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Gardening Tips

Getting ready for Gardening slides - March 16, 2024

Deal with voles

Read the Vole Report to for tips and information about dealing with voles.

Planning your vegetable garden

Preparing for spring gardening presentation.

What to do with those old and dying tomato plants?  [Submitted by Tanya S.]


The days are getting shorter, the smell of fall is in the air, and the last few tomatoes are hanging on, struggling to ripen on the vines.  As we near the end of the growing season, it is time to start talking garden cleanup, and what to do with all that dead and dying plant material.  The good news is that most of it can go straight into the nice new compost bin beside the shed – it will break down over the winter and make a nutritious addition to our beds in the spring.  However, there is one major exception to this – tomato plants!  When it comes time to take out your tomato plants and any unripe or diseased fruits, we will require you to pack those up and take them home with you for disposal in your household garbage or green bin. 

There are few good reasons to keep those tomato plants out of our compost bin:

  1. Tomato plants are prone to diseases caused by fungi, bacteria and molds, from anthracnose (those black spots on the fruit) to early blight, fusarium wilt, and bacterial canker.  Most of these diseases will overwinter on dead vines, leaves and fruit.  If we put diseased tomato plants in the compost, the pile will need to reach a consistent internal temperature of over 130°F for several weeks to kill off these disease organisms – something our compost pile is highly unlikely to manage!  If these organisms are present in the compost next spring, it can spread disease all around the garden and infect next year’s tomato crop, starting early in the season.    

  2. Tomato fruits that are put in the compost can result in viable tomato seeds that sprout in the spring.  Free tomato plants next year may seem like a great thing.  However, if the seeds are from a hybrid tomato, chances are good that the resulting vines will be sterile and will produce no fruit.  If unwanted seedlings come up next year it is easy to simply dig them under or pull them out.  However, if those composted tomatoes were affected by anthracnose, it will be present in the compost, and will transmit to the next year’s crop. 

  3. Tomato vines are tough and don’t break down easily.  If thrown in the compost without being chopped up into small pieces, they can result in stringy compost that is hard to handle and just plain annoying. 


We therefore recommend that you carefully inspect your plants when you are doing garden clean-up, and bring a garbage bag to take home your tomato plants, and any other plants that don’t look healthy.  And please don’t put weeds in the compost, especially if they have flowers or seed pods – the compost pile will not get hot enough to kill off weed seeds either, and we don’t want to spread these around the garden plots! We also recommend that you bring a pair of clippers or scissors to cut up any large stalks, long branches and vines before you put them in the compost.  It will help the composting process and make our compost better. 

There are a few other plants that can be prone to disease, and that I tend to keep out of my compost at home, particularly if I notice signs of disease.  These plants include peppers, which are from the same family as tomatoes and are prone to many of the same diseases, as well as beans.  I usually put this kind of material in my green bin – the industrial composting process hits temperatures high enough to kill off diseases and weed seeds. 

A tip for next year: one way to keep good air circulation around your tomato plants and help reduce the chances of certain mold and fungal diseases is to pinch off some or most of the suckers that grow from the points between the leaves and the main stem when they start to appear, and to pinch off lower leaves once the fruit start to grow.  Reducing the density of the foliage will result in lowered risk of certain diseases which can thrive in a high-moisture environment.  For a deeper exploration of why, how and when to sucker your tomato plants, I recommend this site:

How much can you grow in a 4' x 8' plot?  [submitted by Susan H.]

Square foot gardening is used by many to get the most out of their square feet.   Here is a resource to help you see what is possible:

Continuous planting is also a method to have several harvests spread over the growing season. 

Where can I donate my surplus produce?

The Parkdale Food Centre has opened an outdoor community fridge!  This article tells you how to donate.

How can I prune and clone my tomato plants? [Submitted by Carmela G.]

Many of us have tomoato plants.  This Grow Your Garden Masterclass has lots of tips!

Should I prune my onions? [Submitted by Diane M.]

Topping your onions apparently ensures larger bulbs. Each stalk rising from an onion represents one layer of the onion bulb. If you cut off your onion stems to 10 cm (4”) from the bottom, it will force the energy into the bulb. A week after pruning the greens, you should see a new stem appear, therefore a new ring on the final product.


The onion green is edible, do not throw it out. If unwanted, please put it in the community fridge outside the Parkdale Food Centre. Some reference material available on YouTube:

How To Grow Big Bulb Onions

How To Grow Bigger Onions. Does Topping Them Really Work?

Crops to plant in August [Submitted by Diane M.]

Plenty of vegetables don’t like the hot summer heat and grow better in the fall. Ottawa is in Zone 5a, therefore August is the most important month for fall and winter planting. Your exact planting dates are based on your expected first frost date. Planting for a good fall and winter harvest starts 6 to 8 weeks before your first anticipated frost date. It can be found by googling “first expected frost date in Ottawa”; one result for 2021 is provided below.


Example: if the first frost comes around October 1, counting back 6 to 8 weeks gives us a two-week planting range of August 1 to 15.


The whole family of plants in the Cole or Brassica family are perfect crops you can plant in August. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and Brussels sprouts all do very well in the fall. One very important thing to keep in mind is that you plant all of these plants from seedlings, so you might want to start them indoors during the summer.


Some plants that can be sowed directly into the soil in August follow:

  • Arugula, from 21 to 40 days (baby or mature leaf size)

  • Bush beans, about 60 days (have insulating fabric ready if early cold threatens)

  • Beets and beet greens

  • Braising greens mix (mustard, kale, collards, Asian greens…)

  • Broccoli (60 days from transplants started about 15 weeks before first frost;

  • Cabbage (60 days from transplants started about 15 weeks before first frost) or Napa cabbage (about 10 days faster)

  • Carrots

  • Cauliflower (60 days from transplants started about 14 weeks before frost; needs covering if frost threatens)

  • Chard

  • Chicory, endive, radicchio

  • Cilantro

  • Collards, about 60 days but nice as a baby green

  • Cucumbers (bush type rated 60 days)

  • Dill

  • Kale, about 60 days but nice in half that time as a baby green

  • Lettuce, about 30 days to first cutting

  • Mustard greens, about 45 days

  • Peas, shelling, sugar snap, and snowpea type

  • Radishes

  • Scallions and other hardy bunching onions, for fall use and to overwinter for spring

  • Spinach

  • Squash, summer variety, bush type

  • Turnips, 40-50 days, faster for greens, or rutabaga (90 days)


Very useful information is provided in these two videos:

20 Crops You Can Still Grow In August! (Michigan)


It's Not Too Late, 7 Crops You Can Still Plant in August (New Jersey)


Grow chives, not grass [Submitted by Diane M.]

These two are very hard to tell apart when they are just a few inches tall. Most of us have been growing grass beside our chives, unaware of it. It’s now time to pull out the grass.


We’ve all seen crabgrass in lawns, however when growing in a crowded area, it tends to grow more upright for a while, therefore easy to mistaken for chives. Here are the differences:


  • Chives grow in a cluster, upright, with a hollow stalk.

  • Crabgrass develops side shoots which grow out as separate branches. As they get larger they tend to fall to the ground and start growing out in a star pattern, apparent when the center of the plant is left exposed. They have flat blades.










Common chives                                      Crabgrass


Run your hand around the base of your chives to isolate that cluster, it will then be easy to identify the green patch next to it as either grass or more chives.


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