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

I'm Strong to the Finish 'Cause I Eats Me Spinach


When I was a kid, Popeye was my hero. Granted, he wasn’t the best looking guy nor the brightest, but once he gulped down some spinach, I knew the bad guys were in for some serious butt kicking.
So when I was about five years old, I decided what was good enough for Popeye was certainly good enough for me. Since we always had a plentiful supply of spinach growing in our vegetable field, I would simply grab an empty stewed-tomato tin from the house, head out to the spinach patch, and stuff my "spinach" can full of leaves.
Now, I didn’t really expect my biceps to grow to the size of cannon balls once I swallowed the spinach, but I do remember thinking that spinach must do something for increasing ones strength. Otherwise, why would Popeye eat it?
I remember thinking that the raw spinach wasn’t the best tasting vegetable that I had eaten, but I was sure that I could climb trees faster, and pick up heavy rocks more easily after eating the spinach leaves.
I probably would have continued eating spinach for another couple of years had my mother not said to me one day, "Oh, that’s so cute".
 Cute? Popeye was a superman - not cute! I hated cute!
The next day, the spinach can found the garbage can, and while I still liked Popeye, my "salad days" were gone. Tarzan became my new hero. Tarzan was also super strong, plus he wielded a huge knife and not some cute tin can!
Dad kind of took pity on my fractured ego and bought me a knife with a leather sheath, "just like Tarzan’s". Mom wasn’t fussy about the idea of a kid with a knife until Dad assured her that I was only allowed to use the knife when he was around. That suited me just fine.
Today, I still have that have that same knife. And while I no longer eat spinach from a tin, I do love spinach salads - with a bit of Olive Oyl, of course.

~Jim Hole

The Family Boat


When people cast a nostalgic eye back, their minds often drift to warm memories of the family car. When I think back to the cars we’ve owned, though, I don’t get all misty-eyed. For decades, Ted and I never bought a new car—we always had second-hand vehicles from relatives. As a result, cars weren’t that special to us. Nonetheless, some of our best family anecdotes revolve around cars.

One frosty November day, years ago, we were driving down Kingsway Avenue in Edmonton when for some reason our trunk suddenly popped open. We turned right onto 109 Street and came to a red light, so Ted got out of the car to close the lid. He leaned over, slammed the trunk lid—and caught his tie in it.

I was sitting in the front seat with the radio turned up, waiting. Then in a quiet passage, I heard a lot of thumping and banging. I turned around and couldn’t even see Ted’s head. All I saw was his hand, pounding furiously on the trunk.

By this time the light had turned green, and cars were backed up behind us.  I tried to stretch across to find the release lever, but the car had bucket seats and I couldn’t reach it. I had to get out of the car, run around to the driver’s side, and pull the catch. By this time, Ted was absolutely livid. Cars were tooting their horns, and drivers were laughing as they drove by. Once Ted got back into the car and settled down, of course, he was able to laugh too. It must have been quite a sight!

Despite the beating it took from Ted, the car survived intact. One of our other cars wasn’t as lucky.

Back in the early ‘70s, Ted bought a massive second-hand Lincoln from his brother Jim. This beast was so unbelievably huge and heavy that we called it the Queen Mary. You can imagine the kind of mileage it got. Instead of miles per gallon, we measured it in gallons per mile!

Some people would consider the car luxurious, but it wasn’t really our style. I was never completely comfortable driving it. If you’ve ever been behind the wheel of a car that big, you know how easy it is to lose track of your speed. I got pulled over by the police one day in a school zone, and while I wasn’t going that fast, I was certainly well over the limit. I doubly mortified, because I was a school trustee at the time.

I got out of the car, and the policeman slammed the door behind me—locking my keys in the car. I know he was embarrassed by the blunder, but he hid it well. “Next time,” he told me sternly, “keep an eye open for the school zones!” Then he got into his cruiser and drove off, leaving me to sort out the problem of my locked car.

The end came when we took the Lincoln in to Rene Parenteau’s garage for minor repairs. One of the young men at the garage didn’t realize the mechanics had removed the carburetor and tried to start the car. When it didn’t start, he pumped the gas pedal, showering the engine with gasoline. The engine burst into flames, which quickly spread. Nobody was hurt, thankfully, but the car was completely gutted.

Poor Rene! It took him almost a full day to work up the courage to phone. The next day, around noon, our son Jim got the call. Rene apologized again and again. I think he was desperately worried about what we would say.

