Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tomato Update

Well the little guys have been transplanted into their root trainers. Because I am growing organic tomatoes this year (complete with organic soil supplied by Sungold) I am testing different materials including endomycorrhizal fungi from Eco Living Solutions (and just in case you were wondering I purchased this and am in no way saying my readers need to buy these products but I also don't want to leave you hanging if you are looking for materials.)

Because I am so sure these fungi will have a big impact on my crop, I dipped most of the roots in the endomycorrhizal fungi as they were transplanted. With two kinds of tomatoes I planted both plain (without the fungi) and with the fungi so that there was a small test. All soil media had humic acid and rock dust added to the media before transplanting.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Countdown: Six Top Ideas for Gardeners This Spring

Tip #1

Stop using conventional fertilizers. Make it your personal commitment this year to be very careful!

Only 20% of nitrogen put down with conventional fertilizers gets to the plants and the rest goes into the soil water, rivers, lakes and oceans. Imagine the pollution in our water simply because people love their gardens to death. Try organic products and not necessarily fertilizers this season. Some of the amendments that can make a big difference have Humic acids , Kelp, Fish hydrosolate or compost in them and they are sold as amendments and not as fertilizers. Organic "fertilzers" are only one step above conventional fertilizers because they may add excess salt to the soil and/or leach into the subsoil and beyond as well.

There are several products on the market sold as amendments and I have named many in the past – a new granular product (picked up in Toronto at Canada Blooms but out of Langley,BC) is Humik, from the Orgunique company. I used this product this weekend mixed with soil when transplanting seedlings.

As well as boosting plant growth – especially of tomatoes- it seems humic materials may also boost uptake of nutrients including calcium, magnesium, sodium, and copper.

Source of humics acid products:
The Organic Gardener’s Pantry:

Orgunique Products come from Langley, BC Products are called Humik and Hum-ix and web page is :

Other products such as Kelp, compost and Fish are also fabulous so I will write more on those at a later date.

Friday, March 26, 2010

countdown: Six Top Ideas for Gardeners This Spring

Idea #2: Stop Polluting with small Rototillers and Mowers

What could be more polluting than an old-school gas mower? The new "Momentum Mower" from Fiskars will be available this spring at Canadian tire. Anyone who hates the noise and pollution of a traditional gas mower is going to love this new unit which is completely different from other push mowers. The developer is Fiskars and they have been selling sharp cutting edges since 1649 and this is just the latest cutting edge. I currently have a Gardena push mower but it misses spots, is not good in deep grass, gets stuck when you run over a stick and generally doesn’t work too well. The new Momentum promises to solve many of the traditional problems of push mowers so I’ll look forward to its introduction. Retail price: $279.00 in Canada

PS If you are still using a two-cycle engine rototill such as the Mantis, you may want to consider either hand digging or the newest approach to gardening - Zero till. Not digging seems lazy but it actually saves a lot of energy and saves the damage normally done to microbes in the soil.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Countdown: Six Top Ideas for Gardeners This Spring

Idea # 3

The Wave of Urban Agriculture is not abating and the city of Toronto had a big display put together by city staff at Canada Blooms this spring. We have a ways to go in Calgary although the Community Gardens initiative supported by the City of Calgary has come a long way and is going forward with big plans again this year.

Lets get some of our Agriculture back into the city. Plant to plant a few vegetable pots or a row of beans or potatoes or tomatoes this summer. Plant an extra row for the "Grow a Row" - this extra produce goes to the food bank. Also, lets look at Vancouver and Toronto's lead with their "Sharing Backyard's" program. This not-for-profit group links homeowners with no backyard with people who have lots of unused space. Look it up at:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Countdown: Six Top Ideas for Gardeners This Spring

Idea #4

Playfull fun in the garden is fabulous and Reford Gardens at Jardins de Metis in Quebec is having a lot of fun with innovative displays. They brought one of their displays to the Canada Blooms show. “Sea Urchins” is beautiful and fun at the same time.

You can see the whole show by going to Quebec or see the Calgary inspired version during the celebration of 100 years of the Parks Department in Calgary this spring and summer. These mini-displays will be spread throughout the City of Calgary – stay tuned for more information.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Countdown: Six Top Ideas for Gardeners This Spring

Idea # 5:

Lots of new plants come out every year and that is nothing new. What is new is this completely different trailing annual called Snow Princess Alyssum (the white plant in the photo above). I had it in pots last year (2009) and couldn’t believe how great it was – blooming all summer and trailing over the pots a good 18” even in late fall. It never failed to flower like other alyssums (that go to seed early and then look kind of washed out): this one looked bright white in all conditions. Loved it – and the good news is it should be available this spring at your favorite garden center.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Count-down: Six Top Ideas For Gardeners this spring

Idea #6

6. Lets all try a little harder to go organic this year - especially if you are growing vegetables. I am really impressed with the new black gold series of soils from Sungro Horticulture. Most types of “potting mixes” are mostly organic anyway because they use Alberta wild harvested peats but these products go one step futher and eliminate the possible harmful wetting agents used in most mixes and replace them with a natural wetting agent. The Black Gold soils are OMRI certified so are ideal to get your organic veggies growing.

Start seeds in the OMRI certified Black Gold seed starting mix, transplant into the organic certified Potting Mix or Planting Mix.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

It's True...I Saw Martha Stewart and CBC radio starts....

Okay I don't watch the show or read the magazine but when Mark Disaro ( brought Martha Stewart over to the Garden Writers (GWA) regional meeting at Canada Blooms there were a few pictures clicked.

