Big Lakes County Agriculture Services is committed to providing outreach and learning opportunities to our ratepayers. When a workshop is needed to deliver new information, connect with producers or launch new programs, Agriculture Services will provide these services. Through our partnerships with extension organizations or on a County driven priority, Big Lakes County aims to meet the need of continued education in the Agricultural Sector. If there is a topic you would like covered through a workshop, please contact Agricultural Services.


 The YARDening Club - 2021

The YARDening Club is a season subscription geared towards prairie gardeners of all experience levels. It is a fun and interactive program which will provide information and insights on edible and ornamental annual and perennial plants, as well as woody trees and shrubs and lawns.

The YARDening Club includes: 

  • Membership in “The Yardening Club” private Facebook group for 2021
  • Timely and useful weekly posts (written posts, videos, live events/videos)
  • Regular live events with expert growers, with lots of practical and useful information for gardeners of all levels (Facebook Live events or Zoom/Google Meets) – recorded for later viewing
  • Participate in interactive discussions with fellow gardeners in a private Facebook group.
  • Ask any question you have about your yard or garden throughout the season, and get answers from experts
  • Get access to a host of useful materials that is sure to help you be more successful in your yard and garden

The 2021 season runs 27 weeks, from mid-March to mid-September. The program starts March 15, 2021.

Outline of Program: 

Early Season (mid-March to end of April): Starting plants (materials, dates, techniques), caring for your new plants (light, temperature, water, nutrients), plant health (diseases and insects), getting ready for outdoor growing, soil stuff (basic terminology, prep, temperature), assessing winter health, yard/garden clean up

Spring (May): perennials (dividing, planting), planting plants (seeds, transplants, etc.), spacing, disease/insect pest spotlights, protecting plants

Summer (June-July): watering, protecting plants, recognizing plant problems, maintenance (yard, garden), dealing with severe weather

End of Season (August to mid-September): dealing with heat, harvest, watering, end of season yard and garden care (maintenance, fertilizing/soil amendments, etc.), wrapping up the season, storing stuff, cutting/drying/storing ornamentals

The YARDening Club is a collaborative offering by Robert Spencer – Spencer Horticultural Solutions and Sharon Murphy – Gardening with Sharon.

To purchase a subscription to The YARDening Club, click here


May Horticulture Article
By Robert Spence 

“May is a time for growing and getting your fingers dirty,” in the opinion of Rob Spencer, horticulturist.

Once the growing season gets underway, there are many different tasks that compete for our attention. When it comes to May, it is all about planting. As the days get longer, the soil warms up and temperatures stay above freezing. As a result, it is possible to plant more and more vegetables.

Spencer says, “In the first part of the month, depending on what the weather is like, you can start vegetables from seed in the ground, provided they tolerate cooler soils.”

Crops that don’t mind when the soil is less than 5°C include vegetables like onions, lettuce, spinach, any of the cruciferous Cole crops (e.g., broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, kale), peas, beets, carrots, radishes, celery, and parsley. It should be noted that most vegetables will germinate and emerge much more quickly if it is warmer than that, but these crops will manage in cooler temperatures better than others.

As things warm up and day and nighttime temperatures don’t dip below zero, it is possible to plant almost all crops, but Spencer says that you should still be careful, as a sudden, cold night can kill sensitive plants.

“If temperatures are above 10-15°C, you should be ok with most plants. If you put sensitive plants outside, keep an eye on the forecast and be prepared to cover them up if needed.”

If you are looking to spread out your harvest a bit and increase the variety of what you are growing, you will likely have to use a combination of seeds and transplants. Transplants have the advantage of giving you a head start on growing some crops, especially for warm season crops like cucurbits (cucumbers, squash, pumpkins) and fruiting vegetables (tomatoes and peppers). Some vegetables only need a few weeks (e.g., cucumbers) before they are put outside (in warm temperatures) while others will take 6-8 weeks (e.g., tomatoes).

When you are start plants from seed indoors, you need to make sure that they are warm enough to germinate quickly, then have at least 12 hours a day of good light while they are getting bigger.

“Keep in mind that many new windows have a coating on them the block some of the wavelengths of light that plants need, so even with lots of light, sometimes plants will benefit from a grow light or two,” says Spencer.

Before putting transplants outside permanently, give them a few days of mild stress, moving them outside for short periods, letting them dry out a little bit, and dial back any fertilizing that you are doing.

There are lots of different pests and diseases that can show up throughout the growing season. As seeds are germinating and emerging from the soil, the biggest threat to them are cold, wet conditions. Cold temperatures slow down growth, which tips things in favour of a number of soilborne pathogens. Some of them can cause seed decay and root rots. Young seedlings can also collapse suddenly as the pathogens cut off the plant at the soil line. You might also see these sorts of problems if you are growing transplants and get cold areas and drips from condensation.

Ultimately, the best thing that you can do is to make sure that the soil outside has warmed up sufficiently before planting, and make sure that it is well-drained.

