Tomato 101

Tomato 101

By Jim Hole

There’s no shock as to why tomatoes are so well-loved. Whether it be salsas, sauces or salads, their versatility is unmatched by other garden vegetables. Tomatoes are actually quite simple to grow with the right technique, patience and care. This “Tomato 101” will send you on your way to producing a bountiful yield of this summer favourite.


With the vast number of tomato varieties, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. For cherry tomatoes, some of my favourites include Sun Gold, Minimato and Rapunzel. For eating tomatoes, Primo Red, Mortgage Lifter and Stupice. And of course for cooking, be sure to try San Marzano, Mamma Mia and Sunrise Sauce. Stock up on your favourite varieties soon–as many sell out fast!


Proper soil is crucial for a successful tomato yield. It may be tempting to purchase the “cheap stuff” at your big box stores, but these brands lack the richness needed for tomatoes to thrive. Soils lose organic matter if it is not added back in regularly, so my recommendation is using a 1:1 ratio of Sea Soil and Jim’s Potting Soil. Avoid using manure in your soil as the salt content per bag is inconsistent. More often than not, you will end up scorching your plants and be forced to start over.


Tomatoes are heavy feeders, which means it is important to fertilize them regularly. I recommend using Garden Pro Tomato Food (5-10-5). This granular fertilizer is also supplemented with calcium to prevent “blossom-end rot”. Simply mix Garden Pro Tomato Food in with your soil and water thoroughly. Another product I like to use on my tomatoes is Epsom Salts. Epsom Salts contain magnesium and can be applied every couple of weeks.


We often have customers come to the greenhouse with wilted leaves, brittle stems and yellowing tips. After a quick look, I know they aren’t watering enough. I use the analogy of filling up your car with gas to help explain the importance of watering. When you go to the gas station, you don’t put $5 worth in your car, drive till it’s empty, fill up $5 worth again and so on. The same goes for watering your tomato plants. When you water, ensure that you water the entire root zone completely with a good soaking.

Weed Control

There is nothing more frustrating than pouring time and energy into your garden, only to have it scattered with weeds. Not only are they an eye sore, but they also draw the essential nutrients out of your soil, leaving nothing for your tomatoes. Before you plant, I recommend encouraging the weeds to grow–watering like you would for any garden. Once they are a mature size, spray the soil with Bye Bye Weed to kill off any vegetation that is present. Wait 7 days, and plant your garden as you normally would. NEVER APPLY BYE BYE WEED TO YOUR GARDEN PLANTS. IT IS RESTRICTED TO APPLICATION ON WEEDS ONLY. Pulling weeds throughout the summer is an obvious technique for eliminating weeds, but spraying saves you the headache altogether. 


Tomatoes come in two growth types–determinate and indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes usually grow wider, do not need pruning and grow well in a cage. Whereas indeterminate tomatoes grow tall, require staking and pruning, but usually have higher yields than determinate varieties. Pruning indeterminate tomatoes is quite easy–simply pinch off the shoots or “suckers” that grow out from the stems. This redirects energy to the fruit of the plant rather than the shoots. In turn, this produces much larger, healthier tomatoes. Watch our video on how to prune tomatoes here:


Still not feeling quite confident on growing your own tomatoes? Be sure to check out our e-book on tomatoes at

Q: What causes black or brown rotten spots on the bottom of my tomatoes?

A: This condition is called “blossom-end rot” and it is caused by water stress and calcium deficiency due to heavy clay soil or irregular/inadequate watering. Watering regularly is key to preventing blossom-end rot. Even if the soil contains lots of calcium, without sufficient water, the plant cannot absorb essential minerals.

Rooting Around in Peat Moss

Rooting Around in Peat Moss

By Linda Affolder

What you add to your soil can be as important as what you plant in it, and springtime preparation of gardens and beds often involves the addition of peat moss. Most gardeners know the basics and benefits of peat moss:
• It is an organic soil supplement that improves plant growth by increasing the air and water surrounding plant roots.
• It saves water. Peat absorbs and gradually releases up to 20 times its weight in water.
• It improves the physical structure of soil. Peat loosens and aerates clay soil and binds light, sandy soil.
• It reduces leaching. Peat absorbs and slowly releases nutrients present in or added to the soil.
• It is a valuable ingredient in gardening compost, curtailing odours in the compost pile.
• There are over 100 species of moss worldwide.


