Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Kids and Seed Catalogues

Mali asked if we should really be looking at catalogues now. "It's still winter grandma" she reminded me. "Don't we order seeds in the spring?" Yes, I reminded her. We do want to get seeds and plant them in the spring but this is the best time of year to look at pictures and read catalogues and order things so we can get them planted at the right time. I like order seeds over the holidays when there is time to dream and I had the kids for the afternoon so why not do a little garden dreaming?

My little six-year-old grand-daughter wrote down her usual favorites. She wanted beets and carrots and especially tomatoes. She asked for pickles and then corrected herself. "I meant cucumbers". After a few minutes consideration she crossed everything off her list. "What I really want Grandma is Phlox and Saskatoon berries", she confirmed after reaching the back of the catalogue with its tempting blooms and colourful fruits.

Her brothers were browsing their own catalogues (yes- grandma has a few on hand) and came up with their own favorites. Four year-old Kale wanted Veronica Romanesco Cauliflower and Pattypan squash. He was very specific and very driven by the full colour photos and memories of his garden last summer where he excelled with purple cauliflower. Cohen, at three, wanted everything purple. Purple beans, purple cauliflower, purple cabbage, purple carrots. He had no interest in anything else.

They are gone home now but their excited little faces are still with me. I am going to start ordering spring seeds this week!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Tree Drama

My husband had a plan. He was getting out his power drill so he could to drill holes up into the base of our newly purchased Christmas tree. A Grand Fir. Very stately and large.

As I came into the room to witness this scene I realized basic biology had escaped him and he was relying on his logical engineering brain instead. The way living trees move moisture is through the xylem - basically a series of hollow straws in the tree from the roots right up into the stomata in the leaves (or needles) where the water that came in up the trunk escapes as a gas.

Drilling holes up into the trunk does not improve the chance moisture will be drawn into the tree. The way to do this - I gently reminded him- is to saw off an inch of trunk from the base of the tree. This fresh cut will mean a fresh opening to water wicking xylem and improved uptake of water. The old trunk xylem becomes dry and filled with sticky bacteria and sap and dirt and is no longer effective, so a clean cut opens up the channels. Adding a drop of bleach to the water will help to keep it fresh as well.

So simply cut off the base of your tree and water water water. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Action on the Web Page!

My new book is under production and along with that a new web page. Check out http://twogardengurus.squarespace.com as it is being built.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

As The Compost Turns

"As the World Turns" was a popular tv show back in my school days. I think I could write an equally gripping tv show today about compost. Well maybe not equally gripping but at least somewhat fascinating.

Just when i thought all the work was done for the fall I came up with a new idea. This time it was a piece of leftover hardware wire that triggered the thought. I bought a bigger roll of wire than I really needed to build that simple compost screen. What was I going to do with the extras?

My husband proposed making a circle of wire . He suggested we could just tie it together loosely and dump our piles of leaves in it as they fell off our Qualicum Beach Catalpa tree. We had the good idea and then we left town - leaving my 88 year old mother and her 90 year old sister in charge of the project. Well- the first thing that happened was the leaves got heavy as it rained and the girls were simply working too hard packing them down so the wire started to split apart where the circle was joined. They then reinforced our simple loop with wire ties and propped up one slack side with bricks and anchored the whole works around a big rock so it wouldn't tip over. Then they kept adding leaves.

When I arrived back on the west coast I was surprised to see how great the system was working. So great- in fact- I decided to screen my other tumbling compost (which is completely finished) and add the screened compost to the top of the leaves. I probably should have been adding compost all along in layers as the leaves were added but remember I was away and there is only so much you can ask of an aging mother. (Believe me - I know- I am an aging mother too). So the system sits, waiting for the last leaves to fall complete with a capping of compost. I look forward to seeing how far it progresses by spring. Will it be ready for potato planting or spreading on the garden?

Meanwhile in my hot compost pile the temperature has plummeted (I will go back to that entry on the blog and add an update soon)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Water Barrels- time to come in

It is always a sad time to say goodbye to the rain barrel for the season. Especially today as we get our first rain in weeks. But it had to happen and the barrel is now washed and put away for another winter. The trouble with leaving it full of water over winter is the chance of splitting. Most of us own plastic barrels repurposed from industry and they will not tolerate the force of freezing water. If you bought a specifically made rain barrel check the manufacturers suggestions- they may be stronger and perhaps left outside but I doubt it.

So- the rain barrel has been taken off it's perch of bricks, washed out and brought over to the side of the house where it lives for the winter on its side under the overhang. The glazed pots have been set up in the same place. I am not strict about emptying all my pots over winter because I have been careful to buy pots designed for leaving out but even so I have lost a few over the years so most of them go into storage.

Pictured above is a pot I did for the a downtown zone 3 park. It has hardy dwarf blue spruce and junipers in it and was left out successfully all winter a few years back. The mum- of course- didn't survive but the pots and evergreens did and they provided colour and form all winter.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Best Fall Veggies - Redbor Kale

Just took a quick picture of Redbor Kale in a Calgary Garden today. It is already late October and we still have fabulous colour and taste in the garden.
Also dug some carrots and beets but the kale is prettier!

