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Ready, set, grow!

It's now safe to plant most garden crops

By: By Lucy Haines

  |  Posted: Saturday, May 24, 2014 06:00 am

READY – Most garden items can be safely planted in the ground now. If frost is forecast overnight, some plants may need to be covered.
READY – Most garden items can be safely planted in the ground now. If frost is forecast overnight, some plants may need to be covered.
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Best for kids

Prairie Gardens & Adventure Farms caters to kids, and owner Tam Andersen knows what the younger set likes to plant. She recommends Nantes carrots – sweet, crunchy and coreless – as the “best carrot ever.” Sunflowers and beans sprout quickly and are great to watch as they reach for the sky, and what about peas?

“They come up quickly, and you can eat every part of it – pea, pod, flower – they’re like garden candy for kids (and adults) and rarely make it to the cooking pot,” she said.

The May long weekend saw throngs at the garden centres, buying baskets full of vegetables and flower seedlings to get the garden season off and running. But, as anxious as Albertans understandably are to take advantage of the short growing season, it’s always a gamble to plant before the danger of frost has passed.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the risk of frost in the Edmonton area goes down to 14 per cent by May 27, and with a warm weather forecast for the week ahead, it’s all systems go for home gardeners.

“Traditionally, people have the magical day, May 24, in their minds as the best date to plant,” said local gardening expert Jim Hole. “The May long weekend was a bit early this year – that’s another typical time to plant – but almost everything can go in now.”

While seeds that take a week or two to sprout, like carrots, beans and beets, can go in the ground about mid-May. Crops that enjoy cool soils, like strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus, can likewise get an earlier start.

“We’ve seeded the entire garden by now,” said horticulturalist Tam Andersen, owner of Prairie Gardens & Adventure Farm.

“Sometimes it’s worth the risk to plant and cover if frost is forecast, and you’re often OK with the protection of a garden in town, or close to the house. My golden rule is: have corn planted before the May long weekend, so there’s enough growing time before fall harvest. Even so, I’ve planted pumpkins on the 10th of June and they still froze.”

If frost is likely, Andersen said to cover tender plants with a sheet or old quilt, but not plastic, which has no insulating value.

“Plastic is not helpful – the plants will still freeze. You need something with a bit of fibre,” she said.

For more fragile, heat-loving crops – squashes, cucumbers, melons – Andersen advises planting in the first week of June.

With the trend toward container gardening, Hole said there’s less worry about creating a bounty of herbs, other edibles and blooms.

“Get a good, rich soil ready, and get the plants going – heirloom tomatoes, herbs, flowers and ornamental plants – in containers that are more stylish and well-made than ever. You can just bring containers inside or cover them if weather is bad,” he said.

While downsizers may not be as interested in the big vegetable gardens of yesteryear, Andersen said the younger generation is discovering the value of growing your own food.

“There’s lots of new gardeners, anxious to try everything – annuals, perennials, herbs – and nothing compares to a wonderful, sweet strawberry or home-grown tomato. It’s instant reward.”

If you’re still unsure of what and when to plant, take advantage of a free coffee and chat with Jim Hole at The Enjoy Centre, where he answers your garden questions every Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon in the market area.


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