vegetables

The Container Grocery Store

The Container Grocery Store

Whether you’re a young couple that’s just starting out or a couple facing retirement, you know that you often have to stretch your budget to cover all of your expenses. You may need to move to larger accommodations, there’s furniture to buy, there may be student loans or a wedding to pay off. Well, you can cut a lot out of your budget, but everyone needs food to live that’s one cost you can’t eliminate. However, you can make a dent in your grocery bills by growing fruits, vegetables, and herbs in containers.

Containers are great because you can use them whether you’re living in an apartment or a house; plants will do just fine in containers perched on balconies or sitting on patios. Just make  sure to put them in a location where they’ll get as much sun as possible; vegetables need at least six hours of direct sunlight per day to develop properly, and herbs need five. A south-facing location is best, but if that’s not possible, a west-facing one is almost as good.

Vegetables growing on east- and north-facing balconies and patios will still provide some produce, but the yields won’t be as high. Herbs growing indoors should be cultivated close to the windows that get the most sunshine; it’s also important to grow them in high-humidity areas, like the kitchen.

Choosing the right pot is crucial. For vegetables, I never use pots smaller than 25 cm wide for container vegetable gardening; 30 cm wide is preferable. These plants need space to grow, and pots smaller than this just don’t provide enough volume. For materials, I prefer glazed ceramic, plastic, or fibreglass; all hold water well and are easier to handle than clay pots. Large hanging baskets and troughs are good choices for patio or balcony vegetable gardening, too; even whiskey half-barrels will work. I’ve seen people use all kinds of cheap but effective containers—old milk cans, toilets, bathtubs, trash cans, even washing machines. Just make sure that whatever container you choose has enough volume to provide the plant with enough room to grow. Herbs can be grown in pots that are slightly smaller, though; feel free to keep them in the 10 or 15 cm pots that you buy them in for a while. When they’re big enough, move them to larger pots or a trough. You can plant more than one plant in a large pot; stuffing half a dozen herbs into a 30 cm container or a long trough would be a fine way to grow them, as long as you’re careful not to mix aggressive herbs with the less competitive varieties.

Potting soil is the root medium of choice for potted plants, chiefly because it doesn’t compact like garden soil does—potted plants need rich, well-drained soil to promote healthy root growth. Potting soil has another advantage: it’s free of the soil-borne diseases and insect pests common to regular garden soil. I incorporate a controlled, time-release 14-14-14 fertilizer that will feed the plant for many weeks. This non-leaching fertilizer becomes a reservoir backup that prevents the plants from yellowing and cuts down on maintenance.

I always say that watering is the most important job a gardener has to do. It’s a simple task, but that doesn’t mean that it can be done without thought. Since containers can’t hold much water, you may need to soak your plants twice a day during heat waves—once, thoroughly, in the early morning and once more, if needed, in the evening. Hanging baskets should be checked more often for moisture; the wind can dry them out quickly. To seal in moisture and keep down weeds, you can cover the soil with a mulch of shredded bark. As for fertilizer—I usually just add a pinch of 20-20-20 to the pot each time I water and give the plants a heavier feeding once a week. All vegetables need these extra nutrients, especially heavy feeders like tomatoes and cucumbers, so don’t skimp.

Speaking of tomatoes and cucumbers, just what kinds of plants should you be growing in containers? I’ve drawn up a list, and there are a couple of products that merit special attention.

The first of these is mesclun. This is a mixture of “instant salads” created by the French that’s really catching on in North America. The idea is wonderfully simple: a number of different greens are grown together in one pot. Sound complicated? It isn’t. All you have to do is buy a packet of mesclun seed, sow into a container, and watch the greens spring up. Every two or three weeks, when the plants reach a few inches in height, all you have to do is take a pair of scissors out, cut off the greens, and throw them into a salad bowl. You should leave about two inches of growth in the pot, since mesclun can be harvested several times. Over the course of a growing season, you can expect to harvest five or six meals—meals big enough to feed three or four people, so plan to invite another couple over each time you harvest.

The second item of note is the potato barrel, a British invention that I think is the best way to grow container potatoes. It’s a Victorian style barrel made of polymer with sliding “windows.” Instead of digging up the soil to harvest the potatoes, all you need to do is slide open a window, reach in, grab the spuds, and slide the window shut. Sweet potatoes or other tubers can be grown in this innovative device, too.

There are other benefits to growing your own vegetables. For one thing, there’s something very arresting about vegetables growing in containers; they make great conversation pieces, especially for repeat visitors who can see the plants slowly come to fruition. Plants like cucumbers have long vines that can be trained to grow around balcony railings, adding some life to your apartment.

If you’re really adventurous, you can try growing peanuts on your balcony, or figs, dwarf lemons or limes, or even coffee indoors. These are novelty crops—you’ll be lucky to grow enough beans for one cup of coffee, for example—but they’re fun to have around. The most important thing is that you enjoy yourselves, whatever you choose to grow.

Vegetables (and one fruit) That Grow Well in Containers

Cucumbers
Tomatoes
Potatoes
Eggplant
Leaf lettuce
Spinach
Peppers
Beans
Garlic
Mesclun
Bush-type melons (in large patio containers only)
Strawberries

Herbs That Grow Well in Containers
Basil
Chives
Marjoram
Oregano
Thyme

Try growing oregano, marjoram, thyme, and chives in the same container as your tomatoes—these plants grow quite well together, and broiled herb tomatoes make a delicious snack.

