Saturday, 28 February 2015

Highlights and Seed Starting 101

The winter edition of Highlights magazine is out with a Highlands Garden Club article: a whole page on garden planning and seed starting.  Of course, only the bare basics -- there are books and sites and whole sections of science devoted to both topics for a reason!  But sometimes, it can be easy to get modest / passable results. 

Looking for more resources or want better seed starting results?

Here are some of the good online resources I found while researching for the article:
  • Seed Starting 101 - A downloadable ebook with photos and tips on basic seed starting including how to "harden" them for the outdoors
  • "Seed Starting Chart" at - Count back from our frost date (approximately May 7th) for each type of plant to determine when to start.  
  • Seed Shelf Life - A chart from of some common vegetable seeds with their germination rates, average shelf life, and average days to germination
I also found some seeds are notoriously picky - an online search on "how to grow X from seed" will tell you if that plant needs something specific (e.g. light, cold stratification, temperatures over 20C...).

Below is an excerpt of the seed starting portion of the article, updated with more club member ideas and links.

Good luck and happy growing! 

By starting seeds in this "pre-spring period", you get a jump start on the growing season, the satisfaction of growing them from the very start, and the ability to control what kinds of (if any) pesticides are used.  It also gives you a chance to have plants that might not be widely available or are more expensive in full grown form.

Here are some seed starting basics:

Step 1: Choose the right plants
- With our short growing season (The Old Farmer's Almanac has Edmonton's last and first frost dates pegged at May 7 and September 23 -- only 140 days!) choose plants that can use that extra boost.  
- One club member likes to start in February her parsley (long germination time) and petunias (slow growing).  
- Avoid plants with taproots, such as sunflowers and poppies, which don't like being transplanted and can be stunted by starting in a container. 

Step 2: Choose good seeds
- Seeds have a shelf life. A surprising number of seeds are no longer viable after one year even with special storage.  Use fresh seeds or seeds that have been packed for the current year to avoid disappointment. 
- Follow the packet instructions! 

Step 3: Choose a medium
- Various types of potting and growing soil mixes are available.  Many will work!  
- Another member likes to use coir pellets that are medium and container in one -- bio-degradable and easy!  

Step 4: Choose a container
- Almost any container with a drainage hole and the ability to hold the medium will work.  
- One of our members likes to raid the recycle bin for things such as takeout containers with a clear top.  The top helps keep moisture in while the seeds germinate and can be easily removed once spouting appears.

Step 5: Choose a location
- Most seeds like a moist (but not wet) soil and a warm place to germinate.  Consider putting them on top of the refrigerator during this period. 
- Once seeds have spouted, move them into an area with sunlight, such as a bright window.  Keep in mind this area might get cold so to prevent damage by keeping an eye on them and moving them as necessary.  

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Rob Sproule Talks About Bees

Last Sunday was overcast and dreary, but Highlands Club Members found respite at Salisbury Greenhouse! 

The large retail space was warm and smelled green.  There were gorgeous pieces of furniture (meant for indoor and out), containers of fairy gardens (and supplies to makes such), leading us to a welcoming Rob Sproule to talk about bees.

He went through a number of articles he's written on bees, adding details and answering questions along the way. 

What is Killing our Bees points the finger at "Neonic" Pesticides and Varroa Mites, while suggesting some simple actions to help.

Attracting Bees suggests some good ways to make the garden Bee-Friendly including planting bee-friendly plants in clusters (3 or more),  planning for continuous blooms (3 or 4 different cycles in the summer), planting varieties of flower shapes to attract different types of bees. 

YEG Bees: Backyard Beekeeping in Edmonton highlights some of the exciting grassroots movements of backyard beekeeping, while also marvelling at the wonders of honeybees and hives.

Some additional notes from the talk:
  • We may consider them weeds, but dandelions and clover are some of the first to bloom in spring, making them an important food source. 
  • Available (retail) pesticides are of the "contact"type - if you have to use a pesticide, never spray when flowers are in bloom. 
  • Salisbury tries to Bee-Friendly by: using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) with predatory bugs to control pests; choosing suppliers that do not use neonics; growing their own plants (70% of perennials and 90% of annuals to control what pesticides are used); and using seeds that are not neonic treated.
  • Some of the incentives for neonics: GMO monocrops which can be vulnerable to pests and diseases are pretreated instead of being managed

The talk generated more conversation after Mr. Sproule left: How to spread the word on what we're learning, how we needed to support local greenhouses (ones that are knowledgeable of and accountable for what they're selling)...

