Dunnville Horticulture Society

It’s Harvest Time

Houston harvests a zucchini

An earlier Haldimand Press article (July 11, 2019) suggested growing zucchini was a good way to introduce children to gardening.

One day before Houston McGowan turned two years of age, he picked this last-of-the season zucchini from the Lowbanks’ garden along Lake Erie. It weighed nearly 3 kg and measured 41 cm in length.

For tasty frying, it’s better to harvest zucchini before they reach this size, however by grinding up this one, his mother Maggie can make a winters supply of relish!

At Houston’s young age, the photo certainly shows the interest and enjoyment children can experience in Haldimand gardening!

Called Raven, this is an especially good zucchini variety as it produces abundantly from late June into October, benefiting by the lake moderating the temperature and prolonging the growing season. In addition, the plant was watered and fed regularly with 10-52-10 fertilizer throughout the season.

Because Raven is a hybrid, Houston will not save the seed from this giant. New seed will be purchased next year.

Lester C. Fretz, M.Sc., is a Dunnville Horticulture Society member and Haldimand gardener.

Sweet Potatoes: It’s Harvest Time

Unlike Irish (white) potatoes, which save better if the vines are allowed to die down for three weeks before digging, it’s extremely important to dig sweet potatoes before the first frost.

Unfortunately, many gardeners do not grow this very easy, productive, and nutritious crop because of the perception they are a southern crop.

Because Southern Ontario days are longer than in the south, by planting sweet potatoes in early June and growing a 100-day variety, they are very mature (good size) by mid-September, although they will continue to grow until dug.

The 2019 crop has been superb – best ever!

Harvesting sweet potatoes is effective by following these suggestions:

  1. If the ends of the vines begin to yellow, digging can begin.
  2. Watch the weather reports and dig before the first frost.
  3. Dig on a warm, sunny day if this is possible.
  4. Use a spade fork and dig at least 40 cm away from the hill to prevent damaging a tuber as the roots spread widely.
  5. Remove the tubers carefully from the hill and gently rub off the soil.
  6. Do not wash the tubers. Handle carefully so the skin is not damaged.
  7. Allow the tubers to lie in the sun for the day, turning them once.
  8. Put them into trays/containers so tubers do not touch each other.
  9. Sweet potatoes are tastier if allowed to cure for two months:
  10. For the first two weeks, cure them at 27C with 80-90% humidity.
  11. Store through the winter at no lower than 12C (e.g. basement).
  12. NEVER put sweet potatoes in a refrigerator.
  13. Sweet potatoes are grown from rooted slips (not eyes).
  14. This can be done in February by placing a tuber in soil or water.
The spade fork is placed 40 cm from the vines. A green string is attached to indicate the top of the tuber. By placing it in a vase of water, slips will grow to root cuttings for the following year’s planting. This variety (Superior) has been grown continuously for over 45 years in the writer’s garden. —Haldimand Press photo by Lester C. Fretz.

Expediting Tomato Ripening

Are you one of many gardeners who is experiencing slowness in the tomatoes ripening? For various reasons, this seems to be a very common problem to many this year.

Having a special cherry tomato plant that has grown to a height of over two metres and is loaded with an abundance of clusters of large, green tomatoes, a very simple and effective solution to speed up their ripening was to cover the staked plant with extra-long  plastic dry-cleaning bags.

Soon it was necessary to make a vent in the top as the temperature quickly soared to 35C. This particular variety has clusters of eight and 10 large tomatoes.  It is also a variety that does not crack when they reach maturity, underscoring the desire of creating something which will hasten the ripening process and prolong the season.

How does one get these long plastic bags used for gowns? Taking a quart of ripe cherry tomatoes to the local cleaners facilitated an easy exchange! It is conceded that had this plant been grown indoors from seed and transplanted to the garden, it would have matured earlier than using direct seeding.

Nevertheless, it is also comforting to know this healthy, vigorous plant is ready for the first fall frost!

    Lester C. Fretz is a Haldimand gardener and member of Dunnville Horticultural Societ

LOWBANKS—Paula Patterson needs a stepladder to pick the highest cherry tomatoes at this Lowbank’s roadside garden. Covered with two plastic dry cleaner bags, the white thermometer needed to monitor the solar heating is also visible. —Haldimand Press photo by Lester C. Fretz.

Zucchini: an easy crop to grow

An exceptionally great plant to interest children in gardening is the zucchini, a member of the squash family.

Because zucchini are good sized plants that produce quickly and prolifically, they enable young gardeners to enjoy quick success. In addition, their large seeds make it easy for young children to plant.

Seeds can be sown indoors four weeks before the last frost or they can be planted directly into the soil when it becomes warm. The soil should be rich and well drained. The seed (one per hill) should be planted with its pointed end down. The hills should be 1 metre apart.

Picking promotes growth, as does removing dying or diseased leaves. Rarely is pollination a problem, however it can be assisted by removing the male flower, which has a long stem, by pulling back the petals to expose the stamen and inserting it into a female flower, which has a short stem.

