The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter – September 2020.

The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter

September 2020

Welcome to the fifth 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

Janet’s chat on CBC Radio’s Daybreak

On August 15, Janet did an amazing interview with Russell Bowers on CBC Radio’s Daybreak programme, talking about our books in the Guides for the Prairie Gardener series and what to watch out for in the garden in late summer! Take a listen to the interview here! 

Request for 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!

In Our Gardens

Sheryl:

Well, the first frost has already happened here in Calgary and so I’ve been watching the forecast like a hawk and covering the tomatoes as required. I swear, my tomatoes have been covered nearly the whole growing season – first, to protect them against the threat of multiple hailstorms, and now this!  I have already harvested a pleasantly sizeable yield of ripe and ready currant tomatoes and my husband and I have been enjoying them in salads and I’ve been taking them to work just to snack on.  I’m still waiting on my precious ‘Black Krim’ tomatoes, though…they are still green and I’m waiting on a bit of a blush to happen.  If you pick them when they are TOO green, they won’t ripen indoors…you have to reach that special threshold.

‘Candyland Red’ currant tomatoes (photo by Sheryl)

I have picked quite a few lovely zucchinis over the past several weeks and they’ve been cooked up in various ways in my kitchen.  Did you know that you can shred zucchini, drain the excess water from it, then pack it into bags and freeze it for later use?  It’s a good solution if you’re swimming in summer squash! I saw a great tip in the Alberta Gardening group on Facebook last week from a gardener who goes one step further and freezes the shredded zucchini after packing it into the cups of a muffin tin. When it’s ready, she just snaps out the iced zuke pops, bags them individually, and puts them back in the freezer. Nice and tidy and ready for that chocolate zucchini cake at a moment’s notice!

And I’ve been saving seeds…calendula, dill, nasturtiums, beans, and sweet peas so far.  I can’t stress enough the importance of labelling the plants that you want to save seed from so that you can easily locate them later on when they’ve stopped blooming. This year, I just tucked in some old wooden skewers I had kicking around and fashioned a tag with a piece of coloured tape.  I wrote the colour of the flowers on the tape – for example: a calendula with DBL (double flowers) with BRN CENT (brown centres).  I planted several types of calendula this year and wanted to differentiate the doubles from the singles, and identify the colours.  I also had several colours of nasturtiums, so I tagged them to remind myself where the red ones were in the sea of cream-coloured ones.  You’ll be sure to come up with a labelling system of your own – just remember to do it in advance, as it makes seed saving much easier.  I always think I am going to remember the exact location of everything but I never do….

One of the double-flowered calendula plants I am keen to save seed from … (photo by Sheryl)

If you’re planning to save seed from your sweet peas, I’ve done up a little video with some tips – check it out: 

And I’m talking about saving dill seed here:

Floral Miscellany

Sheryl:

Did you know…that hawthorn berries are not really berries at all? They are pomes. (Apples and pears are pomes, too).  Hawthorn berries are commonly called “haws”; rather reminiscent of the ‘’hips” from roses. (And, in fact, hawthorns are related to both apples and roses – they’re in the same family). Right now, you’ll be seeing the bright red fruit on hawthorn trees growing on the prairies – they look a bit like tiny ornamental crabapples or indeed, like oversized rose hips.  I’ve been experimenting with making jelly from hawthorn berries…stay tuned for a blog post containing the recipe! 

Hawthorn “haws” (photo by Sheryl)

Get Social with Us! 

Sheryl: 

Facebook: @FloweryProse

Twitter: @Flowery_Prose

Instagram: @flowery_prose

Janet:

Facebook: calgaryscottagegardener

Twitter: @calcottagegdnr

Instagram: calgaryscottagegardener

‘Til later!  ♥Sheryl and Janet

Prairie gardening tip: What to plant in place of a tree infected with fire blight.

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:

Apples

Crabapples

Pears

Mountain ash

Hawthorns

Saskatoons (serviceberries)

Plums

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.

Janet Melrose and I have written more about fire blight – including how to ID and attempt to control and prevent it – in our book The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases.

Do you grow any members of the rose family? Have you ever had an issue with fire blight?

The Guides for the Prairie Gardener…in the library!

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).

Prairie garden tips: use floating row cover.

