Teaching Kids to Grow

Teaching Kids to Grow

By Lois Hole

Every year, I give away thousands of Tiny Tim tomato plants to children
who visit the greenhouse with their parents. There are a couple of reasons why I do this: one, it keeps idle hands busy, and two, it gets kids excited about vegetables and gardening. After helping bring one of these plants to fruition, children are actually eager to eat the vegetables they’ve grown. Fresh vegetables are so much tastier than those bought at the store that your children may never develop the distaste for vegetables that so many kids have.

I think that it’s very important to be aware of every child’s initial level of interest in gardening. If all they want to do is water and watch the plant grow, for example, then let their involvement stop there. There’s no sense in trying to push. When my mother introduced me to gardening, she never forced me to weed or water. She let me discover the joy of gardening gradually. Children like to explore on their own, so give them the freedom to do as much or as little as they want to in the vegetable patch. Let them observe you as you weed or lay down mulch; curious children are sure to ask why you’re doing certain things. That’s your opportunity to give them a chance to try tasks out on their own.

You don’t have to give a child a tomato plant to start them down the garden path; any easy-to-grow vegetable with interesting characteristics will do.

Try kohlrabi; it’s probably the weirdest-looking vegetable around, with its otherworldly collection of stems growing from a green or purple globe. Raw kohlrabi tastes like water chestnuts, a light taste that won’t upset picky young taste buds. It’s also easy to grow.

Carrots are another good choice. They, too, are easy to grow, requiring minimal attention to produce a heavy yield of tasty vegetables. Pulling carrots out of the ground was a special joy of mine when I was a child; there’s something delightful about unearthing the long, orange roots.

If carrots aren’t of interest to your little ones, give peas a try. They are a little more difficult to grow, but in my experience, peas are the one vegetable that kids love to eat more than any other. It’s lots of fun to pry or snap open the pods to discover the sweet seeds within. Plus, their meandering growth habit is fascinating to watch, whether they sprawl over the earth or wind their way through a supportive trellis.

Pumpkins and squash are ideal choices for more patient young gardeners. The sprawling vines and huge leaves make finding the bounty quite a treasure hunt come harvest time; my grandchildren love to join me when I go out to track down the ripe fruits. Squash can grow so quickly that you could measure the fruit each day and see a real difference in size! Both pumpkins and squash require a lot of space, though, and they have a long growing season, so keep this in mind.

I know they’re not vegetables, but if you’ve got the space, sunflowers may be the best plants of all to have your children grow. We had dozens of sunflowers spring up in our garden this year; I just love them. The flowerheads are bright and beautiful, and kids can look forward to a harvest of delicious seeds. As an added bonus, these flowers also attract birds.

When I was a little girl in Buchanan, Saskatchewan, my mother set aside a space behind the house for me to grow some sunflowers. Before too long, the plants were much, much taller than I was—big beauties with flowers more than a foot across. Mom and Dad used
to cut off the flowerheads for me; I’d walk around with one of these huge things in my hand, eating seeds from it like I had a bag of peanuts. I got pretty good at cracking open the shells with my teeth, spitting them out, and swallowing the tasty seeds within.

Sunflowers are easy to grow. Seed can be sown in the early spring; just give them a sunny spot, water regularly, and watch them shoot up to the sky. Smaller varieties like Big Smile feature full-sized flowerheads on shorter, 1 m plants, making them more accessible to children.

There are many leisure activities open to kids today, and that’s a good thing. However, I can’t think of an activity that provides healthier, purer fun than vegetable gardening.

Plants I Recommend for Children’s Gardens

  • Beans

  • Carrots

  • Kohlrabi

  • Peas

  • Pumpkins

  • Squash

  • Sunflowers

  • Tomatoes

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 

Squash - Well Worth the Effort

We always left squash in the garden as late in the fall as we could, to get the best growth possible.

While preparing for bed one night, we heard on the radio that a severe frost was expected. So we raced out to the field, using the headlights of our pickup trucks to light our way. We ran through the rows, searching for ripe squash, trying to save as much fruit as we could.

We actually managed to save most of the squash, despite stumbling over each other in the dark. Although it was fun, I generally recommend more conventional harvesting methods.

My grandchildren Kathryn and Michael never need to be forced to help us harvest squash. They love to scavenge under the leaves to discover the fruit hidden beneath—like a treasure hunt. Perhaps the many different shapes and colours of squash are what they find so appealing.

Ready to Harvest

Summer squash should be harvested when it's young and tender, since it tends to lose its rich flavour at maturity. Harvest summer squash regularly to keep the vines producing; I often harvest twice a week. Summer squash doesn't keep well, so eat it as soon as you harvest it.

It's easy to tell when winter squash is ready: if you can't piece the skin with a fingernail, it's time to pick the fruit. You can also harvest it when all the vines have died, or after the first light frost. Cut the vines with a butcher knife, leaving some stem on the fruit. (Without some stem, the fruit won't keep and will quickly rot.)

Winter squash can be stored on a shelf in a cool, dry place, but it should never be stored in an unheated garage or on a cement floor: storing squash here will lead to rot.