Jim approached his father and cautiously broke the news to him. He expected Ted to be upset, but instead, his dad burst into gales of laughter. “Never did like that stupid car anyway,” he chuckled.

The car carried a bit of insurance, so we wrote it off and collected what we could. My only regret is that we were never able to give the Queen Mary a proper burial at sea.

-Lois Hole, I'll Never Marry a Farmer

The New Push Seeder


Like most farmers, Ted always kept an eye out for a new piece of equipment that would make his work more efficient. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when he came home with a shiny new Stanhay precision carrier-seeder one day, even though (as far as I could tell) there was nothing wrong with our old Planet Junior.

Like any kid with a new toy, Ted just couldn’t wait to try it out. As he pulled on his coveralls, I eyed the seeder skeptically.

“Ted,” I said, “it looks awfully heavy. How in the world will you push it through all that soft soil?”

“No Problem,” he laughed, heading out to the garden.

I settled back to watch him. Right away, I could see he was in trouble—his face was already getting red from the exertion as he leaned into the 50 kilogram seeder, trying to push it through the soft earth. I pulled on my boots and ran out to lend a hand.

“Ted,” I said, “you take one handle and I’ll take the other, and we’ll push together.” We managed to seed the first row, heading down the gentle slope toward the riverbank. Then we got to the bottom and turned around to head uphill. Well, we might just as well have tried pushing the thing up Mt. Everest. It was hopeless.

After much panting and sweating, we took a break, leaning against the seeder, wondering what in the world to do. “Ted,” I said, “this just isn’t going to work.” He was too stubborn to admit defeat, however. There was no way he was going to go back to using the old seeder after buying this new one.

He ran to the garage and fetched a long piece of rope. He wrapped it around my waist, then tied an end onto each handle of the seeder. There I was in front, with Ted holding the handles from behind.

“Lois,” he said, “start walking.”

I stared at him for a moment, hardly believing what I had heard. I had to admit, though, it was a good idea, and probably the only way we were going to get the field seeded. Feeling rather like a plough horse, I started pulling.

Well, it worked. We went up the row and down the row, up the row and down the row. The going wasn’t too bad, really, and we actually started to enjoy ourselves. I stopped feeling silly and just got into the steady rhythm of pulling the seeder along while Ted put his back into it and pushed.

Just then, a car happened to pass by. The driver slammed on his brakes, threw the car in reverse, and pulled off on the side of the road. As we neared the fence, we saw four startled, slack-jawed faces peering at us through the car windows. I had a momentary flash of embarrassment—“Just look at their expressions!”—but then I thought, “Well, who cares what they think?” In farming, you’ve got to be willing to do whatever it takes.

After silently observing us for half a dozen long, long rows, the car slowly and quietly pulled away. By this time, Ted and I were killing ourselves laughing, picturing the story these folks would tell when they got back to the city.

“Lois,” Ted said, “how I wish I’d had a whip!” 

-Lois Hole, I'll Never Marry A Farmer

Caught Red-Handed


This is a cautionary tale for all you men out there.

When you have a particularly bountiful crop, you can spends much of August and September storing and preserving vegetables. If you’re lucky enough to have a good friend to keep you company, the chore can actually be quite pleasant. But one year we had a harvest my husband Ted will never forget.

Our daughter-in-law Valerie had put a lot of peppers into the trial garden that summer, and her experiments were a bit too successful. We gave peppers away to customers and friends, and still had two huge baskets full of them.

Ted said, “Lois, why don’t you chop them up and freeze? I’ll help you.”

We turned on the CBC and set to work, chopping and chatting away. I noticed my hands were feeling hot. I thought, “Oh, for heaven’s sake, we’ve got some hot peppers mixed in.” I wasn’t too worried, since I was sure that we hadn’t picked any really hot peppers like jalapenos and habaneros. Still, my hands were beginning to feel like they were on fire. I asked Ted, “Are your hands hot?”

“No,” he shrugged.

We kept chopping and chopping, and from time to time, I’d run to the tap to cool my fingers. I kept asking, “Ted, are you sure your hands aren’t hot? Because mine are really getting painful.”

“No, no,” he said.

Finally, just as we were getting to the end, Ted excused himself. Maybe he should have thought to wash his hands first.

A minute later, I heard this mournful wail from the bathroom: “LO-O-O-ISSSS!” I guess his hands had been hot after all!

He walked very gingerly for the rest of the day.

