A few weeks ago, I was sent a question about fire blight – a gardener had a seriously infected hawthorn tree cut down in her yard and the arborist left the chips on the ground. She wanted to know if she should remove the chips or keep them; her second query was what types of trees she should plant in the hawthorn’s place. Fire blight is caused by a bacterium called Erwinia amylovora. It is spread by insects, birds, wind, and water, so it is likely to have traveled from another infected plant nearby.
My recommendation was to remove the chips and dispose of them at a landfill. As for the trees, fire blight affects members of the rose family, so I advised her to avoid those, or at the very least, look for cultivars within those genera that are fire blight resistant. Trees that are susceptible to fire blight include:
There are a few shrubs to avoid as well, including roses, spirea, and cotoneaster. Raspberries can also get fire blight but it is a different strain than the other plants mentioned can contract. By knowing which plants to avoid, better choices can be made about the new selection.
The e-book versions have been available in the catalogue for several months now, but we unpacked some boxes of new books at work last week and guess what was in one? I couldn’t resist taking a photo of them sitting in their new homes out on the floor…hopefully they circulate like crazy!
(If you want to purchase, not merely borrow, a copy of the first two books in The Guides for the Prairie Gardener series, click here for more information! They are available in bookstores all across the Prairie provinces and via online retailers).
First harvest of beans today! These are ‘Dragon Tongue’, a popular, easy-to-grow heirloom bush bean from the Netherlands. Gotta love those purple streaks – so pretty! I highly recommend this cultivar for prairie gardens and beyond.
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).
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.
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’.
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. 😉
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.
If you plan to grow fruit trees and shrubs that are pollinated by insects such as bees, consider your site carefully before you plant. If you are thinking about putting the plants in a windy, exposed site, your plants may not receive their very best chances at pollination. Bees don’t like working in the wind! (It totally ruins their hairdos). Instead, choose a more sheltered location to encourage the bugs to do their jobs in calmer conditions.
Do you grow any fruit trees or shrubs? I’d love to hear about them (it doesn’t matter if you live on the prairies or not!). What do you like best about them? Is there anything about them that you find challenging?
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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!
Haskap – Photo by Janet Melrose
Forsythia – Photo by Janet Melrose
Double Flowering Plum – Photo by Janet Melrose
(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
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.
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.
Lovage – Photo by Sheryl Normandeau
Rhubarb – Photo by Sheryl Normandeau
(Left to right: Lovage, Rhubarb – Photos by Sheryl Normandeau)
(Updated on June 22 to add this video I made to profile the herb lovage:)
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!
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:
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.
Another plant list! This is based on a question that keeps popping up from members of my local horticultural society, as well as online. They’re looking for columnar conifers for their small urban gardens – and the clincher is, of course, that the trees have to be hardy enough for the Canadian Prairies. Bear in mind that in areas like Calgary, where we have drying winter winds, desiccation can be a major problem and may cause severe browning in conifers. Keep those trees consistently watered up through autumn and use mulch!
Columnar Conifers for Prairie Gardens
‘Moonglow’ Juniper – J. scopulorum ‘Moonglow’ – zone 3 – 16 feet tall and 8 feet spread
‘Wichita Blue’ Juniper – J. scopulorum ‘Wichita Blue’ – zone 3 – 12 feet tall and 8 feet spread
‘Cologreen’ Juniper – J. scopulorum ‘Cologreen’ – zone 3 – 13 feet tall and 5 feet spread
‘Medora’ Juniper – J. scopulorum ‘Medora’ – zone 3 – 10 feet tall and 3 feet spread
Columnar Blue Spruce – Picea pungens fastigiata – zone 2 – 20 feet tall and 5 feet spread
Columnar Norway Spruce – Picea abies ‘Cupressina’; ‘Christina’; ‘Pyramidalis’ – zone 4 – 18 feet tall and 5 feet spread
Columnar White Pine – Pinus strobus fastigiata – zone 3 – 30 feet tall and 8 feet spread
‘DeGroot Spire’ Cedar – Thuja occidentalis ‘DeGroot Spire’ – zone 3 – 12 feet tall and 2 feet spread
‘Skybound’ Cedar – T. occidentalis ‘Skybound’ – zone 2 – 16 feet tall and 5 feet spread
‘Brandon’ Cedar – T. occidentalis ‘Brandon’ – zone 3 – 13 feet tall and 5 feet spread
What are your favourite trees for small gardens? (They don’t have to be Prairie-hardy, nor do they have to be conifers!).