Mulching, Citrus Protection, Planning Ahead

As heavy rains and frequent wind storms continue we are experiencing what is to be expected of a La Niña year. La Niña conditions are forecast to last into the spring so hang onto your hats and brace for colder and wetter conditions than usual this winter. That said, the immediate forecast doesn’t show unusually cold weather for the next 10 days, which gives you time to get out and mulch the garden. Reserve some mulch to use when the first serious cold weather arrives to cover completely over the tops of root crops. Last year I wrote up pretty much everything I know about fall mulching so for more details have a look at my November 7, 2019 message; there is a follow-up message about the (non) risk of spreading pests and diseases on leaves in the Nov. 26, 2019 message. Another task to prepare for winter: Stockpile some tarps or plastic sheeting to throw over leafy greens and other above-ground vegetables in a cold spell (root crops under a thick mulch won’t need additional pr…
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Plant Garlic, Collect Leaves, Control Leaf Pests

A key October task is planting garlic: It is essential to plant garlic where no plants in the onion family (garlic, onions, leeks, shallots) have been for at least 4 years. This year I received an all-time high number of questions (and sad photos) about garlic root diseases. This was undoubtedly due to the wet summer, which promoted common root diseases, but also due to the fact that a surprising number of folks had not been rotating their crops. The only management tool we have for soil borne diseases, including all kinds of root rot, is rotating crops to make sure dormant spores in the soil have time to die out before their host plants are grown there again. Along with that goes good sanitation practices: planting disease-free stock and destroying infected plants as soon as they are notices. A friend wondered if using disinfectants on garlic cloves before planting to kill root rot pathogens was necessary, but really there is no need for this. The pathogen spores stay in the s…
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Last Seeding, Powdery Mildew, Timely Tasks

This week is the last chance to sow frost hardy lettuce, corn salad and arugula in the garden outdoors. If you have cold frames or are sowing in an unheated greenhouse you can get away with waiting another week or two, but given the generally cool season, I would still sow as soon as possible. With the high daytime temperatures forecast for the next few days, be sure to shade new seedbeds so that seeds and seedlings don’t fry. By now, with gaps opening up in the garden where sweet corn, onions, early potatoes, etc. have been harvested, you should be able to find lots of open spots to sow seeds. You can also sow corn salad and lettuce under tomatoes, peppers, pole beans and other crops that will be finished in October—just pull back mulches and scatter the seeds on the soil. Corn salad simply won’t germinate in warm soil, but when it is a bit cooler you will suddenly see the soil covered with seedlings. Powdery mildew, that whitish dusting seen on leaves of squash and other p…
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Last Sowing, Thinning, Summer Fruit Pruning

This month we are coming to the end of the seeding season for winter harvest vegetables. With the cooler temperatures this week, conditions are ideal for sowing lettuce, spinach and other leafy greens (leaf mustard, leaf radish, Chinese cabbage) as well as winter radishes and daikon. For sowing this month, choose frost hardy lettuce varieties to extend your harvest all winter. There are some excellent hardy lettuce varieties, including ‘Winter Density’, ‘Rouge d’ Hiver’, ‘Arctic King’, ‘Continuity’ (AKA ‘Merveille des Quatre Saisons’). These can be sown up until the end of this month, along with arugula and corn salad, which is a super-hardy lettuce substitute for winter months. The leaves are small (so grow lots), but the plant is indestructible in winter ice, snow and below freezing weather. If you haven’t sown kale, collards, leaf beet or Swiss chard before this, try to find seedlings to transplant as it is getting too late to start these larger plants from seed. If you a…
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Plant Diseases, Garlic harvest, Sad Tomatoes

