Dunnville Horticulture Society

Vegetable Gardening facts new gardeners should know

By Brad and Susan Emery

To The Haldimand Press

Grow things at different times

Succession planting is simply the act of planting one crop after another in the same garden space. 

Succession planting made simple:

  • Plan in advance. It’s crucial to plan, map out your garden, and make decisions about what to grow in each bed and what crops will follow the initial planting. For example, if growing peas in one bed, follow that with a mid-summer planting of broccoli or cucumbers. Come early autumn, those crops will be replaced with hardy winter greens like spinach, arugula, or mache. 
  • Feed the soil between crops. To keep production high, work in compost or aged manure between crops. A balanced organic fertilizer will also help encourage healthy growth.
  • Use your grow-lights. By mid-May, most of the seedlings that grew beneath my grow-lights have been moved into the vegetable garden. However, I don’t unplug the lights for the season. Instead, I start sowing fresh seeds for succession crops; cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, kale, cabbage, and more.

Not all crops are easy to grow

New gardeners may want to stick to ‘beginner-friendly’ crops like bush beans, cherry tomatoes, peas, and lettuce, giving themselves a chance to flex their gardening skills before they tackle more demanding crops. We now have about nine years of gardening under our belt and there are still crops that continue to challenge us such as carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower.

I’ve gotten them to grow, just not consistently. Sometimes the problems can be weather based – too much rain or not enough for example. Then there are vegetables that are prone to insects or diseases, such as squash bugs, potato bugs, cabbageworms, and cucumber beetles. How many times have I cried over squash bugs on zucchini?

This obviously doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grow a vegetable garden; every season brings successes and failures, and if one crop (spinach, lettuce, cabbage) doesn’t appreciate the long, hot summer, others will (peppers, tomatoes, eggplant). Don’t get discouraged, learn from the problems. Learn to identify the pests and the beneficial insects that you see in your garden, and how to deal with them. Sometimes pest control is as easy as covering crops with a lightweight row cover, other times it’s including plants that attract beneficial insects to munch on the bad bugs.

Keep on top of weeds

As with garden pests, you’ll probably notice that you fight the same weeds year after year. One of the most important vegetable gardening facts that you can learn is that staying on top of weeds will make you a happy gardener. 

Trying to clean up a jungle of weeds is exhausting and discouraging, yet I seem to tackle weeding this way most of the time. However, every season I start with the thought, ‘It’s better to do a little weeding, often, rather than a lot of weeding at once.’ Really, 10 to 15 minutes, twice a week, weeding my beds is the plan. 

Easy weeding:

Plan to pull weeds after a rain. I recommend this because the moist soil makes weeding easier and the long-rooted weeds, like dandelions, are easier to pull up from the soil. This is also why I sometimes hold off weeding and wait for the rain. 

When it comes to weed prevention, mulch is your best friend. Add a 3- to 4-inch-thick layer of straw or shredded leaves around your crops. This will suppress weed growth and hold soil moisture, therefore requiring less watering!

Keep pathways clear of weeds with a layer of cardboard, or several layers of newspaper, topped with bark mulch, pea gravel, or another material.

Never, ever let weeds go to seed in your garden beds. Letting weeds set seeds equals years of future weeding. Do yourself a favour and stay on top of the weeds.

Vegetable gardening can save you money (but it can cost a lot too!)

As with almost anything, getting a garden started can be costly. How much you spend will depend on the size, design, and materials of your garden, as well as the site and what you want to grow.

If budget gardening is your goal, and your site has full sun and decent soil, you will be able to start saving money sooner than someone who has to build or buy raised beds and bring in manufactured soil. But, even raised beds can be made from materials like logs or rocks, or be free-formed with no edging. Existing soil can be tested and amended with compost, aged manure, natural fertilizers, chopped leaves, and so on.

Food gardening also offers other benefits to the gardener besides cost-saving; mental satisfaction, physical exercise, and time spent in the great outdoors. In my opinion, the benefits far outweigh the costs and work.

