Gotta love October in Calgary! It’s been snowing on and off all week and we’re currently under a snowfall warning (to see what Environment Canada defines as a “snowfall warning,” click here)…and this morning around six, we hit a low temperature of minus 15.5 degrees Celsius (that’s 4.1 degrees Fahrenheit). To put that in perspective, our average daytime high temperature for October hovers around plus 13 degrees Celsius (55.4 degrees Fahrenheit).
Oh well. It’s still rather pretty. (I’m just saying that because I went out and planted and mulched my garlic five minutes before the snow started late last week. Totally squeaked it in on my lunch break from work. While wearing my dress clothes and shoes.) 😉
Welcome to the fifth issue of The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter! Janet Melrose and I are keeping you up-to-date on everything related to our book series Guides for the Prairie Gardener, letting you know about what other Prairie gardening-related projects we’re working on, and throwing in some gardening trivia and newsy tidbits, just for fun! If you like what you see, please follow us on our social media and hit the subscribe button on Flowery Prose.
Book News and Events
Janet’s chat on CBC Radio’s Daybreak
On August 15, Janet did an amazing interview with Russell Bowers on CBC Radio’s Daybreak programme, talking about our books in the Guides for the Prairie Gardener series and what to watch out for in the garden in late summer! Take a listen to the interview here!
Request for reviews!
Do you have a copy of either of (or both of!) our books, The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases? If you do, can you please help us out and take a couple of minutes to give us a rating and review on Amazon.ca/Amazon.com? Don’t worry about leaving a lengthy review…two or three words is honestly all Amazon requires. If you’re on GoodReads, leaving a rating over there would be wonderful, as well! Thank you so much! We are so grateful for your support and encouragement and we hope you are finding the books informative, useful, and fun!
In Our Gardens
Well, the first frost has already happened here in Calgary and so I’ve been watching the forecast like a hawk and covering the tomatoes as required. I swear, my tomatoes have been covered nearly the whole growing season – first, to protect them against the threat of multiple hailstorms, and now this! I have already harvested a pleasantly sizeable yield of ripe and ready currant tomatoes and my husband and I have been enjoying them in salads and I’ve been taking them to work just to snack on. I’m still waiting on my precious ‘Black Krim’ tomatoes, though…they are still green and I’m waiting on a bit of a blush to happen. If you pick them when they are TOO green, they won’t ripen indoors…you have to reach that special threshold.
I have picked quite a few lovely zucchinis over the past several weeks and they’ve been cooked up in various ways in my kitchen. Did you know that you can shred zucchini, drain the excess water from it, then pack it into bags and freeze it for later use? It’s a good solution if you’re swimming in summer squash! I saw a great tip in the Alberta Gardening group on Facebook last week from a gardener who goes one step further and freezes the shredded zucchini after packing it into the cups of a muffin tin. When it’s ready, she just snaps out the iced zuke pops, bags them individually, and puts them back in the freezer. Nice and tidy and ready for that chocolate zucchini cake at a moment’s notice!
And I’ve been saving seeds…calendula, dill, nasturtiums, beans, and sweet peas so far. I can’t stress enough the importance of labelling the plants that you want to save seed from so that you can easily locate them later on when they’ve stopped blooming. This year, I just tucked in some old wooden skewers I had kicking around and fashioned a tag with a piece of coloured tape. I wrote the colour of the flowers on the tape – for example: a calendula with DBL (double flowers) with BRN CENT (brown centres). I planted several types of calendula this year and wanted to differentiate the doubles from the singles, and identify the colours. I also had several colours of nasturtiums, so I tagged them to remind myself where the red ones were in the sea of cream-coloured ones. You’ll be sure to come up with a labelling system of your own – just remember to do it in advance, as it makes seed saving much easier. I always think I am going to remember the exact location of everything but I never do….
If you’re planning to save seed from your sweet peas, I’ve done up a little video with some tips – check it out:
And I’m talking about saving dill seed here:
Did you know…that hawthorn berries are not really berries at all? They are pomes. (Apples and pears are pomes, too). Hawthorn berries are commonly called “haws”; rather reminiscent of the ‘’hips” from roses. (And, in fact, hawthorns are related to both apples and roses – they’re in the same family). Right now, you’ll be seeing the bright red fruit on hawthorn trees growing on the prairies – they look a bit like tiny ornamental crabapples or indeed, like oversized rose hips. I’ve been experimenting with making jelly from hawthorn berries…stay tuned for a blog post containing the recipe!
My onion harvest was grossly truncated by theft this year – aside from an earlier picking of smaller bulbs, the remainder of my onions (somewhere between 20 and 30 of them) were stolen from one of my community garden beds just over a week ago. The garden coordinator said that theft had been a huge issue this year (perhaps understandably, given our current global health crisis and high unemployment rates) and she was taking measures to try to mitigate the problem. Installing a trail cam to try to catch night-time prowlers was one first step, and she was considering new signage. I have had some minor theft from my beds in previous years (a few carrots there, an onion or garlic bulb or two), but this was the first time that an entire crop had been taken. I am always happy to help out anyone in need, so hopefully the thieves enjoyed some good meals from the plants. It made me chuckle a little when I noticed that they left my beets and kohlrabi alone – it appears the culprits had a refined palate and only wanted onions!
