weeding

I know that some people find weeding rather uplifting and therapeutic. But I think that most would agree weeding is a job that is despised by the vast majority of gardeners. 

For me, weeding fields of cabbage and cauliflower ranked right up with shoveling the chicken manure out of our barn!

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But the one thing I learned over time was that having the right tools was critical for getting the weeding job done efficiently, effectively, and with the least amount of back bending.

The "weapons of choice" for winning the war on weeds (or at least the battle) was a combination of different tools.

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My recommended weapon of choice for any gardener is the stirrup hoe. It is a band of steel attached to a handle and is very proficient at cutting out weeds with much less effort than the conventional big "broad bladed" hoe.

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The Burgon and Ball hoe from Sheffield, England is a fabulous tool that will get weeds in spots that are too tight for the stirrup hoe and will even fit between concrete pads. Just keep the file handy!

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Finally, if you want to whack some weeds or even lawn grass that is getting a bit tall in spots, the Corona Grass whip is ideal. You can hold the Grass whip much like you would hold a golf club, so not only will you chop weeds and grass down to size but you might improve your golf game, as well.


As the saying goes for weeds, "One year seeding is seven years weeding".  In other words, if you let your weeds mature and drop their seeds…well, that will equal seven years of bad luck!

~Jim Hole

 

Remarkable Radishes

Radishes take very little room to grow, and can be planted to mature during any cool season, making them ideal for Alberta's growing conditions.

They are often used as row markers for slower germinating vegetables like beans or corn, and make a great starter plant for kids.

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If you're thinking of growing your own radishes this year, here are some great radish varieties for you to try!:

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French Breakfast Radish - Also known as "Breakfast Radish", "Flambeau", "Flambo" and "Les Radis Petit Déjeuner", is a popular heirloom variety with bright rose scarlet at the top and white blunt tips. With 5cm long roots that are crisp, mild, and surprisingly sweet, this variety is  perfect for munching and slicing.

French Breakfast radishes are an ideal crop for containers, window boxes and greenhouse borders, and can be sowed regularly for continuous succulent roots throughout the summer.


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Daikon Radish - Minowase -"Daikon” is “radish” in Japanese, so this variety is also referred to as “Japanese Minowase Daikon".

An old-fashioned Japanese favourite with giant white roots that grow up to 60 cm long and  7.5 cm wide! This variety has a much milder taste than it's western cousins. It's sweet and very crisp, and is a delight pickled, stir-fried, steamed or eaten raw.

Daikon radishes are large and require deeply prepared soil. Sow and grow them as you would for turnips, thinning them to 15-20cm apart.


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Round Black Spanish Radish - Black radishes have been grown and savored in Europe since the 1500s. This winter-hardy heirloom is a distinctive black colour on the outside with a milky white and tender interior.

These large 8-10cm turnip-shaped globes have crisp, pungent, spicy pure-white flesh, that packs quite a bite.

The Black Spanish Round radish is considered a winter radish but can be planted in both spring and autumn. They are reliable, they last forever in the garden and in storage, and are one of the easiest things you will ever grow!


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Watermelon Radish - This striking Asian heirloom,  also know as "Beauty Heart" in Chinese, produces 7 to 10cm roots with pale green exteriors and rich rose-red crunchy flesh the same colour as a perfectly ripe watermelon!

The sweet, mild to just slightly peppery flesh is perfect to shred into salads for fantastic colour and flavour.

Be sure to seed every few weeks if you desire a steady crop of heirloom radishes out of your garden.  Nothing can be easier to grow!  Consistent watering will tend to eliminate woody roots and make for a better tasting radish.


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Rainbow Radishes - Brighten up your salad bowl with this visually stunning selection of coloured-skinned radishes!

This blend of radish seeds is a custom mixture in rainbow shades of cherry-red, white, plum purple, and rose rink, all with crunchy mild white flesh and strong growing foliage.

Rainbow radishes crispy round roots are fast, simple, gratifying-to-grow signature crop of early spring.

Almost Perfect

I remember a particular lettuce crop that Dad had planted on the crest of the hill on our market garden in early May. It was sown with a "4-row Stanhay" seeder and the germination was near perfect and a lettuce seedling popped up every 15 centimeters thanks to the precision spacing that the seeder provided.

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I liked to drive by the 4 acre field of lettuce a couple of times a day, when I had the time, just to admire how great the long, straight rows of perfectly-planted, rich-green iceberg lettuce looked against the black soil.

