Flowery (foliage) Friday.

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Leafy fun with the scanner on my printer….

The leaves haven’t all fallen from the trees yet, but I’m not sure we have much more autumn left in store here on the Prairies – we’re headed straight into winter, it seems! Plenty of snow in some parts already and, as I write this, the white stuff is accumulating on the ground here in Calgary.

Early wishes to everyone in Canada for a very Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

 

Flowery Friday.

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This is my first year growing ‘Baby Face’ sunflowers – they are amazing! They top out at just under two feet (about 60 cm) and have a ton of long-lasting blooms. I can’t help but smile every time I see them.

Do you have a favourite sunflower cultivar?

 

Book reviews: Water-Smart Gardening and High-Value Veggies.

It’s officially spring! (I’d put a few more exclamation points in there, but I side with many grammarians who believe that as a punctuation mark, they’re utterly overused. Everyone is really excited these days, apparently). But, hey, spring!

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So…although I can’t really do much in the garden just yet except contrive methods of humane squirrel discouragement (why oh why do they have to be so adorable?), I’ve been doing a lot of reading about gardening. There are plenty of new books on the subject being published right about now, and here are two interesting and very relevant titles from Cool Springs Press:

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Water-Smart Gardening:  Save Water, Save Money, and Grow the Garden You Want by Diana Maranhao

I was particularly keen on this title because we just came out of the driest winter I can remember. While it was nice not to have to worry about breaking a wrist from falling on an icy, snow-covered sidewalk, it wasn’t the best situation for the plants. (The verdict is still out whether or not all my perennials made it. And I was recently talking to a fellow gardener at the community garden and she figured that the warm temperatures and lack of snow cover caused some of her fall-planted garlic to rot. I’m so glad I took a cue from last year’s garlic disaster and hadn’t planted any).

Last summer and autumn were hot and dry as well, and there’s no telling how our summer will round out this year. It could be very tricky to keep the plants going. Making sure supplemental irrigation is available has always been a necessity on the Prairies, for farmers and gardeners alike, but what if we have government-imposed water restrictions? Many jurisdictions are forced to go this route when water supply is stretched. As author Maranhao comments, drought is becoming a big issue world-wide, but no one seems to be doing anything concrete about it. This book is her solution to gardening successfully with low water use, and she has all sorts of solid, practical (and often creative) ideas about what to do. She covers plant selection (with a focus on zonal plantings), growing in microclimates, soil health, best planting/cultivation practices, and of course, a host of smart irrigation practices including swales, rain barrels, and in-ground and drip systems.

Maranhao’s most important advice?  “Garden within your environment.” I’m totally with her on that!

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High-Value Veggies: Homegrown Produce Ranked by Value by Mel Bartholomew 

You all know Bartholmew as the creator of square foot gardening, but I must admit I was rather more excited by this book than any others he’s previously written. The concept behind High-Value Veggies is that many of us tend to grow vegetables in our gardens that are already mass-produced and inexpensively-purchased at the grocery stores or local markets. His suggestion is that we abandon the idea of growing those “low-value” crops and instead focus on the ones that are really pricey to buy. He proceeds to break it all down by inputs (tools and equipment, amendments, irrigation) as well as the cost of land and labour and then stacks them up against the potential return on investment (U.S. stats, but likely fairly translatable in Canada and possibly Europe). All of this yields (pun intended) a top ten list of plant selections that Bartholomew profiles in more detail. There are definitely some edible plants that make more economical sense to grow than others!

I was thinking about this in terms of my community garden plot. The restrictions of space mean I need to choose which crops I plant very carefully every year, and although I may not have specifically thought about return on investment, I know I don’t always grow plants that I can buy for a reasonable price from local growers at the farmers’ market.  Bartholomew’s suggestions are seriously worth considering before the seeds are purchased for the year – and it doesn’t matter what scale of gardening you’re doing.

 

*Many thanks to Cool Springs Press for providing copies of these new titles for review. I did not receive any compensation for my opinions, which are my own.

Recipe: Lemon curd.

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I can’t help it – like a zillion other people out there, I associate spring with the colour yellow and the flavours of fresh citrus.  Call it programming or just a craving for something refreshing and sunny and light after a grey winter spent mostly indoors…whatever it is, it’s had me in the kitchen making lemon curd.  Twice in the last few days, actually.  The first batch I made did not contain any egg whites and it had so much sugar in it my brain hurt after the first bite.

