Book reviews: Water-Smart Gardening and High-Value Veggies.

It’s officially spring! (I’d put a few more exclamation points in there, but I side with many grammarians who believe that as a punctuation mark, they’re utterly overused. Everyone is really excited these days, apparently). But, hey, spring!

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So…although I can’t really do much in the garden just yet except contrive methods of humane squirrel discouragement (why oh why do they have to be so adorable?), I’ve been doing a lot of reading about gardening. There are plenty of new books on the subject being published right about now, and here are two interesting and very relevant titles from Cool Springs Press:

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Water-Smart Gardening:  Save Water, Save Money, and Grow the Garden You Want by Diana Maranhao

I was particularly keen on this title because we just came out of the driest winter I can remember. While it was nice not to have to worry about breaking a wrist from falling on an icy, snow-covered sidewalk, it wasn’t the best situation for the plants. (The verdict is still out whether or not all my perennials made it. And I was recently talking to a fellow gardener at the community garden and she figured that the warm temperatures and lack of snow cover caused some of her fall-planted garlic to rot. I’m so glad I took a cue from last year’s garlic disaster and hadn’t planted any).

Last summer and autumn were hot and dry as well, and there’s no telling how our summer will round out this year. It could be very tricky to keep the plants going. Making sure supplemental irrigation is available has always been a necessity on the Prairies, for farmers and gardeners alike, but what if we have government-imposed water restrictions? Many jurisdictions are forced to go this route when water supply is stretched. As author Maranhao comments, drought is becoming a big issue world-wide, but no one seems to be doing anything concrete about it. This book is her solution to gardening successfully with low water use, and she has all sorts of solid, practical (and often creative) ideas about what to do. She covers plant selection (with a focus on zonal plantings), growing in microclimates, soil health, best planting/cultivation practices, and of course, a host of smart irrigation practices including swales, rain barrels, and in-ground and drip systems.

Maranhao’s most important advice?  “Garden within your environment.” I’m totally with her on that!

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High-Value Veggies: Homegrown Produce Ranked by Value by Mel Bartholomew 

You all know Bartholmew as the creator of square foot gardening, but I must admit I was rather more excited by this book than any others he’s previously written. The concept behind High-Value Veggies is that many of us tend to grow vegetables in our gardens that are already mass-produced and inexpensively-purchased at the grocery stores or local markets. His suggestion is that we abandon the idea of growing those “low-value” crops and instead focus on the ones that are really pricey to buy. He proceeds to break it all down by inputs (tools and equipment, amendments, irrigation) as well as the cost of land and labour and then stacks them up against the potential return on investment (U.S. stats, but likely fairly translatable in Canada and possibly Europe). All of this yields (pun intended) a top ten list of plant selections that Bartholomew profiles in more detail. There are definitely some edible plants that make more economical sense to grow than others!

I was thinking about this in terms of my community garden plot. The restrictions of space mean I need to choose which crops I plant very carefully every year, and although I may not have specifically thought about return on investment, I know I don’t always grow plants that I can buy for a reasonable price from local growers at the farmers’ market.  Bartholomew’s suggestions are seriously worth considering before the seeds are purchased for the year – and it doesn’t matter what scale of gardening you’re doing.

 

*Many thanks to Cool Springs Press for providing copies of these new titles for review. I did not receive any compensation for my opinions, which are my own.

Spring stirrings…finally!

Two clippers blast the Prairies with heavy snow, strong winds

That’s the current weather warning from the Weather Network for the province of Alberta. While here in Calgary we are not being bombarded with the extreme precipitation and wind chills that our neighbours to the north and west are receiving, a glance at the forecast for later this weekend signals we may be in for a doozy.

But I don’t mind so much now, because this is the lovely sight that greeted me when I went outside to check my flowerbeds this morning:

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GREEN!  Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day!

(I know, I know, I shouldn’t get so excited…but this never gets old for me.  Especially after six months of winter).

I randomly planted a mixture of Chionodoxa, Siberian squill, crocuses and grape hyacinths in October, adding to a small collection I’ve been (very) slowly building over the years. I’m hoping for a bit more of an early colour display this year!

Now, if we can just do something about this snow…. 😉

Wherever you live, what signs of spring do you find most inspirational and fun?

Wild for bergamot.

Taking advantage of a day off of work and some fabulously sunny weather, my hubby and I took a short jaunt up to Nose Hill Park yesterday. (As an aside, did you know that Calgary has the “most sunny days year-’round” of any place in Canada? Of course, there is also snow on the ground during most of those sunny days…we’re not exactly a beach community here. Still, if you’re looking for the clincher reason to live in Calgary, the sun has got to be it!). We didn’t see the deer and coyotes that frequent the Hill (although tracks were everywhere!), but we still found a ton of interesting things to look at and photograph.

One of my subjects was a dried clump of wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). They grow everywhere on the Hill, and I especially enjoy watching the bees go absolutely mad for them in the summertime. A quick check in Linda Kershaw‘s guide to Alberta Wayside Wildflowers (2003, Lone Pine Publishing, Edmonton) gives a bit of insight into the plant’s historical uses:

European settlers and Native peoples gathered this aromatic plant for flavouring salads, cooked vegetables and stews and for making a pleasant minty tea. Dried, powdered leaves were sprinkled on food to keep flies and other insects away and were rubbed onto hair, skin, clothing and even favourite horses as perfume.

Have you ever used bergamot (bee balm) leaves in cooking or for tea? And do you grow cultivated varieties of Monarda in your garden? They’re definitely on my list of plants to try in my own garden this year!

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(January)

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(July)
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(August)

Hoarfrost.

Humidity.  Not a word I’d associate with Calgary, a city where jumbo-sized bottles of hand and body lotion and humidifiers in every room of the house are not mere luxury items.  The air is normally very dry here – Wikipedia claims that we have an average relative humidity of 55% in winter and 45% in summer.  Once the cold, blistering winds and snow arrives, you begin to feel really parched.  It makes you wish for a tropical vacation (okay, so EVERYTHING makes me wish for a tropical vacation…sigh).

Over the past few days, however, we’ve been completely immersed in a foggy gloom, and the humidity levels have risen dramatically.  The temperature has been sitting below zero, however, so the water droplets from the low clouds have frozen and accumulated on the windward sides of trees, power lines, fences, etc. as hoarfrost.

Isn’t it beautiful?

Is hoarfrost a common cold weather occurrence where you live?