Martha said she wanted to meet us - since she is also a garden writer - although she didn't want to meet us badly enough to individually shake our hands or anything like that. She was in Toronto Representing Home Depo - and was officially launching a new product ... which we didn't see in our giveaway stash so I can't tell you what that new product might be. I noticed the younger garden writers didn't even get up to see her - they continued talking among themselves during her quick visit. I guess its an age thing. (She looks good by the way - even in her orange not-quite-martha apron).

Follow this page over the next while for a peak of some of the fabulous new products we did get to see and take home thanks to Veronica Sliva (our GWA rep in Toronto - she is pictured next to Martha).

In really big news listen to CBC radio in Calgary starting this friday (March 26) when Donna (sorry Martha no home Depo products here) returns to the noon hour phone in show to answer Alberta gardener's questions.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Gardeners Get Out Your Brooms

Okay this is a simple post regarding snow mould on lawns. If the snow has melted on your lawn and there is white fuzzy stuff growing there, this is called snow mould. It is a fungus easily controlled with light raking or with a stiff sweep of a broom. Do this as soon as you see it and do it again if it comes back. This is a seasonal problem so easily controlled if you do the right thing as soon as this is noticed rather than after it has been there for a while. Now - gardeners- get out your brooms! (otherwise there will be dead patches on your lawn later and who wants that!)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tomato Time ....2010

Seeding Primer:
Yes it is time to start tomatoes from seed again and that is exactly what I did yesterday. I love to start them in a little tray with shallow channels so that all the various kinds can be started at once. I know, some people like to grow in egg shells or in goofy peat pots or cell packs but no goofiness for me this year.... Just straight-up seedling mix (check here for more on the new organic seedling mixes available in a few days), seeds and water. The labels I cut from a yogurt container and labelled with a permanent pen. My warm floor isn't warm right now (yes that is being fixed) so I put my tray on the heat vent in the bathroom. Nothing kills off little seeds that are struggling to germinate faster than cold soil and in an older home it is hard to get heat. If you are new at tomatoes this is a reminder that the plants do not need sun until they are up - they just need heat so do something to warm the trays.

My Philosophy:
I am trying more of the heritage seeds again this year even though they have largely failed compared to the newer hybrids in the past. My reasoning is that I will be planting into a greenhouse when they are bigger and there won't be as many environmental factors to consider. This is the year I am going to continue growing them organically but with more consistent additions of compost tea and micronutrients. In the greenhouse I use a hydroponic system and I will not use conventional fertilizers for the first time on my hydroponic tomatoes. Instead, I am using more compost teas and micronutrients and other things - check this page to follow the progress this season.

Like a grape grower and maker of fine wines, last year for the first time I checked my tomatoes for their BRIX readings. This is a test for sugars in the fruit. I use a refractometer to do this and my tomatoes were double the BRIX that the bought tomatoes were so I am encouraged to pursue this further this year and Heritage tomatoes might have more potential for sweetness naturally - this is why they are back in the game.

My Seeds:
Thanks to Renee's Garden I have free seeds again this year (Big Beef - my favorite new beefstake cultivar, and Sungold- my favorite orange cherry tomato last year - so sweet and so early. Rennee's also sent me Brandywine,Marvel Stripe and Green Zebra Heirloom tomatoes all in one package labelled 'Rainbow's End'. I am intrigued by the tomatoes commercial growers sell in little trusses so I am also growing 'Moneymaker' and I like to have a few tomatoes to spill over the side of a pot so I am growing the one non-staking type 'Tumbler'. Finally, at a seedy staurday I picked up a Beefstake mix of tomatoes because I want to live dangerously! The idea here is to save the first sweet tomato that ripens for future cops.

My System:
I seeded and covered the seeds with a bit of seedling mix and covered the whole works with a plastic cover to keep the humidity in until they are germinated. In the past I have found the plants germinate at different stages but when you use heat they are usually up in under a week. Once 30% or so are up I move the whole works up to my grow lights. Once 75% are up I remove the plastic cover but still water to keep them moist.

This is once the plants are well up and have their true leaves. I have already secured my rootrainers from Lee Valley to move them into so I will write about that more in a few weeks.

I never fertilize or use a compost-based or worm casting supplement until I transplant for the first time. More on that then.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Time to Prune - Apples and other fruits

Okay this is it - the weather is nice enough and the coolest part of winter is behind us. It is finally time to prune our apple trees to make sure we keep them short (ie they are on dwarfing rootstock) and to encourage an open shape on the center of the tree. The period for pruning is over on the coast because things are already blooming but - heh- we are months away from that in Calgary aren't we?

Here are some pruning tips:

- Young trees need to be shaped to remove center and create an open tree.
- Older trees should not require much pruning because you need to do this every year with fruit trees.
- If you missed pruning for a few years then it is time to do it now but don't go crazy- heavy pruning in the dormant season causes over the top water sprouts in spring (and the need for a bit of summer pruning)
- get a proper pruning ladder and really sharp shears
- be brave and remove less than you think you need to remove...
- and finally - get to know your spurs- apples always have these distinctive little branches (about an inch long) and they are the blooming part of the tree!

Photo above is Bernie Dinter, who was teaching a pruning course earlier this year.

Leaving Paradise - back to winter

Okay - it's true - I am heading back to Calgary today and will likely thoroughly enjoy that but this writing- gardening - dog walking month has been grand. Here is a closing pics as I leave today - and PS The peach is in bloom!