The potatoes are making a bid for freedom….

What a strange growing season we’re having! Our spring was so cold and wet that I direct sowed my veggies almost two weeks later than usual – a huge difference when you consider that we have, on average, 117 frost-free days in the city.  (I didn’t start anything indoors this year or do any winter sowing).  June was pretty much a blur of rain – I’m not certain we actually saw sunlight for the entire month.  To this date, July has been considerably more moderate as far as temperature and drying are concerned…and my potatoes are kind of blissed out at the moment. I’ve got foliage going on like nobody’s business – I just hope there are a few tubers forming under there.  A gardener in the Alberta Gardening Facebook group recently remarked that her potato plants were over five feet tall and those that commented echoed her claim – this is clearly the year of giant potato plants in our province!

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And yes, those are hula hoops forming the tunnel in my raised bed…you can see how I set that all up here.  I’m a big fan of the hula hoops – they’re cheap, sturdy, and they liven up a public space with their colours!  (I’m not sure what our community garden leader thinks of them, but she hasn’t sent me a cease and desist letter so I’m guessing they don’t offend too many sensibilities).   Instead of row cover fabric this year, I put up fibreglass screen. Its purpose is two-fold: we have deer that like to jump the fence of the community garden and nibble, so this saves my beans; as well – and more importantly – we are plagued by frequent hailstorms in this part of the world, and this keeps most of the icy stones from shredding my squash.  I could combine this set-up with row cover fabric in future years – a good idea if I decide to plant cabbages and want to thwart flea beetles, or if I get seeds into the soil early and need a bit of protection against the cold – but for this year, the screen without the poly has been a satisfactory choice.

Did you plant potatoes this year?  And do you use hoop tunnels in your raised or in-ground beds?  

And…just for fun – what is your favourite way to make potato salad?  

Flowery Friday.

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Happy Friday!  I can’t believe I had to flip the calendar over to May this morning.  What’s up with time, anyway?  I know it seems to fly as you get older, but for me, it’s feeling pretty supersonic at this point.  (Awhile back, I came across this review of a book about the perception of time in relation to age…might make for some interesting reading).

I managed to get out to Nose Hill one morning this week and saw all the willow catkins emerging…I quickly took a few photos and rushed to get myself and my camera out of the rain shower that suddenly started right above me (and only me, as far as I could tell).  We really could use a nice, soaking rain, although everything is greening up despite the dry conditions.  I noticed our neighbour’s fantastically floriferous forsythia (too much?) on the way back from the park – it is, of course, competing with all those show-off Prunus species.  All this incredible colour and beauty is enough to make your eyes drunk.

I planted some spinach and radish seeds in the raised bed at the community garden this week – this is the earliest I’ve ever put these crops in, although many would reckon I’m actually running late.  I know some people who plant outside under cover in March – and unlike most years, we didn’t have much snow and ice in that month.  Last year, I planted my spinach on the 20 of May. Most of my garlic is up now – I just love to see those spiky green shoots splitting the soil.

What are your plans for the weekend?  I’ve got a deadline looming on an article about lacto-fermentation (BTW – do any of you do any fermenting?  I’ve been puttering around lately with several different whole leaf herb ferments – they’re easy and fun).  I’m also hoping to get out for some fresh air – I was reading a recent blog post by a local hiker, Barry Taylor, and he suggested Strathcona Ravine here in Calgary for a little nature jaunt.  I’m keen to check it out – we’ve lived here nearly two decades and I hadn’t ever heard of it before.

Before I leave you, I have to share the foodie extravaganza that is the list of midway culinary treats for this year’s Calgary Stampede.  If you thought last year’s were over the top, you haven’t seen anything yet.  I can’t believe that gigantic ice cream cone or the $100 hotdog…and we won’t talk about the cockroach offering.  I feel pretty much like I did last year – the poutines are the most tempting for me (well, except for the one with the doughnuts and the jalapenos – that just smacks of a stomach ache in a bowl).  What would you try?  Which of these is just too excessive (well, besides ALL of them)?

Rain…and a garden update.

That ghastly s-word is accumulating heavily just west of Calgary as I write this, and I’m hoping the steady, slow rain that is currently falling here doesn’t decide to turn over to white flakes.  The city is greening up in a glorious way with this sudden moisture – it’s truly amazing to see what a few millimetres of rain can do to change the landscape.  On average, Calgary receives about 70 mm of rain and/or snow during the months of April and May, so it’s been a bit of a surprise to have barely cleared 30 mm in the past 53 days.  (No matter; the forecasters tell us 80 mm of rain is heading our way tomorrow.  Just goes to show there’s never a happy medium!).

The neighbourhood trees are all blooming at once:  apples, chokecherries, lilacs, cherries and plums.  They’re rushing headlong into fruit production, and while their blossoms seem more profuse and fragrant than usual, they won’t last more than a blink.  Everything seems accelerated this year, but maybe that’s more my state of mind than anything.  (Has anyone else noticed this?).

In my flowerbeds, the muscari are still hanging on, cheerfully poking out from the edges of the junipers.  The nepeta (I have both N. mussinii  and N. subsessilis) and the speedwell (Veronica penduncularis unbrosa ‘Georgia Blue’) is blooming and looking mighty fine in this suddenly cooler weather.   And the Aurinia saxatile ‘Gold Dust’ that I wrote about last year is just starting to put on her usual early show, although the plant has barely had time to mound as she usually does.

