Prairie gardening viewpoints: guest post.

I am delighted to announce that I have another guest on the blog!  I’ve been thinking it would be interesting for me to pose a few questions to some Prairie gardeners I know, inquiring about their experiences gardening in such a unique, challenging climate.  I want to find out what they love about gardening in Alberta, what they find difficult, and what inspires them about growing.  Whether you live on the Canadian Prairies or you’re much further afield, I’m sure you’ll find ideas and solutions to consider for your own gardening endeavours.

Please allow me to introduce Lana Gress!

Where do you garden in Alberta?  What challenges do you think we face as gardeners in this province?  How can we overcome those challenges?

I have been gardening in Red Deer, AB for the last three years. I think that Alberta is very unique in respect to gardening because we have some very distinct differences in weather depending on where you are located in the province and how close you are in proximity to the foothills. I really struggled with this the first two years that I lived in Red Deer. Having grown up in northern Saskatchewan, I initially expected gardening to be similar in Alberta but only better because Red Deer is a zone 3b to 4! I had not anticipated the affect of the freeze/thaw cycles of chinook years on trees, shrubs, and perennials that I considered hardly in SK, or how the close proximity to the mountains really makes the overnight temperatures dramatically lower, even in Central Alberta. I believe that these are probably the most challenging things for Alberta gardeners, especially when it comes to vegetable growing. I really had to rethink everything that I had learned about vegetable gardens in Saskatchewan! In Red Deer I’ve found that the ground is still too cold and the night temps are often low well into June. Things that I would have direct seeded on May long weekend in SK (cucumbers, zucchini, corn) have a better chance of success in AB if they are started as transplants in the house. I also live in a hail belt region and I usually get about 2-3 incidences of hail in June/July. This means that it is riskier growing things like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. I tend to grow those vegetables solely in containers for two reasons; I can move them to protected areas if I think there is a chance of hail, and with the colder overnight temps I find that container growing produces more robust and vigorous growth because the root zones of my heat loving plants are always warmer.


What inspires you about gardening?

My grandmother was an avid and inspirational gardener, and she grew the large prairie garden that was typical of her generation. She also had a passion for houseplants and her home was a jungle! Many of these tropical plants were started from seeds and slips all acquired through mail-order catalogues. Grandma even started succulents and African violets from seed! I think this early exposure to growing everything is what developed my passion for growing. I have a diploma in horticulture from Olds College, and have worked as a professional horticulturalist for over 25 years in all aspects of the trade, but growing is my main passion!  

What types of plants are you most passionate about growing?

I’m extremely passionate about food security so vegetable growing is a large focus of mine. I lived in Vancouver and urban areas of the Fraser Valley for 15 yrs before moving to Alberta. The cost of living is very high there so I always looked for ways to stretch my income. Growing as much of my own food as possible was an obvious solution to me. I never had much space either so I started to focus on container growing both outdoors and indoors to help maximize my growing potential. When I moved to an area where I was able to have a “traditional vegetable garden”, I really started to explore gardening methods like biointensive planting practices. I have had gardens that have produced about 1200 pounds of produce in 300 sq ft by using methods like succession planting, interplanting, vertical gardening etc…

What gardening (or gardening-related) projects do you have on the go this year?  What are your goals for this growing season?

This season is an exciting one for me! I have been renting in Red Deer and my yard had no established garden beds and the landlord was a bit hesitant for me to establish a garden bed or build raised beds.  I have solely container gardened for the last two seasons. Once my landlord saw how capable I was he has now agreed to let me develop permanent garden space in the yard. Last summer I began by developing a small in ground bed using the  sheet composting method aka “lasagna gardening”. This is a great method for my landscape as I have very heavy clay subsoil and a small layer of topsoil in the yard. I will be building more beds using this method plus I’ve started to build raised beds. I also have been growing tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers indoors using LED lights for the last few years. I’m planning on expanding the indoor garden in the fall by building a vertical hydroponic system to grow greens, herbs, and strawberries!

A huge thank you, Lana, for your detailed and thoughtful answers – you’ve got us thinking about microclimates and how to protect plants from the extremes of the weather, as well as effective strategies to grow successfully indoors, create productive container gardens, and garner high yields in small spaces. These are all concepts we can use no matter where we live!