Other tasks for this gorgeous October day include covering Joan's roses, turning compost and planting the last of the garlic. Isn't this grand?This time last year we were buried in snow.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Feed the Bees and the Eyes

Professor Kippenburg Aster was in bloom for Thanksgiving this year - and that is not a common thing. I plant it right up front just in case it has the time and the inclination but often it freezes hard and solid with its tight buds shut out from the glamor and bloom. We do have a short growing season so I usually surround it with other show stoppers that gradually fade as the season moves on. I want late colour - and love asters - but I don't want an empty dead zone up front. If the season ends too soon this can happen.

I take a lot of pictures just to record what happens throughout the seasons and this helps me notice the little things. This year I noticed what look like honeybees on my asters! (Apologies to Ken Fry, Olds College if I got this wrong). I also saw a ladybug at the top of a bag of leaves I had just rescued from the alley. I guess I rescued the leaves and the lady beetle because she crawled out and flew away as I opened the bag.

So this little blog entry is designed to let reader's know there is still some active wildlife out there. Insects we really need to help us in the garden and in our world. Be careful not to do anything that will harm these little guys. As the temperature gets cooler many insects will be going deep into the leaf nest (13 bags collected so far - spread out in my tiny back yard). So think of my fall yard as a cozy bed and breakfast. Blooms of asters to provide high energy pollen and leaves to rest in. What a place to come home to.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Leaves - Leaves - Leaves- All you really need

They have more nutrients than manure and are cheaper than any other source of organic matter. Shouldn't we all be collecting leaves right about now? Listen in to CBC radio 1010 October 8th live at 12:35 for all you need to know about leaves.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Picking Golden Chantrelles

I did read in the Globe that the best Golden Chantrelles come from Northern Saskatchewan but last weekend we picked some mighty fine ones on Vancouver Island. Farewell to the Island now but the mushrooms are coming with us - we dried them for easy transport. What a lovely way to spend time with friends and get something yummy for the pantry.

The best habitat for these mushrooms is where the second cut fir is tall and casting shade. The chantrelles we found were near the first cut forest stumps. The trees are gone now but still giving.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fall rye- what a way to build soils

Just admiring my fall rye right before I dug it under today. Roots were as long as the topgrowth at this early stage. I immediately seeded again a mix of rye and field peas and vetch. Yes it might be too late but - then again seed is cheap and if it grows I get some fabulous organic matter for my soil

Friday, October 1, 2010

Winning Gardener Is an Artist!

Yvonne Scott had her many Calgary Horticulture Society trophies on the dining room table when I dropped by this summer. What she has done in her yard is beautiful but that is not all she does. She is also an artist and is very good at painting and making interesting garden sculptures. Of course I wanted to encourage her and post a blog about her Art Show and Sale coming up on October 16 and 17th, 2010.

If you need more info you can call her in advance at 403-281-3525 or just drop by to the show and sale at 35 Bay View Drive, SW Calgary.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Baby It's Hot in There!

There are lots of videos on line about compost but this article gives a simple recipe if you want to spend a few hours making "Hot" compost this fall to take advantage of all the veggie greens you are pulling out. This hot compost recipe allows you to build a pile that is ready in a hurry. No need to replace your existing pile(s) - this is something extra - a fast pile to get the extra stuff in the garden fired up and disintegrated in a hurry. Estimates say you can build and finish a fast compost in just over a month. It will heat up right away and with turning it will be ready before Halloween.

1- Day 1. Gather fresh green materials. I asked my local landscaper to drop off other people's grass clippings- he left about 2 yards of stuff on a tarp last friday. He says he has not sprayed herbicides on these lawns - they have only been fertilized. I also stopped by a local riding stable and grabbed a feedbag full of really fresh horse manure. Manures are real fire starters and I really wanted to get this pile going fast.

2- gather brown materials such as old weeds, piles of things that are dry and not decomposing and fine wood shavings if available. I always have plenty of these things laying about and since I am planning a hot pile I am not worried about weed seeds. The seeds and any pathogens should be wiped out in the heat.

3 - start piling materials in about 6 cm or 3 inch layers beginning with a stack of dry stuff followed by a stack of green. You are trying to get equal amounts of dry and green (carbon and nitrogen) stuff but remember a wood shaving has 1:200 nitrogen to carbon while grass clippings have 20:1 nitrogen to carbon. You need equal amounts of carbon and nitrogen in the end so you have to guess how much of each item to add. I err on the side of adding too much nitrogen.

4 - make the pile large or at least a cubic meter in size so that once it gets hot it will be big enough to hold the heat, I try to make the base wider than a meter so that the inevitable sloping sides will leave it at least a meter wide and high.

5- water the pile so that it is damp - not soaking sopping wet but damp throughout. If it threatens rain cover the top with a tarp. I leave the sides open for airflow.

6- hope for the best. You want 55-70 degrees C within a few days. And you want to maintain this for about three days. I have a thermometer I bought at Lee Valley Tools and it only reads in F but my husband translated for me.

7- Day 2-3. Results have been fabulous. On the first morning I had 140 F already. This is about 60 C so it is right on the money. So far it has been three days and the pile is still smoking hot. Exciting stuff for a gardener. If it was to get hotter I would water it or turn it because over 70 C and the stuff won't be composting properly. I have not had that problem yet. Like an emergency room nurse I keep slipping outside, checking the temperature of my patient several times a day.