Edible Flowers That Grow Well in Containers

Pansies
Nasturtiums
Daylily flowers—especially new multiple blooms, e.g. Stella d’Oro

The Black Thumb's Guide to Containerized Vegetables

The Black Thumb’s Guide to Containerized Vegetables

By Earl J. Woods

Using Your Imagination

Some culinary containers can get pretty wild—you’re not limited to potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and the other standard vegetable crops. While working on Herbs and Edible Flowers in 1999, we mixed edible nasturtiums, fuchsias, parsley, calendula and pansies in one huge hanging basket. It looked and smelled great, and provided plenty of flowers for garnishes and salads. 

I confess. Even though I’ve been working at Hole’s for almost four years, I’m still not a successful gardener. In fact, if I were a comic book super villain, I’d have to use the name “The Black Thumb,” malicious murderer of all things green and growing.

But as a thirty-something bachelor who usually alternates between pizza, cold cereal and microwave dishes, I do appreciate the fresh vegetables that Mom and Dad bring from their bountiful garden. A steady diet of fast food will numb your taste buds as quickly as it expands your waistline, and biting into one of Mom and Dad’s tomatoes is an all too rare treat.

So I’ve made a resolution—I’m going to start growing my own vegetables in balcony containers. One of the advantages of working at Hole’s is that I have a good head start on how to proceed.

Rule One: ­­­Big Pots

Lois Hole drilled into my head a very important rule of container gardening: always, always, always use large pots. The bigger the container, the more space there is for water, soil and roots. That’s not to say that you can’t grow a perfectly good pepper plant or two in a 25- cm pot, but for really impressive yields, go for the large pots.

Rule Two: Good Soil

Always use the best quality potting soil, never garden soil. Quality potting soils are free of weeds, pests and the most serious diseases. They are light and easy to use. Garden soils are much too heavy, and get compacted easily (besides, living in an apartment, I would have to steal garden soil from someone’s yard in the dead of night. It’s far less of a hassle to buy a bag of the good stuff).

Rule Three: Grow What You’ll Use

Any singles attempting to change their lifestyles must know their limitations. I love potatoes, tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce, so it makes perfect sense to pick up tubers and seeds for these. On the other hand, the only use I’d ever have for eggplant (gag) would be to toss it off my balcony at innocent bystanders below.

Start small. There’s no sense in growing far more than you can use. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with growing extra produce to donate to charities or local food banks and Grow A Row charities.

Rule Four: Quality Seed

Make a point of tracking down the best varieties. Quality seed is more expensive, but well worth it in the end. Germination is much better and the plants will be more vigorous.

Rule Five: Water Daily and Fertilize 

Vegetables in containers are like pets: they depend on you to provide for their every need. This means you need to tend to your plants with far more frequency than, say, you vacuum the carpets. Give each container a good daily soaking of water and add some 20-20-20 fertilizer to the watering can once a week. This will keep your plants healthy and increase the bounty you harvest. If the weather is hot, sunny and windy, you should probably soak the containers heavily in the morning and again in the evening.

From Black Thumb to Green?

Growing vegetables in containers is really quite simple. In fact, I’m almost convinced they’re bachelor-proof. Maybe it’s time for “The Black Thumb”— to turn green—after all, even super villains have been known to turn over a new leaf.

Farm Fresh Dividends

Closing the gap from farm to plate


There's nothing better in summer than a fresh, vine-ripened tomato grown on your own
deck or a juicy peach at a fruit stand on your way through the Okanagan. We've all
enjoyed the flavourful fruits and vegetables that only farm fresh can provide. We've
supplemented our grocery store buys with trips to the farmers' market. We've tried to
eke out a crop of vegetables from our backyard. But what if we took it a step further and
actually knew the land where our produce is grown, met the enterprising farmers, and
shared in the yield of the crops? Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) has been
cropping up across Canada, and this year, Alberta has more choice than ever when it
comes to locally-produced fare. 


Community-Shared Agriculture is a simple concept and one so strikingly obvious, you’ll
soon be asking yourself why you haven’t been doing this all your life. Think of it as
buying futures in a crop. The farmer asks for a year’s investment up front, then plants
and tends a variety of crops, harvests and processes them, and finally delivers the
bounty once a week to a pre-determined location for pick up. Most farmers will ask that
you help weed and harvest a few times over the summer as part of the deal. It all goes
back to seeing where your food comes from and how it’s grown and getting your hands
dirty. Making a living off the land is hard work, and the farmers who run CSAs are
passionate about what they do.


“I see what we do here as reconnecting people to their food and to the land,” says
Yolande Stark, owner of Tipi Creek Farm, near Villeneuve, Alberta. “We are the
instrument that allows that connection.”


Tipi Creek Farm is a CSA pioneer in Alberta, having operated since 1993. Over the years,
Stark has coached other Alberta farmers in starting their own direct-to- consumer
ventures, passing on what she has learned. Some have floundered and some have
flourished. But the time seems ripe for CSAs to come into their own in Alberta.


“Things have really picked up the past couple of years. I have 2 or 3 emails a week asking
about the CSA—and I have to turn most of them away!” Stark says.


The increased attention is likely due to our renewed interest in where our food comes
from. Recent films such as Food, Inc. and books such as Michael Pollan’s In Defense of
Food highlight just how complex our food sources have become. Couple that with recent
food scares such as contaminated baby formula from China and the lysteriosis outbreak
brought on by tainted Maple Leaf Foods meat, and it’s no wonder we’re questioning
how our food’s been handled and how many miles it’s travelled before it reaches our
table.

“People are concerned about food security, and this farm provides that. They see for
themselves what goes into the land and what comes out. They don’t have to worry
about where their food comes from,” says Stark.


