Farm Update Week of February 5 through February 11, 2018

Happy Valentine’s Day!  The fact that it is Valentine’s Day means its Wednesday and last week’s farm update is LATE!  Better late than never? I am not sure about that for most things, but perhaps a 3 day slippage on this post is forgivable? The past week was a busy one with much driving and learning.

Lobstick Garden Club
Last week started off with the February meeting of the garden club I belong to, the Lobstick Garden Club.  I joined this Garden Club very shortly after we moved to Wildwood. The club has been a vibrant and active presence here for 25 years! Our members come from all over the Yellowhead county and its neighbors, from west of Wildwood to Evansburg, Mayerthorpe and over to Rocky Rapids. At one time the club had over 50 members, now we are about 20, but are all very enthusiastic gardeners. We meet the first Monday of every month in the evening, in Evansburg. I love this group of ladies, they were so welcoming when I showed up and they are some of the most amazing gardeners I have ever met, mastering this tough Zone 2 climate and growing seemingly impossible amounts of food and flowers. If you are from around here and are interested in gardening, please contact me and I will let you know all the details!

This month we were so fortunate to have Jay Lowe from Jaqueline Gardens in Niton Junction ( ) come to speak to us about flower arranging and to provide a demonstration.  Jaqueline Gardens has been in operation for 40 years in our area, and Jay took over the operations from his parents after he obtained his diploma from Old’s College in Horticulture and Floral Design. He is such a great speaker and makes the creation of beautiful centerpieces look easy. We all know it isn’t and that we were watching a master in action! He gave us many hints and tips, and then donated the two gorgeous arrangements he created for us to give away as door prizes!

Keeping Current: Organic Agronomy and Organic Master Gardener Training
My educational background is in Soil Science, I have an undergraduate and an M.Sc. from the University of Alberta in Agriculture and Soil Science, respectively. As you saw in the bio section here on the website, I have worked mostly in reclamation research, but my love of sustainable agriculture has never waned, and I fed that love by volunteering with small scale, sustainable agriculture development projects in El Salvador. The soul yearning to farm finally overwhelmed my excessively pragmatic mind and finally I just took the leap, hence Meadow & Thicket Farm flowers!

However, I recognize that I need to stay up to speed on the current research and knowledge in organic agriculture so that I can effectively manage my own farming operation organically. As a result, I am pursuing continuing education opportunities in this area.  As Professional Agrologist with the Alberta Institute of Agrologists ( ), I was eligible to participate in training offered through the University of Manitoba to become an Organic Agronomist. As the name suggests, the training is in agronomy, the study of field cereal, oilseed and pulse crops, rather than in horticulture.  However, the training has many cross-over applications to horticulture. As part of the program, I have the opportunity to participate in webinares on topics related to organic agronomy. This week, the topic was on “Identifying and preserving beneficial insects on your farm”. I found this most informative, as managing insect populations to control damage to my flowers, while enhancing habitat for all the beneficial insects that we so desperately need to support, is of utmost importance to me. The only insect controls I employ currently are 1) a deterrent spray of fermented garlic, onion and chili, that I learned about through the biointensive school garden in El Salvador I volunteer with; and 2) an organically approved insecticidal soap, which is only used when an infestation is acute- I have only used this once on an infestation of what I think were lygus beetles on my stocks last spring. At its foundation, insect management is all about a) producing the healthiest plants possible, and b) growing a diverse range of plants.  And as all organic growers know, healthy plants only happen if you have healthy soil, so you can’t look at insect management in isolation from whole farm management.

Anyways, I will be implementing an integrated biological pest management program on the farm this year, with the introduction of beneficial insects, in addition to my soil enhancement initiatives. I am learning all I can about this over the next few months and will keep you posted.

The other program I have enrolled in to update and expand my knowledge is the Organic Master Gardener Program offered through Gaia College, at the Stony Plain Multicultural Center (  This program runs from February through November with 3 hours/week of classroom training combined with numerous hours of practical field training. My first class was this past Wednesday! I haven’t taken botany in over 25 years, so it was a good refresher, and I’m pretty obsessed this week with lateral meristems and what they mean for propagation. More on that in future posts too!

Starting Dahlias
That Robin Hood tuber that I reported on last week, has just kept on growing and now there are 2 shoots and the leaves have started to unfurl! I am very pleased that one of the new varieties that one of our Alberta Dahlia and Gladiolus Society ( ) members bred, and which I grew here last year, has also started showing vigorous shoots. I am really hoping to get more plants of this one, because it was an eye catcher last year!

