COVID-19: Low-Interest Loans for Salt Spring Farmers and Food Processors - March 31st, 2020 - 10:43 AM

Do you need help with cash flow over the next few months? Transition Salt Spring Enterprise Co-op (TSSEC) recognizes that the pandemic may create cash flow difficulties and we are therefore offering low interest micro-loans with flexible repayments at this time to help Salt Spring’s small farmers and processors. Locals supporting locals through uncertain times. TSSEC has loaned over $120,000 for green projects on Salt Spring since 2011. Contact TSSEC at (250) 537-2616 or by email to TSSEnterpriseCoop@gmail.com
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Peas and Big Fat Cutworms

I was shocked, I tell you, shocked! at how many big fat cutworms I shook from the sod I was trimming from edges of my garden beds today. I think I will just let the peas I started indoors grow for a little longer before sending them out to face such monsters (plus, it is still pretty cool at night to be planting vegetables, anyway). And while I am on peas: If you saw tiny notches in the edges of leaves on peas or broadbeans last year, that is pea leaf weevil, which is becoming more widespread. While the tiny adult weevils chew notches in the leaves, it is the weevil larvae, which feed on the nitrogen nodules in the roots that cause the worst damage because infested plants can’t make their own nitrogen. These weevils have one generation a year and only lay their eggs in the spring. There is no [legal or safe] way to kill them in the soil, but using two strategies you can avoid damage. First, start early plantings of peas (March-mid-May) in vermiculite indoors to avoid the …
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Thinking Like An Island

Every spring for the last 43 years I have followed the same routine. I turn under green manure crops, spread compost, prepare fields, and direct seed and transplant. The seeds and small plants that go into the ground are the product of months and sometimes years of propagation work. The compost is made throughout the prior season, and the complex crop rotation and field plans are the result of a winter of careful thinking and consideration. The soils are built and improved over decades. Before the first seed gets planted, many months and thousands of dollars have already been invested into a professional endeavour that requires decades to develop and perfect. This spring is different. I am going through all the same motions as I always have, but this time for the first time, I have no idea how the results of my labour, the food that will surely ripen, will make it into the homes and the bellies of all those on the island and beyond that we have supplied for the last 20 ye…
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Early Planting, Cooling Roots and Onion Sets

As world news get grimmer by the day, the promise of a bountiful food garden is a solace indeed. If you can find the space this year, why not also plant flowers for cheerful bouquets, from sweet peas with their wonderful scent, to cosmos, daisies and many others. Some, such as calendula and coreopsis are particularly good for feeding pollinators and other beneficial insects. Start annuals from seed indoors right now and plant dahlias and gladiolus any time (they are now coming into local garden centres). Cosmos and calendula, in particular, can be interplanted with the larger vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage. Despite the occasional warm sunny day, the soil is still too cold and wet to plant. When to plant depends on how warm the soil is—and so far, with nights close to freezing, the soil is really cold. While you can set out hardy perennials this month, such as strawberries, other berries and fruit trees, the soil is too cold for vegetable seeds to germinate or for s…
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Starting Seeds... or Not; Sweet Potato Update

As February ticks along without serious weather on the horizon, gardeners are getting antsy to plant something. I used to start onion and leek seeds indoors in early February, but have shifted to starting them in early March, with excellent results: the roots are as big as ever and I have fewer weeks babysitting tiny plants. Other things to sow by early March include tomatoes, peppers, celery and celeriac. I always start 2 plants of zucchini the first week of March, too. Although that is too early to start other squash or cucumbers, I keep the early zuccs growing rapidly in ever larger pots and haul them out to my unheated greenhouse during the day (it is usually too cool to leave them in the greenhouse at night). The result is a first squash harvest around mid-May. I also start my first batch of peas indoors in early March and, if I am low on cauliflower or cabbages for spring harvest, I start some of those indoors too. I will have to start early cauliflower this year, because…
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Seeds, Weeds and Rodent Deeds

As the days are noticeably lengthening, thoughts of garden plans begin to dance in our heads. I usually start pruning fruit trees in a few weeks, but it is not too early to start now, especially of the early blooming peaches and cherries. With the mild weather so far, people are wondering if buds swelling buds on fruit trees, garlic that has come up and other early growth will be harmed by cold. Some people already have snowdrops in bloom! IF we have several more weeks of mild weather, then a really severe cold period occurring after that could injure them, but usually early buds and shoots are hardy enough to withstand late cold spells. Just keep an eye on the forecast and beef up mulches or throw a tarp over plants if the weather looks dicey.

