Friday, February 15, 2008

Garden Blogging from Northern Canada

What is it like to garden in northern Canada? What is unique about my town? Here are my answers, so you southern gardeners can feel all jealous! This is a response to the garden blogger geography challenge, as posted by prolific garden blogger Jodi, over in Nova Scotia.

1. I garden in La Ronge, Saskatchewan. We are located at 55 degrees, 6 minutes north latitude. We would get the same day length as other parts of the globe at an equivalent latitude: Northumberland (northernmost county of England), southern Denmark, Lithuania, and Moscow.

View from the air of the government building, hotel, and a few local businesses:

2. We are in hardiness zone 1b. Yes mother, there are some hardy lichens and rocks that can grow here! (mother lives in southern British Columbia) Just kidding, I actually do grow mostly perennials.

The terrain looks like water with bits of land poking out of it. Interestingly, the land bits all appear to have a north-south orientation, so you can really imagine glaciers travelling across the landscape in a north-south direction thousands of years ago.

3. Winter is darn cold here. The coldest recorded temperature in La Ronge occurred in 1973, when it got down to -48.3 C (-54.9 F) in January of 1973. During this time, the plants are protected by a great blanket of snow, which protects them from the snowmobiles. In the winter, there are more ski-planes and snowmobiles than cars driving past our house! Winters are cold and snowy, but we get a lot of sunshine all winter. So if clouds get you down, come up here!

4. Despite the extreme conditions, there is some amazing wild flora including the pink ladyslipper orchid, Cypripedium acaulis. It grows only on the rocky granite outcroppings of the Canadian shield.

5. There is no commercial agriculture here, well...other than the harvesting of wild rice. We bought a 10 pound bag wild rice from a harvester a few years back and we're still working on it (wild rice pudding, wild rice casseroles, wild rice stuffing, etc.). It is harvested by rice boats, which are aluminum boats fitted with a big fan on the back for propulsion and a large tray on the front. It seems that they collide with the plants at the edge of lakes, and the seeds drop into the trays. The wild rice is not a native plant; it was introduced in the 1920s. It requires no maintenance once established.

Inside Robertson's trading post, iconic general store and fur buyer of the north:

6. I am greatly outnumbered as an monolingual English-speaking person. Most of the local population is aboriginal and speaks Cree. Fur-trapping is still a means of making a living here. The local afternoon radio program regularly reports the going price for beaver, muskrat, and marten.

I cracked up at a story I heard from a coworker who sent a summer student out with a trapper for some unique local experiences. The trapper found a trap containing a furry critter and the student asked him what it was. "Marten", the trapper replied. Not being familiar with local wildlife, the student replied "Really? That's really neat. Do you give names to all the animals you catch?". I suppose the student expected to find a George, Robert, Dwayne, and Stan in the next traps.

Ancient aboriginal rock paintings viewed from the Churchill River, just north of La Ronge. I can only guess this had something to do with hunting big game?

7. There is virtually no natural soil here, only muskeg and lichened rock. Our yard grows things only because we had a semi-truck haul in dirt from 300 km south of here and I add bags of manure and potting soil every year. If a little bit falls out of the raised beds, I carefully scoop it up and put it back in place. The natural soil is acid, so acid-loving perennials do better here.

While the dirt is "poor" for my purposes, northern Saskatchewan's ground is full of money. Did you know that the majority of the world's uranium comes from northern Saskatchewan? The public health people keep telling us the fish aren't radioactive (they are tested), but sometimes I ponder the health effects of eating northern fish.

Huskies in last year's dog sled race. I tried watching for some teams yesterday, but at -30, I waited only 45 minutes and then had to go home to warm my toes.

8. As I have written at the top of my blog, "the bugs are large". They are also bloodthirsty. Well, the dragonflies don't want your blood, but they do thrive on some of the healthiest populations of mosquitoes known to man. Then there are the "no-see-ums", bloodthirsty bugs so small that they get through clothes and bugmesh. Don't forget blackflies too, the blood-suckers that aren't deterred by bug repellent. They particularly like biting eyelids, and the inside of noses and ear canals (from personal experience).

Check out the dragonfly who liked my purple shirt. Honey, does this dragonfly make my waist look small?

9. Other people's invasive plants are my reliable perennials. I hear that Polemonium caeruleum is a menace for gardeners in Vancouver, but it certainly hasn't taken over my neighbourhood yet.

