Friday, June 29, 2012

A Fluffy Day

For the last few weeks, the poplar trees have been releasing their fluff like snow, except this snow drifts around in the breeze and collects in corners until it germinates more unwanted awful trees.  Can you tell I don't like the poplars?  They make me sneeze, invade my flower beds with their suckers, and aren't really attractive.  Unfortunately, they grow everywhere around here.  I can't do much about it.  My three year old looks outside and calls these "fluffy days".  To her, they are good days to be outside. 
Poplar fluff in the air
My white herbaceous peony "Lotus Queen" is in full bloom.  It is described as a zone 3 perennial and does very well here.  I only wish I had more peonies.  Ah well, someday I will. 
Peony "Lotus Queen"
Our first strawberries are ripe!  They are covered in netting so no critters get them, aside from the ones that live in our house and walk on two feet...and I see that I got a lovely dandelion leaf in the picture too!  Someday I'll get some time to weed again.  At least the power is on and we can bath and enjoy working kitchen appliances again.  The long weekend is sure to be a crazy one here.  Wish I didn't have to work!  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Power Out: Camping in Our Own House

Saskatchewan saw some tremendous storms in the past two days.  The southern province saw some tornados, but we just saw lightening and wind last night.  The lightening cut power to tens of thousands of people on Monday night, with our power finally restored today.  With the absence of power, we also had no water.  The town dispensed drinking water from the water plant.  I hauled some water from the lake across the street, some of which was given to the potted plants.

RCMP officer dispenses drinking water in La Ronge
 We have a generator, which helped to keep the fridge and freezer cold while the house heated to 30 degrees C.  Power outages of days in duration are not unheard of here, and it pays to have a generator on hand, rather than seeing all your meat thaw out and go bad.  Quite a few people in town were running their generators. 
Beach in La Ronge, a popular place in a power outage
 Most of the stores were closed, and I hear the CO-OP grocery store was broken into on early Tuesday.  The store did open to sell water later in the day, however.  The weather was quite warm and the humidity high, so the water was quite appreciated.  By the end of the day, my own layer of sweat was getting too sticky for comfort, so I brought a little bottle of shampoo with me to the beach.  I saw out a ways and made it look like a new backstroke.  Ah, relief! 
Robertson's Trading Post in La Ronge, closed Tuesday because of the power outage.
 Of course, fuel was in short supply, with gas stations not able to provide much or any.  Some wanted fuel to take their boats out on the lake, while others probably used some for their generators.  Local ambulances were warning that they had extremely limited fuel and thus limited travel abilities, so I hope that the available fuel went to better causes than recreation. 
Lineups outside the Shell station.

Northmart closed due to power outage.

La Ronge health center made arrangements for alternate water supplies.
I purchased a solar and dynamo powered radio/flashlight/cell phone charger online for the next great power outage, adding to our emergency supplies for the next time.  You can never be too prepared!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Sunset of the Aquilegias

The showy Aquilegia (or Columbine), with its fanciful flowers of all different shapes and sizes, is a great pleasure to keep in a larger yard.  It is fun to keep many different kinds and enjoy the easy multiplication of the plants as they seed themselves around. 

Aquilegia from the Songbird series
My favourites include the large-flowered bright colors of the Songbird series.  These are each named after different songbirds (Bunting, Robin, Skylark, etc.) and a google images search will show all the pretty colors.  These flowers have long straight "tails" behind the faces of the flowers.  My photography didn't quite do them justice this year.  Oh well.

I most often have purchased my Aquilegia seed from this online company in California, who has been quite reliable for my seed purchases for several years.  I suppose I like the bright clear photos and can imagine these plants in my own garden.  If you're really fanatical about finding a particular plant, try Jellito Seeds, the German company.  They don't have the nice photo display of the other website, but if you choose your plants by their Latin names, this is the place for you. 

While gardens in warmer and more southern climates are probably all done with the Aquilegias by now, I still have some in full bloom, especially in the shadier areas.  It is very easy to start these perennials from seed.  Of course, you must be patient as they will only flower in the second year from planting.  I start mine indoors under lights and transplant out in the spring.   

Aquilegia from the "Clementine" series, pink and white flowering plants

Unknown Aquilegia which has spread itself around the flowerbed
 My dwarf-size Aquilegias are mostly done flowering by now.  These pictured ones are more medium sized, nicely suited to sit among the irises, finishing tulips, roses and immature delphiniums of the raised beds.  Actually, hiding dying tulips is a perfect role for Aquilegias.  The timing is just perfect.