8- Day four - the pile has been hot for three full days. After three days at this temperature the weed seeds and most of the pathogens are toast but the outside of the pile didn't get that hot. It is time to turn it. It is heavy so I have asked for help. Thank-you dear husband. This is essentially why I don't do this often. I have a turning composter for making the most of my greens and browns. But because the turning unit is only four cubic feet it is not big enough to sustain a high temperature. When I am doing really well it is heating up around 90 degrees F. This is only in the 30's C.

9. Success- the turned pile is back in the "pile" shape and is about 1 meter tall and wide. After turning it to incorporate the fresh looking stuff on the outside into the center of the pile I take the temperature again. It is now 100 C - which is considered in the Steady zone. I might add a bit more water and put the tarp back on to hold in the heat because I want to get it back up to 140 degrees again for another three days.

10 Day 5 - the temperature is back up to 140 F. I have not watered it but it may be getting dry so I will be keeping an eye on it. I wish I had added phosphorus to tie up the nitrogen. Rock phosphate is the best choice here, I usually add rock dust too but was in a hurry and forgot that little detail. Okay in two more days the pile can be turned one final time and then left on it's own to finish.

11. Meanwhile I have started a separate leaf pile with 1/2" hardware wire - 3' tall. It is not tied together. The leaves are holding the shape. I am only going to make leaf mold so am not adding anything to the pile to make it hot- not yet anyway.

12. Day 6 - wow! Second day since turning and temperature has shot right up to 150 F this morning - good thing I didn't water it. If it gets any hotter I may need to water to cool it down. According to my estimates it needs another full day at this temperature and then we'll turn it one last time and leave it. Its cool to be hot.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Leather-end on Tomatoes?

Leslie from Sherwood park called into CBC radio asking about her leather-end problem on tomatoes. I should have asked her to describe the problem more but she seemed to know what she had. Further research at this end shows the term leather-end is rarely used. The problem is more commonly called blossom-end rot. This is a problem I have a lot of experience with. The end opposite the stem-end has a blackening and thickening of tissue. The problem is caused by a lack of calcium in maturing fruits.

The problem Leslie may be having could be more related to how she fertilizes or to the cold season we have had. In cases where nitrogen fertilizer use is too high the problem with blossom-end rot is higher because the fruits are growing too fast and not able to utilize or absorb calcium fast enough. Many fertilizers made especially for tomatoes include extra calcium for this very reason. If the main fertilizers she uses are not for tomatoes I suggest cutting back drastically on them and improving the soil with organic matter. This becomes a slow-release fertilizer for plants and eliminates the need for a lot of other commercial fertilizers.

The other reason Calcium is sometimes short is because there is an erratic amount of moisture. These fluctuations can mean the level of Calcium varies and - again- the plant expresses itself with symptoms described by blossom-end rot. Keeping the beds evenly moist is the answer and again, organic matter in the soil helps to hold moisture and provide it to plants on a more even basis.

If Leslie was growing in the same soil every year the temptation is to fertilize heavily but the solution is really to use more organic materials and to fertilize slowly and with complete fertilizers that will give plants what they need slowly and gradually. It seems simplistic but adding organic matter to the soil really helps avert many problems.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fall Tune-up- Get your soils in shape

It's like yogurt for your soil. A handful of worm castings adds biology to tired soil. This in turn makes the soils soft as the microbes work over winter to extract nutrients from the plant materials left behind by the summer garden. Microbes also work to incorporate the nutrients clinging to clay into the root zone or rhizospere. We eat Bran and soils eat their own version of roughage - coarse leaves feed fungi and chopped leaves feed bacteria. The choice is yours as you start to think of ways to fix soil going into the dormant season.

I have been making worm castings for years but this fall I bought two kinds of castings to add to my soil because I wanted to have a look at a couple of commercial kinds of worm castings under the microscope and in the garden. I also wanted to supplement what I have in my own worm bin.

First things first. Lawns need an equal amount of bacteria and fungus so I added castings to the lawn. I figured this extra biology would break down any dead or dying lawn debris or thatch. In turn, this will provide a spring flush of nitrogen that lawns need.

Next I added worm castings to my garden beds... just a light top-dress.... a scattering really. This will add to the microbes already present and make for some great soil come spring. My own worm castings are not available in 50 liter bags yet but I do use what I have. I mix mine with the compost I am making and that will be ready soon to dump out and spread on the garden. My yard is going to have so much biology it's a scary thought.

If you think you have added plenty of compost in the past think again... gardens go through an amazing amount and it keeps breaking down and being used by the plants. We also continue to remove clippings and produce so that has to be replaced. Unless you have dream soil that can allow your hand to plunge into it up to your wrist you need organic matter and biology. This is the ideal fall task and if you don't have any buy it!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Planting Garlic Bulbils

Last year I suggested removing the garlic scapes - or little flower-like stalks that emerge from the top of garlic midsummer. This was to ensure the garlic a fighting chance and allow all the energy to go to building bigger bulbs during the summer. This year I was away when the scapes first appeared and then forgot to remove them altogether. When I returned to my garden mid-summer these little bulbils- or bulbs on a stick- were well developed. I was unsure what to do with these green sprouted miniature bulblets also called bulbils. The sprouts were pushing out of the papery shell covering them. If I pulled these fragile sprouting bulbils apart would I damage them? I decided to clip off these clumps of miniature bulbs and since I was in a rush I tossed them on the garden and abandoned them there.

