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Gardening Tips

Gardening Tips began in September 2020 as a weekly collaboration with Email recommendations for future gardening tips to 

Society members may click Add Comment following any article, and post comments such as adding more retrospective, agreeing with the contributor, or even suggesting a correction. 

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  • November 01, 2020 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Backyard Compost Production

    Contributed by Dinah Gibbs, member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    Photo by Dinah GibbsTo turn garden waste into compost, four things are needed: warmth, oxygen, moisture and "food". Bacteria naturally present in the environment will do the breaking down necessary to give you a rich soil-like compost to improve soil and fertilize your plants. Bacteria will consume nutrients present in your unwanted yard waste greenery, turning it into plant fertilizer. When all of these conditions are not present (ex. too cold!) the decomposition process will pause temporary until the conditions allow bacteria to become active once more.

    In my yard I have 2 compost bins, there is a reason for this. They are in a fairly sunny location. In the afternoon they receive a couple of hours sun. Mine came from the City of Richmond Hill for a small cost (Look for their Healthy Yards event in the April/May timeframe.) Or you can make your own containers from materials you have on hand.

    To fill the bin weeds, grasses and fallen leaves are all good. Food waste is a bad idea as it attracts rodents. The smaller the plant material is, the quicker it will turn into compost. The fastest and easiest way to cut it up is to run over it with a lawn mower. If you have one that catches the mulch (cut up bits), perfect! If not, you can rake it into piles and throw it in the bins. The first usage will take a while to begin the fermentation process. To kick start the bacterial action, either a shovelful of old compost or some farmyard manure works. (I don't tell my neighbours about the horse manure I sneak home!)

    Photo by Dinah GibbsGenerally, Photo by Dinah GibbsI totally empty bins in the fall as the next batch of leaves become available. The most decomposed material is at the bottom of the bins. My bins have a door at the bottom to access it which I do over the summer months. However, it is a tedious process. In the autumn, I scoop any unrotten material off the top and lift the bin to reveal a nice neat pile of rich compost. That compost is spread around the yard and lightly dug in. I do the same with the second bin. I then divide the plant material that is not yet totally decomposed between the 2 bins and put my new chopped up leaves and weeds on top.

    Try to resist the temptation to squash your compost down too tightly as this will reduce the available oxygen. Stirring the bin contents from time to time will help speed things up by introducing oxygen while evenly distributing moisture.

    As long as the temperature is above zero it is worthwhile Photo by Dinah Gibbsto give it a mixing. You will be surprised how warm the centre of your compost can be in, even in cold weather. Bacterial action creates heat. Compost needs to be moist, but neither waterlogged or bone dry. Having two bins is helpful. If one becomes waterlogged you can transfer dry material from the other bin, stir it up and away you go.

    Composting is both an art and a science - just like gardening. The main benefits are many. It helps the environment by reducing the need to transport and dispose of yard waste, improving soil texture, making soil easier to work, and providing valuable plant nutrients. Start now by raking your leaves to the location in your yard that you’ll put your compost bin in next spring.

  • October 25, 2020 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Baking Desserts with Pumpkin

    Contributed by Doreen Coyne, Vice President of The Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    When I was in University, I’d use a fresh pumpkin to make some 20 pies each season. The pies were frozen and we took one out of the freezer each weekend to have a baked pie with our roasted chicken dinner. Pumpkins were inexpensive so this made a good dessert we could afford as a young couple. Today of course, you don’t need to limit yourself to baking pies with pumpkin. You can also make loafs, bars, squares, muffins, cookies, jam, marmalade and more. Google “What can you bake with pumpkin puree” for lots of different recipes. And you don’t need to make all 20 pies at once! You can freeze the puree in amounts needed for your favourite recipes and make the desserts as needed during the winter. BTW: I recently learned that there are special pumpkins for baking – sugar pumpkins. I’ve never used one and my pies have been enjoyed, even devoured, over the years.

    Preparing pumpkin puree to use in baking

    Bake a pumpkin much like any squash – simply cut it in half, take out the seeds and place your pieces skin side up on a baking sheet that is covered with parchment paper. Cook for about 45 to 60 minutes at 350 or until the pumpkin “meat” is fork tender. Scoop out all of the flesh into a large bowl. Discard the skin. Then puree the pumpkin with a food processor or an immersion blender until it is a smooth, uniform texture. It will contain more liquid than you want to bake with; so, place a mesh strainer over a bowl, and put all of the puree in the strainer to drain. You can weigh it down by placing plastic wrap over the puree, with a plate on top, and heavy cans on top of the plate. Allow it to drain for 1 to 2 hours, until no liquid is dripping out. Now the pumpkin is ready to use for baking or you can freeze it for future use. Follow your favorite recipe to make the dessert of your choice. If you were to use pumpkin pie filling (and sometimes puree) in cans from the store, know that those products already have spices added to them and thus you’d need to adjust the recipe.

