lois hole

Seasons In The Sun

Seasons In The Sun

By Lois Hole

Originally Published in the summer of 1998, the following article highlights Lois Hole's respect for the natural change of seasons and her acknowledgment that no garden is eternal and unchanging. As she describes, the passing of seasons – while daunting for some -- is just one more beautiful reason to enjoy gardening.


A friend of mine had always grown wonderful tomatoes in her backyard. She loved their fresh taste and the satisfaction she got from growing the plants herself. Over the years, however, she noticed that the flavour of her tomatoes gradually began to diminish. She hadn’t changed her watering or fertilizing practices, and she was planting the same varieties year after year, so the reason for the change was elusive.

My friend also had several trees in her backyard. She finally noticed that as her trees grew, they were shading out the tomato patch. The tomatoes were being deprived of their crucial source of energy—the sun’s rays—and that was enough to rob the tomatoes of their flavour. Such stories remind me that the sun has the most profound influence in the garden. Success in the garden ultimately revolves around the sun.

Just out of curiosity, I pulled out my copy of Climates of Canada to see how summer sunlight levels vary across the country, since day length is one of the ways that the sun affects plant growth. Many people are surprised to learn that corn will grow in Yellowknife, despite its rather short growing season. This is possible because northern areas have many more hours per day of sunlight, which somewhat offsets the cooler temperatures in these regions. Although the average frost-free period in Yellowknife is only 111 days, on June 15 the sun rises at 2:45 am and sets at 10:30 pm! Compare the average hours of sunlight between Yellowknife and Toronto: the southern city receives a little over 1000 hours of sunlight during July, while Yellowknife gets almost 1400 hours of sun. It’s no wonder that cabbages of monstrous size are often grown in the Territories, since those long days allow the leaves to use more sunlight, which generates more growth. The same sort of effect happens in Peace River, in northern Alberta: corn grown there will mature only a few days later than corn grown in Medicine Hat, close to the US border—even though the corn in Peace River gets planted much later! I have friends in both communities who grow vegetables, and it’s interesting to watch the friendly competition between north and south: whose crops will mature first? The south usually wins, but it is by no means a foregone conclusion.

The same combination of long days and cool temperatures creates the most vibrant flower colours, too, and long days can boost flower production. Snapdragons, for example, often enjoy an increase in flower numbers as the day’s length increases. Flower stalks that mature in June are about one-third longer than those that mature later in the season.

As you might suspect, low light levels tend to have adverse effects on nearly all plants. Fruit flavour can deteriorate quite noticeably under these conditions; tomatoes that get less than six hours of sunlight per day may taste mealy and unpleasant, and the sharp tang of apples won’t develop without plenty of bright sunlight. Most flowering plants won’t bloom at all if there isn’t enough light. Mandevilla, for example, is a gorgeous vine that produces pink, trumpet-shaped flowers, but it needs to accumulate a lot of energy from the sun’s rays before it will even consider producing flower buds.

However, too much sun can be just as bad as too little. Sunscald—the plant version of a sunburn – is a concern right across the country on hot, bright days. Plants affected by sunscald develop pale-yellow or greyish white patches on their leaves or fruit. This often happens when the plants are in a location that reflects the sun’s rays, such as next to a white stucco wall. I’ve had the fruit of my pepper and tomato plants burned badly by reflected light, so I’ve learned to plant them where this won’t happen; next to a darker-coloured wall, for example.

One danger, though, is exaggerated. According to a commonly held belief, you shouldn’t water on really hot days because water droplets on the leaves will magnify the sun’s rays and burn the plant. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this, from friends, professional growers’ magazines, and even community-service bulletins. But think about it for a minute: we often get bursts of rain followed by intense sun. I’ve never noticed hundreds of holes or burn marks on my trees or on the grass. In all my years of watering, I’ve seen no evidence of water droplets searing leaves or fruit. Perhaps this notion came about because pouring cold water on plants like African violets can sometimes cause chilling injury. White spots appear on leaves and flowers because of the sudden cold shock, but sunlight is not to blame.

There’s not much we can do about day length or the sun’s intensity, of course, but we can breed varieties that are adapted to these conditions. Strawberries, for example, typically bear fruit in June, when the days are longest. There are everbearing varieties as well, which bear mostly in June, but also sporadically through the course of the summer. The newest varieties of strawberry are the day neutrals. These plants are not influenced by day length and so bear fruit heavily from July until the first frost. Day neutrals were developed by crossing and back-crossing June-bearing types with a wild everbearing strawberry found in the mountains of Utah. (“Back-crossing” is the process of crossing hybrid varieties with original, heirloom cultivars.) The result is a vigorous plant that bears fruit much longer and much less sporadically than other varieties. I switched to the ‘Tri-Star’ day-neutral variety several years ago, and the difference in yield and flavour has been just tremendous. I always look forward to seeing what kinds of new varieties will be tested in our trial gardens; many of these, like the day- neutral strawberries, will be able to make more efficient use of the sun’s energy.

