{ Archive for August, 2013 }

Ever heard of a huckleberry?

Other than the famous Finn, I had never heard of a huckleberry until I moved to southern Alberta. Apparently it’s an appellation given to many small fruits, Solanum melanocerasum (garden huckleberry) being one of the more common (a cousin to tomatoes and potatoes). However, if you hear ‘huckleberry’ around these parts, chances are it’s not the nightshade that’s being referred to, but one of the Vaccinium species which grow wild here.

I had not so much as even tasted a huckleberry when my friend Tina invited me to come picking with her at the Castle Mountain Huckleberry Festival. Yes, an entire festival for huckleberries. I had no idea.

They look a lot like blueberries, but taste more like a saskatoon. (And you need to know what those are too.)

It’s held at the local ski hill, with music, food, the whole deal. They even sell lift tickets so you can pick from the top of the mountain all the way down.

Say hi Tina! The reddish foliage you can see are the huckleberry bushes.

Part of our haul. We baked them up in a fruit crisp, which disappeared too quickly for me to take pictures.

We heard from other more seasoned pickers that the crop was not as plentiful this year as most, but we still had a good time. It’s got me thinking about growing some Solanum melanocerasum to see how they compare, and so I could have them right here without the trip and the hike. But at the same time, isn’t the hunt part of the fun?

 

 

A proud potato moment

This past spring, I purchased a little bag of French fingerling seed potatoes from Urban Harvest at Canada Blooms. I couldn’t wait to get them in the ground. I didn’t plant the whole bag, because I don’t think I realized how much space each plant needs, so I plunked two potatoes in a wooden, rectangular container box and two in one of my raised beds. It didn’t take long for these wee little plants to poke through the soil. I mounded the plants when they got to the appropriate size, as per the package directions, but then the plants grew like crazy and I was never sure if I’d mounded them enough. The package didn’t tell me when my potatoes would be ready, so I Googled when to harvest and found this helpful video by Ken Salvail. Ken says he has always been told to wait a couple of weeks after the plants have started blooming. I waited a little longer because three out of the four plants never bloomed. Then I got impatient and once I dug up one plant, I dug up all the rest.

There were some rather big potatoes–way bigger than what I would call a fingerling–a few fingerling-sized ‘taters and babies that clearly had some more growing left to do. I’m wondering if maybe I should have left them in longer. I ate some of the bigger ones two nights in a row and then had to leave the rest behind to cure when I left on vacation.

I look forward to planting even more potatoes next year. I need more space for my edibles! My biggest tip is to use a fork, which any potato article will recommend. I only had my trusty spade, so that’s what I used, but I did slice a few potatoes in half. Those ones went into a soup broth that I made and froze for future meals.

Here are a couple of pics of my beauts!

Some of the potatoes were attached to the main root. But it was like a treasure hunt sifting through the soil for the rest of them!

 

My obligatory, proud "styled" shot of my potato harvest dirt and all!

 

Hat happiness

I hate sunscreen. I know I’m not alone. It is a necessary nuisance of the summer, especially with Chris’ history of melanoma, and I know it’s important, but I avoid it when humanly possible. For instance, I try to garden in the earlier morning and late afternoon and evening. I wear longer shorts, and loose fitting long sleeves. I work in the shade.

And I try to wear a hat.

I say try, because I have the hardest time finding good gardening hats. They’re either too tight, don’t have a decent brim, are too heavy for summer, or so loose they blow off in a decent breeze (which is ever present around here).

Monday last was our fifteenth wedding anniversary (yay us!) and so Chris and I went out for the day, had dinner and did some very romantic house paint shopping. I know, we’re party animals. Anyhow, Chris spotted some hats at Winners and called me over to try one on. Nice wide brim, breathable weave… nice colours… I popped it on my head and–miracle of miracles–it fit! I didn’t have to jam it down, and it didn’t shift uselessly every time I turned.

It may seem silly to act so blissful over something as basic as a hat, but I am oh so much more comfortable working outside. I really am. Plus it’s Ralph Lauren for eighteen bucks. Smiles all around.

 

Greenhouses, re-thought

My friend Jennifer sent me a link this week all about something I’d never seen before: underground greenhouses. Known as a walipini, these dugouts with plastic roofs were first built in the mountain regions of South America to allow people to grow crops almost year round. Jennifer wanted to know my opinion about building one here in Alberta.

First of all, thank you, Jen, for holding my opinion in such high esteem. Second, I really don’t know. The idea intrigues me; it’s almost like a walk-in cold frame, and you know how I love cold frames. Walipinis take it to the next level though, using the natural warmth of the earth to heat the space, not just the sun. While they would require a lot of labour to dig, and a lot of space to accommodate, the materials could be lower in cost than a traditional greenhouse set up. Also, I have many neighbours who have had ‘kit’ type greenhouses blown into Saskatchewan or smashed by hail. Digging into the earth seems like a logical way to avoid our gales.

As long as you could build a roof to withstand those winds, as well as the heavy, wet snow we can get. A really solid roof would be absolutely necessary. Could we do it?

A quick trip around the internet revealed several variations of dug greenhouses, the “earth sheltered” variety being fairly common. Everyone seems to have their own special considerations to the design, but the consensus seems quite positive that it is entirely possible, even here.

Luckily for me, Jennifer has a willing relation with a backhoe, a lot full of lawn she wants to transform, and a husband who’s thinking through the roofing questions.

I get to watch and learn.

Better late than never

I never got around to planting any kale this year. I intended to, but didn’t — I’m blaming the wet spring.

Thinking about my lack of kale today led my mind back to some of the things I’ve learned from Nikki Jabbour and Kevin Kossowan about using more of the year for growing. I realized there was nothing stopping me from planting a new crop other than an “August” state of mind. So I pretended it was March and got out my seeds.

In my stash: 'Winterbor', 'Dwarf Green Curled', and 'Red Winter'.

 

The ‘Red Winter’ kale indicates 50 days needed for maturity. Fifty days from now is September 25–just beyond our probable first frost date. And considering kale actually likes a little frost, this little idea is gaining traction in my mind. I need to consult Nikki’s book again, but regardless, I’m thinking I’m going to do it. Never know until you try! Plus, there’s always the cold frame.

Comfrey: garden superhero

I was given a big hunk of comfrey a couple of years ago by a friend who is an encyclopedia of medicinal plant knowledge. I never used it for the compresses or tea she recommended (sorry, Connie) and, as it is a rather bulky thing, I was tempted to get rid of it. I’d heard people complain about it spreading too, and wondered if I was better off without it.

That is, until I learned about some of its other uses, and its reputation as a nurse plant:

 

*Comfrey has an incredibly long tap root, and as such, gets down deep to all the nutrients int he soil that other plants simply can’t reach. It stores all this nutrition in its proliferous leaves. The wise gardener need only “chop and drop” the comfrey a few times a season, spreading the cut stems and leaves around the base of any and all plants as an all-in-one mulch/fertilizer.

*Comfrey draws beneficial bacteria and earthworms to its root.

*Comfrey is great to plant under fruit trees as it does not compete with the trees roots, but competes with other plants that would; it also draws pollinators.

*Cuttings of comfrey are excellent for kickstarting your compost.

*It can also be used for animal fodder.

As far as the issue of spreading, it seems the worst danger comes from cutting the roots, so no tilling for me. On the whole, I have the space and it’s earning its keep, so the comfrey is staying.