The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter – July/August 2020.

The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter

July/August 2020

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.

EPISODE ONE – click here!
EPISODE TWO – click here!

Winners of Flowery Prose blog contest

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

Sheryl:

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 HeraldYou can read it here

Janet:

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!

Mountain bluebell – Jasper, Alberta (photo by Janet Melrose)
Western lily – Jasper, Alberta (photo by Janet Melrose)
Lady’s slipper orchid – Jasper, Alberta (photo by Janet Melrose)

In Our Gardens

Sheryl:

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).   

A bit of hail damage isn’t stopping those nasturtiums and calendula! I always mix edible flowers into my veggie beds. (Photo by Sheryl Normandeau)

Janet:

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.

Bumper harvest – Inglewood Community Garden (photo by Janet Melrose)

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!

Best cilantro ever! (Photo by Janet Melrose)

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!

Fantastic radishes! (Photo by Janet Melrose)

Floral Miscellany

Sheryl:

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! 

Janet:

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’.

Get Social with Us! 

Sheryl: 

Facebook: @FloweryProse

Twitter: @Flowery_Prose

Instagram: @flowery_prose

Janet:

Facebook: calgaryscottagegardener

Twitter: @calcottagegdnr

Instagram: calgaryscottagegardener

‘Til later!  ♥Sheryl and Janet

The 2019 Prairie Garden: Growing Food.

tpg2019growingfood_2

One of my favourite times of the year is when the new issue of The Prairie Garden arrives in my mailbox!  This themed, annual digest has been in publication for a whopping 63 years and I am delighted to have been a contributing writer since 2011 (although I missed 2015 and 2017). This year, the theme is Growing Food and it includes my article “Integrated Pest Management.”  Check out The Prairie Garden‘s website for more information about the book and the other featured writers, as well as for details on how to order both the new book and available back issues.  (The book is also available for purchase in select bookstores, garden centres, and nurseries in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta).

Book review: Good Garden Bugs.

A quick book review today!

9781592539093

Good Garden Bugs:  Everything You Need to Know About Beneficial Predatory Insects – Mary M. Gardiner, Ph.D.  (2015, Quarry Books, Massachusetts)

Every gardener needs to be able to identify and understand the role of the most common insects in the garden – a difficult task, to be sure, but it can make a huge impact on the way integrated pest management is practiced.  There are a myriad of excellent insect ID books out there – both general and regional in scope – but to my knowledge, Dr. Gardiner’s is the first to specifically cover only beneficial predatory insects.  If you are trying to keep your garden as chemical-free as possible, a working knowledge of the insects described in Good Garden Bugs is essential, as they are your allies against any insect pests that might attack your plants.  We’re all familiar with the role ladybird beetles play as voracious aphid feeders – but have you thought about how useful insects such as assassin bugs, lacewings, wasps, antlions, and the parasitoid flies are?  What about arachnids such as spiders, predatory mites, and scorpions?  How about the water beetles that can help protect your pond plants?

Good Garden Bugs is easily accessible to the home gardener:  the profiles of each insect offer sufficiently appropriate (not overwhelming) details about identifying features, distribution, and behaviour/habits.  The full colour photography is outstanding and is a huge asset to anyone looking to make a positive ID of the six- or eight-legged critter found in the bean plants.

I was particularly interested in the short discussion of the feeding habits of the insects, as the way that they eat (piercing, sucking, etc.) is important to consider when examining their effectiveness as predators.  Excellent macro photos illustrate the various mouthparts.  There are also good tips on designing an “enemy-friendly” landscape, including a useful list of attractive plants (focussing on natives and those with extrafloral nectaries).

The readability and the stellar photography in Good Garden Bugs make this a must-have resource in any gardener’s library.  Next time you go out in the garden and you see an insect you can’t identify, consult Good Garden Bugs.  You might just be getting a helping hand in the garden!

(My copy of Good Garden Bugs arrived compliments from the publisher, Quarry Books.  This review is 100 percent my honest opinion.  Maybe even 110 percent).    🙂

Of full rain barrels and unwanted pests.

Weather update in Calgary:  it’s still raining.  It would be okay to feel this coastal, I guess, except for the fact that we’re lacking a nearby ocean.  So, really, it’s not okay at all.  But we’re a chipper lot here – I can’t tell you how many times this week that I heard people announce, quite cheerfully, “At least my rain barrels are full!”   I went out this morning in the persistent drizzle and planted an ‘Aunt Molly’ ground cherry seedling that I had started indoors a couple of months ago – of course, I am completely aware that we’ll have frost right around the time the fruits are ripening on the plant (that is, assuming it even survives to bear fruit), but I simply have to make an attempt.  It’s “rain barrel-full” optimism!