Keeping the sun in mind will give you a big leg up in your pursuit of the perfect garden. As the Beatles used to say...here comes the sun, and it’s all right.

Favourite Herbs: Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm

Melissa officinalis

Semi-hardy perennial; usually grown as an annual in colder climates

Height 20 to 80 cm, can reach 1.5 m; spread to 60 cm.

Loosely branched, with upright growth habit.

Try these!

Melissa officinalis (common lemon balm) is the most common variety and is widely available.

Planting

Lemon balm may be started indoors from seed or grown from young plants purchased from a garden centre.

How much: At least two plants.

When: Early spring; can withstand a light frost.

Where: Full sun; will tolerate part shade. Gold or variegated types prefer partial shade. Prefers well-drained, sandy soil. Space plants 30 to 45 cm apart.

Care & Nurture

Lemon balm is easy to grow! Prune regularly to promote bushiness. Cut plants to ground level when flowers begin to appear. Where lemon balm grows as a perennial, it should be divided every three to four years in the spring or fall to encourage new growth. Lemon balm is susceptible to powdery mildew.

Harvesting

Leaves can be harvested throughout the growing season, until the flowers begin to bloom.

For best flavour: Harvest only young leaves: older leaves have a stale, musty flavour.

Leaves: Clip individual leaves as needed. Cut sprigs and use whole, or strip the leaves. Discard leaf stalks.

Flowers: Edible, but not normally eaten.

Preserving the Harvest

Lemon balm is at its best used fresh: the leaves lose their intense flavour when dried or stored. Preserve by drying.

Tips

  • Lemon balm self-seeds and spreads easily, so you might want to grow it in a pot or isolate it in a section of your garden.
  • Like all lemon-scented herbs, lemon balm’s flavour is more intense when grown in poorer soil, but the overall plant growth will be lusher in rich soil.

To Note:

  • As the name implies, the leaves of this herb give off a strong lemon scent when crushed. It’s a wonderful plant for attracting bees; in fact, the genus name for lemon balm, Melissa, comes from the Greek word for bees.
  • Lemon balm may be used in aromatic herb baths. Dried leaves add a lemon scent to potpourris and herb pillows.
  • Lemon balm is the basis for the famous Melissa cordial Eau–de-Mellise des Carmes. It is also important in Benedictine and Chartreuse liqueurs.
  • In the language of flowers, lemon balm symbolizes sympathy.
  • Lemon balm is reputed to repel flies and ants.
  • An infusion of lemon balm may be used as a facial balm and as a rinse for greasy hair.
  • The London Dispensary in 1696 stated that “Lemon balm given every morning will renew youth, strengthen the brain and relieve languishing nature.” The Swiss physician Paracelus called lemon balm the “elixir of life.” He believed that the herb could completely revive people.
  • The word balm is a contraction of balsam, traditionally considered the king of the sweet-smelling oils.

Favourite Herbs: Basil

Basil

Ocimum basilicum

Very tender annual

Height 30 to 60 cm; spread 30 to 45 cm.

Highly aromatic branching herb that forms large, lush mounds in the garden or container.

Try these!

Ocimum basilicum ‘Sweet Basil’ is the standard, familiar green basil; it’s prolific, with nice fragrance and colour.

Ocimum basilicum ‘Dark Opal’: Nice spicy flavour, strong flavour and scent; leaves deep purple and bronze

Ocimum basilicum ‘Genovese’: Extra-large leaves with great fragrance and flavour; great pesto basil; originated from the Genoa area of Italy

Ocimum basilicum ‘Sweet Dani’: Very fragrant lemon scent, especially when leaves are rubbed; an All-America Selections winner in 1998

Planting

Basil can be difficult to grow from seed. If you enjoy a challenge, start indoors from seed; otherwise, grow from young plants purchased from a garden centre.

How much: Two or three plants; plant up to ten if you intend to make pesto.

When: Two weeks after the average last spring frost date.

Where: Full sun, sheltered. Excellent in containers. Needs rich, well-drained soil. Space plants 30 cm apart in the garden.

Care & Nurture

Basil requires extra care to grow well. Overwatering can cause root-rot. Pinch off shoots to promote robust new growth and a bushy form. Basil tends to get woody when it gets old.

Harvesting

For the most bountiful harvest, prune flowers as soon as they appear. Basil's flavour grows much stronger as the leaves age, losing much of their delicate, sweet scent.

For best flavour: Choose young, small tender leaves for mild aroma and taste. Harvest mid-morning, after the dew has evaporated and before the day gets too hot.

Leaves: Harvest individual leaves by clipping the leaf stalk where it attaches to the plant stem. Cut sprigs and use whole, or strip the leaves. Discard tough stalks.

Flowers: Pick just as flowers emerge. Clip the flower stalk where it attaches to the plant stem; discard stalk.

