Test Plot Gardening in St. James, Manitoba

by J. P. DE WET - excerpt from "The Prairie Garden" (1966)

            During the summer of 1965 the St. James Horticultural Society provided a number of test plots for interested suburban home owners. Several promising new vegetable varieties under trial at the University of Manitoba were grown in co-operation with the Plant Science Department.

          This has given the Society a broader field of of general usefulness, and its members a fresh keenness in their hobby. Here was an activity whose ends went further then the home kitchen and the freezer. It directed their interest into knowledge of the new varieties as well as some of the scientific factors involved in the breeding and production of varieties superior to the presently known ones. Society directors intend that the test program begun in 1965 shall continue in the years ahead.

          St. James Gardeners organized themselves into a society in 1914. This was the year of the outbreak of the First World War when the call went out that all should supply their own individual needs with Victory gardens and many plots were put under cultivation during the war years. In November 1929, the Society applied to the Manitoba Government for a Certificate of Organization under the Manitoba Horticultural Societies Act, and received Certificate No. 8, dated December 1, 1929.

          Through succeeding years Society members had their garden plots in different areas of the municipality; in the early 1940's access to the present area was given by the City of St. James then titled the Municipality. Cultivation of the the area has been continuous ever since and moreover is likely to continue in perpetuity. Because of its proximity to the Winnipeg International Airport, the land must be kept permanently free of buildings.

          The idea of the test plots arose at a discussion at a meeting of the Society directors as to possible new projects for the approaching summer; the suggestion was acted on without delay. Professor L. H. Shebeski, Head of the Department of Plant Science was contacted. He referred the matter to Dr. D. J. Campbell who got in touch with the society.

          The land in question, lying north of Silver Avenue and between Albany and Lyle Streets, is divided into 78 individual plots, each 30 by 60 feet in size. The gardening area is typical Red River Valley heavy, high lime soil. The Society had it well cleaned of garden trash and ploughed during October; there is now sufficient new ground ploughed to provide an additional 8 plots in 1966.

          Application for the plots is restricted to Society members who pay $2.50 rental in addition to the annual membership fee of $1.00. The plots are allocated at an open meeting in March, and subsequently are staked out and labeled with the names of the respective applicant members.

          In all, 30 gardeners were allotted 210 seed packages by Dr. Campbell. The varieties ranged through peas (2), beans (2), corn (2), carrots, cucumbers, squash and potatoes. In addition a number of broccoli and cauliflower transplants were provided for evaluation.

          Seeding followed during the week of the May 24 holiday; harvesting was completed by the end of August. One should add here that entries of the potatoes, beans, beets and squash from the test plots won first prizes in their respective classes at the Society's annual show during the second week of August; and a plot holder's display of vegetables was rated the best display entered.

          Cultivation of the plots during the growing season was supervised by a special committee of Society directors; and the Society president R. D. Morgan, reported his high satisfaction at the special care given plots. The holders used their own choice of fertilizers and interest was carried as far as rivalry by some as to who had the cleanest plots and could produce the best returns.

          In addition to the test plots, the area administered by the St. James society includes 8 feet by 10 feet plots cultivated by children competing for the Waugh Shield, a competition founded in 1908 by the late R. D. Waugh, a former mayor of Winnipeg, to promote children's interests in gardening. Also, several parents set aside portions of their plots for the use of their children. Beans, carrots and beets, and centaurea, marigolds and zinnias, are the varieties grown.The society buys the seed and distributes them to the children at cost. These plots are under the supervision of the Society's Waugh Shield Committee who advise on improving competition standing.

          Dr. Campbell had the following to say about the co-operative project: Here at the university we have been trying for many years to improve vegetable varieties for Manitoba. One method is through a breeding program; another by improving cultural practices. But one of the most fruitful methods is by the care evaluation of new varieties developed anywhere in the world. We hope in our variety trials to spot those with unusual characteristics and superior to the standard ones now being grown. But before we can recommend them for general use, we need wider evaluation, and co-operative trials such as this one appear extremely promising. They bring together researchers, companies who provide the seed, and some enthusiastic vegetable growers. We are delighted with this year's results. We would like to see other societies throughout the prairies join the St. James Society in this worthwhile endeavor.