Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Now is the time to start a ‘kitchen’ garden

Dear Helen: I would like to convert part of the lawn into a “kitchen” garden, mainly for salad vegetables and a few herbs. Can I do this without lifting the grass? I’ve heard of “lasagna” gardens. Would that work for this situation? When would be the best time to begin the project?


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August is the perfect month to start, because it gives the materials spread onto a patch of poor soil, weeds, or lawn plenty of time before winter to compost down into a bed perfect for spring planting.

First, define the area. Water it well, then put down thick cardboard (I use flattened boxes), overlapping the sheets to eliminate gaps. To be sure of smothering the lawn and weeds, I place a thick layer of newspaper over the cardboard before adding wood shavings or old sawdust.

Subsequent layers can be anything compostable — aged manure, straw, grass clippings, leaves, and fine garden cleanings such as young weeds. Keep the building mass moistened. In the spring, top the bed with finished compost, good garden soil or planting mix before planting. If desired, the bed can be edged with boards, bricks, or whatever you might have on hand.

Dear Helen: I am seeking a source for chrysanthemums other than the kinds in garden centres. Have you any information on the Victoria Chrysanthemum Society and whether they meet currently? I’m also looking for written information on growing, dividing, wintering over and so on.


The Victoria Chrysanthemum Society meets on the fourth Saturday of the month in January, February and March and in September, October and November, in a private home. The next meeting is Sept. 22. The contact email I have for the society is footcare60@shaw.ca.

A few years ago, a neighbour asked me the same question, and the society pointed him to a grower living near us. That person turned out to be a source of plants for my neighbour.

Dear Helen: I have not been able to find the cause of my beet leaves developing light tan blotches that become thin and almost translucent. Is this a fungus?


The photo you sent indicates damage from spinach/beet leaf miners, tiny grey flies that lay eggs on the undersides of beet, spinach, and Swiss chard leaves. The eggs hatch into small maggots that tunnel in between upper and lower leaf surfaces to feed within the leaf. They feed for a few weeks before dropping to the ground and pupating and then emerging as adult flies. There are several generations in a growing season.

Where an infestation is light it can be controlled by removing mined and blotched leaves as soon as the discolouration is seen. Destroy the leaves to eliminate further home-grown generations of the pest.

In my garden, where the leaf miner is a severe problem, the only way I can grow clean beets and spinach is to secure a floating row cover or insect netting over seeded beds in the spring. The lightweight fabrics maintain a barrier between the plants and the leaf miner fly while allowing the passage of water and fresh air to the plantings.

Dear Helen: A friend told me that you had included a recipe for a raw beet salad in a column. I’m a regular reader of your column, but I must have missed it. Could you repeat the recipe? My beets are wonderful this summer.


The recipe your friend remembered is probably one I adapted from a massive book I have on organic and whole foods produced in Europe.

The salad is a simple, light and refreshing combination of raw beets, apple, onion and chopped nuts. Cumin in the dressing gives the salad a distinct and lovely taste.

To make the salad, mix together one grated beet, one apple finely chopped, one small sweet onion, minced, and a handful of toasted, chopped hazelnuts. Beat together 3 Tbsp white wine (or apple cider) vinegar, 4 Tbsp oil, 1 Tbsp honey, 1 tsp cumin, salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad, toss well, and wait 15 minutes to serve.


Government House nursery. The plant nursery at Government House, 1401 Rockland Ave. in Victoria, is open for public sales from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays through to Aug. 30. The nursery is located opposite the tea room. Plants for sale include perennials and grasses at great prices.

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