Prairie gardening viewpoints: guest post.

I am delighted to announce that I have another guest on the blog!  I’ve been thinking it would be interesting for me to pose a few questions to some Prairie gardeners I know, inquiring about their experiences gardening in such a unique, challenging climate.  I want to find out what they love about gardening in Alberta, what they find difficult, and what inspires them about growing.  Whether you live on the Canadian Prairies or you’re much further afield, I’m sure you’ll find ideas and solutions to consider for your own gardening endeavours.

Please allow me to introduce Lana Gress!

Where do you garden in Alberta?  What challenges do you think we face as gardeners in this province?  How can we overcome those challenges?

I have been gardening in Red Deer, AB for the last three years. I think that Alberta is very unique in respect to gardening because we have some very distinct differences in weather depending on where you are located in the province and how close you are in proximity to the foothills. I really struggled with this the first two years that I lived in Red Deer. Having grown up in northern Saskatchewan, I initially expected gardening to be similar in Alberta but only better because Red Deer is a zone 3b to 4! I had not anticipated the affect of the freeze/thaw cycles of chinook years on trees, shrubs, and perennials that I considered hardly in SK, or how the close proximity to the mountains really makes the overnight temperatures dramatically lower, even in Central Alberta. I believe that these are probably the most challenging things for Alberta gardeners, especially when it comes to vegetable growing. I really had to rethink everything that I had learned about vegetable gardens in Saskatchewan! In Red Deer I’ve found that the ground is still too cold and the night temps are often low well into June. Things that I would have direct seeded on May long weekend in SK (cucumbers, zucchini, corn) have a better chance of success in AB if they are started as transplants in the house. I also live in a hail belt region and I usually get about 2-3 incidences of hail in June/July. This means that it is riskier growing things like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. I tend to grow those vegetables solely in containers for two reasons; I can move them to protected areas if I think there is a chance of hail, and with the colder overnight temps I find that container growing produces more robust and vigorous growth because the root zones of my heat loving plants are always warmer.


What inspires you about gardening?

My grandmother was an avid and inspirational gardener, and she grew the large prairie garden that was typical of her generation. She also had a passion for houseplants and her home was a jungle! Many of these tropical plants were started from seeds and slips all acquired through mail-order catalogues. Grandma even started succulents and African violets from seed! I think this early exposure to growing everything is what developed my passion for growing. I have a diploma in horticulture from Olds College, and have worked as a professional horticulturalist for over 25 years in all aspects of the trade, but growing is my main passion!  

What types of plants are you most passionate about growing?

I’m extremely passionate about food security so vegetable growing is a large focus of mine. I lived in Vancouver and urban areas of the Fraser Valley for 15 yrs before moving to Alberta. The cost of living is very high there so I always looked for ways to stretch my income. Growing as much of my own food as possible was an obvious solution to me. I never had much space either so I started to focus on container growing both outdoors and indoors to help maximize my growing potential. When I moved to an area where I was able to have a “traditional vegetable garden”, I really started to explore gardening methods like biointensive planting practices. I have had gardens that have produced about 1200 pounds of produce in 300 sq ft by using methods like succession planting, interplanting, vertical gardening etc…

What gardening (or gardening-related) projects do you have on the go this year?  What are your goals for this growing season?

This season is an exciting one for me! I have been renting in Red Deer and my yard had no established garden beds and the landlord was a bit hesitant for me to establish a garden bed or build raised beds.  I have solely container gardened for the last two seasons. Once my landlord saw how capable I was he has now agreed to let me develop permanent garden space in the yard. Last summer I began by developing a small in ground bed using the  sheet composting method aka “lasagna gardening”. This is a great method for my landscape as I have very heavy clay subsoil and a small layer of topsoil in the yard. I will be building more beds using this method plus I’ve started to build raised beds. I also have been growing tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers indoors using LED lights for the last few years. I’m planning on expanding the indoor garden in the fall by building a vertical hydroponic system to grow greens, herbs, and strawberries!

