Tom(ate)o, Tom(at)o

Tom(ate)o, Tom(at)o

Tomatoes like to be planted in rich soil with a PH of 6 to 6.8 or slightly on the acidic side.  Neutral is 7.

Tomatoes prefer regular feeding once the fruit sets, but too much too early in the season will grow a large plant with fewer tomatoes.

Calcium is very important to tomatoes to prevent blossom end rot.  Perhaps magnesium is more important, as it needs to be present to allow the tomato to take up the calcium.  Magnesium sulphate or Epsom Salts in the soil helps.  I use an alfalfa tea which has epsom salts added.  I alternate between the alfalfa tea and an organic tomato fertilizer during the fruiting season.

A list of tomatoes available this year:

  • Big Beef – indeterminate, beefsteak type, 10-12 oz, red fruit
  • Biltmore – determinate, medium, 8-10 oz, reddish purple fruit
  • Black Cherry – indeterminate, cherry, 1-2 oz, black, purple fruit
  • Black Krim – indeterminate, beefsteak type, 8 -10 oz, reddish purple
  • Brandywine – indeterminate, beefsteak, 9-16 oz, Pink fruit
  • Celebrity – determinate, medium, 8 oz, red
  • Cherry Falls – determinate/trailing, cherry, 1 oz, red fruit
  • Chocolate Stripe – indeterminate, beefsteak, 3-4 in, mahogany stripe
  • Early Girl – indeterminate, medium, 4-6 oz, red
  • Early Girl Bush – determinate, medium, 4-6 oz, red
  • Flamme – indeterminate,  medium, 3-4 oz, orange or persimmon
  • Gold Nugget, determinate, cherry, 1 oz, deep yellow
  • Healthkick Roma, determinate, roma, 4-8 oz, red
  • Heirloom Genuwine, beefsteak, 12 – 15 oz, pink, cross between Brandywine and Big Dwarf
  • Heirloom Perfect Flame, medium, 3-4 oz, red, cross between Juane Flamme and Peron
  • Juliet, indeterminate, cherry, 1-2 oz, red fruit
  • Lemon Boy, indeterminate, medium, 8 oz, yellow
  • Moneymaker, indeterminate, medium, 7-8 oz, red
  • Oregon spring, determinate, medium, 5 oz, red
  • Patio, determinate, cherry, 2 oz plus, red
  • Red Grape, indeterminate, cherry, .75 oz, red
  • Roma, determinate, roma, 3-4 oz, red
  • Super Fantastic, medium, 10 oz, red
  • Sweet 100, indeterminate, cherry, 1 oz, red
  • Taxi, determinate, medium, 4-6 oz, yellow
  • Tumbler, determinate/trailing, cherry, 1oz, red

I have grown most of these with the exception of a couple of new ones such as the heirloom crosses.  My preference is the ones with the most acid.  My grand kids love any and all of the cherry varieties.

Happy Gardening!




Planting by Moon Phases

Planting by Moon Phases

Veggie garden and planting by the moon signs

If I read my moon phase calendar correctly the new moon for March is the 8th and the full moon is the 23rd.    Keep these dates in mind when reading the following information.

Planting by moon signs in its simplest form is to plant vegetables that bear crops above ground in the light of the moon, that is from the day after the moon is new to the day before it is full.  At the new moon, the lunar gravity pulls water up, and causes the seeds to swell and burst. This factor, coupled with the increasing moonlight creates balanced root and leaf growth. This is the best time for planting above ground annual crops that produce their seeds outside the fruit. Examples are lettuce, spinach, celery, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower.  Cucumbers like this phase also, even though they are an exception to that rule.

In the second quarter the gravitational pull is less, but the moonlight is strong, creating strong leaf growth. It is generally a good time for planting, especially two days before the full moon. The types of crops that prefer the second quarter are annuals that produce above ground, but their seeds form inside the fruit, such as beans, melons, peas, peppers, squash, and tomatoes.