    Mom’s Favourite Pumpkin Pie Recipe


    1/8 teaspoon salt

    2/3 cup sugar (optionally use light brown sugar)

    2 teaspoon Pumpkin pie ground spice*

    2 eggs slightly beaten in large bowl

    1 2/3 cups evaporated milk (could use milk instead)

    2 cups pureed pumpkin

    1 prepared uncooked pie crust or make your own


    Sift dry ingredients together then stir into eggs. Add milk and pumpkin. Mix gently. Line pie pan with your pastry and pour in the filling. Bake at 450* for 10 minutes; reduce to 325* and bake 35 minutes longer or until knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool the pie. Makes 1, 9 inch pie.

    *If you don’t find this “pumpkin spice” at your grocery, mix these together and use 2 t and store the rest: 3 T cinnamon, 2 t ginger, 2 t nutmeg, 1 t allspice, 1 t cloves. Mom would often leave out the cloves and/or allspice if she didn’t have it on hand.

    Pumpkin Loaf a la my best friend Bertha

    Dry Ingredients: Mix these together in a bowl:

    ¾ cup margarine

    2 cups sugar

    3 ½ cups flour

    2 teaspoons baking soda; 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

    1 teaspoon salt; 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

    Wet ingredients: Mix these together in another bowl:

    4 eggs beaten slightly

    2 2/3 cups pumpkin puree


    Pour the wet ingredients a bit at a time into the dry ingredients while mixing the two sets together. Pour this into a flour coated loaf pan. Bake at 350 for 1 hour. It is done when a toothpick inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean. Cool.

    Want to add a glaze (like a frosting) to the loaf?

    Mix together the following: ½ cup icing sugar, 1/8 t cinnamon, 1/8 t nutmeg, and 1-2 T of cream. Spread the mixture over the cooled loaf. Slice and enjoy!

  • October 18, 2020 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Halloween Fun for the Yard 

    Contributed by Doreen Coyne, Vice President of The Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    Photos: Tombstone photo by Doreen Coyne, Plant Pot people by Lou Angelo

    As we get close to Halloween this year, I’m sure we are all a little leery to let our children go door to door or even for us parents to allow children to come to our doors to get candy. But you and your children still desire a little extra fun for Halloween. Below are a few ideas your family can work on this week and next to spruce up the yard and get some Halloween fun even if you aren’t going door to door.

    Plant Pot People photo by Lou AngeloHow about a planter person?

    First, gather up your old planting containers (plastic, ceramic or fibrous material) and round wooden baskets that may be in the garage or basement. They can be arranged – and wired or hot glued together - to make interesting objects or even people like the ones in the accompanying picture that one of our members displayed on their front steps. You can see that smaller plastic pots nestled into each other make the arms and legs. Socks added to the bottom of the leg make feet. Larger pots or baskets, one up and one down make up the body. And another basket forms the head. The heads are each filled with plants but you might consider hot gluing plant leaves for a mouth and flowers for the eyes. More simply, you can use a Sharpie marker to draw a face on the pot. Or even replace the “head” pot with a pumpkin.

    Of course, you can also make a great piece of Halloween art by stuffing clothing together. Stuff jeans and a plaid shirt with newspaper and ensure the shirt is tucked into the pants. I like to sit the jeans in a lawn chair and fold the legs so my person is comfortably seated. Add socks to the bottom of the jeans for feet and gloves to the end of shirt sleeves for hands. Take an old pillow case, or even a white plastic grocery bag, and stuff that with newspaper and fit in into the shirt’s collar for the head. Shape the head so you can put a baseball cap on it and draw on a face.

    Carved Pumpkins are popularCarved Pumpkins are always popular.

    If you didn’t happen to grow your own this year, you can readily buy them in varying sizes at local farms and grocery stores. You know how to carve a pumpkin but if you want a new carving design or template, there are several good ones online. Try googling “pumpkin carving ideas”. Your teenagers may enjoy trying the more detailed patterns. As you empty the pumpkin, be sure to save some of the seeds. Dry them on a paper towel for several days then you can roast some for snacking and store the rest in an envelope for planting next year to grow your own pumpkin patch. Use your pumpkins for Halloween but don’t carve up all of them; for some, draw on a face then the next day harvest the “meat” of the pumpkin for cooking. Next week learn how to prepare the pumpkin for baking and get a pumpkin pie recipe!

