Flowery blurbs, volume 11.

This week’s Flowery Blurbs contains great links to a short-season veggie growing tutorial, some absolutely incredible extreme close-up photos of seeds, and a series of humorous cautionary tales about shopping in garden centres.   ENJOY!

Seeds Up-Close and Personal.

A short video created by the Millenium Seed Bank Partnership in conjunction with Kew Royal Botanical Gardens offers a little background on the seed preservation project and features some amazing photomicroscopy by Rob Kesseler.  If you click through the link below the video, you’ll find a TEDtalk given by Jonathan Drori of Kew Gardens, where he discusses the absolutely imperative need to keep saving seeds for the future.  As a bonus, you’ll also find some superb examples of vintage seed catalogue covers…the artwork on these is simply marvellous, well worth checking out!

Veggies for the Abbreviated. 

In the final talk of the 2012 Hort Week Speaker’s Series offered by Olds College, Peter Johnston-Beresford (Horticulture Program Co-ordinator) gives some excellent tips on what to grow in climates like Calgary’s – you know, with our two month summer and all.  Take a look at The Best Veggies to Grow in Our Short Season (and bear in mind that if you live in a region with a longer growing season, these vegetables may also be fantastic selections for your own garden!).

Garden Centre Giggle.

Finally, regardless if you’re just getting out into the garden centre or nursery to gather ideas until it is time to plant (we’re still fretting a little about frost and snow here) or if you’ve been out doing some earnest shopping, you’ll get a chuckle out of this series of photos depicting some merchandise to avoid at all costsHave you seen anything like these poor plants when you’ve been out and about this year?

Flowery blurbs, volume 10.

While I make short work of that milk chocolate bunny I accidentally bought the other day, feel free to take a gander at this week’s Flowery Blurbs:

Use plant dyes for Easter.

I found this timely holiday post at Simple Bites, and was inspired to create the multi-hued eggs pictured below (using tumeric, blueberries, and paprika).  You don’t need those dye kits from the store – just raid your spice rack and your freezer! 

Seriously old wood plates go digital.

Romeyn Beck Hough’s book The American Woods (written between 1888 and 1910) has been freshly digitized and made available for everyone’s viewing pleasure at the History of Forestry website.  It’s a fascinating look at over 350 different types of North American trees, with detailed text and cross-sections of each.  The book is all the more important because some of these species no longer exist. 

When earthworms go bad.  (And no, I’m not talking about the denizens of my new vermicomposter).

A recent article suggests that while earthworms are amazingly useful in the garden, they do not work to promote healthy forests.  The amount of leaf litter that earthworms can consume seems to be at the root of the problem…pun intended.  Read all about it here.

Get a buggy education.

Olds College continues their 2012 Hort Week Speaker Series with a fantastic talk by their resident insect guru, Dr. Ken Fry.  Check out his full lecture about creating Environmentally Friendly Yards here.

Sweet edible flowers. 

I plan to plant a whole bunch of calendula this spring, to use in my fledgling attempts at dyeing fabric using plants from my own garden…it just so happens calendula flowers are edible as well, so I will be sure to try them out in my microgreen mixes in addition to throwing them in the dyepot.  If you want to try something REALLY creative with edible flowers, check out this blog post from Sprinkle Bakes, where gorgeous viola blossoms take centre stage in lollipop candy.  I dare you not to drool over the photos.

Flowery blurbs, volume 8.

Welcome to another Flowery Blurbs…or, as it may be more appropriately titled, I’ve Got a Mountain of Randomly Scribbled Notes on My Desk and I’m Bursting to Share Some of These Ideas with You.  Not all of these Blurbs will be about growing, but they’re all about plants, in some way, shape or form.  (Think of it as a botanical mashup). So, grab a nice cup of hot tea and ENJOY.

