Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Mushroom Logs Grow

 As the snow falls here in Edmonton, I thought I'd report back on the mushroom logs. As you can see, the Shiitake mushroom logs sprouted...

... And the fruit was harvested, diced and sautéed with baby zucchinis and fresh tomatoes.

Not all of the spawn took this season, but I'm pretty sure the logs were too dry. Next spring I'll be setting up a small irrigation system and cross my fingers for a couple harvests in the year.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bloomin' Garden Show 2012

This is a fantastic event, tomorrow May 12 from 9am- 4pm at the Alberta Avenue Community League. It combines gardening information and products with an artisan market and gallery all in a beautiful, serene atmosphere with classical music. The event brings out over 1000 gardeners and shoppers from around the city to our Avenue. It'll showcase our great local talent and our revitalized community along 118 Avenue. You'll find great gifts for Mothers Days as well as seeds, plants, tips & treats for your garden.

You may also buy compost from the City of Edmonton Waste Management Centre for $6 a 30L bag.  Or catch me at 2pm- I'll be talking about Creative Raised Beds. 

Presentation & Workshop Schedule

Fruit Growing 9:30am to 10:30am

Learn what fruits to grow in our climate, planting procedures and care.

Presenter: Thean Pheh, horticulturalist and local back yard fruit grower. 

Thean Pheh worked in the Department of Agriculture in Malaysia (1968 to 1982) and Alberta Agriculture (1983 to 2007) in production, extension and research in various horticultural crops before throwing in the towels. Growing up on a small farm, Thean developed keen interests in growing fruits and vegetables, sustainable agriculture and edible landscaping. In his retirement he wants to continue to be an active and productive member of the community. Besides maintaining a fair collection of heirloom fruits and vegetables, he breeds fruits and potatoes for hobby, and presents talks to various horticultural organizations. He and his wife are vendors in a Farmers’ Market in Edmonton.

Soil Enhancement 11am to 12pm

Come hear what these panel members have to say about the number one building block of gardening - your soil. Short presentations followed by question & answer time.

Gary Chan, City of Edmonton Vegetation Management
Dr. Ieuan Evans, P. Ag., is an agrologist and plant pathologist who grew up on a small self-sustaining mixed farm in Welsh. He did Applied Research with Alberta Agriculture for many years; now he is an Agri-Coach. Dr. Evans is well known for his love of horticulture and is the developer of the popular "Evans Cherry".
Peter Dowd, owner/operator of Alberta Organic Garden who sells Seed & Sea organic balance blended fertilizer

Creative Gardening 2pm to 3pm

Learn about some interesting and creative ways to make and use raised beds for gardening. Raised beds can go virtually anyway and be made out of a variety of materials.

Presenter: Carissa Halton, local blogger, writer and gardener. Check out her creativity at

Fruitscaping Ideas: Trees and Possibilities for Hedgess

 -Dwarf Apple- There is a growing number of options in dwarf apple trees. These trees generally grow to a maximum height of 8 to 10 feet high- perfect for the small yard. The great thing about apple trees, besides the fruit, is that they respond well to pruning. A small tree can become even smaller! Apple trees can even be trained to grow in 2-3 foot tall hedges- a perfect border for an herb garden. As varieties go, I've been very happy with my September Ruby variety: exceptional for fresh eating and baking.

 -Pears- Reliable varieties of pears grow in the prairies, though the jury is still out on whether any are good for fresh eating (my sister-in-law has a very good unknown variety in her Edmonton backyard). Pear trees are often too large for an average-sized yard (especially as two are required for pollination) however they are amazingly versatile. They graft well onto apple trees and can be espalied to beautiful effect along walls and arbours.

-Beech Hazelnut- Hazelnuts are delicious fresh or dried. Grown in the form of a multi-stemmed tree or bush, it tops out at 15 to 18 feet. The Urban Farmer suggests trying the new crosses from the University of Saskatchewan. Crossing European with native cultivars, the new variety is called “Filazel”.


