Book review: Build a better vegetable garden.

There’s still snow on the ground here, although there have been sightings in the area of crocus foliage (not in my garden, sadly – although I’ve been going out every morning to take a look, just in case something’s changed overnight.  Nope, just snow). It doesn’t matter. I’ve already ordered some seeds and I’ve got the veggie garden all mapped out (Version 8.0 or thereabouts – we all know I’ll be revising until the very day I plant, especially if the seed catalogues keep coming!).

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And I’ve been looking at a few new books. I was sent a copy of Joyce and Ben Russell’s Build a Better Vegetable Garden: 30 DIY Projects to Improve Your Harvest (2017, Frances Lincoln Limited/Quarto, London) for review and it hasn’t left my desk…I keep picking it up and browsing through it.  Whether you’re an experienced gardener or a newbie, there are projects in here that can get you growing in no time: setting up a raised hoop tunnel, designing and constructing a raised bed, building your own wooden planters, creating a cold frame, or making a trellis for climbing beans.  Other projects you may not have immediately thought of include making your own seed trays (and dibber!), a storage rack for your tools, a wire support for raspberries, a handy trug, a cabinet with trays for drying the harvest, and a beautiful decorative obelisk.  The best part about this book is you don’t need to be a certified woodworker or carpenter to do any of these projects.  You don’t need specialized tools (most can be done with a basic drill, a couple of types of saws, some hand tools and hardware you can easily pick up and afford).  Nearly all of the projects are made from wood.  And the instructions are straightforward, easy to understand, and very clearly photographed so you’re not guessing at any stage of the project.  I am the least crafty person I know, and I have confidence I could undertake most of these projects without making a huge mess of them (or losing a limb in the process). 😉  I really think this book would be a fantastic gift for a new gardener or homeowner – and it would be extremely useful for anyone setting up a community garden or allotment as well.  Highly recommended (and that’s my honest opinion!).

Do you have any recommendations for gardening books that have you feeling excited and inspired as you plan (or dig in) for the new season?  Tell me what you’ve been poring over, I’d love to hear! 

December blog fun.

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December first: the ice cleats are firmly affixed to my boots and I’m ready to take on the next ten months of winter! (I exaggerate, but only slightly).

I have a ton of really great stuff to share today – here goes:

New to me is this fantastic site: Plant Curator, a wholly-engrossing mix of botany and art.  I seriously could spend hours going through the entries.  This link takes you to some floral-themed art from M.C. Escher, but if his work isn’t to your taste, click on the menu headings at the top of the page to see everything the site has to offer.

The New York Public Library has digitized over 700,000 items, including photographs, maps, manuscripts and video – and it’s all free to everyone with Internet access.  Click over to the site to enjoy this treasure.

Another amazing treat: the over 10,000 cylinder recordings that have been digitized and are available for free from the University of California-Santa Barbara Cylinder Audio Archive.  These are priceless recordings from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s and include music, speeches and readings.

These “shadow” drawings by artist Vincent Bal are just plain clever.

A huge shout-out to some amazing bloggers:

Laurie Graves, of Notes from the Hinterland, has just published her YA novel Maya and the Book of Everything – congratulations, Laurie!  Read about the book and how to order it here.

Have you ever felt this way about a book?  Yeah…I thought so.  Read Margot’s post on Death Defying Acts of Living – I know you’ll agree.

Adrian Thysse has posted some incredible footage of honeybee hive activity – while you feast your eyes on his work, remember that he wasn’t wearing any protective gear while filming!

A fantastic find:

Paul Martin Brown’s book Wild Orchids of the Pacific Northwest and Canadian Rockies (2006, University Press of Florida).  Truly, a valuable resource if you want to ID and learn about western wild orchids.  The keys are easy to use and Brown offers all the botanical info you need, plus notes on history and naming, as well as decent photography and excellent botanical illustrations by Stan Folsom.  Not a book everyone is going to have a use for, but if this is a topic you’re interested in, I’d highly recommend it.