Lemon curd should taste like lemons…obviously.

So I changed a few things – the egg combo and the amount of sugar and the quantity of lemons.  Pretty much everything, really.  And I arrived at something that actually tasted like lemons, but not so zingy that you make weird faces while eating it. Unless you want to, that is.

So, here it is.  It’s really good enough to eat straight out of the pan, which I may have done shamelessly did.  You could also slather it on a cake or some cookies, or freeze it so you can eat it on some nebulous future midnight when you can’t sleep.  (It’s good for up to two months in the freezer).

Lemon Curd (the not-too-sweet-tastes-like-lemons version)

2 whole eggs

2 egg yolks

1/2 cup granulated sugar

4 small Meyer lemons, juiced (you could use 3 regular lemons instead)

2 to 3 tbsp unsalted butter

Prepare a double boiler.  Place eggs, egg yolks, sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan and whisk until smooth.  Place the smaller pan into the double boiler and simmer at medium-low heat.  Frequently whisk the contents.  Don’t leave the kitchen for about ten minutes – the curd sets up all of a sudden and you don’t want to miss it when it does.  When the curd is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, remove the saucepan from the double boiler and stir in the butter until it is completely melted.  Set the curd aside to cool to room temperature.  Refrigerate it for at least 4 hours, then it’s ready to eat.  This recipe makes about 1 to 1 1/2 cups.

Enjoy!

Do you have any recipes you particularly love to make in the spring?

Go-to gardening books for the Prairies (and beyond!)

Wow!  It feels like spring has sprung here today!  What little snow we had is melting like crazy and we actually had a bit of rain early this morning.  My co-workers and I spent our coffee break talking about starting some tomato seeds and maybe we were a little sugar-buzzed from the pre-Valentine’s Day chocolates and too much coffee, but things got really cheerful…yeah, we’re definitely excited and inspired.  😉

We still have about two (conservative estimate) or three (more like it) months to go before we can get out into the garden proper, but it’s nice to haul out the gardening books and catalogues and get cracking on the planning. I have a few gardening books in my personal collection and regulars I borrow from the library that are definite go-to’s for me.  For the most part, these are all “Prairie” books (hardiness zones 2-4; cold, arid climate), but there are a few more generally Canadian and North American ones that I really love as well.

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Lyndon Penner – The Chinook Short Season Yard: Quick and Beautiful in the Calgary Region (also available as The Prairie Short Season Yard)

Lydon Penner – Garden Design for the Short Season Yard

Dawn Vaessen – Perfect Perennials for the Prairie Gardener (See my review here)

Donna Balzar – Gardening for Goofs

Donna Balzar and Steven Biggs – No Guff Vegetable Gardening

June Flanagan – Native Plants for Prairie Gardens

June Flanagan – Edible Plants for Prairie Gardens

Sara Williams and Hugh Skinner – Gardening, Naturally: A Chemical Free Handbook for the Prairies

Sara Williams – Creating the Prairie Xeriscape

Calgary Horticultural Society – Calgary Gardener, Volumes 1 and 2

Calgary Rose Society – Growing Roses in Calgary  (See my review here)

Millarville Horticultural Society – Gardening Under the Arch

Hugh Skinner – The Best Groundcovers and Vines for the Prairies

Hugh Skinner – The Best Trees and Shrubs for the Prairies

Don Williamson – Tree and Shrub Gardening for Alberta (See my review here)

Barbara Kim and Nora Bryan – The Prairie Winterscape

Nora Bryan and Ruth Staal – The Prairie Gardener’s Book of Bugs (Mentioned here)

Jan Mather – Designing Alberta Gardens

Any of The Prairie Garden annuals

Linda Chalker-Scott – The Informed Gardener

Linda Chalker-Scott – How Plants Work

Niki Jabbour – The Year ‘Round Vegetable Gardener

Niki Jabbour – Groundbreaking Food Gardens

Bill Thorness – Cool Season Gardener

Laura Peters – Small Space Gardening for Canada

Melanie J. Watts – Growing Food in a Short Season

David Bainbridge – Gardening with Less Water

 

Did I miss any cold climate/Prairie books that should be on this list?