This week, the Siberian irises started to flower in beautiful deep purple and white shades.  The old-fashioned bearded irises are long-since finished, so it is nice to see the Siberians now in late June.  The next highlight in the perennial parade will be the lilies in July.   

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Awesome Alliums, the Ornamental Onions

Regular Chives, Allium schoenoprasum
This week in the garden is notable for the unique show put on by a members of the onion family.  There are several bunches of chives growing in the yard, though all of them exist outside the official vegetable patch.  They seem to occur in the lawn, flowerbed, among groundcover, and between shrubs.  I'm fine with that.  I deadhead mine to prevent further spread and extra plants are given away to those not yet blessed with an abundance of this hardy perennial.  In case you weren't aware, do NOT pick and eat the flowering stems.  They are tough and twig-like in consistency.

In case you had ever thought about growing onion relatives for purely ornamental value (I'm sure this would greatly confuse my Mennonite ancestors), there are several varieties that are quite attention-grabbing and deserve to be planted in more gardens.  Our northern garden is limited to only a few types.  I tried some of the smaller ones (e.g. Allium moly luteum), but they got lost among all the larger perennials.

Allium "Purple Sensation" blooming June 21, 2012
Allium aflatunense/hollandicum "Purple Sensation" is a variety that has grown well here for a few years.  The occasional super-awful winter will kill them, but generally, these are okay here.  I get mine by mail order from Botanus.  I'd like to be able to grow "Globemaster" or Allium giganteum, and did try once, but their zone 6-9 hardiness rating just didn't suit our climate.  Their ball-shaped flower heads are very large and I've admired them in German and Pacific northwest gardens.  "Purple sensation" is rated for zone 4-9, as is the white-flowered Allium "Mount Everest" and the smaller-flowered A. atropurpureum, and A. azureum. 

Bees and butterflies are attracted to Alliums, but rodents and deer are said to be repelled.  However, we haven't really had any deer or rodent problems here, so I can't attest to that quality.  

The key to growing any of these ornamental alliums is to have some plants in front of them that will grow to hide the dying foliage.  The foliage is already dying as the plant gets into full bloom.  I have planted some annuals in front of mine. 
Allium "Purple Sensation" flower head

Allium "Purple Sensation" and some fine weather
I think I really must plant a few more of these this fall.  They're a cool architectural element in the garden.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Elegant Colors: Wild and Tame Flowers

Just in case you wondered if you could grow a rhododendron zone 1 or 2, well, here is some evidence that it is possible.  An enthusiastic local gardener has been growing this Finnish rhododendron for a few years.  The blooms this year are lovely.  The Helsinki/Finnish rhododendrons are bred to be hardy in colder weather, though I've even seen them growing in the Japanese garden of my zone 6 hometown.  This one looks most like the cultivar called 'Pohjola's Daughter'.
Finnish rhododendron

"Wildhof" Triumph tulip, still blooming strong in my garden mid-June.
The ubiquitous forest floor plant, Cornus canadensis (bunchberry).
The forest floor is quite pretty at the moment, with the pink ladyslipper orchids, the false Solomon's seal and the white flowers and elegant ridged leaves of the bunchberries (Cornus canadensis).  June 1 to 20 is the best time to see these pretty orchids.  We have many of them growing in the forest behind our house. 
Cypripedum acaule, the pink ladyslipper

Monday, June 11, 2012

Whether the Weather

Here is the Environment Canada forecast for the week.  I don't even own a rain coat!  The moss and fungus will have a thriving week.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Fire at the Garden Center

 I heard today that there was a fire at our nearest independent garden center in Prince Albert.  John's garden center had a fire yesterday, but their website indicates that many plants are okay and they plan to set up a temporary sales area to salvage the rest of the season.  That's sad news for them.  Hopefully we will still be able to pick up plants there soon.  I am planning ahead to make sure there are lots of fall colors.
Freshly mowed lawn with alpine bed in foreground.