And, as we were in a place that sold stuff for gardens, we took a look.  Oh, how tempting it all was. 

Pretty birds...

... fairy Gardens with fairies... 

... seeds including Renee's Garden and Johnsons...

... exotic indoor plants... 

Master Naturalist Program for YEG

Edmonton's Master Naturalist Program is accepting applications!  Get 35 hours of free training along with field trips on how to conserve Edmonton's natural areas. 
More information, eligibility, and the application form are all available at the Master Naturalist Program site.  Act fast - the deadline for this year's program is 24-April-2015.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Save the Date: 8-April-2015 - Dustin Bajer!

The Highlands Garden Club is proud to announce: We're hosting a talk featuring Dustin Bajer!

Save Wednesday, April 8th from 7-8 p.m. for a trip to Bellevue Hall at 7308 -112 Avenue to hear the "teacher, permaculturalist, master gardener..." speak.  

All are welcome.  More details to come.  Stay tuned!  

Friday, 13 February 2015

Quick Plant saves time?

Dollar stores are starting to stock garden supplies.  Look what I found!

The Quick Plant boasts it makes planting cell packs "5 Times Faster".

I don't buy many annuals and I have a trowel that seems to do the job, so this patent pending plastic "popsicle" made me laugh. 

But for those of you who do plant annuals - what do you think?  Is this tool heaven sent?  :)

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Five-Plant Gardens -- Perennial Garden Design (by the book)

Nancy J. Ondra's 2014 book, "Five-Plant Gardens: 52 Ways to Grow a Perennial Garden with Just Five Plants", promises easy gardening using just five perennial plants.

Pretty plants that come back year after year?  Sign me up!  But, can it really be that easy?

Ondra advises to start small ("Admire large gardens but plant small ones"), shop smart (begin with 5" pots- plants will grow and spread), and get in the zone (USDA Plant Hardiness).  Her enthusiastic writing is energising and everything is kept simple.  The "five plants", however, refers to five types of plants -- sometimes more than one of each kind is required.

Overall thoughts:
This is a well thought out and very pretty book.  It hits the right notes with me, a beginner gardener - providing lots of information, sensible advice, and inspiration for more.  The "first choice" plants include zone 3 (good for Edmonton) and plenty of advice on how to substitute for those that aren't.  The plant photos are particular favourites - especially those in seed in the "For the Birds" and "Winter Wonderful" gardens. Best of all, it's available at EPL!

The book is divided into two main parts: "Five-Plant Gardens for Full Sun to Partial Shade and "Five-Plant Gardens for Partial to Full Shade".  (See * for additional info on the book's structure.)

  • Simple designs can be tiled and combined to expand your garden over time or to fit around structures (such as a porch or pathways) 
  • Gardens are themed: colours, bloom time, attracting / deterring wildlife, usage (e.g. cuttings, scent)
  • Includes plant alternates (named and general e.g. "Another 6- to 12-inch-tall perennial with white flowers, such as wall rock cress..."), so you can substitute as needed and still keep the original garden's look 
  • Includes a "Season by Season" summary and "Digging Deeper" section for each garden with what to expect, how to care for plants, and how to use the garden
  • Nothing bad, just some limitations: Plant care in the long run not addressed ("Many perennials can live for 3 to 5 years with hardly any attention..." what afterwards?), is a "plant-by-numbers guide" doesn't teach principles of design.  
  • Table of Contents lists garden names without specific page numbers

