jim hole

Garden Alert: Poplar & Aspen Borers

One pest that is causing a lot of grief for those who have poplar trees on their properties is an insect called the Poplar Borer.

It is a native beetle that evolved feeding primarily on native aspens, but has developed a taste for Swedish Columnar aspens that are typically planted in rows along fences for privacy screening. Poplar Borers are rather large, gray beetles with faint, yellow stripes on its body and antennae that are as long as its body.

The problem with these borers is that they not only feed on the green “phloem” that sits just below the bark and moves sugars up and down the tree, but the larva (worms) also tunnel into the wood and leave a labyrinth of trails that weaken the tree, leaving portions of the trunk prone to snapping-off on windy days.

Aspen Borers prefer aspens that have trunks about 10 cm wide or larger and they typically seek trees that are stressed. The adults prefer to lay eggs on the south to southwest side of trees that have lots of exposed bark (extra trunk heat is better for larva growth and development).

The lifecycle of Aspen Borers can take several years to complete in our region, but once they invade trees they are very difficult to control. Given the great benefits of having Swedish Columnar aspens, and the expense of removing these trees, the battle to keep the borers at bay is critical.

Here are some of my observations and a bit of a game plan for Poplar Borer:

  • Aspens growing in landscape fabric with rock around the base are the worst affected, typically

  • Drought stressed aspens growing in poor soil are also preferred by the borers

  • Aspens with branches removed on the south/southwest side of tree are attacked more often

Symptoms of borer attack:

  • Small holes in trunk with brown sap stains on bark

  • Small piles of ‘wood shavings’ at trunk base from borer tunneling

What can be done?

  • Inspect your poplars several times during the growing season and look for any signs of damage

  • Pest control products like ‘Garden Protector’ can be used as a trunk and foliage spray prior to the borers penetrating the wood

  • If the borers enter the wood, control is difficult. Success can be found by applying Knock Down aerosol insecticidal spray directly into the entry holes on the tree trunks.

Aspen Borers are destructive pests so if you have Swedish Columnar aspens always be vigilant! Being proactive with controlling the beetles is the best strategy!

- Jim

"What can I do about mushrooms in my lawn?"

“What can I do about mushrooms in my lawn?”

By Jim Hole

It’s funny how many of us find mushrooms such a wonderful addition to our pizzas or omelets, but are horrified when they emerge from our lawns. The first thing to remember about mushrooms that pop up on lawns is that the vast majority of species are beneficial organisms, with only one species being a bit of a pest.

Let’s start with the pest. The Fairy Ring mushroom (Marasmius oreades) is the one species that most lawn aficionados hate. Usually, this fungus first noticed as a ring of mushrooms with dead or dehydrated grass occupying the middle of the ring. The reason the grass dies is due to the high density of waxy mushroom ‘roots’ (properly called hyphae) that shed water away from grass roots and compete for space.

There are no registered chemical controls for Fairy Ring fungi, but the “poke and soak” method can be used to, at least, reduce the severity of the fairy ring.

“Poke and soak” involves using a root feeder (hollow metal stake with reservoir on the top), hooking a garden hose to it, and then stabbing it into the ring and turning on the water. Water that penetrates into the ring not only helps to hydrate the grass roots but it always encourages the growth of microorganisms that compete with the Fairy Ring fungi. Adding some horticultural soap to the reservoir will make the water “wetter,” and allow better water penetration around the hyphal strands.

The “poke and soak” method is not perfect, but it helps.

Non Fairy Ring mushrooms that emerge after thunderstorms are just the fruiting bodies of fungi that are consuming organic matter in the soil, including bark, compost, dead roots, and more. They are not plant diseases, but instead, are saprophyte which means they are fungi that eat non-living organic matter. Saprophytes are, actually, beneficial for soils in lawns and gardens. Rather than trying to kill these mushrooms, I say, grow to love them…if you can!

Now if you are thinking that you would like to add some of these lawn mushrooms to your pizza, don’t do it unless you can - with absolute certainty - correctly identify which ones are edible and which ones might be poisonous.

There is a great aphorism that I love about mushrooms. It goes like this: "There are old mushroom pickers and there are bold mushroom pickers, but there are no old, bold mushroom pickers!”

Spring Is Here!

OK, I might have jumped the gun just a bit, but I can’t help but get excited about spring because all of our garden seed has arrived and is on the floor. And there is nothing quite like shelves full of colourful seed packages for inciting a good dose of spring fever.
 