Photo by Lana Gress
Photo by Lana Gress

Book review and giveaway: Veg Journal by Charles Dowding.

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Veg Journal: Expert No-Dig Advice, Month by Month – Charles Dowding – (2014, Frances Lincoln, The Quarto Group (Paperback 2017))

What a fun, yet practical little book!  Veg Journal boasts ample space to record notes and gardening to-do lists every week of the year, interspersed with beautiful photographs and detailed advice and tips on growing more than 35 edible crops, as well as how to tackle tasks such as composting, dealing with pests, and constructing a raised bed.  Although the book is written by a U.K. gardening expert, the information and the journal feature remains appealing for all readers, regardless of where they garden.

I am giving away a copy of Veg Journal!  If you are interested in winning it, please let me know in the comments below.  The contest is open now until midnight (MST) on Monday, September 10.  Giveaway is open to all.  I’ll let the winner know in a post on Flowery Prose the very next day.  The winner must agree to email me your mailing address so I can ship the book out to you.  Good luck to everyone!

*The Quarto Group generously provided me with a review copy of Veg Journal. As always, all opinions and thoughts are my own.

Flowery Friday: Nasturtium.

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The importance of labeling garden things (plants, seed packets, fertilizer containers, and those assorted parts and pieces for the lawnmower that mysteriously are not currently installed on the machine) cannot be overstated. I believe I have stressed it in more than one article that I’ve written.

This is me clearly railing against my own decent, sound, and meaningful advice: here is a photo of a nasturtium (the super common but super pretty ‘Jewel Mix’) that I grew this year in the community garden.  Trouble is, I also grew the even more lovely ‘Ladybird Cream Purple Spot’ and now that they’re all finished blooming, I’m collecting seed for next year.  Guess what I didn’t do before all the flowers were spent?

Oh well. I’ll have a fantastic collection of ‘Jewel Ladybird Cream Purple Spot Mix’ for the 2018 gardening season. It will be awesome.

What is your labeling practice in the garden?  And do you grow nasturtiums?  If you do, which cultivars are your favourites?

Book review: Build a better vegetable garden.

There’s still snow on the ground here, although there have been sightings in the area of crocus foliage (not in my garden, sadly – although I’ve been going out every morning to take a look, just in case something’s changed overnight.  Nope, just snow). It doesn’t matter. I’ve already ordered some seeds and I’ve got the veggie garden all mapped out (Version 8.0 or thereabouts – we all know I’ll be revising until the very day I plant, especially if the seed catalogues keep coming!).

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And I’ve been looking at a few new books. I was sent a copy of Joyce and Ben Russell’s Build a Better Vegetable Garden: 30 DIY Projects to Improve Your Harvest (2017, Frances Lincoln Limited/Quarto, London) for review and it hasn’t left my desk…I keep picking it up and browsing through it.  Whether you’re an experienced gardener or a newbie, there are projects in here that can get you growing in no time: setting up a raised hoop tunnel, designing and constructing a raised bed, building your own wooden planters, creating a cold frame, or making a trellis for climbing beans.  Other projects you may not have immediately thought of include making your own seed trays (and dibber!), a storage rack for your tools, a wire support for raspberries, a handy trug, a cabinet with trays for drying the harvest, and a beautiful decorative obelisk.  The best part about this book is you don’t need to be a certified woodworker or carpenter to do any of these projects.  You don’t need specialized tools (most can be done with a basic drill, a couple of types of saws, some hand tools and hardware you can easily pick up and afford).  Nearly all of the projects are made from wood.  And the instructions are straightforward, easy to understand, and very clearly photographed so you’re not guessing at any stage of the project.  I am the least crafty person I know, and I have confidence I could undertake most of these projects without making a huge mess of them (or losing a limb in the process). 😉  I really think this book would be a fantastic gift for a new gardener or homeowner – and it would be extremely useful for anyone setting up a community garden or allotment as well.  Highly recommended (and that’s my honest opinion!).

Do you have any recommendations for gardening books that have you feeling excited and inspired as you plan (or dig in) for the new season?  Tell me what you’ve been poring over, I’d love to hear!