The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter – April 2020.

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You are reading the first issue of the Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter!  With the first two books in our series Guides for the Prairie Gardener scheduled for release very soon, my co-author Janet Melrose and I have decided we’re going to publish a monthly newsletter here on my blog Flowery Prose!  We’ll be keeping you up-to-date on everything related to our books, 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 here on Flowery Prose.

Book News and Events

The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases were originally scheduled for release by our publisher TouchWood Editions in April, but due to the current global health crisis, we are looking at a May 12 release instead. At this very moment, you can preorder our books from Amazon and Chapters-Indigo and they will be shipped to you as soon as they are out!

To preorder The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables, click here. 

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To preorder The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases, click here. 

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Back on February 2, Janet was a guest on the “Let’s Talk Gardening” programme on Calgary radio station 770 CHQR.  If you want to hear her talk about our forthcoming books, click over to the 18:00 mark on the audio recording and enjoy!  (You’ll have to make sure you’ve selected the February 2 tab in the drop-down menu).

Our publisher, TouchWood Editions, is currently running a blog feature called “Authors at Home,” where their authors write about what they are doing while in self-isolation.  Take a look at our entry here, and especially note our list of Prairie Gardening Stuff You Can Do Now! 

Out and About

Well, not really “out and about” this month; we’re more like “indoors and room-to-room.”  But that doesn’t mean we aren’t getting stuff done.  I have some new gardening articles published in various magazines, out on newsstands now (or, as we can’t really get out to shop, available for order online directly from the publishers). Look for “The Lovely Lady’s Slipper” in Mother Earth Gardener (Spring 2020); “Choosing the Right Irrigation System” in The Gardener for Canadian Climates (Spring 2020); and “Refresh Your Wardrobe with Herbs” in Herb Quarterly (Spring 2020).

Photos by Sheryl Normandeau

Janet has been writing, as well: her article “Balloon Flower: A.K.A. Japanese Bellflower” is in the same issue of The Gardener.   As for other going-ons in the world of Calgary’s Cottage Gardener, Janet says: “Unfortunately, all the workshops planned for April have been cancelled or postponed at this time. Yet the interest in gardening has never been stronger, especially edible gardening. Do stay tuned as I am getting set up with a mini-studio for webinars from my home to your yours. We get going with a hands-on workshop or two where I make up kits of supplies and plants and after a mini-talk and demo we all plant up together.  All talks will be posted on my Facebook page.”

In Our Gardens

Space limitations and a cat who pretty much chews on anything (and I do mean anything – I caught her gnawing on the plastic paper feed guide of the printer the other day) add up to not a lot of seed starting going on in my place, BUT I do have a handful of ‘Candyland Red’ and ‘Black Krim’ tomatoes happening under lights.  And I’m growing sprouts for eating…I was digging in my seed stash and came across a bunch of kale seeds that I’m not planning to use this year, so they’re designated sandwich fixings for the next few weeks.

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Photo by Sheryl Normandeau

Janet: “Spring is stirring, every so slowly! At home the snow is melting, but the ground is still oh so frozen. It will be some time before we can get into the soil. But above ground is another matter. By the second week of April, I plan on having containers full of arugula, spinach, endive and lettuce sown. Peas and sweet peas will follow. I am still wintersowing with kohlrabi, cabbage, broccolini, and kale going in. Later on I will use the milk jugs to sow squash of all kinds.  Indoors there is a full array of seedlings on the go from tomatoes and cucumbers, to green garlic, Swiss chard, kale and herbs. I am having fun with lots of different funky containers from eggshell trays, to big tin cans with holes punched through the bottom, and my TP roll trays. It has been fun to try out all sorts of techniques as I usually don’t have that much time to do so! Soon I’ll be out in the garden searching for the first crocus popping up and spring will truly be well underway!”