Genetically bulbils are identical to root bulbs but much smaller. I took a sort of passive approach- I admit- but what could I do? I felt a bit guilty tossing them on the soil surface - thinking I would get back to them later - but else would nature have done? In the month that passed before I got back to them the little green sprouts shriveled and dried but the bulbils seem to have grown - and they look as healthy as ever. I forgot I had planted a few - as an experiment- and when I dug them - again by accident- I noticed they had started growing little roots.

That's it- time to plant these bonus bulbs now. Getting to work on it this morning I realized the bulbils break the normal rule of bulb planting. With tulips the rule is pointy side up. Suddenly I had to dig up the sprouting bulbils I had planted because I realized they are actually rooting on the narrow end. The larger round end needs to go up and the narrow end goes pointy side down into the ground. Okay I have been gardening for thirty years. I shouldn't still be learning things every summer! Go figure.

PS If you have full size garlic bulbs to plant stick with the normal rule- ie pointy side up. Do it now if you have a chance because this gives garlic a chance to root in before the deep freeze. Garlic that is not rooted in and does not have a cool spell over winter is likely to rot in the soil rather than thrive. Spring bought garlic often flops as a crop.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fall Blooms at Reader Rock Garden

Thanks to Jack Wootliff, Donna Balzer fan, and attendee at the Reader Rock Garden members day. This City of Calgary Park is always open to the public but on Sunday September 12 members of the Friends of Reader Rock Garden were on hand to give little tours and answer questions. Jack sent along these lovely Echinacea purpurea photos he took in the garden. If the Echinacea are in bloom is it almost the end of summer? Lets hope it drags on a little longer

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Royal Botanic Garden opens Veggie Village!

I was lucky to be in Toronto last week when the Royal Botanical Garden opened its new exhibit. Veggie Village is a look at how and why people grow their own vegetables with excellent examples of various garden styles. One of the coolest things is the "photo signs" where gardeners/visitors are encouraged to take photos of signs describing how to use vegetables in their kitchen. Here is a photo of Pak Choy - also known as Bok Choy as well as a recipe for cooking Baby Bok Choy.

Bok Choy - like cabbage- is a vegetable suitable for fall growth so these plants will be left in the ground over the next month or more for visitors to view. There is no additional charge for visiting Veggie Village at RBG.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Check-Up on Local Permaculture

Last week I dropped by to check up on Verge Permaculture in Calgary. Michelle and Rob Avis are still trying to fix soil that is in its third year so it goes to show hard lifeless soil is not an easily remedied problem. Luckily one of the premises of permaculture is to hill beds so that the rain falls between beds and is absorbed up into the beds gradually. This was definitely working. The system also keeps people from walking on the soil and further compacting it.

Meanwhile Verge has a bumper crop of radish pods and a million other activities on the go. One of the projects involves building a solar greenhouse to increase the length of our extremely short growing season. I will keep an eye on the projects they pursue because it is interesting to all gardeners, not just permaculturists. Meanwhile Rob Avis has offered to preview my new veggie book. I am off to meet with co-author Steven Biggs to finalize and confirm the text this week. Yes the book series project is humming along and we hope to have the first in the series ready to show off in time for spring planting!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Molasses for Ant Control?

Well if this isn't a perennial problem in everyone's garden I don't know what is. Earlier an entire ornamental grass was picked up* and was in the process of being hauled away by ants when I put it out of it's misery by digging up and disposing of it myself.

I have tried cornmeal and borax and other "solutions" and my husband was threatening the big guns - aka pesticides - so I had to try something. That's when Joanna offered up her simple solution. She mixes molasses with water and pours that right on the ants. If this works it will be a miracle. Today is Sept. 6th and I have just poured two Gallons of water/molasses mix on the word's biggest ant hill inside my light standard at the front of my house.

Check back later to see what is happening. The theory is that the sugar in the molasses will be attractive to the ants - after they eat it they will literally die of a sugar overdose because sugar turns to alcohol and they can't tolerate alcohol. This is because insects don't have any way to break down alcohol.

*** Well the plant was not being taken away per se but the ants were slowly burying it as they were busy constructing their new nest inside it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Carrots in Soil-Less Mix seem to be Fly-less as well

It is finally harvest time in my mini-garden beside the house. Last week I reported on the grand harvest of 15 blue potatoes from a single pot and this week I started pulling carrots out of my 3' x 3' mini-garden.

Because this was just an experiment and not a big "carrot growing operation" I was surprised how clean the carrots came out and it was a minute before I noticed the roots were rust-fly free. Then I remembered Joan telling me the carrots she was testing in her pots beside the ones growing in the ground were also fly free while the ground-grown carrots were riddled with the tiny maggots (or worms) so common with this insect.

We all know carrots do better in light soils but is it possible you can grow rust-fly free carrots more than one year in the same soil mix? I will definitely leave the soil in tact in this wooden box just to trial this idea next year. This is a nagging and irritating pest of carrots so it is great to know there may be a simple solution.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Soils and testing for Microbes

It's late summer now and soils are becoming depleted and turning rock hard. Some of the depletion is due to low organic matter. I make the analogy to the fridge. You can keep taking food (ie organic matter) out until it is all gone and then you can take leftovers (ie compost) out but finally if you don't refill it the fridge will be empty.