Now if you think that it is too early to buy seeds, you’re correct – well, sort of. True, there are only a select few varieties that should be started indoors in January, but the main problem with not buying seeds early is that some sell-out very quickly.

Every year, I talk to many gardeners who don’t start buying their seeds until March and April and are disappointed that some of their favourites are already sold-out.
 
And it seems that sold-out vegetables and fruits cause the greatest disappointment. For example, specific varieties of tomatoes like Mortgage Lifter, Stupice and Black Krim or "superfoods" like Kale or novelty vegetables like golden beets and corn salad (mache) top the list.

The strategy for avoiding disappointment is simple: Get the seeds early and hang on to them until you are ready to sow. All types of seed will store just fine provided you keep them in a dry spot that is not excessively warm.
 
I often get questions about whether or not seed is damaged if it is frozen. The quick answer is that seed – even seeds of hot weather crops like squash, cucumbers and melons – is not damaged by subzero temperatures.  But never store any seed in your refrigerator. It’s not cold that is a problem, rather it’s moisture inside the fridge that is not good for longevity and viability.
 
One last word on storing seed. Watch for rodents. Mice absolutely love corn and cucumber seed.
 
Years ago we overwintered a 50lb bag of corn seed and a 20lb bag of cucumber seed in our shed. Come spring, there wasn’t a single seed of either vegetable left to plant. We assumed the shed was well sealed and rodent-proof but the mice managed to ‘break-in’ and enjoy a delicious feast.
 
I’ve since learned to never underestimate the ingenuity and adaptability of hungry mice. Keep all of your seed in sealed containers wherever you are planning on storing it.

~Jim Hole

"Bulb Empowering"

When I hear the term "forcing" bulbs, I usually envision someone holding a flower bulb over a compost bin and yelling, "This is your last chance dammit! Bloom or I’m dropping you in."
 
But the term "bulb forcing" really hasn’t arisen out of any ill feelings towards bulbs. It’s used simply to describe a technique where one schedules flower bulbs to bloom within a particular time frame.
 
Amaryllis, Narcissus and Hyacinth are examples of forced bulbs that are commonly grown in our homes. At the greenhouses, we have a bunch that are quite content to sit dormant in boxes on our store shelves and wait patiently for customers to pot them for forcing indoors.
 
Each variety of forcing bulbs has its own "weeks to flower" schedule, based largely on its genetic make-up. Bulbs like Narcissus bloom quickly once potted-up, while Hyacinth and Amaryllis take a bit longer to display their gorgeous flowers.
 
Flowering times can be sped-up or slowed-down, somewhat, by manipulating temperatures. Cool temperatures delay flowering while warm temperatures reduce the time to flower.

Beyond their beauty, what I really like about forced bulbs is that they require so little care. The growers who have carefully nurtured them have already done most of the work. All I that I have to do is drop them into pots, add water, and enjoy.
 
Come to think of it, given that potting up a bulb is such a gentle and nurturing activity, coupled with our modern sensitivity to labeling things, perhaps its time to replace the harsh term "bulb forcing" with something like "bulb empowering".
 
Maybe "bulb emancipation" is an even better phrase, since we liberate the bulbs from their dry packages and transplant them into warm, moist, potting soil. Or perhaps consider "Manipulation of florogenesis of geophytes" if plant science is your thing.
 
Hmm… with some sober second thought, I think "bulb forcing" sounds just fine.

~Jim Hole
 

Marvelous Mums

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Fall mums are some of the most spectacular plants for our gardens. No other fall-flowering plant can match the colour of mums and they always arrive just when our gardens are looking a little brown and need a little brightening-up.
 
When it comes to fall mums there are roughly three categories based on flowering period: early, mid-season and late. Early varieties start blooming in August and into mid-September. Mid-season varieties bloom from late September and well into October, while the late varieties are for late October and November.
 
By now, anyone who purchased the early varieties (August-September bloomers) can see that they are well past their prime and have more dead blossoms than they do vibrant flowers. But, the mid-season types are just beginning to bloom. Mid-season types are, usually, bigger and more floriferous than their early season cousins and with cooler October temperatures, will last much longer than the early maturing varieties.
 
While garden mums won’t be killed by hard frosts, the blossoms can be damaged. What I like to do is leave the mums in their plastic pots and then just drop them into a slightly-larger, decorative pot so that they can be pulled out and placed in the garage should the night temperatures get really cold. Beyond giving them shelter when needed, mid-season mums just require some watering to keep them looking spectacular often until Halloween, and sometimes beyond.
 
