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Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia

Étoile Estates: Sustainable Garden Services

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Garden Chat

The Trials and success of our micro estate.

The Persephone Period is almost over!

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

It is hard to believe that it is nearly February, and we are more than half way through the winter.  The Persephone period will soon come to a close in our climatic zone.  It is a time when vegetative grown slows to what to our eyes almost be not happening.  By the end of February, daylight will be a notch above 10 hours/day. Ten hours of daylight is the minimum required for most plants to show substantive growth.


Time to get ready for spring crops!


Over the next several weeks on our farm, we will be busy getting ready for spring planting!  Now, you may think that is much too early to start planting.  And for tender crops like tomatoes, squash and peppers that is true.  However, for cool loving crops like onions, spring greens, radish and parsley it’s almost time.   To prepare, the first thing we will be doing is converting one of our raised beds into a hoop house.  A hoop house is a season extender, and generally they are unheated.  They use the sun and cover to harvest heat in the day, and provide protection from frost from cold tolerant crops.   The first step to ready the bed we will plant up is to warm the soil.   Even though the crops we will be planting are cold tolerant, they still require a specific soil temperature germination.  Radishes, for example need a soil temperature of at least 12 degrees Celsius to germinate.  While in the Halifax region, we have had a mild winter, the soil will still need to be warmed.  

Step one- Build the hoop house

We will this by adding a frame of 2x4s on either side of the raised bed.  They will be secured to the top of each side, and overhang on the outside.  For the hoop frame, we are using ½” pvc pipe, which will be cut into 10’ lengths.  Four of these will span across the raised bed, being bent across with width of the bed to form an upside down “u”. A fifth ten-foot length will be cut, and placed the length of the raised bed in the middle of the hoops to provide support. 

In the frame on either side, we will drill ½” holes to thread the pipe into to stabilize it.  You will also want to secure the pipe to the raised bed just beneath the frame.  This will stop unwanted shifting of the hoops.  Lastly, cover your hoops with a piece of greenhouse plastic that will cover the entire square footage.  You can source greenhouse plastic, locally from Halifax Seed.  To secure the plastic, you can use rocks or bricks to weight it down- so the wind won’t take it.   


Step Two – Warm Your Soil

Once you have your hoop house constructed, and the greenhouse plastic in place…comes some down time.  Depending on the amount of sunny days, and the temperatures we have – plan for 2 – 3 weeks of soil warming.  To assist with warming and controlling temperature swings, you can add some bricks where the sun will hit.  They will absorb heat during the day and release it at night which help to reduce extreme temperature swings.


Step Three – Plant

Once two – three weeks have past, if we had have a good amount of sunny days the soil should be warm enough.  It is time to plant! With a thermometer, before you plant take the soil temperature.  A temperature in the range of 12 – 15 Celsius is desired.  Plant your seeds following spacing directions on the package, and water them in.  Re-secure your hoop house cover and wait for germination.  Once germinated make sure you keep them adequately watered and be aware of the outside daytime temperatures.  There may be days as we move into April, that will require venting for the hoop house- so it doesn’t become too hot.   From May forward, you will want to switch to a heavy weighted row cover, to still provide protection from too much heat or chance of an early May frost.


With a little bit of planning and easy construction, you can be the first on your block to have fresh veggies for 2017!


Do you use season extenders in your gardens?



Be Insect Friendly

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

For many decades gardening was about planting pretty things regardless of where the came from.  Garden trends with baby boomers focused largely on ornamentals and the majority of prized plants were not indigenous to the area.  Now, I don’t hate on the boomers who can say no to tulips, gladioli, rhododendron pretty is timeless.   

However, as with all trends they do change.  With economic and demographic changes, more people are living in urban areas than ever before.  Coupled with economic pressures have resulted in garden trends returning to allotment gardens and a new interest in indigenous plants.


Live in concert with nature

 With the renewed focus on growing food and adding indigenous plants to your landscape – it is important to respect your local ecosystem.   On our property, we consider our land a little ecosystem.  That is to say is to plan and work in tandem with our land from a holistic perspective.  There is no room for use of pesticides in a healthy, productive ecosystem.  

