Alberta Snapshot: Valleyview farmland.

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Fence and farmer’s field – Valleyview, Alberta – 6 September 2015

Is summer over already?  We have heavy frost in low-lying areas here this morning, and we’ve already had snowfall in the city twice since mid-August.  I ran out to the community garden last night to cover my zucchini and some of my herbs, so hopefully all made it through the night.  I’m not ready to put the garden to bed just yet!  But the leaves are changing colour very quickly (accelerated by the drought and heat stress from the summer) and the farmers are scrambling to get their crops off the fields.  It was a terrible year for farming in the province, and the frost and late rains are now making things worse.

Environment Canada has stated that we’re going to have a long, hot, dry autumn – guess we’ll see!  The birds and the insects and the plants (and the weather!) seem to suggest otherwise….

Alberta snapshot: Canola fields and sky.

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Photographed 7 July 2014, near Hanna, Alberta.

Even though canola fields in bloom are a common sight on the Prairies at this time of year, there’s no way I could ever grow tired of those brilliant swaths of yellow. I once had a summer job at the museum in Fort St. John, British Columbia, where I learned to work the till in the gift shop. With our location on the Alaska Highway, we were a popular spot for tourists to drop in for maps and other information, and I remember that the postcard I sold the most copies of featured a canola field under a stormy grey sky. “What are those beautiful yellow flowers?” was the third most popular question, behind “Do bears eat people?” and “Where is the washroom?”     🙂

Is canola or rapeseed a common agricultural crop where you live?

What is canola?

Flowery blurbs, volume 9.

Life-glowing season ! odour-breathing Spring !

Deck’d in cerulean splendours !vivid,warm,

Shedding soft lustre on the rosy hours, And calling forth their beauties !

balmy Spring ! To thee the vegetating world begins

To pay fresh homage.

-“Ode to Spring” by Mary Darby Robinson (1758-1800)  Read the whole poem here.

I know, I know, I’m a bit early – spring is officially eight days away – but I figure it never hurts to be organized.  (Yeah, that’s it).  The truth is, even though we’ve had an unusually mild winter here in Calgary, I’m just that anxious for the change of season, excitedly counting down the days until the first bulbs poke up out of the earth:  crocuses, scilla, anemones, and glories-of-the-snow.

The zen of tulip maintenance.  (Sort of).

I don’t plant tulips anymore – while I’m honoured to provide a banquet for the local squirrels and hares, my pocketbook simply can’t take the hit.  Instead, I buy fresh cut tulips whenever I can find them and put them on display in my rodent-free livingroom.  If you’re like me (that is, tormented by insatiable tulip-munching adorable furry critters) and you buy your tulips from a florist or at the supermarket, try these tips for keeping them fresh and beautiful for as long as possible.

Thumb’s up for this northern Alberta biomass conversion project.

In the small city of Whitecourt, Alberta, fast-growing poplars and willow trees are being grown in waste water and sludge cast off of the water treatment plant.  The idea is to harvest these trees as fuel for the city’s wood-burning power plant.  Four other municipalities in northern Alberta are working on similar projects, and involvement and interest is increasing.  While this isn’t a new concept, nothing of this scale has yet been undertaken in the province.  Read about this interesting venture here.

What’s in a biofumigant? 

Glucosinalates, to be exact.  These chemical compounds are naturally produced by members of the genus Brassica (broccoli, kale, mustard, etc.) and, if grown as part of a cover crop and rotation strategy, are capable of destroying certain soil-borne diseases that may affect other food crops, such as potatoes.  Read about how they work here.

Vertical farming ideas abound. 

Ground-breaking has been undertaken on an – ahem! – groundbreaking vertical farming project in Linköping, Sweden.  Do you think we’ll be seeing a lot of these domes in the future, or is this just a one-off thing?  (Presumably, if Plantagon has anything to say about it, these greenhouses will eventually be sprinkled all over the world).  Read all about it here.

Peel appeal.

Whether you grow your own fruits or veggies, or purchase them at a farmers market or grocer, consider saving the peels and rinds and using them for everything from natural fabric dyes to natural cosmetic treatments, flavoured sugars, and tasty, oven-roasted chips.  Make sure everything you use is organic and scrubbed really well, and use this handy guide as a source of inspiration.