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This stuff. Floating row cover is incredibly useful in regions where the weather is, at best, a little raunchy, and at worst, downright horrific.  Here on the prairies, we commonly face high winds, heat, drought, excessive moisture, hail, and freezing cold…often within a 24 hour period in the middle of July.  (I exaggerate, but only slightly).  Floating row cover, combined with a hoop tunnel, can be massively helpful when it comes to protecting your plants from all that wackiness.  It can also assist in a whole lot of other ways, including as a control for insects (buh-bye, flea beetles!).

One thing to know before you go out and buy floating row cover:  Don’t cheap out.  Trust me on this.  You think, oh I’m saving a few bucks, but you really can tell when you open the package that it is flimsy and a tad shoddy. You set it up at the community garden anyway, and that very night (of course), there is a thunderstorm. It’s not even a severe one.  Middling, actually.  No hail, either.  At any rate, you go in to check on the garden the next morning and your cheap floating row cover is completely ribboned, strips hanging like banners from your hoop tunnel and bits scattered all over the garden, confetti strewn in other garden plots and clinging damply to the fence.  So you spend the next half hour trying to find all the pieces of fabric and hoping that the garden leader isn’t going to show up to see what you’ve done. (Worse yet, you’re worried that she has already been and gone and is now drafting you a nasty email).

No, as with most things in life, get the good stuff.  In this case, it’s reusable for many, many years.

Do you use floating row cover in your garden?  (I know many of you who don’t live on the prairies use it, as well!).  

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The books are here!

Picking up today’s mail was a much more delightful experience than usual….

“Over the moon” pretty much describes the feeling.  ♥

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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! ❤️

 

In the garden: pleasant surprises.

I finally finished my garden clean up this past weekend.  I don’t have perennial beds at our new home; my new garden space is a combination of containers on the balcony and a plot at the nearby community garden. Clean up was easy: I had no issues with diseases with my container plants so all the soil was dumped into a large covered tote and left on the balcony for use next season, and the pots were all scrubbed and put into indoor storage so they don’t freeze and crack.  Clean up at the community garden was also a cinch: our garden committee encourages members to leave plants in place and chop and drop them in the spring.  (I am a huge fan of this! Keeping the dried plants in place over winter helps prevent a bit of soil crusting, as the garden is fully exposed during chinook winds and freeze and thaw cycles. The plants may also provide a safe haven for beneficial insects such as ladybugs, and the sunflowers in some of the other plots may be useful for hungry birds).  I did pull the pumpkin and zucchini plants, as they were beset with a vicious case of powdery mildew.

My garlic is planted at the community garden and mulched and hopefully snug for the winter, and I sunk a large container of alpine strawberries into the raised bed there in the hopes that they might survive. (I don’t have any in-ground spaces like I used to).  I’ll winter sow some more strawberry seeds outside in early March as insurance.

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I haven’t had a lot of time to review this year’s gardening season.  It was a challenging one, as far as the weather was concerned. Spring wasn’t gradual and wet; instead, we were blasted out of the gate with mid-summer-like heat and no rain.  Some direct-sown seeds refused to germinate, even with supplemental irrigation. Our summer was hot and filled with forest fire smoke, and we had a couple of severe hailstorms that handily trashed plants in mere seconds.  Many gardeners I talked to fought multiple insect infestations, but aside from the cutworms early in the season, I was fortunate in that regard. And then, just as everyone was still hoping their pumpkins would ripen on the vine and they would get some tomatoes that were a colour other than green, we were hit with two weeks of snowfall and bitter cold in September.

One pleasant surprise in my garden (besides these) were the ‘Le Puy’ lentils I grew for the first time.  The plants are pretty, resembling some of our common vetches so much that I thought perhaps I’d get in trouble for harbouring weeds.  The deer find them attractive, as well, which definitely reduced the quantity I was able to harvest.  Compared to some of my other plants, the lentils didn’t seem to require much care – a regular watering schedule was the most important thing, and they made it through the heat better than my sweet peas and sugar peas.

I quickly realized that the timing of harvest is critical with lentils.   The pods must be picked when they are dry, but if you wait too long (a scant few minutes, it seems!), they shatter, blasting the seeds across the soil or the entire garden or into the parking lot in the street adjacent.  I swear I could hear them pinging off the streetlights before I got to them.  😉  I still managed to collect enough to enjoy a decent snack (this recipe is easy to prepare and delicious!).

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Were there any pleasant surprises in your garden this growing season? What about any old favourites that were once again reliable?

Book review: House Plants by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf.