Our community garden actually has several beds in the garden that have been set aside and planted by students from one of the schools in the area for anyone in the community (not garden members) to harvest whenever they want to, but our garden coordinator noted that these aren’t the beds that are mysteriously losing produce in the middle of the night.
If you’re on Facebook, the Calgary Horticultural Society held a Facebook Live session earlier in the year to discuss theft and vandalism in community gardens – you can view the archived video here. (It’s public, so you don’t have to be a member of the page to watch it). This sort of thing is fairly common in community gardens and you just have to be aware of it and try not to get too upset when you’re at the receiving end. Gardeners do love to share, after all…I just kind of wish that the thieves would have left me a couple of onions. 🙂
Nasturtiums are always tucked into my vegetable garden. They are bountiful seed producers, and although I give away plenty, I still always have huge envelopes stuffed with seeds…so I’m a bit free with the sowing. I love how they bloom abundantly and beautifully right up until frost takes them.
You can eat the green seeds, if you’re so inclined – they are fabulous pickled if you’re into their unique peppery taste. The flowers have the same flavour, albeit milder, and are often used in green salads. This year, I was keen on making an infused vinegar with them, along the lines of the one I make from chive flowers.
All you need are two ingredients and a clean, sterilized jar with a tightly fitting lid and you’re good to go. Wash the nasturtium blossoms to get rid of all the insects and soil and other assorted things we don’t want to eat, then pack them tightly into a mason jar. Add white wine vinegar (my recommendation) or plain white vinegar and seal the jar. Place it in a cool, dark cupboard for about two weeks, then strain the flowers from the vinegar and discard them. Label the vinegar and keep it in the fridge. Aim to use it up within two to three months.
Do you grow nasturtiums in your garden? Do you eat them?
I’m a bit late in putting this up as I filmed it two weeks ago, but here is a short plant profile on ‘Candyland Red’ currant tomatoes. They’re a bit of a novelty, but I really love the size of the fruit for use in fresh green salads – they’re perfect!
You know that summer is getting a little long in the tooth when you see this…these are poppy seed heads at one of the community gardens I belong to. And yes, the sky really was that blue when I took this shot a couple of days ago. 🙂
I am delighted to announce that I have another guest on the blog! If you’ve been following this series on Flowery Prose, you’ll know that I’ve been posing a few questions to Prairie gardeners, inquiring about their experiences gardening in such a unique, challenging climate. I want to find out what they love about gardening in Alberta, what they find difficult, and what inspires them about growing. 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 Krista Green!
Where do you garden in Alberta?
My husband, our 3 children and I live on 4 acres south of Calgary near Black Diamond. We were able to move out of town to this small piece of land 4 years ago. Having a big backyard with lots of space to garden has been so amazing! I am loving it so much!
As a child I grew up in the country where we always had large vegetable gardens. Helping out in the garden and learning to weed was a part of my childhood. I lived in Vernon, B.C. until I was 14 (such an easier growing climate!) and really fell in love with gardening when I was around 10. That year I planted some pumpkin seeds, starting them indoors. I remember transplanting them into our garden there. They ended up a huge pumpkin patch growing so many pumpkins! I was hooked. I want our children to have this same opportunity to experience gardening, growing from seed and its reward.
What challenges do you think we face as gardeners in this province?
As Albertan gardeners we face so many challenges! Working within a very short growing season, cool weather, chinooks that can be so hard on perennial plants, deer and rabbits eating our plants, along with alkaline soil and water in much of the province to name a few.
I am always so encouraged when I am able to talk with other Albertan gardeners who grow successful vegetables, herbs and fruit and who understand these challenges.
It was for this reason I decided to start my blog with gardening tips specifically for our climate. This May I began my blog Zone 3 Vegetable Gardening with the goal of encouraging and helping other gardeners who desire to grow their own food in the cooler gardening zones. When looking for gardening tips and help, almost all of it seemed to come out of the warmer zones and it was difficult to know how to adapt for our Alberta climate. I have so many ideas and plans that I want to share with you to make your gardening more fun, successful and organized! Subcribe to my blog and be the first to find out what these are!
How can we overcome those challenges?
As an Albertan gardener I find it necessary to start things like flowers, tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumbers indoors early in the spring to offset our short growing season. I direct seed many vegetables such as carrots, peas, green onions, spinach, potatoes, beets and radishes at the end of April or beginning of May. This means these will be covered in snow a few times but I have found I have stronger plants that mature earlier by doing this. If I do lose some of the plants to the cold I just re-plant, but most years everything pulls through. I wait until after the May long weekend to plant the remainder of my vegetables such as beans and even into June to transplant my sensitive plants like my cucumber and squash. Some years my last frost is around mid June so I need to keep an eye out. I often end up covering parts of my garden during frost warnings in late May and early June. To read more about how I protect my plants from frost you can read my article Protecting Your Plants During Frost.