Germination tests: A task for a wet day is to sort out your seed collection and see what you need to replace. It only takes a couple of days to do a germination test to check…

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Ruckle Farm's Evolving Story - Mike and Marjorie Lane Stay on as Managers

Ruckle farm continues to evolve, while staying true to its historic roots. Good news abounds from this cherished part of our island. Friends of Ruckle Park Heritage (FRPH) is happy to report several new developments, the most important of which is that BC Parks 20-year-contract to manage and operate the farm has been offered to Mike and Marjorie Lane. For 146 years, four generations of Ruckles ran the farm, the longest of any family farm in B.C. Henry Ruckle started it in 1872, an era that continued until the passing of granddaughter Helen Ruckle in 2018 June. She was one of the four signatories to the agreement that created the park and the last Ruckle, most sadly, with life-tenancy there. Since her death, the Lanes have continued to run the farm, under a permit from BC Parks. Their new contract will begin in 2021 January. It includes their current home, the Norman Ruckle house, as well as the Alfred and Daniel houses, plus numerous other structures. They have new obl…
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Cold Snap Coming; More on Leaf Mulch

Our unusually warm and sunny November is over with the first of the winter’s cold snaps predicted to start dropping temperatures tomorrow. Time to finish mulching the garden! Lows of -4 to -6oC [20-25oF] may materialize by the end of the week and that is getting pretty nippy for winter lettuce and salad greens. Be ready to throw a tarp or plastic sheet over those beds if you are in colder inland or higher elevations locations. The shoulders of carrots, beets and other roots showing above ground can be damaged if they are exposed but will be fine if they are mulched. Winter varieties of cabbage, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, leeks, etc. are hardier to lower temperatures and will be fine. If you have outdoor citrus trees this is the last chance to install heating cables or Christmas lights and cover the trees with plastic or row cover fabric. I switched from using incandescent Christmas lights to using plumbing heating cables on my lemon and lime trees with good results (a…
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Plant Garlic, Stake Crops, Trap pests

With the colder weather this week some gardens may get overnight frost, which means fall really is here. If you were holding out hope of more tomatoes, peppers, etc. ripening on the plants I think it is safe to say that the season is over. Mature tomatoes that have turned from dark green to lighter green will continue to ripen fully off the vine, however, so it is not the end of your fresh tomato eating. Store the unripe tomatoes and peppers in flats or boxes one layer deep, not touching (to avoid one spoiled fruit infecting another) in dark, cool (10-15oC/50-60oF) conditions. Bring them out to ripen at room temperature on your windowsill as you need them. Here are some things to do in October, when you can find a dry day to do it: Plant garlic: Choose a well-drained place that has not had any onion family plants (including leeks, shallots, etc.) growing there for the last 4 years. While this is the wrong time of year to apply manure or soluble fertilizers to the soil (nu…
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Wet Weather Notes from the Garden

The early onset of wet, cold, windy fall weather is catching a few late summer crops at a tricky time. Here are some notes on what to do right now, including responses to questions I’ve been asked recently: Seeds: If you are saving some of your own seeds this year and they are still out there in the wet, try to get them harvested and into dry conditions immediately so that you don’t end up with moldy or sprouting seeds. If the seeds have not matured they will have to stay on the plant until they do, but usually there are lots of mature seeds present on plants along with immature seeds and the mature ones should be salvaged ASAP. The same goes if you are growing a crop of seeds to eat, such as dry beans, quinoa or sunflower seeds: harvest everything that is ready now. Winter squash and pumpkins: IF they are mature, harvest them now (many will already have been harvested). If they are not mature they have to stay on the vines in hopes they will have enough time to mature ov…
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Video and Photos: 2019 Salt Spring Fall Fair

