Prairie gardening viewpoints: guest post.

I am delighted to announce that I have another guest on the blog!  If you’ve been following this series on Flowery Prose, you’ll know that I’ve been posing a few questions to Prairie gardeners, inquiring about their experiences gardening in such a unique, challenging climate.  I want to find out what they love about gardening in Alberta, what they find difficult, and what inspires them about growing.  Whether you live on the Canadian Prairies or you’re much further afield, I’m sure you’ll find ideas and solutions to consider for your own gardening endeavours.

Please allow me to introduce Krista Green!

Where do you garden in Alberta?

My husband, our 3 children and I live on 4 acres south of Calgary near Black Diamond. We were able to move out of town to this small piece of land 4 years ago.  Having a big backyard with lots of space to garden has been so amazing!  I am loving it so much!

As a child I grew up in the country where we always had large vegetable gardens.  Helping out in the garden and learning to weed was a part of my childhood.  I lived in Vernon, B.C. until I was 14 (such an easier growing climate!) and really fell in love with gardening when I was around 10.  That year I planted some pumpkin seeds, starting them indoors.  I remember transplanting them into our garden there.  They ended up a huge pumpkin patch growing so many pumpkins!  I was hooked.  I want our children to have this same opportunity to experience gardening, growing from seed and its reward. 

What challenges do you think we face as gardeners in this province?

As Albertan gardeners we face so many challenges!  Working within a very short growing season, cool weather, chinooks that can be so hard on perennial plants, deer and rabbits eating our plants, along with alkaline soil and water in much of the province to name a few. 

I am always so encouraged when I am able to talk with other Albertan gardeners who grow successful vegetables, herbs and fruit and who understand these challenges. 

It was for this reason I decided to start my blog with gardening tips specifically for our climate.  This May I began my blog Zone 3 Vegetable Gardening with the goal of encouraging and helping other gardeners who desire to grow their own food in the cooler gardening zones.  When looking for gardening tips and help, almost all of it seemed to come out of the warmer zones and it was difficult to know how to adapt for our Alberta climate.  I have so many ideas and plans that I want to share with you to make your gardening more fun, successful and organized!  Subcribe to my blog and be the first to find out what these are!

How can we overcome those challenges?

As an Albertan gardener I find it necessary to start things like flowers, tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumbers indoors early in the spring to offset our short growing season.  I direct seed many vegetables such as carrots, peas, green onions, spinach, potatoes, beets and radishes at the end of April or beginning of May.  This means these will be covered in snow a few times but I have found I have stronger plants that mature earlier by doing this.  If I do lose some of the plants to the cold I just re-plant, but most years everything pulls through.  I wait until after the May long weekend to plant the remainder of my vegetables such as beans and even into June to transplant my sensitive plants like my cucumber and squash.  Some years my last frost is around mid June so I need to keep an eye out.  I often end up covering parts of my garden during frost warnings in late May and early June.  To read more about how I protect my plants from frost you can read my article Protecting Your Plants During Frost.

What inspires you about gardening?

Gardening feeds my soul.  In the garden I feel at peace, I pray, I hear the joyful songs of the birds, I notice and am thankful for the buzzing of the bee.  The breeze feels as though it blows life’s worries away.  In the garden life is simple.  Seeing the miracle of the growth of those tiny seeds I planted never ceases to amaze me.  Feeding my family healthy and organic produce from my efforts is so satisfying!  The smells, the sounds, the feels, the sights of gardening, they all inspire me!  It is difficult to put into words how it fills me up and grounds me.

What types of plants are you most passionate about growing?

Definitely vegetables!  And herbs.  And fruit.  Well I guess you could say anything you can eat.  I enjoy growing flowers as well but personally don’t find them nearly as satisfying to grow.  I am passionate about creating a lifestyle less dependent on others.  I love growing our own food and learning all about sustainabillity!  We have twenty-two chickens and plans to do fencing for sheep and possibly goats one day soon.

What gardening (or gardening-related) projects do you have on the go this year?