Aside from providing healthy food, Stark is adamant about maintaining a sense of
community at Tipi Creek. Entire families are encouraged to help weed and harvest, and
there’s even a small patch where children can dig and play. She also keeps the number
of CSA members under 45. Any more, she says, and it becomes unwieldy. On harvest
day in October, all members are invited to harvest whatever is left in the field and
afterwards join in an open-air potluck. Friendships are formed naturally and many CSA
members visit outside of farm time.


It pays to do some research as each CSA is run a little differently, and you want to
ensure a good fit. Sparrow’s Nest Organics another Edmonton-area CSA, farmed by
Graham Sparrow on a piece of land near Opal, Alberta. Sparrow spent many years at
market gardens and CSAs in BC (where these have a lot more traction) and moved back
home to Alberta to set up. Sparrow’s Nest Organics is certified organic and this year
served 83 shares. Sparrow has also seen a spike in interest and has a long waiting list,
but an expansion may be in the works.

Once you’ve decided to sign up, talk to the farmer and ask questions about what to
expect. A working share can runs from $600–$700 for 12 weeks of fresh produce, grown
with sustainable, low-impact methods. Starting in spring, the farmer will send out a list
of that year’s plantings, which will consist of standbys like carrots, broccoli, cabbage,
and onions, but may also include lesser known veggies like kale, kohlrabi, or garlic
scapes. At the beginning of the season, be prepared for smaller batches containing lots
of lettuce with radishes, and by the end of the season be prepared for a bounty of
assorted root vegetables. Farmers also like to experiment every year with new things, so
you may be getting purple carrots or orange cauliflower the year you sign up. If a crop
just doesn’t work, it won’t be repeated the following year. “We never compromise
quality for the look,” says Sparrow.


Often, the complaint is too much produce rather than too little. Each share feeds a
family of four or a pair of vegetarians, so if you’re not used to eating a lot of vegetables,
prepared for a crash course in roughage. Consider whether you have time to prepare
more fresh food each week and whether your family is open to experimenting with new
tastes. Tipi Creek Farm has a host of recipes on their website to help members make the
best of a vegetable-rich diet. Members are encouraged to send it their own recipes as
well. Either way, prepare for a cooking adventure.


Most often, adjusting to extra veggies is an easy change. With a fridge full of seasonal
produce, you stop asking, “What should we have for dinner tonight?” and instead open
the fridge and think, “What can I make with these ingredients?” Part of the guesswork is taken out of dinner. Some members also plan to give away their excess to friends and
family, or the food bank. Families can also sign up together and plan to divide a share.


And just what kind of person signs up for a CSA? “That’s a good question,” says
Sparrow. “It’s so diverse—it’s amazing. This year we have a couple that are surgeons
and then we have people who are struggling artists. It just depends where people are at
in terms of what they’ve heard about local food initiatives. Once they figure it out, it
seems to really be a match. You know, the farmer’s market is nice, but this gives that
connection, a farm for people to come out to.”


If you’re ready to take the plunge, pick up the phone and talk to a farmer. It’s a
relationship that’s bound to grow through the seasons.

Side Bar
Eating Seasonally
Eating seasonally means eating food at its freshest. Most of the food we eat has
travelled from various parts of the world for over a week to reach our grocery shelves.
By that time, its sugars are turning into starches, and the food is losing taste and vitality.
Eating what is produced close to home and in season is simply better for you.
Whether participating in a CSA or seeking out local produce, become familiar with
what’s in season:
In the spring, the leaves and stalks are ready first. This may include lettuce, green
onions, spinach, and, of course, the quick-growing radish.
In summer, fruit parts dominate and may include beans, beets, bok choy, broccoli,
cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, kohlrabi, mushrooms,
peas, peppers, potatoes, radish, scallions, squash, sweet corn, tomatoes, and zucchini.
In fall, look for roots in items such as beets, carrots, cabbage, leeks, potatoes, kale,
onions, potatoes, pumpkin, rutabaga, squash, and turnips.


If some of these vegetables sound unfamiliar, have no fear. Here are a few things to
keep in mind when preparing seasonal food:
Cooking Greens. Bok Choy, Spinach, Chard, Collards, Beet Greens, Kale. These hardy
greens can be bitter or spicy when eaten raw. Cooking reduces bitterness, and whether
they’re blanched, braised, or sautéed, they’ll add depth to your dishes. Pair with garlic,
lemon, hot chilies, olive oil and smoked meat (think spinach salad with bacon dressing).
Root Vegetables. Potatoes, Sweet potatoes, Carrots, Turnips, Rutabagas, Celery root,
Beets. Roots are the energy storehouses of a plant, rich in sugars, starches, and
vitamins. Roasting root vegetables will bring out their sweet flavour, but these versatile
veggies can also be grilled, made into chips, hashbrowns, or gratin. Combine unfamiliar
root veggies with your potato dishes for a more complex flavour.
Cabbages. Summer cabbage, Red cabbage, Green cabbage, Savoy cabbage. If you don’t
have Eastern European roots, you may be at a loss as to how to use this vitamin-rich
vegetable. Cabbage can be baked, braised, sauteed or stirfried, just until tender.

Complimentary herbs and spices for cabbage include celery seed, mustard seed, garlic,
caraway seed, dill weed, black pepper, and thyme. It pairs well with corned beef, bacon,
and sausage (think Reuben sandwiches).