10. Our growing season is painfully short. I don't know what the exact frost-free period is for La Ronge, but Prince Albert (just over 2 hours south of here) has a 95 day frost-free season. We must be a few days less than that. I try short-season tomatoes every year but have yet to grow a successful crop of tomatoes that got red while still on the vine (vs. in a box in my garage). I buy tomato seed packs that proclaim things like: "bred for growing in a military base in Greenland".

Well, half of our northern summer could have flown past in the time it took my to write that post! Congrats if you actually read it all! You have the patience of a northern gardener!


jodi said... gardening hat is off to you. Seriously, you have a lot of challenges, yet obviously meet them marvelously. I don't think I could live that far north, but I'd visit in a heartbeat. This is a marvelous post, and I'm so glad you joined in the fun!
PS your comment URL didn't work quite right but I got the link up in the lefthand sidebar, no problem.

jodi said...

Me again....did you design your own blog template? It's the width I want; I used a 3 column template when I revised bloomingwriter, but I can't get photos into the side columns now. Yours is great!

Robin's Nesting Place said...

Thanks for sharing about your location. It was fascinating to read. I'm with Jodi, I couldn't live that far north.

kate said...

This was a fun post to read. I visited La Ronge many years ago during a summer job. I loved it - of course, it was in the summer and the nights were short!

I just noticed that we aren't all that much warmer than you tonight, but I think that will change tomorrow.

It's great that you are to able to get in as much gardening as you do ... I'm also impressed with your ability to grow plants from higher zones.

Those booties on the dogs are cute!

Saskboy said...

Great roundup of facts. I was going to head to La Ronge this past Summer, but plans changed at the last minute and I couldn't go. Some other time perhaps.

I didn't know wild rice was here since only the 20's! Where'd it come from before then?

Lisa at Greenbow said...

A facinating glimpse into your world. I have often wondered what kind of vegetables people living so far north have available. We are so often told by our parents to "eat your vegetables" but when you have no soil to grow them where do the nutrients you need come from?

I have often said I can take winter as long as we have lots of sunshine.

How do those little booties stay on the dogs feet???

That is a HUGE dragonfly. Do you know what kind it is? We saw a big one in TX when there some years ago.

Carol said...

What a great post about your little gardening spot in the world. I can't even imagine how cold it is there in the winter, but I agree that sunshine when it is cold makes a big difference.

I am impressed by how you garden in those "conditions", very impressed. How warm does it get in the summer time?

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Carolyn gail said...

Hardiness zone1b? My that's scary to a Southern gardener. Your post was fascinating and I am amazed at the many obstacles you face in gardening there.

WiseAcre said...

wow northern exposure is right! Just saying Hardiness zone 1b sends shivers dowm my spine.

I'm awed to say the least. I can't think of a better place to visit for inspiration.

Gardenista said...

Wow - I don't know how many of my posts get this many comments! Thanks for reading, everyone.

Saskboy - I think the wild rice came from various areas of the US before we started growing it here.

Lisa at greenbow - yeah, the dogs wear those little booties to prevent foot injuries in the race. Mushers cut down on their time by having dogs that "help out" by putting their feet up one by one to help get the booties on.

Suprisingly, we do get decent heat for a few weeks each summer. Nothing like Texas or Arizona, but warm enough to need air conditioning and want to wear a bathing suit!

GardenJoy4Me said...

Holy COW !!! That is one big dragonfly ! .. and yes ! how do they keep the little booties on the doggy feet ? .. I'm just glad to see they have booties ! LOL
I can't imagine gardening in that zone .. I dare to complain about ours ? JEEZ !
When I was VERY young we lived in Waskasoo .. spelling probably wrong but I think you probably know which place I am talking about. Moose at our living room window type of deal ! LOL
Great information here !
Thanks !
Joy : )

Lesley said...

I just moved to Air Ronge from southeastern Manitoba (zone 2b) and am enjoying your blog immensely. It gives me hope that there may be life underneath the yard full of snow we moved into on Jan. 1! So far, the only landscaping I know of is one thin tree, so I think I'll have my work cut out for me this year.

P.S. I also loved the Belgian endive post from a while back! LOL

Gardenista said...

Lesley, welcome to the north! I hope you have lots of gardening success here this summer. Maybe the communities in bloom society will have another informational session on gardening in La Ronge/Air Ronge this spring.

Curtis said...

Thats a big Dragon fly. My daughter would go nuts over it. Thanks for sharing about where you garden.

quu said...

What a interesting post! :) I had a great time reading it. Somehow it seems that you live northern than I. We have here lots of farmers and animals.