But it seemed with each passing day, that the lettuce field just didn't look quite as good as the day before. After about four or five days, I finally got out of the truck and made a closer inspection of the field. Much to my chagrin, cutworms were thoroughly enjoying the perfect field of lettuce, and before I had time to spray the field, half of the field had been chewed-up.

The take home lesson here for gardeners is to be vigilant. Inspect your plants on a daily basis and note anything that looks a bit odd. We have a diagnostic service here if you can’t solve the problem yourself. 

And by the way it… ahem, pays to get out of the truck now and then.

~Jim Hole

 

 

Sweet Peas

Sweet Peas are a beautifully blooming garden classic. The long-stemmed sprays of ruffled blossoms produce an irresistible perfume scent, and can either be trained onto a plant support to create an impressive column of fragrant, summer colour, or cut for a wonderful bouquet.

Growing sweet peas couldn’t be easier. Sweet peas thrive in cool temperatures, so Alberta is an ideal place for growing them. You can plant them outdoors as soon as the soil can be worked in spring. Before sowing,  sweet pea seeds can be soaked in tepid water to rehydrate them. It helps them get off to a quicker start but it isn't essential as they will still germinate well in moist compost.

These pea-like flowers grow in many lovely colours and are suitable for an annual border, a woodland garden, and a trellis or arch.

Here are a few of our favourite varieties:

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April In Paris -  is a perfect match of intoxicating fragrance, lovely form, captivating colour, and the most intense perfume of any Sweet Pea variety.

The large ruffled blossoms are a soft primrose cream, tinted at the edges in dark lilac that deepens and increases with age.

These strong-growing vines produce heavy sets of long-stemmed flowers that beg to be cut for heavenly scented bouquets.


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Jewels of Albion - This custom-blended colour palette of especially fragrant antique varieties offers both beautiful cool shades and plants with significantly more heat tolerance than other Sweet Pea varieties.

You'll have succession in bloom with "Flora Norton" (pastel blue), "Lord Nelson" (deep blue), "Mrs. Collier" (creamy-white), "Lady Grisel Hamilton" (pastel lavender) and "Captain of the Blues" (mauve-blue).

This lovely perfumed mix blooms on strong climbing vines that easily cover a trellis or fence.


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Saltwater Taffy Swirls - These charming novelty Sweet Peas will delight flower lovers with their unusual patterned blossoms. 

Each large flower is uniquely "flaked", showing finely rippled veins of colour that swirl throughout the pastel background of the petals.

This blended mix consists of blue, maroon, chocolate, burnt orange, crimson red, and rich purple swirled flowers all from the same packet.

A handful of these long blooming, intricately marked blooms makes delightful softly-scented centerpiece bouquets.


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Royal Wedding - These long-stemmed, softly frilled sweet peas come down the garden isle decked out in glorious pure white blossoms, four to six on each long stem, all with lovely ruffled petals.

This premier award-winning variety is imported from England because it has outstanding form and garden performance and carries an enchanting fragrance reminiscent of jasmine and orange blossoms.

You'll enjoy Royal Wedding's beauty and enticing pefume indoors and out over a long season of bloom.


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Cupani's Original - This is an especially strong blooming strain of this heat-tolerant treasured heirloom. It's ancestry can be traced to the first wild sweet peas from Sicily named for Father Francis Cupani, the Italian monk who discovered and sent them back to England in the 17th century.

These intensely perfumed, beautifully bicoloured flowers have petals of deep maroon-purple and orchid-violet. The fragrance of these classic simple blossoms truly wafts in the air, delighting every passerby.


"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.

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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.


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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.


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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Crescent Garden Planters

Mother’s Day is a great time to treat Mom to brunch, along with a pretty bouquet of her favourite flowers.

For those Moms who love to garden, but who have also become a little weary of the constant bending, there is another great gift that I’m sure she’ll love

It’s called the “Crescent Garden Planter” and it elevates gardening to a new level—literally—by raising the garden to a comfortable height. It really ups the pleasure of growing flowers and vegetables while minimizing the pain. The Crescent Garden Planter has four legs and comes in a range of colours from lime-green, blue, red and black.

I know that after years of working in our family’s vegetable fields and her personal garden, my Mom embraced the idea of growing more of her ornamental plants—and vegetables like tomatoes—in raised containers. She discovered, like we all do, that the ground has a nasty habit of “getting just a bit farther away” with each passing year! 

Plus, there are Moms, who are not just simply tired of bending, but have some mobility issues and cannot bend over.  The Crescent Planter is a great way for them to continue gardening when “in-the-ground” gardening is difficult or impossible.

