potatoes

Edmonton Frost Warning - What to Harvest, What to Cover, and What to Leave Alone

Edmonton Frost Warning: What to Harvest, What to Cover, and What to Leave Alone

A frost warning is in effect and we've received a lot of phone calls and emails from people asking about what can stay outside and what needs to come in.
Here's our quick guide:

 

  • Apples: A light frost will not affect the apples and may even make them sweeter. Barring a severe September storm, leave your apples on the tree until they are ripe (mid- to late- September for most late bearing apples).

  • Beans and Peas: Will not tolerate frost. Harvest these guys and eat them up!

  • Beets, Carrots, Onions, Parsnips, Potatoes: Protected underground, these vegetables do fine in a light frost and their flavour will likely improve with the cold. That said, harvest them before the ground freezes.

  • Chard, Kale, and Cabbage: These plants should all survive a light frost. Cold temperatures will even intensify the colour and flavour of chard, and may sweeten cabbage.

  • Corn: Corn is frost sensitive. If your corn is ready, pick it now. If it is not yet ready to harvest, cross your fingers and hope for the best. A hard frost will reduce the shelf life of corn to 3 to 4 days.

  • Lettuce and Salad Greens: Cold will affect the look and texture of lettuce and salad greens, but they can survive a light frost. If you’d like, harvest the tops of the lettuce and see if they come back afterwards.

  • Strawberries: If they're ready: harvest them, if not: cover them. Frost can affect the texture of the berries.

  • Tomatoes and Peppers: Harvest any ripe tomatoes and all peppers. Unripe tomatoes are bit more complicated. If you’re feeling cautious and would rather not deal with any stress, harvest them all now—ripe or not.

    If your tomatoes are in containers and you’re feeling daring (and if the forecast cooperates), you may be able to get away with moving and covering your tomatoes. Bring the tomato vines close to the house (preferably on the south side of the house) and cover them with some light fabric to protect them from the frost.

    However, if the forecast dips below -2°C, the tomatoes will probably end up covered in frost anyways even with these precautions. Keep an eye on your local temperature, and harvest the unripe tomatoes if necessary. Green tomatoes can be ripened inside on sheets of newspaper.

  • Pumpkins, Squash, Zucchini, Cucumbers: Cucumbers, zucchini, and summer varieties of pumpkin and squash should be harvested now, wiped dry, and cured in a hot, dry room for a few days to improve shelf life.

    Properly cured, they may store for a few weeks. Avoid storing these fruits on concrete or metal surfaces as it can cause them to rot.

    Thin skinned cucumbers will not store as well and should be eaten within a few days.

    Some pumpkins and squash are "winter varieties" and can store very well if properly cured. Harvest any mature “winter variety” gourds before a frost (they will have a nice tough skin when mature) and do your best to protect the immature ones by covering them with a sheet. Immature gourds will not ripen off the vine or once the vine has died, so protecting them and hoping for the best is the best strategy. Be careful not to crush the vines.

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For protecting your plants, our best product recommendation is frost protection blankets. NuVue's Insulating Winter Blanket is great for long garden rows as it is already cut at 42 inches by 25 feet.

For square & rectangular gardens, use DeWitt's N-Sulate Frost Protection Blanket which is 12 feet by 10 feet. 

You can also use Crop Cover Fabric to protect sensitive plants. While lighter weight, Crop Cover Fabric protects against insects, freezing rain, frost and snow damage, while allowing air and moisture to reach the crop.

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DeWitt_N-sulate_frost_crop_cover.jpg

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 

Funky Potatoes and Uqa

This past month, my wife and daughter traveled to Yurac Yacu, Peru, as part of an assistance program by the Sombrilla International Development Society, based here in Edmonton.

Sombrilla’s mission is to "improve the quality of life by addressing food security, clean water, health care and education so that communities may become self-sustaining." The main focus of this particular mission was to work with the people of Yurac Yacu to build stoves from adobe bricks.
  
Since Yurac Yacu is waaay up in the Andean mountains (at an elevation of just over 3000 metres) the air was a little thin, making the job of transporting and assembling the stoves a little challenging at times. But, apparently, the friendliness and appreciation displayed by the indigenous Quechua people more than made up for the sore backs!
 
Beyond all of the stories of the wonderful people of Yurac Yacu, Sombrilla—and, of course, the spectacular scenery—I was anxious to hear about how the Quechua people cultivated potatoes at such a high altitude. Peru is the potato epicenter of potato cultivation. Most of the potato varieties that we enjoy today originated in Peru. But there is an enormous diversity of potato varieties in Peru which makes our North American selection look rather boring by comparison.
 
