Gardening Tips and Tricks article by Heather Bailey
Mick Manfield, a certified square foot gardener and a previous garden exhibitor in the Garden and Art tour had this advice for the beginning gardeners:
The easiest way for a non- gardener to start out is to buy a pre-filled container already planted, some may contain cucumbers and peppers, and others lettuce and herbs or you can just buy a container with tomatoes, at a local Garden Centre. Pick a container that suits your need and then water and fertilize throughout the season and you will get produce from that container. Many of the containers will already contain fertilizer and they should come with instructions to follow. If they contain fertilizer, that fertilizer will dissipate and you will have to re-fertilize later in the season.
If you want to become more experienced with gardening then join a gardening club. Not all clubs are created equal so you will have to look around and find one that suits your needs. Gardening clubs have knowledgeable members and good programming but different programming that is specific to each club, so go by the programming not by the location.
The best advice is to start small don’t till a huge garden and set yourself up for failure. One four foot square box to begin with or just till a couple of rows and see what you can grow then each year expand; get more containers, or boxes or a bigger row garden with more rows.
The easiest plants to start from seeds are the cucumber type plants such as squash zucchini, melons, pumpkins or any from that family of seeds that have the larger seeds. These types of seeds are used in school programs and the germination rate is really good. Lettuce is a grass so it is also easy to grow.
Tomatoes and peppers need to be started early in the year; peppers in February and tomatoes around the end of March, so growing from seed this year is out of the question, you would have to buy them as transplants if you wanted fruit and vegetables of that type for this season.
The approximate growing season in Manitoba is 120 days so if a plant needs 140 days to mature the plant will have to be started early indoors and transplanted outdoors so you can get the vegetable or fruit off of it.
Even if you wait to plant, there are often nights that are cold and have a frost warning (sometimes still in June). The rule of thumb is to cover plants if it goes below 10 degrees centigrade. Tender plants like tomatoes, cucumbers squash and peppers won’t withstand those lower temperatures. Use a garden cloche from the dollar store, make sure the cloche is covered at the bottom with dirt and closed tightly at the top. Alternatively, take a tomato cage, turn it upside down and cover it with a cloth. Plants should not touch the plastic or cloth but should be covered completely. Once plants are climatized, then they won’t need to be covered at night and can weather a little cold. There are snap frosts in Manitoba, so if you plant too early then plants will die. You should not plant until the first of June. If you buy plants that have never seen the outdoors you will need to harden your plants, that means that they need to get acclimatized to the outside temperature. If a plant is used to being inside at 18 degrees and is then planted outdoors where it is 6 degrees it will get transplant shock and die. So before planting in the ground, people need to harden their plants up. There are plenty of plant sales at the end of May and you should ask if the plant has been hardened up and if it hasn’t yet then just harden it up to the outside before planting it in the ground Take the plant outdoors for just three or four hours per day on your deck, porch or under a tree then bring it back in to the garage or somewhere warmer and increase this each day by one or two hours for about a week or a little less, you have then hardened your plant to the outside temperatures. This will make the difference in your plant surviving the first few weeks.
Another thing to know before you plant is that some plants do not like being close to one another and there are other plants that like to be close to each other. Carrots and parsnips for example if planted close to one another will not grow to their full potential. Here is an example of a companion planting chart:
The growing season in this region is very hot and with constant watering you will have washed away the nutrients out of the container and will need to replace the nutrients with a soluble fertilizer. The best soluble fertilizer, made in Manitoba is called Dirt n Grow or Evolve and comes from Stonewall, Manitoba. They make fertilizers that you mix with water and fertilizers that are plant specific i.e. tomato fertilizer or basket fertilizer, you would apply every two weeks whether you have a container or a row garden. For a row garden you can use Evolve general purpose fertilizer as well as a product called Sea Magic which both have different nutrients, start fertilizing half way through the growing season.
Mulching – put a layer or wood chips, newspapers or straw or grass clippings in the bottom of your container or in the row garden and the mulch will conserve the moisture as well as even it outs and stops the weeds coming through; weeds will compete for the nutrients of the plant. There is a product called straw mulch and it is available at most garden centres and is produced in Manitoba, if you use a mulch of any kind it will help with the amount you have to water by keeping in the moisture in the container.
Watering – When it is full sun and hot and you water the plant gets very stressed. Best time to water is first thing in the morning, where the plant can uptake the water and nutrients easily. In full sun, the nutrients and water evaporate quite quickly and if it is very hot then it can become quite humid around the plant and this sets up conditions for fungal growth.