If you are wondering about the late season mums keep in mind that, by November, we often get some pretty cold temperatures. Having said that, I have seen years where late season mums looked incredible well into the third week of November.

For me, the reward of seeing spectacular mums blooming in November outweighs the risk of damage from deep cold or heavy snowfalls!
 
Who knows, could this be the year of blooming garden mums in early December? I doubt it, but stranger things have happened!
 
Risk versus reward – everyone has their own formula.

~Jim Hole

Second Pruning Workshop Added!

Thanks to everyone who attended last weekend’s pruning workshop. With close to 400 people attending, it was a little crowded and I thank everyone for their patience and a special thanks to those who helped move additional chairs into the greenhouse!
 
I apologize that I was unable to answer everyone’s questions on Sunday, so I thought it would be wise to have another pruning session on Saturday, October 15th at 1pm here at the greenhouses. If you missed last Sunday’s pruning workshop, or if you didn’t get your questions answered, please feel free to sign-up online or by phone for the workshop.
 
Also, thanks for so many great questions from the audience members. There was a lot of territory covered; everything from pruning raspberries and grapes to training apple trees into an espalier form. I suspect the next workshop will be a little smaller and a bit more intimate, however, it will be the last pruning event until early next year.
 
Now I know that some of you are probably thinking that I need to space out my pruning workshops for safety’s sake. This past spring I talked about the incredible sharpness of the "Corona Razortooth Pruning Saw" and no sooner had the words come out of my mouth, I then proceeded to cut my left index finger. On Sunday I, once again, talked about the sharpness of the pruning saw and managed to cut my left index finger in the same spot.
 

So whether you are coming to workshop to learn about pruning or just want to see if I will have a "threepeat" I look forward to seeing you on the 15th !


~Jim Hole

Autumn Tomatoes

The end of the 2016 tomato season is rapidly approaching. That doesn’t mean that you need to run out to the garden and strip every last fruit of off each plant, but you do want to keep a close eye on the weather. If frost threatens, keep some "Cloud Cover" fabric handy and drape it over the tomatoes. The fabric will provide a few degrees of frost protection for the foliage and fruit.
 
When it comes time for the final harvest both ripe and green fruit can be gathered. Green tomatoes will ripen inside your home provided it has reached the "breaker" stage. The breaker stage is the point where the fruit has reached sufficient maturity so that it will change colour once indoors. Fruit that hasn’t reached the breaker stage–indicated by a deep green colour–will not mature inside regardless of what treatments you provide. Light green tomatoes have excellent flavour but the deep green ones are, typically, inedible.
 
One technique that a lot of people love, is to cut-off the entire tomato plant at ground level–fruit intact–and hang the plants upside down in a heated shed or garage. The tomato plants continue to send sugars to the fruit–if only for a short period of time–allowing some of the fruit on the "fringe" to ripen. The other good thing is that hung tomatoes are less inclined to rot while hanging because of better air movement.


~Jim Hole

Growing Fall Bulbs In Pots

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When it comes fall planting, most people think of planting tulips into flowerbeds around the house or in the garden.
 
But here is something a bit different that you might want to try with your tulips this fall. Rather than planting your tulip bulbs into the ground, plant them into pots. I’ve done this for years because it is simple as can be, plus I have a blaze of colourful flowers long before anything else is transplanted outside.
 
Now, not everyone can put tulips into pots because one needs some free space and a cold storage area. But if you have garage or storage shed that is cold during winter (anything around the freezing mark but not down into the minus 20s!) and a bit of extra space, then you’re set. You’ll have tulips poking through the soil in March.
 

Here are the step by step instructions for very early spring tulips:

  • Choose a pot. I like bigger pots but smaller are just fine.
  • Add good quality potting soil to the pot. Garden soil is too heavy and dense, plus it often contains too many weed seeds.
  • Fill the pot to within about 15 cm of the top of the rim.
  • Place the tulip bulbs on the potting soil with the "pointy part up". Put lots of bulbs into the pot for a really good spring show. I like to plant the bulbs about 3cm apart.
  • Cover the bulbs completely with potting soil leaving a few centimeters of space below the rim so that the pot can be easily watered.
  • Water the pot thoroughly and then place it in a warm spot for at least 2 weeks to allow roots to develop. The rooted bulbs will not bloom, after rooting, until their "chilling requirement" has been met, which is equivalent to about a month or so of freezing to near freezing temperatures.
  • Once the bulbs have received their chilling requirement, they are ready to bloom. The trick at this point is to keep the tulips cold until you are ready to place them outside. If you warm the bulbs too early, the shoots will pop out of the potting soil and become floppy and die. I keep my tulips cold until about the 3rd week of March and then I place them on my deck and give them a good shot of water. If it does freeze outside even after the tulip shoots have emerged they won’t be harmed.