Preserving the Harvest

The best way to preserve basil is to freeze it: frozen basil retains nearly 100% of its essential oils. Blanch the leaves quickly in boiling water, dry them on paper towel, and freeze them in sealed plastic bags. A short-term way to preserve basil is in oil. Wash and dry the leaves and then pack them into a clean, dry glass jar. (It's important to use a glass jar, as plastic will leach out the flavour of the leaves.) Sprinkle salt over each layer of leaves, and when the jar is full, fill it with olive oil to cover the leaves. Close the jar with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator. The leaves will keep for 7 to 10 days.

Tips

  • Here are some other basil varieties you might like to try:
    • Ocimum basilicum minimum ‘Green Globe’ is a very dense, rounded basil with a uniform growth habit.
    • Ocimum basilicum ‘Nufar’ is a new sweet basil hybrid that has shown excellent resistance to fusarium; it’s a Genovese-type basil with great fragrance and flavour.
    • Ocimum sp. ‘Siam Queen’ was an All-America Selection in 1997; it has deep-purple stems and flowers that contrast with its dark-green leaves, and its flavour is spicy with an anise-licorice scent and flavour.
    • Ocimum ‘African Blue’ has a different growth habit and leaf form from sweet basils: its leaves aren’t as smooth and have a slight bluish tone, and the leaf veins, stems, and flowers are purple; it has an unusual flavour with a sweet camphor scent. African Blue is probably the easiest basil to grow indoors because it is not susceptible to fusarium.
  • Basil seed often harbours a fungal disease called Fusarium oxysporum. Fusarium affects germination and causes sudden wilting of leaves; the stems turn brown, and the plant eventually topples and dies. The fungus can be caused by both contaminated seeds and soil, and spreads easily through contaminated soil and leaves. There is currently no way to control this disease, but some seed companies are attempting to eliminate fusarium from basil seed.
  • Basil is among the least frost-tolerant herbs. Around the greenhouse, we joke that you should never walk by basil with a tray of ice cubes, lest you freeze it. Shadier locations cause the plants to stretch, leaving them weak, gangly, and more susceptible to disease.
  • To promote leaf growth, pick off flower shoots as they appear, unless you want to harvest a few flowers, which taste like the leaves, only milder..
  • Avoid adding compost to the soil where basil is to be grown: compost tends to increase root rot problems.

To Note:

  • Smaller varieties of basil can be used as edging for garden borders. In pots or hanging baskets, basil can serve as a foil for brightly coloured bedding plants.
  • Basil's common name is derived from the Greek word for king—"basilikon." In ancient Greece, only the sovereign was allowed to cut basil with a golden sickle.
  • In India, basil is sacred, dedicated to the gods Vishnu and Krishna. It is commonly grown in pots near temples. Recognizing its importance in Indian culture, during the colonial era the British used it to swear oaths upon, much like a Bible.
  • Basil is considered a symbol of fertility in Western culture. For example, in Romania, when a young man accepts a sprig of basil from a girl, it signals their engagement. In Italy, when a woman puts a pot of basil on her balcony, it means that she is ready to receive suitors—in fact, basil is referred to as "Kiss Me Nicholas" in some regions of Italy.

Planning an event? Rent a patio planter!

Save money at your next event! Hole's Greenhouses rents patio planters for your wedding, anniversary or other special event.

Here's how it works:

  1. Visit Hole's Greenhouses 7 days before your event.
  2. Pick out the planters you would like. We recommend snapping a picture of the planters with your phone.
  3. Email our Information Centre at questions@holesonline.com and include contact information, rental dates, location, number of planters required, indicate pick up or delivery and include the pictures of the planters if you are able to. 
    • If you prefer, you may place your order over the phone at 780-419-6800 (9am-4:30pm, Monday-Friday; excluding holidays.)
  4. Our Information Centre will respond within one business day. Weekend enquiries will be answered on Monday. 
  5. Once confirming your order, we will tag your planters and have them ready for you to pick up or for delivery!

Rental Fee: 25% of the retail price of the patio planter/per day

Delivery & Pickup Fee: $100*

*subject to additional fees depending upon special requirements such as location, delivery times, venue restrictions, site preparation, size of order, etc.

Payment Terms: patio planter retail price must be fully paid along with Delivery & Pickup Fee, should delivery and pickup be required. Upon return, 75% of the patio planter retail price is credited back to the renter. Damaged planters will not be given full credit.

Visit Hole's today, or contact our Information Centre (9am-4:30pm, Monday-Friday; excluding holidays) by emailing questions@holesonline.com or by calling 780-419-6800 during specified hours.

Mom's Favourite Plant, By Jim Hole

When I think back to Mom and her Mother’s Day ritual, it revolved around ensuring that things went smoothly both in the greenhouses and in the vegetable field.

