Saturday, February 21, 2009

UBC Farm - Sowing Seeds for the Future

A Trip to the UBC Farm in Vancouver, British Columbia really woke me up last week. I had just seen the Northwest Flower & Garden Show and was a little disappointed by everything ornamental and then I came across UBC. In a brown early spring setting everything was bright and buzzing with potential. 

"Sowing Seeds for the Future: Apprenticeship in Organic Agriculture" is just primed to start it's second season and Apprenticeship Coordinator Sarah Belanger is very excited. "We are working with New farmers as opposed to Young farmers" stressed Belanger. Apprentices are from their late twenties to forties so many have had another career before. "I perceive there is a growing sense of respect for farmers - there's more cultural recognition now. Our program brings out the beauty and value of farming"

Instructor Elaine Spearing stresses that many of the interns have quite a bit of experience already. "We are aiming to equip people with skills and knowledge that lets them go further (and) make their progression (with farming) more productive. Some (of our interns) had home gardens but some lived in apartments. We encourage people to go work for established farmers so they can learn a farm system" stressed Spearing.

According to Belanger, in the last 60 years (1941-2001) the percentage of the Canadian population  living on farms has decreased from 26% to 2.4% . Only .5% of our population are farmers and their median age is 50. "Who is going to grow our food in the future? asks Belanger.  

For further information about the program or for your own interest see the videos posted on you-tube. Start with:

Northwest Flower & Garden Show

I am always hoping to be garden overwhelmed and lately I think everything proposed in ornamental gardens is the same old same old. This happened again this week when I went to a sneak preview of the Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle. It was advertised as the last flower show for Seattle and I had been really excited by previous shows so I flew down for the event. 

Water, rocks, pots and comfy couches. Yes - it sounds dream-like and it was - except every exhibit had these elements. The only things a little more unusual were the green walls and especially the green wall fence with the peek-a-boo view through (See photo). I am pretty sure we can't do that in Calgary but it was fun to look at. It makes me long for the Canada Blooms show last year with it's emphasis on recycled materials. 

While the Seattle show is over by Sunday Feb. 21, 2009 the Toronto show is a month away and well worth it if you are in the neighborhood - which I will not be. This year I am speaking in Wainwright Alberta at that time - showing photos and videos of Seattle among others -  so there is no way I will make it to Canada Blooms. Come to think of it the shopping opportunities  outweighed the exhibits in Toronto last year but at least we can buy the products here in Canada without worrying about border crossings!

Here is a video of one exhibit in Seattle under construction. Is is beautiful? Yes. Is it new? I don't think so - what do you think?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tiny Vegetables for Pots

In my city garden I don't have room for all the big things I used to grow in the country or on my parent's farm so I have been using the self-watering boxes sold at Garden Retreat (Maxikap). ( see
These boxes hold up to a two week supply of water. I already use them in my greenhouse to grow tomatoes  fresh basil, cape gooseberry  and long English cucumbers.

This  year I am going to make use of an underutilized tiny second story patio on my house by planting it up with these self watering plant boxes instead of flower pots. It is a space that is on the west side of the house in the tree tops so it gets more light than the rest of the yard. It is  awkward to water pots on this deck so these boxes will be ideal because I can drag a hose up every few weeks instead of every day for regular pots. I don't think I am alone when I say there is a lot of excitement about vegetables in cities and we are all trying to squeeze out a bit more space for something extra.

This year I have been combing the on-line and old-school print catalogues for small vegetables and accent plants I can grow in these shallow soil (about 4" deep) boxes. The catalogues list a wider range of options than I have space. It's obvious I can't grow carrots or most root crops for that matter but spilling cucumbers, tumbling strawberries, spicy lettuce and miniature beans are all possible.

So far I have ordered:
Mercano Beans (Chilterns) - a narrow straight dwarf french bean 
'De Cicco' Calabrese (Chilterns) an Heirloom Italian sprouting broccoli
'Super Bush' tomato (Renee's Garden)
'Climbing Trombetta' squash (Renee's Garden) because they will spill over balcony with their luxuriant vines
'Italian Gigante' Parsley (Renee's Garden) - exceptionally good Italian parlsey - once you have tried this you will never grow curled parsley again.
'Monet's Garden' Mesclun lettuce (Renee's Garden)- colourful come-again lettuce 
'Sugar Sprint' edible snap peas (Vesey's) - small bush plant
'Small Wonder' Spaghetti Squash- small fruits on trailing plants ideal for tumbling off deck
Hanging Strawberry Plant (McFayden)- trails so can be planted on edge of boxes
French Green Sorrel (Dominion) - Very lemony leaves for fresh eating and soups

See these and other catalogues for seed selection:
Renee's Garden ( 
Vesey's Seed ( 
McFayden Seeds (
Dominion Seed House ( 
Chiltern Seeds (

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Meet Donna - Come to a talk!