Besides, whether one has mobility problems or not, bringing fragrant herbs and beautiful flowers closer to nose and eye level is always a good thing—no matter who you are.

~Jim Hole

Container Gardening

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Not that long ago, virtually all the plant pots you could buy were either made of clay, ceramic, or cheap plastic.
 
The clay pots were durable and attractive but exceedingly heavy and very difficult to move because of their weight. They also had a nasty habit of chipping unless they were handled carefully. Sometimes, they would also crack during the winter if water accumulated in the pot and turned to clay-splitting ice. 
 
Back then, plastic pots eliminated the weight and ice splitting issue common to clay, but they were quite ugly and became brittle and faded from the summer sun.
 
Today, those poor quality plastic pots have been replaced by high-quality, UV-resistant, lightweight, plastic pots that are also attractive. I have two gigantic, black pots in my yard that look as good as the day I bought them 7 years ago. One of our lines of pots, from Crescent Garden, even comes with a 10 year warranty! They remain outside 365 days a year without any protection and I plant them up with bedding plants in the spring and small evergreens and boughs for Christmas.
 
I think that the advances in pot durability and aesthetics are fabulous. Gardeners are embracing the idea that beautiful and durable pots go hand-in-hand with beautiful bedding plants. By investing in high quality pots now, you can enjoy them for years to come.
 

~Jim Hole

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P.S. We still have a few spots left for my tomato gardening workshop on May 9th. Click here to purchase tickets. Our last couple workshops sold out, and I'm sure this one will too, so get your tickets soon!

For the rest of the summer, I will also be on Alberta@Noon on CBC Radio the first Friday of every month (starting May 1st at 12:30pm). The phone lines will be open from 12:30-1pm, so if you have any gardening questions, please call in!
 

Planting for Pollinators

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Cucumbers, squash, and pumpkins were vegetables that we always grew on the farm. We had two main strategies that we used to increase our chances of maximizing our yields:
 
First, we only planted these heat-loving crops near our shelterbelts. The trees in the shelterbelts reduced wind speeds and provided a warm microclimate that these vegetables loved. Open fields were always cooler than fields protected by shelterbelts; plus, delicate, heat-loving crops like cucumbers, squash, and pumpkins tended to get beat-up in windy spots.
 
Secondly, we always had local beekeepers place their hives adjacent to these crops to ensure that they would visit the flowers and pollinate the plants. These cucurbit crops (as they are referred to) must have their pollen transferred from male to female flowers in order to fruit andas we all knowbees are terrific at this task.
 
In our own urban yards, encouraging bees and other pollinators to visit is not difficult if you choose the flowers that they like. Plants like...

Sunflowers – During blooming season sunflowers offer a rich pollen and nectar source for foraging honey bees, native bees, and any other garden pollinators.


At maturity, when the centre disk florets have dried up, these black-seeded sunflowers provide particularly oil-rich kernels with somewhat softer shells than others, yielding an abundance of nutritious feasts for birds of all sorts.


Zinnias & Cosmos – These two types of flowers are favourites of butterflies. Butterflies are attracted to blossom shapes and colours, so plantings should be made in mass blocks rather than a few isolated plants here and there.


Planting these flowers behind each other produces an ideal combination of flowers at differing heights, offering your visitors a choice of where to feed and rest.


Scarlet Runner Beans & Nasturtiums – Low, mounding, Summer Charm nasturtiums and tall, climbing, Scarlet Runner Beans are a sure fit for hummingbirds’ nectar-seeking bills.


These flowers offer an ideal combination of different blossoms and vegetation at varying height levels, providing your intended visitors with a choice of where to feed, rest, and roost.


Hummingbirds expend an enormous amount of energy for their size, and require an enormous amount of food—you can’t have too many flowers! After locating convenient nectar sources, these intelligent little creatures follow a foraging routine in a relatively small area (despite their ability to roam) and will return for ongoing meals from your garden.


Finally, asclepias (or "milkweed") is a plant that we get a lot of questions about from people look for a butterfly-friendly flower. Most known as a nectar source for monarch butterflies (a rare sight in Edmonton), milkweed is a favourite of other pollinators as well.

The Butterfly Mixture from Aimers Seeds is a good mix of flowers that attracts butterflies as well.  This mix contains a bit of everything for pollinators, including: alyssum, African daisy, bachelor buttons, milkweed, candy tuft, columbine, purple and Prairie coneflowers, plains coreopsis, cosmos, flax, California poppy, and Siberian wallflower.

~Jim Hole