To maintain production until frost, plant only a couple hills initially and then plant additional seeds when the first planting begins to flower. Zucchini thrive with full sun, weekly watering (2 ½ cm) and monthly feeding.

The attached photo was taken on Canada Day, 2019. The seed was planted indoors on May 9 and transplanted to the garden on May 16. A plastic bottle was placed over the plant to serve as a greenhouse until the weather warmed.

   Lester C. Fretz, M.Sc., is a member of the Dunnville Horticulture Society.

Grow Blueberries for Health and Great Eating

Lester C. Fretz

Haldimand Press

Rooting Grape Vines Easily and Inexpensively


If someone wishes to grow a grape vine, it’s very easy to have this enjoyable, productive fruit growing on one’s trellis, arbor or pergola.  Both for fertilization and to have vines which produce in different months, it’s a good idea to have two varieties.  For example, , Fredonia (pictured here) an earlier table grape, ripens in August whereas Concord, a favourite juice variety ripens later.  In fact, Concords are tastier after a frost.


To root several cuttings, March or early April is an effective time of the year.  This method involves more work and takes longer.  To simply make a couple rooted vines, the summer is an excellent and easy time.  It also produces a much stronger root system.


Five  simple steps are depicted in the photo.


1.  Find a grape vine which is putting out long new growth.

2.  Make an trench 30 cm long  about and 6 cm deep in the soil; water it well.

3.  Lay the vine in the trench with the tip and a set of leaves extending beyond the end of the trench as shown.

4.  Remove the leaves from the vine in the trench.

5.  Place two sticks over the vine to hold it down and cover the vine with soil. 

The middle stick in the photo has been put there to show how the end has been cut to hold the vine. 


The vine in the explanation photo is attached to the fruited vine in the other photo grown as a privacy wall beside our townhouse deck.


After a couple of months, a rooted vine can be removed from the soil and severed from the main vine to transplant in your desired location.


Lester C. Fretz, M.Sc.,








Grow Blueberries for Health and Great Eating

Lester C. Fretz

Haldimand Press

Grow Blueberries for Health and Great Eating


Recently someone remarked, “I think I’m going to grow blueberries this year”.  She had an excellent idea but obviously lacked some important know-how.


Blueberries are an excellent addition to one’s garden as they are one of the most nutritious, low calorie, antioxidant rich type of fruit.  Their health benefits are many while being super sweet and delicious.   In addition, they are easy to grow if the necessary requirements are followed while  enjoying a twenty year life of productivity.


There are three types:  highbush, half-high and lowbush.  highbush are well suited for this part of Ontario hence should be considered for the beginner as one mature bush will produce over 3 kg. of berries.  For cross pollination and more productivity, plant more than one cultivar.  Varieties beginning with “blue” are mid season and very productive; varieties beginning with “north” are earlier and hardy.  The plants should be set about 1 metre apart.   Of course, high bush require less bending to pick!


Soil acidity is the primary consideration.  Aluminum sulphate is an effective additive.  To achieve good growing conditions, simply dig a hole knee deep and 18″ in diameter and fill it with peat moss.  Not only does this medium provide ideal Ph, it is also good for water retention.  Mulching will prevent weed growth and reduce moisture fluctuation. 


Removing the flowers for the first two years will encourage vigorous growth and increased ultimate production.  For optimum productivity, they prefer full sun, however some shade is acceptable.  In fall, they add an ornamental value to your garden.


Lester C. Fretz, M.Sc.,

Member of Dunnville Horticulture Society


The photo shows a first year plant in production however removing the flowers to prevent fruiting is better for long term results.  Note its first year growth as well as its location.







Growing Watermelons

Lester C. Fretz

Haldimand Press

Watermelons: Tasty and Terrific To Grow


Watermelons are fun and easy to grow.  there are some simple things to do  for successful results. 


The first decision is whether to grow seedless or seeded; seeded tend to be sweeter.  In selecting the seed, consider size (e.g. up to 14 kg.) and length of growing season (80 days plus).


The growing time can be shortened by planting 5 seeds in each peat pot indoors 10 days prior to setting out.  Thin to 3 plants per hill.


Watermelon do well  if the vines (up to 6 meters long) are allowed to grow on rocks.  Using crevices between rocks for a place to discard compost can become an ideal location to grow watermelons.


Creating a hill of cow manure covered with good soil induces needed warmth.  Side dress with nitrogen when  the vines begin to grow.   When the fruit  sets (3 to 5 cm.) apply borax water with 1 tablespoon borax to 4 litres of water to provide needed magnesium or 1 tbsp. Epsom salt to 4 litres of water


Because watermelon have deep roots, a generous watering which will go deep is better than frequent watering of lesser amounts.  Excessive watering can cause Fusarium wilt. Reduce watering as ripeness nears (e.g. 2 weeks)  to prevent reduction of sweetness.


By noting when the female flower is in full bloom, the melon should be ready to pick in 35 days.  Two other good predictors are when the underside turns yellow and the vine to the melon dries and turns brown.