A huge thank you, Lana, for your detailed and thoughtful answers – you’ve got us thinking about microclimates and how to protect plants from the extremes of the weather, as well as effective strategies to grow successfully indoors, create productive container gardens, and garner high yields in small spaces. These are all concepts we can use no matter where we live!

Photo by Lana Gress
Photo by Lana Gress

Landscape fabric: should I use it in my garden?

IMG_3887

I’m not keen on putting landscape fabric beneath mulch in a garden bed, but the whole situation is significantly worsened when aliens beam up the mulch in the middle of the night.

Or whatever happened here.

Can you imagine what is going on – or more, accurately not going on – in the soil under there?  Blurrrrgh.  One way to promote soil health and support all the life in it is to ditch the landscape fabric.  (You can of course keep the mulch if you can find out which galaxy it ended up in).

I know…weeds!  The mulch – sans landscape fabric – will help out a bit with that. And if some weeds show up anyway, isn’t it true that we all need a slow, meditative weeding session a couple of times a week?  That’s when I get all my best thinking done…. ♥

 

cropped-pggt-tw-1-2-2.jpg

Prairie gardening viewpoints: guest post.

Something new for my blog today!  I have a guest!  I’ve been thinking it would be interesting for me to pose a few questions to some Prairie gardeners I know, inquiring about their experiences gardening in such a unique, challenging climate.  I want to find out what they love about gardening in Alberta, what they find difficult, and what inspires them about growing.  Whether you live on the Canadian Prairies or you’re much further afield, I’m sure you’ll find some food for thought here (pun intended!). 


Without further ado, please meet Maxwell Hislop!  
In his own words:

“I live in Turner Valley, in the foothills of Alberta. For myself, and many others in Alberta, we have to face cold weather and a shortened growing season. It is May 20th, and I still have some ice on the ground beside my house, so on top of being cold here even for Alberta, this is the coldest spring in recent memory. To overcome this, I have built multiple raised beds, with poly covers. This not only allows me to plant before my last frost (which is in June in my area), it heats up the soil ahead of time making the plants happier to go out into the soil early. I do take the covers off in mid- to late June, pending weather and to allow pollinators access to my plants, but often find myself putting the poly back on later in the season for crops to finish. Starting seeds indoors as well to extend our growing season is common practice here, or buying seedlings from our local greenhouses (whereas other places in Canada can direct seed the same crops).

What has always inspired me about gardening is the flavors, not only in traditional crops like carrots or tomatoes, but with the variety that we can grow at home that you can’t buy at your local stores. No one believed me as a kid that I was eating purple potatoes, or veggies that they never even heard of, like sorrel. I grew up with such a love for food from everything we grew at home and the variety that I continued to have as an adult – everything from four types of perennial onions to dozens of types of potatoes, herbs and spices that no one gets the chance to experience. And there are the added health benefits of the high nutrition that many of these come with. So all of that being said, my passion about gardening is the ability to grow my own food. There aren’t really any particular plants I am passionate about, and my obsessions change year to year.


Every year I choose new projects, and this year is no different. I have already built multiple new raised beds with frames for covers, and later in the year plan on building more independent raised beds for wild perennial veggies. I have been expanding my outdoor mushroom beds to include mushrooms in shady areas along side of my house, mushrooms in my lawn, and log towers for more variety rather then just the few I had already inoculated. They are a wonderful food source and being so high in protein are used as a meat substitute. As well, my final large project for the year is a grey water recycling and filter system hooked up to a large tank with my rain water for irrigating my veggies. My town has not fully rebuilt the water treatment system from the floods five years ago, and most summers we are struck with water restrictions which makes production erratic during dry spells. By filtering my laundry and bath water, I should be able to completely eliminate the use of town water and by using biodegradable soaps it means the soap in the water actually adds nutrients to the soil that the plants need.  


