Tag Archives: Northern gardening

51st Parallel Gardening – May

I have been watching the posts from southern gardener friends with great envy. Some of them are already getting fresh beans and greens! I live just a bit to the south of the 51st parallel and winter has barely left. My plants are still in the greenhouse. The locals say you cannot put out bedding plants until either the big northern geese have continued on north or until the first full moon in June. I learned the hard way my first year here that you can’t rush the bedding plants.

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This year I cut back on my ambition and started only tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and eggplant indoors under a grow light. As soon as the daytime got warm enough I moved the plants outdoors into my mini greenhouse. I have replanted everything I started from seed into larger containers. At night if the temperature is supposed to go below freezing I put a small electric oil filled heater in set on law. If it is going to snow or get below freezing even daytime (which can happen here even in May) the plants are moved indoors and back under the grow lights for a while. As you can see, my favourite container is the tall yogurt one. It is sturdy, flexible and just the right depth for encouraging deep roots. We have long spells of hot dry weather followed by monsoon prairie downpours. Deep roots are really important for survival under our demanding conditions. It will be another three or maybe even four weeks before these plants will be planted out in the garden.

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Today I moved the zucchini plants into their final container. I will set these out in the yard and let them grow. Last year I got an enormous crop of zucchini from pots and I hoping for one this year. However, I can’t relax yet. Though it is a lovely 22C (72F) right now, the forecast for tomorrow night is below zero and flurries. In spring, I get my exercise carrying pots in and out of the house. The first hard frost does not generally show up until late September here at the 51st parallel but we have gotten them as early as midAugust. Sometimes I am carrying pots in and out again in early fall. For really tender plants like zucchini I find big pots work best. If you plant in the garden you will get zucchini only in some years when conditions are right.

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Two years ago I planted a raspberry cane. I haven’t gotten much fruit in those two years but the plants have grown like crazy and spread, as I hoped they would. We want the raspberries to eventually fill the space between the sump pump pipe and the rainwater pipe. Maybe this year we will get enough fruit to do more than taste. I made sure to get a local hardy variety that can take our extremely cold winters.

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My strawberries I started last year all survived. I planted three varieties, one June, and two ever-bearing. Last year we had about five strawberries. This year I am hoping for more. I am also hoping to create second box for more strawberry plants off runners.

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This is my herb box. It has oregano and sage from last year and lemon balm. I also tried an experiment. I started onions (light green top) and garlic (lower darker green single stalks) from seed produced in my garden last year. I collected the seed. I started it indoors in a couple of pots. Garlic and onions are tough and take the cold so I have already planted those into my herb box. The onions were far more prolific in coming up. I will thin those and use the thinned plants for greens as the season progresses. I have lots of large garlic that survived the winter so I will leave these tiny garlic for next year. I will also be planting some parsley and cilantro. Last year the parsley and cilantro survived the winter and I didn’t have to plant again. This year was not so lucky.

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My chives are from my first year and they are doing very well. I have one flower formed. In a couple of more weeks it will be covered in lovely blooms. We have already been enjoying fresh chives in salad.

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Rhubarb is another plant that does well in our northern garden. I use rhubarb for juice and pies and as fruit bits in muffins, sweet breads and cakes. It also freezes very well. Sliced and frozen on a cookie sheet and then loose packed in a bag, we can enjoy a taste of spring in winter. Rhubarb is extremely tart and so I typically blend it with other fruit. These plants were already in my garden when I moved in but they are small. The previous owner did not like rhubarb and mowed them every chance he got. Last year I got enough rhubarb for only one single pie. You can only harvest about half the stalks once they are fully out. I made Rhuberry (rhubarb and strawberry) pie with store bought strawberries. My husband declared it the best pie he had ever had. Maybe this year I will get enough strawberries and rhubarb to make one from entirely from my own produce. We shall see. Rhuberry jam is another special favourite of mine but these plants will have to grow a lot more before I can do that again.

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Horse radish is one of our northern treats. I planted two plants two years ago. One plant has taken off and is doing very well. The second plant is unhappy and I don’t know why. It barely puts its head up. I have not yet been able to use my own horse radish roots. Fortunately my neighbour has been very generous with hers which are well established and many years old. And of course dandelions are blooming everywhere now.

