The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter – July/August 2020.

The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter

July/August 2020

Welcome to the fourth 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

Request for book 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!

We’ve been on a podcast! 

Janet and I had the pleasure and honour of being guests on Agriculture for Life’s Know Your Food podcast, for not one, but TWO episodes! We talked about growing veggies and other edibles, encouraging children to catch the gardening bug, and the connection between the coronavirus pandemic, self-sustainability, and growing your own food…and a few other topics, besides!  Go to Ag for Life’s website to listen.

EPISODE ONE – click here!
EPISODE TWO – click here!

Winners of Flowery Prose blog contest

Congratulations to Sherryl H. and Linda H., who each won a set of The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases by participating in a contest run here on the blog earlier this month.  A huge thank you to our publisher, TouchWood Editions, for supporting the contest and providing the prizes for the winners!

Out and About

Sheryl:

After being laid off for nearly four months, I am back to work at the library and, combined with my writing schedule and gardening and the need to eke out a few fun summer activities while there is still time, I’m a wee bit swamped. I have an ever-accumulating load of articles to write, questions to answer for curious (and occasionally desperate and fed up) gardeners, thunderstorms to dodge (my tomatoes have spent half of their lives covered up with sheets to prevent hailstones from destroying them), and So. Much. Weeding.  The weed du jour (besides quackgrass, which is actually the bane of my existence): stinkweed (Thlapsi arvense).  At least stinkweed is an annual, and it spreads via seeds instead of rhizomes (or seeds AND rhizomes – shudder).  It’s easy to pull but there seems to be an incredible amount of it this year.  Stinkweed has the glorious distinction that if it is allowed to set seed, one plant can produce 15,000 seeds.  I’m pretty sure all of those germinated in my raised beds this year, alongside a zillion annual chickweed plants (Stellaria media), which are another story altogether.

A few articles that I wrote earlier in the year have made it to publication – check out “Harvesting Rain’’ in the Summer 2020 issue of The Gardener for Canadian Climates and “Superb Serviceberries” in Mother Earth Gardener.  Both of these are available on newsstands across Canada – and in the case of Mother Earth Gardener, you can find it anywhere in the United States, as well. (You can also read the article online here!). I also went a little farther afield than usual and wrote an article called “Opossums as Pollinators in Brazil” for the April 2020 issue of 2 Million Blossoms.  As you can imagine, that one was fascinating to research! This is a beautifully-produced, brand-new publication out of Arizona, dedicated to celebrating and “protecting our pollinators.” (If interested, you can order a subscription from their website).

I also had a chance to do a story about houseplants, for a change – my article “Devil’s Ivy vs. Philodendron: Which is Which?” can be found online at Farmers’ Almanac Check it out here! And, finally, “Using Colour in the Garden” was published in the July 4, 2020 issue of the newspaper The Calgary HeraldYou can read it here

Janet:

Unlike Sheryl I have been taking a hiatus from writing and workshops since the middle of June, although my article ‘Attracting Butterflies with Annuals’ is in the Summer issue of The Gardener for Canadian Climates. It was a joy to research, write and photograph and I hope any of you that take in this magazine enjoys it too.

My Horticultural Therapy programs are all in abeyance too, except for one that is online!

So, my days have been filled with planting, sowing and weeding all the gardens that folks in the programs usually do. Plus, every so often, getting into my own garden.

One thing I haven’t had to much at all is watering, seeing as the sky has repeatedly provided ample moisture. Apparently, Alberta is experiencing La Nina like conditions in the atmosphere which have been contributing to our cooler and wetter weather lately. There is also a 50/50 chance of a full blown La Nina for this winter. Can we say cold and snowy?

I have been loving the chance to get out into the wild where the wildflowers have been stunning along with the insects and birds.  Usually my days are filled in the summer months and I seldom get the chance to go out and about. If there is a silver lining to this year, it is the joy we Albertans are getting from relearning our own backyards and wild spaces!

