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. 

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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. 

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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)

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

The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter – May 2020.

 

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Welcome to the second issue of The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Monthly 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

The print versions of the books will be released this month!

The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases were released in e-book format on April 7, and print copies will be out on May 12! We are so thrilled that our publisher TouchWood Editions has given us this opportunity to get these books out into the hands of prairie gardeners!  You can order them from independent bookstores in Calgary such as Owl’s Nest Books, Shelf Life Books, and Pages in Kensington, as well as Audrey’s Books in Edmonton. They are also available from Chapters-Indigo, McNally-Robinson, and Amazon – you can use the links on our publisher’s website (click on either Janet’s bio or mine).  Look for them in bookstores and garden centres near you!

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On April 16, Janet and I were guests on CBC Radio One’s Homestretch program with Doug Dirks – we spoke a bit about our books and early planning for our favourite time of the year: spring!  If you want to listen to our segment, click here.

Out and About

Sheryl:

This month may seem slow as I don’t have evidence of everything I’ve been working on – no new published articles this go-around!  But I have been writing up a storm, plugging away at the next two manuscripts in the Guides for the Prairie Gardener series and a slew of articles that will be published later in the year (and one already for next summer!).  I’ve researched and written about everything from dragonflies to herbal adaptogens to beardtongues to leaf mold over the past few weeks…never a dull moment!

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In mid-April, I took in an online class through the University of Saskatchewan.  It was taught by Egan Davis, the principal instructor of horticulture training at the University of British Columbia, and covered an interesting and relevant topic: Ecologically Modeled Planting Design (EMPD).  To simplify the concept, it’s basically the antithesis of modern gardening, where we have tended to work with static landscapes (plants are grown and mature in place and decline fairly rapidly, usually within a couple of decades).  EMPD is constructed in phases, and it is dynamic and long-lasting, taking as its inspiration the natural world and the way that plant communities evolve in the wild.  The presentation left me with a lot to muse about, and ideas to delve deeper into.

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Otherwise, I’ve been getting outdoors daily for long walks, taking in as much of spring as I can possibly soak up.  The pond near my home is a favourite destination for me…and a myriad of duck species.  The red-winged blackbirds arrived last week; their “rusty gate hinge” calls are a sure sign of the changing season.

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Photo by Sheryl Normandeau

Janet:

April turned into a really busy month for me! Like Sheryl, I have been writing like crazy on our books for 2021, articles and new workshops too! Plus trying out all sorts of techniques  indoor sowing and growing. Some worked out beautifully, such as the leeks I finally got to germinate and have a nice crop on the go, but some not so much as I have killed many a lettuce seedling pricking them out. I have lots of kale, tomatoes and cucumbers  on the go and about a zillion wintersowing jugs starting to germinate now outside. Lately of course now that it has stopped snowing, it has been a delight going out into the garden to see what has bloomed overnight with crocuses, snowdrops, and other spring bulbs popping up.

Photos by Janet Melrose (l-r: crocus, wintersowing)

What really made my month busy was learning, literally overnight, how to do online workshops and Horticultural Therapy sessions! It’s quite a skill and not one I had on my bucket list for 2020 for sure, but it’s fun getting together virtually and learning gardening when we are stuck at home!

In May and early June I have a number of workshops scheduled on a range of topics and with a number of groups, all of which are open to everyone!  You register either through Eventbrite or on the Calgary Horticultural Society’s website. Most are talks, but others have a hands on component either with supplies you bring in yourself and others where a kit is delivered to you. I do hope that you will be able to sign in for at least one!

May 5th – Garden On! – How to Get the Most out of Your Raised Bed

Got a raised bed? Learn how to get the very best out of it with planting strategies and practice to maximize your space to the best effect!

For more info and to register, click here. 

May 6th – Beyond Kale* – Small Space Edible Gardening

Those who have limited space or access to a ‘regular’ garden can garden effectively and creatively in containers, taking advantages of all the benefits of this style of gardening and minimizing the disadvantages, and have fun too!

For more info and to register, click here. 

May 7th – 2 Gals in a Garden – Fun, Frivolous and Functional 3 Season Flowering Containers –

A full hands-on Workshop on designing, planting and caring for flowering planters this season.

For more info and to register, click here.

May 12th – Calgary Horticultural Society – Native Plants for Alberta Gardens

Alberta is blessed with profuse and varied native species that are naturally suited to their particular ecological niche. By including them in plant selection, gardeners can save time, energy, money and frustration in efforts to garden wisely and successfully in our challenging environment.