Seed starting update: Lisianthus 
All the lisianthus are happily, but oh so slowly, growing in their little blocks. Some even have a teeny tiny first set of true leaves developing!

Soil Block Ecology Update 
I’ve decided to report on this separately as I am so interested in this, but some of you may not be 😉 so now you can focus on this section or skip over it, depending on your preferences. This week, likely because of intentionally somewhat drier conditions in the soil block tray, many of the original little cups have disappeared, but there are still a few around, and those that have stayed are a bit larger now!

Seed Starting Update: Perennials
The 6 Baptisia australis seedlings I had potted up last week are doing well. No more seedlings have emerged in the original tray from which those were harvested, so I have decided to stop that part of the experiment. This means that of 20 seeds planted, 6 germinated and were potted on of this species. We still need to see if the ones planted and put outside will do better, but we won’t know until April when things thaw and start growing out there.

The 13 Rudbeckia triloba seedlings the 2 Maral root (Leuzea carthamoides) seedlings that potted on last week are growing nicely. Similar to the Baptisia australis, no additional seeds germinated in the original trays of these two species, so they are being discontinued as well. Thus 13/20 Rudbeckia triloba germinated, and 2/20 Maral root germinated and thrived. There are also outside plantings of these, so we will see if those do better in April as well.

Recall last week I reported potting on 8 Lupinus perennis seedlings, with 4 of these not progressing well. Well, I am very sad to report that there are now only 3 of the transplanted seedlings left ☹. The small ones didn’t make it – so LESSON LEARNED- they can’t be transplanted with less than 1 true leaf.

Also, much to my dismay, the first true leaves on the more robust ones, died this week! Thankfully new true leaves are forming, but this is a very disturbing observation and makes me worry that the seedlings may not survive. The new true leaves are also quite pale, instead of the vibrant green of their cotelydon leaves. There should not be a nutrient deficiency in the potting mix as I blended the mix with the organic fertilizer I have used in the past, which has plenty of nitrogen. I am wondering if I have a pH induced deficiency of some sort. If any of you know what could be causing this in this species, could you let me know?

I also potted on an additional 4 Baptisia sphaerocarpa (Yellow Wild Indigo) that had germinated in the soil blocks, they transplanted beautifully, so now I have a total of 7 of these potted up. However, again, not all is well! All of the Yellow Wild Indigo are developing more true leaves, but the in four of the seedlings, the new leaves have intervienal chlorosis (left).  The other three seem healthy (right, below).

I believe this is a sign of iron deficiency which is likely due to some pH issue in the media. I can’t imagine why this is happening as I am using commercial peat based ( I know, I know, this MUST change, more on this in another post) potting mix, amended with some dry organic multi-purpose fertilizer. Again, I am appealing to anyone who has grown these before, do you know why they are doing this? Their purple cousins, Baptisia australis are not showing any nutrient stress and are potted in the same media.

I am happy to announce that, in the tray of soil blocks into which I seeded some of the other perennials back on January 20, I am now seeing germination of 1 Rudbeckia lacinata, 3 Liatris aspera, 9 Rudbeckia triloba and 1 Prairie Smoke! (I am the MOST excited about this one, if you have ever seen Prairie Smoke you will know why!) The picture here (left)  is from Wildflower Farm, where I sourced some of my seed!

Other stuff (life not gardening)
At the end of the week, on Saturday, my husband and I headed west to Edson for an afternoon off, and to visit somewhere I have been meaning to go since we moved here, Bench Creek Brewing ( outside of Edson. All I can say is, if you ever have the chance to visit them DO IT! They are nestled in the forest just west and north of Edson and they have a lovely tiny tasting room attached to their brewery. You can indulge in a meat and cheese plate while tasting a flight of their fabulous kraft beers, and I’m pretty sure you will end up going home with a Growler, a re-usable glass bottle full of your favorite brew. Gotta say Northern Grace is my fave, but the upcoming sour ale they will be releasing in March/April is some kind of something! I’ll be getting in line for that one.

Also I listened to a great interview of Brene Brown by Krista Tippet on the On Being Podcast.

Ms. Brown talks about her most recent book, belonging, and her interpretation and expansion of Joan Halifax’s “strong back, soft front”; with her own “wild heart”. All of Krista Tippet’s podcasts are soul expanding, but I kept re-listening to this one this week.

Well that’s about it hope to see you here next week for more Zone 2 blossoming adventures.