Microgreens

Microgreens: the small but mighty                                                                                              Good vegetables in small packages


There’s a new veg in town! Microgreens aren’t just turning heads in the
grocery stores; they’re turning never-before gardeners into green thumbs. As you’ll soon
discover, growing your own is a quick and easy the way to take fresh and local to a new
level. These miniature greens are relative newcomers on the culinary scene and an even
newer trend in grow-it- yourself realm. Brilliant colours and surprisingly intense flavours
have made microgreens a hit, but so too has the novelty of eating parts of vegetables only
palatable when young. Corn plants, for example, are deliciously sweet as shoots but when
mature should only be eaten in a pasture. Tired of waiting ’til fall for the nutty taste of
sunflower seeds? How does 14 days suit you? That’s all it takes to grow a shoot from start
to plate. It’s that fast turn around that’ll get you hooked on growing. To get started, here’s
what you need to know.


The Basics


By definition, microgreens are simply vegetables or a mix of vegetables
grown to the seedling stage. They were once exclusive to high-end restaurants where they
garnished plates. Today, their culinary use has expanded, and it’s commonplace to find
them in salads, on a sandwich, in soup or even a stir-fry. If you’re fortunate, you may
have access to a grocer who carries microgreens or be able to find them at your local
farmers’ market. If not, you’re still in luck. Demand has grown so much that garden
centres sell microgreens as seeds packs. You can try individual varieties or mixes of
sweet, colourful or spicy blends. Bought or homegrown, it’s a tasty trend that everyone
can enjoy.

Greens 101


Although the terms get used interchangeably, “sprout”, “microgreen” and “baby green”
each refer to different stages of plant growth. Here’s a guide to understanding what
you’re eating.
Sprout: Synonymous with germination, a sprout is the first stage of development. Grown
in moist environments without soil, they can be eaten as soon as the sown seeds develop
—you guessed it—visible sprouts. The familiar grocery-store alfalfa, mung bean and
radish sprouts are slightly more mature and sport their first set of leaves, called
cotyledons. These sprouts are usually slightly opaque and have a crunchy texture.
Microgreen: Microgreens have stronger, more developed flavours than sprouts, as well
as more colour. Plants at this second stage of development establish roots and develop
their first set of true leaves. Consequently, they look and taste more like salad greens than
sprouts do. Microgreens are usually grown in soil and in brightly lit conditions with
relatively low humidity.
Baby green: Baby greens are allowed to develop past the true leaf stage but are
harvested before they fully mature. You’ll find these tender leaves available as mesclun
and spring mix greens. Baby greens are grown in conditions very similar to microgreens
but are sown less thickly to give them room to grow to a larger size.

Technology


Looking at the tiny, first set of leaves, it’s difficult to distinguish one brassica plant from
another. Broccoli, cabbage, arugula and other plants in this family have similar heart-
shaped cotyledons, and it isn’t until their next set of true leaves develop that they’re
readily identifiable.


Did You Know?


Hundreds of vegetables can and are grown as microgreens. Amaranth, arugula, beet,
broccoli, cabbage, cress, mustard, and radish are among the most common—in part
because they’re quick and easy to grow. Herbs such as chervil, cilantro and chives are
great-tasting but can take more than 14 days to germinate. Yield is also a factor to
consider when choosing what to grow. Basil and celery, for instance, both take 18 to 26
days to grow to size but yeild only half as well as arugula or cress (which also mature
much faster). In the world of microgreens, big yielders include Asian greens (such as pac
choi) and peas. So be adventurous and experiment! Your new favourite is only 14 days
away.

Get Growing


A minimal investment in time and money. That’s all it takes to grow your
own microgreens. That’s what makes it attractive to both first-time growers and
experienced growers. Unlike growing full-sized vegetables, plants only need to be kept
alive for a few weeks, and it doesn’t matter if they get a bit stretched in the process. To
begin with try easy-to- germinate and quick-to- grow crops such as arugula, broccoli,
purple cabbage, peas or radish. Here’s how to get started.


Getting It Right
Choose a proper container. You’ll need trays or shallow pots to grow your
microgreens. Seedling starter trays with domed lids or similarly covered bakery or deli
trays (make sure to cut drainage holes into the bottoms) are great choices.
Fill ’er up. Fill the trays with a good-quality soilless potting mixture to a depth of 2.5–4
cm. Keep the soil about 1 cm from the lip of the tray so that seeds and soil don’t wash out
when you water. Then level and smooth the surface without compacting the soil.
Sow your seeds. Thickly scatter seeds over the surface, and cover (topdress) with more
soil or vermiculite. As a general rule, the topdressing should be no deeper than the
thickness of the seed. Alternatively, cover the seeds with a cotton or paper towel, which
will need to be removed once the seeds have sprouted, for a cleaner end product. Note:
larger seeds, such as peas, will germinate more successfully if covered with soil. Next,
shower them gently but thoroughly with water. Pop on the dome, place in a relatively
warm spot (12–24°C) and keep consistently moist to ensure germination (a spray bottle
works great). At this stage, the seeds don’t need light to sprout, so the tray doesn’t have
to be in a sunny location.


Manage your crop. Once the majority of the seeds have germinated, remove the dome
(and the towel if you used one). Next, if the tray’s not already in a bright sunlit spot,

now’s the time to move it to a windowsill or outside if the weather’s suitable. Grow lights
are also an option if you haven’t a spot that receives at least four hours of direct sunlight
per day. How often you need to water will depend on temperature, tray size and soil
depth. To assess, dig your finger into the soil. It should feel moist like a wrung-out
sponge but not soaking wet. Note: microgreens are delicate and can become matted if
they’re not showered gently when watered.
Harvest your greens. Most microgreens are ready to eat seven to fourteen days after
they’ve sprouted, depending on the plants and the stage at which you chose to eat them.
Your crop can be harvested just after the first set of leaves (cotyledons) open, or you can
wait until the second set of leaves develops. If you plan to let your greens grow any
bigger, seed them slightly thinner so they don’t become too leggy, turn yellow or rot from
crowding. To harvest, gently grasp a handful of greens and cut above the soil level with a
pair of scissors. Use immediately or store in the fridge. They will last up to one week in a
sealed plastic bag or container.