On a slightly less positive note, the rain will bring with it some additional problems; once the weather clears and the summer heat begins (see, there’s that optimism again!), we’re going to notice all kinds of “pest issues” in our gardens and our homes.   A quick hunt on the ‘net brings with it some interesting pest control strategies…let me know if you’ve tried any of these, or if they’re simply myths:

To repel ants– shave off slices of fresh cucumber and place them around the affected locations.  The ants hate cucumber and will usually beat a hasty exit.  I’ve actually done this and I found that some of the ants didn’t retreat; instead, they climbed onto the cucumbers and sort of floundered around until they died.   I then picked up the cuke chunks and threw them out.  It didn’t take long before my ant infestation came to an end.  This one really works.

 

To get rid of mosquitoes in your outdoor living room/kitchen:  throw a handful of sage or rosemary sprigs on your barbeque coals while you’re grilling.  The smoke and scent will keep the moskies away and you’ll have extra flavour for your meats and veggies.   I’ve never tried this, but it’s a great tip for us Canadians, ‘cos we have mosquitoes here as big as houses.

For slugs:  run a line of ground ginger along the perimeter of plants you want to protect.  Slugs hate the stuff, it irritates them.  Used coffee grounds work the same way, supposedly.  I’ve yet to find a slug in my garden (please don’t let this be the year), so I’ve never attempted either remedy.

If you have black flies, try crushing some fresh mint and placing it in cheesecloth bags around the house, especially near windowsills and doors.  If it doesn’t work, you can always use the mint to make mojitos!!!  (Rain barrel-full, I’m telling you!).  🙂

To make moths stay out of your closets and dressers, put cinnamon sticks or cloves in a cheesecloth satchet and place them inside the furniture.  It will smell great and is definitely not as toxic as moth balls.  Has anyone tried this?

If you’ve got a problem with sowbugs and you can’t seem to get them out of all of the nooks and crannies of your house foundation, go and get yourself some big cobs of fresh, juicy corn.  Grill up the corn on the barbeque, slather some herb butter on it, and enjoy it with a nice beef/bison/elk steak/roasted eggplant.  Then take the gnawed-on cobs and set them on the ground along the perimeter of the house.   The sowbugs will be attracted to the corn and you can just collect the cobs and throw them in a bucket of soapy water to kill the bugs.   Again, I’m not plagued with sowbugs – does this seem like a good strategy to you?

In the war against aphids, make a foliar spray out of water and chopped potato or tomato leaves (plants of the Solanaceae family have poisonous leaves) or the leaves of rhubarb or elderberries (which contain high concentrations of toxic oxalic acid).  This seems like it should work, but I wonder how many applications you have to make?

If earwigs are a bother, try placing shallow bowls filled with soy sauce and vegetable oil at the base of the affected plants.  The insects will fall in and drown.  If anyone knows if this solution works, please let me know.  I’m still confused as to whether or not earwigs are naturally clumsy and can’t hang onto the plants they’re munching on….  😉

If you are plagued with hares, as I am, you can try sprinkling flour on young seedlings or garlic powder on mature plants – the long-ears won’t touch them.  This remains to be seen – I will definitely test this and keep you updated.

Starting your own seeds?  Apparently you can brew up some chamomile tea and use it to irrigate your young seedlings (instead of mere H2O) – the chamomile will help prevent fusarium wilt (damping off).   This is one I simply must try!  As well, you can make a foliar spray out of chamomile, which will combat powdery mildew.

Speaking of powdery mildew, supposedly if you mix equal parts of water and milk and spray it on the affected plants, the mildew will eventually go away.  I guess you have to do this repeatedly, however, and wait a whole week in between sprays, so the whole process is probably lengthier than most people would care for.  What do you think?

Here are some websites to try for more down-home pest control remedies (and related topics):

http://eartheasy.com/live_natpest_control.htm  General insect control, including great tips about making natural mosquito repellant from Thai lemongrass
http://eartheasy.com/grow_nat_pest_cntrl.htm  Illustrations of beneficial insects and some Integrated Pest Management tips
http://www.colostate.edu/Depts/CoopExt/4DMG/PHC/psticid2.htm  Pesticides: Natural Isn’t Always Best – interesting perspective, a must-read
(As most of these articles point out, you have to apply any pest control solution with caution.  And, of course, remember that some of these remedies aren’t tested and true – and certainly not scientific!).
There are a million other home remedies like these for home owners and gardeners – do you have any particular ones that you use in your own garden?