Q&A with the East Gwillimbury Gardeners Part 1
At the start of the pandemic more than a year ago, like many others, I thought the lockdown would last a few weeks or a month at most. But as the orders to stay-at-home continued and the shift to remote work seemed more permanent, the library had a difficult task of figuring out how to reach community members when they weren’t allowed to visit. As luck would have it, the East Gwillimbury Gardeners contacted us that summer for assistance with their virtual meetings. Since that first Google Meet in July 2020, we have helped facilitate dozens of these monthly meetings and together we even launched a seed library (which you should definitely check out here: https://www.egpl.ca/services/the-east-gwillimbury-seed-library/).
Embarrassingly, I am not much of a gardener, so it has been fascinating listening to the amazing guest speakers that are invited each month to share their knowledge with the group. This spring/summer I am hoping to finally get started on my own mini garden (especially because we have seeds through the seed library!). Because I also have access to these expert gardeners, I thought why not pick their brains on a few green topics? Presented below are their answers to gardening questions from a newbie! A very big thank you to EG Gardeners President Brenda Near and members Charmaine Hunter and Hélène Robert.
1. Throughout the various EG Gardeners’ meetings I’ve been in, I have heard a bit about the different soil types throughout East Gwillimbury. What are these soil types and how do I know which one I have at my home? As a follow up, is there any special preparation I would need for gardening in my type of soil?
Good garden soil should be alive. It needs to breathe and it needs air and water. Topsoil is the living layers where plants can grow and contains organic matter which helps retain moisture and provides nutrients. Healthy soil is a living thing full of microorganisms, fungi and bacteria that interacts with the plants in a complex nutrient exchange that mutually supports both plant and life.
The type of soil varies greatly even within the boundaries of Holland Landing. It can be described as clay loam and silt loam depending on where you live but it does vary from clay soil mixed with organic matter or sand if your property borders on the river. If you live in a brand-new development most likely the topsoil, the soil that would provide nutrients and be of good quality to sustain plant life has been striped before the housing construction started so you are left with subsoil. Subsoil is typically light in colour which indicates less organic matter. That contributes to low fertility and lack of moisture. You will need to buy topsoil. If that is not the case and you really want to know the exact nutrients are present in your soil then a soil analysis can be done.
Well why not just add fertilizer?
Because that is not a sustainable solution. Over time it depletes what little soil nutrients may be present and there is evidence that again over time it would kill off the good bacteria, fungi and other essential nutrients.
It is most important to improve the soil’s texture which will improve its ability to retain moisture and its organic content that may still be present. Comparison an adult eating a balanced diet or living off multi vitamins.
How to restore soil:
First step is to amend the soil in order to provide nutrition and enhance the ability of the soil to retain moisture. Adding shredded leaves and well-rotted manure or compost every year as mulch is a good beginning.
Any composted or animal manure is beneficial when worked into the ground it will improve aeration and the soil’s ability to retain water which is essential for plant growth. If you are in one of these new developments you most likely will have to buy soil to start.
Where would I buy soil?
That really depends on your need and accessibility to the areas well as your energy level. Quality and quantity are both available.
Bulk can be delivered to your driveway. If you don’t have time to move it all at once Bulk bag or individually bagged might be your solution.
2. What is a frost date? And where can I find out that information?
A frost date is the date that you can expect the last frost to occur in the spring and the first date of expected frost in the fall for your particular area. You can find average Ontario Frost dates for all the growing zones in Ontario at http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/climzoneveg.htm
Some plants are okay with some frost but others like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and annual flowers are not and will need to be planted after danger of frost.
Just be aware that the dates set out are not a hard fast truth and you will need to watch the weather and be prepared with blankets or tarps or cloches to cover your tender plants if there happens to be a late/ early frost. Your garden may also be in a mico-climate caused by buildings or being more open or higher or lower terrain that will change your frost date. Get to know your own average dates by keeping a yearly log.
3. What 5 pieces of equipment/tools would you recommend every gardener have?
A watering can, some gloves, a trowel, scissors and a basket to collect the fruits of your labour. Some twine or yarn can be useful if you need to tie a few branches here and there. A good pair of hand pruners are also very important.
Stay Tuned for Part 2! If you would like to join the East Gwillimbury Gardeners or watch one of their free monthly guest speakers, email firstname.lastname@example.org