The peat moss you add to your soil comes from the gradual, incomplete decomposition of sphagnum moss, which accumulates in peatlands (or bogs). The development of peatland depends on a complex combination of climatic and other physical conditions. Generally, peatland forms in very moist and poorly drained environments. When the water table stabilizes and the growth of plant material exceeds decomposition, a layer of organic residue results - fibrous peat moss. This layer is excavated, dried, shredded and pressed into bales.

Of the many species of peat mosses, sphagnum peat moss is the most suited to horticulture because the large cell structure of sphagnum moss enables it to absorb, like a sponge, large amounts of air and moisture. The different species of sphagnum vary in their absorptive capacities but remain substantially higher than any other fibrous peat moss.

Most of the world’s peatlands are found in the northern hemisphere and in particular, Canada and the northern United States. Natural peatland accounts for roughly 12% of Canada’s landbase, covering approximately 275 million acres. This figure represents more than one quarter of the world’s estimated 1 billion acres of peatland and covers an area equivalent to the combined size of Washington, California, Oregon and Nevada.

Peatlands cover 20% of Alberta’s landbase. Due to climactic and geological factors, peatlands are chiefly located in boreal wetland regions and the concentration of peatland resources in Alberta is therefore higher in the northern areas of the province.

The value of peat moss lies in its high absorptive capacity, resistance to decomposition and deodorizing quality and a variety of applications for peat moss have existed outside the garden. Historically, peat moss has been used as livestock bedding, surgical dressing and building materials. In fact, by the early forties several thousand Alberta homes were insulated with peat moss manufactured into an insulating material. Peat moss can absorb just under 6 times its weight in oil and currently sectors of the oil and gas industry use it to clean out oil receptacles and absorb accidental oil spills.

Canadian gardeners have added peat moss to their soil for generations. Prior to the Second World War, however, commercial peat cultivation in Canada was small, although sphagnum peat moss existed in every province. At that time, Canada and the United States imported the bulk of their peat moss from Europe. When the Second World War disrupted and cut off these shipments, the Canadian commercial peat moss industry expanded and established Canada as a substantial and high quality source of peat moss.

Today, Canada is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of sphagnum peat moss for horticultural use, producing more than 98% of the peat moss imported by the United States. The majority of the production is located in eastern Canada, primarily in New Brunswick and Quebec. Peat production also occurs in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.

The Scoop on Soil

The Scoop on Soil

A Beginner's Guide to Soil

Good soil is the foundation of a great garden. Without the right soil, whether in the garden or in containers, plants will wither. Sometimes the right soil is untouched clay loam; sometimes it's not soil at all, but a soilless mix. Tilling soil, adding organic matter, testing and adjusting the pH level—all of these actions give your plants the solid and nurturing earth they need to prosper.

A Simple Test

Reach down and gather up a handful of soil. Then, give it a squeeze. Does the soil hold together, or fall apart? If it does hold together, is it soft and springy or does it feel like a lump of clay?

What colour is it?If you have a nice, dark clump of earth that crumbles easily between your fingers, you're well on your way. Otherwise, your first step should be to improve your soil quality. Loam is the ultimate goal: a perfectly balanced blend of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter.

Soil's Job

Good soil must perform a number of functions. First, it should contain all the nutrients your
plants require. And good soil helps, rather than hinders, root absorption of plant nutrients. It
anchors plant roots firmly, but is loose and porous enough to allow them to grow and branch out.
Good soil retains moisture, but at the same time has adequate drainage to prevent waterlogged roots. Finally, good soil is neither too acidic nor too alkaline. All this is also true of soil in containers.