Susan and Brad Emery are members of the Dunnville Horticultural Society. For more information, visit their Facebook or dunnvillehortandgardenclub.org.

Time to get growing with nasturtiums

I hope everyone has had a good rest, is enjoying the bounty of last year’s garden, and is ready to put their hands into dirt for the very first time this year. We all know how important and beneficial it is for you and your family to eat the very best – and the best can be found right in your own garden!  One of our favourites in the garden is the nasturtium. 

Nasturtium flowers are versatile – they are attractive in the landscape and useful in the garden. Nasturtium plants are fully edible and growing nasturtiums can be used to lure aphids away from other plants in the garden. Nasturtium plants are easy to grow and may be climbing, cascading, or bushy. Care of nasturtiums is minimal. In fact, nasturtium plants are one of those specimens that thrive on neglect. Rich, fertile soil or too much fertilizer results in lush foliage growth and few nasturtium flowers. 

The old-fashioned nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus, is popular in the garden as an edible. Use nasturtium flowers as a spiller in window boxes and hanging baskets. Plant bush-type nasturtiums as aphid traps in the vegetable garden. Nasturtiums may add a peppery taste to salads, or their flowers may be used to decorate a cake. Hot sauce and pesto can also be made with this plant. It’s not just a pretty flower.

I get such a joy when we have visitors, I ask, ‘Would you like to eat a flower?’ And when that spice hits! These plants are also so easy to grow and retrieving seeds at the end of the season is easy. Your first package of seeds will be the only ones you need.  So let’s ‘Get Growing!’

For those who are interested, I have started a page on Facebook called Dunnville Seed Swap.

Susan and Brad Emery are members of the Dunnville Horticultural Society (DHS). DHS meets the third Thursday of the month at the Optimist Hall, and is resuming in-person meetings on March 17.  For more information, check out dunnvillehortandgardenclub.org or their Facebook page Dunnville Horticultural Society. DHS President, Deb Zynomirski, can be reached by email at debzyn@gmail.com or by phone at 416-566-9337.

Viola: Herb of the Year!

By Brad and Susan Emery

Did you know violets are herbs? I had no idea that violets are herbs and that they are valued for their medicinal properties. It was the Greek physician Dioscorides who noted violets have a ‘cooling’ effect on inflammation of the stomach and of the eyes. The 16th century English physician, John Gerard, described more than a dozen medicines made from the leaves or flowers. These were used for hot fevers and inflammation. 

Today, herbalists still rely on violets to treat coughs, colds, skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis, urinary tract infections, and arthritis and rheumatism. And why not, since they have been known to help reduce inflammation? Research has shown that extracts of violet leaves and flowers can be as effective as corticosteroid drugs in reducing inflammation. All naturally. Plus, other studies have shown that violets can also reduce pain and repair damaged tissue. 

So, if you plan to grow violets and haven’t yet, here are some tips. They do best in moist, well-drained soil, in a partly sunny location – but they can be surprisingly adaptable. I think the reason I’ll grow them is because the fresh flowers are edible. They are fun to add to salads, soups, or dessert. You can even candy the flowers, made by coating fresh flowers with a sugar syrup. I definitely want to try that out. 

Not all violets are scented, but the sweet violet (Viola Odorata) is renowned for its ‘soft, powdery, and romantic’ scent and has been used in perfumes for at least 1,500 years. Regardless how we use them for medicine, food, or fragrance, violets really are herbs. Pretty and practical. 

Susan and Brad Emery are members of the Dunnville Horticultural Society.

Tips from local gardeners: Honey as a Rooting Hormone

We’ve been using a commercial rooting hormone for years, and then it crossed my screen recently to use unpasturized honey as a rooting hormone. 

Honey does, after all, have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. I’ve also learned that it protects the cuttings from pathogens and allows the natural rooting hormones in the cutting to stimulate root growth. 

But is it as good as the synthetic one we normally use? Well, a study by the University of Hawaii found that although honey does demonstrate an ability to root plant cuttings, it wasn’t as effective. 

You could also say it’s better than nothing though.