And, finally:

I started a project over at Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction that may interest you if you write flash fiction stories.  There is an open call for submissions now until December 25, so send in your work as soon as possible.  (If you’ve never written flash fiction before, give it a try – it’s a great way to have fun with really short prose).   Please pass along news of this call for subs to any writers you know!

Clipart credit.

October blog fun.

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It’s been a snowy, blustery, busy autumn so far!  I hope things are a bit quieter (and warmer) in your neck of the woods and you’ve been able to enjoy the changes of the season.

I’m playing it short and sweet on the link front this month:

These examples of typewriter art are fantastic!   Did you learn to type on a manual or an electric typewriter, or have you never used one at all?

Alberta-based macro photographer Adrian Thysse recently posted some stellar images of fungi found in our province.  Take a close look (see what I did there?) here.

Many of you may already be following the excellent blog Garden in a City – Jason’s post about not cutting down perennial plants at the end of autumn is both timely (for those of us in the northern hemisphere) and valuable!

And here’s another great post about end-of-season garden clean-up.  What are your thoughts?  Do you wait until spring to do these sorts of tasks?

Thousands of lantern slides from the 1800’s and early 1900’s have been digitized and posted online at various sites – you can check out the databases via this link.  Incredible examples of an early form of photography.

Check out these amazing photographs of bird’s nests and egg specimens, collected over the past two hundred years and exhibited at several zoological institutions.

Stuff I’ve posted elsewhere:

A book review for Alberta author Eileen Schuh’s latest novel, The Shadow Riders.

Plus…a couple of my articles have been recently published:  “Four Centuries of Gardening” in the 2017 Old Farmer’s Almanac, and “Fall Cleaning Hacks with Herbs” in the Fall issue of The Herb Quarterly (both on newsstands now).  And…upcoming…my short story “The Beauty of Mount Sagitta” (featuring pterodactyls!  And rare plants!) will be a part of the super-toothy anthology Sharkasaurus! from Fossil Lake.  Yes, all those exclamation points are absolutely necessary….

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Clip art credit.

July blog fun.

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I’m running a bit late with my monthly round-up, but you know the old cliché….

Here’s the interesting story of how the library that straddles the U.S.-Canada border in Derby Line, Vermont and Stanstead, Quebec navigates the delicate technicalities of security while providing the reading materials patrons want (in both countries!).

Tulip season is long over, but these aerial photographs of the tulip fields in The Netherlands are delightful any time of the year.

The living installation that The Flower Council of Holland created in front of the National Gallery of London earlier this summer featured 26,500 fresh flowers – wow!  See photos and a video illustrating the making of A Still Life of Flowers in a Wan-Li Vase here.   

This brief account of French horticulturist Victor Lemoine’s work with hybridization and lilac breeding in the 19th century is absolutely fascinating.

Blogger circles are tight, so you may already be familiar with the writings of Cynthia Reyes.  Her post about “Creative Complaining” is a truly thoughtful read.

Some of the articles I was busy working on late last year and early this spring have been published – here is a sampling:

  • “Processing, Storing, and Preserving Sea Buckthorn Berries” in The Canadian Organic Grower magazine, Summer 2016 issue (available for order on their website)
  • “How To: Site a Garden Pond” in The Gardener for the Prairies, Summer 2016 issue (available on Canadian newsstands now)
  • “Herbal Wax Melts” in The Herb Quarterly, Summer 2016 issue (available on North American newsstands now)

I’ve also put together a short e-book of GF recipes up on Amazon – you can find On the Go Gluten Free Snacks here.

I squeaked out a new post on my Grit.com blog Blooms and Spoons, this one about drying strawberries (if you haven’t done this yet, do try – they are delicious!).

And a few more books were mentioned on The Door is Ajar:

Moira Young – Rebel Heart.

Louise Penny – Still Life.

Orest Stelmach – The Boy from Reactor 4.

I hope you enjoyed these links!   Have a wonderful weekend!  

(Clipart credit).