If you run into me on 4th street you will probably ask - "So- what do you do in the winter"?

Okay - maybe you won't ask it that directly, but you are probably thinking it as I juggle my produce and dog and look a little less than put together. Well the news flash is that I am putting together talks. These talks are all going to be revealed this spring. I am also traveling to see what is new in the big world of horticulture.  

I know, I know, many of you thought I knew everything already but in fact there is always something new or some new interpretation of something new or something old made to look new. In the last few weeks I have met with irrigation specialists and soil labs to see what is new in these areas. And there are new things and I do intend to write about them but as you know I am busy putting these talks together. 

I have also booked a trip to Seattle to see the Northwest Flower Show in Seattle on Feb. 17, and I have signed up for a course on Vancouver Island February 28. 

Of course I have been skiing and walking my dog but that is just to stay fit for my challenging, upcoming speaking engagements. In fact, that is what this column is all about - my speaking engagements. I want you to look at the sidebar on the left and if you can come to any of my talks this spring please do. And take the time to  introduce yourself as a blog reader! I can hardly believe winter will be over soon and gardening will start in ernest. 

I am so busy getting these talks ready I have not even ordered seed yet. Yes, it is true - I have not ordered any seed yet. I will do that promptly. Next week. Well, how 'bout when  I get these talks finalized? Meanwhile I will leave you with a quick tip. If you are working with old seed and lets face it - who doesn't hang on to some old seed for more than one season? - you can give it a germination boost by misting it with kelp before you seed it or by actually soaking the seed in kelp overnight before it is seeded. Either way, the gibberellins in Kelp will trigger better germination in old seed and even if you spend all winter not ordering new seed you will have something to show for it. 

Now make that call and sign up for a talk! Okay - I also need to write more about biostimulants such as  kelp and humic acid and whatnot but not today. As I said - I am busy. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Winter Pruning

Darcy asked about pruning mature trees and shrubs. He wondered  what to remove and when - he also wondered if there was someone who could guide him in making the right decisions.

The simple answer for Darcy is that he should minimize pruning of mature trees. By the time trees are advanced in age they are growing slowly and do not send out large amounts of new growth unless something - or someone- triggers unnecessary and sudden growth. Old trees should have been "trained" when young so will probably not need any more shaping now.

Heavy pruning of any tree in the dormant season will possibly trigger lush growth in spring so this should be minimized. Light pruning to remove an occasional broken branch, crossing branch or branch interfering with a power line can be done in our zone (3-5) while the tree is dormant (from February to mid-March) or in June after it has fully leafed out.  It is illegal in Calgary to prune Elm trees in summer so if he has an elm it could be  trimmed now but only if absolutely necessary (ie a broken branch). Before he makes any quick moves, Darcy should call an ISA Certified arborist for a consultation.  It is better to be safe than sorry. We avoid pruning of any kind once trees start to grow - ie the buds are swelling and leaves are emerging (Mid-March through to mid-May). This is a time of high energy use by the tree as it  tries to push out new leaves. 

Shrubs are an entirely different matter. A mature shrub can either be beautiful because its nature and structure have been retained over time with careful pruning or it can be a rat's nest of tangled branches after years of abuse. Sometimes it is easier to do renewal pruning (ie cut back heavily) in the late winter (Feb- mid-March) on shrubs that have become an overgrown eyesore. Avoid cutting spring blooming shrubs such as lilacs now because you will remove all the beautiful blooms Darcy!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Edmonton Horticultural Society 2009 Schedule

Wally Affolder has released the 2009 Schedule for the Edmonton Horticulture Society: 

Feb 23 , Rank the Ratings , Greg Polkosnik
March 30, A New World of Gardening, Jim Hole
April 27, What's New and Exciting in Gardening, Deborah Sirman
May 25, Rejuvenating a Yard, Kevin Napora
June 29, Donna Balzer talks about Common Sense Gardening
August 31, Be it resolved! Nature is the best model for the garden
September 28, Awards Night - No Speakers
October 26, Connecting Gardening to Today's Lifestyles, Brian Minter
November 30, Butchart gardens History, Rick Los

Contact Wally at for details.