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House Plants: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Growing and Caring for Indoor Plants

By Lisa Eldred Steinkopf (Cool Springs Press, 2017)

Throwing millennials and houseplants together seems to be a thing in the media these days; this (slightly tongue-in-cheek) article from The Washington Post is only one example of many that I’ve come across lately.  One glance at the racks in your local garden centre will tell you that indoor gardening is indeed experiencing a resurgence – for everyone’s benefit!  There are so many more plant selections available, and not just the succulents and air plants that have been trendy for the past few years.  Looking after houseplants is meditative, nourishing, and just plain enjoyable, but only if you know what you’re doing.

That’s what Lisa Eldred Steinkopf’s book is for: to help you succeed with your growing endeavours.  In House Plants, Steinkopf (thehouseplantguru.com) thoroughly and precisely covers every detail: soil, water, light, containers, siting, propagation, and troubleshooting pests and diseases.  Her advice is practical and easy to understand, even for those just getting into the hobby – this is a book that will definitely inspire confidence when it comes to keeping houseplants.  (The chapter on propagation particularly impressed me, with its clear directions and accompanying photography).  Indoor gardeners will appreciate that she even touches briefly on bonsai, topiary, living walls, water plants, and holiday plants, as these somewhat specialty niches become more mainstream.

Of course, it’s truly the more than 125 profiles of houseplants that attracted me most to the book…I feel like I now have a goal to try them all at some point (don’t tell my hubby!).  I love the fact that individual plants are categorized according to their difficulty of cultivation and maintenance (again, this gives me something to work towards!).  From ferns to figs to palms, orchids, and dracaena – it’s all here and each one is beautifully photographed to aid in identification.  Comprehensive, useful, and a delight to pore through, this really is the “complete guide” to houseplants!

 

(Full disclosure: I was given a review copy of Lisa Eldred Steinkopf’s book House Plants by Cool Springs Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group. All opinions are 100 percent my own.  Heck, 300 percent my own).

National Poinsettia Day.

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Apparently, it is National Poinsettia Day in the United States. I don’t have a poinsettia this year, although I love them. It’s been so cold here that transporting one from the garden centre to home might completely do it in before I even had a chance to enjoy it. Arctic air masses that lounge around for days and days on end are not fun for anyone, and especially not if you’re from the tropics, as this plant is. Which is also perhaps why it is not National Poinsettia Day here in Canada – we’ve established that temperatures in the minus mid-to-high twenties (that’s Celsius!) are not ideal for such a celebration. Really, for any celebration. Except one involving hot chocolate and Irish cream and a warm fireplace.

Even if we don’t have a special day to honour poinsettias here in the frozen north, I can still share a fascinating bit of information: did you know that the dense, multi-branching habit and stunted growth of our holiday poinsettias results from infection by a type of pathogen?  This article has more information about how it works.*  And here is another for further perusal.  Enjoy the reads – I’m off to petition the government to make National Hot Chocolate and Irish Cream and Warm Fireplace Day a reality.

Are poinsettias part of your holiday celebrations?  What colour is your favourite?  And have you ever seen a poinsettia in tree form?  (I haven’t).  

*UPDATED: I managed to track down a photo of a “wild” poinsettia, as the photo in the first link isn’t accurate – take a look here.

Planting Garlic: Pre-treatments and crop rotation.

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Do you grow garlic?  A co-worker and I were discussing our plans to plant it this year and we got on the subject of soaking the cloves before putting them in the ground:  yay or nay, and in what media?  Soaking garlic is supposed to deter fungal infections and insect infestations, and presumably because the cloves are healthier, the subsequent plants will be as well (which translates as better yield and quality).  Soaking garlic is standard procedure for many growers – is it something you do?

It seems there isn’t a consensus about what to soak it in, however – or even how many steps you should take to accomplish the task.  My co-worker just puts the cloves in rubbing alcohol for three or four minutes and then sows as usual, but I’ve read that some gardeners use a pre-treatment of either an overnight soak in plain H²O or a combination of liquid seaweed, baking soda and water, followed by the alcohol rinse.   Alternatively, you can leave out the rubbing alcohol (or vodka or hydrogen peroxide or ?) and just go with the seaweed mix.  Commercial growers appear to have their own brews, including guidelines for the optimum temperature of the soaking media.  What is your go-to concoction?

Or…you can do what I did last year and not soak your garlic at all.  I didn’t have any problems, but would that have been a risk you would have taken?  How seriously do you consider the source of your seed stock in determining if you soak the cloves or not?

And then we started talking about rotating allium crops…she doesn’t, I do.

Garlic growers, what are your thoughts?