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.

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….

Flowery Friday.

IMG_1359One of the tidiest, most low-maintenance plants in my garden, Silene uniflora ‘Druett’s Variegated’ (catchfly).  It’s also very amiable:  by the end of the season, the absolute brute that is my Engleman ivy will have flopped and clambered all over it.  No power struggle between these two – they’re like drunken buddies after a long night out.  “I love you, man.”  “No – I love YOU.”

I’ve been planting and watering my new babies like a madwoman…we had some rain earlier this week but it moistened only the top inch or so of soil.  I’m hearing that in the north, some farmers who had their crops wiped out by a late frost are not replanting because of the drought.  “Heat stress” might be the catchword of the summer, as we’re looking forward to some long hot weeks ahead.  I have always tried for mostly drought-tolerant plants because we don’t have a good watering system at the apartment I’m lazy and cannot be bothered to water – I hope I’ve made the right choices that will see the garden through.  Calgary is seriously arid, anyway – that rain shadow cast by the Rocky Mountains is pretty immense.  It’s something we have to take into consideration when we plant.  Or we should, anyway.

My other gardening news:  it looks like we’re finally on track to build a pergola for the community garden, a project I’ve been involved with since late last year.  Hopefully within a month or so I’ll be able to show photos.

I attended a container planting workshop held by the Calgary Horticultural Society last night and was introduced to the decidedly-non-Prairie-denizen dwarf papyrus (Cyperus profiler) – I was one of only a few gardeners in the room who were not familiar with it, so I guess that shows how little I’ve been out in the garden centres as of late (granted, I don’t plant more than one or two containers a year).  Apparently the papyrus sucks back water like no one’s business, which doesn’t really conform to my aforementioned gardening practices, but it’s so funky I will lug water for it daily if I have to.  (Please excuse the photo – I took it this morning in brilliant sunshine).

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What’s new in your garden this week?  What are your plans for this weekend (gardening or otherwise)?  I hope it’s a great one for you!