In the garden: pleasant surprises.

I finally finished my garden clean up this past weekend.  I don’t have perennial beds at our new home; my new garden space is a combination of containers on the balcony and a plot at the nearby community garden. Clean up was easy: I had no issues with diseases with my container plants so all the soil was dumped into a large covered tote and left on the balcony for use next season, and the pots were all scrubbed and put into indoor storage so they don’t freeze and crack.  Clean up at the community garden was also a cinch: our garden committee encourages members to leave plants in place and chop and drop them in the spring.  (I am a huge fan of this! Keeping the dried plants in place over winter helps prevent a bit of soil crusting, as the garden is fully exposed during chinook winds and freeze and thaw cycles. The plants may also provide a safe haven for beneficial insects such as ladybugs, and the sunflowers in some of the other plots may be useful for hungry birds).  I did pull the pumpkin and zucchini plants, as they were beset with a vicious case of powdery mildew.

My garlic is planted at the community garden and mulched and hopefully snug for the winter, and I sunk a large container of alpine strawberries into the raised bed there in the hopes that they might survive. (I don’t have any in-ground spaces like I used to).  I’ll winter sow some more strawberry seeds outside in early March as insurance.

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I haven’t had a lot of time to review this year’s gardening season.  It was a challenging one, as far as the weather was concerned. Spring wasn’t gradual and wet; instead, we were blasted out of the gate with mid-summer-like heat and no rain.  Some direct-sown seeds refused to germinate, even with supplemental irrigation. Our summer was hot and filled with forest fire smoke, and we had a couple of severe hailstorms that handily trashed plants in mere seconds.  Many gardeners I talked to fought multiple insect infestations, but aside from the cutworms early in the season, I was fortunate in that regard. And then, just as everyone was still hoping their pumpkins would ripen on the vine and they would get some tomatoes that were a colour other than green, we were hit with two weeks of snowfall and bitter cold in September.

One pleasant surprise in my garden (besides these) were the ‘Le Puy’ lentils I grew for the first time.  The plants are pretty, resembling some of our common vetches so much that I thought perhaps I’d get in trouble for harbouring weeds.  The deer find them attractive, as well, which definitely reduced the quantity I was able to harvest.  Compared to some of my other plants, the lentils didn’t seem to require much care – a regular watering schedule was the most important thing, and they made it through the heat better than my sweet peas and sugar peas.

I quickly realized that the timing of harvest is critical with lentils.   The pods must be picked when they are dry, but if you wait too long (a scant few minutes, it seems!), they shatter, blasting the seeds across the soil or the entire garden or into the parking lot in the street adjacent.  I swear I could hear them pinging off the streetlights before I got to them.  😉  I still managed to collect enough to enjoy a decent snack (this recipe is easy to prepare and delicious!).

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Were there any pleasant surprises in your garden this growing season? What about any old favourites that were once again reliable?

Junction Hill hike.

We didn’t do a whole lot of hiking this past summer – I ended up working most weekends and things just didn’t pan out as we had hoped.  Our trip to Junction Hill in early June ended up being quite the adventure,* but the scenery was utterly worth it. I have never seen so many shooting stars (Dodecatheon conjugens) and calypso orchids (Calypso bulbosa) blooming in one place – it was simply breathtaking!  This isn’t a popular hike by any stretch and so the area is largely undisturbed, allowing the wildflowers to blanket every inch of the ground on the lower slopes. In case you’re in Kananaskis Country and want to try this trek for yourself, be forewarned: this isn’t some little hillock that you can casually saunter up and back from.  It’s a certifiable mountain with a highly inappropriate name.

So, this…found at the beginning of our hike.  Not ominous, at all.

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Wildflower bliss!

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And one of the exceptional views from the summit….

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*1. Ticks! We had a tick removal kit from the Central Alberta Lyme Society (CALS) and this very useful information from Alberta Health.
2. Don’t underestimate the need to wear properly-fitted hiking boots.  My new pair are super comfortable and I thought they were suitable, but I should have tried harder to get something that didn’t encourage my toes to crush themselves into the tips of the boots on the descent. Here are some tips for a proper boot fit.

Tuesday tidbits.

First things, well…yeah.  Let’s smile together.  Maybe even guffaw together.  Click here to see the finalists for this year’s Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.  And then tell me which one is your favourite pic in the comments.  (I am indecisive; torn between “Have a Headache” and “Crouching Tiger, Peeking Moose”).

