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Plant for a problem area, tomatoes, and much more

To the folks who “vade mecum” (Latin “travel with me”) thank you for visiting my Grainews Singing Gardener page. Please — allow me to say how much I deeply appreciate your letters, emails and phone calls, some of which I’ll share today. Hearing from so many of you confirms the existence of a deep bond and willingness to connect among gardeners everywhere throughout this vast nation.


(October 29, 1931 — January 18, 2013)

You may have already read about John Fredrick Clark, in the February 4, 2013 Grainews issue under “Wheat & Chaff” on page 3 by editorial director John Morriss. Among his many gifts, Mr. Clark was founder and creator of Grainews The first issue was published back in October 1975 and now, 38 years later, Grainews is still going strong. I, Ted, never had the opportunity to meet Mr. Clark, but one thing in his obituary passage that really caught my eye said this: “He was a passionate gardener. His gentle hands nurtured tender begonia bulbs and impatiens seedlings to create magnificent flower beds wherever he was.”


… in the garden, but not for music to grow plants by. You may be surprised at another task they perform. The following comes in a letter received in early February from a reader who has been gardening with deer around the farm for many years.

Hello Ted! Enjoy your articles in Grainews. I subscribe to the paper for that precious page of yours!! Just because you’re in that paper. I have many pages torn out of Grainews. (Ted says: If my face could blush, I would.)

I have had great luck with old CDs hanging in trees and on anything that allows CDs to twirl free. They need to be fairly high to catch morning/evening sun, allowing CDs to send their reflection around and around onto the ground. Nylon twine works best. It doesn’t break away after many days of twirling. I use about one to 1-1/2 feet of twine. Any longer and the CD gets hung up in the trees. Move each CD occasionally to change the pattern. So easy, so amazing to watch! I also have my dogs with me in the garden and give them a good rubdown daily to leave fresh dog hair behind in the garden. Works for me and my dogs. I have seen deer tracks through the garden but have not ever lost any plants. Yours truly, Loreen Lyman, Morden, Man.

Ted’s comments: Just like many of us, Loreen told me in February that her hands are itchy to get into the ground already. I like her catchphrase, “When you get tired of listening to the music; hang it up.” She mentioned that twirling CDs also help to keep the pigeons moving. “It’s that light in the evening and light in the morning flashing around on the ground that does the trick. Let the sun do its thing. The light from the sun alarms them. I’ve had good luck.”

Gardeners can collect freshly cut human hair at barber shops and dog hair from pet groomers. Spread it along garden rows near plants. Another option is to put human hair or fresh brushed dog hair inside net or mesh bags and hang on tree limbs, long poles or whatever is available near vulnerable plants subject to attack from foraging deer and rabbits. Hair loses its repelling effect and needs to be replaced with fresh batches.

Loreen mentioned buying a tomato plant last year called Ball Beefsteak “with a little bit of acid kick.” She got it from Foothills Greenhouse at Winkler, Man.


… is the title of my “famous tomato song” that I’ve been singing during personal appearances. The long and the short of it is: gardeners simply never tire of talking about growing and eating tomatoes and I, Ted, never tire of singing about my love for tomatoes either.

Are you into making salsa and Mexican cooking using green tomatoes? Vicky, at Early’s Garden Centre in Saskatoon has a real good one called Tomatillo Toma Verde that produces early-maturing, (60 days after setting out transplants) large, flat-round green fruits. If you opt for a red-fleshed, firm and meaty tomato for salsa and sauces, then high-yielding Mama Mia will do your recipes proud. For fresh eating at the meal table, then take notice of Defiant PhR hybrid tomato. As the name suggests, it defies and resists late blight. Fruits averaged six to eight ounces each and demonstrate a deep, rewarding, internal and exterior red colour when ripe. Lots of other tomato varieties are available too from Early’s including Long Keeper, noted for storage ability and low-acid, rosy-pink Oxheart.