There really was precious little time for her to relax on Mother’s Day, and even if you were to suggest that she should take it easy on her special day, she couldn’t imagine not being out and about and chatting with customers in our greenhouses.

One question I still get asked regularly is, “What was your Mom’s favourite plant?” It seems like a pretty simple question, but she, like so many avid plant people, didn’t really have a favourite plant.

I did learn a lot about the plants that were dear to her when we walked around the greenhouses and fields. What she loved more than anything on these walkabouts was to graze on fruits and vegetables. She would grab a handful of raspberries, strawberries, currants, gooseberries, Nanking cherries and Saskatoons–among others–and pop them in her mouth. Peas and string beans were other favourites, along with some crunchy cucumbers.

Mom grew up in Buchanan, Saskatchewan and grazing was something that she did frequently in her parent’s garden–it was in her blood!  She also kept cherry tomatoes in containers on her patio so that she could grab a handful anytime she had a craving for some sweet, juicy fruit.

When it came to flowers, she always planted a wide variety of bedding plants because she loved the masses of gorgeous flowers throughout the year. She also planted several rows of gladiolus corms because she loved to use the flower spikes in vases. During the summer, she always had massive displays of ‘glads’ in her living room and kitchen.

Now, while Mom would say that she didn’t have a favourite flower, if you really tried hard, and told Mom to pick just one flower that was special to her, she would always say it was the marigold.

That answer caught a lot of people by surprise because while marigolds are handsome flowers, they aren’t spectacular. Mom chose the marigold because it was the first bedding plant that launched Mom and Dad into their greenhouse business. 

 

Today, whenever I am in the greenhouses and see the flats of marigolds growing in our greenhouses, I always think of Mom. For me, it’s as much symbolic as it is beautiful.

 

- Jim Hole


This year, Hole's Greenhouses is carrying the Chica Orange Marigold. Treat your gardens or commercial landscapes to colour all season long. Superior uniformity, early-to-flower, with excellent performance.

More Than A Gift

A nurse from the U of A Hospital came to see me about her orchid. This orchid was particularly special because it was a gift from my son and daughter-in-law one Christmas to thank her for the wonderful care my 3-year old grandson had received when he was in the hospital.
 
This same orchid, still thriving 15 years later, was growing well but desperately needed to be repotted. She was terrified to transplant it herself because she didn’t want to kill it.
As we talked some more, she told me that she cherished this particular plant because it was a reminder of the good she tries to do every day.
 
I remember a woman who brought in a tired looking peace lily that she wanted us to help her repot and clean up.  She had given it to her mother many years ago when her mom was moved into an assisted living home. Her mother had diligently cared for it every day. When mom passed away that peace lily became the one living memory of her mom and she desperately wanted to keep it.
 
Plants are unique gifts. They don't get put in closets, or eaten, or forgotten.
They can remain in a home or office for years, requiring only simple, regular care.
 
Plants can be more than just a gift. They can be symbols of love, affection and gratitude. They respond to care and nurture, and over the years, plants can become a cherished reminder of those special people that gave them to us, and the memories we associate with them.


-Lois Hole

Words To Live By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer

Something Almost Magical

We once planted a large patch of tomatoes right next to our house, on a south-facing wall. As usual, we planted extra, since it wasn’t unusual for only a portion of the crop to come to fruition. Wouldn’t you know it—the season turned out to be perfect! The summer was long and hot, with just the right amount of moisture. As a result, we wound up with tons of tomatoes, more than we could ever hope to use or sell.

One day, a friendly Italian man was driving by and spotted the tomato motherlode. With a grin, he offered to take away any extras we had. Well, we filled the box of his 1958 Chevy half-ton right to the brim. He told us he was going to make the load into sauce—surely enough to last a lifetime! A tomato or two bounced out of the back of the truck as he drove off with a happy wave. 

I’ve always believed that no other vegetable can produce such spontaneous joy in people; there’s just something magical about tomatoes.

A Good Start

Tomatoes need a lot of care, and choosing a location for them is just the first step. I always make sure to give them one of the garden “hot spots,” along our south-facing wall. With our climate, I put transplants into the garden, and I always use top-quality plants. Buying poor plants never makes sense; use good quality plants that are sure to bear lots of fruit rather than poor plants that won’t yield well. I always ensure that the plants have been “hardened off,” that is, acclimatized to the harsher conditions they face outdoors. Plants that haven’t been properly hardened off will be set back.

I’m alert to cool night-time temperatures and ready to run to the rescue when necessary. If there is any threat of frost, I cover the plants with blankets or towels: tomatoes simply can’t take the cold.

I use cages for my determinate (bush) tomato plants. Although it isn’t strictly necessary, I find these plants benefit from the use of cages, since bush tomato plants tend to spread across the ground. The foliage becomes quite thick and bushy, protecting the fruit from sun scald, but fruit often lay on the ground. Cages hold the fruit of the soil, decreasing the threat of slugs and soil-borne diseases. Tall-growing indeterminate tomato plants, of course, must be staked and pruned.