Quick Tips
• Buy untreated seeds (free of fungicides). You may even prefer to buy organic.
• Reuse the soil if there were no problems with disease or pests. Compost thereafter.
• If you don’t want to fuss with soil, invest in grow pads. They’re specifically designed
for microgreen production and readily available at garden centres.
• Start a second tray after the first has sprouted for a continuous supply.

Mighty Good and Good for You


Small or large, vegetables are plain-old good for you. Vitamin and
antioxidant-rich microgreens are no exception. However, claims that microgreens have
more nutritional value than their full-grown counterparts haven’t been proven. As relative
newbies on the culinary scene, they haven’t been the focus of many scientific studies.
There are studies on sprouts, but because the finding include the seed in the nutritional
findings, the information isn’t directly comparable to microgreens. Another issue is the
nutritional profiles don’t necessarily match that of the mature vegetables. For example,
with microgreen radishes, corn and carrots, it’s a completely different part of the plant
that’s eaten. But don’t get hung up on the nutritional analysis, or lack of it. There’s no
doubt freshly grown and picked produce, regardless of size, is always a healthy choice.
Here are some of our favourites.


‘Sugar Sprint’ Snap Pea


These attractive shoots with raw pea flavour make a great addition to stir-
fries. As a green, harvest when about 10 cm tall. As a full-grown plant, ‘Sugar Sprint’ is a
bush-type pea that grows well in pots or small spaces. Mature pods are 7–8 cm long and
abundant. Shoots in 14 days; peas in 60.


‘Spicy Mix’ Microgreens


This seed blend lives up to its name, adding a gorgeous, spicy flavour to
any meal. Contains sawtooth mustard, peppergrass cress, ‘Red Ace’ cabbage, ‘Red Giant’
mustard and ‘China Rose’ radish. Harvest when plants have at least two true leaves orwhen they are 2.5–5 cm tall. Seed less densely to grow to baby green stage. Microgreens
in 10–14 days.


‘Liquid Sunshine’ Wheatgrass


Wheatgrass (Triticum aestivum) is a mainstay in health drinks. Grow your
own to guarantee product control and freshness. As a bonus, varieties such as ‘Liquid
Sunshine’ not only grow like a weed but also look great as a table centerpiece. You can
also opt to just sprout the wheat berries. When sprouts are about 2.5 cm, use them in
salads or bread recipes, or grind them to make veggie burgers. Shoots in 7 days.


eg Science & Technology

Certain seeds develop white fuzz on their stems when they start to grow. It’s a natural
part of the process as seedlings set roots and shouldn’t be mistaken for mould. That said,
if you’re growing microgreens without soil, make sure to start with a sterile container to
deter the growth of unwanted organisms. Note that mould or rot can also develop when
using soil, especially if conditions are too moist or there isn’t good air circulation.

eg Quick Tips


Grow several types of plants in one container for a variety of tastes and textures.
To create your own spicy mix, pick your favourite varieties of these plants and use the
following proportions:
3 parts radish seed
3 parts mustard seed
2 parts cress seed
2 part red cabbage seed

Did You Know?
It’s definitely cheaper to grow your own microgreens than to buy them. Prices will vary,
but often range from $7–9 per 100 gm.

Hole's Top 10 Favourite Fruit & Vegetable Varieties

Each year at Hole's, we tweak and perfect the way we grow our crops, so that we can provide you with better choices and the best advice. Here is a list of our absolute favourite fruit & vegetable varieties, sold here, at Hole's Greenhouses.

1. Sweet 150 Tomato

A Canadian favourite, Sweet 150 Tomatoes can produce more than 150 tomatoes per season. Bursting with flavour, these cherry tomatoes are perfect for fresh eating, cooking, & even juicing. Pick up your Sweet 150 Tomato plant today to keep you snacking all season long.


2. Odyssey Apple Tree

If you don’t have an apple tree in your garden yet, what are you waiting for? Developed in Manitoba, Odyssey apples are yellow with red blush. Much like Gala apples, Odyssey apples are very sweet and great for fresh eating. These apples are ready to harvest in mid-September, and store for up to 3 months. 


3. Tumbling Tom Red & Tumbler Cherry Tomato Plants

A unique cherry tomato that is perfect for container growing. Try our Tumbling Tom Red or Tumbler Cherry tomato plants. Like the Minimato Tomato, these varieties are also determinate, meaning they are bred to grow at a compact height and don't need to be pruned. Perfect for container gardening! 


4. Scarlet Nantes Carrot

Because of their sweet and juicy qualities, Scarlet Nantes Carrots are our favourite for snacking, cooking, and topping salads. These carrots grow beautifully in cool weather and shrug-off frost with ease.


5. Cool Breeze Cucumber

Here’s a cucumber that is really different. Cool Breeze is 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!

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


6. Cylindra Beets

As its name suggests, Cylindra is a cylindrical beet. This Danish heirloom is smooth-skinned with dark purple-red flesh, and grows a dark red, elongated root.

Cylindra is a favourite in the kitchen due to it's uniform slices and ease of peeling.