    Halloween Tombstones photo by Doreen Coyne

    Halloween Tombstones

    Perhaps this appeals to the more macabre folks – but my sons, starting in their “tweens”, liked to make tombstones to display in the flower beds that line the walkway to our front door. I would buy foamboard (now sold at staples) and then the boys would cut them to about 18”x36” and round the tops or cut various crosses into them. Then using acrylic paint, they’d colour the board to look like granite and then add a saying to each one such as “R.I.P.”, “R.I.P Van Winkle” or “Ben Better” followed by year of birth and death. Simply attach a 2x2 to the back of the finished project with about 18” of it below the bottom of the tombstone. Then push the protruding 2x2 into the ground. Visiting Halloween kids always enjoyed these as well. Store them in the basement for yearly usage or repainting!

  • October 11, 2020 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Fall Planting: Garlic 

    Contributed by Debbie Coleman, member of The Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    Just as most of us are putting our gardens to sleep for winter, some of us are gearing up for fall planting of tulips, daffodils, muscari (aka grape hyancinth), hyacinths and garlic. That’s right, garlic!

    October is the ideal time to plant garlic. It needs cold weather in order to form decent size bulbs that are divided into cloves.

    There are two types of garlic to grow; softneck garlic and hardneck garlic. There are several varieties of garlic within each of these 2 types. Softneck garlic is easier to grow and stores well, but hardneck garlic, although it winters well in colder climates, is not as long lasting once harvested yet is said to have the best flavour. I do not recommend using supermarket garlic as seed garlic, as there is a risk of virus infection. You are best to buy proper planting stock from a market or from a grower.

    GarlicGarlic is a rather greedy feeder so you want to plant in good fertile soil with lots of compost and have good drainage. Now to get started, you will take the garlic bulb and separate the cloves; you don’t want to plant small cloves. The bigger and fatter the clove is, the bigger your resulting bulb will be. Plant them much like you would a daffodil, about 3-4 inches deep with the pointy side up. Space them out generously, about 6 inches apart, give them a bit of water and you are done. Your winter wait will be rewarded with signs of green shoots appearing next spring.

    Freshly harvested GarlicAs hardneck garlic grows to maturity, it will develop flowers, or “scapes”, near the top of the leaves. These should be removed in order to allow the majority of nutrients to feed the garlic bulb. The scapes (also called garlic shoots, stems, stalks or spears) can be used like a vegetable in stir fries or salads. The long, edible stems have the consistency of a green bean and the flavor of garlic crossed with green onion. When the garlic plant leaves start to turn yellow and droop, around mid to late July, it is a sign to begin harvesting your garlic. You will want to use a garden fork rather than a spade to gently lift your bulbs. Once you’ve brushed off most of the dirt, lay them out to dry in a warm sunny location for about a week. Once dry, you can trim off the root hairs, then braid or tie the stems into a decorative string for storage or immediate use.

  • October 04, 2020 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    From My Garden to My Freezer 

    Contributed by Jennifer Pyke, member of The Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    I have been growing food since I “helped” my Dad with his post war allotment in England. My 3 brothers and I were all allowed a small space to grow flowers, the rest of the space was for potatoes, cabbages, runner beans and onions.

    I still grow runner beans, which are sliced and frozen, but most of the space in my chest freezer is taken up by several varieties of bagged tomatoes (I freeze whole cherry tomatoes to use with pasta); edamame/soy beans (blanch and freeze in the pod) -- great appetizers when warmed up, with wine, cheese and crackers; spanakopita; and lots of soup. You can freeze the tomatoes and edamame beans on a cookie sheet for about 6 hours and they’ll be individually frozen. Then slide them into freezer bags and when you need them, take out only the amount you need each time.

    A peek in the freezer

    A fellow gardener, Mary, gave me 8 kale plants which really pumped up the numbers of soup packages I could make this year. I save tomato seeds for planting the next year. I buy the other seeds I need online from Vesey’s seeds in PEI.

    Making the kale soup and the leek soup is very easy. The older and larger leaves of the kale are for soup and the younger leaves I use in spanakopita instead of spinach (when you buy phyllo pastry for the spanakopita, there is a recipe on the inside of the package.)


    • 2 large onions
    • 4 large white potatoes
    • at least 8 large kale leaves
    • chicken or vegetable stock (I use the low sodium stock, and do not add any salt)

    Cook the diced onions in a few spoonfuls of oil at a low/medium heat until softened, add the diced potatoes and finely chopped kale, and just cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are soft. Add 2 cups of stock. *Let the soup cool, then put it through the blender. This recipe makes 4 or 5 lots; you can make a less thick soup by adding more stock and thus getting more soup.

