Peggy Slipp has been gardening since winning the best zucchini at her local county fair when she was 9 years old. She has a tremendous variety of vegetables in her garden, including various Asian greens and herbs. She uses biochar in her soil and does square foot gardening. Her daughters and granddaughter have begun to learn how to be food self-sufficient through Peggy teaching them how to garden. She is hoping to have a greenhouse soon so she can try to grow tomatoes and zucchini again, and this winter she and her husband are hoping to be able to grow greens all year around using their SucSeed hydroponic system.

Here’s some of what Peggy had to say to Frankie Leonard, a summer student with the Labrador Institute, in August 2020:

I have been gardening for 39 years. I’ve been involved with gardening my whole life, but I was 9 when I started growing vegetables on my own, and that is the year my zucchini won a prize at the county fair back home in New Brunswick!

I grow vegetables, herbs, and perennial flowers. I don’t fuss around with things that need warm climates anymore, so I grow cold crops. I grow a lot of kale, peas, onions, lettuce, spinach, carrots, Asian greens, a lot of mustards and bok choy, Asian cabbage, swiss chard, and beets. I start my stuff from seed, so I guess I find that the most satisfying: watching it grow from seed.

I guess if someone said pick three things to grow, I would grow herbs, shallots, and lettuce.  I don’t try tomatoes anymore, because there are so few frost-free days here. I want to build a greenhouse so that I can try to grow crops that need warmer climates again. We recently bought a hydroponic system called SucSeed so that we could grow greens all year round.  It is a Newfoundland company. We haven’t set up the system yet, but we definitely will this winter.

The logo for SucSeed, a Newfoundland-based hyrdoponics company. The logo is a black circle with an outline of a plant growing in the middle, and the word "SucSeed" written underneath.

In fact, SucSeed is the result of innovations by Enactus Memorial, a student-run volunteer organization right here at Memorial University!

This year I have tried a few things I haven’t grown before, such as purple mizuna—which is an Asian green—and collard greens. We haven’t been able to try them yet, since I started them from seed in the garden, so hopefully in the fall they will be more mature, and we can eat them then.

I try to do organic gardening and companion planting. My biggest challenge this year is the bugs! Particularly the root maggots this year in turnip and radish have been difficult.  It looks perfect up top, then you pull it and the bulb is empty because the maggots ate everything inside.

A close up image of some of Peggy Slipp's lettuces. From left to right, there are purple lettuces and green lettuces.

Peggy Slipp grows a dizzying array of greens, herbs, and other vegetables in her outdoor plots.  She is also planning to put up a greenhouse in the future, plus indoor hydroponics for over-winter gardening as well.

The plan is to build a greenhouse. I don’t try zucchini and things like that anymore either, because a lot of years it’s too windy for zucchini. The soil challenge here and having to amend and add things to get the right chemistry can be difficult. A friend of mine suggested biochar, which is a special kind of charcoal which you add to soil, and it has made a huge difference. It holds the nutrients in the soil, and it has been really helpful. It is made a certain way so that some sort of oxidation process occurs. This has really helped, and I don’t have to add as much manure because of it.

I don’t know anyone else in Labrador who does it, but I now do square foot gardening. It is to maximize your space, because it is so hard to create good growing soil here. You put so many plants per square foot, so for a growing lettuce head you would put one per square foot.  For radish, it’s 16; carrots, it’s 9.  So then your plants are spaced far apart, so they can grow properly, but you’re not wasting any space at all.  When I moved to Labrador 12 years ago, I was still doing row gardening, but after looking into it, we made the switch.

A close-up image of some of the carrots Peggy Slipp harvested from her garden. The carrots are arranged from light yellow on the left, to dark orange on the right.

What’s up, doc?  There’s nothing better than a fresh, local Labrador carrot like these ones from Peggy Slipp’s garden in North West River.  They’re sweet and crunchy and a hundred times better than anything you can truck in from far away.

My beds are 3 feet by 8 feet, so you can still reach the middle of the bed for weeding and picking. I do what they call succession planting too, so I don’t plant it all at once. I’ll add some spinach and radish every week, so I have a constant supply. 

We eat a lot of kale chips, so that’s why we grow a lot of kale.  They are delish!  And I’ve made chive blossom vinegar—you steep the chive blossoms in white wine vinegar, and it has this beautiful magenta colour, and it has a really nice onion and chive flavour to it. I’ve made pesto as well, but I think our favourite recipe is partridgeberry pickles, instead of jam.  It’s more of a savoury condiment.

I love the satisfaction and knowing where our food comes from. Also, the nature aspect—I love having my hands in the dirt. I have taught my kids what I know and am now teaching my granddaughter, so passing on that knowledge of how to be self-sufficient is great.

An illustration of how Peggy Slipp plants her vegetable seeds: one head of lettuce gets one square foot, sixteen radishes get another square foot, and nine carrots get another square foot.

“…I now do square foot gardening. It is to maximize your space, because it is so hard to create good growing soil here. You put so many plants per square foot, so for a growing lettuce head you would put one per square foot.  For radish, it’s 16; carrots, it’s 9.”

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