Likewise plant vegetables that bear crops below ground during the dark of the moon, that is from the day after the full moon to the day before it is new again.  After the full moon, as the moon wanes, the energy is drawing down. The gravitation pull is high, creating more moisture in the soil, but the moonlight is decreasing, putting energy into the roots. This is a favorable time for planting root crops, including beets, carrots, onions, potatoes, and peanuts. It is also good for perennials, biennials, bulbs and transplanting because of the active root growth.

In the fourth quarter there is decreased gravitational pull and moonlight, and it is considered a resting period. This is also the best time to cultivate, harvest, transplant and prune.

A lot of this information is on the internet.  The theory seems logical and can’t hurt.  I will admit to not always following it exactly.  Sometimes I plant when I have time here at the Nursery.  I do have friends and customers who follow it always.

Happy Gardening!

Mason Bees

Mason Bees

Late February, early March is the time the Mason Bees will start to be active.

There are natural nesting places in the landscape but for the purposes of this writing, I am going to assume we are buying or building a suitable nest, thereby becoming mason bee farmers or managers.  Mason bee farming is important as these small beneficial insects are susceptible to mites and predators.  By managing we can guard against the collapse of native colonies when mites (as an example) overwhelm them.  We can ensure that we have enough mason bees present for pollinating our crops and fruit trees.

The bees are most active when daytime temperatures are 14 degrees.  They may begin stirring around the time the Pieris are in bloom.  That may be a bit early for our area.  It would be better if they were around when the fruit trees are blooming.  We can manage their emergence to some extent by keeping them as cool as possible until we are ready for them.

The small bees emerge from their cocoons.  Males first, then about two days later the females.  Then the females go to work pollinating flowers and gathering nectar.

They are active from February to May depending on the weather conditions

  • the female muds up the back door of the tube
  • goes about her business pollinating and bringing nectar back to the tube
  • when she has enough nectar to feed the larva to cocoon stage, she deposits an egg on the nectar
  • muds up a wall so all the kids have their own bedroom
  • repeats until the tube is full
  • the first eggs will become female.  The last two (closest to the front of the tube) will be male as they emerge first.

Life Cycle

  • February to May – emerge from cocoon, gather nectar, lay eggs
  • May to June – eggs develop into larva
  • July – larva develops into cocoon
  • August – develops into a mature bee.  Usually by late September the development is complete
  • October through February – remain dormant in their cocoons.


Soon after the female emerges, she will begin looking for a suitable nest.

There are lots of materials suitable.  Wood is best in my opinion and readily available.  The holes drilled in the wood should be 7.5 mm in diameter and about 5 – 6″ in length.  Nesting tubes must be removable so that the nest and the cocoons can be cleaned.  You can make your own tubes.  Please research both nest materials and making your own nesting tubes for more information.  I use the cardboard tubes purchased for this purpose.  I find they are satisfactorily strong and easy to handle for harvesting and cleaning cocoons.

Mason bees are not apartment dwellers.  Each female prefers her own nesting site.  More small houses with several cardboard tubes each will encourage more females to work for you.  I did use a larger nesting box last year.  It did work but not as well as it should, I guess.  Totally my fault.  I did not colour the box and it was too large for one bee.  This year I will try painting the box into four different areas to encourage more bees into this large space.  I did harvest enough bees to set up several other boxes in other areas though.

  • Houses should have an overhang for protection from rain.  The bees like to have the entrance hole shaded so they can see any predators.  I imagine that is the reason anyway.
  • Preferred size of hole is 7.5 mm.
  • Tube depth of 5 or 6 inches will ensure a better balance of female to male population.
  • Decorating the front of a nest makes it easier for the bee to find their own nest.  Yellow, mauve, pink and blue are good colours for marking.  Simple designs are best.  Too complicated a design will confuse the bee and will not work any better than zero markings.


