Saturday, March 31, 2012

Toronto Hears about No Guff

Yesterday in the Toronto Star we scored a huge photo of our book and a nice little article. Good work Steve! Go to

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sonia Day has a new book!

Sonia Day’s “The Untamed Garden” is a romp in a different kind of bed—a flowerbed. It is packed with research and fun flower facts relating to the impact flowers have on our sex lives and the coincidence that flower parts look like sexual organs (or “naughty bits” as Sonia calls them.)

From the “lewdness of lilies” to “exhibitionist peonies” Day covers the spectrum of floral carnal knowledge. This book is not strictly for gardeners although many will wish they did garden just so they could get some of the insider jokes. Fall crocus akin to “naked nannies”? Non-gardeners will have to grow them and find out.

This book takes a different approach from Sonia Day’s Incredible Edibles (2009) and will find an enthusiastic audience. I see a big sales opportunity at florist shops where husbands can pick up a dozen roses and a copy of the Untamed Gardener to go.

Day’s Toronto Star writer’s persona shines through. She has written a book for women looking for flower filler folklore to share at fundraisers or laughs at ladies lunches. Just don’t get me started on how the common prairie practice of planting peonies at the front door is anything other than good colour design. Day would have us believe the Chinese suggestion that peonies planted at the front of a house will “attract a new lustful lover into your life.” Better not tell the mailman!

Author: Sonia Day
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
Hardcover, 192 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7710-2505-1
Price: $26.99

Monday, March 26, 2012

Geraniums- Just a Pretty Face?

Patty Bretin's son plays hockey. Last summer they went to Prague in the Czech Republic where Patty saw so many Sophia Geraniums she finally got all the other mom's on the bus pointing them out and taking pictures. Not such an unusual event except hardly any hockey moms I know can identify a geranium from a bus let alone in a shop aisle. Patty is owner of Bretin's Flower Farm so she isn't just any mom. Apparently her passion for Sophia was so enriched by her bus tour she is upping the ante and growing more Sophias- a soft open light pink bloomer- than before. She thinks it has a real role to play in prairie gardens where we crave the colours of summer in March more than Robins crave worms.

When I am speaking later this spring at the Proven Winner's special event in Edmonton I will not be speaking about winning plants or about geraniums. In fact my talk has nothing to do with the company that is generously sponsoring me. I will be speaking about vegetables and all the unusual things I can think to mention about them. Like how you can grow your radish and eat the flowers too. How dahlias were once grown for their edible roots, and how potatoes were once considered a pretty flowering plant. How you might ask does this have anything to do with Geraniums?

Well nothing at all- Geraniums are just pretty. They are just something we like to grow and one passionate gardener - Judith Doyle - sent me some happy summer pictures of her geranium favourites and not a single picture of Sophia was among them. Like Sophia, many of the geraniums Judith grows are considered "Alpine Geraniums", a semi-trailing type of plant ideal for hanging baskets and well suited to Calgary and other prairie settings.

Alpine geraniums are not really from the alpine, vegetables are not always non-flowering and gardeners do not have to stick to one "category" in their gardens. In fact they usually don't - they might grow alpines or geraniums or carrots. They might have sons who play hockey, be retired or run their own oil and gas company. Gardens and gardeners are a diverse lot. And at least a few of them can identify a geranium off a third floor balcony.

Thanks to Judith for sending me her photos favourite geraniums: photo below includes L-R 'Mrs Pollock'; 'Platinum'; 'Vancouver Centennial'. Photo above is mini-cascade pink alpine geranium.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Byland's Promotes Me Big Time

Thanks to Bylands in Kelowna for producing such a great poster for my talk in Kelowna!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tale of Worms

After months of looking at my Worm Factory Worm bin I finally read the instructions, assembled it and dumped in my worms. And then I accidentally dumped in old compost- yech- the house was smelly in minutes and I had to open all the windows.

To back up a bit- I had been away and my worms were in another city so I had to fly there to pick them up. Yes- most people just order in new worms but I grown attached to my worms - I have had them for seven or eight years at this point. Originally they were my sister's worms and they made her grade three classroom happy as they ate the apple cores and fruit leftovers. After her stroke, Anne could no longer look after her classroom or her worms so they came to me and my daughter. Quickly my busy daughter and her new baby discovered their worms on the floor all dried out. They seem to have committed suicide. In fact they probably died after getting out of the overly wet conditions in the plastic bin. Worms hate being wet and you have to make sure they have plenty of dry bedding to keep them cozy and dry. Once my daughter's worms made their dramatic escape from the overly wet bin they dried out and died on the concrete floor. Luckily I had my worms in a neat little stacking system from Australia - the can-o-worms. They thrived there for years and had tremendous fertility counts. According to the lab tests I had done on them there were millions of protozoa and hundreds of pounds of available nitrogen per pound of finished worm castings. Trouble is- even with the special bin they were still too wet.

