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October 29, 2020

Blueberry bushes -- year round color and edible landscape star

Fall gives us a chance to rethink the garden -- you’ve seen what worked this past year and it is a great time to plant larger elements like bushes.  If you’ve been considering adding edibles, how about blueberries?

Blueberry bushes grow well in the Lower Mainland and look great year round. There are the flowers of spring, the leaves and berries of summer, bright fall colour, and cheerful red twigs during winter. They produce best in a grouping of bushes grown 4 feet apart. Other interesting options include hedges and featured container plantings.

You can acquire blueberry bushes at nurseries, but if availability is a problem there is always craigslist. The proliferation of local growers gives us the opportunity to buy bushes when they swap out varieties and sell their extras.

Choosing varieties is a whole topic unto itself.  Personally, I see what’s available and Google it. One recommendation has always been to mix varieties for better pollination. Other advantages of mixed varieties is that you can have a longer harvest and varied fall colour.

Try to plant blueberry bushes in the sun -- they’ll tolerate shade but the berries won’t be as good. When planting, dig a decent size hole, break up the root ball and spread the roots out. Supplement the soil with a goodly amount of peat moss to acidify it and hold moisture. Raise the planting level slightly so you don’t cover the base of the plant with soil. Blueberries have shallow roots so a mulch over the bed keeps moisture in. (Think of how much wood mulch you see along the rows commercially). 

Once they are planted, maintenance is pretty simple -- replenish the mulch periodically, keep them watered and lightly fertilized in the summer, and prune out the oldest branches every couple of years. They’ll reward you every season!

Susan Jensen

August 18, 2020

Focus on garden greens - jump in this month and enjoy salads all year

A constant in my garden are greens that I can use fresh year round.  Keeping these going in winter helps me stay involved in gardening. It also makes it easy to make salads or add greens to my meals without making frequent trips to the store or sorting through sad bags in my crisper. With August heat subsiding it is a great time to start or add greens to your garden space.

There are a few tricks for success. First start with rich soil. Second, control slugs before seeds sprout (I use Safers). Third, water the seeded area and new starts every day. Fourth, save some seeds in case you need to try again a week later. Persistence is key with lettuces, etc. Lastly keep an eye out for caterpillars. 

Here are some to seed now through September:

  • Spinach -- start in August -- pick leaves in the fall and again in spring. 

  • Lettuce -- will keep going until it freezes

  • Arugula -- designate an area and it will keep reseeding itself

  • Corn salad -- the mild, nutritional leaves are hardy all winter

  • Mizuna -- start this mild mustard green now and it will keep going in winter if protected

Other greens to add in the spring (unless you can find seedlings in the nursery this month)

  • Sorrel -- this lemony green is perennial and produces most of the year. Can be divided and given to friends

  • Cabbage -- start in spring or summer depending on variety

  • Kale -- massage the leaves -- they'll disappear into salads and go unnoticed

  • Herbs -- your favourites will add interest to salads

A note -- all of these are best mixed for tasty combinations. I often combine whatever looks good with some iceberg lettuce kept in the fridge to add volume and crunch to the salad. One friend likes to make his own sprouts indoors to supplement them. Another idea for winter is to serve your entrees on a bed of greens.

Anyhow, once you have your patch going and cold weather finally comes, you will probably be inspired to protect it with some light fabric. I like planting all the greens in one area so I can cover it all with a floating row cover when snow is forecast. If you’re using a container, it could be moved under protection when we have a freeze or snow. I’ve always liked the idea of converting an old wheelbarrow into a salad garden -- put in some drainage holes, plant your favourites and move it around seasonally to give the plants the sun or shade where they’ll do best.

Susan Jensen

July 15, 2020

Dry weather ahead -- take the easy road and mulch the garden

Susan Jensen



Amazingly, we gardeners have had regular rain well into July this year so have gotten a break from the task of watering. Now that we’re heading into some dry weather, it is a good time to mulch your garden to continue to save time and water.

Mulching can mean different things depending on your goals. Around shrubs and on paths where the goal is to keep it looking nice and control weeds, I use bark mulch. I don’t mind that the wood I’m adding can deplete the soil of some nutrients over time and slow down the growth of the landscaping.

Around vegetables, I’m trying to keep moisture and build the quality of the soil. I want to be able to miss a few days of watering when I’m away. Weed suppression happens, but is a side benefit. So let’s focus on recommendations for vegetable gardens. Here are some options for materials:

Compost - the half-broken down state is perfect
Eelgrass -- there’s lots available at White Rock beach right now
Lawn clippings -- add a thin layer at a time so it doesn’t mat
Fall leaves -- great so acquire them for future use
Straw by the bale -- ask for straw since hay has seeds
Burlap - there are rolls on sale at Rona or get odd ends for cheap at a burlap supplier
Cardboard -- get huge sheets for free at Costco
Newspaper -- it works!
Landscape fabric - available at garden centers
Plastic -- warms up the soil so great for heat-loving crops like peppers and cucumbers

I like to put composted materials around my “leaf and root crops” like cabbage and potatoes. These crops do best with constant moisture and cool soil. A good layer of mulch cuts down the watering to every few days and keeps them in better shape as the weather heats up.

