{ Author Archive - April Demes }

Calgary garden show this weekend!

The Calgary Horticultural Society Garden Show is this Saturday and Sunday at Spruce Meadows! It’s always a great event, with lots of great speakers and displays included in the entry fee ($15 at the door, $10 for Society members). I’m particularly looking forward to the talks on budget gardening and planting a food forest.

I’m on the speaker roster again this year, talking about weeds, my area of greatest expertise, having grown so many of them. If you can make it, please come introduce yourself!

Me at the show last year

 

Springtime gift giving

I’m kind of excited about this little surprise I’ve got ready for my sister’s birthday next week, and I thought I’d show it off as maybe you would like to do something similar. Although that pretty much means the end of the surprise. Happy Birthday, Jenni!

Step one: choose a pretty bowl or vase.  I found one with a cable-knit design, because Jenni’s an extraordinary knitter. If you’re thinking Easter, a cute flower bowl such as one of these might do nicely.

Step two: fill it with goodies! I know what you’re thinking: chocolate! But we are gardeners, and of course, we are not swayed by such mundane things as chocolate. Goodies equals seeds!

Be sure to match your seed choices with the right person. Not everyone wants to baby a finicky flower; a seasoned veteran might welcome the challenge. I’ve got a bunch of seed that’s been harvested by myself or friends which I wanted to share with my sister, but you could just as easily use packets of commercial seed. Bonus for that route: instructions included! I’m not worried about Jenni having instructions; a landscape design/arbourculture degree, her, and Google make a pretty good team.

But instructions or no, go for making things pretty. Find some cool paper (keep it lightweight for easy folding),scissors, and some ribbon, stickers, decorative tape, or twine. Fancy pens optional.

I’m recycling my paper from an old printer’s sample book and a desk calendar. If you are packaging saved seed, make sure to fold each side over a few times to keep the seeds from escaping. If you feel like getting right into it, try making decorative envelopes like these – just be sure all edges are sealed. If you’re using prepackaged, all they need is a pretty wrapper.

 

Here's one way to do it -- I folded the long sides in first.

Then tuck all your little packets of goodness into the bowl, with a couple of other little trinkets that suit the season or the recipient: pussy willows, a notebook…

Oh, all right, you might as well throw some really good chocolate in there while you’re at it. If you must.

 

Gardener’s bookshelf: The Garden That You Are

Apparently it is still winter.

Bring on the books.

A lovely little volume that I stumbled across several years ago, comprised of garden and gardeners profiles, has continued to be dear to me. The Garden That You Are (Sono Nis Press, 2007) looks at eight different gardens and the people who tend them. It explores how a gardener’s life is intertwined with the land, how our history and relationships play into the daily experiences of the garden. All the gardeners spotlighted in the book have different approaches, different focuses, different ages, different backgrounds — but they all live within a square mile of each other in British Columbia’s beautiful Slocan Valley.

There is much practical knowledge to be taken from these pages: advice, recipes, plant lists. But the reason I keep going back to it is for the inspiration. I don’t mean ideas, necessarily, but that this book gets you thinking about why you yourself garden, what drives your experience.

It is a step back from the ‘to-do’ list and the ‘must-have’ mentality. A thoroughly colourful and enjoyable one.

Finding a home for the apple tree

One of my New Year’s resolutions, subcategory: gardening, is to finally put in my apple tree. I chose, quite a long while ago, the Prairie Sensation apple developed at the University of Saskatchewan as the best fit for my location and tastes. Now the big question: where to put it.

It may seem backwards, as many of you would consider a particular spot and then choose something to fit it. I use that approach frequently as well. But I am in that enviable position of having enough land that I can pick a tree first, and ask questions later. Not that I buy plants willy-nilly, or put no thought into their needs; I just have a property large enough that I have several options for any given plant I decide might enjoy my garden.

Any of you small-plot gardeners growing green with envy right now are welcome to come help me mow and weed this summer.

Now. If you would be so kind to offer some opinions, here is a rough drawing of our property, completely not to scale, to give you an idea of my options.

Existing trees in green, crabapple in yellow, fence lines etcetera in grey, you get the idea.