Caring for tomatoes may be demanding work, but biting into the sweet, red fruit makes it all worthwhile.

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer

A Life Well Lived

People sometimes marvel at my busy schedule and ask me how I find the energy to manage it. I don’t think I’m some kind of superwoman. I pretty much take things as they come and deal with them one at a time. If life starts to get a little crazy, there’s no reason to go crazy along with it. Stay calm, keep moving, and you’ll always find a way to work things through.


My mother-in-law was a much busier woman than I’ll ever be, and I never heard her complain, not once.  Grandma Hole knew what it was to work. In an era where child-rearing was largely the job of the mother, she raised nine children—seven boys and two girls—and she was there for each of them. And this was a woman who didn’t even have a washing machine until after her fifth child was born!


She always found a way to make every minute of her day count. If a friend dropped by for coffee, Grandma Hole always had her mending bag handy, so she could darn socks while she chatted.


Likewise, she never wasted a single speck of food. She fed nine children on a very limited budget. But nobody cooked a better meal. Nothing fancy, but always very tasty. She prepared the big meal at noon, and in the evening it was a salad, some cold meat, some nice bread, and lots of tea. She was great at making bread pudding and other puddings with sauces. Those puddings taught me that there’s something to be said for English cuisine after all!


From todays’ perspective, Grandma Hole’s life might seem overly traditional and confining. I know she never felt that way, though. She took great pride in running a comfortable, supportive, efficient household. Although she was never involved in her husband’s plumbing business, they both recognized the indirect role she played in its success. If she hadn’t been able to handle things so well at home, that business wouldn’t have stood much of a chance.


She also saw her own success reflected in the lives of her children. She was determined that all of her children would be educated—including her daughters, an attitude not shared by everyone in those days. If she found one of her girls doing housework, she would say, “Don’t bother with that. I can do the housework, but I can’t do your studying for you.”


As a result, all nine of her children graduated from the University of Alberta. At the time, this was an astonishing achievement. The Edmonton Journal published the story, complete with a picture, and that clipping remained a treasured keepsake for the rest of her life.


If I do one thing differently form Grandma Hole, it’s that I try to take time to truly relax. I remember her telling me once, “I always felt guilty if I was reading a book, because I thought I should be doing something more productive.” If she was reading when her husband came home, she quickly put the book away and got busy doing something else. When she got older and could afford to relax a little, she realized she really didn’t know how.


Just the same, she has always remained an inspiration to me. She taught me that by caring for others, and helping them succeed, you can create a truly successful and fulfilling life for yourself. Anytime I feel I’m under too much pressure, or have too much to do, I take a deep breath and ask myself, “How would Grandma Hole have dealt with this?”

Thanks, Grandma Hole.

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer

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

 

Trial And Error

When my husband Ted and I first arrived on our farm just north of St. Albert, Alberta, we hadn’t the first idea what we were going to do with it. Ted had just completed his degree in agriculture, but that didn’t exactly make us farmers. As a child, I had spent only brief periods on my grandparents’ farm, and Ted couldn’t claim even that much experience.


Still, the day we stood together for the first time on that gently sloping hillside, gazing down toward the Sturgeon River, we knew we had found the right place. We were young and we had a gorgeous piece of land: our potential seemed limitless.


Ted reached down and grabbed a handful of topsoil, squeezed it in his fist, and smelled it. I was surprised that someone who hadn’t been brought up on a farm would ever think to do that. There’s a beautiful smell to good soil, particularly when it’s a little damp. Ted, from his courses at university knew that. He inhaled deeply, then turned to me and said, “This is number one soil.” It was so black, so deep, so rich, and so wonderful. He knew we could grow practically anything we wanted on this land.


Of course, no matter how perfect your little corner of earth, finding the right use for it takes a certain amount of trial and error. And in those first years, we certainly had our share of trials and errors. We tried again, but at 200 acres, our farm wasn’t nearly big enough for that. We tried chickens and found we didn’t have the right facilities. We tried pigs, we tried turkeys, we tried cattle—nothing seemed to work out.


During those lean times, we developed a few tricks to get by. I’d say to Ted, “Let’s go to my mom’s for supper tonight.” And then we’d go to his Mother’s for supper the next night. I have to admit it was a conscious strategy  on our part. Of course, the benefits reached far beyond the money we saved on groceries. Parents always love to see their kids, and those frequent visits brought us that much closer together. But parents can offer only so much shelter. In the end, we still had to fend for ourselves. Sometimes, our lack of experience was positively comical—although I must admit it didn’t always seem so at the time.


One winter, we were really struggling to make ends meet. Ted was working in Edmonton to pay off the debts from our previous year’s mishaps (this was a recurring pattern in those days). I stayed at home and tended the cattle.


