Gardening Articles

Here are some articles that I wrote when I was the Gardening Correspondent for our local paper.

As the Cariboo growing season is so short here are a few tips to extend it.

Extend growing season
End of Winter (almost!)

In the Garden


Ken Bourne.

Extend the Growing Season.

Wherever you live the gardening season always seems to be too short. The Spring doesn’t come early enough and the Winter comes too quickly. One of the best ways to extend your gardening season and increase your crops and your enjoyment is to invest in a cold frame. One is good, two is better, in fact , the more the merrier! Whatever your gardening passion , edible crops, ornamentals, or a combination of both, the most useful piece of equipment a gardener can own is a cold frame.

Even if you have a greenhouse, the frame is a great help in hardening off seedlings that have been raised in gentle heat, prior to planting them in their permanent quarters. It can also be used to harden off the seedlings that you have raised on the windowsill indoors.

Hardening off is the process of gradual acclimatization of the soft delicate seedlings to the harsher environment of the unprotected garden. If this was not done the seedlings would suffer a check in growth. However, this process does not make plants frost- proof that are not hardy in the first place.

Traditional frames normally have wooden sides with the back higher than the front, for drainage and to make as much use of the Sun as possible. Some modern frames are made of metal with glass or plastic sides. Both have glass or plastic lid which is either hinged or completely removable. The hardening off process is simple! Over a period of time, gradually expose the plants to more and more air, by gradually raising the lid. After a week or two the lid can be completely removed during the day— and after a week of this your plants will be ready for the garden.( Site the frame facing South).

The modern lighter frames are easily moved around the garden and are ideal for heating up the soil prior to planting and for sowing seeds directly into the garden. Wooden sided frames, (don’t protect them with creosote or your plants will die) , can be used for many other gardening purposes. You can grow early salad crops, such as radishes, lettuces, etc., and, by various means of heating can bring on seedlings that will be streets ahead of those sown directly into the garden.

My father, and many gardeners of his era, used to make a hot bed under the frame with fresh horse manure. From the heat generated he would be able to grow much earlier crops, strike cuttings and generally bring on those more delicate plants. Electric soil warming cables now do almost as good a job.

Cold frames are excellent for raising melons and zucchini— and don’t forget to use them for the Atlantic Giant Pumpkins that you are going to enter in our competition this Fall! Good luck.




The Cariboo Gardener™ by Ken Bourne

Starting Your Seeds in Colder Climates

For seed starting timing is everything! When should I sow my seeds? Shall I sow everything after the last frost for my area? There is no definitive answer to these questions, but, in most years it is safe to plant hardy and ‘hardened off plants’ on, or after, the long weekend in May, around the 24th. Most quick maturing vegetables can be sown as soon as the soil is warm enough to instigate germination.
However, I have lived in the Cariboo for over 30 years and sometimes my plants have suffered from frosts during June. It is relatively easy to thwart the later frosts if you regularly cover the less hardy seedlings with fleece garden covers, or put hoops over the beds to support a plastic cover, such as these celery seedlings that were sown in late February. They were transplanted outdoors in early May and are pictured here on the 3rd June.
Some seed catalogues are very helpful and give comprehensive germination times for seed starting, when to sow indoors, and when to sow outside for a succession of crops and flowers. Others are not so helpful and give just a number of days. This is sometimes days to maturity from sowing the seeds or sometimes it is days to maturity after the seedlings have been planted out in the garden.
The seed starting mixture should not contain garden soil as this will encourage diseases. I make a seedling mixture with 50% vermiculite and 50% coir (coconut husk) you can use peat moss but that makes the pH of the mixture lower (too acid). This starting mix has no nutrients as the seed has everything necessary for the initial growth, until the true leaves start to form. When this happens the seedlings must be transplanted into a potting mixture (either bought or homemade). Your own mixture is the same as the seed starting mixture but with good compost added. The ratios are 1:1:1 each of vermiculite, coir, and compost.
To get the roots going I water the seedlings every week with a weak solution of ‘willow water’. I make this by cutting small twigs of willow into half-inch lengths and putting these into boiling water for about 5 minutes. Drain the water through a sieve and put the fluid in the freezer to make it into ice cubes. To use it put one cube in 2 litres of warm water, and when the cube has melted water the plants as normal. I find this concoction works really well when transplanting any plant, and also when taking cuttings.
The best way to go for vegetables in our zones, which range from 2b to 3b, (some are lower and a few are higher) is to choose early maturing varieties.
The dates for seed starting of the various varieties are calculated backwards from the date of the last expected Spring frost or to when you intend to start your garden. (As long as this date is after the last frost for your area!)
Here is a list of dates for starting seeds in the Cariboo. I use the 1st of June as my last frost date.

  • 12 to 10 Weeks: Carnations, Impatiens, Onions, Leeks, Celery, Aubergines     (Eggplants), Peppers,(You can also try Pansies if you didn’t sow them last year).
  • 8 to 9 Weeks Early Lettuce, Parsley, Corn. (Yes! It is difficult to transplant-but I have had good success using waxed cardboard milk cartons- and carefully cutting them away from the roots of the corn when planting).
  • 8 to 6 Weeks Marigolds (African and French), Early Cosmos, Basil, Tomatoes, Sweet Peas,(Sowing in single pots is better).
  • 7 Weeks Any of the Cabbage family- Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Kale, Early head Lettuce, Kohlrabi.
  • 6 to 5 Weeks Cauliflower, Cucumbers, Melons, Squash, Pumpkins, Gourds.
  • 5 to 3 Weeks From now on you can sow or set out transplants of- Beet, Broccoli, Dill, Potatoes, Sweet Peas, Lettuce, (Be prepared to cover your crops in case of frost.) Around the last frost date you can sow Ageratum, Amaranthus, Asters, Early Corn, and most other annuals, and set out all of your other transplants.
  • Most perennial seeds are best sown where they will grow in the fall. However, if you do not mind them not flowering the first year, try sowing the seeds indoors, about 8 weeks before the last frost. Some require a cold period similar to the effects of Winter. About 8 weeks in the refrigerator will be enough.

This is not a comprehensive seed starting template, but it should give you a good start on your cold climate gardening.

Copyright © 2012 by Ken Bourne