 

 

Flowery Friday, April blog fun – and a Book review: Mother Earth News Almanac.

April is here!  That means we might just get a bit of rain in Calgary…and maybe some cherry blossoms (if they don’t freeze off).  And tulips (if the rabbits and deer don’t eat them first).  Clearly, a month of “if’s”….

Typical spring.  😉

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My favourite furry flower, Pulsatilla patens – Nose Hill, Calgary, 28 March 2016

I spent the month of March doing more researching and querying than actual writing, and while I was busy with that, my e-mails collectively undertook a massive construction project that is now approaching monument status…we’re talking the Egyptian pyramids or something of that ilk. So I maybe need to do something about that this upcoming week. Ahem.

And I’ve been spring cleaning and organizing!  I mean, moving files and piles around.  No, seriously, I’m actually making a tiny dent, even though it might be NEXT spring when I see truly decent results.  But just the small amount I’ve done so far is refreshing.

Speaking of files, here are a few interesting things I came across this past month:

  • A snowy owl speculates on landing a coveted modelling gig – yep, you read that right.  Go here.  You’ll love the rest of Lyle Krahn’s blog, too – nothing better than fantastic wildlife photos combined with a wonderful sense of humour!
  • A profile of the life and work of Felicitas Svejda, the geneticist responsible for the breeding of the hardy Explorer roses.  Canadians who grow roses owe much to her dedication and passion for plants that could survive our crazy winters and short growing season.
  • Photographer Beth Moon’s portraits of the world’s most ancient trees are absolutely incredible.  Head over to the gallery and enjoy.
  • Take a look at  some samples from Saxon Holt’s fledgling Photo Florilegium project.

I’ve been posting some items elsewhere:

Finally, this was a really fun book to read for review – I started out randomly flipping through the pages but then had to chow down on it cover-to-cover.  Now, ask me something….

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Mother Earth News Almanac:  A Guide Through the Seasons (2016, Voyageur Press, Minneapolis) 

Whether you’re a modern homesteader or an urban DIY-er, you’ll find a useful tip or hundreds in the Mother Earth News Almanac (2016).  Want to know something about natural pest control?  How to build a stove out of an aluminium can?  Need recipes for popcorn balls or cherry preserves or tips on how to sour cream or sprout seeds for eating?  What about sinking fence posts or cobbling together a working substitute for a broken cotter pin?  Whether it’s raising livestock (or cats), making crafts, foraging for wild foods, or constructing, you name the topic – you’ll probably find something new and interesting about it in this book.  The entries are concise and informative, divided into categories based upon the seasons of the year, and the book is illustrated throughout with black ink line drawings, diagrams, and tables.  Fascinating and practical lifestyle hacks for everyone!

(* Many thanks to Voyageur Press for providing a copy of this title for review. I did not receive any compensation for my opinion, which is my own).

 

What are you most looking forward to this month?

Book reviews: Water-Smart Gardening and High-Value Veggies.

It’s officially spring! (I’d put a few more exclamation points in there, but I side with many grammarians who believe that as a punctuation mark, they’re utterly overused. Everyone is really excited these days, apparently). But, hey, spring!

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So…although I can’t really do much in the garden just yet except contrive methods of humane squirrel discouragement (why oh why do they have to be so adorable?), I’ve been doing a lot of reading about gardening. There are plenty of new books on the subject being published right about now, and here are two interesting and very relevant titles from Cool Springs Press:

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Water-Smart Gardening:  Save Water, Save Money, and Grow the Garden You Want by Diana Maranhao

I was particularly keen on this title because we just came out of the driest winter I can remember. While it was nice not to have to worry about breaking a wrist from falling on an icy, snow-covered sidewalk, it wasn’t the best situation for the plants. (The verdict is still out whether or not all my perennials made it. And I was recently talking to a fellow gardener at the community garden and she figured that the warm temperatures and lack of snow cover caused some of her fall-planted garlic to rot. I’m so glad I took a cue from last year’s garlic disaster and hadn’t planted any).