The book doesn't have a Bee-Friendly focus, but does indirectly incorporate some bee-friendly features:
  • Uses bee-friendly plants (full of pollen and nectar, or native) e.g. Echinacea purpurea (coneflower), Monarda (bee balm), rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan), sedum,  and gives enough information for you to substitute your choice of bee-friendly plants
  • Multiple plants of the same kind are grouped together - advises planting the same flower in clumps to attract bees.  This could be because bees harvest from one type of flower at a time and locate flowers using sight -- mass plantings are easier to see find and would allow for maximum food collection on each trip.
* Each garden includes:
- A planting plan
- A moisture requirement scale (Dry, Average, Moist)
- A pretty illustration of the garden
- Photographs of the plants on a plain background
- A shopping list for plants (with suitable alternatives)
- A "Season by Season" summary on what to expect in the garden and how to care for the plants
- A "Digging Deeper" section ideas and suggestions (such as how to incorporate annuals into the specific plan or where it might be especially suitable)

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Books, Bulbs, and Plans -- February's Meeting

The wind was cold, but it was warm at the Highlands Community Hall!

The second Club meeting of the year had members planning events and sharing seed catalogues, library books on bees, and chocolate covered acai berries.

Business done, we talked gardening.  

Gisele was the lucky recipient of some tulip bulbs over Christmas, but what to do with them with the ground frozen solid?

We brainstormed some ideas including:
1. Force them to bloom inside (Yay, a bit of early spring indoors!)
2. Plant them in planters and store in the garage - prevents the bulbs from drying out and once spring comes, the whole planter can be brought out for display.

Margaret had brought the extras from the Club's fairy garden project and a number of "Growing and Using..." booklets (A Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin) from Audrey.

If you're looking for something to do with chives (you probably have no trouble growing them), sage, tarragon or thyme, or how to make paper from scented geraniums - these are just thing for you!

Deb found there are two Seedy Sunday events in the area this year and shared their speaker schedules (click to enlarge schedule photo):

  • 22-Mar-2015: Edmonton Seedy Sunday 2015 (Alberta Avenue Community Hall)

  • 29-Mar-2015: Seedy Sunday in the Park (Salisbury Greenhouse, Sherwood Park)  
There are bee-friendly speakers at both: We just might have to go out together. 

Carded! Daffy for Garden Club

Our new membership cards are here!

Twenty-five years and five-hundred annual memberships later, the Club needed a new batch of cards.  Over the winter, we sourced quotes, created a new design, and put in an order with local company Black Cat Press.
Clockwise from left: Gisele, Lori, Ollie, Lana and Erica.
See how happy members are?  Get yours at the next meeting or social gathering.  Memberships are still just $15 per year.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Talk & Tour: Rob Sproule at Salisbury Greenhouse

Kicking off this year of Bee-Friendly learning and gardening events, we're heading out to Salisbury Greenhouse!

Rob Sproule* will be talking about bee-friendly plants, bee-friendly gardens, and pest management at the greenhouse, while giving us a tour the facilities.  

Interested in joining us?  Meet Sunday, 15-February-2015 at 1 p.m. (1 km south of Wye Road on RR 232 (Brentwood Blvd)) for the Talk & Tour, or contact us at to arrange carpooling.  
* The gardener, writer, and Edmonton Journal columnist introduced many to the problem of neonics and the plight of the bee in his 04-June-2014 Edmonton Journal article Making a safe place for the bees.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Clean Start: Organic Seeds

While browsing seeds at the store and in catalogues have you been looking for organic* seeds?
With the organic gardening and farming movement gaining popularity, organic seeds are starting to show up in the stores, albeit in small numbers and limited types (usually herbs).

In contrast, local retail source, Apache Seeds, stocks many organic and heirloom varieties seed lines, and their selection is currently at it's highest.

Earth's General Store, doesn't have their organic seeds yet (as of 02-Feb-2015), but should by March. (Other organic and sustainable gardening tools, however, are available.)

Does your favourite seed company have organic varieties?  How do you get them? 


* Organic Certification doesn't mean "pesticide-free", but does mean no synthetic pesticides have been used.  Neonics are synthetic systemic pesticides, so seeds from plants that have been treated with neonics cannot be certified organic.

Organic pesticides are generally not systemic: Penn State University has listed "none have systemic activity" as being a limitation of organic pesticides and Oregon State University's "Profiles of Natural Pesticides" only lists one (Azadirachtin, a Neem derivative, as being systemic at root, and mildly systemic in leaves).  This is a good thing for our Bee-Friendly goals: even if the parent plants were treated with the organic pesticide, it would not have persisted to the seeds and next generation of plants.