-Saskatoons- In the wild these fruit are often small and seedy but cultivated varieties can be as large as a blueberry, super sweet plus they pack a nutritional punch. Per 100 grams, they easily beat blueberries in their protein, fibre, iron, potassium and vitamin C levels.   Saskatoons also make a great hedge. Dyrland recommends trying Nelson, Honeywood, Thiessen.

- Sour Cherries- Don’t let the name scare you, new varieties like Juliet, Cupid and Crimson Passion are easily eaten fresh from the bush. Cherries can be trained into a hedge, a tall bush or a single trunk tree. Water well and harvest when the fruit easily falls. For the best preserves, Dyrland recommends Carmine Jewel. For proven fruit production and size, Sunstar Nurseries recommends planting an Evans.

If you can recommend any varieties, please do so in the comments section!

This reprint is part of an article I wrote for Gardening for the Prairies, Winter 2012. Over the next few days, in time for planting season, I'll publish the list of fruit options you might consider when making landscaping decisions. Planting prairie fruit doesn't have to be limited to the veggie patch or a brambling patch of raspberries in the alley. In this series, we'll look at fruit you can use for ground cover, vertical cover, screens, feature plantings... When it comes to fruit-scaping, thanks to the U of S's many new fruit varieties, us northern gardeners are limited by our imagination, not our Northern climate!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Fruitscaping- Vertical Space: Walls or Trellises

So you want to plant some climbing fruit on your wall or trellis? Perhaps you have a pergola that could use some coverage? As you begin experimenting, consider planting the following fruits in combination with hops or virginia creeper (for fast, dense coverage) or scarlet runner beans or clematis (to add some colour).

-Kiwi- Grown in Canada for many years, the fruits are smaller than commercial varieties and the skin is smooth. Fresh, it’s eaten more like a grape: skin and all. While technically a Zone 4, there are many warm ‘pockets’ where kiwis will thrive. Find a south- facing wall, make sure it’s protected (by fence or hedge) from prevailing winds and provide the vine with a strong trellis. Sunstar Nurseries carries, and recommends, the Issai variety as it is self-pollinating. 
<b>ISSAI</b> Hardy Kiwi
Issai Kiwi

As a small aside: I have killed my Kiwi. But I would like to think this is because I didn't follow the instructions to plant it on the south side of my house. I ended up moving the poor thing three times in three seasons and eventually it just gave me the heave-ho-gonna-die-on-you-lo. Will be planting another one this season, in the proper Zone 4 space.

 -Grapes (table and wine)- Often associated with warm, desert-like environments, there are numerous cultivars of grapes for fresh eating and wine making that can be grown in northern gardens. According to Dyrland, “Where you place grapes is crucial. They need sun and shelter from the wind.” Fall pruning and heavy mulching is also necessary to maintain the health of the plant. Your efforts will be well rewarded when fruit appears after its third season. Recommended varieties include: Valiant, Beta and Cliché.
Harvest off one four-year old vine at Shallow Creek Nurseries.

Another small aside: I had four varieties of grapes... now I have three because I, again, did not follow instructions and experimented with leaving the vine unpruned over the winter. Now in their third season on the south side of the house, I am expecting a bountiful harvest this year from the remaining vines. Watch for my report. 

- Red or Black Currant- “People shy away from currants because they seem like an old-fashioned fruit, but there are great fresh eating and preserving varieties,” says staff at Sunstar Nurseries. Currants, if left alone, will grow into a 3 x 3 foot bush however they can be trained into a fruiting column or globe form. For a beautiful screen, espalier them against a wall or trellis. This is a showy and versatile fruit.  Dyrland recommends any variety that starts with “Ben” like the Ben Conan, Ben Nevis, and Ben Sarek. Check our The Fruit Nut's Blog for extensive information on currants and instructions to espalier one.

Next Fruitscaping post: Trees. 