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Last year I planted Saskatoons. These are northern natives small trees/large bushes. They produce a small blueberry size dark purple fruit. They grow wild everywhere around here but each patch has a jealous guardian and it is considered the height of unneighbourly behaviour to pick from someone else’s patch, and unless you are a bear, you will be chased away. I purchased five little trees last year. The Saskatoon is a close relative of the apple tree and should grow into a hardy apple tree sized bush that will have white blossoms in spring and will produce abundant fruit about the end of June. The taste of the berries is halfway between apple and blue berry. These berries freeze and can beautifully, and make great jam, jellies and pies. They are also one of the reasons people were able to settle in the north. The berries are exceptionally high in vitamin C and when dried and pounded into powder, the powder retains much of its vitamin C. If you mix one part dried Saskatoons with two parts dried powdered lean game meat and stick it together in with some grease or fat, you have traditional pemmican. Pemmican is a perfect food for humans containing every nutrient we need to stay healthy and it will keep for years. Without pemmican, Canada would not have been settled. All five of my teeny Saskatoons survived the winter. It will be few years before I can look forward to harvesting my own. Until then I will have to beg to be permitted to go berry picking with a generous neighbour.

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Sorry about the fuzzy picture but this is tamarack. Again a native tree, this looks like an evergreen tree but in the fall turns golden and then drops its needle like leaves. I had a low wet spot in the yard where the preexisting evergreen had died from drowning. Last year I pulled it up and went hunting for a tamarack to put in its place. Tamaracks can grow in the nastiest wet marshy soggy soil. I found this little one in a ditch outside of town in an area that gets mowed for hay. I transplanted it before haying season and it is coming back. If I can avoid mowing it, the tamarack should one day be big enough to fill in the holes in my windbreak where the ground is so soggy.

I have the loveliest perennial garden. I can take no credit for it. It came with the house but I love it. The one daffodil I saw bloomed this year. Right now the violets are blooming. I will soon have tulips and columbine. After that come lilies of assorted types and colours and Canada anemones. Later into year it will have delphiniums and other late season flowers. If I can keep the grass out, I will enjoy blooms all season. The previous gardener was a clever lady and planted the perennial flower bed with both local native plants and hardy exotics.  I am trying my best to preserve her delightful legacy. Last fall I added a bunch of tulip blooms and they are coming up among the older tulips. I plan to add more daffodils this fall.

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The grass has needed its first mowing and it is full of this little lovely, creeping charlie. I know most gardeners abhor creeping charlie but I like it.It has lovely little purple blooms all summer, it grows in places the grass doesn’t like and it does not need mowing. It happily accepts trampling and traffic. If my entire lawn were taken over by creeping charlie I would be delighted. Right now it has a lot of strong reddish colour. Every spring we have high UV in May. The annual ozone northern hole means we get a lot of UV. The native plants adjust without a problem. Bedding plants need to be exposed gradually by a couple of hours a day or they get sunburnt.

My vegetable garden is not yet started beyond a few onions and some garlic. It is simply too soon to seed anything. The packages say you can plant as soon as the ground can be worked but it really isn’t so in the north. If you plant too soon, the plants come up scraggly and miserable and don’t produce much. So this time of year you just rototill every week or so to kill the native weeds and remind yourself you need to wait. At least this makes the robins happy. The know what a rototiller sounds like and congregate nearby eagerly awaiting my departure after which the dirt gets thoroughly inspected for bugs. I will plant cold hardy seeds that can take a freeze next weekend on the Victoria Day Weekend in Canada. Anything cold fragile will have to wait until that full moon in June.

Today the sunrise was at 5:49am and sunset and the sun will set at 9:40pm. We have very long days in spring and they will be even longer come June. This means that once the stuff is actually in the ground and growing, it will grow much faster than my southern neighbour’s can boast. By the end of July you would be hard pressed to tell my garden is so far north. It will be all caught up.

That is where my garden is today. Northern gardening requires rethinking and more planning but it can be just as bountiful and rewarding as southern gardening.

Where is your garden at these days?

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51st Parallel Gardening Update

It’s been hard to read in other blogs where people have begun enjoying the fruits of their garden while, poor thing in the harsh cold north, I have not yet been able to plant but finally, finally, I can write another garden update.

