First frost

On Thursday of last week, the Otter Lake community was hit with a hard frost.

It took longer for the Steele Line to succumb to that harbinger of winter: it was on Sunday the 24 September that our garden was first smitten.

It was a clear, starlit night with no cloud cover. Eric and I had heard the weather forecast, so took the trouble to cover our hot peppers and melons. But we didn’t have time to pull our basil... Sigh.

On Monday morning we visited the vegetable patch, to assess the damage. Glancing to the north of the house, we noticed a large area of white frost in a large, uneven-looking patch -- a pattern created by the shade of our tall large-toothed aspen trees to the east of our house.

Progressing to the vegetable garden, we saw the predictable, glassy-looking basil plants. No more pesto from that lot, although I did note a few emerald-green leaves peeking out from the base of the plant.

To our relief, the hot and sweet peppers were fine, as were the eggplants that we had also covered. All of them enjoy a particularly protected microclimate that we especially created on the north face of our garden. Using course-cut slab boards, Eric erected a roughly 2 1/2 metre-high fence to protect the vegetables and fruits from the cool north wind.

This is where we plant our peppers (sweet and hot), eggplants and melons. All enjoy getting as many heat units as possible, for as long as the season permits. And they thrive here. Despite our cool wet weather this year, our peppers exploded with fruit and this year I’m hoping I’ll have enough to make ristras, those south-west US and Mexican-style wreaths made from red hot chili peppers.

Our root vegetables are doing fine: beets, carrots and parsnip thrive. Most gardeners know to leave their parsnips to overwinter so that the cold sets the sugars in the roots. There’s nothing like a feed of candy-sweet parsnips come spring.

As well, we grew tall, blue-green kale again this year. It survives well into winter, when we simply push back the snow, gather some wonderful garden-fresh green, and cover it up again.

As for the basil, the lima bean plants, squash vines and other garden detritus, all must now be pulled out of the garden beds and composted. We have decided, this year, to put all garden waste on compost pits that will not be used on the vegetable garden next year.

The reason is this: on Tuesday 19 September, after I’d written my last column and submitted it to The Equity, I headed out to the garden to pick some more tomatoes for canning. I looked at the plants and could have wept: brown spots covered most of the fruit.

Blight had finally struck! Eric pulled every single plant, collected all the fruit, and burned all of it in our firepit. And, that night at my quilting circle, I asked my friends how the tomatoes I’d given them a couple of days ago were... Only a couple had been good: all the others had blight.

We were more fortunate than most: although we harvested and used many of our tomatoes in sandwiches through to chutneys, I am sorry to say that our garden did not escape this fungal disease. Interesting that it took so much longer to affect us, whereas some neighbours pulled their plants weeks ago.

The issue of blight had all of us wondering who to turn to for answers. Those of you who read my columns know that the Internet is an invaluable source. But there are experts here in the Pontiac, too, who can be approached, as well as Pinks and Nesbitt’s in Aylmer.

Louise and Bruce Ardern, along with their son Shandy, operate Blue Heron Landscaping north of Shawville in the Greermount area.

The Ardern family provide many services for gardeners, from selling perennials and waterplants through to setting interlocking brick, caring for lawns and a host of other garden needs and wants. For years they’ve operated their gardening business and have many clients locally in the Pontiac through to Arnprior and other locales.

Louise tells me that they’d be happy to answer any of your gardening questions. Call Blue Heron Landscaping at 647-5094.

Hot tip: Bruce just told me that tomato plants grown on spirals did not get blight. Why? “The aeration,” said this expert gardener. Hmm. Perhaps it’s time to recycle the tomato cages... Another benefit to the spirals (as seen in Lee Valley’s gardening magazine and also sold at Home Hardware) is that the plants grow up them by themselves. “No tying,” adds Bruce.

We’re resolved to try these next year and we’ll order them through W.A.’s (Hodgin’s) in Shawville. Call 647-2731 to find out more about the tomato spirals that Ronnie correctly notes, resemble a tall, drawn-out corkscrew.

Another Otter Lake operation is Belle Terre Botanic Gardens and Arboretum. Director Joyce Angelus-Keller also welcomes your calls for advice at 453-7270. Eric and I visited last spring, bought perennial foxglove and some annual bedding plants, all of which did well in our garden.

Although I’ve never taken a workshop at Belle Terre, Joyce does offer a “Lunch and Lecture” series where she focuses on organic gardening techniques. Call for information.


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based near Quyon. Contact her at