Adding a pinch of cinnamon to the honey creates added benefits, as cinnamon has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that help to protect the cutting. It also allows the natural rooting hormones that are found in the green growth of the cuttings to produce roots. 

Honey can be used for just about any type of cuttings, including soft-wood, green-wood, and hard-wood cuttings such as rose, camellia, hydrangea, and geranium. Even succulent cuttings can benefit from honey.

As with any rooting hormone, the first step is to prepare your cuttings. Depending on the plant, the cuttings should be between 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) in length and cut on a 45-degree angle. 

Once you have your cuttings ready, dip each cutting into the honey and make a hole in the potting mix for each cutting. 

Keep the potting media moist and you can expect roots to form in approximately 7-14 days.

Succulents can be dipped in honey and placed on top of the potting soil. In a few weeks’ time, roots will start growing from the lower part of the leaves.

Honey can also be used for water propagation. Just dip the cutting in the honey and  place it straight into the water.  Once the root gets to about an inch (2.5 cm) in length it can be potted up.

So, I’ll make the switch as I have many plants to propagate over the winter to prepare for Dunnville Horticultural Society’s plant sale in May.

Susan and Brad Emery are members of the Dunnville Horticultural Society (DHS). DHS has resumed its in-person meetings! Their next meeting will be on January 20, 2022 (7 p.m.) at the Optimist Hall. They will have a special speaker, refreshments, and 2022 memberships will be on sale. Keep up 

with DHS at dunnvillehortandgardenclub.org 

or on their Facebook page. You can also contact President Deb Zynomirski for more information at debzyn@gmail.com. Think green thoughts!

Preparing your soil for next season

By Brad and Susan Emery

To The Haldimand Press

Although the garden harvest is pretty much picked over at this time of the year, gardening tasks are still ongoing and it’s not time just yet to close the garden gate. There will be a new season in just months, and you want the soil to be as ready as you are for planting in the spring. 

So, what are some ways to prepare your garden soil for winter? 

Clean up diseased plants and leave the rest in place. Spent plants left in place only add nutrients to your soil, but if you noticed any signs of disease over the season and it hasn’t been dealt with, now is the time to remove it. 

Now is the time to remove invasive weeds – dig them up and put them in the trash or underneath tarps or garden cloth. Try to remove them completely if possible and avoid throwing them into your compost heap or weed pile as they will likely grow from there. 

Amend your soil for spring. Fall is a great time to add soil amendments like manure and compost, or organic fertilizers such as bone meal, kelp, and rock phosphate. 

Once you’ve amended the soil, you can mulch your soil or sow a cover crop to prevent it from washing the amendments below the active root zone. 

Replenish or add mulch as winter mulch has many of the same benefits as summer mulching. These include reducing water loss, protecting soil erosion, and inhibiting weeds. Adding a thick layer of mulch to the soil surface helps regulate soil temperatures and moisture, eases the transition into winter, can help lingering root vegetables buffer against hard frosts, and prolong your crop. Plus, as it starts to break down it incorporates fresh organic material into the soil. What’s not to like about mulching? 

One of my favourites is reviewing and assessing this garden season so that we can plan out next year’s garden. 

Susan and Brad Emery are members of the Dunnville Horticultural Society (DHS). DHS is resuming its in-person meetings starting with its annual general meeting on November 25 (7 p.m.) at the Optimist Hall. There will 2022 memberships on sale at the event. Keep up with DHS on Facebook or at dunnvillehortandgardenclub.org. You can also contact president Deb Zynomirski for more information: debzyn@gmail.com. Think green thoughts

Get Growing: Tips from local gardeners

At this time of year, we have plants popping up all over the place, our chickens are great at spreading seeds around. Although we do recognize some, we don’t recognize all of them, or we have forgotten what they are, so we use this app called Seek created by the iNaturalist team. Seek is a joint initiative of the California Academy of Science and National Geographic.

One of the things I love about this app is it’s rather good at recognizing species, which is very helpful around our place as there always seems to be new plants popping up or we may not recall if a plant is a friend or foe.