I strive to have balance on our land and plant to provide habitat for beneficial insects and animals.   Plants like dill, parsley, echinacea, anise hyssop, crocus, dandelions and sunflowers provide habitat for bees, lacewings, and even hummingbirds. Providing food for insects from spring till frost is a key component to have a healthy garden.   The insects that will come visit also need shelter, in reality they are no different than us in their names- food, safe shelter and a place to make offspring. 

For example, adult ground beetles require tall clumps of indigenous grass to thrive.  They are nocturnal and they eat slugs—which are gardeners’ nemesis.  Enter our indigenous bumble bees, who because they have evolved together with native flowers are much better pollinators than the imported honey bee.  Bumble bees are ground dwellers and like to make nests in abandoned rodent holes or under human made infrastructures. 

Many solitary indigenous bees also at some point in their life cycle require open soil – so leave some open soil so they can dig to hibernate or build nests.  Add some untreated logs of wood to your yard, these will provide homes for salamanders, various beetles and even centipedes.  The most important aspect is having a diversity of species both large and small.  They all work together and the results they will provide for your garden is without measure!

Last, leave parts of your yard un-mowed – don’t touch it. I know that goes against what we are trained to think, but mowing is murder. Imagine large, loud whirling blades coming right for you—this is what insects experience with ever mow.  Leaving un-mowed lawn gives even more habitat for the micro-world!


And of course, always remember to have fun!


How do you work in partnership with the animals you share space with?



Plan to get your grow on!

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

I'm in zone 6a, mid January and we are in the grips of winter.  Winter, one can argue is a challenging time for gardeners and farmers.   Most things are dead or dormant waiting for spring. So far, we have had a relatively mild but wet late Fall – early winter.   The lack of cold and snow makes it harder to not be out digging in your gardens.   The lack of snow also makes it harder for temperatures to be constant in your growing beds.   As climate change is continuing to alter seasonal patterns, it is important to play even closer attention to forecasts.   Climate change is yet another variable that both gardeners and farmers must consider in their production plans.

In the winter is the ideal to create your production schedule for the coming growing season.  At our property, we historically have been in production from April till the end of October.  However, this year with a more detailed focused plan, we are aiming to be in production from March until the end of November.   While for many home gardeners this may seem ambitious by employing season extenders and matching crops to their preferred season – it is easily achievable!

Build success with a plan!

The first thing that I did to get ready for returning to production is I got artsy!  I found my ruler, blank paper and it was a throw back to my grade seven drafting class!  Yes, I start with sketching out my production plan so I can have a visual.   All of my beds are numbered and with each successive year I consider the following:

  • What worked/ Didn’t work in last year’s production

i.e., Are there knock our starts that I must grow again?  Did certain varieties under perform based on yields?  What were the main factors that resulted in positive or lack luster yields?


  • Crop Rotation—Even our production area is a small urban lot crop rotation is important!  Instead of individual species rotation, I rotate by plant families.

i.e., garlic, chives and onions all belong to the allium family.  So, in my plan I ensure that members of the allium family that don’t have a fixed location move together year to year.


Now, with a bed plan with selected varieties that I wish to grow this year- I think of how and when production will begin.  To begin the growing season, I will grow crops that can handle some cooler temps as long as they have protection.  Crops such as broccoli, radish, kale, cabbage, orach, peas and even some lettuces don’t mind cooler temperatures as long as they are under cover.   The cover involves in a hoop house, which if you don’t already have in your yard –is it a great addition!  Plus, with our mild winter makes for a perfect time to add a hoop house to one of your garden beds.  Check out Savvy gardenings’ post on how to build a hoop house!

Lastly, it is seed time!  First, I survey my seeds left from last year to see what I need to use up! While seeds are designed to last for some time, there germination rates do decrease the older they get.  Also, you don’t want to be buying seeds you already have. If you need to buy some seeds to fill in gaps, I recommend Annapolis Seeds, Hope Seeds, Edible Antiques and Hawthorn Farms to name a few. 

Now comes the part we’ve being waiting for since Yulemas at least—planting!  For cooler season crops, if you wish to plant out in March, I would seed inside under grow lights in early February.  This would be for crops like leeks, kale, onion, radish etc.  Be cautious though as February is too early to start your seeds for heat loving crops like tomatoes, peppers, squash, corn etc.   With a little planning and some easy physical labour this year you can be eating fresh greens before anyone else on your street!


How do you plan for your growing seasons?

Leave a comment below!