30 March 2011

Gardening Tips From Frank Ferragine

Yesterday's post contained notes from Frank Ferragine's workshop "Gardening 101" as presented at Edmonton Home and Garden Show.  Today I am focusing on Frank's tips - ideas to fulfill the goals and ideals discussed in his "Gardening 101" workshop.  Some of this information is supplemented with hardiness maps and related information that I researched for this post.

Know Your Soil

  1. To roughly determine the composition of your soil without sending it off to a soil analysis expert you might try this.  Go to the middle of your garden plot and remove enough soil to fill a mason jar 3/4 full with soil.  Next add water and dishwashing liquid.  Shake.  Allow to sit at least overnight.  You will find the soil will have separated into layers. You might see sand, loam, clay in the jar.  This will give you an idea of what types of soil amendments you should consider to make the best of your garden plot. 
  2. Amend your soil in the fall.  Why?  The freeze and thaw cycle through fall, winter and early spring will work in the amendments and loosen your soil to make it easier in the spring to finish the amendment in preparation for planting.
  3. If you get manure from a friend who is a farmer, get aged manure and ask that it be dug out from the center of the pile.  The center of the pile heats a great deal thus killing any weed seeds that may be present.  Also, Frank likes to use sheep manure as it has fewer weed seeds to begin with.  There's something about the sheep's digestive system that makes it so.
  4. Frank loves to plant in raised beds.  He has tried and currently uses 4' x 8' boxes constructed from plywood.  Don't use pressure treated lumber nor treated railway ties as toxins in these woods will leach into the soil and, subsequently, your vegetables growing there.
Know your location. 
  1. Frank says the higher the elevation, the lower the zone.  For example, a balcony on a high rise, say 14 floors up, will be a lower zone than the ground floor.  The ground floor might be a zone 3 but the balcony 14 floors up will likely be lower, zone 2 for example.  Interesting.  The closer you are to sea level, the milder the climate, thus the higher number zone.  ie.  Vancouver is zone 8, Edmonton is zone 3b.
  2. http://www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone/ushzmap.html
  3. Canada's hardiness map zones and USA's hardiness map zones are different.  According to the  USDA Edmonton is zone 3b while the Canadian hardiness map indicates it is zone 3a.  The USDA hardiness zones are informative: the extremes of winter cold are a major determinant of whether a plant species can be cultivated outdoors at a particular location.  Canada's map takes into account other variables such as median highs and moisture. 
For more information see plant variables.


Most plant labels are printed in the states, thus they indicate the USDA zones rather than Environment Canada's zones and the information comes from the US.  The gardener needs to be aware of the differences. 

Check this comparison model and find your particular zone to make proper selections.

Micro-climates
Many gardens have micro-climates.  Take note where the snow melts first in your garden.  This is a warmer micro-climate.  Consider planting crocus in that spot for early bloom.  Frank plants crocus bulbs right in his lawn.  Once the bulbs quit blooming the grass is growing and all can be mowed as you mow the lawn.  At least that is what he has done and has mesmerized neighbours and visitors alike when they see the crocus blooming in what was and will be the lawn!

In these micro-climates, you can plant, experimentally, those less hardy perennials and shrubs.  I have a micro-climate near my deck where I grow a rhododendron (zone 4) and it seems perfectly happy there.  Try experimenting with hydrangeas, magnolia shrubs, perennials and such.  It is advised to try only one zone above yours for best results.  In Edmonton (zone 3a/b) I have not had success with any zone 5 plants.  That being said, Lois Hole said many plants that indicate one zone do so simply because they weren't tried in a lower zone.  She was a big proponent of experimenting with zones in her own garden. 

Tomorrow's post will include some design disasters, Frankie's favourite tips, and some little tidbit factoids.  Come back to green up your figurative green thumb!

7 comments:

Heather at Dusty Bay said...

This is fabulous - great advice and excellent post, thank you!

Sheila said...

Thanks for sharing all this gardening advice. I will try the soil test! Nice to see the snow melting isn't it?

Tanya (a Taste of T) said...

Here from a blog hop and happy to meet you,
<3, New Follower

Get a dose of laughgter at A Taste of T

Melanie said...

Great advice Shirley. I find microclimates the south side of a building versus a windier spot at the bottom of the garden greatly affect plant survivability.

Rambling Woods said...

I am going to try that at home soil test..will let you know...

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Amela Jones said...

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Amela
Northamptonshire Garden Supplies

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