Category Archives: Local News

Brian Minter: Tips to get going on growing your own food

Vegetables and herbs can be grown in containers.

With all the uncertainty these days around almost everything we do, many more folks are planning to grow their own food this year, especially vegetables.

The good news is that growing veggies can be done not only in traditional gardens but also very successfully in containers and raised beds as long as you have a space that gets full or partial sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you don’t get a lot of sun, you can still grow crops, but leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard will fare better.

Along with many products today, there’s been a bit of panic buying on seeds. In speaking with some of the major seed companies, I have been told there is no shortage of seeds, but there may be a delay in shipping. The usual popularity of some varieties may require restocking or substitutions could be made.

In addition, many local growers are shifting from ornamental production to more food items. Because of this, there will be a good supply of transplant seedlings of peas, beans, all brassicas and lettuce, as well as root crops, like beets, onions and carrots, throughout the growing season. The same goes for later seedlings of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.

Perhaps one of the greatest concerns is when to start our vegetable gardens. Planting too early can be a problem, especially for heat-loving vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers. Early in the season it’s colder, wetter and there is always the chance of a night frost. As well, it’s a time when insects, slugs and birds are also looking for early food.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that it’s better to err on the side of being a little late rather than too early. Remember, right now we get a minute and a half more light each day, and the sun is warmer as its rays edge northward in our planet’s seasonal cycle.

For cool-loving crops I wait until we get a consistent daytime temperature of 10 C, even though it can still get closer to freezing at night. Crops, like onions, brassicas (such as kale, cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli), beets, early potatoes, peas, broad beans, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard and perennial herbs can tolerate the cool weather.

Using a row cover like Reemay cloth, at night when it’s clear and cold will keep the young sprouts somewhat protected from frost.  If a heavy frost is forecast, use N-Sulate, a 10 C-rated frost protection blanket. Garden beds that are raised eight to 10 inches will keep soil temperatures five to six degrees warmer.

Open, porous, well-draining soils are far better for an early start. Mixing in as much organic matter as possible will make a big difference, especially once the weather warms up.  Composted manures and Sea Soil are great, and provide much needed nutrients to get early veggies off to a good start.

Container food gardening is growing rapidly and, done well, it can be just as productive as ground planting.  A few tips, however, can make a big difference.

Large rectangular containers (3 to 4 ft long, 18 inches deep and wide), are best. You can purchase them or make your own wooden ones. I also like to secure a 6 to 8-ft trellis to the back of the container so vines like peas, beans, cucumbers and even tomatoes, can be trained up for better light and air circulation.

The best soils are lightweight mixes, especially on balconies where weight can be an issue.  Sunshine, Sungrow and ProMix bales are the most effective as complete soil mixes. There are many other products, but make sure you get a container mix and not a cheaper topsoil. I always like to work in a little composted organic matter, like Sea Soil.

Today, many vegetable varieties are bred specifically for container growing, but some of our traditional compact veggies are also ideal. Seeds can also be started in containers, but transplants will save you four to six weeks in production time.

There is still lots of time for direct seeding of cold crops.

Longer, heat-loving crops like tomatoes and peppers should be started soon in your home or in a small greenhouse.  Remember, if you start your seeds indoors, there must be a continuous process of moving steadily though the stages of germination, transplanting, acclimatization to the outdoors and finally planting.

No heat-loving vegetables, like peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, melons and eggplants should go outside until we get consistent night temperatures of 10 C, which usually happens towards the end of May. Don’t start heat-lovers too early or you’ll have long, legging plants that may not do well.

Fortunately, many of our B.C. and Canadian seed catalogues give approximate times for seeding indoors. They also give the best times to direct seed vegetables outside.

When we get a few nice days in late March and early April, many of us are anxious to get growing, but if you wait until late April or May, both for seeding and transplanting, I guarantee you will have far better success.

The goal is to have a very productive and successful garden — therefore garden wisdom is paramount.

There is lots of time, lots of seeds and lots of transplants available. I rarely have time to plant my own veggie garden until the end of June, and I always have good success. So don’t panic.

Even though these are stressful days, you should still be able to enjoy a summer full of produce from your own garden or patio.


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Vancouver to plant 110,000 tulip bulbs to commemorate Canadian liberation of the Netherlands

A member of a gardening crew blows top soil to cover up tulip bulbs planted in a new flower bed at Victory Square in Vancouver on Nov. 27.

Vancouver will be turning red next spring to mark the Canadian liberation of the Netherlands in 1945.

About 110,000 red tulip bulbs are being planted around the city to mark the 75th anniversary of the country’s liberation from Nazi occupation by Canadian soldiers during the Second World War.

