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Gardener Gerry Reichheld shares the dirt on how to grow a bounty of food

Gardeners Gerry Reichheld, from the left, Tina Davis and Emmet A'Hearn look forward to the fruits of their labour this year.
Gardeners Gerry Reichheld, from the left, Tina Davis and Emmet A'Hearn look forward to the fruits of their labour this year. - Desiree Anstey

It's all 'white' now to start growing seeds in winter, according to an expert gardener

SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. - Despite the continued flurries of snow, organic gardener Gerry Reichheld shared some sage words of advice to his green-fingered audience on growing fruit and vegetables, as well as weeding and keeping the pests away, on Saturday afternoon at the Summerside Rotary Library.

“Tomatoes and peppers have to be started early or you won’t get a crop,” he said, while sharing pictures of seeds growing in his greenhouse in Wellington. “You can also grow lettuce now from seed, including watermelons.

“But make sure your seed containers have drainage and use soil less mixed. The soil should not be soaking wet in the tray because that can cause damage, so instead water from the bottom and when the soil at the top gets damp then take the tray out. This will also encourage the roots to grow longer.”

Moisture, heat and light are required to grow seeds.

“Pepper seeds need heat rising from the bottom of their container to germinate, so if you’re starting them now you can get a heat mat at most hardware or garden stores. The heat mat can also encourage other seedlings to grow quicker, such as onions,” he shared.

“But always first check the seed packet for instructions on how to grow,” stressed Reichheld.

Beans, cucumbers and tomatoes are easy to grow and reap much greater harvests.

“Whatever you want to grow, first think about how much space you will need and if it’s worth it,” noted Reichheld. “Tomatoes should be started early, cucumbers you don’t have to start early but it’s beneficial if you do, and beans you just plant them directly into the garden.

“When the beans are growing in the garden, stagger the crop every two to three weeks right through the season, so you get a high yield.”

As the weather becomes milder and the threat of frost is long gone, fruit and vegetables transplanted outdoors will now face a wealth of new dangers.

“Once they are planted outside use a floating row cover fabric to protect from insects and grubs. The very light fabric lets in light and water while keeping the bugs out, and it can be pinned down with rocks, bricks or soil.

“It’s good for broccoli because they don’t need pollination, so you can leave the fabric on them all year and it protects them from all these flying insects.

“There is also an organic solution called BTK (Bacillus Thuringiensis Kurstaki). It has no known toxic effects on humans, other mammals, plants, bees, birds or fish. And you can also get a dry version of this product,” said Reichheld.

A more natural way to protect plants is to pair them with pungent crops.

Tomatoes can benefit from having marigolds, chives, basil and garlic planted in the same bed since these companion plants ward off pests.

And as for keeping the weeds away, Reichheld suggests laying straw, seaweed or plastic sheets between crops.

“Seaweed has all kinds of micro-nutrients that can benefit the plants and it’s a mulch for the garden too, and next year most of it would have rotten away so it becomes a fertilizer.”

Emmet A’Hearn was among those in the audience taking notes.

“I have a small garden and grow lots of tomatoes. But my interest in gardening started when I was very young. I was about six-years-old when I planted an onion from the fridge in our garden. I then forgot about it, and in the fall found this giant onion in the garden,” he said. “This year I hope to grow more tomatoes, garlic, carrots and other root crops.”

A'Hearn concluded, “If you have a garden and a library then you have everything to be happy.”

The question and answer session with Reichheld kicked off at 2 p.m. and wrapped up at 4 p.m.

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