Meet Mark Cullen

Canada's best known gardening personality, Mark Cullen believes that Canadians of all ages need to play more - preferably in the dirt. A best-selling author with over 400,000 books in print, Mark reaches over one million Canadians every week through various media outlets. He is Home Hardware's horticultural spokesperson and regularly contributes to various magazines, gardening shows and newsletters. With a familiar style that people can relate to, he delivers a message that is compelling, fun, informative and inspirational - all based on his organic approach to gardening. In his spare time Mark enjoys driving his Ford Model A - and of course he loves to garden.

Extra Bounty? I have the answer.... and gardening advice to live by.

As we enter the mid life of this years’ garden you are anxious to pick your first tomato. Right? And why not: I know that I was! Pleased to say that I picked my first ripe tomato yesterday. I brought it in to the kitchen with pride: big smile on my face, and presented it to Mary.

She poached 3 lovely eggs that she had plucked from their mothers’ warm bosom that morning and presented me with the tomato, cut nicely into 6 wedges, ready for the fresh ground pepper.

mmmmmmmmmmm. Heaven.

And so the journey begins. Harvest season is upon us.

Soon I will be bringing tomatoes in from our garden by the quart, then the bucket and finally the bushel. At which point Mary will throw her hands up in the air, take a deep breath and scream: “enough! Enough – I can’t use anymore…….. tomatoes!”

Another deep breath.

Our infatuation with some vegetables is longer than others. The zucchini, for example, are not as lucky as the tomatoes. In fact from the first zucchini delivery to the kitchen I get this look that says, “Is it THAT time of year again?”

What to do with extras….

So the perennial question of course is, “what do I do with all of the vegetables (and fruit) that we produce each summer that we cannot eat or prepare in jars or freeze for ourselves?” I would not be the first to suggest that you can leave the zuch’s in a basket at the front door of a neighbour, or someone that you don’t like very much. Or in the front seat of a convertible car, with the top down. Great for a laugh.

To be serious, lots of Canadians have the same problem each summer. And I have the answer: give it away to people who want it, can use it and will benefit measurably from its’ consumption.

A Great Canadian Success!

In 1988 a couple in Winnipeg by the name of O’Donnagh found themselves long on pears from their backyard pear tree. They looked at each other and said, “why not” and took the extra lot to the local food bank on the off chance that they would pass them on to people in need of pears.

The plan worked – the O’Donnaghs were greeted with open bushel baskets, which were soon loaded with the pears. Many thank you’s later and they were on their way back home. Days later the two of them got the same idea: if giving fresh produce to the local food bank provides a worthwhile service in the community, then why not spread the word and get our neighbours to donate their excess produce too?

And so it began.

More than 2 decades later the whole continent is jumping on the bandwagon. The ‘program’ is now called Plant a Row Grow a Row for the hungry. The Garden Writers Association, of which there are over 600 members (I am one) receive regular e-bulletins from the organization asking us to remind our readers/listeners/viewers to please remember that the food banks ALL love to receive fresh garden produce. Go to for all of the details.

Last year alone Canadians donated several hundred tones of fresh garden food to food banks.

There is no form to fill out.

No organization to join.

No fees to pay.

Just pick the food and deliver it to your local food bank. They will take care of the rest. Clients of food banks generally have a diet that lacks in fresh produce. Processed foods, often high in salt and fat, are easier to store and often cheap and, therefore, accessible. Fresh produce not so much.

I urge you to do this. And take a moment to reflect on the fact that it was a Canadian couple who started the whole thing…. Understated and modest.

Another great Canadian success story that most of us are not aware of.

Now, while I am on the topic of tomatoes, a very important message: prevent the #1 scourge of tomatoes by applying Green Earth Bordo mixture now. Do not leave this too long. Truth is early blight (which is related to the blight that attacked potatoes that began the Irish Potato famine in the mid 1800’s) can spread so fast that you will barely see the signs of it one day and your tomato plant will collapse the next. Unless you have sprayed with organic based Bordo.

What is in Bordo that is so effective? Copper.

Is Bordo banned for use in provinces with pesticide bans? No. It has been recommended and used by organic gardeners for years. Truth is, there never was a chemical spray that proved to be as effective in preventing early blight, to my knowledge.

For the BEST tomatoes:

Remember: pick your tomatoes as they ripen. If you allow them to become over ripe on the vine the plant will not produce as much ripe fruit as it otherwise would.

Stake tomatoes off of the ground: you will double your crop.

If you allow tomatoes to rot on the vine you are inviting diseases that can wreak havoc.

Words to live by: ‘If it ripens, pick it”

This is true for any fruit bearing plant. Beans, peppers, eggplant, apples, pears, cherries: you get the idea.

What to do with the extra produce that your garden is spewing this time of year?


- preserve it in mason jars

- dry it for future use (either buy a dehydrator or hang upside down like you would herbs or like pioneers did with apple rings)

- ‘salt it away’ like they did for long voyages across the ocean

- Have a ‘preserving party’

What ideas can you share that would help the rest of us put our excess garden produce to good use?

I would love to hear from you: just send your ideas to us at and click on ‘contact us’ – we would love to hear from you!

While you are at it, remember that we are always looking for recipes for green tomatoes. What do you do with yours?

Looking forward to hearing from you...

Keep your knees dirty!