Late June, when this photo was taken, seems like it was eons ago. But it also somehow appears that I blinked and missed the entire month of July. My perception of time is all funny these days.
This gorgeous raging mass of water is Karst Springs, and while I’m sure it is an amazing sight at any time of the year, I’m thinking that it is at its most impressive in June, when the snowpack from the mountains is melting and every body of water is nearly in flood. Karst landscapes are typified by underground streams and formations such as caves; in this location, the water appears to gush out of a solid wall of limestone. It’s quite incredible, and the 10 kilometre hike (out and back) to get there is pretty much flat terrain the entire way.
Welcome to the fourth 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
Request for book 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!
We’ve been on a podcast!
Janet and I had the pleasure and honour of being guests on Agriculture for Life’s Know Your Food podcast, for not one, but TWO episodes! We talked about growing veggies and other edibles, encouraging children to catch the gardening bug, and the connection between the coronavirus pandemic, self-sustainability, and growing your own food…and a few other topics, besides! Go to Ag for Life’s website to listen.
Congratulations to Sherryl H. and Linda H., who each won a set of The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases by participating in a contest run here on the blog earlier this month. A huge thank you to our publisher, TouchWood Editions, for supporting the contest and providing the prizes for the winners!
Out and About
After being laid off for nearly four months, I am back to work at the library and, combined with my writing schedule and gardening and the need to eke out a few fun summer activities while there is still time, I’m a wee bit swamped. I have an ever-accumulating load of articles to write, questions to answer for curious (and occasionally desperate and fed up) gardeners, thunderstorms to dodge (my tomatoes have spent half of their lives covered up with sheets to prevent hailstones from destroying them), and So. Much. Weeding. The weed du jour (besides quackgrass, which is actually the bane of my existence): stinkweed (Thlapsi arvense). At least stinkweed is an annual, and it spreads via seeds instead of rhizomes (or seeds AND rhizomes – shudder). It’s easy to pull but there seems to be an incredible amount of it this year. Stinkweed has the glorious distinction that if it is allowed to set seed, one plant can produce 15,000 seeds. I’m pretty sure all of those germinated in my raised beds this year, alongside a zillion annual chickweed plants (Stellaria media), which are another story altogether.
A few articles that I wrote earlier in the year have made it to publication – check out “Harvesting Rain’’ in the Summer 2020 issue of The Gardener for Canadian Climates and “Superb Serviceberries” in Mother Earth Gardener. Both of these are available on newsstands across Canada – and in the case of Mother Earth Gardener, you can find it anywhere in the United States, as well. (You can also read the article online here!). I also went a little farther afield than usual and wrote an article called “Opossums as Pollinators in Brazil” for the April 2020 issue of 2 Million Blossoms. As you can imagine, that one was fascinating to research! This is a beautifully-produced, brand-new publication out of Arizona, dedicated to celebrating and “protecting our pollinators.” (If interested, you can order a subscription from their website).
I also had a chance to do a story about houseplants, for a change – my article “Devil’s Ivy vs. Philodendron: Which is Which?” can be found online at Farmers’ Almanac. Check it out here! And, finally, “Using Colour in the Garden” was published in the July 4, 2020 issue of the newspaper The Calgary Herald. You can read it here.
Unlike Sheryl I have been taking a hiatus from writing and workshops since the middle of June, although my article ‘Attracting Butterflies with Annuals’ is in the Summer issue of The Gardener for Canadian Climates. It was a joy to research, write and photograph and I hope any of you that take in this magazine enjoys it too.
My Horticultural Therapy programs are all in abeyance too, except for one that is online!
So, my days have been filled with planting, sowing and weeding all the gardens that folks in the programs usually do. Plus, every so often, getting into my own garden.
One thing I haven’t had to much at all is watering, seeing as the sky has repeatedly provided ample moisture. Apparently, Alberta is experiencing La Nina like conditions in the atmosphere which have been contributing to our cooler and wetter weather lately. There is also a 50/50 chance of a full blown La Nina for this winter. Can we say cold and snowy?
