E-newsletter from Mark and Ben Cullen

September is a month of celebrations in our family. Ben's mother Mary, brother in law, nephew Neil and Ben himself, all have birthdays. 

Any day now, we are expecting another new addition to the family - sister Heather was due with her second child back on the 8th. Everyone is waiting patiently, but no one more patiently than Heather and her husband Martin.

Birthdays to celebrate and harvests too. We know that "Thanksgiving" is the traditional time to celebrate the harvest but when you stop to think about the miracle, you have to ask - isn't it worth celebrating at least twice?

Last week, Ben had the opportunity to attend the first of his "Harvest Celebrations" at the head offices of Home Hardware in St Jacob's, Ontario.

Across the street from the offices, staff have created a community garden spanning nearly three acres. Over 35 families are involved, growing food for themselves and contributing organic produce to the local food bank. 

This year, they have already contributed 3,600 lbs of fresh produce and counting. To celebrate this year's abundance, they hosted a small harvest party of home made baked goods.

Indeed, a harvest worth celebrating.


Don't forget to plant garlic! As far as beating-what-you-can-get-from-the-grocery-store, garlic is very much worth growing yourself. Remember that you reap what you sow, so head to the farmer's market and find the biggest, healthiest garlic on offer if you haven't already got "seed stock" to start with. You can always check out our "How-To" video for a reminder of how to grow garlic. Remember to add plenty of compost, it's a heavy-feeding crop.

Another cause for celebration: finished compost! Now is the time to clean out your composter and spread it over the vegetable garden. Just apply it generously over the surface, but save yourself the work of "digging it in" - the earthworms are happy to do that work for you, and they'll do so without disturbing the soil structure.

Cover cropping is another good thing to be thinking about this time of year. As your harvest leaves bare soil, overseed with Annual Rye for quick germination or Red Clover to sock some nitrogen back into the soil. Your garden will thank you by returning even better harvests next year.


Between us, we are constantly trying new things in the garden, and while we could start a completely separate newsletter for our failures we thought we would share a couple things recently that worked:

Winging it. Ben would not describe himself as a "serious chef" but his confidence has been improving over the last few years. Much as he depends on kitchen stalwarts such as Marian Morash's Victory Garden Cookbook when the vegetables start coming in, sometimes the harvest just comes too quickly to find recipes. 

That's when you wing it. This week that meant a chili of sorts with homegrown tomatoes, onions, garlic, squash, red pepper, chili pepper and Cullen's organic black beans. Salt, pepper, seasoning to taste - and you know what, it was pretty good. Proof that when you start with the right ingredients it's hard to go wrong.

A "tilted trellis". This is something Mark has been doing for a few years - propping up a trellis and allowing cucumbers and squash to crawl up it, with the veggies falling through. 

It has proven to be very successful - by propping up the plants you improve airflow, reducing fungal disease during the wetter parts of the season, and it lifts the vegetables up off the soil which improves their quality and makes it easier to harvest. See picture if you're having a hard time visualizing this method.

The straw-bale planter. Inspired by our friends Emma and Steve Biggs ( https://stevenbiggs.ca/stevebiggs-blog/2018/6/5/pop-up-driveway-vegetable-garden?rq=straw) Ben decided to try out planting tomatoes directly into a strawbale. 

Beyond the typical advantages of container gardening, there were additional benefits: a strawbale is compostable, so when it's done it can be mulched onto the veggie beds. It's also cheap. Ben pays about $4.00/bale from his dairy farming friend. 

One challenge is that if the bale isn't "conditioned" properly, it can drain too quickly making watering and fertilizing a constant challenge. Rather than go through the process of trying to pre-rot the bale, Ben stuffed some compost-rich container soil into three cavities which seemed to work. 

Note that the plant on the left had the least soil to grow in, and ended up stunted. A worthwhile experiment which we will build upon for next year.


September 26Ben will be speaking at the Royal Botanical Garden on September 26th at 7pm. This is a "member-exclusive" event, so if you've been thinking of becoming a member can we humbly suggest this might be a worthy excuse? Details here.

September 27 - Mark will be at Wilson's Home Hardware Building Centre in Barrington Passage, NS.  Time: noon - 2pm.

September 28 - Mark will be at the Communities in Blooms National & International Awards Ceremonies
Location: Yarmouth, Nova Scotia
Mark will lead a Town Hall meeting before representing Home Hardware at the Awards Ceremony.
Nut Gatherer

Watch the video
Fallen walnuts are a bane to Mark as he has about 30 large black walnut trees flanking his property.

A bane no more! We discovered this amazing nut gatherer. It makes the job fast and fun. Not only that but we discovered in testing this product that it will pick up golf balls, small to medium sized apples, pears, crabapples and even tennis balls. Virtually anything that is reasonably solid and round(ish).
We love handing this product to strangers to give a try, after we have dumped a pail of walnuts in front of them.

Easy. Fast. Fun. No instructions included. Just roll your new  Mark's Choice nut gatherer over any annoying debris that fits through the flexible tines. And say "nuts to this job".
Item#  5010-033