Location A: my original plan. Full sun; little bit of shade late in the day from the house. Well protected from prevailing west winds, somewhat from northerly. Snow collects here to protect the tree from freeze/thaw cycles. Frost tends to pool lower to the east, and there’s the crabapple nearby for cross pollination.  In view from the house and street for optimal blossom enjoyment. Down side: Really close to property line. What if whomever buys the neighbouring lot (it’s for sale now) does not want errant apples?

Location B: There’s lots of room in this back quarter of the property, but no wind protection–at least not until the evergreens and ash get a little more size on them. Full sun, all day, but kind of far from the crab, though if we go with one idea and build up a little orchard back here, that wouldn’t be a problem.

Location C: Another area that could become a little orchard. Kind of far away from the house, though. Again, the wind protection and pollination issues, potentially resolvable, but this is a low spot and I think it would turn out to be a frost pocket.

So really, it’s probably a choice between A: picturesque with the stone walkway, but some shade and potential neighbour nagging; or B: work towards the orchard and grow that windbreak.

Please, help me decide!

 

Who cares about soil temperature?

The snow is melting, the cows are calving, and the calendar looks right, but for me, I know it’s really spring because I can smell it. I hope you know what I mean: that earthy, damp scent that’s starting to waft around when the sun is bright. So exciting! Time to grow things! Whip out those seed packets and let’s start digging, right?
Unfortunately, no. At least not outside. Not yet.
I had to learn to curb my enthusiasm the hard way: losing more than a few seeds. Some years I was sure it was frost. Other years it was obvious they had been rotted out from too much rain. Or maybe I’d planted some old or bad seed to begin with. But the main culprit went unidentified until I started hanging out with farmers.
When growing things is not just a hobby but your livelihood, you pay extra attention to some details an average gardener may be clueless about. Such as soil temperature.
You may have heard people talking about the soil “warming up,” maybe referring to how raised beds warm up quicker, allowing earlier planting. They aren’t just talking about the dirt “thawing,” as any farmer can tell you: there are ideal temperatures for the germination of different crops, and if the soil is too cool, you end up with uneven growth or damaged seed, and those depressing blank spots in your rows.
When I learned this, I looked back and realized this was why some years I could get away with planting earlier–the mild spring had fast forwarded the soil warming–and some years even mid-May plantings were sluggish in the cool damp.
So as much as you’d like to dig in, don’t be in too much of a rush. This time of year, you’re probably just wasting your time. Better to use your enthusiasm indoors.

Gardener’s bookshelf: Worms Eat My Garbage

There is a difference between keeping a compost pile and actually knowing how to compost.

I am a person who was dong the former. Realizing I was going on luck and random tips culled over the years, I took the opportunity to attend a composting class put on by the Calgary Horticultural Society 10 days ago. (As for why it has taken me this long to tell you about it, see previous post re: puppy.)

It was a very informative day, taught by the sharp, funny, Kath Smyth. I learned buckets, but the best part for me was when Kath invited her associate Mike Dorian up to illuminate the world of vermicomposting. Mike runs the Calgary-based company Living Soil Solutions, which provides all things worm, and while I’ve been keeping a worm bin for a few years now, I’ve kind of (don’t tell) been faking my way through it. Mike helped me put my finger on some changes I could make to have more success and enjoyment with my bin.

One of the suggestions he made was to read the book Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof. So, like a good student, I came home and requested it from the library.

Me doing my homework

Though it was written in the early ’80s, Worms Eat My Garbage is still considered a primary resource for vermicomposting. A quick look through it and it’s easy to see why: all the basic principles are explained in plain language and simple illustrations. An overview of how worms fit into the food web establishes the bigger picture. How much to feed and how is discussed. The pros and cons of different types of bedding are debated. All in a relaxed, 80 page read. I’ve seen lots of technical writing and research material on worm composting that might win in the details department, but Mary Appelhof’s book wins hands down in the covering-all-the-bases-while-not putting-you-to-sleep category. Highly recommended to anyone interested in vermicomposting.

The dog ate my blog work

So I was going to write this week about the awesome composting class I attended on Saturday, through the Calgary Horticultural Society.

I’ve also been thinking about a post on keeping houseplants happy through the winter, especially so I could show off Chris’ blooming Lipstick Vine (Aeschynanthus).

There was the bird watching report.

The cold frame update.

More books to spotlight.