Amending the Soil

If you're not blessed with perfect soil from the start—and few of us are—you will need to amend the soil. That means adding plenty of organic matter: peat moss, well-rotted manure, or compost. Organic matter can be added to the soil anytime that the soil is warm enough to work, though the most convenient times tend to be in the early spring, before you've planted your gardens, or in the fall, after the growing season is over.

Amending the soil can take a lot of organic matter; generally, you need enough to cover your
beds to a thickness of 5-8 cm, or more if your soil is particularly dense (too much clay). Till in
the organic matter with a rake or rototiller, and you're on your way to a healthier garden!
Note that amending your soil isn't a one-time affair; since your garden uses the soil year after
year, it's only natural that the soil's quality will erode over time. Adding soil amendments once a year is an excellent way to keep your soil fertile.

Sea Soil.jpg

Reap Your Just Desserts Success with Raspberries

Reap Your Just Desserts Success with Raspberries

By Christina McDonald

Growing your own fruit is rewarding, but many new gardeners lack the confidence to attempt the task. Raspberries, however, are easy to grow and, contrary to popular belief, are not an invasive nuisance. 

Choosing a suitable site is quite simple using the triple-S method: sun, space and soil. Raspberries produce best in an area that receives 6 hours or more of direct sunlight per day. The commercial standard of spacing your canes 45-60 cm apart and allowing 2 m between rows aids in air circulation, ease of fruit picking and cane maintenance. Raspberries adapt well to most soils (with the exception of heavy, poor draining clay), but produce heavier yields in soil rich in organic matter. Save yourself a lot of grief and ensure your potential patch is weed free before you plant!

The kind of raspberry you plant dictates how you grow and maintain your canes. Raspberries are divided into two main groups: primocanes, which produce fruit on canes grown that season, and floricanes, which produce on canes that are two growing seasons old.

Primocanes, such as the varieties ‘Double Delight’ and ‘Red River’, are the easiest to maintain, requiring pruning in the form of mowing them down to about 30 cm each fall, after the foliage has died back. They produce berries at least two weeks later than floricanes, but when you plant both groups together, the harvest period may be extended.

Floricanes, such as ‘Souris’ and ‘Boyne’, are a little trickier. For good, consistent fruit production, all canes two seasons or older must be pruned. This is not as difficult as it may sound—some commercial growers use a very simple trellising technique to simplify the job. It’s called “T trellising” and you can employ the technique at home.

Drive a long, T-shaped stake into the ground at each end of the row, then attach sturdy wires to each end of the T. Tie canes that are producing that year to the wires. This technique supports weak canes, makes picking much easier and helps identify which canes to remove in the fall. After pruning, tie this season’s new canes to the wires and start all over again.

Moisture is key to fruit production, so water to a depth of 3 cm per week (increasing that amount if weather conditions dictate) and mulch between each row, slightly back from the base of the canes to conserve moisture and help keep weeds down. Fertilize annually.


Q: I’ve had some problems successfully growing raspberries. Can you offer any tips?
Raspberries are very sensitive to iron deficiency and have a heavy demand for nitrogen. If new growth is veiny looking, use iron chelate to keep the soil slightly acidic.

Remember that most raspberries are biennials. Suckers come up the first year, with fruit forming on these suckers the following year. At season’s end of the second year, chop up the canes that have produced berries and toss them into the compost pile; they won’t fruit ever again. Do not prune next year’s canes too severely, or at all; 75 per cent of raspberry fruit is produced on the top 25 per cent of the cane.

Make sure that bees are welcome in your berry patch; raspberry plants need good pollination for fruit set. Some bright flowers planted nearby can tip the odds in your favour.

Q: What’s the best way to enjoy my raspberries?
When harvesting, remember that picked raspberries spoil very quickly. They should be eaten or frozen as soon as possible after picking. Freeze them in single layers on cookie trays then transfer the frozen berries to plastic bags for long-term storage in the freezer. Freezing them first on trays first ensures that the berries remain nice and round and don’t get crushed together.