My big goal for the season of giving away a thousand pounds of food to neighbors, family, friends, the food bank, and myself has already failed with this extremely cold spring that we are having. Many of my in-ground beds have not sprouted yet, and my perennials such as asparagus have failed from the cold winter with just a few plants surviving. But with the extra time off from COVID, it has developed into a new goal of helping others produce their own food. A few of us have put out time together to build nearly a dozen gardens for people, including one massive communal garden that is 1600 sqare feet. Using saved seed potatoes and seeds from my own garden, seedlings from my indoor grow setup,  and volunteer work from others like me who are passionate about growing food, there will be much more food produced in the multiple gardens we have started for people. We are also building up a collection of videos to have ready for the fall so people can watch and learn techniques to optimize their own growing space. 


I thank you for giving me the opportunity to share a bit of my story, and for all your work as well to help others with their own gardens.”


A huge thank you, Maxwell, for taking the time to share what is going on in your garden right now and your plans for the season and looking towards the future. You’ve offered so many excellent suggestions for extending the season and dealing with our crazy weather…and for expanding our edible plant horizons!

Raised beds – photo by Maxwell Hislop
Mushroom log tower – photo by Maxwell Hislop

No-beer slug bait recipe (yeast trap).

Beer traps have long been used for slug control but there is another way to trap them that doesn’t involve you sharing your precious brews (because, really, why should slugs get the good stuff?). Try this very basic yeast trap instead:

Ingredients: 

1 cup water

1 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp dry yeast

Instructions:

Throw everything into a jar and mix it together.  (You can double or triple this recipe if you are attending Slimapalooza and require lots of bait. It’s best to mix up a fresh batch each time you need it).

Raid your recycling bin for some shallow containers and sink whatever you scrounge up into your garden bed so that the tops of the containers are level with the surface of the soil. In effect, you’re creating a drop of doom/swimming pool sort of scenario.  Pour the bait mixture into the containers so that they are about 3/4 full.  Then go crack that beer and enjoy the rest of your evening.  Slugs come out at night so check your traps the next morning and dispose of the contents in the garbage.

What are your tried-and-true methods to combat slugs?

cropped-pggt-tw-1-2-2.jpg

Can we grow sweet potatoes on the Prairies?

Sweet potatoes, perhaps; yams, no.  Yams (Dioscorea alata) cannot grow on the Canadian Prairies – they are native to Asia and the Caribbean (where they are a perennial vine) and require a very long growing season to be able to produce tubers.

Under certain conditions we might be able to grow sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas), which are sometimes mistakenly called yams (at least in the grocery stores, where the names seem to be interchangeable). Due to our short growing season, sweet potatoes are a tricky crop to grow, as we often run out of time to produce tubers. There are short-season types available, however. Cultivars such as ‘Covington’, ‘Beauregard’, and the Canadian-bred ‘Radiance’ can produce crops in 110-120 days, and ‘Frazier White’ supposedly only needs 105 days.  This is, of course, if conditions are suitable. Due to the time constraints of our growing season (for example – Calgary only has 117 frost free days on average), starting the slips (unrooted vine cuttings) indoors is essential.

Sweet potatoes also require a long period of hot, dry weather to produce decently-sized tubers, and we all know that the weather doesn’t always co-operate in that regard.

If you have the heat and the time, sweet potatoes aren’t massively demanding plants, as far as inputs go (they are susceptible to a number of pests and diseases, however). They don’t need extremely rich soil; in fact, too much nitrogen is detrimental to tuber production. Beyond watering consistently, you don’t have to do much to make this crop happy.  Sweet potatoes fare best in full to part sun, and will produce sizeable vines that resemble those of another plant in the same genus: morning glories (I. purpurea).

Although things will likely change in the future as breeding efforts continue, sweet potatoes are considered a novelty veggie on the Prairies (although they are grown as specialty food crops in provinces such as Ontario).  You can attempt to grow sweet potatoes in-ground or in a raised bed, but your best bet is probably to try them in containers in your greenhouse and see what you end up with – at the very least, you’ll have a lovely vining plant to enjoy all summer!

