{ Archive for April, 2013 }

Things I never knew would sprout

Here in Alberta, we’re still willing away the last of our snow, and most of my growing (other than daffodils) is happening on the kitchen counter top.

This is my “jungle”–a couple of tomatoes and peppers waiting for summer, a lemon verbena, a poinsettia I am attempting to hold over the season, a spider plant baby sprouting roots in a glass of water, a mossy saxifrage (that may be my new favorite ground cover, picture below), an overgrown pot of philodendron (known lovingly as “Dagobah” a Pulsatilla vulgaris (crocus), some alfalfa and radish sprouts, and that little greenness bottom left is the wonder of the week: Romaine lettuce.

I’ve been sprouting philodendron leaves and spider plant babies for years, and edible sprouts are a staple at my house. And I’ve heard of people trying to sprout avocado seeds or pineapple tops, with mixed results. But I never knew you could get lettuce crowns to sprout year round on your counter top! One of the instructors of the gardening class I am taking showed me how. Instead of tossing the lettuce ends in the compost, place them in water. Change the water daily, and you’ll get more lettuce! (And fast, too: the largest one there is about four days growth.) You can keep them going in water or you can pot them up. I potted mine up today.

This totally makes sense when you think about it; I ‘cut and come again’ my garden lettuce and green onions all the time; I just never thought to do it with my store bought stuff through the winter.

Next on the list of things to try: celery and lemongrass.

Mossy Saxifrage, “Pixie”. Isn’t she lovely?

That post-show over-inspiration buzz

So the Calgary Horticultural Society Garden Show was, as expected, totally great. And I’m not just saying that because I was on stage.

Super fun once I got over the nerves. Lucky sneakers helped.

My biggest take away was from urban farmer Kevin Kossowan, who (among other things) grows veggies year round in Edmonton. Yes, Edmonton. My hometown, winter wonderland, outdone in nasty winter-ness only by the likes of Winnipeg.

Watch Kevin extend his super awesome cold frame

Kevin’s passion rekindled my commitment to all things edible. I learned how to tweak my cold frame design, and how to plant it better. I learned what a “shoulder season” is (the normally underused planting/harvest time in spring and fall). I find myself once again considering building a root cellar. I find myself itching to pull out the shovels as soon as I’m home. I find myself…

driving home in a snow storm.

And buried under it for the last three days.

I love Alberta.

Me at the Calgary Hort Show… when did I become an expert?

This weekend is the Calgary Horticultural Society’s Garden Show. It’s a fantastic show, with top-notch learning opportunities and inspiration. I’m super excited, as I was last year.

But this year I’m also really, really, nervous. Anxious, even.

Somehow or other, writing this blog for the last few years has given several people the notion that I know a fair bit about this gardening biz. Which, if I may toot my own horn, I do. But not much more than anyone else who’s been at it as long as I have, probably.

Tell that to the people who asked me to be a speaker at the show.

Tell that to the me of last January, who accepted the invitation.

My topic is, “How to start gardening in Calgary.” How’s that for wide open? All of the many places I could go with that have been playing out in my head, on paper, and in software for the last several weeks. I think I’ve got it honed down to a digestible size. And I’m going to have fun with it, I know I will.

But I’m still trying to figure out when I went from experimenter to expert.

If you’re coming to the show, I’m at the ‘How-to’ stage at 1:15 on Saturday. Come cheer me on… or heckle, as you see fit. And definitely come say hi.

 

Soil health: starting the season right

I love this quote from Beverley Nichols that showed up in an advice article in my CG email this week:

“Light in a garden is a quarter of the battle. Another quarter is the soil of the garden. A third quarter is the skill and care of the gardener. The fourth quarter is luck. Indeed, one might 
say that these were the four Ls of gardening, in the following order of importance: Loam, Light, Love and Luck.”
 

In fact, several of the bits of advice in the article mention the importance of healthy soil.

I consider myself a fairly well informed gardener. I’ve gleaned quite a bit of knowledge over the years about all kinds of topics, and lucky me, I have a pretty solid memory retention. But when it comes to soil health, I’ve pretty much spread on the compost and crossed my fingers. Last year, I started feeling that my soil was getting depleted. I can’t tell you exactly why, just a general sense that growth wasn’t as strong as it could be, drainage more sluggish than normal.

So when I learned a class was being put on by a neighbour, an expert in agricultural soil health, I immediately marked it on my calendar. The evening was really valuable, and I learned a whole lot, but it truly is one of those topics that start feeling bigger the more you learn.

Some of the fundamental things I seem to be doing right, but I’ve never been one to add commercial fertilizers, and I think my compost is simply missing some of the trace minerals that plants and soil need. Your average garden-center NPK (Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potassium) products don’t have them either.

Here’s a few of the nutrients I learned about from my neighbour. A soil test is the best way to determine what you need, and a really good garden centre or agricultural consultant should be able to help you identify ways of adding them.

Nitrogen: encourages vegetative, or leafy, growth. If your pepper plants look gorgeous but aren’t flowering or setting fruit, they probably have (proportionally) too much nitrogen. Gasses off quickly, so must be topped up more frequently than other nutrients.

Phosphorous: encourages strong root growth and structure. Part of the problem with phosphorous is that it tends to bind with the soil, making not all of what’s in there available for plants to use. It’s needed early in the plant’s growth to do the most good.

Potassium: I always thought this was nutrient for flowering and fruiting, but the real benefit of this important nutrient is how it builds a plant’s aerial (above ground) structure: how strong the stems and leaves are, how well it can take up water, etc. Also fights high levels of magnesium.

Sulphur: competes with sodium. I need to keep the sulphur levels higher than my sodium levels and it will minimize the effects of an alkali (high sodium) soil–but that’s because I have a fairly alkaline (high pH) soil. If you have a more acidic soil, use calcium to balance out the sodium. (Are you confused yet?)

Calcium: among other things, contributes to the storability of the harvested fruit.

Boron: important in plant reproduction. When boron levels are low you end up with hollow potatoes and strawberries, or pea pods with only a few peas in them. But careful: high levels are toxic.

Then there’s magnesium and aluminum, which at high levels cause cracks on top of the soil and contribute to drainage problems. And selenium and zinc, which contribute to both human and plant immunity. But selenium is restricted in Canada as it’s categorized with–get this–arsenic.

Yikes. Apparently there’s a reason people go to universtiy to understand all the ins and outs of this science. I’m ready to throw up my hands and go back to my compost and crossed fingers.

But I did get a bag of fully balanced synthetic fertilizer, which I am spreading on this weekend–with the compost and the leaves.