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Basket of gold. 

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There are a million photos of water droplets on lady’s mantle on the Internet.  Here’s another one. 

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I love Artemis schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’.  I don’t love the quack grass that seems to be in every photo I took this afternoon.  (I just weeded two days ago, honest!). 

If I ever actually get the time for some serious shopping and planting, I plan to put in quite a few more perennials in the beds.  A couple of weeks ago, I planted some purple Liatris spicata, which may not be the most original choice, given that I think every single gardener in Calgary is already growing them.  Hey – at least I know they’re successful!  🙂  Phlox paniculata ‘Nicky’ and blue sea holly (Eryngium alpinum) are new additions as well, picked up at the same time as the liatris.  I’ve also thrown in a pretty lungwort that a co-worker gave me.  On my list of potential buys:  Monarda, Echinops, goldenrod, alpine lady’s mantle, and more Aurinia, gold flax (Linum flavum compactum), and scabiosa.

Of course, I will probably forget my grand plan when I finally get inside the garden centre.  We shall see what I actually come home with.  😉

What plant selections (perennial or otherwise) are you most excited about this year?

The calm.

It seems the monsoons of June may have gotten started here in southern Alberta (of course, they’re not “monsoons” in the technical sense of the word; we just typically get a lot of precipitation during this month and it feels sort of prevailing and neverending…well, at least by mid-month it does, anyway).  We’re also getting a little “July action” in the form of massive thunderstorms – these are violent outbursts that we usually see every night of some little event called the Calgary Stampede, right when the midway is filled to capacity with sweaty, screaming bodies and the concert stages are blasting live rock and country bands.  (Maybe if we get it all over with a month early, we can celebrate the Stampede’s 100th anniversary with spectacular weather.  Fingers crossed).  Last night’s storm was nasty, with lots of pelting rain, strong winds, and lightning that flashed so frequently it seemed like the sky was a giant strobe light.  I haven’t been over to my community garden plot yet today, so I’m not sure if the rain bounced my little veggie seedlings right out of the bed; hopefully there wasn’t too much damage.

These photos were taken before all that craziness hit, so there is none of that rainswept bedraggled look going on.  Some of these shots are from my garden; others are of pretty plants I’ve found during my walks in the neighbourhood.

Have a wonderful Wednesday! 

Catmint from my garden

(A few of ) my shallots

Crabapple at Barrett Park

Spruce trees down on the corner

Kohlrabi seedlings from my plot

Columbine and catmint in my flowerbed

A neighbour’s flowering almond

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A note about Blog Awards. 

A fun little thing that Wordpress bloggers have going on is a chance to be nominated by members of their community for various “blog awards” – it works sort of like a chain letter, actually, but it’s a novel way to introduce other bloggers and their sites to everyone and maybe find some new readers.  I just recently received a couple of nominations – jump over to my Virtual Bouquets tab if you want to check them out!

Flowery blurbs, volume two.

Well, we don’t need much convincing…gardeners have always known that digging in the dirt is good for us.  But now we have scientific proof!  According to an article posted by the Therapeutic Landscapes Network, Mycobacterium vaccae, a bacterium found in soil, can actually improve mood, combat stress, and maybe even reduce the symptoms of asthma.  (Of course, it’s necessary that we…well…ingest a bit of the bacteria in order for it to go to work on us, and I believe most of us stopped eating dirt when we grew out of the toddler stage.  Still, the research is interesting, particularly given the effects the bacteria may have on cancer patients).   See the full text of the article here.

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We certainly ran the gamut as far as weather was concerned this past week here in Calgary – we went from extremely damaging high winds and balmy plus-teen temperatures to a raging, snow-filled winter storm all within 72 hours.  A skiff of pebbly snow and ice is now firmly encrusted on the ground, caking over the slumbering (and probably dessicated)  forms of my perennials and shrubs.  A timely article by the The Gardening Canuck, Dorothy Dobbie, has got me thinking about how snow (and rain) is formed:  apparently, the process may be linked to another bacterium, this one called Pseudomonas syringae.  Along with dust particles, P. syringae acts as a nucleator around which the rain drops or snow flakes are constructed – and researchers are realizing that they may be able to manipulate the bacterium to relieve drought, for example, or to reduce the potential for frost damage on tender food crops.  (A known plant pathogen, P. syringae can be a bit of a nasty beast as well, so extra study and care must be undertaken to keep it from harming plants instead of helping them grow).   Read Dorothy’s post about bioprecipitation and its implications here.

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Looking for a new flavour to sweeten your holiday baking?  Why not try birch syrup?

Yep, that’s right, there’s a resurgence of interest in tapping Canada’s paper birch trees (Betula papyrifera) for their precious – and apparently, very delicious – sap, which can be used to make syrup and other sugary products, as well as spirits.  As horticulturalist Wes Porter describes in his article “Son of a Betula:  It’s Birch Syrup” (gotta love that title!), it’s not an easy process to get the viscous elixir out of the trees, rendering the cost of a bottle of birch syrup far steeper than Canada’s ubiquitous and beloved maple syrup.  But I’m making it my mission to track one down as soon as I can – and then, let the tasting begin!  (See Wes’ article  here – you’ll have to scroll down a bit, as it’s the third entry in on the blog).

Has anyone out there tried birch syrup (or birch beer or wine)?  I’d love to hear your thoughts about it!

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