It’s Never Too Late to Plant a Seed

June 1, 2012

By Anna Varriano

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Gardening is in my blood – well at least it should be – and I try to focus on that positive notion every spring as opposed to focusing on my past gardening failures! My parents grew up on a farm in Italy where they lived off their land. My brother lives on 30 acres just outside of Kingston and virtually lives off of his land too. My parents and my brother have amazing vegetable gardens that reward them with a beautiful, vibrant, organic, nutrient-loaded harvest, and luckily, I am rewarded with parents and a brother who love to share!  Here’s a picture of my brother’s ‘modest’ garden (I’ll be doing a bit more show and tell in this month’s article):

In the past, I did what I could with the limited time and limited space I have in my backyard that receives adequate sunshine; however, lately  it seems circumstances are pushing me in the direction to do more. One example is that last fall, we unfortunately lost a huge tree in the backyard – it just fell over!

The upside of loosing this tree was more sunshine in the backyard (more sunshine = more successful vegetable garden!) which lead to a slightly bigger veggie patch for me this year. Not quite like my brother’s but it’s a start!

A more recent circumstance was meeting someone who lives minutes away who is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about helping people and communities grow their own veggies.  About a month ago, I read a short article entitled ‘Local Food Initiatives’  in my Community Association’s newsletter which prompted me to contact Tom Marcantonio.

The article was about a new community association board position called ‘Food Production Co-ordinator’ and I learned that Tom is currently occupying this position in his community. Tom is an Urban Farmer, a Master Gardener, a Garden Consultant, and a Certified Permaculture Designer. He is also affiliated with the Canadian Organic Growers, and is involved in implementing school garden programs at Woodroffe High School and other west end schools.  The goal of Tom’s Food Production Co-ordinator position is to ‘assist and encourage those citizens who wish to supplement their grocery store food with local, organic, and home grown food’.  I read that and thought“Hey! That sounds like me! I need to meet this fellow!”

I contacted Tom and we met for a chat at a local coffee shop. I learned that Tom holds workshops outlining the basic, simple principles and approaches of growing organic food in our backyards or in community gardens. I proudly told him about my gardening efforts for this season, but how I already seemed to have a ‘bald spot’ in my garden thanks to what is already looking like two failed ‘crops’ (carrots and peas). I lamented to Tom about how it’s now too late to plant anything else. Tom’s encouraging response was:  “It’s never too late to plant a seed!”  What a great attitude (for vegetable gardening and for life in general!).

Tom proceeded to give me some great advice on what crops I could still plant to fill in my veggie garden’s ‘bald spot’.  He also told me about SO many initiatives that he is involved with to help individuals and communities who would like to get involved with providing more locally and organically grown foods to their families – and I want to share some of this information with you, courtesy of Tom.

If you wanted to try growing some vegetables this season (even potted tomato plants or herbs on your balcony or deck counts!), but haven’t had a chance to, and think it’s too late, it’s not! In Ottawa, we’ve been guided by the maxim to plant our gardens on Victoria Day weekend; however, this is just a general rule and following it to a tee doesn’t serve us well. On many seed packs, the instructions state that the seeds should be planted as soon as the ground can be worked. These seeds, from early frost crops such as lettuce, arugula, rapini, spinach, beets, carrots, radishes, potatoes, peas, and onions, can be sown as early as late March/early April in the Ottawa area – just as soon as the soil has dried out and doesn’t clump. Below is a list of frost hardy vegetables and the time it takes (in days) from sowing to harvesting, listed from quickest to longest growing times:

  • Radishes (23)
  • Mustard Greens (30)
  • Asian Greens (40)
  • Onions (40)
  • Kale (40)
  • Lettuce (45)
  • Spinach (45)
  • Carrots (50)
  • Chard (50)
  • Beets (52)
  • Peas – early (54)
  • Broccoli (55)

There were quite a few things on this list that I didn’t plant and just figured it was too late to plant them now; however it’s not! I was extremely fortunate to get some of these going faster than I thought as Tom came to the rescue with transplants from his garden.

My garden’s bald  spot went from this…

…to this in just a few minutes!

Thanks to Tom, I instantly have a variety of new plants including lettuces, mustard greens, herbs, onions and edible flowers!

Here are some great tips that Tom shared to keep a vegetable garden full and productive for the entire growing season:

  • Look for quick maturing vegetables as you can keep planting the seeds regularly, provided you give the plants the conditions they need. Most seeds love growing in spring conditions, which can be simulated later in the season by planting seeds in cooler, shadier spots, keeping them moist and transplanting the seedlings they’re well established.
  • As the growing season progresses, it’s important to visit your garden daily to ensure you harvest at the peak of flavour and nutrients. Even a single hot day can advance a plant’s life cycle to the flower and seed stage where the flavour quickly deteriorates/becomes bitter
  • As the growing season progresses and there is still space in the garden (perhaps as a result of early greens being harvested, or as in my case, a failed crop), try getting a hold of some transplants. Late frost in Ottawa is around mid-October so choose transplants with the intention to harvest before this time. It’s possible to plant hot season crops like tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, squashes and zucchini right up until the end of June – and this is when most plant vendors are keen to liquidate their inventory, so you may be able to get some great deals. Shop around as it may be difficult to find healthy, vigorous transplants at this time of year.  Growing your own transplants from seeds, indoors and under lights, is by far the best way to ensure a good source.  Either way, note that it would be wise to pay these late plantings a bit more attention to ensure they are watered and fertilized adequately. Whenever you start seedlings indoors, be sure to gradually introduce them to the outdoors to give them a chance to get used to the sun.
  • As summer blazes on, it’s time to start thinking about fall crops – and most plants that grow in the spring will grow wonderfully in the fall – carrots sweeten after a light frost and there is nothing like late fall crunchy lettuce leaves.  Look for short season crops and consider starting them indoors in late July/early August for best results. Gradually introduce them outdoors for a fall harvest – perhaps even into December in some years if you provide them with some rudimentary protection.

Ottawa’s local food and gardening scene is vibrant and exciting ! Here are a few websites that Tom recommends if you are keen on growing some of your own flavourful and nutritious foods and/or want to support the initiative of helping your community establish a source of local, organic vegetables.

http://www.justfood.ca/

http://www.cog.ca/chapters/ottawa/

http://mgottawa.mgoi.ca/

http://www.woodpark.ca/WELL/index.html

Imagine yourself, your local school cafeterias, your work place cafeterias and your favourite local restaurants preparing meals with organically grown vegetables and herbs fresh out of their own garden or local community garden. Please encourage your Community Association to create a Food Production Coordinator position. For more information and assistance on how to establish this position and start a Local Food Initiative program in your neighbourhood, please email Tom attmarc@rogers.com.  Tom also supplies organic seedlings if you’re interested.

Remember: It’s never too late to plant a seed!

Yours in health,

Anna

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