-Lois Hole, I'll Never Marry A Farmer


"You say Verhuny, I say Chrusciki"


When my brother and I were very young kids, we would cut across the fence and into Mrs. Sernowski’s farmyard. We were never actually invited, but Mrs. Sernowski was always so generous and inviting that we assumed it was OK just to pop-in. As I recall, one of the reasons that had a hard time resisting the temptation to "jump the fence" was that she always had plenty of delicious "Verhuny" -  a fabulous, light, pastry dusted with icing sugar. (I've also heard it called "Chrusciki" by the Polish. Help me to get it right my Ukrainian and Polish friends!) When Mom couldn’t find us at home, she pretty much knew that we were filling our faces next door!
I also remember the huge peppermint plants that Mrs. Sernowski grew along the path to her Verhuny…err, house and the wonderful minty smell of the peppermint leaves. I can also remember how disappointed I was chewing on a peppermint leaf for the first time and discovering that while it had that beautiful mint fragrance, it didn’t taste anything like sweet, peppermint gum!
Growing mint in the garden is not difficult to do. In fact, preventing mint from spreading is often the toughest part of growing them. If you plan on growing it in your yard, ensure that you can "wall it off" from the rest of the garden. Otherwise, your yard could turn into a mint jungle. I know of one gardener who knew about the mint plants reputation for spreading aggressively and thought he could solve the problem by growing his mint in a pot. Much to his surprise, he discovered the mint roots had grown through the pot’s drainage holes and up into his lettuce patch!
Now, come to think of it, mint and Verhuny do share one common characteristic; While mint is notorious for growing roots that pop up unexpectedly, Verhuny is notorious for causing kids to pop in unexpectedly.

~Jim Hole

Career Day

One spring morning, years ago, I got a phone call from a friend who taught junior high school in nearby Bon Accord. “Lois,” she said, “we’re having a career day. Could you come and talk to our grade sevens, eights, and nines?”

“What career are you asking me to talk about, exactly?” I inquired. And she said, “Well, market gardening, of course.”

“Who else is coming?” I asked, trying to sound casual. She recited the guest list: a doctor, a nurse, a fireman, a police officer, a photographer, a university drama professor – the array of glamorous professions went on and on.

“Margaret,” I asked, “what teenager in her right mind would want a career in market gardening? With all those wonderful people, the kids will never come to hear me.”

“Oh yes they will, Lois,” she replied. “They have to.”

Well, before I knew it, there I was walking down the school hallway. I still hadn’t the slightest idea what I was going to tell these kids. Just then, two girls passed me, and I overheard one of them saying, “If I can just find a way to earn twenty more dollars, I’ll finally be able to buy that dress.” I snapped my fingers and thought, “Now I know what to say.”

As I walked into the room, a very nervous little grade seven girl was introducing me. She said, “ We’re so glad to have Mrs. Holey here today.”

I could tell by looking at the kids that they were already thinking ahead to the fireman. So I turned to them and said, “Hey kids, do you want to make some money this summer?” Every kid was suddenly paying close attention.

I told them, “Go home and ask your mother for half of her vegetable garden. In that half garden, you’re going to plant peas. And make sure you plant those peas nice and thick! And then you’re going to get up in the morning and pick those peas.”

You might notice I left a few details out between the planting and picking. But I had their attention and didn’t want to lose it.

I said, “You’ll pick a great, big bag of peas. Your mother will drive you to the nearest supermarket. When you get there, you’ll march up to the first staff person you see and tell them, ‘I’d like to see the produce manager, please.’ When he comes out, you’ll say, ‘I have this bag of peas I’d like to sell you.’

“He’ll reach over and grab a pod. The peas will be so shiny and squeaky; he’ll know you picked them that morning. He’ll want them so badly. And when he asks you, ‘How much do you want for your bag of peas?’, you will say, ‘TWENTY DOLLARS’.”

I thought the little girl was going to fall off her chair.

I told the kids, “You can sell fresh peas anywhere. Put them in big bags, put them in little bags, go to the City Market, go door to door. People will die for fresh peas.”

Well, the room absolutely erupted. The kids began talking all at once, excitedly throwing out suggestions. Just then the bell rang and I had to move on to the next class. I thanked the kids for their enthusiasm and began gathering my things.

A little girl in the front row raised her hand. “Mrs. Hole,” she begged, “don’t tell the other kids about the peas!”

-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

Rain Barrels


When my brother and I were kids, we loved to jump into the old, 45 gallon, metal rain barrel that sat at the southwest corner of our farmhouse. The water was a bit rusty (because of the corroding metal!) but it was always nice and warm thanks to the barrel’s sunny location.

