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!