Eastern Ontario planting calendar

If you live in plant hardiness zone 4b, then in Canada, you live in one of the greenish yellow areas identified here: http://www.planthardiness.gc.ca/ima…. If you live in this zone in the United States, you live in one of the blue zones identified here: http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/….
Following is a brief outline of the gardening calendar for zone 4b. For complete instructions, always refer to the instructions provided by your seed distributer.

February

  • Start leeks, seed onions, and celery indoors. You may wish to start peppers too, to give them an extra bit of a head start.

March

  • Prune your fruit trees before they develop buds.
  • In early March, start eggplants indoors. Later in the month, start broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, and watermelon.
  • Start herbs such as basil, parsley, sage, and thyme in flats indoors. After the seeds germinate, put them under grow lights for 14 hours a day; keep the soil moist.

April

  • You can sow the following types of seeds directly in your garden as soon as the ground is workable: Brussel sprouts, peas, and onion sets. Note: Peas and onions don’t make good neighbours.
  • Start Swiss chard indoors.
  • Plant strawberry bushes and blackberry, raspberry, and fruit trees.
  • After the danger of frost has passed, uncover your strawberry beds.
  • Later in the month, sow the following types of seeds outdoors: broccoli, cauliflower, leek, cabbage seeds, carrots, peas, potatoes, and radishes. Note: Radishes don’t like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.

May

  • Thin the root and leaf crops that you planted earlier.
  • Move the broccoli and cabbage plants that you started indoors into your garden.
  • In early May, start cucumbers and melons inside.
  • In later May, after the threat of frost has passed, you can move the cucumbers and melons outside along with the pepper and tomato plants, and sow parsnip, corn, kale, beans, and summer squash seeds. Note: Corn is not friends with eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes. Beans don’t care for peppers either.

June

  • Move your celery, eggplant, and pumpkin plants outside, and sow sweet potatoes.

– All summer long –

  • Plant lettuce and other greens, radishes, and green onion sets.

October

  • Plant garlic in mid-October, about three weeks before the ground freezes.

Beautifying your vegetable garden

There’s no need to sacrifice beauty for function

Some vegetable plants have beautiful blooms, like the eggplant above, and the cucumber below.

Cucumber
You can plant edible flowers, like nasturtiums, and flowers used in medicines and teas, like the coneflower (Echinacea).

Nasturtiums
Marigolds (not shown) are great at deterring pests such as beetles and nematodes.

Coneflowers
Try planting conventional vegetables in unconventional colours – such as black or zebra tomatoes, purple or pink beans, or black or chocolate peppers. They’ll add big splashes of colour to your garden as they ripen.

Purple pepper
Include a bird bath or two to attract birds to your garden and add ornamentation. Many varieties of birds will help you out by eating some of the insects that prey on your plants.
Create garden beds out of bricks, wood, and other interesting materials. Here are some ideas: http://www.lushome.com/creating-per….
Finally, add a lounge chair next to your garden so you can sit outside and enjoy your hard work–and maybe pull out a few weeds.
Anyone have any great ideas to share?

Food insecurity

If we converted some of our greenspace–our backyards, community centres, places of work–into gardens, and engaged community members in its upkeep, we could participate in the sharing of two things:
  • The quality, nutritious food that is needed for humans to thrive.
  • The knowledge that we need to grow and prepare food, and to build a sustainable future.
We could help combat food insecurity in our communities.

What is food insecurity?

“Food insecurity is the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” (Source: Life Sciences Research Office, S.A. Andersen, ed., “Core Indicators of Nutritional State for Difficult to Sample Populations,” The Journal of Nutrition 120:1557S-1600S, 1990)
Worldwide, it is estimated that 1.02 billion people were undernourished in 2009. (Source: http://www.mcgill.ca/globalfoodsecu…).
Here in Canada: “Every year from 2007 to 2012, approximately 5% of Canadian children and 8% of Canadian adults lived in food insecure households. This means that they did not have access to a sufficient variety or quantity of food due to lack of money.
  • The most recent statistics indicate that in 2011–2012, 8.3% of Canadian households experienced food insecurity.
  • Nunavut had the highest rate of food insecurity (36.7%), over four times the Canadian average (8.3%) in 2011–2012.
  • In 2011–2012, the rate of food insecurity was more than three times higher in households where government benefits were the main source of income (21.4%) compared with households with an alternate main source of income (6.1%).
  • Among various household types, lone-parent families with children under 18 reported the highest rate of household food insecurity, at 22.6% in 2011–2012.” (Source: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-624…)

The costs of food insecurity

“Researchers have found that people who experience food insecurity also tend to report:
  • poor or fair health
  • poor functional health, or an inability to perform key activities due to health problems
  • long-term physical and/or mental disabilities that limit activity at home, work or school
  • multiple chronic conditions
  • major depression
  • a perceived lack of social support, such as someone to confide in, count on, or go to for advice” (Source: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-624…)

Going green?