Plants where you’re harvesting the "fruit or seeds" produce well with less frequent watering. So if your squash and tomatoes are well mulched you will just need to give them a good soak once or twice a week.

As with most of gardening, there are variables so we can enjoy the process of trial and error. I will be adding another layer of mulch in some rows when it gets really dry. Raised beds and containers dry out more quickly so really benefit from mulch. At my community garden plot, I doubled up the burlap so I only have to go water a couple times a week.

One consequence of this process is you may have more slugs --something to watch for on the days that you don’t have to weed and water.

In the fall, I end up moving the materials around -- some can be saved for next year, some can be used to protect overwintering plants, and the decaying organics build up the soil.

Happy Gardening



June 10, 2020

June offering perfect conditions for seeding second crops

We had a rocky start to the gardening season in the Lower Mainland -- extreme cold and hot temperatures this spring and difficulty getting some seeds and plants. Some plants are doing fine, but others haven’t thrived as hoped. Fortunately with cool weather in the forecast, we have a chance to start a second crop of our favorites to extend the harvest this year.

I have a few areas where I could use a do-over. The squash that got rootbound before transplant seem to be stalled out. Some of my lettuce never materialized -- slugs? The spinach was planted in the wrong spot. All of these can be planted from seed now. Others include beans, cucumbers, cabbage, beets, carrots, arugula, kale, swiss chard, broccoli and brussel sprouts. Basically you could plant a whole garden now.

If you haven’t tried succession planting, this season is a good year to fool around with it. Pull out your half empty seed packets and fill in any spaces in your garden with a second sowing of any of the above for a longer harvest.

Garden centres still have pepper plants and tomato seedlings -- these can all be planted now with fine results. If you have a big space, a corn patch could be started from seed in June.

One precaution when planting now is to pay attention to watering and pests as plants sprout and get established. If we end up with a hot stretch, mulch around your new plants or set up a shade cloth. In any case, if you love growing your own vegetables, it is all good fun.

Susan Jensen


Got Pallets?

Hate weeding?

Don't feel like turning up a bunch of grass?

Use a pallet as a garden bed - staple garden cloth on the backside of the pallet fill with dirt and start growing!


Turn vegetable gardening into an engaging family project during time at home

Is all the gardening activity this spring inspiring you? Like everything else right now, getting seeds, etc. takes a bit of patience, but growing your own fruits and vegetables adds an interesting aspect to this time when we’re paying attention to our sources of food.

If you’re a beginner, here are the basics: find the sunniest spot available, dig some organics into the soil, plant some seeds or starts, water, and stand back. You have begun the journey of learning how to garden as you go with help of neighbors and the internet.

You may already know what you want to plant. I also recommend involving your household since everyone has favorites. Also keep in mind that timing will improve your success. Plant berries or fruit trees while it is still cool. Crops that can be planted all Spring in our climate include peas, lettuce, kale, potatoes and spinach. Wait til it warms up in late May to plant beans, carrots, squash, corn, cucumbers and tomato plants. If you have kids around, everbearing strawberries will be a hit and if you have space, how about pumpkins?

Over the course of the season, family members can help by watering, harvesting, watching for pest damage and using the internet to troubleshoot. Another way to engage them is with garden projects like fancy plant labels, fairy houses, painted rocks, decorated pots, yarn art, painted raised beds, a scarecrow or other kinds of outdoor art.

In choosing where to plant a garden, your sunniest spot available may be a patio. I think that container gardening, which can be challenging to keep watered and fertilized when we’re busy, makes a lot of sense now with more time spent at home.

If you have a yard, your sunniest area might be in front. That’s the case with me and I’m discovering that a bonus is the social aspect with so many neighbors out for walks these days. Cheerful conversation starters for the front include cherry tomatoes, corn, peppers, artichokes, brussels sprouts, asparagus, ground cherries, zucchini and edible flowers. Try sunflowers as an interesting trellis for cucumbers or plant “the 3 sisters” -- corn, beans and squash as companion plants. In any case, pass some of your time this summer making things grow!


Community gardens adopt social distancing guidelines and welcome new gardeners

Community gardens have been designated as essential services in BC. This past week, the City of Surrey sent out COVID 19 guidelines to community garden organizers so the season can go forward during this time of renewed interest in growing your own food.

Alexandra Neighborhood House has been on top of making changes for this season. Normally we’d kick off with an orientation and work party. However this year, plot assignments were done remotely and work parties were postponed. Soil delivery and water supply was arranged behind the scenes so that gardeners could get started in April. Signage at the gates includes the now familiar distancing and cleanliness guidelines and specific rules about bringing your own tools.

My friend at Dunsmuir Gardens is planting her plot as usual, but said their Annual General Meeting planned for March was cancelled and that work duties for the season are being assigned to individuals.

