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).

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

‘Lollo Rosso’ lettuce.

I’m growing ‘Lollo Rosso’ lettuce in a container on my balcony this year – I’m very pleased with this one so far! It has resisted bolting and is a tasty and beautiful coral type for cut-and-come again harvests.

What are your favourite cultivars/types of lettuce to grow?

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?

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?

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).

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. 

cropped-pggt-tw-1-2-2.jpg

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. 

IMG_3976

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

Prairie gardening viewpoints: guest post.

I am delighted to announce that I have another guest on the blog!  I’ve been thinking it would be interesting for me to pose a few questions to some Prairie gardeners I know, inquiring about their experiences gardening in such a unique, challenging climate.  I want to find out what they love about gardening in Alberta, what they find difficult, and what inspires them about growing.  Whether you live on the Canadian Prairies or you’re much further afield, I’m sure you’ll find ideas and solutions to consider for your own gardening endeavours.

Please allow me to introduce Lana Gress!

Where do you garden in Alberta?  What challenges do you think we face as gardeners in this province?  How can we overcome those challenges?

I have been gardening in Red Deer, AB for the last three years. I think that Alberta is very unique in respect to gardening because we have some very distinct differences in weather depending on where you are located in the province and how close you are in proximity to the foothills. I really struggled with this the first two years that I lived in Red Deer. Having grown up in northern Saskatchewan, I initially expected gardening to be similar in Alberta but only better because Red Deer is a zone 3b to 4! I had not anticipated the affect of the freeze/thaw cycles of chinook years on trees, shrubs, and perennials that I considered hardly in SK, or how the close proximity to the mountains really makes the overnight temperatures dramatically lower, even in Central Alberta. I believe that these are probably the most challenging things for Alberta gardeners, especially when it comes to vegetable growing. I really had to rethink everything that I had learned about vegetable gardens in Saskatchewan! In Red Deer I’ve found that the ground is still too cold and the night temps are often low well into June. Things that I would have direct seeded on May long weekend in SK (cucumbers, zucchini, corn) have a better chance of success in AB if they are started as transplants in the house. I also live in a hail belt region and I usually get about 2-3 incidences of hail in June/July. This means that it is riskier growing things like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. I tend to grow those vegetables solely in containers for two reasons; I can move them to protected areas if I think there is a chance of hail, and with the colder overnight temps I find that container growing produces more robust and vigorous growth because the root zones of my heat loving plants are always warmer.


What inspires you about gardening?

My grandmother was an avid and inspirational gardener, and she grew the large prairie garden that was typical of her generation. She also had a passion for houseplants and her home was a jungle! Many of these tropical plants were started from seeds and slips all acquired through mail-order catalogues. Grandma even started succulents and African violets from seed! I think this early exposure to growing everything is what developed my passion for growing. I have a diploma in horticulture from Olds College, and have worked as a professional horticulturalist for over 25 years in all aspects of the trade, but growing is my main passion!  

What types of plants are you most passionate about growing?

I’m extremely passionate about food security so vegetable growing is a large focus of mine. I lived in Vancouver and urban areas of the Fraser Valley for 15 yrs before moving to Alberta. The cost of living is very high there so I always looked for ways to stretch my income. Growing as much of my own food as possible was an obvious solution to me. I never had much space either so I started to focus on container growing both outdoors and indoors to help maximize my growing potential. When I moved to an area where I was able to have a “traditional vegetable garden”, I really started to explore gardening methods like biointensive planting practices. I have had gardens that have produced about 1200 pounds of produce in 300 sq ft by using methods like succession planting, interplanting, vertical gardening etc…

What gardening (or gardening-related) projects do you have on the go this year?  What are your goals for this growing season?

This season is an exciting one for me! I have been renting in Red Deer and my yard had no established garden beds and the landlord was a bit hesitant for me to establish a garden bed or build raised beds.  I have solely container gardened for the last two seasons. Once my landlord saw how capable I was he has now agreed to let me develop permanent garden space in the yard. Last summer I began by developing a small in ground bed using the  sheet composting method aka “lasagna gardening”. This is a great method for my landscape as I have very heavy clay subsoil and a small layer of topsoil in the yard. I will be building more beds using this method plus I’ve started to build raised beds. I also have been growing tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers indoors using LED lights for the last few years. I’m planning on expanding the indoor garden in the fall by building a vertical hydroponic system to grow greens, herbs, and strawberries!

A huge thank you, Lana, for your detailed and thoughtful answers – you’ve got us thinking about microclimates and how to protect plants from the extremes of the weather, as well as effective strategies to grow successfully indoors, create productive container gardens, and garner high yields in small spaces. These are all concepts we can use no matter where we live!

Photo by Lana Gress
Photo by Lana Gress

Prairie gardening viewpoints: guest post.

Something new for my blog today!  I have a guest!  I’ve been thinking it would be interesting for me to pose a few questions to some Prairie gardeners I know, inquiring about their experiences gardening in such a unique, challenging climate.  I want to find out what they love about gardening in Alberta, what they find difficult, and what inspires them about growing.  Whether you live on the Canadian Prairies or you’re much further afield, I’m sure you’ll find some food for thought here (pun intended!). 