Mountain bluebell – Jasper, Alberta (photo by Janet Melrose)
Western lily – Jasper, Alberta (photo by Janet Melrose)
Lady’s slipper orchid – Jasper, Alberta (photo by Janet Melrose)

In Our Gardens

Sheryl:

As I already mentioned, weeds are what’s happening.  We have had a lot of rain and now there are weeds everywhere.  I’m a bit weird in that I don’t mind weeding: I like to relax in the sun and pull and dig them up by hand.  Weeding is just a really nice opportunity to turn the ol’ brain off and listen to the birds sing and the bees buzz in the garden.  More importantly, it’s a way to get really up close with your plants and see what’s going on almost at soil level.  Sometimes you get in a rush and you run to the garden to grab a handful of lettuce for a supper salad, or you sprinkle some water over everything before you dash out to work in the morning and you don’t really SEE what’s going on out there.  You need to sit and go slow to do that.  If you take a look at our pests and diseases book, you’ll notice that we talk about Integrated Pest (Plant) Management.  One of the tenets of that practice is monitoring.  That’s one of the things you can be doing while you weed: monitor your cultivated crops and ensure they are healthy and stress-free. If they aren’t, maybe you can see what the problem is while you’re out there weeding.

In July and August, everything is up in the garden and you’re just taking it all in, harvesting a few crops here and there and waiting on others to get larger or to produce more.  We’ve been enjoying spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, scallions, garlic scapes, kohlrabi, and various herbs – and, of course, potatoes (which are honestly the real reason I grow vegetables, LOL). And now the beans are coming along as well and the zucchini (which is seriously late for me this year).   

A bit of hail damage isn’t stopping those nasturtiums and calendula! I always mix edible flowers into my veggie beds. (Photo by Sheryl Normandeau)

Janet:

I have been having so much fun working in my bed at Inglewood Community Garden. It is a 10’ x 4’ bed so I have taken our Victory Garden plan (which you can see here) and used it in this bed using the square foot gardening technique to control my urge to just add a bit more into it.

Bumper harvest – Inglewood Community Garden (photo by Janet Melrose)

It is producing magnificently with my four kale plants in full production, along with lettuce and chard galore. This year with all the rain our radishes were wonderful….mild tasting, beautiful round orbs and nary a radish maggot to be found. Soon it will be the turn of the pole beans, garlic and tomatoes as they all come into their own. And I grew the best cilantro I have ever done, with it tucked in the shadow of the tomatoes and under floating row cover the entire time. A testimony to the benefits of using this ‘gardeners’ best friend’, not to mention the value it provides as hail protection!

Best cilantro ever! (Photo by Janet Melrose)

As I love to get as much as I can from a space I have already sown more radishes where the cilantro was in the hopes that the conditions there will good enough to get a second delicious crop. While the first lettuces are being harvested using ‘crop and come again’ I have sown more seed to germinate while I munch through the first round of delicious leaves. When the garlic come out in a few weeks I have more seedlings growing in wintersowing jugs to take that space to continue the bounty!

Fantastic radishes! (Photo by Janet Melrose)

Floral Miscellany

Sheryl:

A couple of the questions that keep cropping up (pun intended) on the Alberta Gardening group on Facebook concern the topic of growing onions.  If you’re waiting on your onion bulbs to plump up and you know it’s going to be a few more weeks, what do you do if flowers suddenly show up?  Do you cut them off?  Do you leave them?  And some gardeners stomp down the tops of their onions at this point in the growing season because they think it will promote fatter bulbs – is that something that should be done?  (I’ve seen people recommend this for potatoes, as well).  Let’s get down to the bottom of this! 

Janet:

Continuing on with the Allium family, garlic (Allium sativum) is taking centre stage now. Our late and cool start to the growing season has meant that they are only now developing the distinctive curl to the scapes, but now is the time to snip those scapes back to the first set of leaves. A gourmet delight and expensive in stores, use them just as you would the cloves for your summer cuisine. They pickle and pesto perfectly too if you have too many to use fresh!

Then watch for the leaves to turn yellow and die back in the next few weeks. Once they are about one third brown harvest one to see if the bulb is big and well formed. If it is, then harvest the lot as left too long after that the quality starts to degrade. Cure for three weeks in a dry and warm spot and we have fantastic garlic for the winter months plus using the best bulbs our stock for planting come fall when the cycle begins again!

If you love growing garlic like I do check out Ron L. Engleland’s iconic book ‘Growing Great Garlic’.

Get Social with Us! 

Sheryl: 

Facebook: @FloweryProse

Twitter: @Flowery_Prose

Instagram: @flowery_prose

Janet:

Facebook: calgaryscottagegardener

Twitter: @calcottagegdnr

Instagram: calgaryscottagegardener

‘Til later!  ♥Sheryl and Janet

Prairie gardening tip: How to troubleshoot common radish problems (bolting and a lack of root development).