Do you grow sweet potatoes in your garden (I’d love to know – whether or not you live in Canada!).  If you enjoy eating sweet potatoes, what are your favourite ways to prepare them or use them in recipes?

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.  ♥

IMG_3885

What hardy roses are good for a small garden bed?

I do quite a bit of volunteering throughout the year, most of it fielding online questions about gardening.  I am always super busy at this point in the growing season – right when everything is just getting started here in Alberta – but this year it’s even more hectic.  Gardening is on everyone’s minds!  How awesome is that?

A couple of days ago, I was chatting online with a lovely lady, who mentioned that she had a nice, sunny flowerbed, but it had a width of only three feet.  She wanted hardy and compact roses for the site.  I came up with a list for her, then thought: Hey!  Maybe someone else wants to know this exact same thing and here I’ve made the list and all…so…I expanded it a little for you and here it is:

Seriously Hardy and Compact Roses for A Really Small Garden Bed

‘Adelaide Hoodless’ – zone 2 – 3 feet x 3 feet – red flowers

‘Da Montarville’ – zone 2 – 2 feet x 3 feet – red flowers

‘Frontenac’ – zone 2 – 3 feet x 3 feet – dark pink flowers

‘J.P. Connell’ – zone 2 – 2.5 feet x 2.5 feet – yellow (One of my personal favourites!)

‘Winnipeg Parks’ – zone 3 – 2.5 feet x 2.5 feet – dark red flowers

‘Nicolas’ – zone 3 – 3 feet x 3 feet – red flowers

‘Bill Reid’ – zone 3 – 3 feet x 3 feet – yellow flowers

‘Champlain’ – zone 3 – 3 feet x 3 feet – red flowers

‘Never Alone’ – zone 3 – 2 feet x 1 foot – red flowers with white centres

‘Cuthbert Grant’ – zone 3 – 3 feet x 3 feet – red flowers

‘Henry Hudson’ – zone 2 – 3 feet x 3 feet – pink/white flowers

‘George Vancouver’ – zone 3 – 3 feet x 3 feet – red flowers

‘Hope for Humanity’ – zone 2 – 2 feet x 3 feet – dark red flowers

‘Marie Bugnet’ – zone 2 – 3 feet x 3 feet – white flowers

‘Oscar Peterson’ – zone 3 – 3 feet x 2 feet – white flowers

‘Snow Pavement’ – zone 2 – 30 inches x 30 inches – white/pink flowers

And, here are the Mordens:

‘Amorette’ – zone 3 – 2 feet x 2 feet – red flowers

‘Belle’ – zone 3 – 3 feet x 3 feet – pink flowers

‘Blush’ – zone 3 – 3 feet x 3 feet – light pink flowers

‘Cardinette’ – zone 3 – 1.5 feet x 1.5 feet – bright red flowers

‘Snow Beauty’ – zone 3 – 2.5 feet x 3.5 feet – white flowers

‘Fireglow’ – zone 3 – 3 feet x 3 feet – bright red flowers

‘Ruby’ – zone 2 – 3 feet x 3 feet – red flowers

‘Campfire’ – zone 3 – 3 feet x 3 feet- pink/white/yellow flowers (Another of my favourites!)

‘Sunrise’ – zone 3 – 3 feet x 3 feet – yellow-orange flowers (This one takes my breath away – I’m a huge fan.  I mean, look at it!)

'Morden Sunrise' 2

Morden ‘Sunrise’ rose (my photo)

Further reading: Roses and Explorer, Parkland, and Canadian Artist (Roses)

cropped-pggt-tw-1-2-2.jpg

What are your favourite roses?  (They don’t have to be compact and they don’t have to be hardy to our crazy Canadian zones).  Go ahead and add links to photos, if you like!