At the high altitude of Yurac Yacu, daytime temperatures rise into the low 20’s but nighttime lows often dip below freezing, even in the summer. The foliage of potatoes in our part of the world would die from the sub-zero temperatures, but the Yurac Yacu varieties shrug-off freezing temperatures because the parent species are well adapted to frost.
 
Besides being tough, the Peruvian potatoes are fascinating with their wide variety of shapes and colours. However, some interesting "potato" varieties that my wife and daughter noted as being particularly sweet were, in fact, not potatoes at all but a sweet tuber from the Oxalis family. They kind of look like a funky potato tuber but are really Oxalis tuberosa known as "uqa" by the Quecha. The tubers are apparently sweet (yam-like flavour) and also very colourful, ranging from yellow, orange, and red to apricot and pink. 

My daughter snapped a photo of the selection of potato and uqa tubers that the Quecha prepared for their meals (see above). Absolutely fascinating!
 
I know what you're thinking, "Jim, why can’t you guys get a hold of some of those cool tubers?"
 
Well, there are some pretty strict regulations on importation of plant material into Canada because of pest issues and, of course, sourcing a supplier is difficult. But given the rave reviews of the indigenous potato and Oxalis varieties of the Quecha people maybe—just maybe—a uqa or two might find its way into Alberta gardens in the not too distant future.
  
~Jim Hole

A-peeling Potato Varieties

Delicious and nutritious! Nothing beats the taste of your own home-grown "spuds". There are hundreds of potato varieties to choose from but here are a few great choices:

yukon-gold-potato-edmonton-stalbert-yeg-holes

A) Yukon Gold Potato (Solanum tuberosum) - Plant these in your garden and you will have a goldmine of yellow-skinned, yellow-fleshed potatoes ready to harvest in 100 days. Yukon Gold is widely acclaimed as the star of golden-fleshed potatoes, and for good reason! Sporting a thin golden skin, it is renowned for its outstanding flavor and dry texture. These potatoes are excellent for baking, boiling, roasting, and frying.


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B) Purple Magic Potato (Solanum andigenum) - Here’s one of my favourites. These potatoes feature dark purple skin with an attractive, deeper purple flesh. “Purple Magic” has the same flavour and nutritional value as regular potatoes, and as a bonus, they contain as much antioxidants as spinach or kale! A real gourmet treat! The potato is a high-yield variety and these multi-purpose tubers are ideal for chips, roasting, frying, or in potato salad.


rosemarie-potato-edmonton-stalbert-yeg-holes


C) Rosemarie Potato (Solanum tuberosum cv.) - What a colourful potato! This mid-season fingerling has bright red skin and deep red flesh. These gourmet, nutritious fingerlings are ideal for baking, boiling, or potato salad.


D) Potato Rake - Yes, there’s a tool for that! The potato rake is more versatile than its name implies. Its tines are sturdy and ideal for digging or harvesting potatoes and similar types of vegetables. It can also be used to transfer manure and loose material or even for general garden clean-up. The potato rake is great as it allows you to dig into the soil and harvest your potatoes without accidentally cutting your potatoes in half (as sometimes happens with a shovel).


E) Potato Bag - Not many people seem to know this, but potatoes are great for growing in containers! If you’re looking to give it a try, Smart Pot containers are a fantastic choice. The Smart Pot is porous fabric aeration container that releases heat and promotes fibrous root growth. The result is a better root structure and better potatoes!

 

The Health Benefits of Plants (and Other Interesting Stories)

There's nothing quite like a day at the greenhouse during the winter.  It's warm and sunny inside the greenhouse, and—best of all—you're surrounded by all kinds of plants. 

There's even research that shows that simply being around greenery in the form of potted houseplants and trees improves our concentrationreduces our blood pressure,  and can even speed up our recovery from illness.

In fact,  we have daily visitors who stop by the greenhouse in the winter not to buy anything in particular, but to have a cup of coffee in the Glasshouse Bistro and to walk through our rows and rows of plants because it puts them in a better mood.

Of course, we've also have some funnier stories of people visiting the greenhouse in a bit of a panic.
 

False Alarmia


I'll never forget the time that a woman intercepted me as I was walking  into our Garden Centre. She was rather sheepishly and secretively clutching the leaf of a plant, and quietly asked me a question.
 
"I just found this growing in my son's room!" she cried. “Is this what I think it is?”
 
Taking a closer look at the plant in her hand, I murmured, "Umm... False Aralia?"
 
Turns out, she was very relieved to know that her son wasn’t growing what she was suspected was marijuana. And, in all fairness to Mom, False Aralia leaves bear a fairly close resemblance to those of the infamous marijuana plant.