Without further ado, please meet Maxwell Hislop!  
In his own words:

“I live in Turner Valley, in the foothills of Alberta. For myself, and many others in Alberta, we have to face cold weather and a shortened growing season. It is May 20th, and I still have some ice on the ground beside my house, so on top of being cold here even for Alberta, this is the coldest spring in recent memory. To overcome this, I have built multiple raised beds, with poly covers. This not only allows me to plant before my last frost (which is in June in my area), it heats up the soil ahead of time making the plants happier to go out into the soil early. I do take the covers off in mid- to late June, pending weather and to allow pollinators access to my plants, but often find myself putting the poly back on later in the season for crops to finish. Starting seeds indoors as well to extend our growing season is common practice here, or buying seedlings from our local greenhouses (whereas other places in Canada can direct seed the same crops).

What has always inspired me about gardening is the flavors, not only in traditional crops like carrots or tomatoes, but with the variety that we can grow at home that you can’t buy at your local stores. No one believed me as a kid that I was eating purple potatoes, or veggies that they never even heard of, like sorrel. I grew up with such a love for food from everything we grew at home and the variety that I continued to have as an adult – everything from four types of perennial onions to dozens of types of potatoes, herbs and spices that no one gets the chance to experience. And there are the added health benefits of the high nutrition that many of these come with. So all of that being said, my passion about gardening is the ability to grow my own food. There aren’t really any particular plants I am passionate about, and my obsessions change year to year.


Every year I choose new projects, and this year is no different. I have already built multiple new raised beds with frames for covers, and later in the year plan on building more independent raised beds for wild perennial veggies. I have been expanding my outdoor mushroom beds to include mushrooms in shady areas along side of my house, mushrooms in my lawn, and log towers for more variety rather then just the few I had already inoculated. They are a wonderful food source and being so high in protein are used as a meat substitute. As well, my final large project for the year is a grey water recycling and filter system hooked up to a large tank with my rain water for irrigating my veggies. My town has not fully rebuilt the water treatment system from the floods five years ago, and most summers we are struck with water restrictions which makes production erratic during dry spells. By filtering my laundry and bath water, I should be able to completely eliminate the use of town water and by using biodegradable soaps it means the soap in the water actually adds nutrients to the soil that the plants need.  


My big goal for the season of giving away a thousand pounds of food to neighbors, family, friends, the food bank, and myself has already failed with this extremely cold spring that we are having. Many of my in-ground beds have not sprouted yet, and my perennials such as asparagus have failed from the cold winter with just a few plants surviving. But with the extra time off from COVID, it has developed into a new goal of helping others produce their own food. A few of us have put out time together to build nearly a dozen gardens for people, including one massive communal garden that is 1600 sqare feet. Using saved seed potatoes and seeds from my own garden, seedlings from my indoor grow setup,  and volunteer work from others like me who are passionate about growing food, there will be much more food produced in the multiple gardens we have started for people. We are also building up a collection of videos to have ready for the fall so people can watch and learn techniques to optimize their own growing space. 


I thank you for giving me the opportunity to share a bit of my story, and for all your work as well to help others with their own gardens.”


A huge thank you, Maxwell, for taking the time to share what is going on in your garden right now and your plans for the season and looking towards the future. You’ve offered so many excellent suggestions for extending the season and dealing with our crazy weather…and for expanding our edible plant horizons!

Raised beds – photo by Maxwell Hislop
Mushroom log tower – photo by Maxwell Hislop

Can we grow sweet potatoes on the Prairies?

Sweet potatoes, perhaps; yams, no.  Yams (Dioscorea alata) cannot grow on the Canadian Prairies – they are native to Asia and the Caribbean (where they are a perennial vine) and require a very long growing season to be able to produce tubers.

Under certain conditions we might be able to grow sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas), which are sometimes mistakenly called yams (at least in the grocery stores, where the names seem to be interchangeable). Due to our short growing season, sweet potatoes are a tricky crop to grow, as we often run out of time to produce tubers. There are short-season types available, however. Cultivars such as ‘Covington’, ‘Beauregard’, and the Canadian-bred ‘Radiance’ can produce crops in 110-120 days, and ‘Frazier White’ supposedly only needs 105 days.  This is, of course, if conditions are suitable. Due to the time constraints of our growing season (for example – Calgary only has 117 frost free days on average), starting the slips (unrooted vine cuttings) indoors is essential.

Sweet potatoes also require a long period of hot, dry weather to produce decently-sized tubers, and we all know that the weather doesn’t always co-operate in that regard.

If you have the heat and the time, sweet potatoes aren’t massively demanding plants, as far as inputs go (they are susceptible to a number of pests and diseases, however). They don’t need extremely rich soil; in fact, too much nitrogen is detrimental to tuber production. Beyond watering consistently, you don’t have to do much to make this crop happy.  Sweet potatoes fare best in full to part sun, and will produce sizeable vines that resemble those of another plant in the same genus: morning glories (I. purpurea).

Although things will likely change in the future as breeding efforts continue, sweet potatoes are considered a novelty veggie on the Prairies (although they are grown as specialty food crops in provinces such as Ontario).  You can attempt to grow sweet potatoes in-ground or in a raised bed, but your best bet is probably to try them in containers in your greenhouse and see what you end up with – at the very least, you’ll have a lovely vining plant to enjoy all summer!

Do you grow sweet potatoes in your garden (I’d love to know – whether or not you live in Canada!).  If you enjoy eating sweet potatoes, what are your favourite ways to prepare them or use them in recipes?