It Is Called Food Gardening, Not Vegetable Gardening Now
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

March 10, 2013

Above: Prolific tomato plants in late August within Jim Harris’ Protection Island garden; some healthy tomato plant seedlings ready for planting out in late May or early June. Below: Jim Harris grows many of his vegetable crops under remay cloth to prevent insect and other attacks—note the cordoned apple trees in back; and an espaliered apple tree courtesy of Jim Beaulieu Website. Other pix by the author.

If you have never grown vegetables before, and have decided to add some to the garden this year, there are ever so many considerations. First, vegetables, with few exceptions, require a full sun location, with a reasonable soil (loam or sand, but hopefully not heavy clay).

Though garden centres and other plant sellers each spring sell small transplants of many vegetables, most can very easily be grown from seed, but you should order your seed from one of the Canadian catalogues very soon now, particularly since demand is expected to be stronger than supply with some types. You also need to make some decisions, such as how you are going to start your seeds--using a sophisticated seed-starting kit, or some-thing as simple as a one-dozen egg carton, and ½-egg shells filled with peat moss or equivalent. Remember not to start your seedlings too early. There is still plenty of time to start your tomato plants—virtually any time this month.

You also need to decide whether you are going to plant right into your garden’s ground, or if you need to make raised beds, which are very popular (but not deservedly so!) right now.

Absolutely the best sources of information about growing your vegetables are your seed catalogues--such as that of Stokes Seeds in St. Catharines. Virtually all of the catalogues are free, so order at least five, and do it now. Plan to start many of your vegetables in the home, but most root veggies--carrots and beets--prefer to be seeded in situ. And be prepared to combat insect and disease problems.

This year thousands of homeowners and even apartment dwellers will be taking up vegetable, herb and fruit gardening. Many will encounter difficulties and problems that experienced gardeners have already solved.

Let’s think more about the most popular of home-grown vegetables--tomatoes. If you think you don’t have the right space or temperature for starting tomato plants from seed, you’ll have to depend on young transplants bought from a nursery or garden centre. And, I advise you to buy them only from a trusted horticultural supplier where they have the actual cultivars of the plants marked. If possible take a recent seed company catalogue with you when you shop so you’ll choose the right transplants, but don’t do it too soon. Good sellers will have their plants in under some protection, and you should follow their lead. It is a definite no-no to plant tomato trans-plants in your garden too early. And generally, any time before the Victoria Day Weekend IS TOO EARLY! Better to keep plants indoors (at least over cool nights) than to have them “turn blue” in your garden. And, say-ing you’ll cover them on cool nights won’t work either, because just one night missed and your plants will go into dormancy that will take a week or more to break.

It will not be time to plant them out in your garden until the weather stays consistently warm--that is not dipping below 10 degrees Celsius. If there is doubt, be on the safe side and put off your planting until the following week. Even planting in the second week of June will mean tomato fruit sooner, than planting two weeks earlier and subjecting the plants to cool temperatures.

And, when you plant them remove several of the lower leaves and plant them about 10 cm (4”) deeper than they were in the tiny seedling pack.

You must consider where to plant your tomatoes. The first rule here is that it has to be sunny--as much sun as possible--at least seven hours. The second rule is not to plant tomato plants in the same area as they were planted in the previous three years. Try to find at least three garden areas (at least a metre from the other areas) where you can plant tomatoes, and move them around each year. This is important in the prevention of diseases and problems such as the preventable, notorious blossom end rot.

In the first few days after planting you may encounter some plants apparently cut off very close to the ground level at night. This is the tomato cutworm and you can prevent this disappointing damage by taking pieces of thin cardboard, about 30 by 10 centimetres and curving each in a circle around the plants right after planting. Push them into the ground and the plants will be protected.

Having written about tomato plants, let me turn to other veggies. There are a few vegetables that you should be growing in your garden. For example, peas, spinach, lettuce and radishes may be safely started as early in March or April as the soil is available. In the case of peas and spinach, these must be seeded at least in early April but for lettuce and radishes, you may still seed these directly into your garden later in the month, but if it turns out to be a warm or hot spring, your crop may not be as good as it would have been if you had started them earlier. In the case of lettuce, it tends to bolt; that is go to seed if it isn’t well on the way before the hot summer begins. Spinach, except New Zealand spinach (which really isn’t spinach at all!) has much the same problem.

For many of the warm-season veggies, such as tomatoes, peppers, beans and okra, April is a way too early to plant them, likely best to wait until evening/night temperatures stay above ten Celsius. When either planting seed right into the ground, or placing young transplants, plan to put them in rows at least 45 cm (18”) apart, and consider placing a special biodegradable mulch sheet down between the rows to lessen the amount of hand weeding you’ll have to do. And, if you’re planting either onions (from tiny bulbs or seed) or carrots from seed, consider covering the entire rows of the seeds or transplants with either cheesecloth or remay cloth, holding the latter down with soil along the edges. This will generally prevent attack from prevalent onion maggots and car-rot sawfly—for which there is no other control!

Are you considering one or two fruit trees, but unsure of just what to plant? If your garden space is limited, then consider planting one or more of the combination type trees. For example, there are apple trees, both dwarf and standard sizes, that come with three, four or five different varieties all grafted on one tree. This is an excellent way to guarantee good pollination, as well as a selection of fruit, rather than just one variety--and all in quite limited space. This type of tree is available not only with apple varieties but also with pears and sweet cherries, and most, as mentioned, in both the dwarf form, and the much larger standard form.

Now is the time to visit a good garden centre and check out their supply of fruit trees. By the way, unless you have almost unlimited space in your garden, the dwarf trees are an excellent way to conserve space. With apples, still another space-saving method is to purchase a four-in-one espalier apple which means the branches are all trained in a flat plane, rather than all-round form. These are often planted on south- or west-facing home walls or along driveways. With proper pruning, they can easily be maintained within the very narrow growing area for years in this manner. If the fruit trees you purchase still have only minimal growth budding out of the branches, be sure to buy some dormant spray and apply that as soon as you get them planted. And be sure to stake the trees carefully (so the stake does not damage any part of the tree) as soon as they are in the ground.

More on Food Gardening next week.

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  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row