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.  ♥

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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!)

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Morden ‘Sunrise’ rose (my photo)

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

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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!  

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♥

Snow mold. What is it and how can I get it off my lawn?

I was actually going to title this post Snow Mold: Something to Sneeze At!  Or maybe Snow Mold: Gack!  What’s that Unsightly Stuff on My Lawn?  Way more dramatic and punchy, LOL.

I’ve been hearing over and over again how snow mold isn’t a “thing” outside of Canada (or even western Canada; I saw a comment on social media from someone in Ontario who had never heard of the stuff and I know they get snow there).  It’s quite possible that we’re more inclined to get it on the Prairies, as our winter conditions tend to support it more than elsewhere.  It’s not unusual to see the arrival of the white stuff before the ground is completely frozen, and then to have large accumulations linger throughout the entire winter.  This year, in Calgary (and it sounds like, in the rest of the province as well), we are having one big crazy snow mold party…it is everywhere!  Yay!  Achoo!

There are two main types of fungi that cause snow mold – gray mold is attributed to Typula spp. while Microdochium nivalis is responsible for pink mold.  You’ll instantly recognize snow mold because it flattens the grass and leaves a sort of pasty grey-white or pink-white webbing on top.  (You can see some good photos of it in this article). And you’ll also recognize that “snow” mold is a bit of a silly name, because the snow itself doesn’t actually mold.  It just acts as a cover for the fungal activity.

In the summer the fungi loll around and do absolutely nothing.  Although the heat doesn’t faze them, they are cold-lovers and when winter arrives, they get happy and start to grow.  After the big melt in spring, you’ll notice them clumping all your turfgrass together and looking mighty pleased with themselves.  And if you have seasonal allergies, boy, are you in for it.  Next to pollen, snow mold has got to be one of the worst triggers (just ask me, I know all about it).

So, will this icky grossness do permanent damage to my lawn?  Not usually. Severe infestations will cause patchiness, which can be easily remedied by overseeding.  To deal with snow mold, you can rake it really gently when the ground is dry enough to do so.  (If you have allergies, get someone else to do this job for you).  “Gently” is the operative word, here, as you’ll yank up your grass if you rake too hard this early in the season.  Bag up the clippings. Don’t thatch until later on, after the ground is completely thawed – this initial period right after melt isn’t the time to get aggressive with your lawn, as you’ll only do damage.  You can also choose to do nothing: as the grass dries out and the temperatures increase, the mold will become inactive again, and greening will happen on schedule.  A good soaking rain will also help wash away the problem. Don’t fertilize immediately after thaw, and don’t mow the lawn right away, either – wait until things dry up a bit.

Yes, snow mold will come back, and no, you can’t really do a lot to prevent it.  Rake up your leaves in the fall, and don’t use a high nitrogen fertilizer late in the season.  Give your lawn that final mow before the snow flies (if the precipitation doesn’t take you by surprise) – a shorter cut will also help deter voles, as well.

 

Further Reading:

Burke, Kelly. “Identifying and Controlling Snow Mold in Your Lawn.” The Spruce. February 2, 2020. https://www.thespruce.com/snow-mold-2153094

 

 

A bit of a bookish post….

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If you’re a birder in the Prairie provinces and want to check a few prime locations off of your bucket list, this book is indispensable!  Best Places to Bird in the Prairies is written by experts in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, and it is filled with detailed tips on how to get to each destination, a description of the type of conditions and facilities to expect when you get there, and – most importantly! – a snapshot of which species to anticipate (depending on the time of year).  Make sure this compact guidebook by John Acorn, Alan Smith, and Nicola Koper has a permanent place in your bag with your camera and binoculars  – you’ll find yourself eagerly consulting it to plan your next outing.

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Landscape architect, university professor, world traveler, artist, and self-proclaimed “Prairie girl,” Calgarian Beverly A. Sandalack has created an utterly delightful cookbook/travelogue/sketchbook in Recipes & Ramblings (2019).  The recipes are derived from international cuisine and seem perfectly accessible to any cook, regardless of experience. Her anecdotes about her travels are fascinating and candid, and, combined with her beautiful photography and illustrations, Sandalack’s “ramblings” are thoroughly engaging. The book is available in Calgary at select stores – click here to see where you can buy it if you’re in the city.  (Some of these stores may be closed or available for delivery or curbside pickup only as I write this post in early April).

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Calgary author Ramona Heikel has written a couple of important children’s nonfiction books for Beech Street Books: Black History in Canada: Famous Black Canadians (2019) and Immigration to Canada – Then and Now: Chinese Immigrants in Canada (2018). Click on the titles to check out descriptions of the books and her experiences writing them on her blog, Happily Writing.  A huge congratulations, Ramona!

What are you reading right now?

 

 

The e-books have been released!

Just bursting in really quickly to let everyone know that the e-book versions of The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases are out today on Kobo and Kindle!  (The print version will be out on May 12 and I’ll keep everyone posted on where copies are being sold).  It’s an exciting day!♥

You can order at these links and have the books on your reader in just a few minutes:

The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables – Kobo (Kobo.com) 

The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables – Kindle (Amazon.ca)

The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases – Kobo (Kobo.com) 

The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases – Kindle (Amazon.ca)

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