The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter – May 2020.

 

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Welcome to the second issue of The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Monthly 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

The print versions of the books will be released this month!

The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases were released in e-book format on April 7, and print copies will be out on May 12! We are so thrilled that our publisher TouchWood Editions has given us this opportunity to get these books out into the hands of prairie gardeners!  You can order them from independent bookstores in Calgary such as Owl’s Nest Books, Shelf Life Books, and Pages in Kensington, as well as Audrey’s Books in Edmonton. They are also available from Chapters-Indigo, McNally-Robinson, and Amazon – you can use the links on our publisher’s website (click on either Janet’s bio or mine).  Look for them in bookstores and garden centres near you!

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On April 16, Janet and I were guests on CBC Radio One’s Homestretch program with Doug Dirks – we spoke a bit about our books and early planning for our favourite time of the year: spring!  If you want to listen to our segment, click here.

Out and About

Sheryl:

This month may seem slow as I don’t have evidence of everything I’ve been working on – no new published articles this go-around!  But I have been writing up a storm, plugging away at the next two manuscripts in the Guides for the Prairie Gardener series and a slew of articles that will be published later in the year (and one already for next summer!).  I’ve researched and written about everything from dragonflies to herbal adaptogens to beardtongues to leaf mold over the past few weeks…never a dull moment!

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In mid-April, I took in an online class through the University of Saskatchewan.  It was taught by Egan Davis, the principal instructor of horticulture training at the University of British Columbia, and covered an interesting and relevant topic: Ecologically Modeled Planting Design (EMPD).  To simplify the concept, it’s basically the antithesis of modern gardening, where we have tended to work with static landscapes (plants are grown and mature in place and decline fairly rapidly, usually within a couple of decades).  EMPD is constructed in phases, and it is dynamic and long-lasting, taking as its inspiration the natural world and the way that plant communities evolve in the wild.  The presentation left me with a lot to muse about, and ideas to delve deeper into.

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Otherwise, I’ve been getting outdoors daily for long walks, taking in as much of spring as I can possibly soak up.  The pond near my home is a favourite destination for me…and a myriad of duck species.  The red-winged blackbirds arrived last week; their “rusty gate hinge” calls are a sure sign of the changing season.

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Photo by Sheryl Normandeau

Janet:

April turned into a really busy month for me! Like Sheryl, I have been writing like crazy on our books for 2021, articles and new workshops too! Plus trying out all sorts of techniques  indoor sowing and growing. Some worked out beautifully, such as the leeks I finally got to germinate and have a nice crop on the go, but some not so much as I have killed many a lettuce seedling pricking them out. I have lots of kale, tomatoes and cucumbers  on the go and about a zillion wintersowing jugs starting to germinate now outside. Lately of course now that it has stopped snowing, it has been a delight going out into the garden to see what has bloomed overnight with crocuses, snowdrops, and other spring bulbs popping up.

Photos by Janet Melrose (l-r: crocus, wintersowing)

What really made my month busy was learning, literally overnight, how to do online workshops and Horticultural Therapy sessions! It’s quite a skill and not one I had on my bucket list for 2020 for sure, but it’s fun getting together virtually and learning gardening when we are stuck at home!

In May and early June I have a number of workshops scheduled on a range of topics and with a number of groups, all of which are open to everyone!  You register either through Eventbrite or on the Calgary Horticultural Society’s website. Most are talks, but others have a hands on component either with supplies you bring in yourself and others where a kit is delivered to you. I do hope that you will be able to sign in for at least one!

May 5th – Garden On! – How to Get the Most out of Your Raised Bed

Got a raised bed? Learn how to get the very best out of it with planting strategies and practice to maximize your space to the best effect!

For more info and to register, click here. 

May 6th – Beyond Kale* – Small Space Edible Gardening

Those who have limited space or access to a ‘regular’ garden can garden effectively and creatively in containers, taking advantages of all the benefits of this style of gardening and minimizing the disadvantages, and have fun too!

For more info and to register, click here. 

May 7th – 2 Gals in a Garden – Fun, Frivolous and Functional 3 Season Flowering Containers –

A full hands-on Workshop on designing, planting and caring for flowering planters this season.