It is the same with the soil. You need to add a lot of organic matter over time to sustain the soil in a garden, especially in a vegetable garden where you are removing so many minerals in the form of food you are eating. Given the right conditions microbes can multiply and grow and this eventually supplies the soil with nitrogen but microbes can't replace all of the micronutrients that have been removed with the food. Protozoa eating bacteria release nitrogen in plant available form and fungus transport phosphorus from afar but what do you do if your microbes themselves have been killed by fertilizers and mistreatment?

I bore you with all this because it is common that gardeners forget to replenish their soil and last week I took a soil biology course to see what is in my soils and compost and compost tea. I was generally happy - especially with the compost. It was alive with all kinds of beneficial organisms. If your soil is getting hard it is probably lacking the microbes necessary for good soil life. Fall is the perfect time to build soil microbes.

Thanks to Martin for the photo included here that he took when I was hard at work last week.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Does anyone know this Daylily?

This is Red Velvet Achillea but what is the smallish (about 30" tall) daylily below it? I planted it several years ago and this is the first year it has bloomed. I bought it from estate perennials but can't find an e-mail address for them either! I am hopeless some days. If you recognize this Alberta daylily send me a comment or call me!

Friday, August 20, 2010

New From Seed This Year- cutting zinnias

This spring I started the usual suspects - tomatoes and basil - as well as all kinds of small flowers. The latest to come into bloom are the tall cutting zinnias. One opened today and I am thrilled to see it has a beautiful peach blossom. Described in the seed packet as coming in shades of apricot to rose and salmon blush I thought it would complement my dark green house.

Here is a photo of Apricot Blush Zinnia from Renee's Garden seed in the US. It is growing in front of a (the deliberatly blurred) small shrub sold as Tiger Eyes Sumac. Remember we have a very cool climate here in Calgary, Alberta - our elevation is the same as Banff- so any bloom from seed is an excellent success story.

I look forward to more blooms in the coming weeks from the numerous buds.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rat-Tail Radish - Another New Vegetable

Hassan is growing rat-tail radish - seed purchased from a regular seed company but never before seen by this garderner! Garden manager Georgina introduced it to me and I tasted her "radish gone to seed" in the Mission Community Garden in Calgary. It is delightful! Very spicy and radish-like in flavor. Yummy in salads or fast fries.

Thanks for introducing us to a new veggie Hassan!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New Gazania is Gorgeous!

I saw a new gazania in Evonne's garden today - we both agreed it is a good one. Gazanias usually close up at night or on cool days and this one is not only open on a shady cool day - it is a bright beautiful shade of orange. Sunbather's Sunset Gazania is a must try plant for me in 2011!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Follow-Up From Herald Article- Plants Speak to Us

Hello Donna, I enjoyed your Saturday August 06 (Calgary Herald) article about plant nutrient uptake. PLEEEEZe tell us how we can correct these problems in your next week's column. Kt

Ah Kate- - fixing the problem depends on what causes the problem- for instance Magnesium deficiency (shown on the tomato leaf above) is sometimes caused by low pH - which can be caused by the potting soil being acidic or it can be caused by lack of magnesium. The latter can be fixed just by adding the micronutrient -using a product such as Kelp. The low pH can be a bigger problem because if the soil was not balanced before you bought it that is a problem. Don't buy that soil again or fix it now by adding lime. So you have to rule out one problem and then look for the solution. If you simply add Mg and the pH is low it may not be available to the plant.

Iron "deficiency" is also more of a pH problem and once that is changed through using more compost and making sure the soil is watered well but not waterlogged, the problem can solve itself. I will try to add more bits and pieces in my Blog but am also trying to write a book right now so am torn with these writing projects! Thanks for your feedback... ps - I only write in the Herald every second week so check back her for more updates.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Garlic is ready!

My friend Pat said she had never seen garlic in a garden. Oops- I picked it five minutes before she arrived this weekend. It doesn't look like much in the garden once it is mature. The onion-like plant just gradually turns brown. The bottom picture is right after I picked it - before washing. The top photo is a washed and slightly peeled garlic ready to dry. I have hung it to dry where it won't get rain. I will replant some in the fall once it is ripe. To plant it I just separate the cloves into individual little nuggets and plant those pointy side up and an inch or two deep. This cluster of garlic started as a single clove purchased last fall at the market.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

CBC Phone-In - Updates

On CBC radio in Alberta yesterday Catherine was having trouble with her clematis. Parts of the plant were wilting and then browning - or browning and then wilting- I am not too sure. I immediately declared she had trouble with a bacterial wilt. Ooops!

The wilt of clematis is caused by a fungus so I am self-correcting here for all to read. If there is a single stem wilting on a clematis that becomes a few brown wilted leaves or a whole stem of wilted leaves you may in fact have fungal wilt caused by Phoma clematidina. Cutting through a node just below the damage you can see if the stem is blackened and filled with fungus. This is causing the wilting and all damaged material must be cut off (I did tell Catherine to cut off the damage).

If the cut reveals the plant is not black, there is a chance Catherine's clematis was simply wind whipped by all the crazy Alberta weather we've had lately. In that case, the cure is the same: remove the damaged portion anyway.