Her son, I imagine, was probably less pleased to find out that the plant he had paid a pretty penny for was nothing but an ordinary houseplant.

Urine Trouble Now

Then there was the time that a concerned woman phoned me up and told me that her husband insisted that human urine was an excellent fertilizer for potatoes. 

Furthermore, he insisted on not wasting this valuable resource by flushing it down the toilet. Instead, he had a nightly ritual of  on peeing on the plot of potatoes in their yard.
 
"He claims it's the best treatment for growing great potatoes," she said, in a quiet voice. 

At first, I thought I was being ribbed, but she was deadly serious. Under the cover of darkness, he would quietly slip outside and urinate on the spuds, varying his location each night to spread his precious "nutrients" around. "Is it still okay to eat the potatoes?" she asked.
  
While we think nothing of adding animal manure to our gardens, human waste makes most of us a little queasy.  

I did a little research on the nutrient content and composition of human urine and discovered that it does contains fairly high levels of many essential plant nutrients. 

In fact, the nitrogen levels can be quite high—which is good—but the overall salt concentration can also be rather high which can lead to plant injury if one is overzealous during application. Therefore, discretion is a must, both in fine-tuning dosages and choosing a discreet time to fertilize that won't scandalize the neighbours.
 
 Oh, and when it comes eating the potatoes, odds are very strongly in favour of there not being any safety concerns BUT my position was to err on the side of caution and not recommend these potatoes for human consumption. And, of course, there is always the "ick" factor.

~Jim Hole

p.s. Which gardening trends are you interested in this year? Do you have ideas for workshops that you'd like to see us put on or things you'd like to learn more about this year? Drop us a line at newsletter@holesonline.com! We're programming our 2015 workshops and events now and would love to hear from you.

Frost Warning: What to Harvest, What to Cover, and What to Leave Alone

One of our customers woke up to this today! Did you get snow in your area?

One of our customers woke up to this today! Did you get snow in your area?

A frost warning is in effect and we've received a lot of phone calls from people asking about what can stay outside and what needs to come in. Here's our quick guide:

  • Apples: A light frost will not affect the apples and may even make them sweeter. Barring a severe September storm, leave your apples on the tree until they are ripe (mid- to late- September for most late bearing apples).
     
  • Beans and Peas: Will not tolerate frost. Harvest these guys and eat them up!
     
  • Beets, Carrots, Onions, Potatoes: Protected underground, these vegetables do fine in a light frost and their flavour may even improve with the cold. That said, harvest them before the ground freezes. 
     
  • Chard, Kale, and Cabbage: These plants should all survive a light frost. Cold temperatures will even intensify the colour and flavour of chard, and may sweeten cabbage.
     
  • Corn: Corn is frost sensitive. If your corn is ready, pick it now. If it is not yet ready to harvest, cross your fingers and hope for the best. A hard frost will reduce the shelf life of corn to 3 to 4 days.
     
  • Lettuce and Salad Greens: Cold will affect the look and texture of lettuce and salad greens, but they can survive a light frost. If you’d like, harvest the tops of the lettuce and see if they come back afterwards.
     
  • Tomatoes and Peppers: Harvest any ripe tomatoes and all peppers. Unripe tomatoes are bit more complicated. If you’re feeling cautious and would rather not deal with any stress, harvest them all now—ripe or not.

    If you’re feeling daring and if the forecast cooperates for the next day or two, you may be able to get away with bringing the tomato vines close to the house (preferably on the south side of the house) and covering them with some light bed sheets to protect them from the frost.

    However, if the forecast dips below -2°C, the tomatoes will probably end up covered in frost anyways even with these precautions. Keep an eye on your local temperature, and harvest the unripe tomatoes if necessary. Green tomatoes can be ripened inside on sheets of newspaper.
     
  • Pumpkins, Squash, Zucchini, Cucumbers: Cucumbers, zucchini, and summer varieties of pumpkin and squash should be harvested now, wiped dry, and cured in a hot, dry room for a few days to improve shelf life.

    Properly cured, they may store for a few weeks. Avoid storing these fruits on concrete or metal surfaces as it can cause them to rot.

    Thin skinned cucumbers will not store as well and should be eaten within a few days.

    Some pumpkins and squash are "winter varieties" and can store very well if properly cured. Harvest any mature “winter variety”  gourds before a frost (they will have a nice tough skin when mature) and do your best to protect the immature ones by covering them with a sheet. Immature gourds will not ripen off the vine or once the vine has died, so protecting them and hoping for the best is the best strategy. Be careful not to crush the vines.