This reprint is part of an article I wrote for Gardening for the Prairies, Winter 2012. Over the next few days, in time for planting season, I'll publish the list of fruit options you might consider when making landscaping decisions. Planting prairie fruit doesn't have to be limited to the veggie patch or a brambling patch of raspberries in the alley. In this series, we'll look at fruit you can use for ground cover, vertical cover, screens, feature plantings... When it comes to fruit-scaping, thanks to the U of S's many new fruit varieties, us northern gardeners are limited by our imagination, not our Northern climate!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Fruitscaping: Introduction

The following is a reprint of an article I wrote for Gardening for the Prairies, Winter 2012. Over the next few days in time for planting season, I'll publish the list of fruit options you might consider when making landscaping decisions. Planting prairie fruit doesn't have to be limited to the veggie patch or a brambling batch of raspberries in the alley. In this series, we'll look at fruit you can use for ground cover, vertical cover, screens, feature plantings... When it comes to fruit-scaping, thanks to the U of S's many new fruit varieties, us northern gardeners are limited by our imagination, not our Northern climate!

Accompanied by my daughters, summer mornings begin with a stroll around our small urban lot. We scan for new flowers and interesting bugs as I grip my coffee. They grip their buckets and into these we drop our breakfast: berry treasures ripe to bursting.

Eager for more of these delicious harvests, I’ve begun to landscape my yard differently. Instead of grass, I’ve planted strawberries. In between hostas, I’ve planted honeyberries. Next to Virginia Creeper, I’ve trellised grapes. In every prairie yard, there is the potential for a fruit paradise. Thanks in large part to work at the University of Saskatchewan, every year larger and sweeter prairie-hardy fruit varieties are developed.

“There is major growth in demand for edible landscaping,” says The Urban Farmer, Ron Berezan. “Many people are beginning to want a beautiful and functional yard- a garden sanctuary where food grows too.”

Landscaping with fruit offers exciting possibilities for gardeners wanting to experiment with edibles outside the traditional garden box. “There is an incredible selection of hardy fruit for the prairies, people just don’t know about them,” says Shannon Dyrland, owner and operator of Shallow Creek Nurseries. “Prairie fruit flavours are intense and robust. Despite what many think, new varieties are exceptional for eating fresh from the bush.”  (INTERESTING FACT: Prairie fruit will almost always be smaller than the commercial varieties. They will also always have a seed or a pit.)

Check in tomorrow for the first in a short list of the more interesting and delightful hardy fruit you might consider planting this season.  

Friday, April 20, 2012

Revitalization in my Neighbourhood

In the Fall of 2010, my husband and I took a break. Not from each other: we decided to steal from our retirement and sell some stuff so we could take time off work to focus on our creative projects and family.

I spent time writing, Mat spent time singing. During that time I wrote a piece about living in our community- Alberta Avenue. It's a 'revitalizing' neighbourhood- a place of tension and transition- and I wanted to capture, on paper, my experience living in this unique place at this unique time. This month, Alberta Views published it as a feature-- please see it here and consider buying a subscription to a fantastic, progressive magazine.

But back to my community... I've read that communities go through a change every 50 years or so... 50 years ago, Alberta Avenue shifted as many homeowners left for the suburbs and it became more re-known for it's illicit activity than for it's working class neighbourhood. But in the last ten years,  artists and young families are moving in. It is an exciting and vibrant time to live here. It's also a time that inspires some anxiety about our future. Will many of the new homeowners all move away in ten years- make a lot of money on our homes- and the community be left increasingly less affordable... and much more homogenous?

I don't believe that revitalization will inevitably lead to gentrification (the expelling of all poor and untouchable people and activity). But I believe that revitalization, without some planning and advocacy for mixed housing stock, can lead to a perhaps more clean, but much blander community I probably wouldn't want to live in.