That's when I started adding dry leaves and used paper towels and any other dry materials I could find. The system hummed along, did not smell and produced enough little worms to share with friends and family. When I went to pick them up recently they were once again in the care of my daughter and once again far too wet. I realized this is the biggest mistake every new worm caregiver makes. People let their worms get too wet.

Luckily my new improved system ((the Worm Factory) came with very explicit instructions. I set it up all according to plan with the most care you can imagine. And then without checking I dumped a bucket of compost from under the sink into the carefully prepared bin. A bucket of compost that had been there the two weeks I had been gone. The resulting smell had me staggering backwards.

What will happen to my worms now covered with this muck and yuck? Will they live or will they die?
It is now day two. I struggled to stand the smell of the now rancid and rotting fruit and dug into the bin. Success- the worms had crawled down deep to escape the rot and seemed to be thriving in the dry shelter of the mixed coir and pumice below. I scraped out the rot and let the worms relax a bit. Even with seven year's experience I was guilty of almost drowning my worms once again. Thank-fully the good people at the worm factory ship their kits with all the ingredients you need to give your worms a fighting chance. Okay - enough news of worms. Today I start more seeds and I start planning my talks to libraries in Camrose, Rimbey and Stettler. I do need a break from worm wrangling every now and then. (See shiny new worm factory below)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Seeding Time is Here!

When I speak at Seedy Saturday in Calgary this weekend I will probably tell the story of my sister's trouble with store-bought seed. It is a good tale of caution and also a good story about the importance of knowing your seeds.

It was a dark and stormy night - no - that's another story. It was a fair and fine day and Delima went to the store to buy spinach seed. She knew spinach was frost hardy and she wanted to be ready. The seed was slow to grow but when it came up she was surprised that it didn't look much like spinach. In fact she thought it must be celery.
Over time she started giving her friends pieces of her "celery" for their soups and stews. She had a lot of it and wanted to share.

Finally it was fall. Her crop of celery had never filled in so when she dug out her garden she decided to just toss it. Up came the plants, roots and all. Oh- and the roots- as it turns out were long and white. You guessed it- My sister had grown parsnips from her spinach seed. Of course she gave me a root. For my soups and stews. See the photo below- the parsnip seeds are on top and clockwise there is fairly round but smaller spinach seed and very fine celery seed.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Catch up with me this weekend!

Yes I am going to be on Alberta at noon today on CBC radio today (March 9th) at 12:30 - or listen to it later on podcast.

And don't forget to pop in to see me at various Chapter's stores this weekend. Saturday morning at 11:00 AM catch me at the Macleod trail south store (close to Southland drive) and then at 1:30 I am at Dalhousie Chapters (also in Calgary). Sunday it is Crowfoot at noon. Drop by and find out how to start seedlings.

Find out how easy it is to get me speaking in your community! I love to share the message of gardening.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Starting Seeds with Stamina

Marie pleaded for help. “My lettuce seedlings look like skinny sprouts instead of sturdy tough plants.”

Who wants to grow skinny, floppy, bunny-eared plants when they can grow stocky bulldog strong plants for the garden this spring? If you haven’t grown vegetables from seed before, here are some tips from the pros!

He (Steven) said: Every year I reuse packs in which old annual bedding plants are sold. I don’t want to fork out money for special seedling trays. And when I run out of those leftover trays I’ll start scavenging the recycling bin. I have even used toilet paper rolls.

She (Donna) said: Personally, I am not starting seed in toilet paper rolls. Clean, individual seeding trays with section dividers prevent damping off disease. Good light – from a proper fixture- combined with cool breezy air stops plants from becoming floppy.

Approximate time to start veggies indoors in Alberta:
March 15-20 Tomatoes and Peppers
April 15-20- Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce
May 5-10- Squash such as Zucchini, pumpkins and butternut.

Want to know more about starting seeds indoors this spring? How to get tough and sturdy plants ready before you plant them outside? Start the seeds at the right time in the right conditions for best success.

Participate in Seedy Saturday programs:

Seedy Saturday Calgary
March 17, 2012

Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Centre
1320 - 5 Avenue N.W.
Hours: 10:00 am to 3:00 pm

 (Donna Balzer speaks at 11:30 AM).

Seedy Sunday Edmonton
March 18, 2012 
Alberta Avenue Community Centre
9210 118 Ave NW
Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For further information check out No Guff Vegetable Gardening, now a National best seller.