For more info and to register, click here.

May 12th – Calgary Horticultural Society – Native Plants for Alberta Gardens

Alberta is blessed with profuse and varied native species that are naturally suited to their particular ecological niche. By including them in plant selection, gardeners can save time, energy, money and frustration in efforts to garden wisely and successfully in our challenging environment.

Includes a demo planting…that you can do as well with materials purchased by yourself for the night!

For more info and to register, click here. 

May 13th – Embrace Gardening – Garden Self-Sufficiency  

Growing produce this year is never more important. To learn and know that you can grow part of your food is gardening self-sufficiency.

For more info and to register, click here. 

May 14th –  2 Gals in a Garden- Mixed Edible Planters- A full hands-on Workshop

Grow Your Own Veggies, Fruit and Edible Flowers In Planters to Fit Any Space! And plant up your own container during the workshop!

For more info and to register, click here. 

May 21st– Calgary Horticultural Society -Intensive Planting

How to grow more in less space! Includes a demo planting…that you can do as well with materials purchased by yourself for the night!

For more info and to register, click here.

May 28th– 2 Gals in a Garden- Mighty Herbs-A full hands-on workshop

Herbs belong in every garden, big and small! Join us to learn about culinary herbs, then plant your own container !

For more info and to register, click here. 

In Our Gardens

Sheryl:

The community garden I’ve been a member of for the past few years looks like it will be shuttered due to some ongoing issues, so I’ve been scrambling to find a new garden group to work with.  Fortunately, I found a plot in a garden in a community just south of where I live, and I’m looking forward to joining their membership!

My tomatoes are toodling along indoors and will be hardened off and planted out in a few weeks into large containers on my balcony. In late April, I sowed radishes, Swiss chard, and lettuce in containers outside on the balcony, and some spinach seeds went in today.  And of course, there are plentiful garlic greens, pea shoots, and mustard sprouts going on indoors…it’s fun to keep these going successively so you can always have fresh fixings for sandwiches and salads. 

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Photo by Sheryl Normandeau

Janet: 

It is amazing! Ever since Spring arrived on April 20th the garden has woken up and started blooming with spring bulbs flowering everywhere along with the Hepatica. The insects are out too to my great surprise as in the past couple of years they kept under cover until mid-May. Chives are already growing and ready to use and the rhubarb has poked its nose out to sniff the air. Perennials are sending out new growth and the robins are back along with the waxwings that eat the last of the mountain ash berries.

My bed at the Inglewood Community Garden has had its winter blanket of burlap sacks removed, and I can see garlic coming up under the floating row cover. My containers of edibles back at home are sprouting radishes, spinach, pac choi and arugula. I am so looking forward to some early greens in a few weeks!

Photos by Janet Melrose (t: Hepatica; l-r: cucumbers, chives, rhubarb)

Floral Miscellany

Sheryl: 

Have you ever heard of a condition called tulip fingers?  It’s an interesting – and potentially painful and itchy! – bit of plant chemistry that you can read all about here.

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Seems like plenty of Prairie gardeners are planting raspberries this year – I’m seeing lots of mentions on social media! Did you know that the first written record of raspberries as an edible/medicinal plant was in an English herbal in 1548?  It is believed that the fruit has its origins thousands of years ago in Asia.  There are 200 species of raspberries worldwide – and that’s not counting all the cultivars! The Government of Alberta recommends the following varieties for Prairie gardens:

Floricane types (summer bearing): 

‘Boyne’

‘Festival’

‘Killarney’

‘Honeyqueen’

‘SK Red Mammoth’

Primocane (fall bearing – mid- to late August):

‘Red River’

‘Double Delight’

‘Summit’

‘Autumn Bliss’

‘Fall Brook’

Janet: 

If April brought snow showers, we are really hoping that May bring flowers! But we had better not be too hasty! May can bring lots of abrupt changes to the weather and in Calgary we have had snow on the May long weekend and just plain rain more often than not. Actual snow fell seven times since 2000, and 2016 was the second coldest May long weekend in 40 years! Though 2018 was gorgeous. As a weather geek I am already wondering about our upcoming holiday weather for 2020!