Also within the app are several challenges that you can join in on. I’m currently participating in several challenges such as the Conservation Challenge, Healthy Ecosystems, Scavenger Challenge, and Backyard Challenge, to name a few.

What’s involved in a challenge? Well, let’s look at the Backyard Challenge. For this one, I needed to find five plants, two insects, one arachnid (eek), and two birds – all I must do is take a photo of each. Seek will identify and apply the photo to a challenge.

So, download the app and next time you are sitting outside in the yard see if you can finish the Backyard Challenge.

Now there are other apps on the market for plant identification and I haven’t tried them all, but I have tried the following apps: PictureThis and PlantSnap. PictureThis however is not free; there is a free seven-day trial available but to continue beyond the trial you need a subscription.

Although PlantSnap can be used for free, it does limit its features such as the number of photos you can use daily for identification. As with PictureThis, there is a yearly subscription for premium features. Don’t let this discourage you though if all you need is an app to identify a plant and it does have a lot to offer with a subscription.

Brad and Susan Emery are members of the Dunnville Horticultural Society (DHS). Members can obtain a DHS membership by sending a cheque or money order ($10 single, $15 couple) to Dunnville Horticultural Society, P.O. Box 274, Dunnville, Ontario N1A 2X5. Your membership card will be mailed directly to you. Although DHS monthly Program Nights are on hiatus, the DHS Board continues to work behind the scenes planning for this year. In the meantime, you can keep up with them online at                                            dunnvillehortandgardenclub.org or contact President Deb Zynomirski at debzyn@gmail.com for more information. Think green thoughts!

Get Growing—Tips from local gardeners

Since this is the time to get those gardens in, let’s talk a little about companion planting. This is something we started to experiment with a few years ago after looking into the Three Sisters Method of gardening; the three sisters being corn, squash, and beans. The general concept of companion planting is to grow plants symbiotically to deter weeds and pests, enrich the soil, and support each other.

For instance, the corn offers the beans necessary support and the pole beans, considered the giving sister, pulls nitrogen from the air and brings it to the soil for the benefit of all three. Then the large leaves of the sprawling squash protect the threesome by creating living mulch that shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist and preventing weeds. The prickly squash leaves also keep away raccoons and other pests, which don’t like to step on them. Together, the three sisters provide a sustainable soil fertility.

Although we grow all three of these plants, we are not growing them together because we don’t have the room in our garden for the squash, so we grow it elsewhere on our property. We use companion planting because we really don’t wish to use pesticides and any chemical assistants unless necessary. Let’s not forget though that companion planting isn’t just about pairing vegetables together. Herbs and flowering plants are also part of this mix, which will bring in those pollinators and also deter pests. Some flowering plants such as nasturtiums are also edible. I’m hoping this year we get enough to make some nasturtium hot sauce. Also, did you know that growing basil with your tomatoes may make them sweeter?

What will you pair together?

Brad and Susan Emery are members of the Dunnville Horticultural Society (DHS). Due to COVID-19 restrictions, DHS has suspended member meetings.

            If you have questions or comments, please contact DHS President Deb Zynomirski at debzyn@gmail.com or check out     dunnvillehortandgardenclub.org. Note that 2021 DHS memberships are currently available through mail. Send a cheque or money order ($10 single, $15 couple) to Dunnville Horticultural Society, P.O. Box 274, Dunnville, Ontario N1A 2X5.

Get Growing—Tips from local gardeners

One veggie we still need to seed is our Scarlett Runner Beans. Let me tell you, this is one pretty bean when dried. The plant itself, with its rich green leaves and bright red flowers winding up a trellis, make for a beautiful display or privacy shield. We plan to use an old metal garage frame to create a little haven of shade for other plants in the garden. It’s also a favourite if you wish to attract bees and hummingbirds.

We can say these beans are pretty easy to grow, but give this bean some room and a strong support as they can grow up to 9ft tall and the bean pods are approximately 20 cm in length. Start seeds indoors and plant outdoors when the soil is at least 15C; if the soil is too cold it could cause the seed to rot. Sow 3-5cm deep and 15-30cm apart.