Annual and perennial flower seeds are in plentiful supply at Early’s too. One of Vicky’s favourites is Indian Summer rudbeckia, an annual that’s capable of self-seeding. Sturdy plants are 90 cm (three feet) tall and wind resistant. Single and semi-double golden-yellow flowers are 15 to 22 cm (six to nine inches) across. That’s an almost unbelievable size. All rudbeckia — and there are numerous named varieties — are long lasting in bouquets.

In addition to the above, Early’s has professional turf and special-purpose grasses and cool-season turf grasses for Western Canada and a whole lot more. You can get in touch with Early’s Town & Country Garden Centre in Saskatoon by phoning 1-800-667-1159 where a friendly receptionist is always happy to greet you, or go online at and check out their complete inventory.


… that will one day be in short supply. A gardener mentioned that dropping a copper penny (although harder to find these days) into a vase of water extends the life of fresh-cut flowers. Other options are a generous pinch of baking soda or some sea salt (not too much now) stirred into the water first. Then there’s this suggestion. Put a piece of charcoal or a few charcoal granules available at garden centres and pet supply stores into vase water. ’Tis said cut flowers won’t develop a bad odour even if stems get soft and slimy. Changing the water frequently helps.


Here in my home province we’ve got place names such as Riding Mountain National Park, Duck Mountain Provincial Park and small settlements Riding Mountain and Stony Mountain. The two highest-altitude points I’m aware of are Baldy Mountain at 881.2 metres and Hart Mountain at 823.0 metres. But don’t tell anybody from Alberta or B.C. there are mountains in Manitoba. Ah — but we do grow a plant called “Snow on the Mountain” and you can grow some too pretty well anywhere.


… where nothing wants to grow? Here’s an annual that I, Ted, recommend. Euphorbia variegata marginata, commonly known as Snow on the Mountain will grow anywhere, even in the poorest site, regardless of soil type. Plants mature at 60 cm (24 inches) and are tolerant to heat and drought. Bicoloured leaves have a green centre with white picotee edges but no flowers. The foliage becomes remarkably attractive once late August arrives and days gets shorter with cooler nights.

Snow on the Mountain and other annuals can be started in the greenhouse during the following best dates according to the moon. They are: March 14, 15 and 16 or March 19, 20 and 21 and March 26, 27 and 28, 2013. If desired, Snow on the Mountain can also be direct seeded outdoors along with flowers such as lavatera, poppies and zinnias, leafy greens and vegetables that produce their yield above the ground during May 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24, 2013. Snow on the Mountain seeds are available from Early’s in Saskatoon mentioned earlier herein and from Stokes Seeds Ltd., Thorold, Ont., phone 1-800-396-9238 or go to


That’s what Mike Zolinski of Arborg, Manitoba calls his favourite tomato. “This little old lady gave me tomato seeds about 15 years ago and I’ve been growing them every year since.” (I, Ted, recall when Toni, my yodelling teacher taught me the Bavarian way to yodel a stanza based on those very words: little old lady.)

According to Mike, yields are great from the 2-1/2 foot and longer vines. Bright-red fruits are “hefty” (i.e. nice and heavy) and can be over three pounds. “I love to grow different kinds of tomatoes” is how Mike expressed it “and last year we had 35 five-gallon pails of tomatoes. We make tomato juice, tomato pickles, stewed tomatoes… you name it.”

When he was first married, Mike recalled growing a prize tomato named Valiant that produced very smooth and very tasty, round, red fruits weighing about a pound each, but as he said “somehow seeds seemed to have disappeared.” Mike, now 74, is a retired farmer after 27 years of farming. At one time he had 149 cows and wisely, Mike told me “I married a farm girl.” In season, Mike tills some gardens, cuts grass and as he said, “I talk to people about gardening. I just always loved gardening. It’s right up my alley.” †

About the author


Ted Meseyton

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.



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