Saturday, January 28, 2012

Growing Indoors or even on rooftops!

Thanks to Johanne for sharing this great video on growing in sub-irrigated containers. It is something we saw this savvy Art instructor do on her own rooftop and wrote about it in my new book No Guff Vegetable Gardening (Soon available in the States in a revised form as No Nonsense Vegetable Gardening).

Here is the video Johanne sent:

Monday, January 23, 2012

What not to plant in Calgary!

Harold wanted to know: Is there a list of plants that should have warnings attached to them? He gardens in the cold plains of Calgary. Between the mountains, wind and short frost free season he is hesitant to start vegetables. He had so much trouble with parsnips and carrots in particular I enlisted the help of Dawn, a friend and client in Calgary. But first I sent Harold the usual list of plants to avoid- warm season crops are "out"- such as eggplants, tomatillos, peppers, okra and artichokes (pictured left). Just simply too much work for a new gardener in a cold climate. In fact we give these crops a "red light" meaning difficult in my new book No Guff Vegetable Gardening.

I asked Dawn to comment on growing parsnips because his were so impressive last year (he left them in a little package on my front step last spring) I wrote a whole article about them - an article reprinted across the country.

Dawn wrote: We consider carrots, parsnips, potatoes, onions, beets,and the lettuce family as "What should be planted in Calgary". Parsnips,like carrots, can stand a hard frost.
Parsnips are very slow to germinate (2 weeks), but don't presoak(and never transplant tap root vegetables - the roots will go fibrous). I recommend you (Harold) try them again, normal seeding at the same time as carrots (as soon as the ground can be worked),and never let the seed bed dry out-just moist,not wet.

Create as deep a soil bed as you can, with lots of compost, and we give 3 foot row spacing to these heavy feeders. As Donna mentioned, we grow 2 rows x 40 ft of parsnips per year, rotating all these crops and with soil 2 to 3 ft deep. We dig 1 row in the fall and 1 in the spring, the overwinter frost gives them a slightly nutty flavour. The parsnips are 3 or 4 inches in diameter and up to 3 ft long, although most of the "meat" is in the top 18 inches. Try planting with a few radishes to mark the row - sow one seed at a time with 2 inch spacing and thin to 6 to 8 inches. We have had good results with both 'Arrow' or 'Albion' as varieties, from Veseys or Dominion seed houses. Good luck with this, and don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions - this is my 'passion' in outdoor living in Calgary.

okay I have to say I love it when clients help clients. What could be more fun. As Dawn was writing me this note and copying in Harold he was chipping up Christmas trees for use in his hen house. I love these people!


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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Forest Bathing?

We used to unroll the windows as we approached the cabin so our dog could "smell" the air. If we didn't do this she would get agitated and start pacing in the backseat. We could see we were getting close to our "forest getaway" but she could only smell it so we helped her out by unrolling the window. Once we arrived at the cabin and got out of the car we could smell the forest too. It seemed as if our blood pressure dropped and the smiles began.

Dr. Sarah Cimperman describes this phenomenon as Forest Bathing in her blog post ( ):

"Researchers have studied the psychological effects of forest bathing... Almost 500 Japanese adults were surveyed on days they spent time in a forest and also in their normal environment. Statistical analyzes revealed that, compared to their normal environments, inside a forest the participants reported significantly less depression and hostility, and felt significantly more lively. And the greater the level of stress individuals experienced, the greater the positive effects of forest bathing. Researchers concluded that forests are “therapeutic landscapes” and that forest bathing may decrease the risk of stress-related diseases.

I am currently preparing to speak about the "Magic of Gardens" and in my talk I will include all the health benefits gained from being in nature. Organizing a seminar for stressed out professionals? Want a fun and inspired talk? Think of all the health effects of gardening and spending time in nature and call me for your next seminar, workshop or speaker series.

Thanks to the CBC radio show The Current ( for first covering this topic last spring. It took me a while to process and pass along!


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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Outdoor Living Extravaganza

Well- this is a big moment. I am now officially a speaker at an extravaganza! I have spoken in barns and community halls and yes, last year I spoke in a greenhouse while my audience gradually melted into the floor and I did the slow strip tease taking off scarf, jacket and then sweater. I was down to short sleeves when we wrapped.

Every year Proven Winners does a special presentation in four cities in North America. This year they are bringing the show to Edmonton and logically they asked one of Alberta's great garden speakers to participate! In an extravaganza no less.

If you want to check out the details look at their web posting ( or send me a note for details. As a garden speaker I love speaking about gardening and I am always inspired by my audience. Come on out one and all!

(PS The photo above was taken at Smithford's a fun and quirky store in Qualicum Beach B.C. where I presented my new book last summer)


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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Seed Primer and Garden Chat

Suspense, excitement and the thrill of the unknown. It's an amazing thing to fill a room well in advance of showing up. That is what happened in Qualicum Beach where I am speaking this weekend. I wasn't sure if there would be any interest in a talk about gardening and starting seeds this early in the season but the librarian e-mailed me to say both sessions are full with a waiting list of 25.