But we got a puppy on Monday, and all bets are off.

I wasn’t necessarily against getting a dog, but I had a very clear idea of the work involved, having kept pet dogs as a child, and blithely leaving most of the work to my patient, patient mother. Which would now be coming back to haunt me.

I have, however, already taken a shining to our little as-yet-unnamed fur ball. He is incredibly smart and is training very quickly. But I can’t help cringing every time he does his business, because underneath his potty is my garden: the lawn (meh), the vegetable plots (please don’t), and the finally-happy rose patch (grrr!). I’m being patient, and working towards a designated area, but what if he turns out to be a digger? What if my newly planted trees look  to him more like sticks to chew?

I’ve been dealing with kitty consequences for years, but this is entirely different. Puppies are so much… busier. Louder.

It’s a whole new world for the family and the garden. (And the cat. But he’ll survive.)

 

 

The dangers of sending me to the hardware store

I’d just like to say at the outset that Chris is to blame.

He needed some more 1 1/2 inch screws for his current project. I was going into town. He asked me to pick some up for him. I agreed.

The trouble is, all the fasteners are towards the rear of our local Home Hardware, which means I have to walk past aisles and aisles of temptation in order to fill his request. I managed to ignore the racks of seed packets by the front door. I noticed, but did not stop to examine, the kitchen gadgets on special. I allowed my daughter to raid the paint swatches, as we are planning to fix her bedroom up this spring.

Triumph of triumphs, I got to the back of the store without picking up anything. I located the screws in question without incident. But on the return journey, there was birdseed. I mean, a lot of birdseed. Impressed at the varied selection I thought would only be found at a specialty store, how could I walk on? Such meticulous effort to feed our feathered friends must be applauded. Hence, a new suet feeder is hanging in our biggest spruce tree.

Suet brick holder, $1.99; Suet bricks, $4.97 for 3 (several varieties); both Home Hardware.

It would have stopped there, but I had to wait at the till for just a moment or two — long enough to notice that coir seed starter trays were on sale. And soil mix. And oh, that’s right, I should pick up some extra drainage trays. Two cracked on me last year, after all. And what’s this? Daffodil bulbs, just waiting for someone to force them for Easter? Why thank you, don’t mind if I do. They might not be ready by then, but need I repeat… daffodils.

After several weeks in the attic we'll have some buds!

Not the most grievous of financial infidelities, I know. But I was prepared for, and received, the eye rolling when I returned home with two shopping bags instead of a little plastic bin of hardware.

“Hey,” I said in defence, “Count your blessings. I could have come home with a new set of garden hoses. They were on the shelves.”

 

Planting seeds for Valentine’s

I haven’t been quite with it the last couple of weeks — working more than usual, bit of a cold, plain old cabin fever — and I’ll admit: Valentine’s Day snuck up on me a bit.

I’m scrambling for treats for school parties. We had a mad valentine-signing session last night. And, to my shame, I did not have the foresight to create any of these super fancy arrangements.

Hubby’s in town as we speak though, so if he happens to bring a certain something home, I could try one out. Or he could save me the time and find one of these Garden-in-a-Bag flowers. Just about my speed right now.

But even though I have done nothing this week in the flower department, my preschooler is ready to roll. We picked out these Disney Fairies valentines, which come with little paper shapes embedded with flower seeds.

See the little red flower pot on the card at the bottom right? Seed paper!

Way cooler (at least to me) than the current trend of throwing more candy at each other. Down side: the package gives no indication of what type of seeds you are planting. Up side: lots of leftover paper bits after the shapes were punched out. Little Miss can’t wait to plant them. She’ll be bugging me all weekend to dig out the potting soil.

Which leads me to the other up side: I’ve got spider plant babies rooting on the kitchen counter that are ready to pot, and I’ve been wanting to start some early seeds (leeks, specifically).

I think my Miniature Motivator just turned Valentine’s Day into a planting party. Share the love.

Gardener’s bookshelf: help with veggies

I love flowers as much as the next girl, but when it comes to gardening, I got into it for the food. Pretty didn’t matter. I’ve come to see the error of my ways, but no matter how many flowers I now grow, my green heart still really belongs to the edibles. As such, I am always on the look out for new insight on growing better vegetables. Read the rest of this entry »

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