For further details about this and other organisms causing rot in clematis check out the excellent paper out of England on the same subject:

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sungold Tomatoes are ripe!

My favorite tomatoes come from Renee's Seed each spring like clockwork. I start the seed, transplant it, water and fertilize it and by late July or early August I am rewarded with hundreds of juicy jewels, far sweeter than Sweet 100 or Sweet Million. These amazingly sweet Sungold cherry tomatoes are an orange fruited cherry tomato on long trusses. They tested 11 on the Brix scale and are best served with a bit of sea salt and a basil leaf.

Amazing and worth the wait!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Permaculture - Learn Something New This Summer

Verge Permaculture in Calgary is offering courses - specifically the intensive 72 hour course - at Gull Lake starting Aug. 8, 2010. If you can take the time to go learn something new I suggest this would be a fun activity!

It could even be life changing. Check out details at http://www.vergepermaculture.ca/

"Permaculturists are extreme generalists. Gardeners are extreme specialists" - Quote from Adrian Buckley, Calgary Permaculturist.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Art in the Garden

Just read in the Herald that Katharine Ylitalo (formerly of Edwards garden Center) is now working at the Banff Center on The Banff Butterfly Garden at the Walter Phillips Gallery. On Aug 7 the gallery will present Art in the Garden with Katharine from 1-2 Pm followed by a garden tour and drawing session. If you are in Banff or area consider signing up and going. Sorry I don't have any further details but those should be available from the Banff Center.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Cardoons - A New vegetable for me!

According to Wikipedia, acclaimed chef Mario Batali calls the cardoon one of his favorite vegetables and says they have a "very sexy flavor". Of course this is not why I tried them this spring. But it might be why I keep growing them.

Like most "white bread" gardeners I hardly ever try a new vegetable. I know and grow my favorites and that is enough. In fact this one is so unusual you can't even buy it in the stores or markets in our cold zone 3 climate. I tried it because Ed and Mariann at E & M Woodland Gardens near Innisfail started growing them from seed for their Italian neighbors. Ed Wassenaar convinced me it would be a dramatic addition to my pots and that it might reach heights of 2 meters in a season. In warmer climates (Zone 7?) this plant overwinters easily and sometimes becomes a weed, but In Calgary this exotic Italian plant will not winter so I put this Artichoke relative in a big pot for its showy leaves thinking they would cause a drive-by sensation.

I only have one plant in one pot but neighbours and friends walking by all comment. Finally, one woman who has a winter home in Spain, stopped to tell me I should be making Cardoon risotto or soup with my plant. A single leaf stalk is similar to a giant celery stalk. Pick 1 or 2 stalks and strip off the leaflets along the petiole edges. Remove the woody veins before chopping and parboiling the leaf stalk and finally add it to any number of dishes. A search of the internet shows this is not just a pretty plant, it is a virtual wonder. It's amazing I never cooked it before. Tastes a lot like an artichoke without the warm climate needed to get the artichoke flowers. Wow, the longer I garden the more I learn.

Fast fact: Cardoon is Cynara cardunculus while artichoke is Cynara scolymus so they are closely related. They are in the daisy family but don't look that way until they bloom and look like giant thistles.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Oriental Poppies are Pretty

Yes it is Oriental Poppy time again and they are beautiful! Trouble is once they bloom they are done, finished, caput.

Remember to cut back or deadhead the blooms if you want to keep the plant as strong as possible. This means cutting off the dead flower head and the stem it is on. If you leave the stem, the little pointer sticks up in the air looking miserable and the plant has to decide what to do with it. Sometimes it is wise to leave a pod or two to mature and go to seed so that you have young plants coming next year. You will know the seeds are ripe when you tip over the pod and can shake out the black seeds.

Do not immediately cut back all the leaves because the plant needs to wind down. If the leaves brown, cut them off as they discolor and eventually you may have to cut them all back.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New Diseae at Reader Rock Garden

Just noticed the Hosta virus has hit Calgary - saw it a few years ago when touring Hosta growers in Holland and now there are hostas showing signs of disease in Calgary's Reader Rock Garden. Look at photos of normal (top) and disease (leaves smaller, speckled and veined, below) Hostas pictured. This problem has been in Eastern Canada for several years so had to eventually come here too! Sadly there is nothing to be done- perhaps removing and destroying infected plants?

Plant Annuals in July?

Okay- last night I planted annuals in my front yard. Yes it was raining and yes it is late by most people's standards but I was away earlier and then it hailed and I could go on and on. This is just a public service message really to say why not fill in a space where an oriental poppy pooped out or the hail nailed a favorite plant?

Surprisingly, there are still annuals to be had and with our weather finally turning nice (for today anyway) it is a good idea to plant and reap the rewards of late summer bloom. Meanwhile I have to say my new Terra Nova perennials are coming along nicely. More on that later!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Join Me at the Eleanor Luxton House in Banff

It is a rare thing that a garden continues and sometimes even improves long after the owners have passed. Thanks to the foundation set up by Eleanor Luxton in Banff Alberta, her historical family home is not just humming along, it is happily being weeded and planted and loved as if Eleanor or her parents still lived there!