Friends, neighbours and visitors, welcome to the 2019 edition of the Salt Spring Island Fall Fair, an island tradition since 1896, celebrating the Agricultural Community’s efforts and successes. Our island has a rich and varied agricultural history and tradition that spans more than 150 years, since Confederation. The Salt Spring Island Farmers’ Institute, established in 1895, continues to support the growth of associated farming activities that are vital and valuable to the local economy. We are proud to be a strong and informed voice for farmers’ interests and we encourage islanders to get involved in the discussion on island farming matters. We all need to build up agriculture awareness and productivity on Salt Spring. This year’s theme: Crops and Crafts of every Colour was chosen to create fun, a lot of fun and to bring to life in all manner of ingenuity. This rural tradition is brought to you by a dedicated core of volunteers. These individuals and community organiza…
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Last Planting, Late Summer Disease

Our seeding season is coming to a close with the last greens that can be sown this late in the year and still provide a harvest over the winter. I usually recommend sowing winter hardy lettuce, corn salad and arugula through the first week of September, but given how cool this season has been I am planting them this week. These are all small, quick plants than can be sown anywhere and everywhere there is a space in the garden now. I mostly seed them between the cut stumps of corn (I leave the corn roots in the soil until spring to add organic matter) and under plants that will be finished this fall such as beans, tomatoes, peppers and winter squash. To sow now under plants that are still growing, pull back the mulch and broadcast the seeds on the surface, then rake lightly over the soil to cover the seeds without disturbing roots of the existing plants. When the old plants are finished, cut them at the soil line rather than pulling them so as not to disturb the roots of the new…
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Edit the Garden, August Planting

If your tomatoes are slow to ripen, you are not alone! Many people are wondering about it, but this cooler summer is the way our ‘normal’ summers used to be: for those that have forgotten how long it used to take tomatoes to ripen outdoors, this is a reminder. On the other hand, many other crops are doing particularly well this year with more rainfall and fewer hours of high temperatures that slow the growth of cool season crops. With the summer going quickly it is time to take stock of the garden and make more room for winter crops. If plants are producing so much that you can’t use all of the produce (e.g., zucchini…) take some out. If plants are not growing well enough to justify keeping them—off with their heads! Among the new varieties I tried this year there was a pea I didn’t like at all and a long-season bean that was never going to mature a crop in this cool season—so they are outta here. Look for plants past their prime, such as lettuce going to seed; plants failin…
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Carrot Day

It is time for my annual reminder to sow lots of carrots for winter harvests in the next week or two. For me, July 1 is always Carrot Day as well as Canada Day (US readers: think 4th of July). As long as you sow before July 10, your carrots should have time to grow to a nice size by fall. They stay in the garden to be harvested periodically over the winter until the following April. Carrots sown earlier in the season can also spend the winter in the garden (if you haven’t eaten them all), but sowing carrots later doesn’t leave enough growing season to allow them to reach full size. Small carrots can be eaten, of course, but they don’t grow during the winter or in the spring either, as that is when carrots use up the food stored in their roots to make flower stalks. At this time of year the soil is often too warm for carrot seeds to germinate, but with that wonderful heavy rain last night and cooler weather forecast for the next week, conditions are ideal for good germination…
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Salt Spring's Strategic Plan for Agriculture

Salt Spring Island’s 2008 Area Farm Plan – the strategic plan for sustainable agriculture - needs to be renewed to provide a blueprint to take Salt Spring’s agricultural community forward to 2030. The first Area Farm Plan was based on a vision to support Salt Spring becoming a place where “agriculture is a strong, vital and productive part of the local economy, carried out in a manner that protects and promotes a sustainable community”. The Salt Spring Island Agricultural Alliance, which was set up to implement the Area Farm Plan, has tracked progress yearly over the last decade, and most key recommendations have been met. Since 2008 new challenges have emerged: the climate emergency; increasing water demands; the biodiversity imperative; escalation of land prices leading to increased need for new, secure tenure arrangements for farmers; the labor-intensive nature of small-scale island agriculture and the shortage of farmworker housing; and the importance of agriculture in …
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Requests for Proposals: Ruckle Active Farm Management & Operations

Friends of Ruckle Park Heritage started in 2016, to help save an old south-end farmhouse by moving it to Ruckle Provincial Park. The owners bulldozed it anyway, but the Friends have carried on, working with BC Parks to enhance the visitor experience of Ruckle farm. It’s been a slow start, getting our bearings, while work goes on behind the scenes. Last June, just as some possible projects were coming clear, Helen Ruckle unexpectedly died. As granddaughter of the farm’s founder, she was a treasure in herself and a treasury of invaluable memories. She had been a teacher, not a farmer, hence continued her family’s contract with Mike and Marjorie Lane, who became the Ruckles’ farm manager and operator in 1997. Following Helen’s passing, BC Parks assumed all care and decision-making for the park, farm included. For several reasons, they are required to open the management and operation of the farm to public bid. It has taken a year of preparation to do so. Mike has continued a…
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Winter Cabbage, Irrigation Tips, Beet Leafminers

