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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It's Time to Start Seeds

This chilly weather is certainly dragging on, but if you have good growing conditions for seedlings indoors, it should cheer you up to be starting seeds. I wait until now to sow leeks, onions, celeriac and celery as I have found they grow into plants that are just as productive as ones started earlier in February. You can sow peppers and eggplants now if you haven’t already done so. Start tomatoes too if you have space to move them into larger pots later or if they will be planted in a greenhouse. Tomatoes grow quickly therefore you can wait to start them in mid-March and still have nice-sized plants to set outdoors in mid-May. If you are eager to harvest the earliest possible zucchini, start a couple of seeds in early March, but be prepared to move them into 1 gallon pots after a few weeks to keep them growing until they can be planted out in May. As to when in May that might be, it depends on the weather…and who know at this point? There is no advantage to starting seedlings …
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Cold Snap Forecast

Right now the forecast after Sunday shows a period of colder weather than we have had so far this winter. Forecasts are for overnight lows of -5 to -8oC (18-23oF) for much of the south coastal region. It could be colder than that in gardens in frost pockets and low-lying inland areas. If you have been lulled by the mostly warmer-than-normal winter so far, it is time to check up on your frost protection. As I was checking my garden last evening I found that I need to considerably beef up mulch that has become flattened around leeks, celeriac, cabbage and some other plants. The forecast does include some snow, which is a good thing for gardens because it adds a layer of insulation over everything. Late cold weather is always harder on fruit trees and other plants once they have started to grow than it is when plants are fully dormant, but don’t worry about garlic and spring bulbs that have poked up shoots. They are quite hardy and likely to be fine. Fruit tree buds on the earl…
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Pruning, Grow Lights, #*!#*@#! Spotted Wing Drosophila and Yams

Well, I don’t know if there will be a winter this year or not, but other than windstorms, there hasn’t been much winter in evidence. As I started to write this, it was sunny and unusually warm outdoors and I suddenly remembered that early warm weather makes trees bloom early….I leaped up and shot out the door to start pruning my trees and grapes.

Pruning: So this is a reminder to get started now on pruning, especially if you have a lot to do. Start with the earliest flowering trees, such as cherries and peaches as they are most likely to burst into bloom soon. Be sure to only prune cherries and peaches on a dry day, frequently sterilizing your pruners as you go to avoid spreading bacterial canker, which is all too common on these trees in the coastal climate. To sterilizer tools, wipe your pruners with rubbing alcohol or soak them in 1 part hydrogen peroxide bleach to 9 parts water and rinse well.

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First Cold Snap

Just a quick note that the first cold weather of the year is forecast for this week, with night time lows by Wednesday and Thursday forecast to drop well below freezing in some parts of the region. That’s the signal to finish mulching everything if you haven’t done so already. Now is the time to add mulch right up over the tops of carrots, beets and other roots to make sure the shoulders of the roots don’t get nipped by frost. I like to have at least 6 inches of leaves on top of carrots, etc. when really cold weather starts. Tip: When you harvest your root crops this winter, stick in a marker of some kind to show where to start digging next time—with all that mulch on top you can’t tell what has been harvested already. It has been so warm this fall that many things have continued to grow, which is all to the good if some of your cabbages or Brussels sprout plants were rather small at the end of the summer. I keep getting inquiries about garlic that has started to grow: bu…
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Leaf Mulch, Clean Bees and Cutworms

Here is my usual seasonal reminder to collect fallen leaves for garden mulching while they are all around us and to be had for free. Do collect enough to mulch the garden for the winter and also to stockpile for mulching next summer. I store leaves for summer use in bags or covered bins, keeping them dry over the winter to prevent them from decomposing before I need them in June or July. For winter mulching, start putting leaves directly on the garden now as they are collected. Don’t shred the leaves first: what we want for winter is a fluffy, coarse mulch that won’t break down until spring. Shredded or mowed leaves decompose quickly, which is fine if you want to make leaf mold (pure decomposed leaves) or add leaves to a fall compost pile (but shredding is optional: whole leaves decompose fine, just a bit slower). Start mulching for winter by working leaves under and between large plants, such as cabbage and winter broccoli, to cover the soil. Push leaves into spaces between…
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Ruckle Farm & Neighbours Fine Arts & Crafts

Salt Spring’s Ruckle family were farmers ... with a couple of artists. Or so the story goes, but it has come clear of late that Ruckle farm was long a south-Salt Spring arts hub Throughout November, the Salt Spring Library hosts “Ruckle & Neighbours Fine Arts & Crafts”, showcasing the works of nine south-end creators, from the early 1900s to present day. The foyer display case introduces Ella Anna Ruckle, the Norwegian matriarch of three highly artistic offspring. Son Alfred was a luthier and woodworker. His wife Helen experimented with dyes for the many rugs she hooked from Ruckle sheeps’ wool. Daniel, a consumate farmer, knitted with farm wool, with his vest on display. Neighbours and good friends of the Ruckle ‘boys’, Jim Monk and Sophie Purser King, were wood carvers. Present-day artist, Garry Kaye, took Gwen’s advice years ago and went to art school, setting off a success career. The Program Room features three gifted Ruckles. Two are known: Agnes, who die at age …
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Last sowing, confusing bugs, splitter alert

There is still time to sow hardy winter lettuce and arugula if you do it this week and now is also the perfect time to sow corn salad for winter salads. Pull back mulches and scatter seeds under tomatoes, squash and other plants that will be finished in October. Corn salad seeds may not germinate until the soil cools down, so don’t worry if they don’t come up immediately; it is extremely hardy and one of the few greens that can grow (slowly) during the winter. If you are sowing winter greens in a coldframe, plastic tunnel or unheated greenhouse, you could also sow Chinese cabbage, leaf mustard and other hardy greens now, because the warmer environments provide a little more growing time. If you can buy starts of spinach, lettuce, Chinese cabbage and other leafy greens you can still transplant those into your garden (on Salt Spring, Chorus Frog Farm stand still has these available). Grow them as quickly as possible in nitrogen-rich soil with plenty of water. Even if plants don’t…
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Sow Spinach and Greens; Pests and Problems

Yesterday should have been “Spinach Day” in my garden, but it is far too hot to attempt to sow anything right now. I have had good results sowing spinach as late as the middle of August so will wait to until it cools down in a couple of days to plant seeds. The forecast for Saturday is for cooler weather, with a small chance of the ever-receding mirage of rain showers in some places. Gardeners along the outer coast and Strait of Juan de Fuca, where summers are cool and foggy should sow spinach right now to give it time to grow to a good size before winter. Winter lettuce, arugula, salad radishes and winter radishes and other leafy greens, including leaf mustards, leaf spinach (‘Komatsuna’), leaf radish and Chinese cabbage varieties can also still be started from seed this week, but wait until temperatures drop in a day or two to sow these outdoors. Lettuce seeds simply won’t germinate if it too hot, no matter how carefully you keep them watered. Starting seeds in flats or po…
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