One of my jobs was to keep their trough filled with water. Well, it was one of the coldest winters you could imagine, just desperately cold, and our pump kept freezing up. Every evening we’d be out in the barn, thawing out the darned pump. One time we even had a friend come out with a blowtorch. No matter what we tried, by morning Ted was off to work and I was left at home with a frozen pump. I finally resorted to melting snow, working all day just trying to keep the cattle in water.


Much later, long after the weather had warmed up, Ted told our tale of woe to a farmer friend. He came over to our place, took one look at the pump, and said, “You know, the problem is that your pump doesn’t have a drain hole.” All we needed was one tiny hole to allow the water to drain back down and that pump would never have frozen. It was that simple.


The funniest part was we never got discouraged. I still wonder about that. I guess I always had the feeling that since it couldn’t get any worse, it would have to get better. We had found our place in the world, and by God we were going to make it work.


Eventually, of course, I was proven right. It took us quite a few years, but we finally figured out how to make the most of our location. Even through the hardest years, while we struggled with our wheat, chickens, and cattle, our vegetable garden kept thriving. When people started stopping by the side of the road, offering money for our extra produce, the light bulb finally came on.


To this day, our vegetable garden sits right next to our old house, on the very patch of land where Ted first smelled the soil. Trees protect it on three sides, and its gentle southward slope seems custom-made to catch the spring sunshine. Every year we’re able to get onto the land weeks ahead of most of our neighbours, and we enjoy some of the earliest and most bountiful crops you could imagine.


Like the plants in a garden, people will flourish if they find the right location. After more than 40 years on our farm—years of frustration and triumph, of sorrow and joy, of hard, dirty work and good, clean fun—I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A farmer

 

A Walk In My Garden

They say that smell can bring back memories more strongly than any other sense, and I’m inclined to agree. Many times I’ve been stopped in my tracks by a familiar scent wafting past my nose, disoriented for a moment by a feeling of being drawn backward in time. For just an instant, it’s like revisiting the past. It’s an unsettling, though not unpleasant, phenomenon—one I’ve experienced many times and often witnessed in others. I’m especially struck by how the smell and taste of a fresh vegetable harvest can bring out the people’s most vivid memories—you can see it in their eyes and in their smiles. Whenever I see this happen, I remember a particular harvest, more than forty years ago.

Ted’s father, Harry—we called him Grandpa Hole after Bill was born—was a plumbing contractor—a tough, no-nonsense man. But he had many other characteristics. He was an unrepentant practical joker, with a deeply introspective side that revealed itself only rarely. During the winter of 1954, he became desperately ill, his trademark vitality sapped by disease. One morning, late in the spring, my mother-in-law called to say she was planning to cook a piece of lamb, his favourite meal. Even though it was awfully early in the season, she hoped I might be able to find some fresh peas, because they were his favourite vegetable.

That, I think, was the signal that the end was approaching, the admission that Grandpa Hole’s last days had arrived. I told Grandma Hole that I would do my best. I pulled on a sweater, picked up a basket, and went out to look.

It was a cool, misty morning, with the tiniest bit of drizzle. The moment I left the house, the scents of the garden began to draw me back to the times when Grandpa Hole would come out to visit the farm. He would wander out into the fields, alone, find a spot, and just stand there, becoming part of the landscape. He’d put his hands on his hips and inhale the fresh, clean air, reveling in the innocent atmosphere of the land, not worrying about his business or anything else. 

As I entered the garden, I could almost see him there, standing in the field wearing his favourite suit, bathed in orange and yellow light as the sun peeked over the horizon.

I checked the first vine I found and caught a glimpse of several pods glistening with dew, barely ready to be picked. I opened one of the pods for a sample and popped a few into my mouth. To this day I remember how those peas tasted—fresh and cold, sweet and juicy. The garden was lush with peas, and I realized it was giving me an extraordinary, priceless gift.

Ted’s dad got his dinner, roast lamb with fresh peas and mint sauce. He ate every bite, exclaiming what a treat it was to have a home-cooked meal, complete with garden vegetables. In his eyes I could see the memories of happier days. I like to imagine he was thinking about those quiet times in our field, enjoying being one with the land.

Three weeks later, he died peacefully.

Compared with everything Grandpa Hole did for me and my family, that meal seems like such a tiny gesture. I think, though, that he truly appreciated the memories that the taste and smell of those vegetables brought back. I know I will never cherish another harvest as I did that basket of peas, and I know that whenever I want to revisit days past, all I need to do is walk in my garden.

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer

Good-bye, California!

I once gave a talk in Toronto, and the woman who introduced me joked, “I want everyone to sit up and listen very carefully to Mrs. Hole, because if she can manage to grow things in Alberta, she must truly be an expert on gardening.”

