gardening

Seedlings

Starting garden plants from seed is such a great way to get into the gardening mindset. The old Vriends organic market stall (now August Organics) at the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market used to hand out these calendars that had a seeding chart at the back.

Representing 40-odd years of Edmonton organic gardening wisdom, the chart indicates when to start which seeds for best results in Edmonton’s short growing season.

This year I remembered that February 25th is the first date on that chart. It indicates that onions, leeks and herbs should be planted indoors for later transplanting.

So a couple of weeks ago I planted, and the results are getting me all jazzed up for gardening.

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I planted oregano, basil, marjoram and dill.

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Onion sprouts.

I hope to get 200 yellow onions into the ground this year for storage over winter.

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The vendors at the farmers’ market still have leeks from last summer, so they must also store well. I’ll figure that out later. In the meantime, I started up 200 leek seedlings as well.

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Can’t wait for the big thaw.

Apache Seeds

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Apache Seeds Ltd., 10136 - 149 Street, Edmonton, AB

Seeds for food-bearing plants are one of our most precious assets. Bred and tested over the ten thousand years that humanity has been farming, the seeds that we propagate today produce miraculous amounts and varieties of foods. There are entities and organizations in Canada that research and protect these treasures, but we could be doing much more. Specifically, I would like to see Alberta fund a university research centre to further research and preserve knowledge in the area of cold-climate agriculture and gardening. I think that they have a strong program like I’ve described at the University of Saskatchewan (to be honest, we could have something like that in Alberta that I’ve never heard of. Please comment if you can enlighten me).

We do have a burgeoning culture emerging around the issue of seeds. Edmonton’s annual Seedy Sunday event (for those “interested in plant biodiversity, heritage gardening, organic gardening, and seeds”) is happening this year at Alberta Avenue Community Hall (9210 118 Ave NW) on Sunday March 20, 2011 from 11-4.

And we have a local institution, Apache Seeds, Ltd. I went there today since it’s time to plant onions indoors. There’s no other place that I know of that carries garden seeds at this time of year (especially not unusual ones like onion seeds) .

As the old-timey sign implies, Apache Seeds is a long-time Edmonton company. I don’t know much about its history, but its reputation suggests that it is THE place to go if you need anything beyond your run-of-the-mill tomato and corn seeds.

I wasn’t disappointed. Apache has hundreds of different kinds of seed packets from at least seven or eight different companies. They have heirloom and organic seeds. Bulk seeds. Even grass seed (including drought-tolerant grass seed, which I have had problems finding I the past).

I had four or five kinds of onion and leek seeds to choose from, plus I picked up some eggplant and pepper seeds.

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seeds  read more... »

Extending The Season

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Swiss Chard Harvested in Edmonton on November 15, 2010

I enjoyed the book Four-season Harvest a few years back. The author is from a mild-weathered state in the U.S. (I can’t recall it right now), and he has enjoyed tremendous success in extending the harvesting season (not the growing season, mind you) throughout their mild winter. While Edmonton will never be accused of having a mild winter, we can extend our harvest so that it at least touches all four seasons.

There are a few vegetables that are perfect for growing in Northern Alberta. Of that group, my favourite is probably Swiss Chard. This leafy green, found at or near the top of every “most nutritious vegetable” list, thrives in all mild weather. Plus 30 out? No problem, harvest some chard for a mid-summer salad. Hard frost last night? Not an issue, blanch chard leaves and drench in sesame oil and soy sauce for a tasty side dish.

Chard can first be harvested around July 1st. I harvested my last bundle two days ago on November 15. That’s 4.5 months of as much chard as we wanted – it virtually never goes to seed and it requires little water to get the job done.

I did resort to some of the tricks that I learned from my parents and from the aforementioned book. I covered the chard before our first snowfall on October 25:

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Think there’s nothing edible in this garden? Think again.

That evening I needed to throw some chard in a soup that I was making:

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Swiss Chard is a super-hardy, cold tolerant miracle!!! *raises hands to the sky*

Even though the temperature has been dropping below –5 Celsius most nights recently,  the leafy goodness remained until today, at which point the entire patch is finally frozen solid.

A cold-hardy vegetable isn’t actually growing when it’s freezing every night. Instead, it is being perfectly stored. In its natural environment, with its roots in the ground, the veggie will taste 100% fresh once harvested.

With the use of cold frames in the spring, there is a lot of potential for the harvesting of fresh vegetables much longer than it may seem possible. If cold frame-grown lettuce is ready to eat in April (is this realistic? I  haven’t tried it yet), and tarp-covered chard ready until the middle of November, Edmontonians can eat local, fresh, organic, free vegetables for almost eight months a year!

Garlic

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I used to think that garlic was an exotic food. I thought it was like the mango - something so full of flavour couldn't possibly come from nearby, could it?

I couldn't have been more wrong. Garlic is in fact easy to grow in Edmonton and impossible to grow in the tropics. Ha! Suck on that year-round-luscious-food-having tropical countries!

Since it also stores very well, Edmonton could be self-sufficient in the stinking herb if it wanted to be.

It's time to plant your garlic for next year. Here's how:  read more... »