My biggest gardening related project this year has been my blog and my Instagram account.  Computers are not my thing at all so there is a huge learning curve there!  We also redid our deer fence this spring (I say we but that was really all my husband who did that).  We switched from mesh netting to wire as the netting was torn.  My husband built me a raspberry bed as well this spring.  I hope to add another each year until I have a large raspberry patch.  I would like to lay down cardboard this fall and top with a thick layer of compost to create a new perennial flower bed for next year as well as a large in ground potato garden.  I am also hoping to experiment with growing herbs and veggies indoors under grow lights through the winter.  We will see how that goes!

Did you set out with any gardening goals in mind for the growing season?

Some of my goals this season were to help my children plant and maintain their own little vegetable gardens.  Having them home more due to COVID has allowed them more time to work alongside me in the garden, which I love!  Another goal was growing brassicas.  Something fairly new to me.  I harvested some small broccoli and my first small cauliflower and am still waiting on the cabbage.  Trying a few new things, experimenting and learning are always goals for every growing season.

If so, have you been able to accomplish them?

I would say yes.  My children each have a beautiful veggie patch and are enjoying eating carrots, lettuce and peas from them daily.  My eldest is getting better at recognizing weeds.  (I’m thinking she doesn’t realize the weeding chores that will likely go along with this skill!)  I tried growing okra for the first time.  That was a big fail.  I’m going to try again next year but in the greenhouse. 

What are your plans for your garden for the future?

I hope to continue to improve my soil each year.  I have very alkaline soil and that is always a battle for me.  I want to build a cover for at least one of my raised garden beds to grow my brassicas under.  To expand my garden!  Can you ever have enough gardening space? 

Thank you so much for this opportunity to do an interview with you Sheryl!  You inspire and encourage me in my own gardening experience.  I hope I will do the same for others.

Krista, it’s been a huge pleasure to interview you for Flowery Prose! Thank you so much for your insight and ideas – I know you’ve offered a ton of wisdom and support to many gardeners through your blog (Zone 3 Vegetable Gardening) and social media and I wish you continued success!

Recipe: Swiss chard (or beet green) soup.

I have a question for all of you long-time bloggers!  Do you periodically go through past entries in your blog and do a refresh? (Fix broken links, add new updates, redo or add new photos etc.)?  Flowery Prose turned ten years old in March of this year and while I’ve tweaked a few little things here and there, particularly with the themes, I haven’t ever done a thorough clean up of old posts.  What is your process for doing this?  Or have you just left everything as is?

This recipe is from an old post that I’ve revised to better categorize the content.  Finding it again was a bit fortuitous, as this spring I decided to use up some old Swiss chard seeds I had kicking around – and had excellent germination rates with them. (Don’t chuck ancient seeds! The charts may “say” they’re not viable after a certain point but it never hurts to try. If you’ve stored them properly, you might have a chance at success).  The plants are still small – again, as with everything this year, I’ll just chalk that up to our wacky spring weather – so I’m not attaching a photograph.  No need to brag.  😉

Swiss Chard (or Beet Green) Soup

5 cups chopped fresh Swiss chard or beet greens (or a combination of the two)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 tbsp milk (dairy or non-dairy, such as cashew)

freshly cracked pepper to taste

1/2 cup Havarti cheese, shredded (use a vegan substitute, if preferred)

Sauté the chard or beets, the garlic, and the onions in olive oil in a large saucepan until the greens are reduced.  Add the stock and simmer for 30 minutes over low heat.  Remove the soup from the heat, cool it slightly, then carefully purée it with a hand blender. Add the milk and cheese and reheat gently (do not boil).  Add pepper to taste.

Yield: 2 generous servings

What are your favourite ways to eat Swiss chard and/or beet greens?  Or do you dislike them entirely?

Book review and giveaway: Veg Journal by Charles Dowding.

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Veg Journal: Expert No-Dig Advice, Month by Month – Charles Dowding – (2014, Frances Lincoln, The Quarto Group (Paperback 2017))

What a fun, yet practical little book!  Veg Journal boasts ample space to record notes and gardening to-do lists every week of the year, interspersed with beautiful photographs and detailed advice and tips on growing more than 35 edible crops, as well as how to tackle tasks such as composting, dealing with pests, and constructing a raised bed.  Although the book is written by a U.K. gardening expert, the information and the journal feature remains appealing for all readers, regardless of where they garden.

