When Jim Hole was a young man working his family’s 200-acre farm, he remembers harvesting 5,000 pounds of carrots in 15 minutes. The owner of St. Albert’s Hole’s Greenhouses is farming for his own vegetables on a smaller scale these days, and he’s not alone.
“Whenever you get an $8 head of cauliflower, it sticks in their brains. ‘Oh my God, food is so expensive,’ ” Hole says. “There’s been an upward trend in the past couple of years with vegetables, but we’ve seen a big uptick recently.”
And folks who’ve never grown vegetables are getting into the act.
“There are the people who want to control what they eat and grow as much of their own, the carbon footprint and all that. That was there last year, but this year there’s this whole other group that’s saying ‘I just don’t want to spend so much on produce.’”
Hole says even gardeners who still want to plant ornamentals are considering some vegetables, as well.
“They’re not getting rid of their ornamentals, but they’re looking at the balance in the yard and they’re going, ‘Well I might just increase the number of vegetables that I’m growing.’”
And starting a vegetable patch is a no-brainer, Hole insists.
“It’s not hard. When I tell people how simple it is, they look at me like “What?”
His own residential carrot patch has a steel frame with some drainage room below. It’s about three feet tall and about five feet long and three feet wide, and it doesn’t take much tending.
“I walk out in April, and I just rub my hand across the top to just smooth out the surface. That takes me about 20 seconds. Then I take my index finger and make rows about six inches apart. That takes me about another 20 seconds.
“I scatter the seed in, which takes about a minute, rub my hand over the top, and I’m done. I’m eating carrots by the first week of June, and last year I stopped on Nov. 10.”
The ground is 50 per cent potting soil and 50 per cent Sea Soil, a blend of fish waste and pine bark, composted long enough to lose its smell. After that initial investment, each year he just tops up the mixture at minimal cost. He applies Nature’s Source 10-4-3 every couple of weeks and waters periodically.
Hole recommends resilient UV-resistant containers. Wood deteriorates. But he also likes lighter, circular fabric bags for their versatility. They are great in small spaces such as balconies.
Hole has grown a variety of produce in containers besides carrots, including tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, peas and even potatoes.
He says pests aren’t generally an issue here, except for vegetables such as cabbage and broccoli, and some people drape a translucent fabric over the container to thwart insects.
The rule of thumb is at least six hours of direct sunlight per day for vegetables, although lettuce will need less than tomatoes.
He also advises restraint with seeding. Imagine the size of the ready-to-eat vegetable, he says. A carrot seed pack has about 800 seeds, and about 90 per cent of them will germinate.
Hole’s final word of advice? “First and foremost on the checklist is what do you want to eat?” There’s no value in growing what you don’t like.
Jim Hole gives talks on container gardening, and they’re popular so registration is required. The next talks are on Feb. 27 at 11 a.m., Feb. 28 at 1 p.m., March 5 at 1 p.m., March 19 at 11 a.m., March 20 at 1 p.m., March 26 at 11 a.m. Register at www.holesonline.com