Someone recently sent me a question about radishes, and then I had a bit of a chuckle because the same thing she was complaining about happened to me this week: they bolted. To add insult to injury, when I pulled them, there were no beautiful globular roots, just some lovely greens and the start of a bloom. While radishes are often excitably touted as one of the easiest and quickest edible crops to grow, things do go wrong sometimes. So, let’s troubleshoot this:

About the bolting:

Heat usually is the cause. Radishes are a cool season crop and tend to freak out when the temperatures tip into summertime territory. Plant them early in the season (or late in the season, if you have that luxury) and you’ll have a better chance of success.

About the sumptuous tops and lack of bottoms:

Did you space them sufficiently apart in the container or bed? They need room for the roots to properly develop.

Did you add too much nitrogen-based fertilizer? That’s not going to produce generous roots.

Is your soil compacted? If so, you might end up with misshapen roots or none at all.

Too many cold, cloudy days. Radishes may be a cool-season crop, but they do need adequate sunlight for production.

That bolting thing. It all comes full circle…when the temperatures soar, the radishes think it’s flower and seed time and completely forget about their roots.

So, my radish problem? The seeds were sown just over two months ago, so late seeding isn’t a likely candidate. I can eliminate the compacted soil and the overabundance of fertilizer, as I know those are not the culprits. Spacing was more than adequate for the variety I planted. That leaves me blaming the weather, which – you have to admit – seems both plausible AND satisfyingly convenient. 😉

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Janet Melrose and I wrote more about radishes (and many other veggies) in The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables.

Do you grow radishes? Which cultivars are your favourites? Do you ever have problems with them?

Plant profile: Mugo pine.

Pinus mugo

Particularly at this time of year, when the new candles are formed, mugo pines may appear to be the angriest shrub of the plant world, looking for all the world like they are furiously gesturing to the idiot that cut them off in traffic. (Now you’ll never see them the same way again. You’re welcome). 😉

Mugos have shorter needles than most pines, but they’re still fairly long (up to two inches), elegant as befitting pine trees, and clustered in pairs. If you touch the needles, they’re not particularly soft like some other pines. Again, that sort of fits with the whole angry thing.

On the larger cultivars, the branches are supposed to sweep upwards in stiff arcs, but the shrubs themselves sometimes acquire a sprawling habit as they age (I completely understand this as I have, too), so this isn’t always accomplished as well as it should be. When left unkempt, unattractive bare spots often open up in the centre of the shrub. (You can – carefully and judiciously – prune the shrubs every few years to maintain a more tidy, compact shape). Smaller cultivars, such as the lovely ‘Mops’ (which really does look like a ploofy green mop turned upside down and stuffed into the ground), tend to be a tad more well-behaved.

Once you’ve got the ID down pat on these, you’ll start to realize how common they are, at least in urban areas here on the prairies. Their hardiness and compact size (small and smaller) make them tough to beat as landscape specimens. They’re pretty much a go-to for residential and commercial foundation plantings. Although it does occur in particularly harsh years, mugos tend to resist winter desiccation a bit better than many other conifers, and that’s a big deal around here.

This article that was published in the Calgary Herald in 2010 has some great tips for pruning and candling mugos to maintain a compact form.

What are your favourite conifers (small or large) in the garden? (It doesn’t matter where you live, I’d love to hear about them! They don’t have to be suitable for the Canadian prairies).

Prairie gardening tip: How to improve pollination of fruit trees.

Proper siting is key!

If you plan to grow fruit trees and shrubs that are pollinated by insects such as bees, consider your site carefully before you plant. If you are thinking about putting the plants in a windy, exposed site, your plants may not receive their very best chances at pollination. Bees don’t like working in the wind! (It totally ruins their hairdos). Instead, choose a more sheltered location to encourage the bugs to do their jobs in calmer conditions.

Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia) – site this small fruit tree or shrub out of the wind, if possible. Saskatoons are self-fertile, but there is the potential for higher yields of fruit if bees visit….

Do you grow any fruit trees or shrubs? I’d love to hear about them (it doesn’t matter if you live on the prairies or not!). What do you like best about them? Is there anything about them that you find challenging?

The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter – June 2020.

Welcome to the third 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. 

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Book News and Events

We held our virtual book launch via Facebook Live on the evening of May 31.  The event was hosted by the Alberta Gardening Facebook group and despite some major technical difficulties, we still managed to chat a bit about our books and answer a few prairie gardening questions for viewers.  A huge thank you to everyone who joined us!