Nearly two thirds of the length of the root will grow above ground, so some gardeners like to hill up soil around each plant as the root emerges. This will keep the skins of the root very tender and protect them from insects.


7. Ghost Chili Pepper

Hole's smoking hot garden favourite! Great things come in small packages. The Ghost Chili Pepper is considered one of the world's hottest peppers, measuring between 850,000 and 1 million Scoville units on the heat scale. When ripe, it turns a fiery red!


8. Goliath Tomato

Just as the name suggest, this plant produces enormous beefsteak tomatoes. With tomatoes this big, be sure to provide a cage for support. Great looking plant as well, with high yields—up to 70 tomatoes from a single plant! Great for sandwiches and burgers... if you can find a bun big enough.


9. Bodacious Sweet Corn

The trifecta of corn varieties: great for fresh eating, freezing and canning. High quality sweet corn that has large, mouth-watering kernels. A popular market variety that shows tolerance to common rust and tolerates cold weather conditions better than other varieties.


10. Green Arrow Peas

The best thing about this variety is the pea-pod length. These extra long pods mean a generous yield of sweet, tender peas. Each pod will contain between 9 and 11 peas! Happy picking.


Visit Hole's Greenhouses today for better choices, and the best advice.

Thoughtful Husband

This past weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to sold-out sessions on one of my favourite topics: vegetable gardening.

Given, the large number of people who attended the weekend sessions, I think 2016 will be the "year of vegetable gardening" in Canada. Let’s face it, with vegetable prices sky high in grocery stores, there is a pretty good chance that lawns may be sharing a portion of their real estate with lettuce!

If you missed last weekend’s talks, don’t worry. We are running them again in the upcoming weeks. The sessions are free but you do need to register. And keep in mind that even if you don’t have a penchant for vegetable gardening, I always leave plenty of time at the end for answering any gardening questions from turf to trees. It's always a favourite among attendees. 

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. And I must confess here and now that I couldn’t put together an attractive flower arrangement if my life depended on it. I might have peaked early - in grade 1, I think - when I gave my Mom a bouquet of dandelions!

Now-a-days, I rely on our skilled Floral Studio to assemble beautiful Valentine bouquets for my wife, and I’ve even gone one step further. I am on the "Unforgettable Bouquet" program that, essentially means our Floral Studio puts together a floral arrangement for me every month that I can take home. The flowers are spectacular, brighten our home and, for the most part, keep me in the "thoughtful" husband category without me having to remember to bring flowers home. Monthly bouquets are fabulous, but at the very least, they are terrific for the important dates that you can’t afford to miss like birthdays, anniversaries and, of course, Valentine’s Day.  


~Jim Hole

 

For more information on our Unforgettable Bouquet program,
please give us a call at 780 419 6800

Food For Thought

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer

Wet and Wild

This extraordinarily dry weather of late reminds me of one particular day in July, when we were laying sections of irrigation pipe in our vegetable fields. 

The pipe was about 20 feet long and 2 inches in diameter, but since it was made of aluminum, it was lightweight. And, with a bit of practice, one person could easily move each section and hook it up without any help. 

I remember, one day, when I picked up a section, it seemed just a little heavier than normal. But I attributed the extra weight to a bit of soil that must have somehow gotten wedged into the pipe. But as I walked with the pipe down the rows of cabbage, I could hear a rather strange sound that was reminiscent of fingernails scraping on a blackboard. 

When I looked in the pipe, I could see a couple of beady eyes staring at me and I realized that a gopher (Richardson’s Ground Squirrel to be technically accurate) had made the pipe its home.

Now, I naively assumed that a gopher in a pipe was no big deal. I reasoned that if I stood the pipe vertically and gave it a few good raps, the gopher would come sliding out. Boy, was I wrong. It seemed that the harder I hit the pipe on the ground, the more determined the gopher became to stay put. 

I should have realized that any animal that spends its life tunneling in soils would not find digging its claws into aluminum pipe all that challenging.

So after many futile and frustrating attempts at dislodging the gopher, I decided that the only way to safely get the grippy gopher out was to hook the pipe up to our irrigation pump and let the little rodent enjoy a free "waterslide".

 Sure enough once the pump was fired-up, and the water started flowing, the gopher shot out of the pipe like a kid on a waterpark slide. The gopher looked more like a startled wet rat when it popped out of the pipe and with a rather surprised and indignant look the saturated gopher scurried off to our shelterbelt and disappeared.

I gained a new respect for gophers that day and I think that while the gopher was a little miffed at me, getting out of that hot pipe with a refreshing shower must have felt pretty darned good.

~Jim Hole

Uphill, Both Ways

In the "old days" we would be in full swing harvesting carrots on our vegetable farm. We began our journey with carrots – as most market gardeners do – by digging them out of ground with a fork and then tying them into bunches with burlap twine. We cut the burlap twine into foot long pieces and then shoved a handful through a belt loop in our jeans so that the strings were readily available and easy to access. The number and size of carrots per bunch relied on a good judgment to ensure that the bunches were relatively uniform.

Bunching carrots in the field was a tedious, labour intensive job that we all dreaded, and after many years, and thousands of bunches, we invested in a carrot harvester and packaging facility. While I was lucky to bunch a wheelbarrow full of carrots in a hour, our new two-row carrot harvester could dig, top, and dump 5 tons of carrots into our tractor-pulled-wagon every 30 minutes! The only downside to mechanically harvested carrots was that they didn’t look quite as attractive as bunched carrots. But none of us carrot bunchers were complaining!