Container plants should be watered deeply – make sure the water comes out the bottom, that way there is no doubt the roots are getting water. It is way better for the plant to be watered deeply every couple of days rather than a shallow watering every day.
Water early in the morning, water deeply and water regularly. Water consistently especially tomatoes. If you don’t water consistently you end up with a condition known as blossom end rot. End will turn brown. Magnesium has not reached the end of the plant and the tip of the plant won’t grow. Easy way to get magnesium to the tip of the plant is to water consistently and regularly. Tip – hold the tip of the hose nozzle and count to 5 and know that the plant has 5 seconds of water and do that every time you water so you know that the plant gets the same amount of water every time. Not watering consistently stresses out the plant and nutrients won’t be delivered to the ends of the plant.
Deer and rabbits fencing garden is the best deterrent. There is a product called plant skyd. Spray around edge of garden but needs to be reapplied after it rains.
If it is a non- beneficial insect like a cut worm, get rid of it. Place bamboo skewers down through the soil on either side of the plant along the stem, the cut worm won’t be able to wrap around the stem and cut it. Very simple trick to stop them from cutting the plant.
If the bugs aren’t damaging the plant then leave them, they may be predator bugs taking care of a problem you didn’t know you had.
Mick is a certified square foot garden instructor and recommends that the square foot garden can be 6 inches deep unless you are planting things like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, or anything with a deep root system, then the bed needs to be 12 inches deep for it to grow to its full potential.
Soil mixture is also a consideration in a square foot or container garden enough nutrients with lots of compost in it with no weeds.
Beds can be raised up to 30 inches tall by putting legs on the beds the bed itself will still be 6 or 12 inches deep but people can have access to a higher bed for different accessibility reasons. You can buy these pre-made at T&T or Lee Valley, you can also make them yourself or there are lots of people making them and selling them right now. This encourages everyone to garden and just because you may not be able to bend over to garden you still have a way to enjoy the healthy happy feelings that gardening inspires.
If you do not put your garden on legs but have a really deep garden container fill the bottom with leaves or grass clippings that will compost down and put the soil on top otherwise you are going to spend an awful lot on soil. Fill the bottom half with packed down water down leaves.
What is the soil that you fill your garden with? In square foot gardening you make your own soil. By volume peat moss, coarse vermiculate and mixed compost with manure. Don’t want weeds so if you use just top soil you will get weeds. Use 4 or 5 different compost Sea soil from safe garden herbs, mushroom compost, and cow manure and bag of coarse vermiculite and peat moss and this will go in the bed. Vermiculate will hold water, peat moss adds structure to the soil and the manure is food for the plants, this mixture will hold water, very pliable with great nutrition, works well for most plants. You can buy 4 way mix if you are not into making your own soil. Some garden cetnres will carry bulk mushroom compost (Good turf on Main Street. Just add the compost to the soil in the back of your truck and will be mixed by time you get home. You need compost in your soil. It is called living soil approach. The compost in the soil will eventually break down and nutrients will be up taken by the plants and will run out of food. Adding compost every year will add more nutrition to the soil. It is necessary to add compost to the soil you can’t have a healthy garden without compost.
Railway ties or woods that have preservatives (arsenic or copper sulfate) eventually will leach into the soil so if you are growing vegetables they should not be used but if you are growing flowers then no problem. The best thing to make raised beds from is cedar, cedar has a natural oil that resists decay. There is a product by BC Forestry Industry called Eco Wood Treatment and is a powder you mix with water and is a food safe preservative. So, if you were to build beds from Spruce (more economical) and then use the Eco Wood Treatment which lasts 7-10 years and then then once you put the soil into the bed it will protect the inside of the container. It is the inside of the container that is the concern outside can be painted or whatever but the inside touched by the soil should be careful.
In the current climate, many people are starting gardens who have never gardened before and using a galvanized trough is a great solution. There are available at T&T seeds.
Shop at Garden Centres such as T&T seeds, Safe Garden Herbs, Jensen’s or Shops of St. Andrews those are Manitoba Grown Companies run by people who are knowledgeable about what to grow here they want their products to work well for you. Big box stores may not have the same knowledge and it is not a guarantee that these plants are grown here and if the plants are from BC are not used to our conditions. Local people know what grows here, what works and what you should do. Buy reputable and buy local.
In another month we can go and visit Mick’s gardens, either virtually or perhaps in person.