If you are going to be in Banff or want an excuse to come out to visit this weekend, join me as we open the garden to the public. Eleanor's house is at 206 Beaver Street. The event is Sunday, July 18 from 2-4 PM. I will be on hand to answer garden questions of all kinds and to show off some of the work the foundation has been up to. Meet the gardener Lance Woolaver and the hard working "Friends" who have planted and weeded on behalf of the foundation for the first time this season.

Remember Banff is a cooler climate than most of Alberta so plants long gone in your own garden will be peaking here now. I look forward to meeting you so don't be shy - come over and introduce yourself.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Front Door Wow- First Impressions

Check out my Calgary Herald article July 9 when I look at ways to add more wow to the front yard! Here is another bonus photo taken last week in Croatia... this front door is in Ston- just north of Dubrovnik.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sarritor Works in Calgary

Newly released this spring, the fungus Sarritor is being promoted as a non-chemical cure for dandelions. Well- in my test of one lawn it has worked. And not in ideal conditions. It was applied last week on a pleasant day but the week deteriorated with snow by the weekend. The homeowner Bruce just e-mailed me to say it has killed all his dandelions and he is very pleased, I will follow up with him later to see if it is a long term control or just a short term cure.

Developed at McGill University this native Canadian fungus - based on Sclerotinia minor - seems to work. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Available in Calgary at Green Gate Garden Center.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Calgarians - source of "Snow Princess" found

My favorite new plant in 2009 was an outstanding alyssum that bloomed all summer and never went to seed. I just found this Proven Winner's introduction at Sunnyside and wanted to let reader's of this Blog know. Snow Princess is with the annuals on the west side of the road...

Pinch/Prune Mugo Pines Now

Not one- but two gardeners asked me last week about pruning their mugos. They had grown at least 30 cm last year and were galloping along again this year with fully extended candles. I showed them how to pinch the candles to remove at least half the new growth without clippers or any fancy equipment. See pruned and unpruned photos above.

If you have a mugo pine pinch it now to keep it in good shape and to keep it small and compact.

Smelly Water Barrel... mystery solved

Thanks to an avid CBC listener the answer to the smelly water barrel question from last week is solved:

Shelagh writes:
In response to the question about the horrid smell in the rain barrel, I
suggest that the problem is pigeons. While in Calgary I had the same issue,
year after year. No matter how often I cleaned the barrel, it stank. One
spring, just after one of the famous Calgary downpours, I noticed egg shells
and baby bird bits in the rain barrel and it all came together. I had had
pigeons roosting on the roof that drained into the barrel for years - could
not get rid of them. So, I think the caller's problem probably stems from
pigeon guano and pigeon nest refuse. It's nasty stuff and the water should
not be used any where near food crops. Pigeons carry quite a few diseases
that are transmittable to humans.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Momentum Mower- Love it

If you were listening to CBC Radio on Friday you heard me interview two husbands about their new mowers. The two husbands had something in common - they both hated their old hand push mowers - one had a Lee Valley Tools push mower and one had a Gardena push mower - both top of the line cutting machines.

One husband bought a new Cadet battery powered mower and one a Momentum push Mower from Fiskars. In the end it has become a love in for the Fiskars mower - half the price of the Cadet and just as effective. Available from Canadian Tire.

My neighbor came over to borrow the Momentum by Fislars to mow his neighbor's lawn. When he returned it he was overwhelmed. "It's my favorite mower - not just among push mowers but all mowers". Pretty good testimonial. But with all the bad push mowers out there it may be hard to get gardeners and husbands to try this new machine. It is not like any other push mower so has to be tried to be believed.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Yikes- It is cold out there!

The weakest link in the garden is always the newly planted tender annual. Old perennials, such as the Gold Heart Bleeding Heart pictured here, has been in the garden for four years and even though it had snow and cold temperatures this weekend it is standing up just fine and in full bloom this morning.

Meanwhile the zucchini planted a week ago in a pot was covered with frost blanket during the cold spell and this morning it is showing cold temperature injury. Yikes! Yes- the frost blankets (sometimes sold under the trade name Reemay) do help with frost and the geraniums and other hardy annuals are just fine after the really cool spell after a cover up with the frost blanket but the tender annuals such as Begonias and yes - Zucchini- are showing signs of cold temperature injury. The leaves have collapsed as the cells burst and they will not bounce back. Instead, the crown of the plant looks alive and if I keep it covered over the next few days it will survive. Love Alberta in the spring!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Spuds Cut for Planting

Save money by cutting seed potatoes into pieces before planting. This gives you more plants from a single spud and a bigger potato harvest later on. Make sure each piece has an "eye" or a little growing point and leave cut potatoes on a sheet of newspaper overnight to dry a bit before planing.

Beasts & Blooms

I live downtown. On a busy street. So of course I was surprised to see a coyote posing beside a double flowering plum while I was out walking my dog this morning. Yes it is coyote season again and the young puppies and their parent's are hungry. All dogs on leash.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Reader Rock Garden a Bloomin' Beauty

So many things are in bloom at Reader Rock Garden in Calgary this week I had to post a few pics for all to enjoy. This is a free City of Calgary Park so feel free to take the train to the Erlton Station and pop across the street to see a full spring display. In bloom this week are Anemone vulgaris, Pushkinia spp., Arabis spp., Double Flowering plum, hepatica, squill and of course tulips.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Purple Passion-In bloom this week

The Double Bloodroot is fading now in Calgary but on it's heels the grape hyacinth is in bloom. This curious plant sprouts leaves in fall and they overwinter and then bloom in May. This is a wonderful small bulb to fill the garden in May - hardy in all climates and in bloom for two to three weeks depending on the weather. It is about 20 cm tall and tolerates an east exposure.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Seeding Beans, Planting Strawberries

Yes - I am on the coast again for a few days and the climate is perfect for planting beans, pruning tomatoes in my greenhouse and popping in some day neutral strawberries (Hecker- everbearing).

