I have started a YouTube channel about gardening on the prairies and beyond. You likely won’t see me in front of the camera anytime soon and the production values may lack a certain snazziness, but I’m dispensing some (hopefully) useful tips and showing off some plants in my garden and a bit further afield. If you’re interested, please check out my channel and subscribe to keep up with my new videos!
If you’re looking to freeze berries without sugar and don’t want them to clump up in storage, try this method. Get a large baking sheet and line it with a piece of baking parchment. Wash the berries well and pick out any stems and other debris (including insects!). 😉 Spread the berries in a single layer on the baking sheet and pop the sheet, uncovered, into a large freezer for at least six hours. Remove the baking sheet and immediately pack the berries into storage bags. Label the bags and put them back into the freezer until use. The berries freeze individually, which makes them easier to work with and measure out when you want to use them in baking and cooking. This method works supremely well for fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, currants, saskatoons, and haskap (pictured – this was part of a haul I picked on a very cold, damp day a few weeks ago on a farm outside of Calgary. I was shivering so much a few not-quite-ripe ones snuck in, LOL).
The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter
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.
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
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 Herald. You can read it here.
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!
In Our Gardens
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).
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.
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!
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!
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!
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’.
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‘Til later! ♥Sheryl and Janet
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?
A few weeks ago, I received a question from a gardener in the city who wanted to know about the best hydrangeas to grow in Calgary. Due to our climate, we’re not able to overwinter the really showstopping bigleaf types (H. macrophylla) that gardeners in warmer regions can, but we still have some extremely nice selections to choose from. I suggested that, due to sufficient cold hardiness, smooth hydrangeas (H. arborescens) and panicle hydrangeas (H. paniculata) tend to fare best in our part of the world – and then he wanted to know: what on earth did I mean by the word ”panicle”?
Good question! The term panicle is often associated with grasses. Most grass panicles are easy to identify. Here is an example: Take a look at the fuzzy top of foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum, a beautiful but persistent, troublesome weed here in Alberta). That lovely plume is a panicle, a type of compound flower head that features long, sliver-like awns, which can cause pain for livestock that accidentally graze on the plant.
With hydrangeas, what we think of as one huge flower is actually a panicle. Like the fuzzy flower head of foxtail barley, a hydrangea’s panicle is a compound inflorescence. It is made up of tiny individual florets, which are attached via pedicels (stem-like structures) to “branches” called racemes. Panicle hydrangeas are named for this type of floral arrangement.
Do you grow hydrangeas (any types)? If so, which ones are your favourites? (If you have any, please feel free to link up to photos of your hydrangeas on your blog or website – I’d love to see them!).
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?
Since we moved into an upper floor apartment (versus the basement unit we had previously), we’ve had very few insects pay us a visit… and even the arachnids have been scarce. I’m of the mind that these sorts of critters belong outside, so I’ve found this situation very satisfactory. This spring, however, we had an encounter with a particularly interesting type of beast – a sowbug (also called a wood louse). We actually saw three of them, but I managed to capture an image of one in what is possibly the very worst photo ever recorded with a modern phone camera:
Sowbugs (Oniscus asellus), I’ve since found while perusing the Internet, are ALWAYS confused with pillbugs (Armadillidium vulgare – isn’t that the best name ever?). They are not the same, however. Pillbugs have rounder bodies than sowbugs, and they are capable of curling into a ball, which has earned them the nickname roly-poly. Sowbugs can’t pull off that same stunt – their bodies aren’t designed for rolling up.
We may call them “bugs,” but sowbugs are not insects – they are terrestrial crustaceans. That means they have a bit more in common with a shrimp than an earwig. Sowbugs have seven pairs of legs, rather long antennae, and armored bodies that can reach a length of up to 15 millimetres (0.6 inches). They can’t bite or sting or do any damage inside the home (they definitely don’t care about what’s in your pantry). In fact, the last place they want to be is indoors, because they cannot survive for long there. They primarily feed on decaying plant matter and really would prefer to be crawling around in wood mulch or in some dead leaves in your garden. They also have gills, so they need moist, damp environments to survive. Typically, kitchens and living rooms don’t fit that bill.
Another pretty neat thing about sowbugs? Like many other crustaceans belonging to the order Isopoda, they give birth to live young and carry them around in a brood pouch called a marsupium. I propose that from now on, we stop calling them sowbugs, which is totally inaccurate, and use the more appropriate moniker “land shrimp kangaroos.” Oh wait, there are already kangaroo shrimp (Dugastella valentina), so that could be a tad confusing. Land shrimp wallabies? 😉
So, next time you see a sowbug in your house, gently take it outside and marvel at just how fascinating the natural world is. Then head inside and ponder why the heck it – and two friends – had taken up residency behind the stove. Hopefully there isn’t too much decaying wood back there or we’ve got some renovations to do….
Have you ever seen sowbugs or pillbugs in your garden or home?
For more information about sowbugs, check out this article from the City of Edmonton.
Particularly at this time of year, when the new candles are formed, mugo pines may appear to be the angriest shrub of the plant world, looking for all the world like they are furiously gesturing to the idiot that cut them off in traffic. (Now you’ll never see them the same way again. You’re welcome). 😉
Mugos have shorter needles than most pines, but they’re still fairly long (up to two inches), elegant as befitting pine trees, and clustered in pairs. If you touch the needles, they’re not particularly soft like some other pines. Again, that sort of fits with the whole angry thing.
On the larger cultivars, the branches are supposed to sweep upwards in stiff arcs, but the shrubs themselves sometimes acquire a sprawling habit as they age (I completely understand this as I have, too), so this isn’t always accomplished as well as it should be. When left unkempt, unattractive bare spots often open up in the centre of the shrub. (You can – carefully and judiciously – prune the shrubs every few years to maintain a more tidy, compact shape). Smaller cultivars, such as the lovely ‘Mops’ (which really does look like a ploofy green mop turned upside down and stuffed into the ground), tend to be a tad more well-behaved.
Once you’ve got the ID down pat on these, you’ll start to realize how common they are, at least in urban areas here on the prairies. Their hardiness and compact size (small and smaller) make them tough to beat as landscape specimens. They’re pretty much a go-to for residential and commercial foundation plantings. Although it does occur in particularly harsh years, mugos tend to resist winter desiccation a bit better than many other conifers, and that’s a big deal around here.
What are your favourite conifers (small or large) in the garden? (It doesn’t matter where you live, I’d love to hear about them! They don’t have to be suitable for the Canadian prairies).
I can’t get enough of that breathtaking blue! A lovely specimen of Gentian acaulis found at the Calgary Horticultural Society’s demonstration rock garden.
Do you grow gentian?
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).