Photos by Janet Melrose

Floral Miscellany

While working on an article about colour theory in the garden, I came across a reference to the fact that early man was unable to see the same full colour spectrum that we can. Apparently, it involves quite a substantial evolutionary shift – you can read more about it here.  Something to think about as you admire the flowers growing in your garden!

Janet: “I am always amused at the traditional lore for the best date to plant potatoes being Good Friday! The idea is the soil will be ready to cultivate but temperatures still cool. While my grandfather in England might have followed the rule, we can only gaze out on still frozen fields and gardens! But it is time to get your order in for seed potatoes or check on the ones you have stored away to plant this year. Potatoes do know that it is time as they will want to get sprouting, so get them started by chitting (pre-sprouting) them on Good Friday. They will be ready to plant when our soil really is warm enough to plant in early May!”

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Chitting potatoes.  Photo by Janet Melrose

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

Snapshots: Monday miscellany.

Or maybe “Mundane miscellany,” but I’ll leave that distinction up to you, LOL….

Tomato plants are happening under lights in the kitchen.  Since I took this pic, one set of true leaves has emerged on each plant.  I planted ‘Black Krim’ heirlooms (my first time trying them; my niece gave me seeds last year and I forgot about them until it was too late for me to do anything so I’m rectifying that situation this year) and ‘Candyland Red’ currant tomatoes.  This will be my third year planting the currant tomatoes, but I’ve never started them indoors.  Frost reduced potential yields previously so we’ll try it this way instead.

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Smudge is super happy that I am at home to dispense chicken treats and deliver a cushiony lap whenever required.  I am trying to teach her how to read but so far she’s only demonstrated exemplary skills as a bookmark.

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I’ve used the last shallot in the house…it’s an indicator to plant more this year and it’s also a nod to the fact that properly curing Allium crops can really extend their storage and diminish the risk of rot. Shameless plug alert: Janet Melrose and I write about how to properly cure onions and garlic in our upcoming book, The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables.  (Which you can preorder from Chapters-Indigo and Amazon via this link on our publisher’s website.  I may as well go whole hog on the plug, right?  Why do things halfway?).

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Oh, and I’ve been eating pancakes for lunch.  Pretty much every day.  I don’t have a photo of this (neither the eating, nor the pancakes.  You’re probably grateful for the former, at least).  I use my Mum’s pretty much perfect pancake recipe (say that three times really quickly) but if you want to share yours in the comments, I would love to try it, as well! Tell me about your favourite pancake toppings, too!

Sheryl’s Mum’s Pretty Much Perfect Pancake Recipe (Mum, is it okay that I share this?) 😉 

1 1/2 cups flour

1 tablespoon sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt*

1 egg, beaten

1 3/4 cups milk

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted shortening

Mix all the dry ingredients, then add the liquid ones and combine.  Fry on a hot griddle. Yield: 8 sizeable pancakes, or several much smaller ones. (And in case you’re wondering, no, I’m not eating 8 sizeable pancakes at lunch – these guys keep over really nicely in the fridge for a few days and you can just reheat.  As well, the batch may be successfully halved, if that works better for you).

*Salt is optional.

 

Botany word of the week.

Aggregate fruit (as well as some bonus chatter about accessory and multiple fruits, pseudocarps, drupes, achenes, carpels, and…um…monkey bread?)

Occasionally (or possibly frequently, given the weird world we live in), things turn out to be different than advertised. Sort of like that purse I ordered off of the Internet. But I digress….

Case in point: raspberries and strawberries.  Are they actually berries?  You already know where I’m going with this!

What does it mean to be a berry?  Quite a few things, really, but one of them is that the fruit must develop from a flower possessing one ovary.  Strawberries and raspberries don’t fit the bill.  If you take a look at the fruit of a raspberry, you’ll notice that it is made up of a bunch of little nubs. You could pull each one apart, kind of like a loaf of monkey bread.  (Mmmm…how can you tell I haven’t eaten breakfast yet?).  Each one of these is called a drupe (drupelets), and they are produced from the multiple ovaries of a flower.  Each drupe contains a seed.  In the case of a strawberry, those little seed-like things on the outside are not actually seeds, although they do contain seeds. Those small bumps are called achenes.  Because these fruitlets were all joined together, they are called aggregrate fruits.  (Just to be confusing, not all multiple fruits – those with more than one ovary per flower – are aggregate.  Some don’t join together to form a single entity).