The pods are edible at any stage and you can eat them raw while they are young and not yet fibrous. However, be warned that once they have matured and small beans develop, they are not safe to eat raw any longer. They must be cooked once small beans develop or let them dry for next year’s seeds as the plant will not survive our winter. In warmer climates, this is a perennial plant with tuberous roots.

So, if you don’t want to save your seeds, here’s an alternative: dig it up and store in cool, damp sand for replanting in spring. The resulting plants should flower much sooner than plants started from seed.

Brad and Susan Emery are members of the Dunnville Horticultural Society (DHS). Due to COVID-19 restrictions, DHS has suspended member meetings.

      If you have questions or comments, please contact DHS President Deb Zynomirski at debzyn@gmail.com or check out    dunnvillehortandgardenclub.org. Note that 2021 DHS memberships are currently available through mail. Send a cheque or money order ($10 single, $15 couple) to Dunnville Horticultural Society, P.O. Box 274, Dunnville, Ontario N1A 2X5.

Get Growing: From gardening to urban farming or homesteading

Over the past year we have become more aware of how important it is to farm and what farmers bring to the table. Also, over the past year many families have taken an interest in gardening and growing vegetables. It’s a rewarding endeavour to plant, grow, and harvest your own, although there is more to backyard farming than gardening.

Seven years ago we moved here, with no plan to farm. We started with a few chickens for eggs, then it was planting a bigger vegetable garden, next we got some ducks, and so on. Although we are not full-time farmers, every year we have added a crop and/or animal to our ‘farm’.

Ultimately, it would be very nice to be self-sustainable, although we’re dependent on having an internet connection so being off the grid is out of the question; we learn so much from YouTube.

We selected chicken, ducks, rabbits, and quail because they are easily maintained and provide us with a good source of protein. They also don’t necessarily need a lot of space or take up a lot of time. It’s the summer vegetable garden though that provides us with so much. Our cupboard was full of canned goods this fall, some are even quite popular among our friends and we are out for the season.

At the moment, our eggs are our primary farm income, but it’s not the only thing we sell. We have sold pullets and chicks, occasionally we have rabbit available, and now that we’ve added quail we’ll have that as well.

Lastly, we are also always trying to find ways to let nature help us with farm issues. Lately, we’ve seen hawks circling around so we currently have CDs/DVDs strung up in the trees as it is supposed to attract crows, which will in turn keep the sky clear of predators who are hunting for our chickens. It’s never a dull moment.

How does snow help your garden beds?

I love watching it snow. Everything becomes quiet and the snow dances when the light hits it. I thought that was the best thing about snow, but I was wrong. Snow is GREAT for your garden.

First of all, it’s a great insulator for the soil. Without snow, very cold temperatures can freeze the soil deeper and deeper, which can then lead to damage of the root systems of trees and shrubs. Snow prevents these cold temperatures from harming plants.

Secondly, it will help against wide temperature fluctuations in the soil. Under the snow, the roots of perennials, bulbs, ground covers, and strawberry plants are protected from the freeze-thaw cycle that can heave tender roots right out of the ground.

Thirdly, snow helps conserve soil moisture over the winter.

And here’s a BONUS! Did you know that nitrogen attaches to snowflakes as the snow falls through the atmosphere? That’s why The Old Farmer’s Almanac calls snow a “poor man’s fertilizer.” Nature provides a gentle fertilizer boost to plants!

So, now when we get that last snow dump as we sometimes do in March and April, we can say, ‘Let it snow and thank you for the fertilizer’ – instead of cursing it.

Susan and Brad Emery are members of the Dunnville Horticultural Society (DHS).

      Due to COVID-19 restrictions, DHS has suspended member meetings. If you have questions or comments, contact DHS President Deb Zynomirski at debzyn@gmail.com or visit dunnvillehortandgardenclub.org.

      Note that 2021 DHS Subscriptions are currently available through mail. Send a cheque or money order ($10 single, $15 couple) to Dunnville Horticultural Society, P.O. Box 274, Dunnville, Ontario N1A 2X5.