I love the diversity of our neighbourhood: the incredible variety of restaurants, the adrenaline of riding No. 5 bus, the great parks with many colours of kids, my block with people from every decade represented.  Even the illicit stuff makes me think. I understand that the sex trade has all sorts of links to the drug trade and gang life... but I also know that if it didn't exist in Alberta Avenue it would just exist somewhere else. [Plus, I think that the women on the corners keep things real for me. Prostitution effects every area of the city and I would prefer to live where the women live, than where the Johns live in anonimity!). I also love the energy of revitalization- the question is- when does a community stop 'changing' so that it continues to remain 'vital'? Revitalize too much and a community runs the risk of becoming just a cookie-cutter community of the same people with same ideas and same income and same same same same... blah.  

What I do wish is that Edmonton city council could not just put money into revitalization, but also into preventative action for neighbourhoods at risk of 'devolution'. What wisdom is there in constantly revitalizing? Where Edmonton's Community Services department just follows the poor from neighboourhood after neighbourhood to 'tidy it/ liven it up'? The process in Alberta Avenue and many other 'revitalizing' neighbourhoods is not sustainable; it is reactive not proactive. Surely there is a more progressive approach to PLANNING healthy communities- and protecting aging communities from the kind of gutting that McCauley and Alberta Avenue experienced when many of their homeowners left for the suburbs post-war.

Oh God, that thought- what will our suburbs look like in thirty years, exactly? When people have to afford fixing up not just 1100 square feet of space, but 3000?

I believe that new and old communities need to have a good mix of people: rich, poor, immigrant, seniors, youth, young families, corporate and union workers. I think city council could help this process through zoning for mixed housing, affordable housing spread throughout the city, incentives for cooperatives and mixed-use developments and better plans for reducing impacts of poverty... there are many possibilities .

Alberta Avenue doesn't have to be a gentrified neighbourhood in 20 years. Beverley doesn't have to be on the 'revitalization' list in 10. But that takes some forward thinking and willingness to embrace community diversity- something that I believe our city and council is fully capable of. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Planting Schedule for Edmonton Veggie Gardens

The snow is almost gone off our lawn and back gardens... could it be true that spring has obeyed its placement on the calendar and arrived on time in Edmonton? Of course not, but I will continue to harbour hope that more rain than snow is in the weather god's forecast for the next two months.

This year I created a public calendar with a planting schedule for spring and summer in Edmonton- and I'm excited to share it! You'll find it below as well as in the pages tab on this blog. It includes dates for planting seeds indoors and outdoors, dates for transplanting and planting for continuous crops. I've designated Sundays as my planting day but, if you want to use this public calendar too, feel free to consider the Sunday plantings as plantings for the week- to be done at your earliest convenience. If you plan to follow the schedule for 2nd, 3rd and 4th plantings- make sure you leave space in the garden (or plan for the early harvest of lettuce, spinach, and radishes that will make room for later plantings of carrots and beets!). You'll find that in some cases, there are additional details in the location and description of the event on the calendar.

I've added only those veggies I plan to plant- if you want me to add other crops, please comment below and I'll be sure to add it.

Happy planning and planting!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Any Time's a Good Time for Turkey

You may be one of those folks who believes eating turkey shall be limited to a few American holiday seasons.  If you are, I'm afraid we may be in some disagreement on that point.

I love turkey dinner. Turkey with fixings like cranberry sauce, pickles and dressing. Turkey with pesto and pasta. Turkey with toasted ciabatta, spinach and garlic mayo. Turkey-juice soaked risotto. Turkey tetrazzini.

If you share my enthusiasm, NOW is the time to stock up. It's at Safeway for 99 cents/lb, Superstore for 96, Walmart for 97... and those are just the prices I scoped out in the flyers this morning. Last night I cooked up an 8-kilo bird and, bless him, he provided us with 10 cups of meat (most of which will be refrozen in small 2 cup bags) and another 10 cups of broth. Total cost: $20.

I'm currently working out a value for that lovely turkey soup-smell wafting through the house...

PS: On the subject of turkeys (and turkey sex), pick up Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal Vegetable Miracle. An easy read that expounds, with hilarious detail, her attempt to raise turkeys for food (and of course her attempts to multiply the flock's numbers). Who'd have thunk you could breed maternal instinct out of an entire species?