What inspires you about gardening?
Gardening feeds my soul. In the garden I feel at peace, I pray, I hear the joyful songs of the birds, I notice and am thankful for the buzzing of the bee. The breeze feels as though it blows life’s worries away. In the garden life is simple. Seeing the miracle of the growth of those tiny seeds I planted never ceases to amaze me. Feeding my family healthy and organic produce from my efforts is so satisfying! The smells, the sounds, the feels, the sights of gardening, they all inspire me! It is difficult to put into words how it fills me up and grounds me.
What types of plants are you most passionate about growing?
Definitely vegetables! And herbs. And fruit. Well I guess you could say anything you can eat. I enjoy growing flowers as well but personally don’t find them nearly as satisfying to grow. I am passionate about creating a lifestyle less dependent on others. I love growing our own food and learning all about sustainabillity! We have twenty-two chickens and plans to do fencing for sheep and possibly goats one day soon.
What gardening (or gardening-related) projects do you have on the go this year?
My biggest gardening related project this year has been my blog and my Instagram account. Computers are not my thing at all so there is a huge learning curve there! We also redid our deer fence this spring (I say we but that was really all my husband who did that). We switched from mesh netting to wire as the netting was torn. My husband built me a raspberry bed as well this spring. I hope to add another each year until I have a large raspberry patch. I would like to lay down cardboard this fall and top with a thick layer of compost to create a new perennial flower bed for next year as well as a large in ground potato garden. I am also hoping to experiment with growing herbs and veggies indoors under grow lights through the winter. We will see how that goes!
Did you set out with any gardening goals in mind for the growing season?
Some of my goals this season were to help my children plant and maintain their own little vegetable gardens. Having them home more due to COVID has allowed them more time to work alongside me in the garden, which I love! Another goal was growing brassicas. Something fairly new to me. I harvested some small broccoli and my first small cauliflower and am still waiting on the cabbage. Trying a few new things, experimenting and learning are always goals for every growing season.
If so, have you been able to accomplish them?
I would say yes. My children each have a beautiful veggie patch and are enjoying eating carrots, lettuce and peas from them daily. My eldest is getting better at recognizing weeds. (I’m thinking she doesn’t realize the weeding chores that will likely go along with this skill!) I tried growing okra for the first time. That was a big fail. I’m going to try again next year but in the greenhouse.
What are your plans for your garden for the future?
I hope to continue to improve my soil each year. I have very alkaline soil and that is always a battle for me. I want to build a cover for at least one of my raised garden beds to grow my brassicas under. To expand my garden! Can you ever have enough gardening space?
Thank you so much for this opportunity to do an interview with you Sheryl! You inspire and encourage me in my own gardening experience. I hope I will do the same for others.
Krista, it’s been a huge pleasure to interview you for Flowery Prose! Thank you so much for your insight and ideas – I know you’ve offered a ton of wisdom and support to many gardeners through your blog (Zone 3 Vegetable Gardening) and social media and I wish you continued success!
A few weeks ago, I was sent a question about fire blight – a gardener had a seriously infected hawthorn tree cut down in her yard and the arborist left the chips on the ground. She wanted to know if she should remove the chips or keep them; her second query was what types of trees she should plant in the hawthorn’s place. Fire blight is caused by a bacterium called Erwinia amylovora. It is spread by insects, birds, wind, and water, so it is likely to have traveled from another infected plant nearby.
My recommendation was to remove the chips and dispose of them at a landfill. As for the trees, fire blight affects members of the rose family, so I advised her to avoid those, or at the very least, look for cultivars within those genera that are fire blight resistant. Trees that are susceptible to fire blight include:
There are a few shrubs to avoid as well, including roses, spirea, and cotoneaster. Raspberries can also get fire blight but it is a different strain than the other plants mentioned can contract. By knowing which plants to avoid, better choices can be made about the new selection.
Late June, when this photo was taken, seems like it was eons ago. But it also somehow appears that I blinked and missed the entire month of July. My perception of time is all funny these days.
This gorgeous raging mass of water is Karst Springs, and while I’m sure it is an amazing sight at any time of the year, I’m thinking that it is at its most impressive in June, when the snowpack from the mountains is melting and every body of water is nearly in flood. Karst landscapes are typified by underground streams and formations such as caves; in this location, the water appears to gush out of a solid wall of limestone. It’s quite incredible, and the 10 kilometre hike (out and back) to get there is pretty much flat terrain the entire way.
First harvest of beans today! These are ‘Dragon Tongue’, a popular, easy-to-grow heirloom bush bean from the Netherlands. Gotta love those purple streaks – so pretty! I highly recommend this cultivar for prairie gardens and beyond.