CTV News, “Snow makes long weekend appearance in Calgary and surrounding areas,” May 22, 2016. 

Global News, “2016 the second coldest May long weekend in Calgary in at least 40 years,” May 23, 2016. )

But if May is iffy, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be sowing. Many vegetables should be sown well beforehand, and can weather just about whatever weather we get thrown at us this month. Here is a handy guide put out by Agriculture Alberta for the soil temperatures for many of our common vegetables, plus some historical data to help us plan our sowing!

Get social with us! 

Sheryl: 

Facebook: @FloweryProse

Twitter: @Flowery_Prose

Instagram: @flowery_prose

Janet:

Facebook: calgaryscottagegardener

Twitter: @calcottagegdnr

Instagram: calgaryscottagegardener

 

‘Til next month!  ~Sheryl and Janet♥

Snow mold. What is it and how can I get it off my lawn?

I was actually going to title this post Snow Mold: Something to Sneeze At!  Or maybe Snow Mold: Gack!  What’s that Unsightly Stuff on My Lawn?  Way more dramatic and punchy, LOL.

I’ve been hearing over and over again how snow mold isn’t a “thing” outside of Canada (or even western Canada; I saw a comment on social media from someone in Ontario who had never heard of the stuff and I know they get snow there).  It’s quite possible that we’re more inclined to get it on the Prairies, as our winter conditions tend to support it more than elsewhere.  It’s not unusual to see the arrival of the white stuff before the ground is completely frozen, and then to have large accumulations linger throughout the entire winter.  This year, in Calgary (and it sounds like, in the rest of the province as well), we are having one big crazy snow mold party…it is everywhere!  Yay!  Achoo!

There are two main types of fungi that cause snow mold – gray mold is attributed to Typula spp. while Microdochium nivalis is responsible for pink mold.  You’ll instantly recognize snow mold because it flattens the grass and leaves a sort of pasty grey-white or pink-white webbing on top.  (You can see some good photos of it in this article). And you’ll also recognize that “snow” mold is a bit of a silly name, because the snow itself doesn’t actually mold.  It just acts as a cover for the fungal activity.

In the summer the fungi loll around and do absolutely nothing.  Although the heat doesn’t faze them, they are cold-lovers and when winter arrives, they get happy and start to grow.  After the big melt in spring, you’ll notice them clumping all your turfgrass together and looking mighty pleased with themselves.  And if you have seasonal allergies, boy, are you in for it.  Next to pollen, snow mold has got to be one of the worst triggers (just ask me, I know all about it).

So, will this icky grossness do permanent damage to my lawn?  Not usually. Severe infestations will cause patchiness, which can be easily remedied by overseeding.  To deal with snow mold, you can rake it really gently when the ground is dry enough to do so.  (If you have allergies, get someone else to do this job for you).  “Gently” is the operative word, here, as you’ll yank up your grass if you rake too hard this early in the season.  Bag up the clippings. Don’t thatch until later on, after the ground is completely thawed – this initial period right after melt isn’t the time to get aggressive with your lawn, as you’ll only do damage.  You can also choose to do nothing: as the grass dries out and the temperatures increase, the mold will become inactive again, and greening will happen on schedule.  A good soaking rain will also help wash away the problem. Don’t fertilize immediately after thaw, and don’t mow the lawn right away, either – wait until things dry up a bit.

Yes, snow mold will come back, and no, you can’t really do a lot to prevent it.  Rake up your leaves in the fall, and don’t use a high nitrogen fertilizer late in the season.  Give your lawn that final mow before the snow flies (if the precipitation doesn’t take you by surprise) – a shorter cut will also help deter voles, as well.

 

Further Reading:

Burke, Kelly. “Identifying and Controlling Snow Mold in Your Lawn.” The Spruce. February 2, 2020. https://www.thespruce.com/snow-mold-2153094

 

 

Spring is springing.