Today, the vast fields of carrots and equipment are long gone. Now I grow carrots in a raised bed in my yard that is a couple of metres long and a metre wide. My kids pull the carrots straight out of the ground, shake-off a little bit of the potting soil that clings to the roots, give them a quick rinse, and eat! 

When I tell them that when I was their age I spent my summers bunching endless fields of carrots, they always respond with, "And how far did you walk to school?"

Aah, I get no respect.

~Jim Hole

Magic Beans

Dependable and easy to cultivate, beans produce rewarding crops in a wide range of climates. Hot, cold, even raw, string beans are versatile in the kitchen and very prolific growing plants in the garden.

Of course, it's the green bean that everyone recognizes as one of the most frequently prepared vegetables. But that's just the tip of the iceberg!  Here are some unique, easy-to-grow and most of all delicious bean varieties for you to try:

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Rich Purple Pod - This cherished heirloom produces a heavy yield of beautiful, deep wine-red pods that are 12 to 17 cm long and about 1cm thick. They are flavourful, high quality, meaty, string-less, and rich in antioxidants.

These crunchy deep purple pods stand out against the green leafy vines, making them fun and easy to pick.

The young pods can be eaten raw or prepared as you would any green bean—we like to stir fry them with garlic, ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil. Or try them the traditional way, steamed and slathered with butter.


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Scarlet Runner - Just as quickly as Jack's beanstalk, Scarlet Runner beans grow into showy, full-leafed vines.

This easy-to-grow bean is both an ornamental climber and edible. It grows to 3-3.5 m high, with brillant red flowers followed by 15-30 cm pods that can be enjoyed young as snap peas, or as dry beans when mature.

These beans also do a fantastic job when used as a hedge, or to decorate a patio or trellis.


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Dwarf Horticultural - Also known as "Speckled Bays" or "Cranberry Bean", this pre-1800 heirloom is a great producer!

Dwarf Horticultural is a shell bean with semi-round, 15 cm long, light green pods that turn a beautiful crimson flecked white as they mature.

An excellent dry bean for use in soups and chili, this bean possesses beautiful colour and texture and is a must for any vegetable garden.


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Golden Wax - These stringless deep yellow wax beans produce excellent yields, and are  the perfect bean for eating fresh, caning, and freezing.

Golden Wax pods are round, straight, 10-15 cm long, tender and meaty. And are great for Northern climates.

These early producing, dependable bushes produce white seed with purple-brown eyes.


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Rolande - A fine French delicacy, Roland is the very best "filet" or 'haricot vert" variety with deep green, truly gourmet beans of delicate flavour and superb quality.

They are sensational simply steamed to server whole with butter and a sprinkle of fresh chopped herbs.

These beans offer gardeners abundant harvests of long, pencil-slim, rounded 15 cm pods on strong, sturdy, disease resistant plants.




Brassica Oleracea

Brassica oleracea is a remarkable species. You may not know it, but members of this single species all-star team include: cabbage, cauliflower, kale and collards, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, and broccoli.

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These cool-weather loving plants are perfect for our Alberta climate. Here are a few of our favourites to grow:

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Cabbage – Charmant (Brassica oleracea F1) – If you love to eat heathy (and who doesn’t?) then this is the vegetable for you! Cabbage holds the esteemed position of the vegetable that contains the least amount of fat per serving. And, as an excellent source of vitamin C and antioxidant phytonutrients, cabbage is a great defender against cancer.


Charmant Cabbage is a sweet and flavourful summer harvest cabbage. The 15-20cm dense heads are blue-green in colour, and weigh 1.5-3kg.


Cabbage is a hardy cool-season crop that does best under cool, moist conditions. It can be direct sown or grown as a transplant, with most heads being ready to harvest in 66 days.


Excellent for home-made slaws and sauerkrauts!


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Cauliflower – Cheddar Hybrid (B. oleracea L. var. botrytis) – While this cauliflower doesn't actually contain any cheese, it does have 25 times the beta carotene of regular white Cauliflower, for extra nutrition in every bite!


The eye-catching orange colour intensifies when cooked, adding fantastic colour and bold flavour to any dish it’s added to. And are also great  cut raw for snack trays and salads.


Cheddar Cauliflower is just as easy to grow as its white variety, and grows from seed to plate in 5 weeks.  It prefers moist soil, lots of sun, and is great in Alberta summers since the cooling temperatures enhance the flavor of this vegetable.


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Broccoli - Waltham 29 (Brassica oleracea  var.  italica) – Broccoli is one of the great treats of summer.  Known for producing large heads and long stalks, this long-time favourite is excellent for cooking fresh, frozen, raw or steamed.

The vitamin-rich head is actually a cluster of of tiny flower buds. After the head is harvested, it "sprouts" numerous smaller heads.

This cool-weather relative to cabbage is easy to grow, producing a large head filled with tightly packed florets. It grows best in mostly sunny locations during the cooler parts of the growing season, and prefers rich soil kept fairly moist.



Gladiolus, gladioli!

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When I was growing up on the farm, Mom always planted a single row of gladioli in her vegetable patch. She just loved the beautiful flowers and would often head out to the garden in the summer and gather up a bunch of gladioli stalks to stick straight into a tall, clear, glass vase. The large flowers set on the tall straight spikes were always spectacular and looked incredible all on their own, without the addition of any other flowers or greenery. 

I was always amazed that these little brown corms could grow so quickly and produce such tall, magnificent spikes in such short order. Gladiolus grows best in rich, loamy soil and we had plenty of them by our old farmhouse.