No matter where you live in the world, your favourite gardening books might be relevant/practical/inspirational/eye candy for another gardener!  Which books would you recommend for us?  

 

 

Recipe: Shrimp with Holy Basil.

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I stuck to my usual veggie and herb staples this year in my beds at the community garden: spinach, potatoes, shallots, garlic, Swiss chard, parsley (both Hamburg and Italian), carrots, and sweet basil.  I couldn’t resist trying something new, however – this year it was holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum, syn. O. sanctum; also called tulsi), the seeds of which I discovered at Harmonic Herbs, an Alberta seed company out of Barrhead.

Holy basil is often confused with Thai basil (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora), but although they both originate in the same part of the world, they differ in flavour and appearance.  My holy basil plants are very short (about 10″) – I’m sure this is due to my growing conditions, as they are supposed to reach about 2 feet.  The bees are completely gaga over the blooms so I haven’t pinched them off.  This is one fragrant, glorious basil!  I can’t recommend it enough:  the clove-like, peppery oils in the leaves are insanely delicious!

It seems that there is a dearth of recipes using holy basil on the ‘net, so I perused the contents of my fridge’s condiment rack and made something up.  I’m not into wildly spicy food, so this just has a minor kick, to my taste – feel free to alter this as desired.

Shrimp with Holy Basil

Place 2 tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan and heat.  Add:

1 chili pepper, deseeded, destemmed, minced finely

3 cloves garlic, minced

Saute just until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add:

1 large shallot (or 1 small onion)

2 scallions, trimmed, chopped finely

Cook 2 minutes, then add:

1 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp fish sauce

1/4 cup chicken stock

Salt and pepper to taste

20 large raw shrimp (I prefer them deveined and peeled)

Cook until the shrimp turns pink.

Add:

20 leaves holy basil, washed and finely chopped

Cook just until the basil is wilted, about 30 seconds.

Remove from heat and serve over hot cooked basmati rice. Serves 2.

(Metric conversion tables here).

Do you grow basil?  What is your favourite kind?  Did you grow any “new-to-you” plants this year?  Are you pleased with how they’ve performed?

Not so happy Monday.

Ugh…what a start to the week.  I received a call early this morning that the community garden I belong to had been severely vandalized overnight.  Of course I had to head off to work, so I wasn’t able to get down and assess the damage as soon as I would have liked, but it’s just as well…it was pretty upsetting.  If a neighbour in one of the nearby houses hadn’t chased off the culprits, who knows how much worse it could have been?

The door to the shed had been forced off its hinges and everything inside scattered about (nothing was stolen, though, fortunately). A kind donor had given us several glass light fixture covers for use as cloches and all but one of them were smashed, which meant broken glass everywhere.  Our brand new arbour was badly damaged, but at least it’s repairable.  One of the apple trees had its leader cut off.  The worst thing was the damage to the individual beds – some gardeners had cabbages, Brussels sprouts, and onions yanked out.  Other plants – tomatoes, potatoes, beans, peas, raspberries – were topped.  Trellises and tomato cages and garden ornaments were pulled out and broken.  And for what?  So some bored young adults could get a good laugh?

I just spent the last hour delivering the bad news to our members and letting those whose beds were most affected know the extent of the damage.  Not fun.

IMG_1546My smashed potato plants….

Of course, community gardens are public spaces and this kind of thing can happen, but we’ve been lucky so far (the garden is six years old). I really hope this is just an isolated incident.

The garden that I tend at the apartment is also in a public space and I’ve seen a lot over the years – hens and chicks and begonias stolen, plants chopped down to the quick with weed whackers or sprayed with herbicides, used syringes in the junipers (seriously!).  But you’re hearing more and more about trees and perennials being dug up out of private residential gardens – back yards, even. I personally know a lady who had her entire lily collection carefully excavated from a bed in her front yard in the middle of the night.  And I know when I worked in the garden centre, people were constantly trying to stuff geraniums and other plants into their handbags.

Of course, there are other far more serious things in the world to worry about, but it does make me sad to see this kind of thing happening.  Fortunately, I think many of the damaged plants in the garden will make a speedy recovery, especially as we’re finally getting some much-needed rain.

Have you ever had any of your plants deliberately damaged or stolen?