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An article Janet and I wrote about updated-for-2020-small-space Victory Gardens is out and about on Facebook and the rest of the Internet – and it comes complete with a useful garden plot planner, gorgeously illustrated by Tree Abraham (who also did our amazing and unique book covers and designed the layouts).  Please feel free to share it!  P.S.: The garden plot in the article isn’t merely hypothetical – it actually exists!  It is the very one Janet is using this year in one of the community gardens she belongs to! 

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Janet did an amazing interview with Michele Jarvie of the Calgary Herald on May 16, talking about our books and the unique challenges of gardening on the prairies. You can read the article here. 

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We were on the radio again!  We did a segment with Doug Dirks on CBC Radio One’s Homestretch program on May 14. We talked a bit about our new books and dispensed a bunch of tips for long weekend gardening!  And Janet was a guest on 770 CHQR’s “Let’s Talk Gardening” show on Sunday, May 31.  The link to the podcast is here. 

Out and About

Sheryl: 

There has been a lot of walking and appreciating the fact that spring is bursting out all over the place.  I’ve done plenty of writing, and editing, too, as well as volunteering for the Calgary Horticultural Society and the Master Gardeners Association of Alberta answering online gardening questions.  It’s always difficult at this time of year to strike a balance between going slow to properly take in all the newness in the world and the unbelievably harried (and hurried) rush to get everything done…but this year is a bit different because I am not yet back to work at my regular job at the library.

Apple blossoms – Photo by Sheryl Normandeau

One of my articles, “Using Colour in the Garden,” has been published in the May 2020 issue of Calgary Gardening, the members’-only publication brought out by the Calgary Horticultural Society. 

Janet:

 Like Sheryl, I am trying my level best to enjoy our early growing season and this year the flowering trees and shrubs have been fabulous! I have been taking photos right, left, and center!

(Top left: Haskap; Top right: Forsythia; Bottom: Double Flowering Plum – Photos by Janet Melrose)

May was unbelievably busy with workshops with experienced and new gardeners all taking part in the webinars I have been involved in facilitating.

June is a slower workshop time as we are able to be outside in our gardens, but here are a few workshops happening to launch us into summer:

June 3rd – Embrace Gardening-  How to Get the Most out of Your Raised Bed Part 2

We will have spent May sowing and transplanting, and things are coming up and some may almost be ready to eat. While others should not have even gone into the soil outside yet! There’s more to edible gardening on the Prairies! To register, click here.  

June 4th– 2 Gals in a Garden – Sensational Succulent Planters

Succulents are a fascinating with all the different shapes, colours, and sizes! They are perfect in a container for a hot and dry summer. To register, click here

June 11th– Calgary Horticultural Society – Bringing Back the Bugs!

Creating a welcoming garden for all the critters that are so necessary to our world is one way; a very constructive way to contribute to the larger efforts to stem the insect crash of our times. To register, click here. 

June 18th– Beyond Kale* – Taking the Edible Garden Into the Summer!

Now that our gardens are growing strongly, let’s learn what we need to do to keep them that way!  To register, click here.  

In Our Gardens

Sheryl:

Lots going on!  The community garden which looked to be shuttered for the season has now reopened…and to my surprise, they weren’t full up, so the garden leader asked if I wanted to rent a second plot.  Twist my rubber arm! This gives me plenty of space to put more seed in…which I did, with huge enthusiasm, this past week.  Late in the month, I also planted the plot I acquired from the other community garden I joined – I put in potatoes, onions, and a few root veggies such as beets and rutabaga.  I know I will not be able to get over there often due to the distance I have to travel, so low-maintenance selections were key. I spent hours last week digging up quackgrass in my “new-old” community garden beds and found a pleasant surprise tucked in alongside the troublesome plants: clusters of dill weed volunteers.  I know some people find them annoyingly…erm…weedy, but to me, dill is a staple herb – my hubby and I love its fresh leaves in potato salad and other dishes, and I always bring some to seed to use when I make garlic dill pickles.  I will allow a few of these plants to grow and produce seed, and the thinnings I removed were scrubbed and used in a meal. 

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Dill weed – Photo by Sheryl Normandeau

In the communal beds at the “old” garden there are chives and lovage and rhubarb ready for all the plot holders…especially that lovage!  It grows so fast I think you could just sit in front of it for five minutes and new leaves would pop out before your eyes.  Be aware if you plant lovage that it is a perennial, that it gets to six feet tall (or over), that it has a propensity to reseed, and that you will ALWAYS have too much of it as a very little goes a long way in cooking.  But it is well worth having in the garden if you love to cook – it’s one of those herbs that once you’ve tried it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t plant it sooner. Plus, you seriously don’t have to do anything to get it to grow – it’s unbelievably maintenance-free.  