We have only 30-40 cm of snow and more is coming! But tempatures are low this year.

I've noticed that you have big seedlings already. :) Strawberries and everything! I love Primulas and you have nice collection of them. Shops are full with colorful Primulas, sold as indoor plants.

Warm hugs from Finland,


No Rain said...

I really enjoyed reading about your part of the globe. I can't even imagine temperatures that cold! Thanks for posting this interesting info.

Cherie said...

Next time I hear an ignorant comment about Saskatchewan being so flat and boring, I think I may point them your way.

Excellent stuff.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

Great, informative post! I like the dogs, but got a chill just reading about -53F. In an odd concidence, I was just reading about the wild rice harvesting up north in Neil Gaiman's novel "American Gods." Before this morning, I had no idea that rice grew in this part of the world. My hat's off to you for making a garden in such an inhospitable place that you have to truck in topsoil.

Sandra (Dogger) Klassen said...

No one could ever doubt we have a colder climate, although global warming appears to be changing the zones we grow in.

I am Sandra living not far from La Ronge, in Candle Lake Village, home of Dear Hearts and Gentle People!

The cold? At times we have to shift our focus; So it's cold; we're Canadians; not whiners! We dress for the cold stay outdoors for shorter periods of time warm up and go out again. The ideal would be to find a warm place to winter where Arthritic limbs don't hurt. The ideal would be walking safely without fear of falling on some ice.
Tomorrow April 12 will be warmer, already our sump pump begins running. On Monday we are promised plus 16c degrees, all our snow will melt at once. We hear no frogs yet but see deer playing leap frog (smile) frisky with warmer weather and having avoided wolves another season. Our deer population is depleted yet within our village the population remains up as we feed the deer and this may make them stronger. Wolf track sometimes measures larger than a mans black comb.

Gardenista: Garden (Cree) One: Gardening here can be a joy, we can create hyper Tufa pots place them in the shade plant them with moss and one large beautiful rock...Zen!

Sandra (Dogger) Klassen said...

My error Gardenista= Garden (Cree) TWO uhuh I wwas thinking of Cree Numbers have it wrong....

I was looking at something in Saskatchewan:

which contains natural Prairie flowers
Which somehow brought me to this, it's a scream since I am known as a Gnome Gnapper (Smile)I promise to return them to the mayor as soon as I repair them, it's shameless to have them looking shabby! They travelled to Newfoundland (The Rock!)Got Screeched ion George Street! then on to kiss The Barney Stone, see the Stone of Scone and many other rocky outcroppings in Great Britan. They're back now sad to say but a Gnome is Known to return to it's own garden if Gnapped...

Cheers Sandra

Anonymous said...

Hey Gardenista! That's wonderful! Thanks for sharing all that. I'm in Regina, what, like, 8 hours south of you? Wow! That's far, actually. But we still have the giant mosquitos :) Sounds like you're having a great time gardening in the licheny soils of La Ronge!

Hey, have you ever tried growing quinoa? That's why I searched for Gardening in Northern Canada - to find out if it could grow here. Of course we get somewhat warmer weather down here, likely frost free end of May to mid-October? So that's 4,5 months-ish, compared to PA's 3 months.

Anyway, it was great reading your post, and seeing your pictures and hearing how you lugged in the soil, and about the marten and everything :) Sparks my presently fuzzy imagination :)

Happy gardening!!! Sunlover. Rachel

Anonymous said...

Hi this is a very interesting blog!!!

Anonymous said...

hey! found you while looking up info on wild rice to send Gwyneth Paltrow. Ya, seriously. She has a foodie newsletter and mentioned artisanal wild rice without having a clue about Sask being the world producer of this treat! So I wrote her.

Then I found yr blog, which was so great to read.

I grew up in Prince Albert and remember well the minus 54 in jan 73. I was walking to school like no big deal. Except that drivers would randomly stop to pick up anyone walking! Ain't that so Sask??

Keep on gardening, gardenista!
love from the pianista!

Anonymous said...

I live in Northern Ontario and we have a very short growing season.
Can you list by name the perennials that you grow in your garden.
thanks june

Jeannie Bluemel said...

You have a great sense of humor. I learned and laughed.. Really the other way around. Inspires me. What a nice array of topics and gives me a real sense of your environment and experience.

A friend recommended your blog so that I could get a good picture of living and growing in the shield. Your succinct and humorous descriptions and great photos make this a page-scroller... All the way to the end! You made it so easy to do. No patience needed!

Great blog!