  • A co-worker recently shared this tip with me:  if you’ve purchased a large chunk of gingerroot at the grocery store and you don’t use it all right away, pop it in the freezer.  To prep the root, leave the peel on and chop it into more manageable bits, then throw the pieces in some plastic wrap.  Shortly after I received this excellent gingerroot storage guidance, I read about another way to preserve ginger for future use:  place the root (whole and unpeeled) in a small jar, and completely douse it in vodka.  Put a snug-fitting lid on the jar and store in the fridge.  When you need the root, just haul it out and hack off a chunk, then put the remaining portion back in the vodka.  Of course, this swell idea only works if you don’t have any other plans for your booze.  😉
  • If you’re growing lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album) and you’re not using it all in salads, try making a natural weed killer.  Pull a few generous handfuls of the green and pulverize it in an old blender or roughly chop it with a kitchen knife.  Add water to completely cover the mashed pieces and let the whole thing steep for several days.  Strain off the plant parts, retaining the green tea.  More than one application may be required to kill weeds, but it might be worth a try!  One further note:  if you’re adding lamb’s quarters to your own diet, make sure you don’t eat too much of it in one sitting!  The very reason that it works to kill weeds is due to its content of oxalic acid, the same toxin that rhubarb leaves contain.  Now, before you freak out, consider that spinach also has a good amount of oxalic acid in it as well – and we all know how healthy spinach leaves are for you.  “Everything in moderation,” that’s all!  (But don’t eat rhubarb leaves.  Not even in moderation.  They’re really, really poisonous).
  • I’ve been busy researching plants that are useful for dyeing wool and other fibres and I was surprised to find that beetroot is NOT a good dyestuff.  I know, I know, hard to believe, isn’t it?  Beet juice will not actually stain your clothing – it cannot fix to fibres due to the size of the molecules it is made of.  I’m not sure I want to test this theory out, however – especially not on my good white blouse!  My advice:  keep the OxyClean handy anyway!
  • Quick:  do you know what a Brix refractometer is? This space-age-sounding gadget is a tool that measures the sugar content in fruit, vegetables, juices and wines.  Using a Brix refractometer can help out a great deal when it comes to perfectly timing the harvest of a particular crop.  You may be interested in trying one out even if you’re not growing for market or u-pick (there’s something to be said for harvesting crops at their peak, after all).  Take a look at one and read all about how to use it here.
  •  If you are growing elders (Sambucus spp.) in your garden, you probably know that the berries are edible and are often used to make jam, wine, or juice.  But did you know that you can also eat the flowers?  Apparently you can make fritters out of them, among other delicious things.  This is new to me, but I’m itching to try it out, especially as I’ve found this recipe for elderflower fritters that has an accompanying Greek yogourt and honey sauce.  (Don’t get me started on Greek yogourt, I’m hopelessly addicted to the stuff!).  Have you ever eaten elderflower fritters or anything else made of elderflowers?

  • Finally, Olds College has hosted a second lecture in its “Hort Week 2012”  speaker series – this one was a fantastic foray into Residential Landscape Basics, offered by Angela Sommers.  View it for yourself here.

Floral notes: early February 2012.


No show-snow (Photo credit – Rob Normandeau)

Last night, I had what should have been a lovely dream:  I went outside into my flowerbeds and all of my spring-flowering bulbs were up and growing like crazy.  That would be super – in April or May.  But it’s the first week of February, and I’m actually very fearful that it’s going to happen – high winds and unseasonably warm temperatures have completely eliminated what little snowcover we had, and the beds have been exposed for most of the winter.  I swear when I walked outside yesterday afternoon I could smell the earthy scent of spring thaw – even though our local version of a “groundhog,” a Richardson’s ground squirrel named Balzac Billy,  declared that we were up for another 6 weeks of winter.  (You can see Balzac Billy in all of his…um…ground squirrelly splendour here).  Oh well, I shouldn’t complain, really.  We’ll get our “winter” in March, guaranteed, with a ton of snow and cold, and then everyone can laugh at me and say “I told you so.”

In the meantime, while I fret about my plants, you can peruse some Flowery Blurbs:

This is gonna be one popular poplar

Watch for a new poplar to be the “it” tree in a nursery near you (well, if you live in Canada, that is):  the hybrid AC Sundancer is the recent creation of the Agroforestry Development Centre (part of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada), and it comes with big promises!  AC Sundancer is everything traditional poplars aren’t:  relatively slow-growing (so it doesn’t shoot up and then die in a few decades), compact in size, disease resistant, lacking seeds, and – this is the best part – possessing a controlled root system.  No more cracked foundations and split sewer lines, no more poplar stigma!  Check out the bulletin here.

And the winner is….

For the past few years, the Calgary Horticultural Society has taken to declaring its own “Perennial Plant of the Year.”  I like the idea of selecting a zone 3 hardy plant because quite often the Perennial Plant of the Year chosen by the Perennial Plant Association isn’t appropriate for our particular climate.  (See my previous post, Flowery Blurbs, Volume One, for information about the 2012 PPA PPOTY.  It’s actually a zone 3 plant this year!).  The CHS has announced that this year’s chosen one is Helenium autumnale ‘Mardi Gras’ (sneezeweed or Helen’s flower), a cheerful and hardy member of the Asteraceae family.  See a photo of the summer beauty here.

Vertical farming viewpoint

Although this article was written in 2010, I just happened across it the other day, and I thought it offered another interesting perspective on the viability of vertical farms.  See the write-up in The Economist here.

Streaming plant ID

Finally, if you want to spend an hour and a half on a basic botany lesson, you may want to check out Olds College instructor Annelise Doolaege’s talk on UStream.  She also discusses plant keys and how to use them in the field, and gives a brief photo tour of wildflowers found in central and southern Alberta, including the Rocky Mountains.  Doolaege’s talk is the first in a series to be offered over the next few months, as a teaser for the college’s annual Hort Week festivities.   Find the link to the lecture here.