I have been loving the chance to get out into the wild where the wildflowers have been stunning along with the insects and birds. Usually my days are filled in the summer months and I seldom get the chance to go out and about. If there is a silver lining to this year, it is the joy we Albertans are getting from relearning our own backyards and wild spaces!
In Our Gardens
As I already mentioned, weeds are what’s happening. We have had a lot of rain and now there are weeds everywhere. I’m a bit weird in that I don’t mind weeding: I like to relax in the sun and pull and dig them up by hand. Weeding is just a really nice opportunity to turn the ol’ brain off and listen to the birds sing and the bees buzz in the garden. More importantly, it’s a way to get really up close with your plants and see what’s going on almost at soil level. Sometimes you get in a rush and you run to the garden to grab a handful of lettuce for a supper salad, or you sprinkle some water over everything before you dash out to work in the morning and you don’t really SEE what’s going on out there. You need to sit and go slow to do that. If you take a look at our pests and diseases book, you’ll notice that we talk about Integrated Pest (Plant) Management. One of the tenets of that practice is monitoring. That’s one of the things you can be doing while you weed: monitor your cultivated crops and ensure they are healthy and stress-free. If they aren’t, maybe you can see what the problem is while you’re out there weeding.
In July and August, everything is up in the garden and you’re just taking it all in, harvesting a few crops here and there and waiting on others to get larger or to produce more. We’ve been enjoying spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, scallions, garlic scapes, kohlrabi, and various herbs – and, of course, potatoes (which are honestly the real reason I grow vegetables, LOL). And now the beans are coming along as well and the zucchini (which is seriously late for me this year).
I have been having so much fun working in my bed at Inglewood Community Garden. It is a 10’ x 4’ bed so I have taken our Victory Garden plan (which you can see here) and used it in this bed using the square foot gardening technique to control my urge to just add a bit more into it.
It is producing magnificently with my four kale plants in full production, along with lettuce and chard galore. This year with all the rain our radishes were wonderful….mild tasting, beautiful round orbs and nary a radish maggot to be found. Soon it will be the turn of the pole beans, garlic and tomatoes as they all come into their own. And I grew the best cilantro I have ever done, with it tucked in the shadow of the tomatoes and under floating row cover the entire time. A testimony to the benefits of using this ‘gardeners’ best friend’, not to mention the value it provides as hail protection!
As I love to get as much as I can from a space I have already sown more radishes where the cilantro was in the hopes that the conditions there will good enough to get a second delicious crop. While the first lettuces are being harvested using ‘crop and come again’ I have sown more seed to germinate while I munch through the first round of delicious leaves. When the garlic come out in a few weeks I have more seedlings growing in wintersowing jugs to take that space to continue the bounty!
A couple of the questions that keep cropping up (pun intended) on the Alberta Gardening group on Facebook concern the topic of growing onions. If you’re waiting on your onion bulbs to plump up and you know it’s going to be a few more weeks, what do you do if flowers suddenly show up? Do you cut them off? Do you leave them? And some gardeners stomp down the tops of their onions at this point in the growing season because they think it will promote fatter bulbs – is that something that should be done? (I’ve seen people recommend this for potatoes, as well). Let’s get down to the bottom of this!
Continuing on with the Allium family, garlic (Allium sativum) is taking centre stage now. Our late and cool start to the growing season has meant that they are only now developing the distinctive curl to the scapes, but now is the time to snip those scapes back to the first set of leaves. A gourmet delight and expensive in stores, use them just as you would the cloves for your summer cuisine. They pickle and pesto perfectly too if you have too many to use fresh!
Then watch for the leaves to turn yellow and die back in the next few weeks. Once they are about one third brown harvest one to see if the bulb is big and well formed. If it is, then harvest the lot as left too long after that the quality starts to degrade. Cure for three weeks in a dry and warm spot and we have fantastic garlic for the winter months plus using the best bulbs our stock for planting come fall when the cycle begins again!
If you love growing garlic like I do check out Ron L. Engleland’s iconic book ‘Growing Great Garlic’.