As this strangely cool and wet summer proceeds, thanks to the stalled jet stream, gardeners have noticed more plant diseases, fewer insects, lots of slug damage, excellent growth among the leafy greens and cabbage family, hardly any growth among the melons. At this point, it is time to take stock and ‘edit’ the garden, removing crops that aren’t going to produce well in the months remaining and replanting wherever gaps open up. When this cool weather pattern finally shifts, which it may start to do in the next week, you could see your lush vegetables wilting in the bright sun, even when it isn’t particularly hot. This is normal for plants that have been growing large, soft leaves in cooler weather as they need time to adapt to the drier, brighter weather. Check the soil moisture, of course, but if it is adequate, don’t overwater to prevent the wilting. If a heat wave shows up, be immediately on top of shading cabbage family, leafy greens, seedlings and other plants to avoid sun…
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Carrot Day, Winter Planting Schedules and Fruit Thinning

It’s nearly here! Carrot day, which in my garden, is July 1st (sadly, not being celebrated with the usual fireworks this year due to COVID-19). But long time readers will know that the first week of July is when to sow the last bed of carrots, beets and rutabagas for winter harvests. This gives the plants enough time to mature by the end of October when growth essentially stops. Of course carrots, etc. sown before this can also overwinter, but roots from an early spring sowing might be over-mature and rather woody by late fall. Also due to be planted this week or next: endives, radicchio and kohlrabi. And if you want to add more Swiss chard to your garden, do it by early July. Chard sown earlier this spring provides winter harvests too, but you will need more plants to ensure a good supply of leaves in the winter, when plants are not growing new leaves. I figure I need at least 4 times more chard plants for winter picking as I do for summer picking, This is when I also sow t…
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Winter Planting Begins, Nitrogen Deficiency, Spying Pests (or Not)

Another wet, cool week stretches before us and my melon plants are looking pretty sad….sigh….. But on the up side, I am sure you, too, are seeing lush growth of your lettuce, cabbages, peas and other cool weather vegetables. What to plant now: Keep on sowing small plantings of radishes, lettuce and other salad greens to keep a steady supply to your kitchen. Keep on sowing peas, too: I just planted late May peas and will sow my last batch of peas at the end of June to have peas into the fall. The pea leaf weevil is no longer feeding, so if your earlier peas were damaged (see what that looks like), you can safely replant now. If any of your tomatoes, cucumbers or other heat-loving seedlings failed because they were planted too early, there is still time to plant again if you can find replacement plants. If you haven’t done so already, right now sow Brussels sprouts and varieties of winter cabbage that take 4 months to develop. It is not too late to grow them successfully fr…
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New Round of Funding for Salt Spring Farmers' Market Nurtrition Program

To help more lower-income British Columbians, people expecting children and seniors gain access to healthy, locally grown food, the Province has provided approximately $1.88 million in funding to the BC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. The funds were provided to the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets (BCAFM) to support the BC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupon Program throughout the province. The program provides coupons for lower-income households to purchase fresh, healthy, local food at B.C. farmers markets. “Our government continues to support families and local farmers and producers as the demand for food programs has increased during this COVID-19 pandemic,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “This coupon program helps improve the health and well-being of British Columbians and builds a sense of community by encouraging people to buy nutritious B.C.-grown food from local farmers and producers. “Over this year, an additional 600 households, or approximately 1,800 i…
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Tricky May Weather vs. Eager Gardeners

It finally looks like night time temperatures will be reaching the comfort zone (10oC/50oF) for planting out well-grown squash and tomato plants this week (don’t rush to plant small plants that can wait awhile). In some inland gardens it might even get hot enough by this weekend that seedlings and seed beds may require shading in midday. With forecasted highs of 25-27oC (up to 80oF), very young plants and seeds in the process of germinating could easily be killed by the hot sun because their tiny roots are so close to the surface. For temporary shade, use anything you have: upside down pots or latticework seedling trays, newspaper or lightweight fabric supported on stakes or hoops. If you are using opaque materials for more than 2 days, only cover plants for the hottest part of the day (11:00 to 3:00 or so) so they receive light in the morning and late afternoon. For a long term investment, you might want to buy horticultural shade cloth or build wooden latticework to shade pla…
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COVID-19: 2020 Salt Spring Island Fall Fair Cancelled