Raised bed with three compact Viburnum trilobum shrubs on the left.  They've grown to look like they've had bad haircuts.  The tulips are looking good, though.
Lewisia "Regenbogen", a favourite in the alpine garden.
It rained this weekend and the temperatures are supposed to drop to 2 degrees tonight, which is a danger to the peppers, tomatoes, and pumpkins.  I've covered some and the rest will be dragged indoors.  Locations north of us have predictions of snow.  June in the north!  I hope the weather is at least unsuitable for the no-see-ums (biting midges) that chewed up my hands as I took photos last night.
Lewisia "Little Plum": These are all seedlings of the original plant.
 I use the macro lens for the next two shots.  Having to use the tripod and manually focus the lens meant too much time sitting still as a target for blood-sucking insects.  The no-see-um bites are not visible, which makes one look looney for complaining of all the itching at normal-appearing skin.  I desperately searched the cabinet this morning for the tube of hydrocortisone ointment...ahhhh...
Pink lily of the valley
 I should point out that I absolutely HATE the biting insects here.  It makes me wonder at the people that actually claim to enjoy camping.  Camping here in the north, that is.  I've camped on the Pacific coast and in the southern Okanagan and that was okay, so it's not just the camping itself.  Just thinking about the insects makes me itch.  If only you could have the serene scenery without the bugs.  My mother bought me a bug-mesh jacket, knowing my feelings about the nasty critters, but I always feel half-blind and constricted in those things.  The only relatively bug-free outdoor recreation around here is boating (and only when you're not near shore).  Well, and maye scuba-diving, though I've never seen anyone doing that around here.  Here's to more and more use of DEET...
Aquilegia glandulosa

Saturday, June 09, 2012

A Spider, and Other Pink and White Things

The kids first spotted something strange on this plant: a white spider with pink stripes.  I had never seen anything like it, but this Golden Crab Spider is not really uncommon.  It is named "Golden" because it likes to be around goldenrod, which grows in the ditches around here.  Articles about crab spiders indicated that they are ambush hunters, hiding out in flowers until other unsuspecting insects wander by.  This is interesting, because when we found it, the spider was directly below a butterfly.  I don't know how it would have managed to eat something that large.  When bothered, the spider clung to a stem and stuck its appendages out at an odd angle, looking a bit like some kind of flower.
Golden Crab Spider on a Bergenia leaf

My tulips are really creating color in the flower beds, with the bulk of the tulips (most are late varieties) blooming now.  I see a few stragglers that should be dug up and disposed of, as they are getting too old and small.  It is interesting that certain colors of the same type of tulip are longer-lived than others.  My dark pink "Florissa" tulips are the most successful I've ever had.  Several other tulips lived their tulip lives and were tossed out while Florissa continues to make respectable blooms for several years.
Double late tulip "Angelique" with a sea of forget-me-nots in the background.

Dicentra spectabilis "Alba", the white version of Bleeding Heart, a hardy shade perennial that blooms in early June.  The plant mostly dies back after blooming.
Raised bed with tulips

White "Wildhof" Triumph tulips in the center raised bed, among growing lilies.  There are direct-seeded cosmos growing in and around these tulips, which I hope to hide the dying tulip foliage.

Blossoms of a wild Viburnum trilobum, often called highbush cranberry.  It is one of the edible berries of the north.  The leaves are distinguished by their three points (as in the name TRI-lobum).
Linum perenne, the perennial flax.  I started these from seed last year and they are now flowering for the first time.  It is a pretty, delicate-looking hardy blue-flowering perennial.  Chives adorn the background in this flowerbed.

The blackflies are zooming around looking for blood these days.  Bug spray is an essential gardening tool now.  I planted my pepper and tomato plants out in containers yesterday, as it looks like the weather should be warm enough for them now.  I robin nesting under the deck harassed me through the whole process.  I can see the edges of the nest just a few inches under the deck boards, but can't quite see those pretty blue eggs.  Soon we'll hear the little chirps, I'm sure.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Growing Vegetables in Northern Climates

I traveled out to Pinehouse (Latitude 55'30°) today and had an opportunity to see this year's community/clinic gardening project.  They were lucky in keeping some early-planted tomatoes alive, but it has been a mild week.  This made me think about the whole notion of planting times in the north.  I usually add a few weeks onto recommended planting times on seed packets, and adjust for our short season.  We are in zone 1, which leaves only the Arctic/Antarctica for a worse growing location. 

So what are the guidelines anyhow? 

Vegetable plots at Pinehouse clinic
The frost dates for Prince Albert (2+ hours south of here) are June 2 (last spring frost) to Sept 4 (first fall frost), so our season would be shorter than that.  I'd estimate about 85-90 days, (though frost is still a potential occurence at any month, so there are no guarantees).  This is important for plants that need longer seasons, like pumpkins (120 days).  You would have to start long-season plants indoors to ensure that they would produce fruit by the fall frost date.  The crop insurance maps can provide information on frost dates, but unfortunately they stop just north of Prince Albert.  I suppose that is reasonable, given that no one grows commercial crops up here in the northern forest!  Internet searches find all sorts of irrelevant information from growers that think they live in cold climates, but don't really understand the north (i.e. they may recommend planting carrots in February, but I can't find my garden under the 5 feet of snow drifts in February). 