An estimated one million tulip bulbs will be planted across the country to mark the final liberation that took place on May 5, 1945.

Adriana Zylmans, president of the Dutch Liberation 2020 Canadian Society , said tulip bulbs represent more than flowers for the Dutch. They became a symbol of liberation because of what happened during Hongerwinter — the hunger winter of 1944-45.

One of the coldest winters in memory froze canals in the Netherlands. In the country’s western provinces, the occupying Germans banned food shipments.

“They (the Dutch) were starving,” she said. “They resorted to eating tulip bulbs to survive.”

Zylmans said planting tulip bulbs are a way to “thank Canada and the many sacrifices that were made by families and veterans to help liberate the Netherlands.”

Bruce McDonald, superintendent of Sunset Nursery and the Bloedel Conservatory, said Vancouver park board gardeners are planting red Strong Love tulips because there wasn’t enough red Canadian Liberator tulips for the whole country. The two varieties look identical, he said.

(On the East Coast, the commemorative tulip bulbs are orange, the colour symbolizing the Netherlands and the Dutch royal family.)

McDonald said planting has just finished at Victory Square at Cambie and Hastings streets. The tulip bulbs have been planted in the shape of a poppy. They’ll also be planted in a poppy shape in the plaza by the Centennial Rocket at the south end of the Cambie Bridge.

“The other location that has a lot of meaning … is Mountain View Cemetery,” McDonald said. “We’re doing a huge planting there — probably the most bulbs will be going to that location.”

He estimated that as many as 30,000 bulbs will be planted under the cemetery’s maple trees in about 80 flower beds. When they bloom, they’ll create what he said will be a spectacular “big street of tulips” or grand allee.

The city-owned and operated Mountain View Cemetery is west of Fraser Street between 31st and 43rd avenues.

The bulbs are being covered with protective mesh to protect them from hungry rodents and rats, he said.

Red tulip bulbs will also appear elsewhere throughout the city in gardens, in traffic circles and corner bulges, as well as by Welcome to Vancouver signs. Homeowners have also bought red-and-orange tulip bulbs, so flowers will be appearing in gardens throughout Metro Vancouver as well.

The 110,000 red tulip bulbs are in addition to an estimated one million tulip, daffodil, hyacinth, crocus and muscari bulbs planted annually in parks around Vancouver.

More than 7,600 Canadian soldiers died liberating the Netherlands. About 2,300 Canadians are buried in the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, the largest official Second World War cemetery in the Netherlands.

On Saturday, May 2, 2020, various cemeteries in Metro and around B.C. will hold public commemorative services to mark the 1945 liberation.

Early spring’s sprung on English Bay with 30,000 blooming daffodils

Howard Normann, director of parks at the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, among the January daffodils.

At English Bay, more than 30,000 daffodils are trumpeting the arrival of spring.

They’ve started blooming bright yellow on two south-facing hillsides. One is close to the Inukshuk and the other, farther east near Sunset Beach.

The star-shaped flowers are known as Rijnveld Early Sensation . They’re called trumpet daffodils because of their big, six-sided, star-shaped petals and dramatic funnel cup.

Howard Normann , director of parks at the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation , loves them.

“These ones are just so special because they’re out in January. I love them,” he said.

“The idea was to put smiles on people’s faces.”

The daffodils are a big hit with tourists and locals alike. On any given day, numerous passersby will stop and record digital images of the thousands of blooming daffodils to post on social media.

When the rain holds off and the sun comes out, people even come by to have their lunch by the flowers, Normann said.

“If you see how many people stop and enjoy them, it’s crazy,” he said.

“Where else can you come around a corner in January and send a photo to a friend in Winnipeg or Toronto or St. John’s and say: ‘I know we had a bit of snow, but look what we got now.’ ”

 ‘These ones are just so special because they’re out in January. I love them,’ Howard Normann of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation says of winter daffodils in English Bay and Sunset Beach. ‘The idea was to put smiles on people’s faces.’

This is the third season the mass plantings of daffodils have bloomed.

Normann got the idea while he accompanied his son’s rugby team on a tour of Wales. As they were leaving Cardiff for the next town, he noticed thousands and thousands of daffodils along the roadway.

“They looked awesome,” he said. “I thought: ‘We’ve got to find a place to do this in Vancouver.’ ”

Back home, he talked to his staff about what he saw in Wales and looked for the right locations. The two banks were chosen because they’re both too steep to safely mow.

An added bonus of daffodils is that not only are they perennials, but the bulbs multiply. Originally they were planted in clumps of three or four. Now, several groupings have more than doubled. Some are up to more than 10 flowers.

“Tulips last one, two years and start to fade,” he said. “These guys will keep coming back year after year.”


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