E-newsletter from Mark and Ben Cullen

Our cold frames are full.

That is a funny one: "cold frames" are designed to heat up young, tender seedlings to prepare them for planting out in a couple of weeks, or so. Why don't we call them "warm frames" or, on days like this, when the sun is shining and we have to prop the top open with a piece of string before the little darlings burn up, "hot frames".

The English language provides almost as many challenges as our changing Canadian weather. As we travel this great country, we are keenly aware that we are drawn together as a people by two things: hockey and weather. Fingers crossed on the Jets next BIG win.

Fingers and toes crossed that we are through with frost for the season and the slow-to-warm soil will finally be suitable for planting our hot crops, like tomatoes and peppers, within the next couple of weeks.

This is our first "food gardening" newsletter of the year. You will receive one mid-month until October.  We hope that these messages are not an intrusion but a helpful missive on your journey to better food gardening.
Recently we planted out our romaine lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, onion sets, and Spanish onion transplants. 

You could plant out any of the gassy veggies now. If you like Brussels sprouts, for instance, go for it. 

In our zone 5 gardens, Ben in Guelph and Mark in Stouffville Ontario, our gardens fit somewhere in the middle of Canadian gardens as zones go. 

Some readers will be into the 'frost free zone' and many more will have to wait a couple of weeks for that miracle of nature. To our Newfoundland readers and those of you in the far north, you must be blessed with great patience as you will need it.
Regardless of where you live, you can sow frost hardy crops like beets, carrots, peas, all forms of lettuce and radishes. Go for it and let us know how that works out for you.

Remember that all root crops require a nice open soil. That is garden-speak for sandy loam. Lots of sharp sand and generous quantities of compost are required to open the soil up to allow water to move through it freely.

For some time now, gardeners and farmers have tended to minimize the amount of disruption to the soil that tilling produces by doing less of it. The reason for this is that the soil-borne mycorrhiza and invertebrates (insects) work best when they are left undisturbed.
Mark is using his new MTD small tiller to merely make a row for new planting and Ben, the more ambitious of us two, is hand digging where he plants and sows. 

Ben loves his new Mark's Choice long handled stainless steel shovel that he bought from Home Hardware Newcastle. But we digress.
The rest of the garden is weeded with the marvelous new Mark's Choice Back Hoe (with apologies for how self-serving this sounds.   While attending a recent event at Alexandria Home Hardware, the first customer of the evening came up to Mark to tell him how thrilled she was with the Back Hoe. Mark gave her a hug).
Here are the critical points to keep in mind to produce the best food garden of your life:

1. Soil prep is key. Mark adds four to five centimetres of finished compost to his veggie garden this week. He lets earth worms pull it down: he does not turn it under. Ben adds Bio Max composted cattle manure.

2. For root crops like carrots and beets add lots of 'play sand'. Dig it as deep as you expect your root crops to grow. Do you dream of nice long, sweet carrots? Dig in lots of sand.
3. Row cover. Cover all lettuce-type and brassicas with a floating row cover. There is an excellent version for sale at Home Hardware: the Mark's Choice Row Cover Kit for about $25. This prevents damage from a light frost and invasions of flea beetles  and the dreaded cabbage moth.

4. Plant herbs in a hot spot in your garden. For this reason herbs generally lend themselves well to container planting.  Containers warm up early and get hotter than terra firma and all herbs love heat.
5. Fruit trees. Do nothing while they are in bloom. Let them flower and let bees, honey and native bees alike, do their work undisturbed.

6. Feed your transplants.  10-52-10 or compost tea will get them off to a good start.  Compost tea is made by 'steeping' a half filled pillow case with compost or composted manure in your rain barrel of a large bucket.  After 48 hours it is ready.  Mix 3 parts water with one part compost tea for great, all natural fertilizer.

7. Start 'hardening' off frost tender plants like tomatoes and peppers.  This means placing them out of doors for short periods of about an hour, to start gradually increasing to a full day and then in about 2 weeks leaving them out over night. 
The idea is to get the tender darlings used to the intensity of the sun, wind and cool evening temps before you plant outdoors in 10 days to 2 weeks. 

On another note, our column in the Toronto Star last Saturday celebrated and defended the preservation of Toronto's oldest tree, a 350 year old red oak. A beauty.  We sent readers to a website, to donate to help save the tree, that was temporarily inactive. Here is the updated link if you wish to support our efforts. And here is the story if you happened to miss it.
Note that we will be at the Community Fish Fry Dinner in Wellesley Ontario, on Friday May 25. If you happen to be in the area buying, say, some apple butter, be sure to drop by and enjoy a fish fry and an introduction to an exciting era in Canadian gardening with Ben and Mark. We will be having fun with community minded people at the Wellesley Arena. Proceeds support the Wellesley Pond Restoration project.  Sponsored by John Kuepfer's Wellesley Home Centre, family and friendly staff.

Photo from last year's Fish Fry

We are now sounding a lot like a sign-off for the Rick Mercer show.
The difference is, we are serious.
Go Jets Go!
We will be in touch again end of month.