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And, to add to the fun, strawberries are categorized as an accessory fruit (aka pseudocarp) in addition to an aggregate fruit. Some of that yummy fleshy stuff we eat is made up of tissue that originates near the carpel (modified leaves that surround the ovules) of the flower.

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way…I’m off to enjoy an aggregate fruit smoothie!  (Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?).  Do you grow raspberries and/or strawberries in your garden?  What ways do you use them in cooking and baking?  

Sources:
Geggel, Laura, “Why are Bananas Berries, but Strawberries Aren’t?”, LiveScience, January 12, 2017, https://www.livescience.com/57477-why-are-bananas-considered-berries.html.
UCMP Berkeley , “Anthophyta: More on Morphology,” accessed March 3, 2020, https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/anthophyta/anthophytamm.html.  (This is a really good resource if you need a refresher on how fruits are formed).

 

Book announcement! Well, actually, two books, one announcement!

HUGE, WONDERFUL NEWS! I spent much of last year working with my co-author, Calgary’s Cottage Gardener Janet Melrose, on the first two books in a new series called Guides for the Prairie Gardener. We are beyond thrilled that TouchWood Editions are publishing them, and the first two titles, The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables, and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases, will be out on April 7!

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Tree Abraham did the unique cover art for us, and (with a couple of exceptions) Janet and I photographed the images in the interiors.

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The books are compact but mighty, and hold answers to the biggest, most common questions prairie gardeners may have, and tips and advice for success in a challenging growing region!

Preordering from Chapters-Indigo and Amazon is available right now!  This link will take you to Vegetables, and this one to Pests and Diseases.

We are currently busy writing the next two books in the series and looking extra-forward to spring! ❤️

 

Terrific turnips.

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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!

The potatoes are making a bid for freedom….

What a strange growing season we’re having! Our spring was so cold and wet that I direct sowed my veggies almost two weeks later than usual – a huge difference when you consider that we have, on average, 117 frost-free days in the city.  (I didn’t start anything indoors this year or do any winter sowing).  June was pretty much a blur of rain – I’m not certain we actually saw sunlight for the entire month.  To this date, July has been considerably more moderate as far as temperature and drying are concerned…and my potatoes are kind of blissed out at the moment. I’ve got foliage going on like nobody’s business – I just hope there are a few tubers forming under there.  A gardener in the Alberta Gardening Facebook group recently remarked that her potato plants were over five feet tall and those that commented echoed her claim – this is clearly the year of giant potato plants in our province!

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And yes, those are hula hoops forming the tunnel in my raised bed…you can see how I set that all up here.  I’m a big fan of the hula hoops – they’re cheap, sturdy, and they liven up a public space with their colours!  (I’m not sure what our community garden leader thinks of them, but she hasn’t sent me a cease and desist letter so I’m guessing they don’t offend too many sensibilities).   Instead of row cover fabric this year, I put up fibreglass screen. Its purpose is two-fold: we have deer that like to jump the fence of the community garden and nibble, so this saves my beans; as well – and more importantly – we are plagued by frequent hailstorms in this part of the world, and this keeps most of the icy stones from shredding my squash.  I could combine this set-up with row cover fabric in future years – a good idea if I decide to plant cabbages and want to thwart flea beetles, or if I get seeds into the soil early and need a bit of protection against the cold – but for this year, the screen without the poly has been a satisfactory choice.

Did you plant potatoes this year?  And do you use hoop tunnels in your raised or in-ground beds?  

And…just for fun – what is your favourite way to make potato salad?  

Floral notes: June.

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!

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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).

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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.

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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!♥