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Want to outsmart a crow?

Crows are intelligent birds but there is a way to outsmart and discourage them once they become a nuisance in your yard and garden. Also, the interest in heirloom tomatoes continues to grow. There are hundreds of named heritage tomato varieties and among them is one called Valiant that I shall highlight.

CROW DECOYS

As a kid, I can recall when it was rare to find any crows that took up residence in town. Now many of them have discovered there are easy pickings in urban areas and as a result, crows have migrated into communities. They especially appreciate tall, stately evergreens and trees in dense groups of any design for habitat and nesting purposes. In the so-called good old days, a gardener or farmer might hang a dead crow from a fence post or other limb to repel crows. But why mess around with a dead crow?

Now comes a unique, innovative and perfect organic all-weather solution in the form of hand-stitched crow decoys that are made in Canada. Crows are wary and cautious birds and known to gather in a group when alarmed. It’s been shown that placing a life-size crow decoy in strategic view causes them to flee the area lickety-split to somewhere else in search of their bread and butter. A crow decoy should be moved about to a different location periodically. Real-life crows are cunning creatures. They won’t detect trickery or become accustomed to a crow decoy that’s moved about. A lot of thought went into the manufacture of crow decoys and by the way, magpie decoys are also available. Here’s where to get either or both. Contact Mark Macdonald, West Coast Seeds, Delta, B.C., email [email protected] or go to www.westcoastseeds.com or (phone toll free) 1-888-804-8820 or (fax) 604-952-8828.

HANDWRITTEN LETTERS

… have not gone out of style. You may have seen the recent story on TV of a Canadian woman and Australian woman who finally met in person face to face, after corresponding with each other as pen pals for 30 years. I mention that out of appreciation to all people who still write letters and thanks to gardeners who’ve also written. Let me share a letter from Rebecca in mid-February.

VALIANT TOMATO

Dear Singing Gardener: First, I want to tell you I enjoy your column and look forward to it every time. Valiant is one of the older, hard-to-find kinds. It was my father’s favourite back in the 1950s to 1980s. I have been gathering the seed over the years and the last few years I really thought I had lost it because the seed was quite old (about five years). But I started it last year. The germination was amazing and we had a wonderful crop. The flavour is the good kind of yesteryear. I saved some seed from last year. Try it. I’m sure you’ll like them. Valiant is the staking type but I don’t stake them so the plants do want their space. Thanks for writing an interesting, informative garden page for all your readers. Sincerely, Rebecca Maendel, Wawanesa, Man.

Ted adds: Rebecca told the Singing Gardener her green thumbs are itching to plant already. She’s in charge of the garden this year at Treesbank Colony at Wawanesa and will be growing about 500 tomato plants including Valiant and five or six other varieties. Valiant traces its ancestry back to the mid-1930s. There are dozens upon dozens of different-named heirloom tomatoes possessing historical significance; many of which arrived in Canada from overseas. Bright-red, medium-size Valiant fruits slice well for table use and are top notch both for fresh eating and canning. Rebecca is correct in describing Valiant as a vining variety. It will definitely benefit from sturdy stakes or trellising. Such support assists in giving the gardener attractive, blemish-free fruits. Most old-fashioned tomatoes fall into the indeterminate (i.e. vining) group. Adequate support or caging of some sort also makes it easier to prune them. Valiant begins ripening between 75 to 80 days after transplants are set out in the garden. Selling started heirloom tomato plants in season could easily become a home cottage business for an enterprising individual and an opportunity to make a handsome dollar. One source for Valiant seeds is: Heritage Harvest Seed, Carman, Man. R0G 0J0; phone (204) 745-6489.

WHAT IS CHITTING?

It’s a term that means the green sprouting of seed potatoes. Spuds are heavy feeders and require adequate moisture and nutrients. Planting them shallow encourages early emergence especially if the soil is cool. I’ve known home gardeners who always planted an early-maturing variety such as Warba. They’d reach down into the ball of soil around the root system about Canada Day to sneak some wonderful, fresh and clean potato gems. New potatoes possess a special taste that cannot be captured any other time of year.

I note that Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes at Bowden, Alberta has four new varieties listed this season. They are: Yellow Finn, Seglinde, Duke of York and Rode Eersteling. The latter is a newly selected, early-maturing heritage potato with pale-yellow flesh and red skin. Correct seed spacing is critical when planting and depends on when a variety matures. Early varieties can be placed close together in the hole or furrow at eight inches apart, as they tend to have a low number of tubers per hill. Mid-season potatoes can be planted eight to 12 inches apart while late-season potatoes should have a space of 12 inches or more between each seed. See Eagle Creek’s complete selection of about two dozen Alberta-grown, early, mid-season, late and fingerling seed potatoes at www.seedpotatoes.ca or phone toll free: 1-877-224-3939.

A recommended garden accessory product available for purchase at Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes is a floating row cover. It’s a white fabric that can be draped over potatoes, cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes and other garden-grown plants that are subject to attack by insect pests such as cabbage moth butterfly, flea beetles and potato bugs. The row cover also helps retain heat by making a frost protection difference of up to 5 C (12 F) around plants during a cool spring and early-autumn frost. The fabric material is water permeable allowing light to enter and rain to penetrate and water plants.

TED TIP WORTH KNOWING

… and still connected to growing potatoes. Smelly marigolds — the stronger, the better — are an excellent companion deterrent plant against potato beetles and flea beetles. Try interplanting every fourth potato with one or two strongly scented, tall-growing marigolds. French marigolds (Tagetes patula) have built-in insecticidal properties but may be too short unless potato plants are well spaced. Potato foliage can shade, cascade over and stunt growth of shorter marigolds. †

About the author

Columnist

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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