  • Place the nest facing east about 5′ above ground.  The bees will get the benefit of morning sun to warm up.  My nest last year faced southeast but was under the overhang of a shed so it got some shade from the hot summer sun.
  • This probably goes without saying, but the nest should be placed in close proximity to fruit trees or plants you want pollinated.  The bee will not have to go as far to deposit her nectar so more pollinating will be done.
  • She will need a source of water to make mud for her nesting tubes.  This is usually not a problem in our location.  At least for the months these guys are active.

Predators and Pests

  • Mites are a problem.  There is a lot of information about them in books and on the internet.  The mites hitch a ride and can become so numerous the bee cannot fly.  The mites can be washed off when the bees are still in the cocoon.  Please refer to the article I wrote last fall on cleaning cocoons and storing for the winter.
  • Parasitic wasps will attack the nesting tubes.  Parasitic wasps are usually active after the mason bees are done for the season.  If you notice parasitic wasp activity, drape a finely meshed bag over the nest.  This allows air to flow to the nest and keep out the wasps.
  • Ants can be a problem.  I have no experience with this so I hesitate to make recommendations.
  • Other.  There are a host of beetles, earwigs, birds which can be problematic.  i did not notice any of these problems last year.  Perhaps having the nest off the ground helps.  I understand that woodpeckers can get at the nests  Again, we have woodpeckers and didn’t have any problem with them.  Then again, we also have lots of trees around to keep them otherwise occupied.

Putting your harvested cocoons out

OK.  Let’s say we have got a year under our belt.  We have successfully harvested, cleaned and stored the cocoons over winter.

  • The weather conditions need to be right.  A few dry warm days in a row are ideal.
  • The hatching container must have a hole in both ends.  A small one for air flow and a slightly larger one for the bees to emerge from.  A few things will work.  A small cardboard box from a bottle of children’s Tylenol for example.  Important to remember, you need ventilation and an exit hole.
  • The container needs to be placed in close proximity to the nest you would like used.  We duct taped the box right to the nest last year.  The cocoons I bring in for sale are housed in a small cardboard box.
  • Luck.  No, not really.  The definition of luck is success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.  We have put effort into managing our Mason Bees and should have a successful season.

Happy Gardening!

Photo By USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab from Beltsville, Maryland, USA – ,F, MD, back_2015-11-20-21.40, Public Domain

Neem Oil

Neem Oil

Neem Oil

At the Organic Soil Amendment Seminar, Mr. Sayed recommended the use of Neem oil as an organic fungicide and insecticide.

He recommended 100% concentrate cold pressed Neem. Several sources were discussed but low and behold we have a source right here on Gabriola! Our own Nature Spirit Earth Market carries a 16 oz bottle. I have given a general recipe for making your own spray from concentrate below but do check the instructions on the container.

Uses for Neem Oil

Neem oil can be used to treat a number of garden ailments, including:

  • Insects: Neem oil kills or repels many harmful insects and mites, including aphids, whiteflies, snails, nematodes, mealybugs, cabbage worms, gnats, moths, cockroaches, flies, termites, mosquitoes, and scale. It kills some bugs outright, attacks the larvae of others, and repels plant munchers with its bitter taste.
  • Fungus: Neem oil is also effective in preventing fungal diseases such as black spot, anthracnose, rust, and mildew.
  • Disease: As if that wasn’t enough, neem oil also battles viruses that can harm plants.

Advantages of Neem Oil

Neem oil is a popular choice in organic gardens because it is:

  • Nontoxic: As long as it isn’t sprayed directly on them, neem oil is nontoxic to beneficial garden insects such as predatory wasps, honeybees, earthworms, ants, spiders, ladybugs, and adult butterflies. Neem oil is considered nontoxic to humans, birds, and other animals as well (see below) and can be used on fruits, vegetables, and flowering plants.
  • Organic: Neem oil is plant based and easily available from organically grown neem trees.
  • Biodegradable: Neem oil breaks down quickly and leaves no lasting residue.

