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.

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Unusual Bulbs Spice Up the Garden

Unusual Bulbs Spice Up the Garden

By Marlene Willis

Gladioli, dahlias, lilies, begonias, elephant ears, cannas and calla lilies are among the most popular spring bulbs. Most gardeners are familiar with these beautiful species and routinely plant them each spring for a beautiful show of summer colour.

But there are many other exotic summer-flowering plants, available in their dormant state as bulbs just waiting for plant enthusiasts to apply their magic touch. With the provision of suitable temperatures and adequate moisture, plants native to countries such as South Africa, India, Mexico and the Mediterranean can burst forth into bloom in the temperate garden.

Creative Container

One of our greenhouse staff, Jenyse Green, used the African lily (Agapanthus) as a feature in this container. Atop the lily’s tall (60-75 cm) stalks were clusters of deep blue, star-shaped flowers. Blue lobelia, vinca ivy and Mexican heather spilled over the edge of the pot, creating an impressive display. Even when the lily finished blooming, the seed head remained interesting and attractive. A similar effect can be achieved by planting Brodiaea instead of Agapanthus, although Brodiaea is somewhat shorter. Agapanthus is native to South Africa and enjoys full sun and well-drained, moist, organic soil.

The Pineapple Lily

The pineapple lily (Eucomis) is another interesting spring bulb, native to South Africa. This is an apt name for this bulb, as a cylindrical stalk of starry blooms is capped with a tuft of green leafy bracts that resemble a pineapple. There are two varieties available: Eucomis bicolor has pale green flowers with lilac edges, while Eucomis comosa has pale pink flowers tinged with green.

The pineapple lily is an excellent replacement for the traditionally used dracaena spike as a focal plant. The flower stalk is attractive, long-lasting and an attention-seeker. This bulb can be grown in the garden or in containers.

Poppy Anemones

If rich, vibrant colours are needed to punch up the landscape, try incorporating some poppy anemones (Anemone coronaria). There are single and double varieties in a wide range of bold colours, most with a contrasting black centre.

These anemones originate around the Mediterranean Sea in southern Europe. They like a warm, sheltered, sunny location and light, sandy soil, and you should hydrate the corms before planting by soaking them in water overnight. Use in borders or containers. The blooms make excellent cutflowers that last about a week.

A Neglected Palette

The selection of underused but gorgeous spring bulbs is vast. Members of Hole’s staff have enjoyed growing many unusual bulbs in their own gardens, including Mexican Shell Flower (Tigridia), Peacock Gladiolus (Acidanthera), Peruvian Daffodil (Hymenocallis), Summer Hyacinth (Galtonia) and Crocosmia, to name just a few. Bring the exotic colours and textures of faraway places home by planting some of these unusual choices this spring!

The Fresh Spring Taste of Baby Beets

The Fresh Spring Taste of Baby Beets

By Judy Schultz

As our season of renewal stretches into early summer, we look forward to the first taste of baby beets. Beloved for their robust, earthy flavour, beets are easy to grow, whether round or cylindrical, red or golden, or the beautiful, candy-striped Chioggia. They’re also entirely edible at every stage, from the first tiny thinnings, washed and tossed raw into salads, to the tender, golf-ball sized baby beets that are so tender and naturally sweet. Beets are a forgiving vegetable with a relatively long storage life. Once you have them in the kitchen, clip the tops at about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm). Wash the tops and refrigerate until you need them, up to three days. Beet tops are good in salads or stir fries, and they give an extra edge to a pot of soup. Beet roots can be stored in your fridge for up to two weeks before cooking.

Roasted Beets in Dill Cream

Vegetable markets in Europe have always sold roasted beets. They’re handy for soups, salads or pickles, and once they’re baked, they keep well for three or four days. To roast young beets, clip the tops but do not remove the roots before putting them in the oven, folded snugly in a foil packet. They can be roasted along with any other oven dish, then cooled and refrigerated until you need them.

2 lbs (1 kg) small beets, scrubbed, tops clipped 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) aluminum foil
1 cup (250 mL) sour cream
1/2 cup (125 mL) mayonnaise
1/4 cup (50 mL) fresh chopped dillweed
1/4 cup (50 mL) chopped chives
salt and pepper

Wrap and seal the scrubbed beets in a double thickness of foil and place in a preheated 400 F oven. Oven-roast for about 50 minutes, or until easily pierced with a skewer. Remove from oven and open the foil. When beets are cool enough to handle, slip the skins off and cut in quarters. Fold together the sour cream, mayonnaise, dillweed and chives. Fold beets into the cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve cool, as a salad, or heat gently and serve as a side dish. Serves 4 to 6.

Sweet-and-Sour Baby Beets

My grandmother, who grew everything and wasted nothing, cooked baby beets and tops together. This dish was her version of spring tonic, and I remember the delicious smell when she whipped the lid off the casserole. I make my own version, using balsamic vinegar, and mixing red and gold beets if possible.