I have to wait at least two more weeks before I can put tender bedding plants into the garden without fear of frost. Even so, while the weather is hot and lovely I have been putting all those plants I started in my house out in the sunshine. The winter squash have long since graduated into the biggest pots I could find (scrounged at the dump) and they doing very well. Many of my tomato plants are actually blooming! I will not give into the temptation to think summer is here and plant them as I did last May 21st only to lose them to an early June frost. So I have to carefully water them every day and tend and fuss but wait I will.

Last year’s planning has gone well. The raspberry bush came through the winter bigger than ever and is about to bloom. My careful tending of the rhubarb has resulted in two much more vigorous plants than last year. I planted chives and they survived and the plant is huge. Both my horse radish plants are up and doing well. Low spots in my drive which we filled with sandy gravel are covered with creeping charlie. Our monoculture lawn, something I hate, is now well polluted with creeping charlie. I love those little purple flowers and the bees do as well. My yard is full of honey and bumble bees. My wee little apple tree that had maybe five blossoms on it last year appears to be about to burst into bloom on every branch. I still have no idea if it will have edible apples or yet another type of “throwing apple” but it looks beautiful. I have decided I like dandelions even though I have bought one of those pointy things that let you get at the roots.

I love it when nature gives you a bonus and I got several this year. Normally our winters are far too cold to let many things most southern gardeners consider perennials survive but I was delighted to discover many green onion and garlic shoot popping up and wonder of wonder, my parsley and cilantro made it! I had to bring a salad to a senior dinner and I used purchased lettuces but spiked it with my own chives, onion and garlic greens, and lots of fresh cilantro and parsley. Yum! Just before we left one of our trees came down and we simply piled the branches on the garden until we could find a better place. The result was a heavy blanket of snow and I think that is why the parsley and cilantro were spared. I will try the same thing again this year. The other nice surprise was two local flowers among the grass, the Manitoba provincial flower, the Prairie crocus. Long past its blooming but lovely to see, I have marked both plants so we can keep the grass away and not mow them.

Gardening is not just about this year, but also next and the next after that. Late  last summer I made two boxes of cedar and piled them with grass clippings and compost and then covered them with black cloth and let them bake in the August heat. This spring I was delighted to find rich peaty soil. I ordered strawberry plants, ever bearing, June and a heritage hardy one and every plant took. I am not expecting to get many strawberries this first year but next year should be the beginning of many a crop. The second bed is going to be my bean bed and I am going to put in a trellis and try growing a variety of beans including red kidney beans which I have already started from seed.

I bought five Saskatoon trees. Saskatoons are a native plant in our area that produce abundant small blueberry like fruits although it is actually a small apple tree genetically speaking and not a berry. The wild bushes are exceptionally hardy, being native to our area, and grow rapidly. Saskatoons with their sweet deep purple taste (a cross between blueberry and sweet apple) make wonderful jams and jellies and are great to eat straight from the bush by the handful. They can also be dried and then dried berries beaten into flour that when mixed with dried meat and formed into pemmican results in a 100% nutritionally balanced food that was consumed in winter when first nations people and early pioneers had to get through our winters without outside help. Saskatoons are especially rich in vitamin C and folates. The ones I ordered and planted are a cultivar with larger than wild berries, many more berries per bush, and a richer taste. It will be a few years before they grow enough to produce fruit but I am an optimist. Until they do I can always gather the wild fruit.

 

And last but certainly not least I inherited a neglected perennial garden and put a lot of effort into weeding it. The battle is far from over, as you can see, but I am proud to report more perennials than crab grass and weeds. I have tulips, Johnny Jump Ups, violets, both native Western and blue violets, already in bloom and the first Columbine opened today. This flower bed gave me so much pleasure last year bearing flowers for me all summer long. It is nice to see them back like old friends.

And finally the robins, my dear friends who vigilantly patrolled my garden ever on the alert for cutworms and beetles and slugs, have set up housekeeping once again. Every time I cultivate or weed or plant they watch me carefully and rush right in to check for edibles as soon as my back is turned. Every garden needs a robin family.

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Up here at the 51st parallel summer is short but intense. The sun rises about 4:30am and sets after 10:00pm and the plants grow by leaps and bounds racing to cram in as much growth as they can on those long days before August frosts. I know my northern garden will catch up with my southern neighbours. Two more weeks and the tomatoes can be planted. I have already put in seed for that which is frost tolerant. Soon soon I too can eat from my garden like my southern neighbours.