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Calgary cookbook author Julie Van Rosendaal’s Out of the Orchard: Recipes for Fresh Fruit from the Sunny Okanagan (2016, TouchWood Editions, Canada) is perfect for this time of year. Although the sweet, juicy B.C. peaches are finished (no worries! – I have a bunch stashed in the freezer for any and all occasions), the apples are still rolling in and on for extremely budget-friendly prices.  If you look around, you’ll still find the plums, as well, and of course, the pears are just coming on.  I seriously would like one of everything in this cookbook – I have no idea where to begin.  Weeeeellll, maybe I do.  Page 43, “Peach and Pumpkin Muffins.” Happening this week, in my kitchen.  And for supper tomorrow night: “Roasted Carrot Soup with Apples and Sage.”  Or…how about…”Curried Sweet Potato, Carrot, and Red Lentil Soup with Ginger and Pear.” That’s for Thursday night.  I’m gonna be busy….  If your bookstore or library carries this cookbook, I’d highly recommend tracking down a copy – it will quickly become a favourite!

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I meant to write about this much earlier this year but things sort of got away from me (they always do!). Alberta author Diane Mae Robinson has accomplished the impossible: she has made English grammar both accessible and adorable for children of all ages with The Dragon Grammar Book: Grammar for Kids, Dragons, and the Whole Kingdom. Using examples from her previously penned Pen Pieyu Adventures (ho boy, I’m in for it with that sentence!), this is a cute, useful, and educational book.  While the major appeal is for kids, I think it may actually serve adult ESL students as well, especially if they enjoy fantasy stories.  This is a fantastic resource (and if you want to own a copy, you can get the e-book free for your Kindle on Amazon.ca right now.  If you don’t live in Canada, I think the freebie is also offered up by Amazon in other countries, so just search for the book or the author on your respective site).

Even if you don’t garden in the United States, this is a delectable treat: the American Horticultural Society has digitally archived all of its issues of The American Gardener magazine from 1920 to 2016.  You can peruse them all here.  The opportunity to access documents like these is one of the best, most positive things about the Internet!

And, from the “Yes, I Published Another Article and Yes, You Are Stuck Hearing About It” Department, I…um…recently had another article published. Well, four more articles, actually.  We’ve got “How To: Mulch 101” and “Plants for Fall Colour” in the Fall 2018 issue of The Gardener for Canadian Climates, “Check Your Pulses” in the autumn issue of Archive, and “Wabi-Sabi Garden Design” in Herb Quarterly (Winter 2018).  This may be why I blog so irregularly and somehow forget to reply to all your wonderful comments until two months (or occasionally six) after you’ve written them and then you get the WordPress notification and you’re, like, huh? what is she talking about, anyway? – and then you do a search and realize this was thirteen blog entries ago!

Wow.  Someone is clearly in need of The Dragon Grammar Book. Or less caffeine, more sleep.  😉

Alberta snapshot: Banded Peak trail.

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If you’ve been following Flowery Prose for a while, you’ll know that aside from a couple of cases – absurdly weird filter here; and cropping here (because, trust me, you don’t want to get close to this sort of wildlife) – I don’t edit my photos.  They are all straight out of the camera (excepting the resizing, of course).  But I decided to take this one to the point of ridiculously soft…like an oversized fuzzy fleece blanket to snuggle under and sleep away this Autumn-That-Thinks-It’s-Winter. Conveniently, the Comfort Filter™ hides the fact that there was already a lingering skiff of snow on the ground as we wandered this beautiful trail outside of Bragg Creek, Alberta.

Tuesday tidbits: food and other assorted ramblings.

I have realized the benefits of carrying around a couple of folded brown paper bags in my book bag. (I don’t usually carry a purse. You can’t fit enough books in the ones I own so they’re pretty much useless to me. And if you’re going to carry around a ginormous purse, you may as well lug a sizeable, sturdy book bag, right?).  You never know when you might be strolling around and see seeds that need collecting or just enough ripe rose hips for a cup of tea or a leaf that needs identifying or pressing….  I’m certain my neighbours just shake their heads when they see me toodling around. At least I’m entertaining to others!  Do you forage in your neighbourhood as well?