(Left to right: Lovage, Rhubarb – Photos by Sheryl Normandeau)

(Updated on June 22 to add this video I made to profile the herb lovage:)

Janet:

I am trying out our Victory Garden plan with my bed at the Inglewood Community Garden and going whole hog with a full-on Square Foot Gardening grid to boot! We were delayed getting into the garden while rules for operating during the pandemic were being figured out, but after the long weekend we got busy. I had already prepared the bed last fall and my garlic was up so I launched right into sowing all the cool season veggies on the plan along with some kale seedlings. Our monsoon rains took us out the next week but I was back in there again this week and took a chance and sowed some pole and runner beans, though I may regret it if the soil isn’t warm enough for them to germinate quickly. No way was I going to transplant my tomatoes and cucumbers in this early as the long-range forecast is calling for the obligatory cool  and rainy (maybe snow) episode the first weekend of June. Did you know that [famed championship horse jumping venue] Spruce Meadows [here in Calgary] changed the date of their first tournament [on the annual schedule] to the second weekend of June because that first weekend always was snowed/rained out? I’ll wait until June 10th for those tender transplants, thank you very much!

(Inglewood Community Garden Bed – Photos by Janet Melrose)

Lots of other gardens I am involved are getting planted too with the hope that sometime during the summer Horticultural Therapy programs can resume in some form or another and will want a garden growing strongly to greet everyone! It’s a time to try out all sorts of techniques and planting schemes not to mention a few old gardening saws to see how it all works out. For starters I am trying out a large 2 Sisters planting guild at the Between Friends Camp Bonaventure garden with lots of pumpkin plants surrounding the corn and beans to see if we can ward off the hares and deer that think that garden is a buffet planted just for them! If it works our returning gardeners should have a treat harvesting everything come September!

Floral Miscellany

Sheryl:

I recently came across an unusual piece of garden advice: apparently, to reduce the risk of seeds from squash such as zucchini from rotting in the soil before they germinate, you’re supposed to sow them with the edge of the seed slid vertically down into the soil, instead of laying the seed flat onto the soil surface.  Have you ever done this?  It’s not wise to direct sow squash seed into cold, wet soils, anyway – it’s better to instead wait for everything to heat up a bit.  (For squash and pumpkins, you’re looking at soil temperatures of 15.5 degrees Celsius/60 degrees Fahrenheit, minimum.  Waiting until the temperatures approach the mid- to high twenties is even better). If you do that, then you don’t have to worry which way is up (and more importantly, you’ll likely have better germination rates!).  I’ve been asked a few times whether or not it matters how you orient seeds when planting (as far as how it influences the way seeds germinate and grow) and this article from the Laidback Gardener gives one of the best explanations I have ever read. 

And, as the rhubarb is growing beautifully and thoughts turn to rhubarb pie and upside-down cake and pie again, I’ve put in my two cents’ worth about how to properly harvest the plant here:  

Janet:

As always, I am interested in weather and nature wisdom. Buffalo beans (Thermopsis rhombifolia) are blooming right now. They are so named because First Nations people used their bloom time to indicate that buffalo bulls were ready for the spring hunt! 

(Left to right: Lilac, Buffalo bean – Photos by Janet Melrose)

Another guide is to wait till the lilacs are in bloom before setting out tender seedlings such as cucumbers, squashes, and – dare I say it – tomatoes and eggplants. Seeing as the lilacs in Calgary are only just budding out, though I have seen a few in bloom downtown in the heat island, we had better pay heed and have the patience to wait till they are in full bloom.

You may like to check out an article by Steve Allen on the Harvest to Table website for lots more seasonal advice for planting this year! 

Get Social with Us! 

Sheryl: 

Facebook: @FloweryProse

Twitter: @Flowery_Prose

Instagram: @flowery_prose

Janet:

Facebook: calgaryscottagegardener

Twitter: @calcottagegdnr

Instagram: calgaryscottagegardener

 

‘Til next month!  ♥Sheryl and Janet

The books are here!

Picking up today’s mail was a much more delightful experience than usual….

“Over the moon” pretty much describes the feeling.  ♥

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The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter – May 2020.

 

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Welcome to the second issue of The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Monthly 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

The print versions of the books will be released this month!