2 lbs. baby beets, tops clipped, baked in foil
tops from beets, washed
2 green onions, diced
1 tablespoon (15 mL) liquid honey
1 tablespoon (15 mL) butter
2 tablespoons (30 mL) balsamic vinegar
salt, pepper

Slip peeling off cooled beets. Set aside.
Roughly chop beet tops and place in a buttered 10 inch pie plate or shallow casserole. Cut the cooked beets in 1/2 inch thick slices. Distribute red and yellow beets over the greens and sprinkle with diced green onions.In a small cup, melt honey and butter into balsamic vinegar. Drizzle over sliced beets. Season with salt and pepper, and bake, uncovered, at 350 F for about 25 minutes, or until greens are tender. Serve hot. Serves 4 to 6

Spring Borscht

On the prairies, there are as many recipes for borscht as there are cooks. I like this one for the clear flavour of the beets, heightened by the acid of tomatoes and the secret ingredient — a fresh lemon, including the peel. Note that the beets are not peeled. Do not substitute bottled lemon juice.

5 or 6 young, medium beets (2 lb/1 kg) with tops
1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 small red cabbage, diced
4 cups (2 L) seasoned chicken stock
1 can (19 oz/540 mL) diced tomatoes
1 fresh lemon, well scrubbed
1 teaspoon (5 mL) sugar
fresh dillweed
sour cream (optional)

Thoroughly scrub the beets. Clip tops and coarsely chop the washed leaves. Trim toot ends. Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, cut raw, unpeeled beets into thin julienne. Reserve.

Coat a Dutch oven with non-stick spray. Over medium heat, saute diced onion, carrot, celery and cabbage. Add julienned beets and stir-fry about 5 minutes. Add chicken stock and tomatoes. Cut the well-washed lemon in four quarters. Squeeze the juice into the soup, and add lemon peel. Turn the heat up and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, or until all vegetables are tender. Add the sugar and a hefty amount of freshly chopped dillweed. Fish out the lemon peel and discard it. Taste the soup and correct the seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve hot or cold, with a dollop of sour cream. Serves 4 to 6.

Spring Is Here!

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

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

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

~Jim Hole

Planting Garlic and Irises in the Fall

Not everyone thinks of September as the time to plant things (most people are too busy harvesting their vegetable gardens), but for spring flowering bulbs, September and October are THE time to get things into the ground.

Irises are one of the fall bulbs that benefit from being planted first thing in September and we have some great new varieties available. Here are a few of our favourites on our shelves right now.

"Blue Suede Shoes" is a rich, gorgeously coloured, blue bearded iris. Blue flowers are hard to come by whether they are annuals or perennials, so to have a bulb that will come back in blue year-after-year is a pure delight.

As a bonus, this is a particularly fragrant iris and will rebloom as well. What more can you ask for? These blue suede shoes will leave you dancing with joy.

Another reblooming bearded iris, "Ancient Echoes" has some beautiful fiery colours. These flowers will add some striking contrast to your garden and will visually pop-out from quite a distance. Great for front yards if your goal is to get the neighborhood's attention!

Finally, a bit more of an elegant bearded iris, this "Bountiful Harvest" variety will also rebloom, making it ideal for cutflowers. Great for a more graceful style, consider this one if you like to have a classically beautiful garden.


Fall is also a great time to plant garlic.

"Duganski" is a new variety for us this year, and it is fiery! Featuring purple stripes, it has a mellow aftertaste and is a great variety to plant if you like to cook with garlic a lot.

"German Hardneck" is another variety with a milder taste. If you like roasted garlic fresh out of the oven, this is THE garlic variety to use and plant as it roasts beautifully.

Finally, we also have "Elephant Garlic." While this is technically a member of the leek family, you'd never know it as it looks just like a very large garlic bulb and can be used in the same way. It is especially good raw because of its mild garlic taste... so if you're looking to make a pesto, tapenade, bruschetta, or salad, this is definitely a good variety to consider.

"Amaizing" Corn Varieties

Corn has long been a popular vegetable and all the more so when freshly harvested. The taste will far surpass anything you'll find in a grocery store! 

As you may already know, corn does best in warm climates and soil. But with a few precautions, growing corn in Alberta can be well worth it.

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Corn needs be planted in blocks of 3-4 rows instead of in a single long row, with each plant at least 24" apart. This encourages better corn pollination, because each plant will have at least three neighbors from which it can catch and retain pollen. The more pollen available, the greater the number of kernels on each ear.

Corn is also a heavy feeder - particularly of nitrogen - and may require several side-dressings of fertilizer for best yields.

