Gardening Tips: Watch Your Step

Editor’s Note: This column first appeared on 4 April 2018.


What to do this week

I took a walk in my back field this week. Now that the snow is pretty well gone, I was able to notice that my raspberry bushes need a bit of tending. This is a good week to thin out your raspberry patch. It seems counter intuitive, I know, but thinning out the patch will result in more berries.

First of all, cut out all the canes that bore fruit last year. You will be able to tell which canes those are by the little hook-like structures where the berries were attached. Get rid of all of those. Cut them right down to the ground. Leave all the canes that were first-year growth from last year, unless you have too many of them. The rule of thumb is that you want a mid-sized dog to be able to run through your patch. You will get more and bigger berries if you take the plunge and do this. The patch will also be healthier.

Raspberry canes. The Burbank Seed Book. (By Burbank, Luther Company.; Burbank, Luther [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Raspberry canes. The Burbank Seed Book. (By Burbank, Luther Company.; Burbank, Luther, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons) Click to enlarge.

When it comes to walking about more extensively in your garden, I want to give you a word of caution. Be very careful when it comes to walking on your beds. The soil is very wet and soggy this time of year. You can easily compact it with your weight. As tempting as it is to wander around checking everything, try to stay off the beds.

One thing I did do was take a peek at the garlic to see if it was poking through. It wasn’t, which made be happy because it is a bit early, but I did do my checking from alongside the garlic bed, not on top of it. This will be obvious for areas where you already have things planted, like garlic, but it is true for any bed. Compacting the soil is not good for it.

I also noticed that my kale is already starting to regrow. For those of you who don’t know, you should just let the kale be in the fall. There is no need to pull it out for winter. Kale likes the cool weather. It will sometimes give you leaves well into winter, so long as you can get to it, and even better, it will come back to life in very early spring and give you lots of kale until it sends up its flowers and goes to seed. This usually doesn’t happen until well into June. I plow it back into the soil then, but you can just pull it. Getting rid of it at that point in the season will help you fail to attract cabbage worms, something you actually do want to fail at.

I plant my kale again in mid-August. You may find that plan useful because you can plant something very early, like peas, and when they are harvested you can use the same space for kale. It will give you leaves until well into fall, or even winter, and again in spring. The rest of the time, you will have lots of other greens to eat. There will be chard, beet greens, turnip greens, so much to choose from during those hot summer months. For me, kale is an early spring and late fall crop. You don’t have to eat the same greens every day, even if you should eat some greens every day.

The condition of your soil, and whether or not you can safely walk on it, really depends on your micro-climate and soil type. One neighbourhood is very different from another on this island, so it will be up to you to observe your garden, and get to know when you can start to work it. This can even be different from year to year, but you will get to know your soil. Take a handful and squeeze it. If water runs through your fingers, it is too early to work. A clump of soil should just barely hold together after you give it a good squeeze. If it doesn’t, check back in another week or two. If your soil is that wet, you shouldn’t be walking on it, even to spread compost, and certainly not planting. If your friends who have a garden in another part of town are at a different stage in the game, that is just their garden. Even different soil types warm up at different rates, so it isn’t just about slope or shade. It is about you getting to know your garden.





Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.




Backyard food gardener Madeline Yakimchuk caught the food-security bug in the early ’90s through Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department, taking her first permaculture course and planting her first garden. She can often be found discussing food security, nurturing a plant-based lifestyle or trying to give away vegetables. Professionally, she is GRYPHON media productions but sometimes uses la bruja in her volunteer work, most notably in managing the garden column, which begins life as a telephone interview.