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Ask the Expert with Head Gardener, Becky

Ask the Expert with Head Gardener, Becky


We're back with another edition of our Ask the Expert series, where we sit down with our experts here at Pineridge Hollow and interview them with YOUR questions! This month, we sat down with our Head Gardener and Greenhouse Owner, Becky at Oak Knoll Farm. Becky is such an important member of our team, without her our gardens at Pineridge would not be beautiful and lush all summer long! She is also harvests vegetables from Oak Knoll Farms that make there way right onto your plates in the restaurant!

With the gardens being in full bloom, we thought it would be fun to sit down with Becky and get all of your burning gardening questions answered! From how to start a garden at home to some of her favourite and most unique vegetables that she has grown in Manitoba, we hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did! 

Q: How did you end up in this position?

I got into this position by needing a summer job and this was one that worked with my soccer schedule at the time. I just got into it and got really annoyed that I didn’t know what was happening in the gardens and I pulled out a lot of wrong things. I discovered that the University of Manitoba offered a Prairie Horticulture Program which I applied for and graduated from the program and that’s how I got into this position!

Q: What is the strangest/most interesting veggie you've grown in Manitoba?

For me, the most interesting and the easiest to grow are probably tomatoes. There are so many different varieties and so many different colours. The coolest tomato, I think is the Brad’s Atomic Grape Tomato because it has a mirror kind of look to it. But by far, the coolest vegetable is the Stars and Moon Watermelon because it is green with speckled yellow on it. And the plant itself is green with speckled yellow on it, so it kind of all matches which is why I think it’s the coolest one!

Q: What's the best way to get started for first time gardeners who want to grow produce at home?

To just start! The location in important. Vegetable need all the sun they can get so having a location that is FULL sun is a great start. Water can be important when we have a dry spell so if you can have a water source available or close by would be helpful. Start small. Don’t try and grow to much and get overwhelmed. At Oak Knoll Farm right now we're prepping for next year. We want to expand some fields so we are laying down tarps in areas we would like to plant next year. By covering an area now until next spring with tarps it keeps the sun off which kills grass and weeds. So next spring that area is grass and weed free for starting to plant. The best part is in winter when you can plan and go seed shopping! The best way to learn in gardening is failing and trying to then figure out what went wrong and then trying again and again. You start to get a feel for plants and how they grow and enjoy the adventure along the way!  

Q: What kind of soil and fertilizer (if any) do you use?

Here at Oak Knoll Farm we are sustainable and organic, so our plan is to try and put a system in place where we can give back to the soil. Our method is to try and use as much compost as we can – we use cover crops and green manures which grows and helps to give back to the soil. This year, we have introduced an algae fertilizer and a fish fertilizer, that we spray on the plants once they have been established.

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Q: When do you start planting in your greenhouse?

Greenhouses can be very expensive to heat so we start the germination process with seeds under lights, indoors – so we don’t have to heat the green house. Depending on what we are growing – for example, Lisianthus takes 13 to 14 weeks before frost, so we start that in February. March and April are big months for starting to plant things under lights indoors but end of April – around spring break time, we move things into the greenhouse and we start doing bigger bulbs.

Q: What are some good, low maintenance indoor plants?

I recommend visiting your local greenhouse or florist and talking to them. They will be able to ask the right questions about you specific location and set you up with the best plant for you. Sun exposure plays a big part in house plants because there are indirect and direct sunlight plants. So knowing if you have great southern exposure or not can play a huge roll in what plant works best for you. But again your local greenhouse employee would love to talk to you and help you out.

Q: What's your best advice for growing dill?

The best advice for growing dill is succession seeding which means to repeat seeding every two weeks for 2-3 times. Dill only last so long before goes to flower and starts to turn yellow and then it's done. So if you seed it every 2 weeks you can have a continuous supply and you aren’t relying on the one seeding to get you through the whole season. Succession seeding also works great with carrots, beets, radishes, lettuces, and cilantro.  

Q: Best advice on how to grow and maintain spaghetti squash?

Squash in general loves lots of sun, warm temperatures, fertile soil, and benefits from frequent watering if there is a lack of rain. Squash like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumber doesn’t really benefit them to plant them as early as possible in the season. In May the nights can be cool like be low temperature of 5. These temperature aren’t going to kill these vegetables but they can shock them and sets them back. So it not a bad idea to wait until end of May or beginning of June. When planting squash if you add a compost to the soil will help too. From then on a big majority of the success has to do with what kind of summer we have and the hot temperatures. Also when you are looking at seeds or plants if you stay between the 70-80 days of maturity will have a vegetable that will have enough time to mature.

Q: How much should I be trimming leaves from tomato plants as they are ripening?

Depending of the time of year will affect how much trimming you should be doing. Leaves produce sugars from photosynthesis which makes great tomatoes. But when it comes to later in the season you want as many tomatoes to ripen as possible before it frost. The quickest way for tomatoes to ripen is to get the sun the tomatoes which would be trimming off the leaves around the tomatoes later in the season.

Q: Is there a reason it's taking so long for my cherry tomatoes to turn red?

There could be a couple reasons. First it could depend on the variety of the tomato. Some varieties have a longer date of maturity than others. Second could be the weather and temperature so far this year. We tended to have a cool beginning of the season which doesn’t help tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, and squash. Tomatoes also love water so a lack of water could play a roll. Tomatoes are also a heavy feeder so a lack of nutrients could play a role too.

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Q: Is it safe to use old railroad ties as a garden border?

Railroad ties are coated with a chemical to keep them from rotting like pressure treated wood. I wouldn’t recommend using them for a raised vegetable or herb bed because those chemical can leach into the soil which the plant can absorb.

We hope that some of these insights and advice from our Head Gardener, Becky helped you in solving your gardening problems! Now that you're prepped and ready to finish this gardening season off strong, enjoy the fruitful harvests of the season.

If you'd like to see some of Becky's work first hand, sign up for an Oak Knoll Farm Tour led by Jan, our owner! She will walk you through the gardens and you will get to see how carefully maintained they are! Tickets can be purchased here. Or the next time you are at the Pineridge Hollow grounds, take a walk around and see all the variety of plants and flowers that Becky and her team have planted this year.


Keep an eye on our social media for next month's Ask the Expert feature! Hint: our special guest will be connected to one of our favourite sales!

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