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Spike in home gardening benefits from bountiful season

Gardeners report a great growing season this year
Screenshot 2020-09-16 at 8.58.50 AM
Marie-Eve Proulx, of South Porcupine, has thoroughly enjoyed this year's growing season, and has plenty to show for her efforts, as seen here in front of her thriving kale and swiss chard plants. Andrew Autio/Local Journalism Initiative

As the summer of 2020 winds down, many vegetable growers are beginning to see the fruits of their labour.

The COVID-19 pandemic, economic shutdowns and other uncertainties seemed to spike an interest in home gardening, with many residents now reporting a highly successful season.

“It was really wonderful. I had one of the best growing seasons I've had in a long time actually,” said Amanda Hayter, who lives in the city's north end.

She had success with zucchinis, cucumbers and broccoli.

“Everything was really abundant,” she said.

Marie-Eve Proulx, of South Porcupine, noted, “It was kind of a late start but it turned out to be really good for the most part.”

Her garden is situated in her south-facing front yard, which she has taken full advantage of.

“We picked the best spot for it because in the backyard there's too much shade. It was pointless to try and grow anything there.”

Proulx had a good year for carrots, tomatoes, beets and beans.

“Now I'm currently drowning in zucchini.”

She also has an abundance of leafy greens such as kale and chard.

Hayter ordered her seeds online from the east coast in March, and anticipated the slowdown of mail delivery.

“I got my order in to make sure I'd have my seeds. I ordered extra because we didn't know where this was all going — probably more than I needed. I started a lot of stuff from seed on my own, instead of buying at a nursery this year,” she said.

Hayter did purchase two tomato plants from a garden centre, but those did not survive upon planting, but the plants she started from seed persevered.

She uses her front yard as her garden, and has been an avid gardener for about seven years. However, there is one crop that always seems to give her trouble.

“Personally, I never have any luck growing onions — no matter what I try.”

Hayter is now in the process of preserving, freezing and canning much of her produce for use throughout the winter. Overall, she's happy with the growing season.

“I just wish it was longer,” she said.

Proulx also had a highly successful season, save for a few crops.

“I had a hard time with lettuce. It just kind of bolted on me. I had bok choy at the beginning of the season, and that got eaten by some bugs, so that didn't do well.”

She stepped her game up this summer and now has a lush jungle of food and flowers adorning her property.

“We've had the garden in front — but not this big. We used to have just three boxes. We had those for five years”

She and her family then decided to remove all of the grass, and make the entirety of the front yard a garden, minus some footpaths. 

“I've always been interested in the environment, and sustainability, and regeneration, and all of that. So it’s much better to me than grass. Grass doesn't really do much for bees or the ecosystem or anything. So we just wanted to put some native perennials and pollinator-friendly things, and just use the whole yard because we have such a good sun exposure.

“I mean, why not? I wanted more veggies and more food.”

Proulx said it was a good year for flowers as well. She took advantage of the free seed library program at the C.M. Shields Library in South Porcupine, and had success with flowers such as black-eyed susans.

The popularity of gardening in 2020 was noticeable.

“It was hard to find the stuff that we needed at the beginning of the season, because everyone started planting stuff, which is awesome, but I couldn't get enough manure.”

Meanwhile, for northeastern Ontario farmers, the summer was also a success

“I would consider this a pretty good growing year in general. Lots of heat, quite a few warm nights and well-timed rains,” said Jeff Warner, of Aidie Creek Farms in Englehart.

“Most of our crops looked fairly good. Our pumpkin patch did better than usual. Not sure if that is weather related, or if we just did a better job on it, but it looks promising anyway.”

Allen Graham, of Graham Acres Farms in Mountjoy, concurred.

“All around, it’s been a good growing season,” said Graham. “We had lots of heat, lots of rain. We had a little bit of a late start, but other than that, it’s been great as far as I'm concerned.”

The crop he was most pleasantly surprised by is one that many people may not realize is grown in the area.

“I'm going to say we had the best sweetcorn we've ever had up here. We've been growing it for five years, and this is the nicest we've ever had, and the best crop we've ever had of it.”

Graham believes it was the heat and the proper timing of rainfalls that contributed to the success.

“Our potatoes are the same way. Our crop is 50 per cent more than it was last year.

“All around all of our vegetables are really good. We can't complain on the year at all.”

But not everything flourished in the garden this summer. Some are reporting that it wasn't the best year for berries in general, which is always a disappointment, considering their popularity.

Warner said, “Our strawberries were terrible. We have not had the time yet to figure out why. We will look into it. I am leaning to it was very hot when the berries were forming. Not sure if that was the problem or something else.”

Graham echoed the impact from a late start to the season.

“We didn't get much in the ground until just after the May 24 weekend, which we usually have quite a bit in the ground before that. It was a late start.”

Graham Acres starts many crops in their greenhouse and then transplant outdoors.

“We do grow some tomatoes in the greenhouse, but that's about it.”

He said the reality is, much of farming is essentially out of the farmers’ hands.

“A lot of it is about the right amount of rain at the right time,” said Graham. “It’s all about the timing. You want a good rain when your potatoes are flowering, and we got that. You don't always get that. That's what made it such an exceptional year for us.

“It was one of the best years of the last five, for sure.”

Interestingly enough, Graham also reported a bad year for bok choy.

“That was nothing do with weather, it was all due to insects,” he said. “That's about the only thing we didn't have a good crop on this year.”

The pandemic has had a major impact in most economic sectors, and the agri-food industry is included.

Warner said, “The circumstances affected us in some ways, but not others. There was a lot of stress and anxiety about all this COVID stuff and what needs to be done to keep everyone safe and wanting to come to work.

“Our staff was great to work with and helpful for ideas. We were one of the first types of businesses to be allowed to re-open and it was very timely to when we needed to be open, so that part helped us get through all this. We had to operate our retail area differently, but it was manageable. One of our most difficult parts was finding staff.”

Whether it was for a source of income, or to stretch a grocery bill or just for a hobby, Proulx said gardening was a source of pride and joy all across the city and beyond.

 “I'm happy with it, especially this year because we couldn't do much with the pandemic and everything else,” she said. “This was a sanity saver for sure.”


Andrew Autio

About the Author: Andrew Autio

Andrew Autio covers civic matters under the Local Journalism Initiative out of the Timmins Daily Press, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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