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long weekend seeds

Long weekend seeds

After a long winter and the record February cold, we’re all anxious to get growing, but remember: less is more. Strategic planting is the secret. For example, don’t plant the entire packet of seeds at one go, but rather plant partial rows or just a few seeds at a time. The same is true of transplants. When it comes time to harvest, it’s nice to have just a bit at a time rather than too much produce all at once. The goal is to enjoy a sequence of fresh food over the summer. This process is also true for our colour gardens. Sequential planting is the only way to grow.

Watering is, by far, one of the most significant considerations. It needs to be done in conjunction with the weather. In cool, wet conditions, you many not need to water, but when it’s hot, some plants may require watering two or three times a day. Try to always water in the morning when the temperature is on the rise. Once they are well hydrated, your plants will utilize that moisture during the stressful, hot parts of the day. If you must water in the evening, do it as early as possible. and keep the water off the foliage for fear of triggering disease issues. At night, plants tend to waste water through transpiration.

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When you see white butterflies flitting around your cabbages and other brassicas, you may want to use an organic control like BTK, a bacterial spray that should be applied every week to ten days or simply use your Remay cloth to keep them off the plants.

Whenever you water, use a proper water breaker to soften the impact of the water and to distribute it more evenly. A traditional soft rain nozzle will have 250 holes, but if you can get a 500 to 1000-hole nozzle, so much the better. Always water thoroughly and deeply so the water penetrates far down into the soil and reaches the whole root system, thus helping the roots to grow even deeper. Please, no overhead sprinklers. Soaker and drip hoses provide the most efficient use of water.

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It is important to understand that you are the conductor of this garden symphony, and success or failure is in your hands.

Long weekend seeds

Unfortunately, as we all know, not all plants have evolved to handle cell-bursting ice. Plants indigenous to tropical climates have no tolerance for frost because they had no need to adapt to sub-zero temperatures. Case in point with my precious tomatoes!

Spring frost is unpredictable in Alberta, leading gardeners to question whether or not they should plant seeds before or after the May long weekend. Photo by Bruce Edwards / Edmonton Journal

Fortunately, the vast majority of plants that we grow here are in the frost-tolerant camp. The trees, shrubs and perennials that are hardy on the prairies are well adapted to our crazy spring weather that can soar into the high 20s one week and drop below freezing the next. Transplanting these types of plants in early May is a safe bet.

What should you do?

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Of all the gardening myths that I’ve heard over the years, this is the one that I hear repeated most often.

‘Never plant your garden until after the May long weekend’

Frost damage to plants occurs when ice forms inside plant cells, causing the cells to burst. But plants that have evolved in cold climates have learned how to cope with cell-damaging frost. Some will move the ‘pure’ water from within the cell to spaces outside the cell. When the water freezes, the ice pushes up against the cell walls but leaves them undamaged. Other cold climate plants create their own ‘antifreeze’ by bumping up the concentration of salts within the cells. Both adaptations work remarkably well.

Yet, that experience didn’t stop us from planting tomatoes in mid-May. We won more times than we lost by planting early, and learned that the vast majority of our best tomato harvests were from tomatoes transplanted before, rather than after the May long weekend.

But I also remember a year when my brother and I planted an acre of field tomatoes on a very hot day on May 15th, only to have the entire crop destroyed by a June 5th frost. I was in my mid-teens when those precious tomatoes, that we had spent all day laboriously planting, froze to the ground. It still remains near the top of my list as one of the most gut-wrenching experiences during my time on the farm.