For 2015, it’s exciting to see so many wonderful gladioli varieties available to plant in our yards. Everything from purples, blues and greens, to colourful mixed varieties like "Tutti Frutti", "Tropical Blend" or "Chocolate & Banana Blend".

If you haven’t planted gladiolus before, give it a try. It is unsurpassed as an outstanding cutflower for summer weddings, backyard BBQs, or simply to liven-up the kitchen or livingroom. And don’t be afraid to put a row in your vegetable patch if you have the space. Just remember to place the row of glads to the east side of the patch so that the tall spikes don’t block the sunlight for the vegetables.

The north to south row on the east side of the garden always worked out great in Mom’s garden.

Gladiolus-gladioli-flower-bulbs-stalbert-edmonton-yeg

~Jim Hole

p.s. There are still a few spots left for my tomato workshop on Saturday, April 18th. You can sign up by clicking here or using the button below.

 


Early Spring Sowing

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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

Lettuce Grow

Have you ever tasted lettuce fresh from the garden? I mean really fresh. Picked less than 30 minutes ago? The difference in taste is incredible! You will never settle for shop lettuce again after you tasted a truly fresh garden lettuce.

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Well lucky for you, lettuce greens are so easy to grow (indoors now, outdoors later), they grow so fast, they’re so nutritious and so delicious, and growing them is a breeze. If you aren't already planning on planting lettuce, here are a few reasons why you ought to:

Not everyone has a large garden space, but the great thing about lettuce is that it’s a fantastic vegetable for container planting. With enough water, lettuce will thrive in trays as shallow as 4” and pots or containers of any kind. And I do mean any kind. Your grandmother had it figured out when she used those old dresser drawers to plant her lettuce in!

The trick is not to go overboard. The biggest mistake home gardeners make when planting lettuce is planting one big patch at the beginning of summer. Five weeks later they’re swimming in lettuce. I’m sure you love salad as much as the next person, but trust me on this one: The key is planting a small patch where you have a gap in the garden every 2-3 weeks instead. That will give you a steady (and manageable) supply through the summer.

Lettuce is one speedy vegetable. It goes from seed to baby greens in 4 to 6 weeks and from seed to salad bowl in 6-8 weeks. Because it grows so quickly, lettuce is a great short season vegetable to interplant with other long season vegetables such as peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, or eggplants.

With dozens of different lettuce varieties, each with its own unique colour, texture and flavour, home gardeners have some serious choice. Here are a few interesting varieties you might enjoy:

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Lettuce - Sea of Red – Sea of Red lettuce is a perfect red-wine contrast to your otherwise very green salad. With open loose heads of sword-shaped leaves that colour up to a beautiful and amazingly deep mahogany-red, this lettuce also makes a great addition to planters with ornamentals. And, unlike other red lettuces that fade in the sun, Sea of Red’s colour just becomes more intense.

Harvesting the entire head of Sea of Red lettuce is fine, however if you snip off the young lettuce leaves about ten centimeters above ground instead, it will vigorously re-sprout and provide several more harvests.

Since the leaves grow upright, it makes growing the lettuces tightly together possible. This creates the appearance of a sea of red!


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Lettuce - Garden Babies Butterhead – This lettuce is a salad lover’s fantasy: buttery texture and an outstanding sweet taste. But more than that, they are a gardener’s dream. This lettuce is perfect looking!

Garden Babies were originally developed for the Japanese luxury market, where a premium is put on flavour and quality. The cute perfectly formed little butterhead rosettes are ideal for growing in containers. They are slow to bolt, heat tolerant, and make twelve to fifteen centimeter heads at maturity.

This lettuce is perfect for individual servings, which makes them as much fun to eat as they are to grow!


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Lettuce - Drunken Woman  The honest truth is I chose this variety because I was tickled by the name. Who could resist having a “Drunken Woman Fringed Headed” in their garden?

The best guess is that this fabulous lettuce’s name refers to its frizzy headed look. The Drunken Woman lettuce boasts emerald green leaves tipped in mahogany red.

Unlike the Butterhead varieties this isn't a melt-in-your-mouth type lettuce. It’s heavy on the crunch! With a nuttier than buttery flavour, Drunken Woman is the perfect vehicle for any number of vinaigrettes or toppings.

Enjoy, and may your salads never be boring again!

Best Millenium Ever

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Asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables and one of the first vegetables that we can harvest from our gardens (especially if it's been established in your garden for a few years).
 
But choosing the best varieties of asparagus is the crucial first step for ensuring that you get the high yields of these delicious spears.
 
The two varieties that are high up on my list are: "Jersey Knight" and "Millennium." Both of these varieties are "male clones" which means that flower and fruit production is minimal when the asparagus plants mature.
 
Flower and fruit production may not seem like a big deal when it comes to asparagus spear yield, but anytime a plant makes flowers or fruit, energy must be "robbed" from other plant parts like spears and shifted to the reproductive structures of the asparagus plants.
 
Jersey Knight and Millennium are both excellent, high-yielding varieties but I give the edge to Millennium for patriotic reasons: Millennium is a Canadian variety that was developed at the University of Guelph in Ontario while Jersey Knight originates from the U.S.  We have both varieties available now as well as a number onions, garlic, potatoes, & artichokes.

~Jim Hole

p.s. This weekend, I'll be speaking at Canada Blooms in Toronto giving presentations on fusion gardening, soil, and garden myths. If you're in Toronto, I'd love to see you there. 

Back in Edmonton, my next upcoming workshop will be on Saturday, March 28th and is called "Container Planting with the Experts." We have a few spots left, so if you'd like to learn about container gardening, register here before it fills up.