Now it’s true that Alberta’s climate poses some real challenges to a gardener. But it has its advantages too. Some crops—like lettuce, spinach, and asparagus—absolutely love our cool spring nights, while others—like tomatoes, corn, and cucumbers—take advantage of our long, sunny summer days to make the most of our short growing season. And even though a frigid January morning might make us wonder what we’re doing here, there’s something to be said for the cycle of the seasons. Our long, cold winters make springtime so special.

And, as friends of ours once discovered, even paradise has its drawbacks.

They had moved to California from Edmonton in pursuit of endless sunshine and prosperity. Unfortunately, although they managed to scrape by for several years, luck was not with them. Their situation went from bad to worse, and they decided it was time to come back home to Edmonton.

They sold their car to help pay for bus tickets, packed their belongings into boxes, and started the long trip north. As they were cruising along, they spotted a Volkswagen Beetle, crammed with suitcases and boxes, also heading north. As the Beetle pulled ahead of the bus, they saw a hand-lettered sign on the back: “Good-bye California and all your God-damn geraniums!”

Our friends often chuckle about that sign, and say how nice it is to live in a place where geraniums have the good sense to die every winter. Hear, hear!

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer

The Mud Bowl

One sunny day in July, we were out in the field with our boys, weeding. Jim, who was ten years old at the time, turned to his dad and asked, “What day can I have for my summer holidays?”
In farming, good weather is almost always accompanied by hard work. You really do have to make hay while the sun shines, as the saying goes. Since we didn’t have much hired help back then, we couldn’t afford to waste time. So when we did get a good rain, it was cause for both celebration and relaxation.


While the city folks sat inside lamenting all their spoiled fun, we thought about our thirsty crops. Rain is a make-or-break proposition for farmers. If, as the legend goes, the Inuit have twenty different words for snow, farmers have almost as many names for rain. There’s drizzle, soaking rain, pounding rain, and the highly coveted three-day-soaker, to name just a few.
Anytime the right kind of rain came at just the right time, Ted would gaze out of the window and say, “That’s a million dollar rain.” He wasn’t just thinking about our place, but about all the farms in our area.


A good rain was our signal for an impromptu holiday. Since there was no work we could do out there in the muck, we gave ourselves permission to take a break and have fun.


When the boys were young and the first truly rainy morning came along each summer, I’d turn to them and say, “Hey boys, it’s your birthday today!” Now Bill’s real birthday is in August and Jim’s is in early October, both very hectic times on our farm. It’s not that they didn’t know the truth. As far as they were concerned, though, their birthdays were on the same day. They never asked, “How come you didn’t say yesterday that tomorrow was our birthday?” or “Why does it always rain on our birthday?” They just accepted the arrangement.


We’d have an instant party. I’d whip together a cake, and they’d invite their friends from down the road. If my mom and dad had time, they’d come out and join the celebration.


I used the same strategy with the annual Klondike Days festival in Edmonton. If the weather was sunny all that week, we wouldn’t get the chance to go to the Exhibition. However, there was almost always at least one wonderfully rainy day. We’d put on our rubber boots and raincoats, and off we’d go. With practically the entire fairgrounds to ourselves, we’d have an absolute ball.


I remember one rainy afternoon when the boys were quite a bit older. A downpour turned a summer fallow field into a sea of mud. The boys had a brilliant idea. They called up their football buddies from high school and a whole crowd came over. Out they went, into the field. Although they started out playing an actual game, it quickly dissolved into chaos. The boys were slipping and sliding all over the place, tackling each other and diving face-first to make spectacular catches. I’ve never heard so much whooping and laughing in all my life. When it was over, we actually had to hose them all down. The “Mud Bowl” remains a neighbourhood legend to this day.


Yes, rainy days certainly provided us with some of our best times and fondest memories on the farm. Maybe that’s why I still enjoy splashing through a mud puddle now and then.

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer

 

Stirring The Soil

Gardening offers many pleasures, but weeding isn’t one of them. Most successful gardeners develop their own special tricks to make the job easier, and if you coax them a bit, they’ll share their secrets with you. The best weeding trick I’ve ever learned, however, didn’t come from a friend or a book.


One spring day, Ted seeded an enormous patch of carrots, with 85 beautifully even rows. A few days later, while we were eating lunch, Ted and I noticed that our pigs seemed a bit noisier than usual. Gradually, a horrible realization sank in: the pigs were loose. Sure enough, when we looked out, we saw the whole bunch of them, rolling around in the soft, moist soil of the carrot patch.


I was just sick. Ted put on his bravest face and said, “Oh, Lois, don’t worry. I’ll re-seed it tomorrow.” Well, of course, the next morning, rain set in and didn’t let up for days. Ted never did get back to re-seeding.


A week later, I walked out to the garden. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were rows of seedlings, as neat and straight as could be. And any place that the pigs had rolled, there were no weeds, while the places they had missed were full of tiny emerging weed seedlings.


I was ready to let the pigs out again!
 