PPS: And on the the subject of fall deals, just a reminder that now's the time to pick up pumpkin. For $4 I picked out the largest pumpkin I could carry. Thankfully, it just barely fit in my oven and is currently roasting in its own skin. Check out this post for the process I use to cook and store it.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Rhubarb Chokecherry Jam

I've had my chokecherry bush in our backyard for the past five years- a gift from the former owners of the home. Before today, I had never gathered the berries (mostly due to lack of interest! They taste terrible fresh of hand, and I'd never tried jam or syrup from them). This evening, I made one of the most intriguing tasting, on the tart-side jams.

Using the no-sugar needed pectin (another first since my gestational diabetes has made me more conscious of refined sugar), I boiled up a pot of chokecherry and rhubarb jam using splenda as a sweetener. Man alive! Delicious- I licked the remains off the spoon, the funnel, the counter. Kicking myself for all the wasted years of chokecherry.

So what happens to your chokecherries??

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Backyard Shiitake Mushrooms

Last fall I had the opportunity to write an article for Spezzatino Magazine (coming out Fall 2011, the piece was published in Fungi Spring 2011) on growing mushrooms in underground, abandoned spaces. White Button mushrooms were the first species to be cultivated, initially in dark, dank caves around Paris, France. Soon mushrooms were being grown all over the world in forgotten spaces: spent mines, old culverts, gutted   quarries. 

In fact, it was only last year that the last underground mushroom farm in North America failed to compete (cheap air conditioning, less technical disease management and better work environment give the above ground farms an edge). The farm was set up in a the spent entrails of an old mine in Pennsylvania for more than half a century: the tunnels sit empty again.

As I searched for other underground farms in the world, I found a farm in Australia call Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms. Dr. Arrold cultivates a wide variety of mushrooms- none of them White Button (which is one of two kinds I usually could find at Superstore until a couple years ago!). Shiitake, Swiss Brown, Enoki, Wood Ear are mostly cultivated in a re-purposed railway tunnel. 

The article was a project that ended with me continually musing to Mat about all the abandoned underground spaces in Edmonton just waiting to be reclaimed by fungi! Imagine a mushroom farm directly underneath the City Centre farmer's market? Or directly underneath Calgary's downtown there is a four-lane wide abandoned LRT tunnel; there'd never be a problem with finding a market for mushrooms with a short shelf life!

The project also made me curious: why not grow my own? So in April I ordered - what turned out to be too many- Shiitake mushroom plugs. 600 of the plugs, packed with spawn and topped with a wax seal, arrived in bubble wrap in May. If my first problem with this experiment was too many plugs, my second problem was finding logs to drill holes then 'plant' the spawn in (literally pop the plug into the drilled holed). The wood had to be freshly cut hardwood which had sat for a month or two.  It took me a month to find the proper logs (I'm clearly not in the right circles!): mountain ash from a house down the road. I'm not even sure mountain ash will work... but its what I had. 

So Mat drilled the holes and the girls and I inserted the plugs every 3 inches up and down the logs. The two sections then got tucked away behind a couple cedars where rain will still soak the logs, but where the sun has few direct lines on the moisture, shade loving spawn. I'm told that by next summer, if all goes well, I can expect the logs to flower (mushroom!) and they will do that every three months in the warm season, for four to five years!

Drilling holes 3" part in rows around the mountain ash log.

See the one plug (in front) not pushed in? Lily would come behind me and poke the plugs down, wax flush with the bark.

Soaked the log really well. For the mushrooms to grow, the log cannot dry completely.

150 potential sites for flowering mushrooms? Tucked behind our cedars. I added a sun screen, stapled on the fence to the left of the logs, to limit evening, direct sun.

It will be difficult to wait and possibly learn that I did it wrong! But perhaps you'd like to try your hand at it? I have about 450 more plugs that I can't imagine finding room in my yard, heart or stomach for. If you want some, please email. You can bring me some baking or dried fish or something as a trade(:=