Usually, this pot planting technique allows me to enjoy tulips in early April - a good month before the regular garden tulips begin to bloom.
 
So if you have some extra cold space in your garage or cellar, give potted tulips a try. It really is a thrill to see tulips popping out of pots when there is still a foot of snow on the ground.

~Jim Hole

Only 131 Days Left Until Christmas!

This week, our growing team is – wait for it – pinching poinsettias for the Christmas season!
 
This time of year, I much prefer thinking about summer barbeques and cycling, but poinsettias have their own agenda. They need a good four months in our growing range to attain their full glorious colour in time for the beginning of the holiday season, so scheduling them correctly is critical. Poinsettias need to "bulk up" before the nights become longer than the days in late September. Once the short days start, poinsettias are triggered to initiate flowers and there is little that can be done to increase their final size.

Now, while I have you thinking Christmas, however fleeting that thought is, now is the time to at least give your Christmas office party some thought. Danny Hooper and his gang are returning to Hole’s this December for their annual "Deck the Hall Ball" multi-company Christmas party. It’s a party that is not to be missed and was so popular last year that it Danny has added additional nights on the schedule (December 9th , 10th ,16th and 17th).

It’s easy to buy tickets online by going to Dannyhooper.com and clicking on events. There will be great food from our Glasshouse Bistro and the wonderful down home fun that only Danny can deliver.
 
 And, of course, there will be poinsettias adorning the tables if we stick to the schedule!

Early Sowing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

~Jim Hole

The Seedling Boogie Woogie

Dad loved to sow bedding plant seeds. His first "sowing machine" was a hair clipper that Mom used to cut Dad’s hair. Dad attached a V-shaped piece of aluminum to the cutter end and would simply dump some seeds onto the "V", turn on the clipper, and the seeds would jump and separate so that they could be evenly distributed into the seedling flats. Dad had a really good eye for getting the seeds spaced just right in the flats, and he would check them every day to see how they were growing.

For the most part, Dad had great success growing seedlings with his "high tech" seeder and steady hand, but I remember one day when things got out of hand.

It was a March morning many years ago, when Dad decided that four flats of seedlings had grown to just the right stage for transplanting, so he gathered them up – two balanced on each arm – and was moving them to the transplanting area. He looked proud of the great job he had done – and justifiably so – because the germination was near perfect and the seedlings were tough and stocky. 

But as Dad was cautiously carrying the seedling flats to the transplanting area where Mom was waiting, he inadvertently stepped onto a greenhouse floor drain that should have had a metal grate over it, but for whatever reason, didn’t. The moment his foot hit the drain, Dad did a kind of, how shall I say, "boogie woogie" move somewhat reminiscent of a young lady trying to balance on impossibly tall high heels.

 The flats went flying in all directions and hundreds of valuable seedlings were scattered everywhere! Dad was unhurt but he was so angry with himself at the devastation that when Mom tried to calm him down he just got more angry. 

However, when Dad noticed that one seedling flat had escaped most of the damage by landing right side up on the floor I could see Dad’s demeanor change from rage to complete calm. He walked over to the unscathed flat, gently picked it up with his thumb and index finger on each side of the plastic flat. I thought, wow, what great composure Dad had after losing so many valuable seedlings. 

But then Dad did something that I didn’t see coming. He delicately threw the remaining good flat into the air much like a professional punter would do with a football, and kicked the flat as hard as he could. For a brief moment I was in shock, but within seconds we were all laughing at the absurdity of watching the flat spiral through the greenhouse.

Dad’s philosophy was that if you are going to do a job, do it to the best of your ability, but if you’re going to screw it up, then you might as well really screw it up! Whenever, I screw something up – which is not a rare as I would like it to be – the imagery of Dad and the flats always comes to mind. It is, strangely enough, very comforting.