Many gardeners have perennial edibles and overwintered crops like broccoli, kale, and leeks that can be picked now. Now that we have some warm weather, spring crops can be started. Fast growing spring vegetables include radishes, spinach, leaf lettuce, arugula and peas. This year I am dedicating an area to potatoes which yield the most calories in the least amount of space.

Some of us are scrambling to get seeds right now. The Surrey Seed Library went forward with distribution outside of the Ocean Park Library in March, following protocols to avoid talking and contact. The next distribution is planned for April 18. Seedy Saturday usually held at Stewart Farm in April was cancelled. Availability of seeds at retail locations is hit and miss -- try Walmart, etc.

If you live on the peninsula and would like to join a garden, there are still plots available at the Crescent Park Community Garden -- you get your own raised bed for $35 per year. Email to apply. Plots that are not assigned this spring will be designated for the food bank and tended by volunteers. Some of the other local gardens I checked with have wait lists so you'd have to contact them to see if there is space available.

I have a subscription to a gardening column by local expert Linda Gilkeson. In addition to her advice on what vegetables can be started when, she reminds us to include cheerful flowers and to help new gardeners by sharing your seeds and knowledge.


Gardening in your heart already?

......Try artichokes this year


The snow has barely disappeared and it is gardening season -- at least it’s gardening season somewhere! There’s a little bit we can do around here in January -- some people sneak in some garlic or prune fruit trees. We can order seeds and plan the garden. I am ordering artichoke seeds so I can start them earely in February.

Have you seen artichokes growing? They are perennials that grow like giant thistles - like something out of Little Shop of Horrors. I started 6 plants from seeds a few years ago, planted them in full sun at the community garden, and had 30 artichokes that summer. They’re a real conversation starter! They grow about 3 feet tall and the flower buds start out big and get smaller as the season goes on, but they’re all delicious. You cut off the bud (when it looks like one you’d see in the store) then cook -- there are several ways. I steam them whole for 40+ minutes and serve them with melted butter. You’ll want to google how to eat them -- it is very fun.

Anyhow, depending on the winter, they survive here on the peninsula. The first winter they survived (and multiplied!) and I was able to divide them and give some to a friend. However last winter I lost most of them to freezing and realized it too late to start more. (I ended up buying a couple plants from a nursery and they’re not cheap.) So this year -- two things: I dug up my expensive nursery artichokes and overwintered them in peat moss. (I never do this for plants, that’s how great they are). Also, I’m starting more indoors now.

I’ve tried both popular varieties - Globe and Imperial, and didn’t see much difference. BTW, Jerusalem artichokes are different -- they’re a sunflower where you eat the tuber.

I have a friend who grows artichokes in big pots. Either way I think they’re perfect for a front yard vegetable garden, front and center in the sun.

Susan Jensen / Ocean Park


Do you know what you are looking at? I didn't until a chance meeting with Susan Jensen.

That is the dream of the White Rock Sun fulfilled.

Since the inception of Canada's FIRST Online Newspaper it has been my goal to include as many community voices as possible. When I recently met Susan for the first time the topic somehow ended up being about her community garden. My ears perked up. "Would you be at all interested in writing about gardening locally?"

Well imagine my pleasant surprise when this article on Ground Cherries turned up this week. Thank you Susan and thank you readers. If you have an idea for a story in THE SUN please let me know.

David Chesney


Seed Catalogue Alert: Ground Cherries

On December 1, I harvested the last of this summer’s ground cherry crop. I can’t say enough about this garden plant that has been producing fruit since July and keeps going until it freezes. You’ve probably seen ground cherries (Physalis species - sometimes called “gooseberries”) as a garnish on dessert plates. It’s papery husk is distinctive -- the plant is related to the Tomatillo and Chinese Lantern. The fruits inside taste like fruit punch and are amazing raw or in desserts.

These plants grow like crazy as annuals in our climate on the sunny peninsula. Start from seed indoors in early spring. Plant plenty and give some warmth so enough germinate. Once they’re growing, pot them up, and then transplant them out in a sunny spot when the weather warms up -- like tomatoes. Give them lots of space and plan to do some staking or caging or else by the end of the summer they’ll sprawl out 3 feet in all directions. They’re pest/disease resistant and require little care.

Little yellow flowers on the plant will each develop into a fruit - and they’ll keep coming on until the plant freezes. You can get a hundred or more fruits from each plant during our growing season. Pick each fruit once its husk turns yellow. The ripe fruits are about an inch in diameter, depending on the variety, and are orange. There’s no pit.

Like tomatoes and potatoes, these are a nightshade. The green, unripe fruits and leaves contain the toxic chemical solanine. I am guessing the leaves and green fruit don’t taste good anyhow.

All in all I recommend adding ground cherries to your winter seed order -- you can find them alongside the Tomatillo varieties. This year I had 3 plants -- one at the Crescent Park Community Garden, one in my front yard and one in a container. I plan to double the number next year since I hear you can freeze them.

Susan Jensen/Ocean Park





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