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The apple trees on the property where I live have produced like mad this year so I’ve been picking and processing over the past few weeks.  I’ve made a bunch of unsweetened applesauce, a carrot/applesauce blend, some jars of apple jelly, and infused a few slices with whole cinnamon, allspice, and anise in vodka in preparation for the winter warm-ups that will certainly be required within the next few months.  (Perhaps sooner: we have snow in the forecast for this week!).  I wanted to make this apple jam but it will have to wait until next year; sadly, I cannot hog all the apples to myself.

Juicy, sweet freestone peaches from our neighbouring province, British Columbia, have been so inexpensive this year – I suspect they had a bumper crop over there!  I mixed up a bunch as pie filling and froze them for use later in pastry or over top of ice cream, breakfast oatmeal, etc..  But I also made this peach barbecue sauce, which was fantastic!

And…I made blueberry soup.  I didn’t know that was a thing, but apparently, it’s a common dish in Sweden.  You can eat it either chilled or warm (we opted for the latter).  If I had enough blueberries in the freezer, I could see eating this every day – it’s so delicious!  The recipe I used isn’t quite traditional – I was eager to try this one because it has maple syrup and cardamom in it.  If you’re nervous about fruit soups, don’t be – this is a great breakfast meal and not too sweet. Actually, it sort of makes your tummy smile. Which is weird, but comforting. And comfortable, at the same time.

If you remember this entry I posted I about the non-book items our public library carries, you’ll recall that I mused aloud-ish about trying out a musical instrument.  True to my word, I carted this splendid item home on the train late last week:

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Now to find some good beginner keyboard tutorials on You Tube!  Or, I’ll just have some fun and mash all the buttons for the “crazy noises” feature that the machine sports (those are the librarian’s words, not mine, but it’s the description I would have used as well). My neighbours will be elated with my efforts to learn new skills. I can already hear the knocking on the door, the broomstick tapping on the ceiling. If I can just get them to time it to my playing, we’ll have a band and we can go on tour tomorrow.

And, in the “Endlessly Bragging” Department, I have not one, but two, articles in the Fall 2018 issue of Herb Quarterly magazine: “Rock Your Garden!” and “Dooryard Garden Design.” The magazine is out on newsstands all across North America.

Share any new recipes you’ve tried recently or let me know what new ideas or fun things you’re working on this week!  

Book review: On Not Losing my Father’s Ashes in the Flood by Richard Harrison.

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On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood – Richard Harrison (2016, Buckrider Books, Ontario)

Calgary poet Richard Harrison has carefully stitched together memory, reflection, and perspective in his newest collection On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood (for which he won a Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry in 2017).  The profound effects of his beloved father’s suffering and death from dementia and the loss of personal property and goods in the devastating flood of 2013 (which I write about in a post here) shape nearly all of these poems in some way, raging and trickling and dredging the reader in emotion and silt.   Accordingly, they’re not beautiful poems – they’re ragged and raw, but you can visibly feel the catharsis and healing within them.  From “Prayer”:

My father taught me the poem was a bed of gravel

the rain could not wash away….

 

 

Book review: Countertop Gardens by Shelley Levis.

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Countertop Gardens: Easily Grow Kitchen Edibles Indoors for Year-Round Enjoyment – Shelley Levis (2018, Cool Springs Press, Quarto Publishing Group USA, Minnesota)

If you’ve been following Flowery Prose for a while, you’ll know that we have teeth-chatteringly, bone-chillingly long winters here in Alberta.  Six months isn’t an overstatement, and it can stretch even further than that on occasion.  Accordingly, our growing season is short (and often brutal).  Planting outdoors is a challenge…one that we never back down from but occasionally must grin and bear.  Given the vagaries of gardening in our climate, growing edible plants indoors is a very tempting option.  Yet…growing plants indoors isn’t foolproof – there are so many factors to consider, such as heat, humidity, light, and space.

Fortunately, Shelley Levis has come to the rescue for situations like this with Countertop Gardens! This indoor gardening manual is chockful of inspiration and ideas for turning your indoor living spaces into miniature edible gardens.  From microgreens to herb gardens to simple hydroponic systems, it’s all here.  And there are some surprises, as well: have you ever considered growing mushrooms, potatoes, gingerroot, or tomatoes in your kitchen?  Try them all using Levis’ tips!  She also examines some of the most popular grow-light countertop garden kits available on the market today and discusses ways to maximize their use – practical information whether you’re thinking of buying one or already own one.

Countertop Gardens is a fantastic starting point for anyone wanting to grow fresh food indoors all year ‘round – definitely a recommended read!

*The Quarto Group generously provided me with a review copy of Countertop Gardens. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.