At Home with Janet and Sheryl

A Note from the publisher

We’re living in an unprecedented moment in history, and it’s been amazing to see how people are pulling together to support one another. Here at TouchWood we’ve decided to ask our authors what has been keeping them busy during a time when we’ve all been asked to stay home to Flatten the Curve.

Meet Janet

Hello, I am Janet Melrose, Calgary’s Cottage Gardener.

I am a transplanted English gardener with a flavouring of the Caribbean as I was born in Trinidad. A gardener since before I can remember, I was lucky enough after a career in the corporate world to realize a dream. After some formal training at 50+ to augment my lifelong practical gardener knowledge and experience, I am now a Horticultural Therapist, Garden educator, consultant and advocate for all things gardening including a robust local sustainable food system for Calgarians.

It took a bit of time to absorb the changes to our lives that has happened, with the date March 12th forever engraved in my mind at the day the world changed for Albertans. Last week I was facilitating horticultural therapy sessions for a couple of my programs, giving garden education talks, and running around as usual. Then with a thump, I am at home for the feasible future with just about everything cancelled for the duration!

After I picked myself up from the floor, I immediately thought about how I could use this unexpected home-time to good advantage, as I expect that once we are past the worst of it then everything will happen at once. After all the garden season will be well under way by then!

So…how to use the time profitably?

First order of business is working with Sheryl to write the first drafts for the next two books in our series.  Being able to write without fitting in that writing time between other commitments is certainly a luxury!

My next thought was…the house! I haven’t had the time in over ten years to do a good organize and cull of things. The plan is to tackle a room at a time and remove the accumulation of a decade…okay decades! At same time, I thought perhaps I could actually spring clean in Spring? So that has been thrown into the mix. I can report that in first few days that I have my office looking spiffy with everything filed away and organized. Next up…the kitchen.

Of course, I have stepped up my wintersowing and indoor sowing and now have 72 tomato plants germinating under lights along with chard, kale and spinach. There are now lots of trays of microgreens, jars of sprouts, and living lettuces re-growing in pots in the kitchen. Outside there are already 30 wintersowing jugs in the snow and I have lots more jugs to do. I figure I will have enough seedlings for a good-sized community garden before I run out of steam!

I gaze longingly out the window at the snow falling ever so gently and am really hoping for a good melt and even early spring to get out in the garden. First order of business is the dreaded shed! Then cleaning and organizing everything for the coming season as I didn’t get much done last fall with our early onset winter. When the soil thaws and queen bees are out, then that will be the signal to get out there and garden. For once my own garden will be looking marvelous, instead of neglected all season while I am in the garden for my Horticultural Therapy programs.

Should it be inclement, then I will be back instead at the computer creating new workshops, writing articles, and doing some in-depth research, and getting into a stack of books I have ready to crack open and disappear into along with revisiting some old favourites.

We Canadians are resilient and innovative. Opportunities for conducting webinars for workshops and Horticultural Therapy sessions are already on the boil and I look forward to developing a new skill set.

While I wouldn’t for all the world have wanted this to happen to us all, in many ways this is a gift of time to use well. I profoundly hope that all the measures we Canadians are taking to put social distance between us all to flatten the curve thus preventing an overloading of our health care system. I wish and hope that the great majority of us will stay healthy, safe and sound over the next few months.

Meet Sheryl

Hi, I’m Sheryl Normandeau, and I’m one of the authors of the new Guides for the Prairie Gardener series. Our first two books, The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases, will be released later this spring. As you might imagine, I am incredibly excited for the books to become available – and just in time for all of us prairie gardeners to be getting our hands in the warm soil and putting our gardens into the ground.

I live in (currently, very snowy) Calgary, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The public library branch I work at is now closed indefinitely so I find myself unexpectedly at home without the routine of my regular job. As I wait for the snow to melt from my community garden beds and my balcony, I am watching my tomato seedlings grow strong and healthy in their little greenhouse on my desk, and writing. I contribute articles to several North American magazines so there are always multiple deadlines to hit. (I also write short and flash speculative fiction whenever I can, which taps into a different sort of creativity). And, of course, Janet and I are working on the next two books in the series (due out in 2021), so we’re in the gardening mindset pretty much 24-7 these days! (As if we weren’t already! Gardeners tend to be an enthusiastic lot!).

Oh, and if you’re wondering, my photobombing kitty is Smudge…she’s quite pleased that
I’m home for cuddles and the dispensing of treats.

Stay well, everyone.

Advice from the experts: prairie gardening activities you can do now!

Although spring has officially arrived, according to the calendar, most of us who live on the prairies can’t get out into our gardens just yet. That doesn’t mean we can’t take on some gardening-related tasks! Check off the items on our list while you wait for the snow to melt and the crocus and daffodils to emerge:

  1. Try your hand at winter sowing.
  2. Start some sprouts or microgreens.
  3. Start some seeds for transplant when the snow finally vanishes and the soil warms. Long maturing tomatoes, peppers, leeks are good bets for edibles, or try flowering annuals.
  4. If you can shovel your way to your garden shed and the weather is warm enough, why not clean and sharpen your garden tools? Take an inventory to see if you need to replace any.
    1. If the weather is nice enough for an entire day, take every out of the shed, toss anything you haven’t used in a while and put the remainder back into a nicely swept shed and you’ll be able to find everything you need this coming season.
  5. Sort and organize your seed stash.
    1. If you don’t remember when you got some of those seeds do germination tests.
  6. If you took a lot of photographs of your garden last year, go through them. Post them up on social media or as wallpaper on your digital devices for colour and cheer.
  7. Make a wish list for your garden. This doesn’t mean you have to accomplish or purchase all the things on your list – it just gives you some ideas about what you love and may help you to make goals for your garden in the future.
  8. Take a look at gardening books and magazines for inspiration. Many libraries offer a full complement of e-book services and digital magazine readers.
    1. Read all those garden books on your shelves again.
  9. Make some garden decor. This can be anything from a new bench to a mosaic to a handful of plant labels…the sky (and your creativity) is the limit!
  10. Give your houseplants a whole lotta love. Depending on the plant, they may benefit from misting, or a gentle leaf wash. Clean up dried foliage and remove spent blooms. Even consider completely repotting them to give them a new outlook on life so long as you have fresh soilless mix on hand.
  11. If you still have potatoes and onions in storage, check them to make sure they are not rotten.
  12. Consider joining your local horticultural or garden society or registering to rent a plot at a nearby community garden.
  13. Grow some catgrass for your favourite feline (or some scrumptious greens for your hamsters, rabbits, and other furry friends – you can do this in tubs indoors!).
  14. Start a garden journal.
  15. If you dried any of your garden herbs for use in cooking, have fun experimenting with them in the kitchen! If you’re running low on a particular favourite, plan to grow more of it this year. Better yet, start some now inside.
  16. Make a list of perennials that you think will need to be divided or transplanted this growing season.
  17. Do some pruning. Many trees and shrubs are better pruned in early spring before they leaf out and before the bugs, bacteria and fungi are flying.
  18. If you are buying lettuce at the grocery store, purchase a living lettuce and once you have eaten the leaves, pot up the stem and roots to get a second salad out of it.
  19. Save your eggshells and sow some herbs in them for fun.
  20. Make seed tape out of toilet paper if you have any to spare.
  21. Use those toilet paper rolls as seed tubes. Simply fold the bottoms in and use the resulting pots to sow whatever you like. Once we can get outside plant the whole tube after slashing the sides so the roots can easily grow out and making sure the top of the ‘pot’ is below the soil level. A good use for the remains of the most sought-out item there is these days!


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