How Plants Reach the Market

How Plants Reach the Market

Today’s consumers are pretty demanding. When they shop for trees, they look for hardiness, vigour, pest and disease resistance, drought tolerance and big, long-lasting blooms. What’s more, they want instant gratification, mature trees and shrubs that are ready to put on a great show in the first season. To top it all off, they want these plants to require as little maintenance as possible. Of course, nurserymen and growers are gardeners, too, and they also desire each and every one of these features.

To meet consumer demand, large-scale growers across North America spend millions of dollars and man-hours to develop varieties that today’s gardener will take pride in growing and displaying. But even if you develop the world’s greatest varieties, you still need contacts to bring them to market.

That’s where nursery managers like Shane Neufeld come in. Every year, Shane goes on a fact-finding mission to one or more of North America’s largest commercial growers, searching for high quality plant material and outstanding new varieties. In July of 2002, Shane journeyed to Bailey Nurseries in St. Paul, Minnesota, to take a first-hand look at some of this year’s most exciting new tree and shrub varieties.

‘Blue Trail’ Juniper

While ‘Blue Trail’ isn’t new to the industry, this variety is fresh to our nursery, and we look forward to the first shipment of trees. As you can see, Bailey’s grows many of their trees using a “pot-in-pot” system. Each ‘Blue Trail’ juniper shown here is nestled in its own pot and then dropped into a second pot that’s buried in the ground. This system keeps the root zone cool and prevents the soil from drying out, reducing stress on the plants. They can be overwintered right in the ground. Using this method, the folks at Bailey’s can comfortably grow trees with 9-cm calipers within just five or six years.

In addition to the great vigour obtained thanks to these growing methods, ‘Blue Trail’ junipers feature an outstanding, improved, more intense colour than other junipers, as well as a more compact growing habit.

A Lucky Accident

‘Blue Trail’ is one of those lucky accidents of nature. It originated from a seed of the venerated ‘Rocky Mountain’ variety, but some quirk of genetics gave the new plant that emerged from this seed a very different look and growth habit.‘Blue Trail’ junipers must be propagated via cuttings from the original parent plant to retain the new variety’s outstanding characteristics.

‘Concord’ Barberry

Now that it’s again legal to import barberries into Canada, northern gardeners can finally enjoy a wide range of barberry varieties. ‘Concord’, with its gorgeous, deep burgundy foliage with a blue tinge (much like a Concord grape), is just now going into production at Bailey’s.

‘Obelisk’ Saskatoon/Serviceberry

This amazing columnar Saskatoon is being considered for future production. It’s a very upright Saskatoon, with beautiful foliage and lots of blooms. Old growth is dark, bluish green, while new growth is a brighter emerald green. Fall colour is brilliant red.

‘Teddy’ Cedar

This cedar keeps its juvenile foliage, resulting in a finer, softer, texture and more compact growth than traditional cedars. Excellent for small shrub beds or rock gardens.

‘Endless Summer’ Hydrangea

This is a particularly great hydrangea for northern gardeners. Most Macrophylla, or “big leaf” hydrangeas bloom on old wood—you can grow them in zone 3, for example—but the chances of seeing blooms is slim since the harsh winters kill the branches down to the snowline. (If there is no snow, the branches die back all the way to the ground!) With ‘Endless Summer’ that’s no longer a problem, since this variety produces blooms on new wood, which appears in the summer.

If grown in a container, these hydrangeas can be forced to change colour from pink to
blue with the addition of certain fertilizers. This unique hydrangea should hit the market
in the summer of 2003 or the spring of 2004.

‘Tiger Eye’ Sumac

This staghorn sumac has incredibly intense gold foliage, a colour previously unheard of for sumacs. ‘Tiger Eye’ would be an excellent addition to small shrub beds as an accent plant. They’re especially attractive when mixed with plants of purple or blue foliage. This variety should be available in 2004

Soil Matters

Bailey’s uses soil that closely approximates the soil found in your garden. On the Bailey’s growing ranges these heavier soils retain water longer, resulting in a better quality plant. By growing their plants in heavy soils, Bailey’s is preparing these trees and shrubs for the home garden environment. They’re ready to roll, taking much less time to adjust to your garden than trees and shrubs grown in lighter soils.