As the photos show, melons do well growing on rocks; the yellowing colour with dried, brown  vine indicates the melon is ready to eat!


Lester C. Fretz, M.Sc,

Member:  Dunnville Horticulture Society











No Till Gardening

Lester C. Fretz

Haldimand Press

No Till Gardening


Why are some gardens unproductive?


 It’s because spading and roto tilling kill beneficial worms and microbes.


For proven reasons, no till farming is replacing plowing.  If no till farming is good for the farmer, perhaps gardeners should also consider the value of this approach.


Tilling the soil every year is an age old tradition.  Hoeing around such plants as peppers, tomatoes or sweet corn simply cuts off roots which are desperately needed to transmit nutrients and moisture to the plant.  Rather than hoe to loosen the soil and remove weeds, apply a good layer of shredded leaves around the plants.  Not only does this approach have many benefits but it’s also less work for the aging back!


Based on the fact an acre has 1 ton of earthworms, a no  till garden 20′ x 22′ (approximately 1/100  acre) would have 20 pounds.  An earthworm eats its body weight daily.  Over the course of the summer, the droppings from this many earthworms would produce significant nutrients such as  1/2 oz. nitrogen, 5 oz. phosphorous plus a considerable amount of potassium, magnesium and calcium.  Their tunneling aerates the soil especially beneficial to clay soil.


No till gardening reduces erosion,  helps to retains water and eliminates the need for herbicides.  On the other hand, tilling: brings dormant weed seeds to the surface to germinate, kills earthworms and may compact soil while decreasing yields due to nutrient deficiencies.  Reducing water runoff will reduce mineral leaching.


Rotating crops boosts worm number.  Spreading corn meal on the soil is a good way to feed earthworms.  An excellent alternative to tilling is the use of shredded leaves and adding mulch of chopped herbs of all kinds which will fertilize the soil, retain moisture and moderate soil temperature.  No till relies on heavy mulching for the first few years.


It is acknowledged that tilling helps to get a garden bed started quickly where the clay soil is very heavy or breaking up a sod plot.


The photo depicts a no till garden early in the spring where shredded leaves have built up the soil over time.  Note also the use of a trellis which has many benefits and can be left in place with no till.














Warming The Soil for Spring

Lester C. Fretz

Haldimand Press


Warming The Soil for Spring


Canadians are notorious for talking about the weather. The delay in warm weather this spring has made gardeners wonder when the ground will be warm enough to begin planting.   There are several things an eager, anxious gardener can do to speed up the process.


The “Greenhouse Effect” can be easily be replicated by some simple things.  A very easy,  effective and inexpensive way it to use a 2 litre plastic juice container.  Cut out the bottom and place it on the soil for two days to allow the sun to warm the soil before planting.  Even before the last frost, you can use this approach.  If it gets too hot, remove the screw-on cap which also allows for watering.


In the event frost is predicted, cover the container with leaves (preferably shredded) over night or for the duration of freezing weather.


Larger areas of the garden can be warmed by covering the soil with a clear plastic drop sheet held down with landscape anchor pins both inexpensively obtained at a dollar store.  Although black plastic attracts heat from the sun, the clear plastic allows the rays of the sun to penetrate and warm the soil “to a greater degree”.


A third approach is to use an electric heating pad by placing it on a drop sheet (to keep  it dry) and cover it with a tarp.  Folding the tarp increases its insulation value.


The two photos show a plant inside a plastic container and a row of containers which has been removed on a warm day.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   






Growing Annuals Indoors in Spring

Lester C. Fretz

Haldimand Press



Growing  Annuals Indoors in Spring


Growing annuals indoors may require additional window space.  Rather than simply use the window sill, the growing area can be greatly expanded by adding extra layers of shelves.


For those who have an easterly or southerly window, scrap 1/4 inch plywood the width of the window sill works wonderfully.


The photo shows how the sunlit area of a window shelving can be tripled.  Make the insert slightly narrower than the opening.  Insert pieces of foam board or cardboard  along the insert’s outer edges  to keep it firmly in place and prevent damage.


If the growing plants such as tomatoes begin to get lanky, the second photo shows how an insert in the container accommodates the growing seedlings.  Not only does this addition keep the plants  erect, adding soil encourages additional root growth along the stem producing a strong, healthy plant for transplanting.  The seed was planted in the lower 1 1/2″ of soil; the ruler shows the plants now have 5″ of roots.


The seedlings can be watered weekly with a very dilute 1/4 Tbsp plant fertilizer: 1 gallon water.  Also, be saving your crushed egg shells to put in the hole at transplanting ,  adds needed calcium to the soil which will significantly prevent blossom end rot.


For flower growers, zinnia seed will germinate in 2 days with bottom heat of 75 F however they tend to get spindly.  Using the expanded-sides-modification to the seedling box, will result in sturdy plants for transplanting later.


Lester C. Fretz, M.Sc.,

Member: Dunnville Horticulture Society