Since our well water was high in sodium, and therefore not suitable for use on our plants, the slightly rusty, rain barrel water was great to have on hand, and Mom used it on her flowerbeds during dry spells. Of course, one needs rainfall for a rain barrel to be of any use, but even fairly brief showers filled up the barrel rather quickly.

If you plan on getting a rain barrel for you home, don’t go with the rusty type that we had as kids. High quality, UV resistant Gardenware Canada plastic barrels that have a quality brass spigot at the bottom and overflow hose at the top are best. They also come with a mosquito-proof, and more importantly, kid-proof lid.

Yes, I know that I confessed to playing in a barrel when I was a kid, but the danger of drowning was minimal because the top of the barrel came up to my chest. 

Let’s just say that my emotional maturity and physical maturity weren’t separated by a great span of time.

~Jim Hole

The Health Benefits of Plants (and Other Interesting Stories)

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

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

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

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

False Alarmia

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

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

Urine Trouble Now

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

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

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

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

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

~Jim Hole

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

Hauling Enormous Plant Requires Advance Strategy

Giant canna lily looks great in my foyer after major production to get it there

Houseplants have always been a struggle for me—a physical one, in the purest sense. But like most people’s, my desire to grow houseplants has more to do with enthusiasm than sensibility. There was ample evidence of this a few years ago when I decided that a gigantic pot of canna lilies would make the perfect—if not completely impractical—addition to my home.

The lilies looked spectacular at the greenhouse. The more I envisioned them in my foyer, the more I needed to have them. The more I needed to have them, the more possible getting them home seemed.

The plastic pot that contained the cannas was filled with lightweight soil, yet the combined weight of the plant, soil, and pot was remarkably heavy—about 136 kilograms (300lbs). Thankfully, dollies and forklifts made getting the massive assembly into a van and to my house easy. The situation upon arrival was another story.

Now I don’t have a run-of-the-mill house. In fact, it’s been referred to (lovingly) as a sugar cube with skylights, but it’s these skylights that allow me to grow plants. No, the challenge wasn’t getting the cannas to grow in my home. The challenge was getting the cannas into my home.

California roll

For some reason, the previous homeowners built with the “California look” in mind. The result was a 13-flight, concrete staircase that begins at the sunken driveway and ends at the landing.

Now, I wasn’t crazy enough to think I could get the pot up the stairs, but I did sell myself on an alternate path. Instead of having to navigate 13 concrete steps, all I had to do was make my way up a not-too-steep slope that ran adjacent to the steps. Drastically different terrain, same endpoint.

Quite satisfied with both myself and my luck, I slid the giant canna onto my wheeler and gently rolled it down the ramp of the van.

Oh, did I mention it was the middle of November? Now seems like a good time.

Winter woes

So it’s November, and I’m slipping and sliding (giant canna in tow) up the ice-covered walkway to my front door. The entire ordeal left my upper body drenched in sweat and my lower body (primarily my rear end) drenched with snow, a souvenir from the numerous times I fell.

When I arrived at the small concrete ridge separating the walkway on the left from the 13 stairs on my right, I put the grip of death on the pot and eased it over the bump.

But because I was due for a life lesson, the pot rolled off the wheeler, bounced down each of the 13 stairs and ploughed into my garage door.

Try, try again

I swore the entire walk down to the driveway. As angry as I was, I was grateful that neither the pot nor the canna was damaged. So, like a trooper, I slid the pot onto the wheeler and repeated the move—same slippery slope, same sweat, same wet rear end. The only difference was that this time I knew what could happen. So this time, when I got to the tricky spot, I planted my feet, pulled the pot as tight to the wheeler as humanly possible and eased the rig over the bump.

You’d think that would have done it; yeah me too, so you can imagine how funny I didn’t find it when the pot bounced back down the stairs.

As the canna meteored downward, the pot separated from the soil mass, I suppose much like a booster rocket drops off the space shuttle.

The pot, it hit the concrete wall; the huge mass of soil, my car.

Canna you believe it?

Disbelief? Anger? Stupidity? –you pick, but one of them had me at the base of the stairs, muscling soil back into the pot and giving it one last go. This time I used my body as a shield to stop the canna from rolling into the abyss. And this time, it worked!

As I triumphantly threw open the front door and flashed my crazed smile at my startled wife, I prepared to wheel my prize into the house. It really was too bad that the pot was wider than the door.




Happy indoor gardening!


A slightly different edit of this story ran in the December 7, 2006 issue of the Edmonton Journal.