Taking a Proper Soil Sample

Taking a Proper Soil Sample: Advice and Techniques

by Jim Hole

Good soil is the foundation of a good garden. Without the right balance of nutrients and the right composition for root penetration and water and air movement, plants will never reach their full potential. So when plants experience problems, it makes sense to take a closer look at the soil. A soil test can be a useful tool to determine whether or not your soil has what it takes to support lush, healthy plants. Accurate results, however, demand an accurate soil sample.

To Test or Not to Test

How do you determine whether or not your soil should be tested? Well, if your plants look healthy, a soil test is probably unwarranted. But if you’ve had problems growing plants and you’ve exhausted all possible causes – disease, insect attacks, substandard plant varieties and poor maintenance, a soil test should be your next step.

Getting a Good Sample

A soil test is only as good as the soil sample tested. At least, that’s the principle you should adhere to when you test the soil in your yard.

First, divide your garden into zones. For example, if you have a rock garden with sandy soil, a woodland area in one corner of the yard, and a loamy vegetable garden along the back fence, you should take a soil sample from each of these distinct zones.

Even within zones there can be irregularities, such as a child’s sandbox or a bog that’s restricted to a very small portion of the yard. Avoid taking samples from these spots; they don’t really represent the soil your plants will be using for sustenance, so any results collected from these spots will be extraneous and misleading.

Once you’ve picked out the sampling zones and made note of any irregularities, the next step is to collect enough soil from different parts of the zone to get a truly representative sample. If you have, say, a 6 x 6 metre vegetable patch, I would take at least a half-dozen samples from throughout the patch. Taking only one sample from a zone increases the risk that the sample you acquired was an anomaly, a localized patch of extremely good or bad soil rather than truly representative of the zone. I use a garden spade to collect the soil. Digging up a 20-cm deep profile of soil will do the trick in most yards.


I like to obtain about a half a coffee can’s worth of soil from each zone. Even though this is more than you really need for a soil test, it’s easier to blend together and it’s no harder to obtain than, say a half a cup’s worth. However, any clean container, such as an unused sandwich bag, will do.

When to Sample

Soil samples should be taken when the soil is relatively pristine – that is, not immediately after being heavily composted or fertilized. Soil amendments will give a distorted and unrealistic picture of what caused any plant problems in the first place. Sampling just prior to planting, or as soon as a problem is noticed (as long as you haven’t just amended the soil), will provide the most accurate results.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Like any scientific test, accurate results absolutely depend upon good data from the field. When you bring samples of your soil to the lab, do your best to ensure the samples are truly representative of your yard and untainted by outside factors such as recently added soil amendments and contaminants from unclean sample containers. In other words, when testing the soil, make sure that the soil that gets tested is as representative of your trouble spots as possible.

What’s Being Tested?

After collecting soil samples, most gardeners will need to take them to a lab or a well-equipped greenhouse for the actual test. Typically, once the samples are in the hands of technician, he or she will run a series of tests. From a gardener’s perspective, the most useful tests measure the salt content and acidity/alkalinity (pH) of the soil. Salts are typically nutrients and other chemicals present in all soils. Too low a value often indicates a low-nutrient soil, while a high value indicates a salty soil that inevitably leads to burned roots.

The pH values that aren’t in the correct range – generally between 6.0-6.5 – affect the uptake of nutrients by plant roots. Depending on whether the soil is too acidic or too basic (high alkalinity), the plants will, respectively, absorb too much or too little of the nutrients in the soil, leading to nutrient overdose or nutrient starvation (there are exceptions to this rule, but it’s a good general guideline).

Knowing the acidity and salt content of your soil ensures that you’ll make the right decisions when it comes to solving any problems. If your salt content is too high, you must avoid adding any additional fertilizer or rich manure. Irrigating heavily will leach the excess salts deep into the soil and away from the salt- sensitive roots of your plants. Furthermore, various soil amendments are available at garden centres to bring the pH back to the proper range.