Last summer and autumn were hot and dry as well, and there’s no telling how our summer will round out this year. It could be very tricky to keep the plants going. Making sure supplemental irrigation is available has always been a necessity on the Prairies, for farmers and gardeners alike, but what if we have government-imposed water restrictions? Many jurisdictions are forced to go this route when water supply is stretched. As author Maranhao comments, drought is becoming a big issue world-wide, but no one seems to be doing anything concrete about it. This book is her solution to gardening successfully with low water use, and she has all sorts of solid, practical (and often creative) ideas about what to do. She covers plant selection (with a focus on zonal plantings), growing in microclimates, soil health, best planting/cultivation practices, and of course, a host of smart irrigation practices including swales, rain barrels, and in-ground and drip systems.

Maranhao’s most important advice?  “Garden within your environment.” I’m totally with her on that!

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High-Value Veggies: Homegrown Produce Ranked by Value by Mel Bartholomew 

You all know Bartholmew as the creator of square foot gardening, but I must admit I was rather more excited by this book than any others he’s previously written. The concept behind High-Value Veggies is that many of us tend to grow vegetables in our gardens that are already mass-produced and inexpensively-purchased at the grocery stores or local markets. His suggestion is that we abandon the idea of growing those “low-value” crops and instead focus on the ones that are really pricey to buy. He proceeds to break it all down by inputs (tools and equipment, amendments, irrigation) as well as the cost of land and labour and then stacks them up against the potential return on investment (U.S. stats, but likely fairly translatable in Canada and possibly Europe). All of this yields (pun intended) a top ten list of plant selections that Bartholomew profiles in more detail. There are definitely some edible plants that make more economical sense to grow than others!

I was thinking about this in terms of my community garden plot. The restrictions of space mean I need to choose which crops I plant very carefully every year, and although I may not have specifically thought about return on investment, I know I don’t always grow plants that I can buy for a reasonable price from local growers at the farmers’ market.  Bartholomew’s suggestions are seriously worth considering before the seeds are purchased for the year – and it doesn’t matter what scale of gardening you’re doing.

 

*Many thanks to Cool Springs Press for providing copies of these new titles for review. I did not receive any compensation for my opinions, which are my own.

Gardening books for children.

I recently wrote an article about gardening with children and I couldn’t help myself, I had to add in a bit about reading and books. The two activities truly go hand-in-hand!

The community garden I have a membership with has worked for many years in conjunction with the nearby library branch (that I just so happen to be employed at) to hold story time programs in the summer months. One of the library assistants takes a bunch of books out to the garden on a mid-week morning and children from all over the community and beyond gather with their parents and other family members to listen. Needless to say, it is a very well-received program!

Alberta-based writer/speaker/blogger April Demes published a fantastic post last spring about her favourite gardening books for children – you can check it out here. I have a few other titles to add:

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April Pulley Sayre – Rah, Rah, Radishes!  (I previously mentioned it here).

and Go, Go, Grapes!

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Fresh veggies and fruit have never been so much fun. I love the illustrations, too – they’re bold and bright and eye-catching.

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Stefan Page – We’re Going to the Farmers’ Market

This board book for the very young is the perfect introduction to an outing at the market and all the delicious produce you can find there.

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Kadir Nelson – If You Plant a Seed

There aren’t many words in this book, but they’re chosen with a powerful message in mind. This is less a book about gardening than it is about consideration and kindness. Nelson’s paintings are absolutely incredible – a real must-see.

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Julie Fogliano – And Then It’s Spring

Sweet, soft, and inviting.  Like spring should be, but often isn’t.  😉

 

Elly Mackay – If You Hold a Seed

A beautiful story about a boy and a tree as they grow up together. Dream big!

Watch Mackay’s fascinating process for creating her papercut illustrations here.

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Kevin Sheehan – The Dandelion’s Tale

One of my favourite children’s picture books in recent years. (I previously mentioned it on my other blog The Door is Ajar -click here).

 

What are your favourite gardening or garden-related books for children?