More lettuce is happening in my kitchen! This heirloom variety is ‘Red Deer Tongue’.
The social media anxiety about seed shortages prompted me to order my seed potatoes yesterday from a local grower. It appears that the shortages are not completely unfounded; the supplier was already out of several cultivars. When you think that we don’t typically plant potatoes until May in this area, it’s incredible to see that many “sold out” labels this early in the year. The suppliers must be absolutely thrilled that their products are so high in demand. It’s truly exciting to see this surge in interest in gardening.
Have you placed any seed orders for spring planting? Or are you able to save most of your seed from your own garden?
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.
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
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 Herald. You can read it here.
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!
In Our Gardens
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).
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.
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!
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!
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!
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’.
You are reading the first issue of the Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter! With the first two books in our series Guides for the Prairie Gardener scheduled for release very soon, my co-author Janet Melrose and I have decided we’re going to publish a monthly newsletter here on my blog Flowery Prose! We’ll be keeping you up-to-date on everything related to our books, 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 here on Flowery Prose.
Book News and Events
The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases were originally scheduled for release by our publisher TouchWood Editions in April, but due to the current global health crisis, we are looking at a May 12 release instead. At this very moment, you can preorder our books from Amazon and Chapters-Indigo and they will be shipped to you as soon as they are out!
Back on February 2, Janet was a guest on the “Let’s Talk Gardening” programme on Calgary radio station 770 CHQR. If you want to hear her talk about our forthcoming books, click over to the 18:00 mark on the audio recording and enjoy! (You’ll have to make sure you’ve selected the February 2 tab in the drop-down menu).
Our publisher, TouchWood Editions, is currently running a blog feature called “Authors at Home,” where their authors write about what they are doing while in self-isolation. Take a look at our entry here, and especially note our list of Prairie Gardening Stuff You Can Do Now!
Out and About
Well, not really “out and about” this month; we’re more like “indoors and room-to-room.” But that doesn’t mean we aren’t getting stuff done. I have some new gardening articles published in various magazines, out on newsstands now (or, as we can’t really get out to shop, available for order online directly from the publishers). Look for “The Lovely Lady’s Slipper” in Mother Earth Gardener (Spring 2020); “Choosing the Right Irrigation System” in The Gardener for Canadian Climates (Spring 2020); and “Refresh Your Wardrobe with Herbs” in Herb Quarterly (Spring 2020).
Photos by Sheryl Normandeau
Janet has been writing, as well: her article “Balloon Flower: A.K.A. Japanese Bellflower” is in the same issue of The Gardener. As for other going-ons in the world of Calgary’s Cottage Gardener, Janet says: “Unfortunately, all the workshops planned for April have been cancelled or postponed at this time. Yet the interest in gardening has never been stronger, especially edible gardening. Do stay tuned as I am getting set up with a mini-studio for webinars from my home to your yours. We get going with a hands-on workshop or two where I make up kits of supplies and plants and after a mini-talk and demo we all plant up together. All talks will be posted on my Facebook page.”
In Our Gardens
Space limitations and a cat who pretty much chews on anything (and I do mean anything – I caught her gnawing on the plastic paper feed guide of the printer the other day) add up to not a lot of seed starting going on in my place, BUT I do have a handful of ‘Candyland Red’ and ‘Black Krim’ tomatoes happening under lights. And I’m growing sprouts for eating…I was digging in my seed stash and came across a bunch of kale seeds that I’m not planning to use this year, so they’re designated sandwich fixings for the next few weeks.
Photo by Sheryl Normandeau
Janet: “Spring is stirring, every so slowly! At home the snow is melting, but the ground is still oh so frozen. It will be some time before we can get into the soil. But above ground is another matter. By the second week of April, I plan on having containers full of arugula, spinach, endive and lettuce sown. Peas and sweet peas will follow. I am still wintersowing with kohlrabi, cabbage, broccolini, and kale going in. Later on I will use the milk jugs to sow squash of all kinds. Indoors there is a full array of seedlings on the go from tomatoes and cucumbers, to green garlic, Swiss chard, kale and herbs. I am having fun with lots of different funky containers from eggshell trays, to big tin cans with holes punched through the bottom, and my TP roll trays. It has been fun to try out all sorts of techniques as I usually don’t have that much time to do so! Soon I’ll be out in the garden searching for the first crocus popping up and spring will truly be well underway!”
Photos by Janet Melrose
While working on an article about colour theory in the garden, I came across a reference to the fact that early man was unable to see the same full colour spectrum that we can. Apparently, it involves quite a substantial evolutionary shift – you can read more about it here. Something to think about as you admire the flowers growing in your garden!
Janet: “I am always amused at the traditional lore for the best date to plant potatoes being Good Friday! The idea is the soil will be ready to cultivate but temperatures still cool. While my grandfather in England might have followed the rule, we can only gaze out on still frozen fields and gardens! But it is time to get your order in for seed potatoes or check on the ones you have stored away to plant this year. Potatoes do know that it is time as they will want to get sprouting, so get them started by chitting (pre-sprouting) them on Good Friday. They will be ready to plant when our soil really is warm enough to plant in early May!”