~Jim Hole

Thoughtful Husband

This past weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to sold-out sessions on one of my favourite topics: vegetable gardening.

Given, the large number of people who attended the weekend sessions, I think 2016 will be the "year of vegetable gardening" in Canada. Let’s face it, with vegetable prices sky high in grocery stores, there is a pretty good chance that lawns may be sharing a portion of their real estate with lettuce!

If you missed last weekend’s talks, don’t worry. We are running them again in the upcoming weeks. The sessions are free but you do need to register. And keep in mind that even if you don’t have a penchant for vegetable gardening, I always leave plenty of time at the end for answering any gardening questions from turf to trees. It's always a favourite among attendees. 

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. And I must confess here and now that I couldn’t put together an attractive flower arrangement if my life depended on it. I might have peaked early - in grade 1, I think - when I gave my Mom a bouquet of dandelions!

Now-a-days, I rely on our skilled Floral Studio to assemble beautiful Valentine bouquets for my wife, and I’ve even gone one step further. I am on the "Unforgettable Bouquet" program that, essentially means our Floral Studio puts together a floral arrangement for me every month that I can take home. The flowers are spectacular, brighten our home and, for the most part, keep me in the "thoughtful" husband category without me having to remember to bring flowers home. Monthly bouquets are fabulous, but at the very least, they are terrific for the important dates that you can’t afford to miss like birthdays, anniversaries and, of course, Valentine’s Day.  


~Jim Hole

 

For more information on our Unforgettable Bouquet program,
please give us a call at 780 419 6800

Garden Surprise

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of speaking in Buffalo, Alberta. Buffalo is off the beaten path in south central Alberta but I loved driving through the wide-open prairie surrounded by endless sky. And the people of the Buffalo region are fabulous! They were eager to chat and to share their gardening experiences with me.

The one "thing" that I thought was particularly interesting about gardening in the buffalo region is something that must be in the back of the minds of local gardeners, and has to do with a sign that I saw on the highway to buffalo.

 The sign alerts drivers both to the fact that snakes occasionally find there way onto the highways in the region and the importance of drivers watching out for these incredible reptiles.

Now, I’m betting that snakes are an extremely rare find in Buffalo region gardens, but the possibility exists! I just think it would be pretty cool to see these amazing reptiles…at a very comfortable distance, of course.

~Jim Hole

Meyer Lemon

I love my lemon tree. It sits in a tall pot in my living room amongst some ferns and is in full bloom. Currently, I’d guess that it has about a hundred gorgeous, white, fragrant blooms and a half dozen small fruit. 

Now I would like to tell you that it took extraordinary skill to grow my flower laden lemon. But, to be honest, Mother Nature did 99% of the work.

So I thought I would share how she did it, with a bit of help from me:

I leave the lemon in a pot in my living room during the winter and then put the pot outside in May. The lemon sits in a blazing-hot spot on my deck and Mother Nature bathes the lemon with sunlight during the growing season and a few nice fruit develop by late summer.

During early fall, Mother Nature provides cooler temperatures that trigger flower formation and I move the ready-to-bloom plant inside.

From this point, Mother Nature hands the ball to me, so to speak, and I place a couple of grow lights a few centimeters away from the foliage to provide the energy needed to produce fruit. In a couple of months it’s harvest time, and by spring the lemon is back on my deck. It’s that simple.

If you are thinking about growing a Meyer lemon be aware that it is not as tart as your average lemon. It is sweet, juicy, and only mildly acidic. It's thought to be the result of a cross between a lemon and Mandarin orange, but there is still some uncertainty about its exact lineage.

So if you are inclined to try a lemon in your home, remember to let Mother Nature do most of the work. She’s happy to do it and will do a much better job than you or me.

~Jim Hole

One Big Brother On The Roof, One Little Brother On The Ground.

When I was a teenager, my older brother bet that I couldn’t catch a 30lb pumpkin if he lobbed it from the roof of our farmhouse. I took the bet, and I did, in fact, catch it – sort of. The pumpkin split in two right across my knee, and I was splattered with rind, seeds, and pulp. My brother, naturally, nearly laughed himself off the roof.

Having survived that ordeal, I retired from pumpkin catching but I still think that of all the vegetables pumpkins are the most fun to grow and the seeds are a true delicacy. 

Pumpkin seeds are surrounded by pulp but are fairly easy to extract if you put the pulp in a large water filled bowl and slosh the mixture around. Pumpkin seeds will float to the top and can then be transferred to a bowl. Toss in a bit of oil, swirl and then lay the seeds on a cookie sheet and bake. Few things are as tasty and nutritious as baked pumpkin seeds!