“You can’t control it if the weather changes,” says Spencer, “but try and make sure that conditions are as good as can be.”

As mentioned earlier, some vegetables are ok with cooler temperatures, so they can be planted outside earlier in the month, whereas warmer season vegetables should only be planted once the weather is a bit warmer and stable later in the month. Healthy transplants can help you avoid some of the seedling issues that you might experience in early season. Keep in mind that most transplants should still be held inside until the risk of frost is past.

Once of the most common early insects that affects cruciferous seedlings (like cabbage, broccoli, etc.) is the crucifer flea beetle. The damage that they do early on is fairly obvious, as they chew on the seedling leaves (called cotyledons). Their feeding causes little circles of tissue to dry up and fall out, giving what are called “shot holes”. Spencer says that it looks like someone took a little hole punch to the cotyledons. Lots of damage can cause the death of the seedlings.

Flea beetle adults are pretty obvious, at least if you look closely. They are small, brown/black insects that leap (like fleas) when disturbed. If there are lots of them, the plants will seem like they are rustling or moving in the wind when you come closely.

You can cover plants to protect them from flea beetles or grow transplants that can tolerate more of the damage.


July Horticulture Article
By Robert Spence 

July is usually when plants have really settled into their growing groove. The temperatures are warmer (even hot, at times) and the weather is usually more unsettled. The growing and developing plants need a lot more moisture as they get bigger, and the hot, dry weather sucks more moisture from the soil and the plants.

According to Rob Spencer, horticulturist, meeting the water needs of the growing plants can be a challenge.

“Annual vegetable plants need a regular supply of water at they hit their peak growth. If you happen to have an unlimited water supply, then you can theoretically just focus on watering each week for vegetables. Lawns can be soaked down every week or 10 days, depending on temperatures and how exposed they are.”

If you are interested in cutting back the amount of water that needs to be applied, Spencer says that are a few strategies that you can employ. Water when there will be less water quickly lost to evaporation, such as in the cooler parts of the day (morning and evening). Water the soil, not the foliage of the plants. If you can use a drip irrigation system for plants in rows, it is much more efficient than a sprinkler system. For perennial beds, and under trees and shrubs, consider using a bark mulch or some other organic material to reduce the soil temperature and conserve moisture at the soil surface. Water perennials and lawns deeply and infrequently, rather than in short, shallow bursts. Water trees out around the edge of the canopy, where their fine roots are, rather than right at the trunk. Try and slow down runoff from hard surfaces like roofs using rain chains or you can capture the runoff in rain barrels for later use. Include porous areas next to hard surface areas, which slows down the water and lets it percolate into the soil

A number of vegetables can develop problems in the heat if they don’t have even watering throughout the growing season. Tomatoes are prone to developing Blossom End Rot (a calcium deficiency), lettuce will develop tip burn (also calcium deficiency), and potatoes may have higher levels of common potato scab if watering fluctuates, and the soil is drier as tubers start to develop.

“When plants have been exposed to drying conditions,” says Spencer, “eventually they will start to send signals that they are suffering.”

For tender annuals, they may start to droop and wilt, occasionally recovering at night (at first). Larger plants may have a less vibrant colour, and occasionally, you may see leaves start to turn brown. It is easier to stay ahead of the curve on the watering than it is to “fix” things when they start to look drought stressed.. Keep in mind that excess water can also cause drought-like symptoms, as the plants can’t take up the water they need from the soil. Pay attention to how soils are draining, and fix what you can.

The heat of summer often produces sudden, severe weather, such as high winds, hail, or heavy rains. Spencer acknowledges that there isn’t a lot that can be done to change the weather, but once the storms are past, you can evaluate the damage and do any necessary clean up and repairs.

“Right after storms, clean up any loose debris and broken branches. Cut off any broken branches from trees. If there has been flooding or standing water, try and drain it off as soon as possible. For annual vegetable crops, wait a few days (even up to a week) to see how plants recover and to assess how much and how permanent the damage is. Sometimes it is best to just start over for crops that take a short amount of time to grow, rather than try and salvage ones that have been battered.”

Summer also means that more insects and diseases may start to show up. If things are cooler and wetter, diseases tend to be more prevalent. Spencer says to watch for spots, lesions, foliage dying back, and discoloured plant parts. Many diseases start on the older tissues first. Plants that are tightly spaced are also more prone to disease, as the humidity in the canopy can build up.

When it comes to insects, it is best to “leave no leaf unturned”, as many pests (like aphids and mites) like to live and feed in the sheltered areas on the leaf undersides and in the nooks and crannies of the plant. In July, you will also see some of the more obvious pests, such as the cabbage butterflies (Imported cabbageworm), flapping around. Once you start to notice things flying around, start watching for damage and consider controls. Even better would be to keep out pests from your plants, using covers or other protections.

July is really the time for constant vigilance, as things are changing quickly. Watch for colour changes, sudden shifts in plant health, or other signs that something isn’t quite right. Leaving things untended for too long often leaves you with few viable options.

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