Seeded Renee’s classic slenderette bush beans in a square bed . Soil looks great. Broadcast whole package and poked in to the soil which is soft because that is where I dumped all the compost in February.

Am just about to dig over winter cover crop of peas and fall rye in the new beds along the fence. Too much to do and too little time to write.

PS Bought some white asparagus from Kathy Zipp- that gal is talented! Funny she did not mention the asparagus until I saw the row obviously covered....with a black tarp while of course my asparagus is up and bright green. After a few questions she admitted she had some in the fridge for her regular customers. Of course I begged for some.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cherry Blossom Season In Calgary

Finally- it is cherry blossom season in Calgary! Yes, cherries were in bloom in February during the winter Olympics. Cherry blossom season was big in Japan in April.

Nanking Cherries are the pale pink blossoms you will see around town just coming into bloom - they reach a height of 3 meters tall. Russian almonds are the short pink shrubs - usually kept at aboout 1 meter. Double flowering plums - featured here - are a darker, pinkier pink.

Enjoy - spring only lasts a few weeks in this city.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cut the Grass!

Yes - it is time. Time to cut back the ornamental grass such as this Karl Foerster seen at a neighbor's yesterday. These grasses look great all winter but they need to be cut back before they start growing. As you can see it is too late for that so cut it back right now!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Where will the lady beetles hide?

Yes- it is spring and as noted earlier gardeners are busy scraping every leaf off their garden and dumping it in the garbage. I need to ask this little question... where will all the lady bugs (actually beetles) go once all the hiding places are gone and the duff and leaves have been removed? Especially this early in the season when there are still threats of snow and cold conditions. Have mercy on the little guys and leave a bit of stuff in the garden so that they can find shelter.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Early Blooms in Calgary

Suddenly in bloom this week we see perennials, bulbs and shrubs. It was such a freakishly hot week that many early perennials including Primula marginata (purple), Hepatica (also purple), crocus (purple and yellow), Caltha leptosepala (white), sanguinaria (gorgeous white) and forsythia (yellow) are all in bloom. The leaves on the poplar trees are breaking out and it definitely looks like mid-May. Of course it is raining tonight and possibly snow in the morning but that is typical of Calgary in Spring.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dumpster Diving- sort of

Okay - It started out as a walk to the park. With the dog. We did our usual things and as we returned down the back alley on our way home bags and bags of leaves called out to me. I suddenly had the urge to collect garbage - not professionally- mind you- just a few bags. Just to stop it from going into the landfill where it would contribute to methane gas production and greenhouse gases. Where it will be lost to gardens forever as it contributes to landfill. Just to boost my own garden and compost.

I am not talking any old type of leaf or rough debris from the spring garden clean-up. I have enough of that to cut up and slowly compost over the summer. I am talking about gathering the black gold - the really special spring cream of the crop. The material that is whisked off the lawn in the early days of spring: it has finely chopped leaves, dead grass and the fresh bits of new young grass bustling with nitrogen and millions of mictobes ready to begin their annual work.

I approached the subject with my husband. Would he mind helping me in the garden a bit? I mean - would he mind helping me collect a few materials for the garden? Always enthusiastic he jumped in until he realized I wanted him to drive while I picked up the bags - "Just one more" I begged as we crammed the eighth bag into our station wagon.

So the bags are home now. Some immediately went into my tumbler compost to start a fresh spring batch of compost and wake up the old cold materials left there over winter. Others went in deep piles at the back of the garden in newly developed areas sure to have weeds if not covered quickly. A few precious bags were kept for summer composts.

We went for a dog walk again last night. Still more materials were being left curbside - I mentioned we should go home and get the car. "Just keep walking Donna" said the usually helpful husband. Sigh. So much garbage - so little yard.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Boxwood in Calgary

Hi Sheila- As you can see I am a new blogger and not able to figure out how to reply to you directly. Boxwood is delightful in sheltered areas of Calgary but don't make a hedge of it... instead use it in small yards as a special plant.... unless you are sheltered and downtown. Check at Edward's Garden center because that is where I bought mine!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Dandelions in Salad?

I'm sure I am not the only one to see a recipe and immediately decide to make it. I might be the only one to see a recipe and make it even though I only have a few of the ingredients. This is true of the recipe for Pancetta and Dandelion salad in the Globe and Mail yesterday. It looked delicious. The only trouble was the only ingredients I had that were called for in the recipe were the dandelions and the dry bread. So I made it anyway and added some homemade sprouts and home grown lettuce and grated a bit of parmesan on it and added the last bit of lemon from an old rind I still had in a bowl. The result? Fabulous. But that is mainly because of the fact the dadelions were deep fried and what isn't good deep fried?