After much thought, the Board of the SSI Farmers' Institute has decided to cancel the 2020 Fall Fair. Our next Fall Fair will be September 18/19 2021. On a happy note, 2021 is the 125th Anniversary of our first Fall Fair. We will prevail through the current challenges and be ready to celebrate with gusto so mark your calendars now. Our thanks to all the exhibitors, volunteers, vendors and visitors who help to make our fair possible. Looking forward to your involvement in 2021. In the meantime, please stay safe, stay at home and we will all stay well.
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COVID-19: Salt Spring Tuesday Market To Open Early For Locals and Growers

The Salt Spring Tuesday Market will open early this year to assist locals who want to buy food from local producers. Our first market will be on Tuesday, April 21st, 2020 from 2-6 PM Shopping procedures at the market will be modified, to comply with social distancing and public health protocols. The Market is operating with safety in mind and with the support of the BC CDC, Minister of Agriculture, The BC Association of Farmers Markets as well as the local Health Authority. SHOP, DON’T STOP! The Market encourages all shoppers to: STAY HOME if you are sick BE PATIENT. Only one customer in a booth at a time Respect social distancing by using the guidelines marked on the ground Only come as a single shopper from your household This is not a social gathering, please do not linger or use the playground Practice excellent hygiene Do not touch anything before talking with the vendor PRE-ARRANGE/PRE-PAY ORDERS if you can Please remember that condit…
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COVID-19: Launch of Essential Services Farmers Market - Postponed to Tuesday, April 21

The Salt Spring Community Market Society is postponing the launch of the ‘Essential Services Farmers Market’ to Tuesday, April 21 after consultations with various stakeholders including the local CRD Emergency Program. The special purpose market was slated to open Saturday, April 11 at Centennial Park and had received authorization from the Capital Regional District which owns the land.  While the authorizations are still in place, it was felt that Tuesdays would be a better vehicle for the new market format given that the regular Tuesday market is limited to food products. The Essential Services Farmers Market will provide direct access to food grown and made on Salt Spring, strengthening our food security and providing a direct link between food producers and Salt Spring residents. The market will have strict physical distancing and hygiene measures in place to meet the Provincial Health Officer’s requirements. The Province has designated farmers’ markets as an essen…
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COVID-19: Essential Services Farmers Market to Operate in Centennial Park

The Salt Spring Community Market Society operates the Tuesday Farmers Market in Centennial Park through a permit issued by the Capital Regional District (CRD). Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic is having a major impact on markets on Salt Spring. To help limit the spread of the virus, the Province has restricted the size of gatherings and has required some types of businesses to close or significantly alter their operations. The Province has designated farmers’ markets as an essential service, but has limited them to food and beverage sales, with specific restrictions. They are a place to access food, not for groups to gather. The Society and the CRD want to provide residents of Salt Spring safe access to local food until regular markets can start again. Beginning Saturday April 11, the Society will operate an Essential Services Farmers Market in Centennial Park on Saturdays from 10-2 until the regular Saturday Market is able to resume. This market will provide direct acces…
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Save Seeds, Help New Gardeners

Finally, the forecast is for a warm, sunny week of seasonal temperatures. I was more than a little put out by the frequent snow showers that fell on my garden last week—and had to apologize to the peas I planted outdoors the week before [in these strange times, talking to your vegetables is OK, right?…as long as you aren’t hearing them reply, of course…] If you are starting seeds indoors, it is time to sow summer and winter squashes, cucumbers and melons. I wait until now because these plants grow quickly and can’t be set out until the soil is really warm, often mid-May. Among the squashes, zucchinis are generally the most robust and sometimes can be set out in late April, depending on the weather. Cucumbers and melons are the most delicate, with the least will to live; in some years I haven’t been able to plant them outdoors until early June. As for planting in the garden, the soil is still cold, but that will change after a week of sunny weather. When the soil is dry en…
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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
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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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