We’re having a mosquito year! Heavy spring rains and flash flooding in some areas have brought out the nasty little critters in thick swarms. It’s impossible to avoid them when you’re outdoors, even in the city, where they are not usually a huge problem due to mitigation measures. On a hike out at Brown-Lowery Provincial Park earlier this week, my husband and I added a slightly frantic waving arm/slap routine to our walk and it ended up being quite the upper body workout. The views were worth the ridiculousness, though.
This amazing natural area just outside of Calgary is one of my favourite places to visit – the views are incredible in any season and in any type of weather. The Rocky Mountains to the west, rolling grasslands in the south and east, and even a view of the city’s downtown when you gaze north – it’s all eye candy from the trails, and depending on the time of year, you’ll catch a myriad of wildflowers in bloom, numerous bird species, and maybe even some wildlife (we’ve seen moose and deer, and a few small mammals such as squirrels). I took this photo about three weeks ago, when the aspens were just leafing out and their foliage had that brand-new-straight-out-of-the-package brilliant yellow-green colour and the snow pack was still high on the mountains (that actually hasn’t changed much – the peaks remain pretty white).
What’s growing (nothing outside – other than the snow piles):
Catgrass (I’ve planted a mix of wheatgrass and oats). I swear this stuff germinates in five minutes. If you ever feel like your green thumb’s gone bust, just plant some catgrass and your confidence will be restored almost immediately. My personal assistant Smudge is cut off after only a few good gnaws, as she has an exceedingly delicate digestive system and I hate cleaning upholstery.
Droolicious books I’ve been gawking at:
Urban Botanics: An Indoor Plant Guide for Modern Gardeners by Emma Sibley and Maaike Koster (illustrator)
Whether you’re a dab hand at growing houseplants or you’re captivated with the idea of growing them and want to know more so you can actually get started, this book is worth a gander or two. Or more: While the text offers up plenty of well-researched information and will likely lead to rushed trips to the nearest garden centre to scoop up a new Dracaena or Philodendron or an entire shopping cart full of succulents, the illustrations by Maaike Koster are absolutely glorious, pure eye candy at its most delicious.
The Embroidered Art of Chloe Giordano
A co-worker mentioned Giordano’s Instagram account to me and after just one glimpse, I was highly motivated to track down this gorgeous book. Thread-painted woodland animals – what could be more beautiful? Even if you don’t embroider, you can’t help but be amazed at Chloe Giordano’s insane talent and creativity.
Getting out and about:
One snowshoe trek is in the books! In early December, my hubby, my brother, and I earned “Braggin’ Rights” out at West Bragg Creek. Braggin’ Rights is 8.7 kilometres (5.4 miles) long, but we linked up via Snowy Owl and Old Shell Road, which added a few more K. Even though the bulk of Braggin’ Rights is in forest, the snow changed texture as we progressed from the cooler morning to the warmer afternoon, luxurious powdery crystals becoming sticky and heavy and clinging to our ‘shoes. I’m hoping we can get out several more times during the next eight months of winter*, but scheduling is a bit wonky with work, so we’ll see….
*I exaggerate, but only slightly.
(Old Shell Road)
What fun things are you doing this early in the new year?
One of my very favourite trips this summer was into the Castle wilderness, in the farthest, most southwestern corner of the province (it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to the state of Montana in the south, and British Columbia in the west). My niece, my hubby, and I spent a couple of days camping out there in late July, and we hiked Table Mountain. It’s only 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) to the summit, but your elevation gain is 700 metres (2,297 feet) and it’s on rough, slippery terrain, so it was a challenge my creaky knees and I were a bit nervous about. We took our time getting to the top and it was incredible! (And incredibly windy…you really didn’t want to stand too close to the edge as a gust could easily take you over).
An open meadow view above the treeline….
On the Table.
One of the most rewarding hikes I’ve ever done, and in fantastic company! ♥
If you’ve ever spent any time in the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, you have probably visited the town of Banff, located in the National Park that bears its name. My hubby and I don’t travel to the townsite often even though it’s not very far away, but we decided to make the trip a few weeks ago so we could summit Tunnel Mountain, which overlooks the town. Instead of driving and worrying about where we would park in the busy tourist-filled town, we took a commuter bus operated by On-It Regional Transit. For ten dollars each way, we were able to board the bus near our home and relaxenjoy the incredible scenery nap all the way to our destination and back. The On-It buses operate between Calgary, Canmore, and Banff and have a regular weekend schedule with several routes running during the summer. It’s definitely a great option if you don’t want to drive from Calgary and back.