When I thought about it, it made sense. While those pigs had been having their fun, they were exposing thousands of tiny weeds to the elements. Meanwhile, a half inch below the surface, the carrot seeds remained safe and sound.


It’s called “stirring the soil,” and you can use the same approach even if you don’t have pigs. When you plant your garden, say in early April, go out with a rake about two weeks later. Turn the prongs up to the sky and go over the entire area you planted. Just move the surface soil around. You won’t do any harm to your garden, but you’ll kill so much chickweed, you won’t believe it.


When you seed again a couple of weeks later, you should wait only seven or eight days before raking, because the soil has begun to warm up and the seeds will germinate more quickly. By late May, wait only four days. With just a few minutes’ work, you can save yourself literally hours of weeding.


Ted took this trick a step further. He always harrowed the potato field just before the plant emerged, to kill the competing weeds. He’d hitch spring-tooth harrows to the Massey Ferguson and drive along at about ten kilometres an hour, disturbing the soil as much as possible without damaging the crops. It was a great time-saver in the long run.


It goes to show you, if you pay attention, you never know what you might learn, even from pigs.


About fifteen years after the “pig incident”, I gave this tip to a group of farm women. I had always thought it a remarkable pearl of wisdom. But that afternoon, an elderly woman came up to me and said, “Lois, my grandmother did that, my mother did that, and I’ve done that, and it works like a damn.”


-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer

The Dog And The Turkey

Sometimes it’s wise to keep your mistakes to yourself.

One June, the daughter of one of our close friends was getting married. When there’s an occasion like that in a farming community, everybody naturally pitches in. Her family was planning to hold the gift opening on the day after the wedding, and I offered to roast the turkey.

I must say I was pleased with myself when I took it out of the oven. I’d never seen such a glorious-looking bird: it had to be 35 pounds if it was an ounce.

I transported my creation out to the Laurentian, opened the passenger door, and set it onto the floor. As I ran back to the house to grab my purse, the heavenly aroma of the roast turkey wafted through the air.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought it smelled good. As I came back out, I saw our dog’s backside sticking out the door of the car. And boy, was her tail wagging! When I screamed blue murder, she took off, a drumstick clamped defiantly in her mouth.

I was filled with dread as I ran to the car to assess the damage. My heart sank at the thought of all those guests trying to make due with nothing more than rolls and potato salad. But thankfully, the rest of the bird was untouched.

What else could I do? I carefully sliced away the damaged part, climbed into the car, and drove to the reception. By the time I arrived, I had my story straight. “Ted just loves a leg of turkey,” I explained, “and I thought you wouldn’t miss it.”

Ted has laughed about the story ever since. But do me a favour: if you happen to bump into my neighbours, don’t tell on me!

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer

Listen To The Radio

If our life were made into a movie, the soundtrack would be CBC radio. From our earliest days on the farm, the radio has provided us with company, entertainment, information, and a link to the rest of the world.

I think of the long days we spent in the bottom of the barn, cutting seed potatoes. Without the radio, the job would have been painfully monotonous. Instead, it’s one of my warmest memories. Thanks to the CBC, the air was filled with voices and stories from across the country. We would cut and chop, chatting about whatever show happened to be on, and before we knew it, the job was done.

In the early days, before the children were born, I often found myself alone on the farm. Ted, a plumber by trade, would spend his days in Edmonton throughout the winter, while I stayed home and did chores. I never felt isolated, though. With the radio playing all day, I knew what was going on in the world.

As the boys grew up, I liked the idea that they were so well informed. They were always eager to discuss current events, and they formed strong political opinions long before they were old enough to vote. Of course, if they were working alone, they’d usually switch over to a rock n’ roll station if the program didn’t interest them. But over time, they’ve come to appreciate the CBC as much as we do.

We relied on the CBC for vital information, like weather forecasts and farm reports, but its presence was far more pervasive than that. At the breakfast table, we’d hear the national anthem right before the day’s first newscast at 5:30am. On most Saturday afternoons, you could find the boys laughing uproariously at some comedy show. In bed, before drifting off to sleep, we could listen to classical music.

When an important news story broke, we always heard it first on the CBC. Even though we lived on a farm, we felt connected to events around the globe. I’ll never forget the day we were working in the barn and the announcer cut in to say that President Kennedy had been shot. For the rest of the day, we followed that awful story, glued to the radio.

The CBC remains a huge part of our lives. If I give a gardening talk out of town, I do my best to be finished and back in my car by 9:00pm. That way, I can drive home listening to Ideas with Lister Sinclair. In the kitchen, as I prepare the noon meal, This Morning keeps me company (although I must admit I miss Peter Gzowski). I believe in learning something new every day, and the CBC makes that not only possible but inevitable.

You can imagine the excitement I felt the first time I appeared on a CBC show! Without the CBC, my life would have been much poorer in so many ways. It’s truly worth celebrating. 

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer

Food For Thought

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer

Trial by Fire

turkeys-alberta-stalbert

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