From now on, continue to be alert for heat waves and be prepared to shade seedbeds and seedlings and to mulch plants to cool the soil. The heat wave earlier this month resulted in injury to unprotected seedlings that is showing up now. Heat injury appears as white or biscuit coloured patches on leaves; whole leaves may turn white in the worst cases. If the stems of the plants weren’t injured, the plants should produce new leaves and recover, but if roots or stems were fried, then you will need to replant. See photos of sunscald on a variety of leaves and fruit. Which reminds me to remind you that I don’t put everything that might apply to the current date in each message. For additional information, especially if you are new to this series, check my archive of past messages for other notes at the same time of year. Winter crops to sow (already!) If you are planning to grow winter cabbages, such as January King, Danish Ballhead, Langedijker Red or other varieties th…
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Garden Heat Alert

Yesterday in many gardens in the region it was suddenly very warm, even hot for this time of year. More of the same is predicted for the next couple of days with inland gardens and those in the most protected sites possibly experiencing highs of 29oC (84oF) today and tomorrow so take steps this morning if possible to shade seedbeds and seedlings. This is the worst time of year for veggie gardens to have hot weather because plants are small and their roots are close to the surface. Without shading from leaves, their roots are likely to fry in the hot soil. If you can, lay down at least a thin layer of mulch right now too. Grass clippings are particularly good right for this purpose since they are soft and it is easier to spread them around seedlings without damaging the small plants. Old leaves from last year are very brittle and are easy to crushed up to make a fine mulch. It is impossible to keep seedbeds evenly moist all day, but even if you could, high temperatures inhibi…
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Planting and Pest Prevention

Carry right on planting anything that tolerates or thrives in cool weather: cabbage/mustard family plants, onions and leeks, lettuces and leafy greens, peas, broad beans, carrots, beets, parsnips. A note about parsnips: make sure you sow fresh seed (packaged for this year). Parsnips seeds are only viable for a year or so. Parsnips germinate best in cool weather, but by the time you wait long enough to discover that old seed is never coming up, the soil could be too warm for good germination. It is still too cool at night in most places for peppers, squash, cucumbers, melons, corn and beans. When tomatoes can go outdoors depends on your garden microclimate and how prepared you are to protect them with cloches or floating row covers if it turns cool after you plant. Tomatoes are more robust than other warmth-loving plants and some people have already planted theirs. The general rule is to plant tomatoes when nights are mostly staying above 10oC (50oF) and most coastal garde…
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Changes in Ruckle Provincial Park Active Farm Management and Operations

Ruckle Park Active Farm has been in transition since 2018 June when dear Helen Ruckle died - last signatory on a life tenancy agreement between BC Parks and the Ruckle family that allowed them to live in the homes and continue to manage and operate the family farm. The loss is immeasurable, in so many ways, but the farm goes on, its management now falls entirely to BC Parks, which has kept Mike Lane as operator during this interim time. BC Parks must undertake an RFP process to select a proponent to manage and operate the active farm with a long term-agreement. ~ Brenda Guiled General parameters for proposals and contacts are given in this information sheet:

Ruckle Park RFP Info…

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Digging Roots; Planting Early (or not)

Spring certainly went sproing into nearly summer-like weather this week! Given how long it took the snow to melt from my yard I thought the soil would stay cold longer than usual, meaning no rush to dig up overwintered root crops. At the rate the soil is now warming, however, carrots, beets and other roots should be dug up by the end of March/early April as usual. If left in the garden, they start to grow, using up the sugars stored in their roots to produce a flower stalk. The roots lose flavour and crispness and grow lots of strange little side roots. Don’t be too hasty in clearing out the rest of the garden right now, though. Really battered plants can still grow a new crop and even Brussels sprouts stalks that have already been picked and have no leaves left usually grow tasty new shoots all along the stem. After 6 weeks under heavy snow my lettuce was flatter than I have ever see it, but has since popped up and is growing fine. Ditto for chard, spinach, kale, cauliflowe…
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