“The scientists who produced the map [at the following link] estimate that more surface area [in the US] is devoted to lawns than to any other single irrigated crop in the country. For example, lawns appear to cover more than three times the number of acres that irrigated corn covers.” http://www.earthobservatory.nasa.gov/…

Let’s repurpose some of that land

Starting seedlings indoors, Part two

Last week, we talked about how to start seedlings indoors. I didn’t tell you that I started some pepper seeds, but I did. They’re a bit difficult to germinate, so I didn’t want promise anything. But, we have baby plants. Lots of them. We have seeds that have sprouted roots and we have seeds that are thinking about unfurling their leaves too. You can see some of them above, towards the left of the photo.
These seeds benefitted from the extra heat provided by the heating mat beneath them. This is the one I used: http://www.homehardware.ca/en/rec/i…. But, you don’t necessarily need a heating mat if you have a warm sunny room.
Once the seeds grow roots, it’s important to remove the plants from the heating mat. The roots can fry if they reach the bottom of the tray where the heat is strongest.

Seedling and its root
You might be surprised by how long the roots are already. I was! I chose to carefully transfer the sprouted seedlings to new, larger pots and leave the seed tray on the heating mat to see if any of the remaining seeds were going to sprout.
I also used a second method of germinating seeds. I put seeds in-between two pieces of wet paper towel and placed this in a Ziploc bag, which I placed over a floor vent so the furnace would keep them nice and warm. Each day I checked on them and added more water, if needed.
They’ve been sprouting roots too.

Seeds germinating on paper towel
You can see a root on the seed that is in the middle of the right half of the photo above. I will let the root get a little bit longer, then carefully transfer it to a pot of dirt, lightly cover it, and keep it moist. If the root gets so long that it grows into the paper towel, I’ll cut the paper towel rather than damaging the root.
So there you go. The peppers are growing and the sun is shining.

Trimming the grocery bill in winter

It’s February, and in Canada, most of the produce in the grocery store is imported from the United States or Mexico, or even further away. There are a few Canadian items, such as mushrooms and peppers from greenhouses, or cooking onions and potatoes that have been kept in controlled storage. Let’s face it, though, unless you live in the warmer parts of the country, your options for fresh produce are limited. Unless you are making something that requires fresh ingredients, though, you can use produce you’ve preserved, at a fraction of the price, and without the harmful chemical additives.
  • Want a smoothie or some fruit salad? Berries can be frozen as is. Fruits like peaches and pears are delicious when canned.
  • How about some vegetables for a stir fry, sauce, or side dish? Peas, beans, carrots, turnips, tomatoes, and corn (and more) are usually blanched before they are frozen. Peppers are frozen as is. Blanching is the process by which the vegetables are immersed in boiling water for a few minutes, then immersed in ice water. This removes organisms and dirt, and stops enzyme actions which may cause the flavor, color, and texture to be diminished. It also slows down the loss of vitamins that occurs when plant matter is frozen.
  • How about some mashed potatoes or fried onions? Maybe some squash or pumpkin pie? Potatoes, onions, squash, garlic, and pumpkins can be kept in a cool, dark, dry room for many months. When your potatoes start to sprout, you can save them and use them for seed potatoes.
  • Have a hankering for pickles, or need some tomato sauce for your favourite pasta dish? Pretty much anything can be canned, either with a conventional canner or a pressure canner.
  • How about some chili or refried beans? Dry beans and store them in a dry place. When you want to use them, soak them in water overnight, then cook them in new water the next day until they are soft.
  • Tired of store-bought herbs? Some herbs, such as rosemary and parsley, can be overwintered in pots. You can preserve others by chopping them and mixing them with water or oil before freezing them in ice cube trays: http://www.thekitchn.com/freeze-her…).
These are just some of the common ways you can preserve food. We’ll look into these in more detail as the year progresses.