Be careful when cutting the tough-skinned winter squashes. Ted uses a cleaver to open squash, since we once broke a knife trying to cut one! After you get to the delicious inner flesh, though, you'll be glad you made the effort. I cook squash by steaming it between two layers of tin foil on a cookie sheet in the oven—it's a lovely treat. Our family eats a lot of squash—we feel it's a vastly underrated vegetable. Ted and I will even eat the skin, if it's been prepared properly. 


Zucchini is a summer squash that's finally getting its due. I say bravo! It's about time! Pick zucchini when it's small, young, and tender—it's at its best when it's no more than 20 cm long. When you can pierce the skin easily with your nail, you've got a nice, ripe zucchini.

Commercial growers harvest their zucchini every other day, since this vegetable becomes oversized and inedible quicker than any other. The best size for zucchini is about the same as a small sliving cucumer. In fact, at the wholesale level, zucchini pices plunge as the fruit gets larger—to the point where it beomes completely unsaleable. 

My daughter-in-law Valerie likes to cut zucchini lengthwise, into long, thin strips. She adds cheddar, salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of chopped green onions, heats it in the oven, and serves. It's a simple and tasty treat that she says "even men can make."

-Lois Hole, I'll Never Marry a Farmer

Good Gourds!

Now is the time to start your cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squash indoors. But with so many different varieties to choose from, it can be a tough decision!

Here's a few suggestions to get you started:


Watermelon - Vista Hybrid (Citrullus lanatus) Big, sweet and reliable! The Vista Hybrid is a true classic. Its reddish flesh is firm, dense, extra sweet and crisp with that exceptional old-fashioned watermelon flavour.

These large oval fruits average a whopping 8kg, and have a light green rind with pronounced dark stripes.

Watermelons do best in areas with plenty of warm weather, which doesn't exactly make the Canadian prairies the most ideal place for melons to grow. But that doesn't mean it can’t be done! Placing a clear plastic covering over the melons for the first several weeks increases temperatures and can help immensely, allowing the melons to reach the same sizes available at the grocery store.


Watermelon – Rainbow Sherbert – This variety is actually a mix of the early-maturing “icebox” varieties Yellow Doll, New Orchid, and Tiger Baby watermelons. Creating a fantastic mix of colours, sure to impress at your next picnic or barbecue.

These extra fancy beauties weigh-in at only 1.8 to 3 kilograms with thin, green-striped rinds and dense, crisp flesh.

Their party colours and refreshingly sweet, sherbet-like taste make them wonderful everyday treats or gorgeous summer desserts!


Squash – Waltham Butternut (Cucurbita moschata) – An old favourite! Waltham Butternut Squash develops light bronze-coloured, easy-to-peel skins and deep orange, sweet, finely textured flesh that melts in the mouth.

Butternut squash matures in 110 days, so when growing your own, patience is key. But the payoff is well worth the wait! 

Because these 3 to 4 pound vegetables store well for up to two months, they can be kept for winter dishes like creamy butternut soup or spiced butternut bread. Or, season them with mixed spices and roast them, or wrap them in foil and grill them over an open fire at your next summer barbecue!


Squash - Summer Scallop (Cucurbita pepo)  Here’s one of my favourite looking squashes. These unique flat fruits with scalloped edges resemble little flying saucers!

Squashes need full-sun, rich fertile soil, and warm temperatures. So make sure to plant them only when spring weather is warm and settled.

 These summer squashes can be treated a lot like a zucchini. However, they don’t contain as much moisture as a zucchini, which makes them perfect for kabobs and grilling.


Cucumber – Cool Breeze (Cucumis sativus) – Here’s a cucumber that is really different.  Cool Breeze is a parthenocarpic variety bred to set perfect fruit without cross-pollination.  No male pollen is needed, so even if bees are scarce you'll still get a great crop!

A French “cornichon” (or gherkin) variety, Cool Breeze is intended for making those tiny cocktail-sized pickles, but the fruits are just as delicious when allowed to reach full size and eaten fresh.

If you’re short on space, these cucumbers can also be grown on a fence or a trellis for uniform straight fruit.


Cucumber – Bush Slicer (Cucumis sativus) – Speaking of being short on space, Bush Slicer cucumbers are perfect for container gardening!

The straight 15 to 20 cm-long fruits have smooth, tender skin with small seed cavities and sweet, crisp flesh. The sturdy hybrid vines yield strong crops in both cool conditions and real summer heat.

Enjoy this space-saving cucumber in delicious salads from your own patio this season!


Cucumber – Lemon Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) - Don’t be fooled by this heirloom's unusual shape-these bright yellow balls are excellent for salads and pickling. They have a clean, crisp taste and are never bitter!

Lemon cucumbers effortlessly produce loads of pastel yellow fruit the same colour, size, and shape as pale lemons.

Very young lemon cukes are delicious eaten right from the garden like a fresh crispy apple!


Small ones, big ones, some the size of your head!

We're getting lots of calls about whether or not we have any pumpkins and the answer is we've got tons! 20 tons in fact!

Small ones, big ones, some the size of your head! We've got:

  • Icy Whites
  • Cinderellas
  • Knuckleheads
  • Atlantic Giants
  • We have some pretty cool looking mini gourds too!

Stop by soon for the best selection.

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.