I am giving away a copy of Veg Journal!  If you are interested in winning it, please let me know in the comments below.  The contest is open now until midnight (MST) on Monday, September 10.  Giveaway is open to all.  I’ll let the winner know in a post on Flowery Prose the very next day.  The winner must agree to email me your mailing address so I can ship the book out to you.  Good luck to everyone!

*The Quarto Group generously provided me with a review copy of Veg Journal. As always, all opinions and thoughts are my own.

Raised bed gardening – the hoop tunnel is up!

I’m a little late with this post…even here in Alberta, I think most gardeners have their veggie seeds in and even most of the transplants planted out – although they may still be holding out on the tomatoes and pepper seedlings outside of the greenhouse.  I had promised way back at the end of March to offer up some notes on a lecture I had attended about raised bed gardening and here we are at the end of May and I’m just getting around to it now.  While it may be too late to apply some of these ideas this year, there might be a few things on this list to consider for the future!

Without further ado (I’ve “ado’d” enough with this one, I think!), here are a few key ideas about growing veggies in raised beds from Janet Melrose, the garden animator for the Calgary Horticultural Society and facilitator for the Community Garden Resources Network in conjunction with the CHS.  I’m not transcribing the whole lecture – I’d encourage anyone who lives in Calgary and area to attend any of Janet’s talks, as she has a ton of excellent information about gardening in the Chinook zone.

*On raised beds versus inground gardening:  Raised beds have warmer soil and warmer temperatures at the growing height and are less susceptible to cold traps and early frosts; however, the soil in raised beds is typically drier due to wind and heat exposure, which makes watering an issue.

*On combatting dry soil (also weeds!) with mulch:  Straw is an excellent mulch in raised veggie beds.

*On maximizing the limited space available in raised beds (and I’ll add that this goes for container gardening or any small space gardening):

  1. Sow fast growing crops
  2. Sow a limited number of crops
  3. Practice intensive gardening
  4. Sow crops with the largest production value per plant (my suggestion:  zucchini! LOL)
  5. Grow vertically
  6. Use the edges of beds for plants that trail
  7. Grow crops that have more than one edible part
  8. Plant crops that you can harvest more than once per season

Above all, grow crops that you like to eat and can use up!  I was laughing about this one because I’ve been guilty in the past of planting crops that I don’t necessarily need – for a couple of years now, I’ve grown beets and while I love them, we get about a gazillion pounds of them from our summer CSA share and by October I don’t really want to see another beet for at least a year.  Why on earth have I been growing them as well?  This year they were crossed off my planting list!

Another thing Janet recommended for raised bed gardening is something I’ve had on my mind for a couple of years now:  using row covers and hoop tunnels.  While construction was supposed to take place last year, I didn’t get around to it until a month ago (the story of my life, it seems!) but I’m quite pleased with the results!  (I must thank my hubby for all of his help with this – for the build, of course, but mostly for listening to me endlessly blather on about it).  😉

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We used hula hoops for the frame (they’re cheap and strong and already circular in shape, plus they come in a wide range of funky colours) – the ones we bought were just stapled together, so once the hardware was removed, they were ready to go.  We had some old fibreglass tent poles which we took apart and jammed into the ends of the hula hoops to use as “stakes” to put them into the bed, but you could always do without that step.  The poles served to give the hoops a lift, offering additional height – not necessary with most of the crops I’m growing but if you’re planting vertically, it may be useful.

The upper stabilizer is just  a piece of PVC piping (again, very inexpensive), trimmed to fit the eight foot bed and fastened with zip ties.  We debated about adding more piping to each end of the tunnel but decided the whole thing was sturdy enough to skip that step – although we may put them in later on if we feel it is necessary.

Here it is with the row cover in place…the fabric is water permeable (but hopefully not hail permeable!).  I could have used any number of items to hold down the fabric – most gardeners buy pegs specifically for that purpose, but I had some large metal paper clips at home and so I just popped them on.  They will rust, of course, but they work very well.

My hoop tunnel with row cover - BCG - 21 May 2014

Do you grow your veggies in raised beds?  What are your tips and tricks for good harvests?