The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases were released in e-book format on April 7, and print copies will be out on May 12! We are so thrilled that our publisher TouchWood Editions has given us this opportunity to get these books out into the hands of prairie gardeners!  You can order them from independent bookstores in Calgary such as Owl’s Nest Books, Shelf Life Books, and Pages in Kensington, as well as Audrey’s Books in Edmonton. They are also available from Chapters-Indigo, McNally-Robinson, and Amazon – you can use the links on our publisher’s website (click on either Janet’s bio or mine).  Look for them in bookstores and garden centres near you!

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On April 16, Janet and I were guests on CBC Radio One’s Homestretch program with Doug Dirks – we spoke a bit about our books and early planning for our favourite time of the year: spring!  If you want to listen to our segment, click here.

Out and About

Sheryl:

This month may seem slow as I don’t have evidence of everything I’ve been working on – no new published articles this go-around!  But I have been writing up a storm, plugging away at the next two manuscripts in the Guides for the Prairie Gardener series and a slew of articles that will be published later in the year (and one already for next summer!).  I’ve researched and written about everything from dragonflies to herbal adaptogens to beardtongues to leaf mold over the past few weeks…never a dull moment!

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In mid-April, I took in an online class through the University of Saskatchewan.  It was taught by Egan Davis, the principal instructor of horticulture training at the University of British Columbia, and covered an interesting and relevant topic: Ecologically Modeled Planting Design (EMPD).  To simplify the concept, it’s basically the antithesis of modern gardening, where we have tended to work with static landscapes (plants are grown and mature in place and decline fairly rapidly, usually within a couple of decades).  EMPD is constructed in phases, and it is dynamic and long-lasting, taking as its inspiration the natural world and the way that plant communities evolve in the wild.  The presentation left me with a lot to muse about, and ideas to delve deeper into.

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Otherwise, I’ve been getting outdoors daily for long walks, taking in as much of spring as I can possibly soak up.  The pond near my home is a favourite destination for me…and a myriad of duck species.  The red-winged blackbirds arrived last week; their “rusty gate hinge” calls are a sure sign of the changing season.

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Photo by Sheryl Normandeau

Janet:

April turned into a really busy month for me! Like Sheryl, I have been writing like crazy on our books for 2021, articles and new workshops too! Plus trying out all sorts of techniques  indoor sowing and growing. Some worked out beautifully, such as the leeks I finally got to germinate and have a nice crop on the go, but some not so much as I have killed many a lettuce seedling pricking them out. I have lots of kale, tomatoes and cucumbers  on the go and about a zillion wintersowing jugs starting to germinate now outside. Lately of course now that it has stopped snowing, it has been a delight going out into the garden to see what has bloomed overnight with crocuses, snowdrops, and other spring bulbs popping up.

Photos by Janet Melrose (l-r: crocus, wintersowing)

What really made my month busy was learning, literally overnight, how to do online workshops and Horticultural Therapy sessions! It’s quite a skill and not one I had on my bucket list for 2020 for sure, but it’s fun getting together virtually and learning gardening when we are stuck at home!

In May and early June I have a number of workshops scheduled on a range of topics and with a number of groups, all of which are open to everyone!  You register either through Eventbrite or on the Calgary Horticultural Society’s website. Most are talks, but others have a hands on component either with supplies you bring in yourself and others where a kit is delivered to you. I do hope that you will be able to sign in for at least one!

May 5th – Garden On! – How to Get the Most out of Your Raised Bed

Got a raised bed? Learn how to get the very best out of it with planting strategies and practice to maximize your space to the best effect!

For more info and to register, click here. 

May 6th – Beyond Kale* – Small Space Edible Gardening

Those who have limited space or access to a ‘regular’ garden can garden effectively and creatively in containers, taking advantages of all the benefits of this style of gardening and minimizing the disadvantages, and have fun too!

For more info and to register, click here. 

May 7th – 2 Gals in a Garden – Fun, Frivolous and Functional 3 Season Flowering Containers –

A full hands-on Workshop on designing, planting and caring for flowering planters this season.

For more info and to register, click here.

May 12th – Calgary Horticultural Society – Native Plants for Alberta Gardens

Alberta is blessed with profuse and varied native species that are naturally suited to their particular ecological niche. By including them in plant selection, gardeners can save time, energy, money and frustration in efforts to garden wisely and successfully in our challenging environment.

Includes a demo planting…that you can do as well with materials purchased by yourself for the night!

For more info and to register, click here. 

May 13th – Embrace Gardening – Garden Self-Sufficiency  

Growing produce this year is never more important. To learn and know that you can grow part of your food is gardening self-sufficiency.