The Geranium Grower, By Jim Hole

A number of years ago, I talked to a fellow who was a passionate geranium grower. He kept geranium "mother plants" in his solarium during winter. In February, he would snip-off close to a hundred cuttings and grow them into well-rooted transplants for his garden.

I could tell that he had a lot of experience with geraniums and that he knew what he was doing because he always had good success with his crop—well, almost always. The day that he talked to me he was exasperated because all of his cuttings were dying and he couldn’t figure why.

When I asked him if used the same growing protocol every year, he said yes—except for one thing. The one difference was that his son-in-law had given him some bags of “professional potting soil” that he had used to root the cuttings. In the past, he had blended his own mixture, but thought that the professional mixture should be just as good.

When I asked this fellow to provide me with a sample of his mixture for testing, the reasons why his cuttings were dying were very clear. The “professional potting soil” had an extremely low pH and an extremely high level of salt. The geraniums simply couldn’t survive in this toxic blend.

Once he got rid of the bad soil mixture, he was able to salvage quite a few cuttings although he had no where near his usual number of good cuttings.

The take home lesson with soils is this: with some experience, you can judge the physical quality of a mixture by looking at it, but you can’t judge the chemical quality visually. Only a soil test will reveal whether or not a soil’s chemistry is up to snuff.

In my "Soil: It's Not Dirt!" Workshop, I reveal all that you need to know about the physical and chemical properties of soils. Once you understand the basics you will know what to look for in a great quality soil.

- 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

Mr. Appleseed


My Dad was a bit of a "Johnny Appleseed". He loved nothing better than planting trees (not just apples) and planted thousands of them over his lifetime.

Before he moved to the farm, back in the '50s, the land he purchased was pretty much stripped clean of trees to make way for crops like alfalfa and barley. But Dad knew that trees were invaluable for trapping snow during the winter and providing shelter for heat loving vegetable crops. He also knew that trees reduced soil erosion and provided habitat for wildlife. 

Today, while most of that farmland has been converted to houses, some of Dad’s shelterbelt trees remain, providing shade and beauty for residents and visitors alike.

People would often ask Dad about which tree was his favourite and he would just say, “All of them”.

 And all of them was a heck of a lot of trees.

~Jim Hole

You Plant A Tree For Your Grandchildren

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


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

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

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

~Jim Hole


Starting Seeds Indoors: 9 Things You Need!

All the tools you need to get your seeds started indoors.

All the tools you need to get your seeds started indoors.

1. Seeds - First of all: you'll want to pick out your seeds (click here for our complete seed list).

Some of my favourites to start indoors are peppers and tomatoes.

While you're shopping, you can also pick up the seeds that are to be planted directly outdoors like carrots, peas, and beans. This way you can make sure you have them before they sell out in April and May.

Next: check when is the best time to plant your indoor seeds (click here for our Zone 3 Seeding Calendar).

Finally, if you're using seeds from 2014, remember that some seeds such as onions or parsley lose their viability after a year and should be replaced while some seeds remain viable for many years. Check the expiry date on your seed packets to be sure, or check with the staff of the greenhouse if some seed packets don't have an expiry date listed. 

2. Seed Starting Mix - A good quality seed starting mix is key. The grind or particle-size should be nice and small, not big and chunky. A mix with big particles is not ideal for small seeds or seedlings as many will fall through the gaps, plant themselves too deeply into the mixture, and never manage to make it to the surface.

It is also a good idea to buy pasteurized seed-starting mixes to ensure there are no insects in your soil. Pasteurized seed starting mixes will usually say right on the bag that they have been pasteurized (or "sterilized"). In the greenhouse, we sell a 100% organic brand called Pots and Plants.

3. Clean Plastic Flats - These will be the flats into which you'll put your seed starting mix and into which you'll plant your seeds. Ensure that they are well cleaned to ensure that no fungi or insects are introduced into your growing environment. Wiping your flats clean and spraying them with a mild bleach solution will work if you're reusing flats from last year.