If you follow these simple rules, you're sure to get a great crop. All there is left to do is decide which variety of corn you'd like to grow! Here are a few suggestions you might enjoy:


Peaches & Cream Corn - A perfect blend of luscious, white and yellow kernels that produce two different flavours in every bite! 

Corn on the cob is one of the best, and most highly anticipated summer treats, and is great for grilling with the husks left on. Home-grown corn has amazing flavour and sweetness, so much better than what you find in the grocery stores. This sugary enhanced  hybrid holds its sweet flavor longer after picking.

Peaches and Cream corn produces 20cm long ears with 14 delicious rows of sugar-sweet kernels; an excellent variety for the home garden!


White Corn - Sugar Pearl - The sweetest, prettiest white corn in the garden—and it arrives super early!

Sugar Pearl's fast-growing, vigorous stalks grow just 5 to 5-1/2 feet tall, producing delicious ears of pearly white sweet kernels with that delicate, meltingly tender flavour that characterizes really delicious white corn.

This trouble-free and reliable variety is ideal for short or early season growing, ripening succulent ears before most other white varieties.


Sweet Corn - Kandy Korn - A sweet corn so delicious it's often requested by name!

Kandy Korn is outstanding not only for its flavour but also for its long, late harvest. It has 16-20 rows of delectable, sweet, golden kernels, and can be harvested just 89 days after planting.

This popular variety grows on tall, vigorous stalks, with plump ears that are fantastic for eating fresh, or freezing and canning.


Corn - Luscious - If you like your corn sweet, Luscious really lives up to it's name.

With a good balance of sugars and corn taste, the attractive blunt 17-20cm long ears are just what you want in an early mid-season bicolour.

 Luscious is easy to grow, too, with good cold-soil emergence and early vigor.


Popcorn - Robust - When you think of eating healthy, popcorn may not be the first food that comes to mind. But this dent corn relative is one of the best all-around snack foods around, providing almost as much protein, iron and calcium as beef!

A cup of popped, un-buttered popcorn contains fewer calories than half a medium-sized grapefruit. Popcorn, a whole grain, has as much fiber as Bran Flakes or whole wheat toast. Who knew!

 With Robust, you'll enjoy easy-to-digest, hull-less eating quality of crisp, tender popcorn that has a larger popping volume than old open-pollinated varieties.






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

Growing Bulbs in Alberta and Picking the Right Bulbs for Your Garden

There is a myth that growing bulbs in Alberta is difficult.  

Well, I am Dutch, and I love bulbs, and I have successfully grown almost every type of bulb that I can lay my hands on, right here in Albertasometimes even growing tulips between my strawberries!

So growing bulbs in Alberta is definitely do-able and at Hole's, I get to choose from an amazing collection. My brother-in-law is the owner of one of the largest tulip growing businesses in the world and—while visiting Alberta from the Netherlands last year—he was so excited to find many of the world's rarest and most unique bulbs right here at Hole's Greenhouse.

But how to pick the right bulbs for your garden?

Well, I always have some early flowering crocuses planted near my front entrance, where I will see them every time I leave the house. As soon as the snow melts, the crocuses peep out of the ground with their delicate flowers, announcing the arrival of spring.

An added bonus is that crocusses will naturalize. That means that you only plant them once and they will come back every year with more.

Making it Pop

I find that bulbs have the biggest visual impact if you plant them in groups and in combination with another kind of bulb or with a perennial that flowers at the same time.

Power Combos

One of my favourite combinations for early colour is to plant the bright yellow dwarf narcissus along with the true blue star flowers of the Scillas. Both bulbs will naturalize and this combination works even in a shady garden.

Planted in between your hostas, they will put on a show before your hostas emerge and, later, the large leaves of the hostas will cover up the bulbs as the scillas and narcissus go dormant for the summer.

Timing is Key

Another trick is to find combinations of plants that flower at the same time. Sometimes that is just a matter of trial-and-error or sometimes it is just good luck.

One year I found a great combination, when I planted early purple tulips between my "Fire Cracker" moss phlox  (a ground cover smothered in vibrant fuchsia-pink flowers) and in between my Blue Fescue grass with its fine blue leaves.

Check the Package 

I always look on the package of the bulbs if they are early, mid, or late spring flowering. I find the early and mid-spring flowering bulbs especially interesting, because they flower at a time when not much else does.


This fall I'm going to try a combination of soft yellow "Peach Melba" tulips with a pink trim and flashes of green. In between the tulips, I'm then going to place some with light blue Puschkinias with clusters of star-like light blue flowers. It looks like a marvellous combination to me.  I am not sure if the timing will be right, but it is exciting to try.

I will let you know how it worked out in spring. The beautiful thing about bulbs is that, even if a combination doesn't work out, they're easy to move around.


BONUS: Book a landscaping design consultation with Maria Beers this fall and we will give you a FREE $25 gift certificate for our Glasshouse Bistro.