The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter – September 2020.

The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter

September 2020

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

Sheryl:

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.

‘Candyland Red’ currant tomatoes (photo by Sheryl)

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….

One of the double-flowered calendula plants I am keen to save seed from … (photo by Sheryl)

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:

Floral Miscellany

Sheryl:

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! 

Hawthorn “haws” (photo by Sheryl)

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

Nasturtium flower infused vinegar.

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?

Plant profile: Currant tomatoes.

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!

A useful tip for freezing berries.

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).

Recipe: Swiss chard (or beet green) soup.

I have a question for all of you long-time bloggers!  Do you periodically go through past entries in your blog and do a refresh? (Fix broken links, add new updates, redo or add new photos etc.)?  Flowery Prose turned ten years old in March of this year and while I’ve tweaked a few little things here and there, particularly with the themes, I haven’t ever done a thorough clean up of old posts.  What is your process for doing this?  Or have you just left everything as is?

This recipe is from an old post that I’ve revised to better categorize the content.  Finding it again was a bit fortuitous, as this spring I decided to use up some old Swiss chard seeds I had kicking around – and had excellent germination rates with them. (Don’t chuck ancient seeds! The charts may “say” they’re not viable after a certain point but it never hurts to try. If you’ve stored them properly, you might have a chance at success).  The plants are still small – again, as with everything this year, I’ll just chalk that up to our wacky spring weather – so I’m not attaching a photograph.  No need to brag.  😉

Swiss Chard (or Beet Green) Soup

5 cups chopped fresh Swiss chard or beet greens (or a combination of the two)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 tbsp milk (dairy or non-dairy, such as cashew)

freshly cracked pepper to taste

1/2 cup Havarti cheese, shredded (use a vegan substitute, if preferred)

Sauté the chard or beets, the garlic, and the onions in olive oil in a large saucepan until the greens are reduced.  Add the stock and simmer for 30 minutes over low heat.  Remove the soup from the heat, cool it slightly, then carefully purée it with a hand blender. Add the milk and cheese and reheat gently (do not boil).  Add pepper to taste.

Yield: 2 generous servings

What are your favourite ways to eat Swiss chard and/or beet greens?  Or do you dislike them entirely?

How to: dry sea buckthorn leaves for tea (tisane).

If you’re familiar with sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides, also called seaberry) shrubs, it’s probably because of the beauty and edibility of the berries, those brilliant orange pops of fruity sunshine. But, here on the prairies (and elsewhere in the country) June is the month to harvest and dry sea buckthorn leaves for tisane – well, the leaves from the male plants, that is. (Sea buckthorn are dioecious and flowers are borne separately on male and female plants. You need both to produce fruit. One male plant can pollinate up to seven females, and you need the wind to make the required pollen transfer). You can harvest the leaves from female plants, as well, but you must wait until autumn, after the berries are produced.

Sea buckthorn tisane is purported to be chockful of amino acids and antioxidants, and there are claims that it acts as an immune booster and an anti-inflammatory. Scientific studies are continuously ongoing. For now, I’m just going to enjoy the plant’s leaves and berries because they taste good and I have access to them. Many gardeners aren’t aware of the uses of this particular plant and might not take advantage of its edibility…as long as you’re absolutely certain of your proper identification of the plant, you may want to try it and see if you enjoy eating it. (If you don’t know for sure what you’re dealing with, please don’t sample it. That goes for every plant you encounter).

When you’re ready to pick leaves, you first need to figure out which plants are male. That can be a huge challenge unless you’ve purchased labelled male and female plants for your garden and you know which one is planted where. The females are the ones that produce the berries, but they don’t do that until nearly September. But – no fear! This website has some extremely helpful photos and information to differentiate the males from the females – check it out before you head out to do some harvesting.

Bear in mind while you’re picking to go easy on the plant and not remove too much – you never want to stress the plant by overharvesting. The plant needs a good canopy of those beautiful silvery-green leaves to conduct photosynthesis! For your first harvest, only take a handful in case you aren’t keen on the drink.

Wash the leaves well and pat them dry with a towel. Lay them out in a single layer on a wire rack and allow them to air dry for several days in a cool, dry location. You should turn them every couple of days or so. When it comes time to pack them up, store them in a clean, airtight tea tin and label the contents.

Once the leaves are dry and ready, brew them up to your preferred strength. You can enjoy them as is or make a custom blend by adding green tea leaves or dried fruit (why not try sea buckthorn berries?). A splash of locally-produced honey drizzled in hits the spot!