What triggers people to come to talks each and every spring about the same subject? I know for me it is the unknown. Maybe a speaker will tell a funny joke or share some wisdom about gardening that I didn't know. I used to love watching Lois Hole tell the same stories every spring just because I loved Lois. Sometimes it is just a chance to get together with like-minded people and share a topic you already know and love. It is a way to learn and a way to share. It surely isn't the door prizes, but then again who knows?

I plan to share the suspense of starting seeds with my Qualicum Beach audience this weekend. I hope to dazzle with the excitement of compost building and thrill the audience with the unknown mysteries of growing vegetables. What is the amorevean cucumber and why do we care? If you are not able to join us Saturday because the session is full you can call me to arrange a talk in your community, or just to ask about the cucumber. A chat is just a chat but a garden chat can go anywhere and with the enthusiasm of spring and gardeners energy overflowing it will never get boring.


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Friday, January 6, 2012

Falling in Love


It is like falling in love all over again. I see the handsome exterior and I take a closer look. From top to toe I gush over the features new and old. No- it is not a new Harlequin Romance: it is plant catalogue season and I am ready to devour the stack of glossy catalogues by my bedside.

Catalogue covers always show a flower or vegetable in its full glory, all shimmery with light and moisture. The new varieties are often displayed and described on the first or second page. McFayden’s catalogue lists the Chinese Tenderheart Cabbage and explains how it won’t bolt in summer. Westcoast claims they are GMO free: I learn about Burgundy Amaranth, an Aztec grain suitable for popping. Thompson and Morgan showcases colour with ‘Spanish Dancer’ Sweet Pea and Stokes brags about the new Tendersnax baby carrots and my mouth waters. How can I live without all these new plants?

Finally the serious reading begins and the highlighter pen comes out. There are limits to every garden. Time, money and space must all be considered. A single packet of Brussels Sprouts has 50-75 seeds and with each plant taking a full square foot in the garden and producing a pound of sprouts, I have to be careful to limit my orders to what I can grow. The celeriac packet holds 1,000 seeds and a single packet of lettuce contains 600-1,000 seeds. Don’t order several kinds of every plant from a different catalogue unless you have just bought a farm and quit your day job.

Read Widely and order selectively:
Once an order has been placed catalogues will start sprouting in your mailbox naturally. Catalogues are sexy but the practical gardener heads online to place the final order. Different suppliers offer different benefits so read several physical catalogues or study them online before you place an order. Do you want organically grown seed or GMO free? Or would you prefer “treated” seed of beans because it is more likely to survive our cold spring soils better? All options are available. Since most seeds come from very few suppliers and are then retailed by many, read widely and then order selectively.

Make Sensible Choices:
Yes the Cutie Pops corn sounds fabulous in the Stokes catalogue but unless you plan to allow a big space for a small yield you should probably buy corn from Taber in the fall. Artichokes, Cardoon, Celery and Leeks take months 3-5 months from seeding indoors to planting out in the garden and this intensive care is too much work for me. Instead of ordering a packet containing 1,000 leek seeds or 50 celery seeds in January I buy a dozen transplants in late May.

Starting quick growing seed of cabbage or cauliflower too early indoors will be a problem when they start to bloom prematurely. Start Tomatoes by mid-March so you have about ten weeks to grow them on cabbage and cauliflower need to be started 4-6 weeks before planting out; and zucchini and cucumbers need 4 weeks indoors so don’t start them until early May. I always write the planting out dates and seed starting dates start dates on the package as soon as I receive them in the mail.

Try Something New
I only started eating Kale a few years ago when I got a small packet of seed from a Seedy Saturday giveaway. Florence Fennel was a fancy crop I tried in my garden only after I tasted it in a salad. Cobra Tomatoes were a flavor failure last year and I won’t be trying those again, ever. I like to try new things and compare the relative success to the plants I tried previously.

This year I am speaking at Seedy Saturday in Calgary on March 17th but I won’t be waiting that long to order something new. Instead I treat the Saturday as a chance to learn new things from others, trade for some open pollinated crops, and ask gardeners what they are asking. Join me there and I will give you a package of mixed Kale seed I originally got from another seedy Saturday. I could say it is the leanest, sexiest Kale on the market but that would be exaggerating. It is simply a tasty and relatively new crop for me that I have loads of and want to share.


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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Fabulous Reviews on Chapter's Web Page

Rave reviews are pouring in on the Chapter's Canada web page where my new book, No Guff Vegetable Gardening is now available. Thanks to all who have posted a note - this recent one is from Christy -

"Love this book! Fun to read, easy to understand and most important for me, it makes me want to start a veggie garden again! This time, with the help of this book, I will garden without so much self-doubt and criticism....this time I will have more FUN! I especially enjoy the layout, design and illustrations in this playful book (WOW). But this book is not just a good looker - do not let the playfulness distract you from the incredible depth and detail it provides. Every gardener, from beginner to experienced should have a copy - for education and entertainment, this is the best gardening book on my shelves!
PS. I hope you guys make more books!!!!"
Christy (as posted on Chapter’s Web Page)