As for Tunnel Mountain…we had fun doing this quick trek under cloudy conditions. It’s a short peak, relatively speaking, topping out at 1,692 metres. (It’s a 4.3 kilometre trip return, with a 300 metre elevation gain). Despite the name, the mountain doesn’t actually have a tunnel. When the Canadian Pacific Railway was working to push tracks through the area in 1882, they wanted to blast right through the mountain. While it was a shorter route than what was eventually constructed, it would have been far more costly, in dollars and labour, to build the tunnel. So the mountain doesn’t have a big hole in it…but the name has stuck. (The mountain’s Indigenous names include Sleeping Buffalo, Iinii Istako, and Eyarhey Tatanga Woweyahgey Wakân).
(I wasn’t asked or compensated to provide a review of the On-It service – we just loved it so much I wanted to talk about it!). 🙂
We have a very cool art exhibit going on at the library branch where I work, a sample of multi-media work by children participating in art classes at the Wildflower Arts Centre. These kids are aged 5 through 14 and it is amazing to see such talent! Paint, charcoal, fibre, paper (collage and mâché)…the creativity is fantastic!
Reading highlights for the month: the hilarious and action-packed YA novel The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, by F.C. Lee. Think Chinese mythology meets California high school – it has Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibes but it’s way loonier and, quite frankly, a bit more juvenile. But it’s silly good fun and I can’t wait for the next book…hopefully it is published soon.
Another YA offering: M.T. Anderson’s Landscape with Invisible Hand. I laughed, I cried, I despaired. I think I was supposed to eventually feel hopeful, but that’s actually the point where the tears appeared. This is a satirical (and just plain devastating) story of an alien invasion of Earth that has some startling, wayyyyyy too-close-to-home consequences.
Early in the month, my hubby and I took a tour of the Coutts Centre for Western Heritage, near the town of Nanton, Alberta. This amazing place is the family homestead of Dr. Jim Coutts (1938 – 2013), a prominent southern Alberta lawyer, businessman, and art collector – and in addition to all the artifacts and buildings onsite, it boasts the most incredible gardens filled with predominantly native prairie plants. Truthfully, I hope no one noticed me while I was wandering around the grounds, because I believe my lower jaw was firmly positioned somewhere around my ankles and I may have been drooling a little. If you happen to find yourself in that part of the province during the growing season and plants are your thing, make it a must-do pit stop – it really shouldn’t be missed. And, if the gardens aren’t enough (what!?), the place boasts what is likely the only example in Canada of a camera obscura built from a 1920’s-era grain bin.
These. Poppies. Seriously.
Re: my vegetable garden. Things are just sort of making an appearance, finally, after thousands of days of rain. I have golf ball-sized kohlrabi! I have really diminutive turnips! I have the smallest, most perfectly round pumpkins you’ll ever see…the kohlrabi are actually larger and at this rate, it will be about a year before I can harvest them, LOL. The zucchini fruit might be more than five centimetres long next week…we’ll see. I’m heartened by this new grand emergence of things but…um…cautious. The weather has been WEIRD…it’s mid-August already and we occasionally get frost(!) at the end of the month, so you can see where I’m coming from. I am harvesting dill and parsley and potatoes right now, which is delightful (especially as those three things go really well together at suppertime). And these supremely pretty bush beans, ‘Dragon Tongue’, are just coming on now. I simply want to gawk at them – they’re almost too gorgeous to eat!
I was very rushed before the growing season began this year and I failed to get a handle on them as the months flew by. Next year, I am planning to do more winter sowing – it truly provides the jump start often needed in this climate. If my personal assistant, Smudge, deigns to allow me to do so, I’ll start some seeds indoors as well…but she has an annoying habit of constantly snacking while at work. 😉
Smudge’s Sage Advice: It’s important to actively track your prey in case it goes somewhere. Even if it can’t, really. ♥