cold climate gardening

Local Organic Tomatoes - Not Just for the Rich and Famous Anymore

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An Edmontonian's backyard tomato crop, 2010

The term elitist has been popping up more and more in the media when describing local organic food. I think that using the term displays a lack of imagination and out-of-the-box thinking (to use a tired term).

We just hauled in this year’s tomato crop (I described starting the tomatoes from seed earlier in the year). We transplanted them in late May in 30-40 square feet of garden space. I picked a few weeds along the way (like, 50), but we hardly paid them any mind until today.

With fewer hot days in late summer than usual, it was a bad year for tomatoes in Edmonton. Late blight took all of a neighbour’s tomatoes, and we lost most of our crop at the community garden to blight as well (seems that the cool wet weather is what causes it). Also, usually by this time at least half of our tomatoes are red, but we've only picked three red ones to date. No matter - covering them with newspaper will enable them to ripen on their own, and I for one can’t tell the difference between on ripened inside and one ripened outside.

So in a bad year we grew 10 gallons of local organic tomatoes with minimal effort, for $5-10 worth of seed. And, for those without a yard there are a plethora of community gardens in this city.

What exactly is elitist about local organic food again?

Starting Tomatoes From Seed

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Growing your own food is right up there with riding your bike when it comes to green acts. It doesn’t get more earth-friendly than the hundred foot diet.

With our short growing season, the tomatoes that we put in the ground in late May can’t be in seed form. Traditionally, Edmontonians head to their local nurseries when the time comes to buy tomato seedlings. With a bit of foresight, though, you can save yourself a bunch of money and reduce the impact of your tomatoes even further.

Seeds

A couple of weeks ago I bought some open-pollinated tomato seeds from the good people of A’bunadh Seeds (from Cherhill Alberta – they had a booth at Seedy Sunday this year). I’m no seed expert, but I believe that open-pollinated means that I can harvest my own seeds from the resulting tomatoes (as opposed to hybrid seeds).  Earth’s General Store sells some great seeds too.

Any old tomato seeds will do in a pinch though. I chose a yellow, cherry, paste and beefsteak varieties.

Soil

The way to start your own tomatoes from seed is to get a bunch of small containers, they could be anything from actual seedling containers to Tim Horton’s cups, and fill them with soil. The soil should come from your backyard. Conventional sources will always tell you to buy potting soil from your local Home Depot or nursery, but I’ve never done so.

Potting soil ranks up there with bottled water on the list of useless items that companies have manufactured demand for. One website claims “garden soil is not a good choice, as it compacts too easily and can harbour organisms that cause diseases.” So how exactly will your tomatoes grow in this disease-infested soil once you plant them in said garden? For large greenhouses that have disease problems, sterilized potting soil makes sense. For the backyard gardener, it’s just another example of diminishing returns on investment.

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(fill some containers with backyard soil)

Once you have soil in containers, plant the tomato seeds about 1/8” deep. I labelled the containers with strips from an old Venetian blind that I found in the alley.

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(pieces cut from old blinds make great signs to label plants with)  read more... »

Alberta Home Gardening Blog

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An article in the Edmonton Journal yesterday led me to a website by a local gardener. There is no greener activity than producing food in your own backyard, and there is much room for innovation in our northern corner of the world. I’m constantly delighted by what you can grow here, and how many different types of wonderful food can be produced in a few short months of summer.

Of note is the post “17 Hardy Fruits That You Can Grow On The Prairies”.  I’ve put a link to www.albertahomegardening.com under “100 foot diet” to the left of your screen.

Indian Tomato Rice Soup (or, Cooking With November Garden Greens)

Indian Tomato Rice Soup

I'm always on the lookout for vegetarian recipes that can be made with local organic ingredients. When I get to eat straight from my garden, especially in November, I get even more excited. The rice aspect of this soup isn't so local, but I always use leftover rice, so I'm reducing food waste. Plus, it's shipped dry (from California), so the calories per gallon of diesel fuel ratio is pretty high (I can say things like that because it's already well established that I'm the world's biggest eco-nerd).  read more... »