    Now fill plastic freezer containers ¾ full and stick a label with date on the lid. Put these in the freezer. You can leave them as is or once the soup is frozen, usually the next morning, you can set the containers in hot water for a few minutes to loosen the soup from the container. Slip the frozen soup block into a medium sized freezer bag and reuse your containers for the next batch of produce, soups, or side dishes to be frozen.


    • 4 large well washed leeks (white and lighter green parts)
    • 4 large potatoes
    • stock, as above

    Cook diced leeks in oil, when soft add diced potatoes, just cover with water and cook until soft.  Add 2 cups of stock. At this point you can follow the kale soup recipe starting at the * to finish the leek soup and freeze it.

    “Growing since the 1940s!”

  • September 27, 2020 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Planting Supplies Created from Used Materials 

    Contributed by Ingrid Sunar and Doreen Coyne, members of The Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    This article focuses on amazing things you can do with materials you find around your house which you might otherwise discard. Let your inner crafter out while saving dollars to grow plants!

    Your own bird feeder

    Bird FeederHolding an empty plastic bottle in front of you with the lid on, punch a hole straight through from one side to the other about an inch or 2 inches down from the lid of the bottle.

    Use a piece of wire (perhaps a part of an old hanger) to slide through those holes and then bring it up and around to the top twisting them together to form a hanger for what it's going to become your bird feeder. Lower down on the bottle, punch a hole from one side to the opposite end thread a pencil through the hole. The pencil ends become the perch for your birds. You can optionally do another set of holes slightly below that, and 90 degrees over for another perch.

    Above each pencil entry to the bottle cut a small semi-circle about the size of a dime or nickel. The holes will allow the bird to reach in to get seeds. To finish your bird feeder, just fill the bottle with seeds, put the lid back on and hang it up.  It will be great to see the finches visit the planter during this fall and winter.

    Saving seeds

    Neatly stored seedsAfter you dry your seeds having harvested them from your plants, you can store them in an envelope. Be sure to do this for unused seeds you bought as well. No need to buy envelopes as you likely get lots of these in your bills and requests for donations each month.

    Date and label these including both the type of seed and colour of flower.

    An alternate idea is to put your seeds into empty Tic Tac containers which can then be labelled appropriately.

    Labeling herbs

    Save wine bottle corks and label them with the name of the plants or herbs that you are growing in individual pots indoors this winter. Then skewer the cork to either a metal or wooden skewer, a chopstick, or a discarded metal or plastic fork.

    Creative herb labels

    Garden tools

    In a prior article, we told you how to turn a small, 1 litre jug into a watering can or a scoop. Note that the scoop could also be used this winter to get salt out of its bag and then spread it onto the sidewalks.

    Creative gardening tools

  • September 20, 2020 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Want to start a garden now? Try indoor plants. 

    Contributed by Ingrid Sunar, Publicity Chair for the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    Given the temperature is dropping, why not start a garden indoors! You don’t have to be an expert if you follow the advice in this article, you can have some nice plants growing in your home in no time! And the act of planting and maintaining your gardening does have benefits! It relieves stress, improves your mental health, reduces risk of depression, and can help lower blood pressure.

    Start with a small number of plantsTips For Beginners

    • Start Small. Even 3 to 5 plants will be a welcome addition.
    • Pick a place in your home with indirect light and windows.
    • Decide whether you like to grow flowers, succulents (such as cactus) or perhaps herbs. Or maybe a combination such as two potted flowering plants and a smaller planter of succulents.
    • Get some pots and potting soil. If on a budget, try a local Dollar Store. Or take a trip to a nursery or a box store such as Canadian Tire, Home Depot, or Lowes.
    • Do not crowd plants in each pot or container.
    • And once planted, remember to water them every 2 weeks. You can put your finger into the soil to check if it is dry within the container. If dry before 2 weeks, then water that plant more frequently.
    • Have some fun picking out your plants!
    • If you are growing herbs, I’d suggest 1 smaller pot (about 5”) per herb. Chives, Parsley, Thyme, and Basil make good choices that can be used in many of your meals.
    • If you decide to grow flowers, I’d check the nurseries for available plants before choosing your pots to ensure you get pots of the right sizes. And make sure the bottom has drainage holes and that you get a bottom “plate” that will ensure that water doesn’t come out and ruin your furniture!

    You can take your potted plants outdoors in the summer if you wish!

