Long-time readers of Flowery Prose may recall a series of posts I did in the summer of 2020, in which I talked to several Alberta gardeners about their inspirations for gardening, the gardening projects they are working on, and about the challenges they face as gardeners in this province and how they are trying to overcome them. I have wanted to continue this series for quite some time, and this year – which the Canadian Garden Council has designated as Canada’s Year of the Garden – seems like a wonderful time to chat with and learn from more Alberta gardeners! Whether you live on the Canadian Prairies or you’re much further afield, I’m sure you’ll find ideas and solutions to consider for your own gardening endeavours.
Please allow me to introduce Sue Campbell!
Sue: My family has lived in Elk Point, in northeastern Alberta for more than 50 years. My Mom’s family grew up in the Ferguson Flats area East of Elk Point way back in the 1930’s. My husband, who is originally from Bonnyville, and I raised our family here since the mid 1980’s.
My gardening experiences started at a young age. I can remember my grandparents, Mom, and most of the family planting the garden May long weekend, rain or shine. We didn’t think of it as work or at least I didn’t. Gardens were very large back then; enough to feed our family and others. They consisted mainly of potatoes, peas, carrots, corn, and green beans. I don’t remember ever going to the grocery store for those vegetables. At harvest the potatoes were dug, and the good ones kept in root cellars for eating and used as seed potatoes the next year. The rest of the vegetables were picked as they matured during the summer; were blanched and frozen. We thought nothing of going to the garden, pulling up a carrot full of dirt, washing it off or wiping it on the grass and chomping away. Shelling peas with my Gramma was the best; she would say “one for me, one for the bowl”. While our young family was growing, my husband and I were busy working and didn’t have a lot of time for gardening. For a few years we did have a small garden planted with potatoes but nothing else. Fast forward 30+ years and our girls are married and moved on starting families of their own. Covid hit and the oil patch in this area slowed to a trickle. Being newly unemployed/semi-retired, I took this opportunity to do something I have always wanted to. I enrolled in the Master Gardener program through Dalhousie University Extension. The amount of knowledge I have gained in the last two years is mind-blowing and sometimes overwhelming.
Back then it didn’t seem like we had to worry about rain. Our gardens always grew. For the last 30 + years in this area the rains seem to be fewer and farther in between. We are definitely getting hotter weather more often. The summer of 2021 we saw +37; something I don’t ever remember seeing. We got our first good rain last night, June 8; more than an inch. I think my potatoes grew two inches since yesterday. The heat and drying winds will eventually suck all that moisture out of the ground, I’m sure. More and more trees are being cut down in this area, hence the winds.
Education is key; people need to understand that stripping the land of trees, especially native ones will have continued negative effects on all of us. I had very little knowledge about this a couple years ago; how important soil health is; how native trees, grasses and shrubs are better suited to our climate.
Soil health is so important; soil is a living ecosystem that will sustain us all including plants and animals. We need to use more natural and organic means to grow crops, be it my little garden or a farmer in the field. We need to be weaned off synthetic fertilizer especially for growing food; we need to feed the soil to keep it healthy.
Nothing inspires me more in gardening than when little seedlings push their way out of the soil reaching for the sun. Eating and sharing the produce that I have planted with others and them saying how it tastes better than store bought makes me smile. That’s all the inspiration I need.
Although I have had small, raised beds planted with different varieties of tomatoes in years past, the summer of 2021 was the first with our three large 4′ x 8′ x 2′ raised beds a friend made. They are made from galvanized metal and should last a lifetime. Last year I had potatoes, carrots, peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes planted in the beds. This year we have expanded with four smaller raised beds. I currently have peas, carrots, potatoes, and marigolds planted in the large beds. I have several containers planted with zucchinis, peppers, tomatoes (in 5 gallon pails), and cucumbers. My smaller 4 x 4 raised beds have onions, lettuce, radishes, beets, spinach, and turnips growing well. I have learned that it doesn’t take a ¼ section of land to have a huge garden like in my Gramma’s time. All you need is a container with drainage, be it a 5 gallon pail or raised bed; good quality soil; rain; and a little sunshine – you can grow almost anything.
A small group of us in Elk Point are in the beginning stages of starting a community garden. A site has been picked; we’re just waiting on approval. Hopefully this fall we will get the site prepped and raised beds built ready to start planting in the spring of 2023.
A huge thank you, Sue, for your thoughtful and detailed answers – you’ve got us thinking about the foundations of our gardens, and in particular, the importance of healthy soil. You’ve also reminded us of the wonder and delight of gardening as children, learning from our parents and grandparents – and how many of us carry this into our gardening experiences over a lifetime.
Want to read more Prairie gardening viewpoints? Check out guest posts by: