Spring is Almost Here, Get Growing! (Apr. 2016)

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Spring is almost here.  So, let’s get a jump on spring and start planning our gardens.

Now is the time to start some seeds for tomatoes, and veggies such as cabbage, kale, peppers, squash and cucumbers and perhaps even some corms and tubers, such as dahlias, canna lilies and begonias.

Unless you have a sunny, south facing window, you will need to give them some extra light, to keep them from growing too weak and spindly.  We grow ours in our basement.  When we renovated our house, we replaced the old style, flat surfaced closet doors with new, panelled ones.  Instead of carting the old ones off to the dump, we laid them on top of saw horses and suspended some old fluorescent lights over them, that we found at the Habitat Restore.  We plugged the lights into a power bar that is then plugged into a light timer, so that the lights turn on and off overnight, when the cost of hydro is less. The lights hang from the joists on cup hooks and lengths of lamp chain, so that they can be lowered and raised as the plants grow. A fan is placed at one end of the room, to simulate gentle breezes that help the plants grow strong and sturdy. Considering the prices of fresh produce at the grocery stores this past winter, we pressed our indoor garden into service early and and we have been enjoying fresh and nutritious spinach and salad greens all winter, at a fraction of the cost.

You can purchase growing trays from Canadian Tire or TSC, or you can even go on the green side, using recycled yogurt cups, paper or plastic cups with holes punched in the bottom, foam meat trays, foil pans and bakery boxes, or anything that resembles a pot or a tray that will hold water.  You can even make your own pots out of newspaper, by wrapping a long strip around a juice can and folding the paper in towards the centre of the bottom of the can. Then you slide the paper pot off the can. Fill it with potting soil and place it, tightly together with others, on a tray that will hold water. You can even plant the paper pots right in the garden, when the soil and weather is warm enough.

For potting mix, we use the basic type, without all the added fertilizers and water retentive beads, which we then mix with Coconut Coir and some composted sheep manure at a ratio of 3 parts potting mix, 2 parts coir and 1 part compost.  We recommend and use Coconut Coir, rather than peat moss, because it is and eco-friendly replacement for peat moss, and it soaks up water and fertilizer quickly, but releases them slowly, reducing the amount of watering, while keeping the soil moist at the root level. Peat moss actually repels water, which is strange at the very least, since it comes from bogs. Coir is the fibrous material found between the outer shell and the nut of the coconut, which, for decades, was treated as garbage and discarded. It is only in recent years that it has been introduced to North America as an eco friendly, self sustaining, renewable, all natural replacement for peat moss, and is now used in most commercial greenhouses.  (Don’t know where to buy Coconut Coir?  Call us, because we sell it.) Peat moss comes from Canadian wetlands, which filter water runoff from cities, roads and farmland, before it reaches our rivers and lakes, where our drinking water comes from. Peat bogs also store carbon dioxide, which is released as Greenhouse Gases when they are mined. Once they are mined, it takes up to 200 years for them to regenerate. They also serve as critical habitat for several endangered species of turtles and amphibians, so these are a few more good reasons for not using peat moss. 

After planting a seed or two in each pot, we sprinkle vermiculite and cinnamon over the top to lightly cover the seed.  The vermiculite helps keep the soil surface moist while the seed germinates and the cinnamon helps to curb fungus growth which causes “damp off”. This fungus attacks the tiny seedlings at the soil surface causing them to wilt and die, before they have a chance to sprout their true leaves. Always water from the bottom, so you don’t disturb the seeds or seedlings. We use a weak solution of water and fish or kelp emulsion, to help the plants grow strong and healthy. For food production, we prefer to use natural fertilizers that are endorsed for organic gardening, rather than chemical fertilizers, to ensure better nutrition and food safety.

Place your newly planted seed trays under the lights and lower the fixtures down, so that the lights are about 3 to 4 inches above the soil surface.  As the plants grow, you can raise the lights as needed.  By the time the weather and the soil has warmed up, usually around mid to late May in the Kawarthas, your plants will be big and healthy and ready to plant. 

But wait!  Your tender new plants have been growing in a warm, safe environment and are not used to the temperature changes and wind they will experience in your garden. So, before you plant them where they are to grow, you will need to “harden them off”.  This means setting them outside in a sheltered place out of direct sun and wind, so that they can gradually become acclimatized to the the sun, wind and rain. You can take them outside and back inside each day, or build a shelter for them. Some lengths of thin plastic plumbing pipe stuck into the ground to form hoops, covered with some construction plastic, make an excellent mini green house. Now they can be left outdoors in a sheltered area, but don’t forget to water them.  After a week or so they will be ready to plant and give you baskets full of nutritious home-grown veggies all summer.

Happy Gardening, Happy Summer.

Judy Kennedy,

2012 CKL Environmental Hero

705-879-4478

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