For more info and to register, click here. 

May 14th –  2 Gals in a Garden- Mixed Edible Planters- A full hands-on Workshop

Grow Your Own Veggies, Fruit and Edible Flowers In Planters to Fit Any Space! And plant up your own container during the workshop!

For more info and to register, click here. 

May 21st– Calgary Horticultural Society -Intensive Planting

How to grow more in less space! Includes a demo planting…that you can do as well with materials purchased by yourself for the night!

For more info and to register, click here.

May 28th– 2 Gals in a Garden- Mighty Herbs-A full hands-on workshop

Herbs belong in every garden, big and small! Join us to learn about culinary herbs, then plant your own container !

For more info and to register, click here. 

In Our Gardens

Sheryl:

The community garden I’ve been a member of for the past few years looks like it will be shuttered due to some ongoing issues, so I’ve been scrambling to find a new garden group to work with.  Fortunately, I found a plot in a garden in a community just south of where I live, and I’m looking forward to joining their membership!

My tomatoes are toodling along indoors and will be hardened off and planted out in a few weeks into large containers on my balcony. In late April, I sowed radishes, Swiss chard, and lettuce in containers outside on the balcony, and some spinach seeds went in today.  And of course, there are plentiful garlic greens, pea shoots, and mustard sprouts going on indoors…it’s fun to keep these going successively so you can always have fresh fixings for sandwiches and salads. 

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Photo by Sheryl Normandeau

Janet: 

It is amazing! Ever since Spring arrived on April 20th the garden has woken up and started blooming with spring bulbs flowering everywhere along with the Hepatica. The insects are out too to my great surprise as in the past couple of years they kept under cover until mid-May. Chives are already growing and ready to use and the rhubarb has poked its nose out to sniff the air. Perennials are sending out new growth and the robins are back along with the waxwings that eat the last of the mountain ash berries.

My bed at the Inglewood Community Garden has had its winter blanket of burlap sacks removed, and I can see garlic coming up under the floating row cover. My containers of edibles back at home are sprouting radishes, spinach, pac choi and arugula. I am so looking forward to some early greens in a few weeks!

Photos by Janet Melrose (t: Hepatica; l-r: cucumbers, chives, rhubarb)

Floral Miscellany

Sheryl: 

Have you ever heard of a condition called tulip fingers?  It’s an interesting – and potentially painful and itchy! – bit of plant chemistry that you can read all about here.

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Seems like plenty of Prairie gardeners are planting raspberries this year – I’m seeing lots of mentions on social media! Did you know that the first written record of raspberries as an edible/medicinal plant was in an English herbal in 1548?  It is believed that the fruit has its origins thousands of years ago in Asia.  There are 200 species of raspberries worldwide – and that’s not counting all the cultivars! The Government of Alberta recommends the following varieties for Prairie gardens:

Floricane types (summer bearing): 

‘Boyne’

‘Festival’

‘Killarney’

‘Honeyqueen’

‘SK Red Mammoth’

Primocane (fall bearing – mid- to late August):

‘Red River’

‘Double Delight’

‘Summit’

‘Autumn Bliss’

‘Fall Brook’

Janet: 

If April brought snow showers, we are really hoping that May bring flowers! But we had better not be too hasty! May can bring lots of abrupt changes to the weather and in Calgary we have had snow on the May long weekend and just plain rain more often than not. Actual snow fell seven times since 2000, and 2016 was the second coldest May long weekend in 40 years! Though 2018 was gorgeous. As a weather geek I am already wondering about our upcoming holiday weather for 2020!

CTV News, “Snow makes long weekend appearance in Calgary and surrounding areas,” May 22, 2016. 

Global News, “2016 the second coldest May long weekend in Calgary in at least 40 years,” May 23, 2016. )

But if May is iffy, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be sowing. Many vegetables should be sown well beforehand, and can weather just about whatever weather we get thrown at us this month. Here is a handy guide put out by Agriculture Alberta for the soil temperatures for many of our common vegetables, plus some historical data to help us plan our sowing!

Get social with us! 

Sheryl: 

Facebook: @FloweryProse

Twitter: @Flowery_Prose

Instagram: @flowery_prose

Janet:

Facebook: calgaryscottagegardener

Twitter: @calcottagegdnr

Instagram: calgaryscottagegardener

 

‘Til next month!  ~Sheryl and Janet♥

A few books by Prairie authors.