Includes a demo planting…that you can do as well with materials purchased by yourself for the night!

For more info and to register, click here. 

May 13th – Embrace Gardening – Garden Self-Sufficiency  

Growing produce this year is never more important. To learn and know that you can grow part of your food is gardening self-sufficiency.

For more info and to register, click here. 

May 14th –  2 Gals in a Garden- Mixed Edible Planters- A full hands-on Workshop

Grow Your Own Veggies, Fruit and Edible Flowers In Planters to Fit Any Space! And plant up your own container during the workshop!

For more info and to register, click here. 

May 21st– Calgary Horticultural Society -Intensive Planting

How to grow more in less space! Includes a demo planting…that you can do as well with materials purchased by yourself for the night!

For more info and to register, click here.

May 28th– 2 Gals in a Garden- Mighty Herbs-A full hands-on workshop

Herbs belong in every garden, big and small! Join us to learn about culinary herbs, then plant your own container !

For more info and to register, click here. 

In Our Gardens

Sheryl:

The community garden I’ve been a member of for the past few years looks like it will be shuttered due to some ongoing issues, so I’ve been scrambling to find a new garden group to work with.  Fortunately, I found a plot in a garden in a community just south of where I live, and I’m looking forward to joining their membership!

My tomatoes are toodling along indoors and will be hardened off and planted out in a few weeks into large containers on my balcony. In late April, I sowed radishes, Swiss chard, and lettuce in containers outside on the balcony, and some spinach seeds went in today.  And of course, there are plentiful garlic greens, pea shoots, and mustard sprouts going on indoors…it’s fun to keep these going successively so you can always have fresh fixings for sandwiches and salads. 

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Photo by Sheryl Normandeau

Janet: 

It is amazing! Ever since Spring arrived on April 20th the garden has woken up and started blooming with spring bulbs flowering everywhere along with the Hepatica. The insects are out too to my great surprise as in the past couple of years they kept under cover until mid-May. Chives are already growing and ready to use and the rhubarb has poked its nose out to sniff the air. Perennials are sending out new growth and the robins are back along with the waxwings that eat the last of the mountain ash berries.

My bed at the Inglewood Community Garden has had its winter blanket of burlap sacks removed, and I can see garlic coming up under the floating row cover. My containers of edibles back at home are sprouting radishes, spinach, pac choi and arugula. I am so looking forward to some early greens in a few weeks!

Photos by Janet Melrose (t: Hepatica; l-r: cucumbers, chives, rhubarb)

Floral Miscellany

Sheryl: 

Have you ever heard of a condition called tulip fingers?  It’s an interesting – and potentially painful and itchy! – bit of plant chemistry that you can read all about here.

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Seems like plenty of Prairie gardeners are planting raspberries this year – I’m seeing lots of mentions on social media! Did you know that the first written record of raspberries as an edible/medicinal plant was in an English herbal in 1548?  It is believed that the fruit has its origins thousands of years ago in Asia.  There are 200 species of raspberries worldwide – and that’s not counting all the cultivars! The Government of Alberta recommends the following varieties for Prairie gardens:

Floricane types (summer bearing): 

‘Boyne’

‘Festival’

‘Killarney’

‘Honeyqueen’

‘SK Red Mammoth’

Primocane (fall bearing – mid- to late August):

‘Red River’

‘Double Delight’

‘Summit’

‘Autumn Bliss’

‘Fall Brook’

Janet: 

If April brought snow showers, we are really hoping that May bring flowers! But we had better not be too hasty! May can bring lots of abrupt changes to the weather and in Calgary we have had snow on the May long weekend and just plain rain more often than not. Actual snow fell seven times since 2000, and 2016 was the second coldest May long weekend in 40 years! Though 2018 was gorgeous. As a weather geek I am already wondering about our upcoming holiday weather for 2020!

CTV News, “Snow makes long weekend appearance in Calgary and surrounding areas,” May 22, 2016. 

Global News, “2016 the second coldest May long weekend in Calgary in at least 40 years,” May 23, 2016. )

But if May is iffy, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be sowing. Many vegetables should be sown well beforehand, and can weather just about whatever weather we get thrown at us this month. Here is a handy guide put out by Agriculture Alberta for the soil temperatures for many of our common vegetables, plus some historical data to help us plan our sowing!

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♥