One word of caution. It’s better to remove the top of a pumpkin and scoop out the pulp to get to the seeds. The "one big brother on the roof and one little brother on the ground" technique is largely frowned upon today due to safety concerns.


~Jim Hole 

The Honey Wagon

Fall is a great time to improve your soil with the addition of organic matter. During the spring, the mad rush to get things planted often means that there is precious little time to ensure the soil is in top shape.  Right now, there is a good window of opportunity to add products like SeaSoil (composted fish waste and forest fines) to the garden which improve tilth (soil workability) and increase nutrients for all of your plants.
 
Growing up on the farm, once the fall harvest had been completed, we would concentrate on building our soil for next year’s crops. And one thing that I could always count on in October, were a few visits from the "Honeywagon".  Now, anyone who has grown up on a farm knows that Honeywagon is just a euphemism for a wagon that carries rather unpleasant smelling manure.
 
Mr. Raven, a farmer to the north of us had thousands of chickens (laying hens for egg production, to be more specific) and he would have thousands of gallons of liquefied chicken manure that he would spray onto the vegetable fields after harvest. Chicken manure is particularly "pungent" to say the least, but it was terrific stuff for maintaining the organic matter in our soil.
 
Whenever I would complain about the smell, Dad would always educate me about the importance of maintaining good soil tilth and fertility.

"Besides", Dad would state, "if you have a cold, nothing clears the sinuses better than the smell of chicken manure".
 
I quickly got used to the "sweet" smell of the Honeywagon at a young age, but as residential houses rapidly expanded toward our property line, I know that the arrival of the Honeywagon early on Sunday mornings wasn’t exactly the best way to kick off Sunday brunch.
 
But as the saying goes, "You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs". Then again, there wouldn’t be any eggs to break without healthy soil to provide grains for the chickens to eat.

~Jim Hole

Have Your Carve And Eat It Too

If you want the very best-tasting pumpkin pie, the one ingredient to avoid putting in your pie is…pumpkin.

Yes, I know this seems like a rather absurd statement, but commercial pumpkin pie fillings aren’t really made with pumpkins, rather they are made with specific varieties of butternut squash. 

Now, before you vent your outrage at the big food corporations for misleading consumers, keep in mind that the terms "Pumpkin" and "Squash" don’t really have a precise botanical meaning, and one really needs to delve into a bit of botany to understand how the two are related.

Most varieties of Halloween carving pumpkins are from the species Cucurbita pepo, whereas pumpkin pie fillings are varieties of Cucurbita moschata that includes the rich-flavoured and meaty, butternut squashes.

Of course, if you’re thinking, "Why can’t I have the best of both worlds – something that I could either carve or eat and still looks like a pumpkin?" Well, this year, we have the perfect solution to the pumpkin/squash conundrum. It’s sort of a "Have your carve and eat it too" scenario. Cinderella is a variety that has both a rich, red-orange skin and looks like a pumpkin, but has delicious orange flesh that can be baked or used in pies. 

But just remember that while Cinderella is great for cutting or culinary purposes, it is far too small to be used as a carriage.

 

~Jim 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

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 

Black Thumbs

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I have many people who tell me that they have black thumbs. Now, I don’t really believe that anyone truly has a black thumb, but if you are one of those people who is convinced that there isn’t a plant on this planet that you can keep alive, I have the answer: they’re called microgreens. Basically, if you can spill seeds out of package, then you can grow microgreens.
 
Microgreens are simply edible plants that are grown from seed to the seedling stage and then eaten in salads, sandwiches, or soups. The seeds are scattered onto a damp mat sitting in a plastic tray, covered with a transparent plastic hood, and then lit with a growlight nestled on top of the cover. In as little as 4 days, you can go from seed to edible microgreens!
 
I’m offering a workshop on microgreens on Tuesday, September 22nd which will include a “Nanodome” kit which has everything to get you from seed to seedlings very quickly (including a mini greenhouse and growlight).
 
If you arrive with a black thumb, I guarantee that you will leave with one that is a lot more verdant!

  
~Jim Hole 

If you're interested in learning about how easy and fun growing microgreens can be, and can't make the full workshop,, I'll be doing a free talk this Thursday the 17th at 6:30 inside Hole's. Feel free to stop by!