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If you’re a birder in the Prairie provinces and want to check a few prime locations off of your bucket list, this book is indispensable!  Best Places to Bird in the Prairies is written by experts in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, and it is filled with detailed tips on how to get to each destination, a description of the type of conditions and facilities to expect when you get there, and – most importantly! – a snapshot of which species to anticipate (depending on the time of year).  Make sure this compact guidebook by John Acorn, Alan Smith, and Nicola Koper has a permanent place in your bag with your camera and binoculars  – you’ll find yourself eagerly consulting it to plan your next outing.

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Landscape architect, university professor, world traveler, artist, and self-proclaimed “Prairie girl,” Calgarian Beverly A. Sandalack has created an utterly delightful cookbook/travelogue/sketchbook in Recipes & Ramblings (2019).  The recipes are derived from international cuisine and seem perfectly accessible to any cook, regardless of experience. Her anecdotes about her travels are fascinating and candid, and, combined with her beautiful photography and illustrations, Sandalack’s “ramblings” are thoroughly engaging. The book is available in Calgary at select stores – click here to see where you can buy it if you’re in the city.  (Some of these stores may be closed or available for delivery or curbside pickup only as I write this post in early April).

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Calgary author Ramona Heikel has written a couple of important children’s nonfiction books for Beech Street Books: Black History in Canada: Famous Black Canadians (2019) and Immigration to Canada – Then and Now: Chinese Immigrants in Canada (2018). Click on the titles to check out descriptions of the books and her experiences writing them on her blog, Happily Writing.  A huge congratulations, Ramona!

What are you reading right now?

 

 

The e-books have been released!

Just bursting in really quickly to let everyone know that the e-book versions of The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases are out today on Kobo and Kindle!  (The print version will be out on May 12 and I’ll keep everyone posted on where copies are being sold).  It’s an exciting day!♥

You can order at these links and have the books on your reader in just a few minutes:

The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables – Kobo (Kobo.com) 

The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables – Kindle (Amazon.ca)

The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases – Kobo (Kobo.com) 

The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases – Kindle (Amazon.ca)

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Book review: Soil Science for Gardeners by Robert Pavlis.

Print

Soil Science for Gardeners: Working with Nature to Build Soil Health by Robert Pavlis (2020, New Society Publishers)

The importance of soil – and particularly, soil that is full of life – to the success of a garden cannot be understated in any way.  When our soil deteriorates – becomes compacted, perhaps, or crusty or covered in chemicals – we can’t help but take notice. Otherwise, most of us tend to hum along, grateful that it’s doing well and giving our plants a place to thrive, but we don’t really stop to think about what soil is, how it is composed, and how we can keep it healthy and supportive to our beloved green babies.

Soil Science for Gardeners to the rescue!  (And I do mean to the rescue…there is actually a section at the end that you can use to play doctor with your own garden soil, figure out what is working and what isn’t, and set yourself some “soil” goals for future improvements.  If that isn’t useful, I don’t know what is).

Pavlis starts us out by discussing the components of soil, addressing particles and structure and pH, as well as nutrients and how plants take them up from the soil.  Yes, there is some chemistry involved – there has to be! – but he succeeds in making it all a little less daunting for those of us who are a little fuzzy about formulas….

One of my favourite sections in the book is about soil life.  When was the last time you thought about all the bacteria and fungi and algae and nematodes and earthworms and other organisms that are rumbling around beneath the roots of your kale and broccoli?  Pavlis talks about how they’re all part of the big picture.  He delves deeply into the importance of organic matter and compost (and busts some myths along the way!), as well as gives us a crash course on the rhizosphere, which you’ll then consider and appreciate every time you plant.

Of course, you can’t have a book about soil science for gardeners without talking about all the potential problems with our soils.  The detailed discussion on identifying soil issues and how to resolve them is extremely useful for readers to refer to time and time again.  The focus on how the gardener’s inputs – mulching, tilling, using cover crops and so on – will affect soil health is particularly appealing, and may cause some of us to rethink a few of our practices or make amendments (pun intended).

I cannot recommend this book more highly! Soil science has been an integral part of my horticultural studies over the years and I’ve read a good number of books on the subject.  What sets this book apart is how accessible and practical it is to new and experienced gardeners alike.  It is comprehensive and thorough and yet written in such a way that anyone can grasp the concepts without needing a science degree. Plus, you might actually find that you find the topic rather enjoyable! That takes the kind of skill, knowledge, and expertise that Pavlis consistently reveals on his website Garden Fundamentals.

 

*I was given a copy for review by New Society Publishers, but all the thoughts and views expressed are my own.