So, in the absence of expert data on these things, the recommendations of locals is useful information.  This is a summary of what I have figured out.  Keep in mind that this only applies to plants in the ground or raised beds.  This does NOT apply to plants in pots, as those will never survive over the winter here. 

  • Chives - Hardiest herb.  Perennial and spreads itself easily by seeds.  Grow some close to your house so you can easily snip some for your baked potatoes.
  • French tarragon - Winter-hardy here. 
  • Lovage - Large herb that is winter hardy here.  Tastes like celery greens.
  • Parsley - Occasionally lives through the winter.  Start indoors in a pot or sow outside in late May.
  • Thyme (English thyme; the edible kind, not the groundcover varieties) - Sometimes lives through the winter, though after a year will get too woody.  It is best to have new plants each year.  Start early indoors or sow outside in late May.
  • Mint - There is a wild mint that grows around here.  Many mints would be hardy perennials, though they are also invasive, so I'd recommend NOT planting them in your garden.  Keep some in a pot and never let it go!  
Not hardy, treat as an annual:
  • Cilantro - Not hardy in winter.  Sow early indoors or sow outside in early June.   Fantastic in salads and East Indian food. 
  • Basil - A tender herb that cannot tolerate cold nights.  Start early indoors and let it go outside after June 5.  It grows fast though, so you could also sow more seed outdoors after June 5.
  • Sage - probably not perennial here.  Start early indoors. 
  • Dill - plant seed in May, very easy to grow and will easily seed itself if allowed to.
  • Rosemary - A slow growing herb that is perennial only in warmer climates (think southern California).  It is far too time-consuming to grow this herb from seed.  Just buy a plant.  You can take it indoors as a houseplant in fall.
Rosemary brought indoors in fall.
  • Asparagus - One of the cold-hardiest plants that exists.  I don't grow it, but if I had years to establish a patch, I might try it.  This plant is perennial.
  • Spring/Green onions -- plant seed the preceding summer for nicely grown green onions the following June.  You can also sew in early May for green onions in the summer.    
  • Larger bulb onions - Start seeds early (April) and transplant in mid May or start as onion sets outdoors in May.   
  • Garlic - I am still practicing at growing garlic, but it seems to do okay here.  Plant as garlic cloves in fall.
  • Rhubarb - Reliably hardy. Give lots of compost and divide in early spring, if needed.
Seeds suitable for early planting (e.g. first weeks of May)
  • Beets 
  • Radishes - these really only work if planted early, as they like cool weather
  • Lettuce - plant early and replant throughout the summer for a continuous supply
  • Spinach - does well in cool weather, so plant an early spring and a fall crop
  • Swiss chard - I've seen some pretty spectacular Swiss chard up here
  • Onion seed
  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes 
  • Kohlrabi
  • Turnips
  • Peas
Probably hardy, but I start early indoors in May:
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower 
  • Brussels Sprouts - I haven't tried these, but they should do well here
Tender vegetables - Start indoors for longer season plants, sow others in June:
  • Tomatoes - Must be started from seed indoors in April or early May to produce any fruit before the first frost date.  If buying as potted plants, don't plant out until after June 4.  Season lengths are 60-75 days.  Pick varieties bred for the shorter season lengths. 
  • Peppers - Must be started indoors in April or early May to produce any fruit before the first frost date.  If buying as potted plants, don't plant out until after June 4.
  • A zucchini variety sold for growing in containers.
  • Squash, pumpkins , zucchini - Must be started indoors in April or early May to produce any fruit before the first frost date.  If buying as potted plants, don't plant out until after June 4.
  • Cucumbers -  Would be best to give a head-start by starting indoors in April/May or buying as potted plant.  Don't plant out until after June 4.
  • Beans - These won't sprout until the soil temperatures reach a certain threshold.  Plant in early June as seeds.
  • Corn - My garden is too small, but this can grow here.
  • Melons - I haven't tried these, but I don't think our northern summers are very well-suited to most melons, which like long hot summers.
  • Strawberries -- hardy, essentially biennial, and benefit from a protective layer of straw in the winter.  Bear fruit best in second year.  Root the runners to keep a continuous supply of second-year plants.  I have a day-neutral variety ("Hecker") which bears fruit over much of the summer.
  • Raspberries -- hardy, biennial, bear fruit on second year canes.