Like everything, less is more. Perhaps my thoughts are an abundance of caution but remember this. Neem works on chewing and sucking insects which is why it is non-toxic to beneficial insects. Let’s remember that those beautiful butterflies come from a leaf chewing caterpillar. So use where necessary. Do not overuse.

More caution. Here again. Let’s keep it off the blossoms wherever possible. I have not encountered this caution anywhere else. It just seems to be common sense to me. The blossoms are where the bees are. Perhaps the experts will think I am being a bit paranoid but we at Wheelbarrel will only use when necessary and will take care not to spray directly on the blossoms.

How To Apply Neem Oil

Here are the general directions for making your own spray from Neem oil concentrate.

Use a high quality, organic, cold pressed oil
Ingredients: 1 tsp Neem Oil concentrate
1/3 tsp insecticidal soap or other detergent
1 litre of warm water

Method: Mix the water with the soap first. Slowly add the Neem Oil mixing vigorously. Put in your sprayer. Shake or agitate frequently while spraying. Use within 8 hours. If you have some left over discard. Neem oil breaks down after 8 hours.

When spraying pay attention to the undersides of leaves where insects like to hide and drench the soil. This won’t hurt the soil and will get rid of fungus gnats or other insects that hide in soil.

Neem oil concentrate should be stored in the fridge, not in the heat. It will thicken in the fridge but bring back to a more usable viscosity by floating the container in slightly warm water before mixing your next batch. I understand that a bottle of concentrate should be good for about a year. Here again, check the instructions on the container.

Soil Testing

Soil Testing

Soil Testing

Our Organic Soil Amendment speaker Mr Sayed suggested that we have our soil tested. Many of you have expressed interest in the Mehlich 3 extraction test. This is the test suggested in the book ‘The Intelligent Gardener’.

After some research the soil testing lab located closest to us is listed below. I have been in touch with Wendy at this lab.

M.B. Laboratories Ltd.
2062 W Henry Ave
Sidney, BC V8L 5Y1

Phone 250-656-1334
Fax 250-656-0443

The most efficient way is to contact the lab directly. They will email you three documents. An instruction document, A Chain of Custody document, and Price list.

One important item to note is that you have to specify the Mehlich 3 extraction test. This is not noted on the list of tests. A quote from Wendy. “The extract is at the beginning of the analysis and will define what is seen in the test. The actual test part is the same regardless of what extraction method was used to get there. Our normal default method is a modified Kelowna extract.”

Organic Soil Amendments

Organic Soil Amendments

The Organic Soil Amendment Seminar

Mr Yasir Sayed from Biofert spoke to us and answered questions for more than three and a half hours. He was very knowledgeable and generous with his information.

Wheelbarrel has carried the Orgunique liquid fertilizer for 3 or 4 years. We will now be carrying the granular line as well. These come in huge 25 kg bags. We will be breaking them down into 2 kg. bags for our smaller gardens. If you have a larger garden, bring your own container such as a canvas grocery bag or smaller plastic container.

A note to our customers. Some expressed the feeling that they were too late to start. The organic growing process is not a quick fix but a process over time. It is something we need to start now and go forward from here.

Put this in human wellness terms we can all understand. Adding organic soil amendment is not like antibiotics which will make you better in a few days but like vitamins and eating properly which will support your immune system and boost your overall wellness over time.

Organic Soil Amendments

  • Earth Boost – Humic acid based with naturally occurring minerals
  • Starter Food   1-3-15 –  Formulated for early plant establishment
  • Organic Blend  6-2-7 –  Slow release fertilizer for organic production
  • HiN 10-3-0 –  High organic nitrogen in readily available form
  • Hi-P 0-15-0 – High organic phosphorus in readily available form
  • Biosul-90 – pH correction and rich source of sulphur
  • Rock Phosphate 0-3-0 – Slow-release source of phosphorus & calcium
  • Sulphate of Potash 0-0-52 – High source of potassium with low salt index