Do you grow sea buckthorn? Have you ever eaten the berries or used them or sea buckthorn oil in cosmetics? (I regularly buy a sea buckthorn lip balm from an excellent company in Manitoba).

A few books by Prairie authors.

IMG_3510

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.

*

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).

*

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?

 

 

Turnip harvest.

TFPNormandeau

Thanks to a lovely and extremely generous gift of veggie seeds from my friends Angie and Lisa, I finally grew turnips for the first time this year.  I hadn’t previously given this crop a go, as turnips are one of the vegetables my hubby hates the most – and believe me, he hates nearly all vegetables equally, so this is saying something.

I yanked a few of the sizeable roots out of the garden last week and was thrilled that they were pretty much perfect for turnips…sort of beautiful, even, especially if you squint a little and overlook the flea-beetle-bitten leaves. Okay, that may be going too far, but still…colour me impressed. The phrase “low-maintenance” doesn’t even begin to describe how easy these things are to grow.  I’m sure it helped that our summer weather was so rainy and chilly, but I’m going to claim it’s because I’m just such a good gardener.  😉

So…hit me with your favourite turnip recipes! (Or if you hate them like my hubby does, chime in so that he doesn’t feel so alone, LOL).

I see turnip puff in my future!

Floral notes: June 2019.

And without further ado…wait, there was ado?

Harvest time is now virtually over for this early season crop, but a few weeks ago, my hubby and I headed out to Edgar Farms (near the town of Innisfail in central Alberta) for their annual Asparagus Festival.  The celebration is held over three weekends in May and June, and features a farm tour, lots of yummy food, and artisans selling their locally-made wares.  The star of the show is, of course, asparagus, which isn’t cultivated very much as a commercial crop here in the province – the family-run Edgar Farms is one of the only producers that I am aware of.  Interpretive signs near the asparagus fields offer fun facts about this fascinating perennial veggie,  tips to successfully grow it, and a history of the farm and its owners. (You can also take a guided wagon tour if you’d rather not walk the property; we chose to walk because I always find you see more if you’re on foot).  One of the highlights of the festival is the opportunity to go out into the asparagus fields to break a spear fresh out of the soil and pop it in your mouth.  And, of  course, all the freshly-harvested asparagus you can bring home from the marketplace…YUM! It’s going to be difficult to wait another whole year for such a delicacy!

FPAFNormandeau

Purple cultivars of asparagus taste a bit sweeter than green ones, and wow! that colour!  Spectacular! (Just like many purple bean cultivars, purple asparagus spears turn green when you cook them, and actually, if you slice open a raw spear, the interior is green).

*

A man with more literary awards than you can shake a stick at (as well as a little bauble called the Order of Canada!), renowned Canadian science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer was recently in Calgary acting as the visiting writer-in-residence at the Calgary Public Library.  My hubby and I managed to squish in Mr. Sawyer’s highly entertaining lecture “Why Everyone Should Read Science Fiction” on June 2.  In addition to defending his position on Star Trek’s superiority over Star Wars (I’d say the room was divided on that one!), we were treated to an educational and fascinating discussion of the history of science fiction writing  and its focus on social issues.

*

Speaking of science fiction, I’ve published writer Geoff Hart’s flash fiction work “Fly Fishing” over at Paper Butterfly.  It’s a story you’ll fall for hook, line, and sinker…guaranteed. Head over there and enjoy!♥

 

 

 

 

Floral notes: March 2019.

A couple of sweet treats for the start of the week!

A crazy beautiful cookbook:

You could acquire Marit Hovland’s Bakeland: Nordic Treats Inspired by Nature and actually make the recipes – I would highly encourage it!  But, really, this cookbook is the most deliriously glorious eye candy you’ll have the pleasure of perusing in absolute ever, so you should spend some quality time simply ogling.  A celebration of baking, organized seasonally and inspired by Scandinavian ingredients and design, Bakeland is so pretty you’ll drool.  I have no decorating skills so I’m going to stick to the Spice Cake with Cinnamon Almonds.  Because chocolate icing is possible for people like me.

If you want a preview of some of the book’s insanely gorgeous food photos, click here. (2018, Greystone Books, Vancouver)

Bakeland_cover04.indd

Eat some berries:

If you’re cleaning out the freezer and you find a package of frozen raspberries, make this sauce.  I reduced the sugar by a smidge (which is, of course, a completely technical cooking term). Then eat it out of the saucepan (ahem!) and pretend it’s summer already. Do. It.

Do you have any tidbits to share? – for example, projects you’re working on, new things you’ve learned, delicious or interesting new foods you’ve tried, delightful books or TV shows or movies, or a piece of music or art you’ve created or enjoyed?