E-newsletter from Mark and Ben Cullen

The month of May gets a lot of glory for being the gardener's herald of Spring - earth bursting to life with new colour and fresh scents.  While this flush of activity is a refreshing call from the doldrums of a Canadian winter, it does not really compare with the level of activity happening in the garden right now - particularly where the veggie garden is concerned.

The diversity of crops in our vegetable garden is at its absolute peak - fresh garlic, onions, potatoes and beans are flanked by tomatoes and peppers which were only plugs in May. These plants are sprawling with their ripened bounty, after a terrific year for yield. 

Cooler temperatures have delayed growth somewhat, but for many gardeners in central Canada this year's abundance of rain will provide big, luscious harvests.  Out west, where it has been hot and dry, the 'heat seeking' plants will have done well.

Many orchards are brimming.  Not ours, I am afraid.  After a record crop of apples and pears last year, this is an 'off' year. 

And of course, the real reason why September is one of our favorite months: It's compost season! Those kitchen scraps and yard waste are finally cooked up into a beautiful rich material with countless benefits to the garden.

We enjoyed visiting this amazing composting facility while in the UK.

With all this activity, it's easy to get caught up in enjoying the literal fruits of our labour. But the fact is, there is no better time to invest in the long-term success of your garden than in early Fall. 

No doubt the bounty is coming fast, and it's hard to keep up. Check your produce-bearing plants, like tomatoes, beans, peppers etc. daily, as it is easy for plants to over-ripen. 

Staying on top of harvest can promote maximum yield.

Compost.  C
lear out that composter and apply directly to the surface of your vegetable garden. Don't worry about digging it in, as the existing vermiculture (worms) in the soil are eager to bring those nutrients from the soil surface and down to the roots in the form of nitrogen rich worm castings. 
If you don't have a composter, now is the time to start one so that you can have fresh compost in time for spring planting.

Cover crop.  Compost and fertilizer are two obvious ways to return nutrients to the soil in any garden, but the vegetable garden also provides the opportunity for another environmentally friendly option of nutrient restoration: cover cropping. 
A cover crop can reduce soil erosion, loosen compacted soil, and suppress weeds, all while building organic matter in the soil and adding nutrients. Annual Rye Grass germinates quickly, which will help to keep weeds down, while Red Clover will produce a respectable amount of biomass (which becomes organic matter when it breaks down) while adding Nitrogen (like all legumes).

Plan.  Pay attention to the crops you're picking from your garden. If you're like us, you probably took a chance on at least a couple new varieties this year. What were you happy with? What will you do away with for next year? There is no better place to experiment than in the garden, and now is the best time to take stock of your successes.

Next season, be sure to rotate your veggie crops around your yard to minimize disease and insect problems.

Hang out a hummingbird feeder.  This is a non-food related task, but it's important to remember that, in most parts of Canada, they are returning from the far north on their long trip south, and they need food!  

Remember to put out a feeder so that they can fuel up and accumulate enough energy for the journey.

Keep your knees dirty,

Mark and Ben Cullen


Is there a tool, or gardening accessory, you can't garden without?  This is one of the questions we ask fellow gardeners to make sure we aren't missing anything new and exciting in the world of gardening.

Mark stopped to speak with a professional gardener in Toronto last week and asked her 'what is the most useful tool in your kit?' and she said it is the small multi weeder ... pictured on the top left here.

Email one photo of your favourite garden tool/accessory to  groundskeeper@markcullen.com  for a chance to win. 

This will be fun!  I look forward to seeing (and reading) about the most useful tools in your garden.

I will post all photos on   my Facebook page .  The photo with the most likes will win a $50 gift card for Home Hardware and a signed copy of my book The New Canadian Garden.

Deadline for entry: September 20, 2017.
Deadline for voting is September 25, 2017.

Enter today!

Photo by Nourjahan Avan
In the mid-August issue of Food Gardening with Mark, I invited you to share a photo of your harvest.  Thank you to all who entered their photos. 

Congratulations to the winner, Nourjahan Avan, who will receive a $50 Home Hardware gift card + Mark's Choice veggie seeds. 

Have you picked up your Harrowsmith 2018 Almanac yet? The fall issue covers everything from sky-side high rise potato patches in Saskatoon to Dundurn Castle's secret kitchen garden in Hamilton, Ontario to an exploration of Canada's hard apple cider industry. 

Mark Cullen's colourful guide to growing your own snacks and book collection is the perfect arsenal for crisp autumn night inspiration. You'll find all the usual Almanac staples too: Mark Sirois' weather forecast for 2018, the Astronomical Almanac and our 39th annual guide to Canada's seed houses and specialty nurseries. 

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