    Do you need some tools to pot your new plants? If you are on a budget, try some of these creative ideas:

    • For getting potting soil from its bag to your new pot, cut a plastic jug and use it as a type of hand shovel. Be sure to keep the lid on the jug! Alternatively, you can use an unwanted large spoon or a small plastic cup or even your last take-out coffee cup!
    • For watering, put holes in the lid of a plastic jug. Hammer a nail into the lid in multiple spots to do this.

    Creative ideas for Tools

    Gardening, even indoors, can be a great activity for both you and your children as you spend time with them making the garden and watering the plants. And as you tend your garden, your whole family will learn more about plants.

    Start now and you’ll appreciate the greenery and blooms for years!

  • September 09, 2020 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Christmas Cactus Tips 

    Contributed by Rahe Richards, Flower Show Director of The Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    50 year old cactus blooms twice each yearWe are approaching the time of the year when people give Christmas Cactus (Zygocactus) as hostess gifts. They bloom with beautiful red, pink or white flowers then they go dormant and many people then throw them out.

    These plants can be kept year after year as house plants and they can grow larger throughout the years if they are looked after with the simple steps listed below.

    Some also take the plant outdoors in the summer months. Others, showcase the Christmas Cactus as a beautiful table arrangement by using two or more plants with different coloured blooms in the same pot or a set of 2 or 3 pots each featuring one of the bloom colours.

    Tips for Success

    • After blooming, keep watered every of weeks or when the top one inch of soil is dry. Many people prefer to place the pot in another dish and then allow the plant to absorb its water from that dish. Be sure your original pot has holes in the bottom to allow the water to get to the plant.
    • 3 year old plant in dormant stageWhen the weather turns warm in the summer, you can bring these potted plants outdoors where they will start to grow again showing red tips which turn into leaves. Continue to water and fertilize with all purpose fertilizer. Of course, if you prefer, you can keep your plant indoors year-round.
    • As soon as the first frost hits it in the fall, bring the plant indoors again and place it in a nice bright spot with indirect light. They will start to bloom for Christmas.
    • A few friends allow their plant to get a little drier after Christmas for a month or so – not too dry though – and then water as normal again for an additional blooming season around Easter.

    • September 09, 2020 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

      Weeds: Killing Them Off More Easily! 

      Contributed by Doreen Coyne, Vice President of The Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

      Weeds. We all have them; we all want to get rid of them. Weeds are just starting to regrow in my yard and garden. I’ve enjoyed a lack of weeds for several weeks now but it is time to get them removed once more before fall sets in.

      Vinegar SolutionFor spot treating grass and walkways, I’ve found a solution that works well for me without getting harsh chemicals involved. Mix together 1 gallon of vinegar, 2 cups of Epson Salts and ¼ cup of Dawn Dish Soap (the blue one) in a large spray bottle. I bought a gallon spray container that has a long plastic tube from the lid to the spray handle. I got mine from Dollarama but I’m sure lots of stores sell these. This is great for walking around the yard and walkways to spot treat the weeds. This is not meant for spraying an entire area nor near plants you do not want to kill. Spray this solution on the weeds during the heat of the day. In the evening, you should be able to pull out the browned weed remains and put them into your yard waste bag. You may need to treat the weeds more than once.

      Dutch HoeFor your garden beds. Another friend at the Horticultural Society told be about a Dutch Hoe. I’d not heard of this tool before but I was told it was very handy in eliminating, or slowing down, the growth of weeds in my garden. You can buy this tool at several stores including Lee Valley. Sometimes the handle comes in 2 lengths. I chose the longer handle to avoid having to bend. The Dutch hoe allows you to “slice” off the weed’s head slightly below ground level. Some weeds and especially runners may come back but less each time. The theory is that cutting the head off eliminates the roots’ source of food (sunshine) and thus the roots will die. Pulling weeds can stimulate the roots to grow more weeds, especially those with underground runners. This summer and last summer have proven to me that the Dutch Hoe is a valuable garden tool.

      Weed TorchFor walkways, sidewalks and driveways. My neighbour introduced me to this very useful tool, the Weed Torch. These are long handled tools ending with a flame source near the ground and a small propane tank near the cane-like handle. When I bought mine, I found good choices at Canadian Tire and Lee Valley. And yes, it burns the weeds for instant results. But be careful. Wear hard toed shoes and don’t burn near your lawn or underground wiring nor gas lines as fire can travel underground via roots into your grass. It wouldn’t hurt to have a hose turned on nearby! I found my weed torch particularly useful on the interlocking stones around my pool but it also did a good job on the edges and cracks in my driveway and between the sidewalk slabs.

      Have a happier time weeding by using these ideas!

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