Q & A: Vegetable gardening with Janette Haase

Janette is author of From Seed to Table: A Practical Guide to eating and Growing Green (available at Novel Idea Kingston)

Three main themes were covered; planning and planting, preparation of the soil and small forest gardens and edible vines. Below is a summary including links to plant/seed sources.

Planning and planting

  • Planning a continuous supply of vegetables.

Depending on the crop you choose, you have more or less flexibility in your planting schedule. It’s possible, with planning, to introduce new seedlings from April to July. For example spinach, salad greens and bok choy can be planted until the fall, so a little can be planted each month. Crops like kale, swiss chard, basil and green onions mature in 6 to 8 weeks, so these can also be planted monthly. Other crops like tomatoes prefer the warm weather, and take time to mature. They have less flexibility in when they can be planted. In her book Janette has plans to address these questions for a 350 square foot and a 500 square foot garden. Another useful planning tool to explore is “Square Foot Gardening”.

With regards to growing for storage, plants like tomatoes can be used for sauces and frozen. Janette prefers to go to “Patchwork Gardens” in the fall and buy her vegetables for cold storage including carrots, potatoes and onions.

Sourcing seeds

Johnny’s selected seeds Most seeds are organic and the catalogue on their website has good information and some useful videos.(most are for commercial growers).

  • Easy to grow vegetables

Salads, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.

  • Transplanting seedlings

Pea seedlings can be planted out now, they don’t mind frost and prefer cool weather.

Seedlings don’t need to be hardened off if they’re planted out at the appropriate time except if you have a windy yard. To protect seedlings against the wind a small frame tent of plastic can be used as a cover for a few days.

Don’t put out warm weather vegetables until the end of May. Tomato and pepper seedlings don’t require added compost, cucumbers however love compost. When transplanting, protect roots as much as possible. First prepare and water the hole, plant the seedling and water again

The best time to transplant melon and squash seedlings is the May long weekend. These types of seeds are sensitive to transplanting and may take 2 to 3 weeks to recover. For best results keep them in the biggest pots you have indoors. To reduce transplant shock, when planting dig and water the hole, plant the seedling , add the soil, then water again. 

  • How to separate two seedlings that have sprouted in a soil block.

Water the block first, and have a second pot ready. Pull the seedlings gently apart, and then plant each in its own pot. If you’re working with a tomato seedling, you should bury it deeply; either up to the first leaves or even deeper depending on the size of the seedling. The tomato plant will send roots off the buried stem. After planting water well.

  • How much light does a vegetable garden need?

Ideally the garden should have sun exposure for 2/3 of the day.

  •  Tall spindly seedlings

If seedlings are tall and spindly its an indication they need more light. If you’re using a fluorescent light, it should be two inches above the top of the plant.

  • Keeping pests out of your garden (Squirrels and Rabbits)

For a smaller bed use a floating row cover (from Lee Valley). It lets 80% of the light in and can also offer heat protection. Hold down with rocks.

For a larger garden Janette’s had great success with motion sensing sprinklers. These are available on amazon and cost between $ 50.00 and $ 100.00. You’ll need a water source, a hose and a reasonable water pressure. 

Preparation/Care of the soil

  • Vegetable gardening in clay soil.

Clay soil can easily be amended. It’s rich in nutrients, but needs to be loosened to allow for movement of air and water. The soil particles are packed tightly, like a pack of cards and can be loosened by adding compost. In the first two years it’s a good idea to work compost into the soil. After this your soil will be much improved and compost can be left on top. Note, mixing in leaves can also break up the soil over time.  Some digging is necessary.

  • How to convert a 10’ X 10’ raised sandbox into a vegetable garden

¾ of the sand will need to be removed and replaced with garden soil. Sand dries out very quickly.

  • Gardening in straw bales

This process involves making a hole in the straw bale, adding soil and planting your seedling. The challenge is that a straw bale dries out quickly. One year Janette tried growing squash in some straw and compost. It was a rainy year and the squash did really well. She didn’t have as favourable an experience during a dryer year. Good uses for straw are as a mulch and to build soil. 

  • Starting a home vegetable garden in a new development

A soil test is recommended to screen for contaminants. Your sample can be sent to A & L labs 

Another option is to create a barrier, build a raised bed,  add soil and garden in this, but you will need to do further research.

  • Winter care of gardens.

Gardens should be kept covered through the fall and winter to allow maximum activity and growth of the microorganisms in the soil. This helps to build and maintain healthy soil. This can be done by planting cover crops, or more simply by  using straw or leaves. Also don’t remove plants at the end of the season, including the roots. 

An example of a cover crop to grow is fall rye. Plant this in September. It will grow in the fall, over winter, and regrow quickly in the spring. This crop should be turned under to plant. Note, roots take about two weeks to decompose. Sources for cover crop seeds are 

Small forest gardens and edible vines

  • Suggestions for a small urban orchard.

For quick results plant small shrubs like raspberries, blueberries, currents gooseberries and elderberries. Blueberries love sandy soil.

  • Propagating apple trees

Apple trees can be propagated in three ways, from cuttings, using seeds of an apple from the tree, or grafting. It’s difficult to root cuttings and if seeds are planted the resulting seedling will be unpredictable (not necessarily an exact replica of the parent plant). A cutting of a selected apple tree can be grafted onto another compatible tree. 

  • Plum tree fruiting

In order to produce fruit, a plum tree needs to be cross pollinated. Another wild or domesticated plum is required.

  • What to grow on a south facing wall that will be both ornamental and edible.

Grape or Kiwi vines can be grown. Another option is fruit trees such as pears and apples. These can be trained to grow along the wall. This technique is called espalier, the ancient horticultural art of pruning and training a tree or shrub to grow flat against a support.

  • TreeSources: Here’s our list of local sources for local seeds, plants, trees and soil. We’ll update it as we learn of new resources

Join us next week

If you’d like to learn more from Janette Haase, register for her Monday afternoon coaching sessions on Zoom.

If you’re not already registered, join our next Master Gardener Zoom Q & A on Eventbrite

Thought for the day:

Grow it….Don’t mow it 😊

And plant vegetables instead of flowers this year.

Happy gardening!

Reporting by Colette McKinnon, Master Gardener in Training, Rideau 1000 Island Master Gardeners