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. 🙂
The e-book versions have been available in the catalogue for several months now, but we unpacked some boxes of new books at work last week and guess what was in one? I couldn’t resist taking a photo of them sitting in their new homes out on the floor…hopefully they circulate like crazy!
(If you want to purchase, not merely borrow, a copy of the first two books in The Guides for the Prairie Gardener series, click here for more information! They are available in bookstores all across the Prairie provinces and via online retailers).
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.
I have started a YouTube channel about gardening on the prairies and beyond. You likely won’t see me in front of the camera anytime soon and the production values may lack a certain snazziness, but I’m dispensing some (hopefully) useful tips and showing off some plants in my garden and a bit further afield. If you’re interested, please check out my channel and subscribe to keep up with my new videos!
If you’re looking to freeze berries without sugar and don’t want them to clump up in storage, try this method. Get a large baking sheet and line it with a piece of baking parchment. Wash the berries well and pick out any stems and other debris (including insects!). 😉 Spread the berries in a single layer on the baking sheet and pop the sheet, uncovered, into a large freezer for at least six hours. Remove the baking sheet and immediately pack the berries into storage bags. Label the bags and put them back into the freezer until use. The berries freeze individually, which makes them easier to work with and measure out when you want to use them in baking and cooking. This method works supremely well for fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, currants, saskatoons, and haskap (pictured – this was part of a haul I picked on a very cold, damp day a few weeks ago on a farm outside of Calgary. I was shivering so much a few not-quite-ripe ones snuck in, LOL).