Catkins ˈkat-kəns

Noun, plural.  The fuzzy little huggable bits that emerge from the tips of branches of some tree species in very early spring.  A sight for really sore eyes after twenty months of winter (I exaggerate, but only slightly).  More snow is supposedly on its way tomorrow, but for now, we’ll go with this. *purrs contentedly*

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The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter – April 2020.

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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!

To preorder The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables, click here. 

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To preorder The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases, click here. 

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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.

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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

Floral Miscellany

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!”

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Chitting potatoes.  Photo by Janet Melrose

Get social with us! 

Sheryl: 

Facebook: @FloweryProse

Twitter: @Flowery_Prose

Instagram: @flowery_prose

Janet:

Facebook: calgaryscottagegardener

Twitter: @calcottagegdnr

Instagram: calgaryscottagegardener

‘Til next month!  ♥Sheryl and Janet

Beach party: signs of spring.

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A week of seriously cold temperatures has given way to unbelievably warm temperatures ((we’ve gone from dipping as low as -30.9ºC (-23.6ºF) last Tuesday to +6ºC (42.8ºF) today)) and the poplar trees are responding like the rest of us are…giddy with the sunshine and ready to fling off the parkas and toques.

But we had better not throw them too far away. Spring is not just around the corner.  Not yet. Despite appearances….

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Floral notes: June 2019.

And without further ado…wait, there was ado?

Harvest time is now virtually over for this early season crop, but a few weeks ago, my hubby and I headed out to Edgar Farms (near the town of Innisfail in central Alberta) for their annual Asparagus Festival.  The celebration is held over three weekends in May and June, and features a farm tour, lots of yummy food, and artisans selling their locally-made wares.  The star of the show is, of course, asparagus, which isn’t cultivated very much as a commercial crop here in the province – the family-run Edgar Farms is one of the only producers that I am aware of.  Interpretive signs near the asparagus fields offer fun facts about this fascinating perennial veggie,  tips to successfully grow it, and a history of the farm and its owners. (You can also take a guided wagon tour if you’d rather not walk the property; we chose to walk because I always find you see more if you’re on foot).  One of the highlights of the festival is the opportunity to go out into the asparagus fields to break a spear fresh out of the soil and pop it in your mouth.  And, of  course, all the freshly-harvested asparagus you can bring home from the marketplace…YUM! It’s going to be difficult to wait another whole year for such a delicacy!

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Purple cultivars of asparagus taste a bit sweeter than green ones, and wow! that colour!  Spectacular! (Just like many purple bean cultivars, purple asparagus spears turn green when you cook them, and actually, if you slice open a raw spear, the interior is green).

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A man with more literary awards than you can shake a stick at (as well as a little bauble called the Order of Canada!), renowned Canadian science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer was recently in Calgary acting as the visiting writer-in-residence at the Calgary Public Library.  My hubby and I managed to squish in Mr. Sawyer’s highly entertaining lecture “Why Everyone Should Read Science Fiction” on June 2.  In addition to defending his position on Star Trek’s superiority over Star Wars (I’d say the room was divided on that one!), we were treated to an educational and fascinating discussion of the history of science fiction writing  and its focus on social issues.

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Speaking of science fiction, I’ve published writer Geoff Hart’s flash fiction work “Fly Fishing” over at Paper Butterfly.  It’s a story you’ll fall for hook, line, and sinker…guaranteed. Head over there and enjoy!♥

 

 

 

 

Don’t worry, bean happy: growing pole beans.

Delectable, sugary jelly beans or ‘Blue Lake’ pole beans ready for sowing?  😉

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The bean experiment continues.  I was disappointed with ‘Kentucky Wonder’ last year, but I think I can blame our extremely hot, dry weather (as well as that vicious hailstorm in July) for their poor performance.  I am trying them again this year, alongside these pink beauties.

Do you grow beans (of any kind)?  Which ones are your favourites?

Flowery Friday: Willow.

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These huge, furry, pollen-laden willow catkins stopped me in my tracks (pun intended) while walking near a crowded train station here in Calgary last week. I sort of wanted to hug them, but made do with a photograph instead.

What signs of spring (or autumn!) are you celebrating in your part of the world?