4. Plant Tags - Alright, so you've planted your seeds in a good seed starting mix in clean plastic flats. Now you have to remember what's where. Tag your rows of seeds or your flats of plants so that you can remember what's planted where.

5. A Misting Bottle - is the perfect way to moisten your seeds and soil. I like to give everything a good thorough misting on Day 1. 

A couple of days later, if you notice the top of the soil drying out, just give it another quick mist to keep the soil moist. This ensures that your seeds will germinate.

I find that a mister is much better than a watering can for starting seeds because a mister keeps your seeds evenly moist rather than unevenly soggy.

6. A Germination Mat - Placed underneath your plastic flats, a germination mat creates warmth that simulates the Earth's natural ground heat. This stimulates your seeds to grow and increases their germination rate dramatically. 

A germination mat is a complete game changer for most home gardeners, bringing their gardening game and success rate up a full level. We have a variety of different sizes of germination mats here in the greenhouse, and many of our seed starting kits even come with a germination mat included.

7. Cover It Up! - A good plastic cover will keep moisture and heat in for the plants. Personally, my favourite type of covers are the big tall Nanodomes we sell here in the store because they keep moisture from escaping, can accommodate larger plants, and can even have a Sunblaster growlight incorporated right into them.

8. Let There Be Light - Speaking of growlights, you'll want some growlights to ensure that your plants grow vigorously, with strong stems, and lots of leafy growth.

If you start your plants indoors without a growlight, they can become very tall and stretched out, without many leaves. This is because they are searching for the sun.

9. Soil Thermometer - A soil thermometer is one last great tool. This will let you check on your soil temperature, and let you know if your soil is warm enough for ideal germination rates.  Most seeds will germinate anywhere between 5 to 32°C (and even 43°C in a few exceptional cases), but the ideal soil temperature for most seeds to germinate is in a much narrower ranger of between 21-28°C. To maximize your germination rates, a soil thermometer is invaluable.

~Jim Hole

Early Spring Sowing


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

~Jim Hole

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

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


Also Read About: Spacing Your Vegetable Seeds

Get The "Dirt" On Soil! Workshop


So you want to grow some veggies, herbs, flowers or trees? Healthy plants start with healthy soil and smart planting techniques help get the most out of your garden investment. Join Jim Hole to learn about building the right soil for your plants, and when and how to plant for optimal growth.

The Get The "Dirt" On Soil workshop will be taking place this Saturday at 11am inside the Moonflower room at the Enjoy Centre. Tickets are $10 each, and can be purchased in our online shop or at Hole's on Saturday. Space is limited, so we recommend purchasing a ticket online in advance.

Parking is free, and the lunch and coffee bars will both be open. If you have any other questions please don’t hesitate to contact us at  780 419-6800 (Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) 

International Year of Soils


Today is the official launch of the United Nations' declaration of 2015 as the "International Year of Soils."
Given that 99% of the food that we humans consume comes from the land (1% from the ocean), soil certainly deserves this special honour.

When I think of soils, I think of the early morning soils classes at the University of Alberta and some of my favourite soils professors like Dr. Jim Robertson who would "correct" any student—myself included—that dirt was NOT soil and soil was NOT dirt. Dirt was stuff that was stuck beneath one's fingernails.
I also remember that our entire business started with Dad (who was also an Agriculture grad from the U of A) picking up a handful of soil from a field in St. Albert and declaring that "This is #1 soil." That is how our farm began…with that one short sentence.

Soil is an incredibly thin layer of material (geologically speaking) that is the lifeblood of our existence on Earth. And soil is fascinating and amazingly complex stuff; for example, a single teaspoon of soil contains a greater number of organisms than the entire population of people on Earth!
Given that it takes about 1 acre of land to feed 1 person, good soil is not something that we can afford to squander.
When it comes to gardening, quality soil is the foundation of any high quality garden. In fact, it’s been estimated that 80% of landscape disorders are due to poor soils.

We'll be having some workshops and talks about soil throughout 2015 (we'll announce details in the coming months), and I hope to see you there.